Sunday, May 31, 2020

Book Review: "Clap When You Land" by Elizabeth Acevedo

Elizabeth Acevedo's new book, Clap When You Land, is a novel-in-verse about family, grief, anger, and letting go.⁣

Camino is a teenage girl living in the Dominican Republic with her aunt, who works as a healer. Her father, who lives in New York, comes to visit every summer, and Camino lives for those visits. Yet on the day his plane is to arrive and she waits for him at the airport, she learns that his plane has crashed.⁣

Another teenage girl, Yahaira, lives in New York. Her father goes home to the Dominican Republic each summer, which causes a strain on his relationship with her mother. One morning she is called out of her class and told by her mother that her father’s plane crashed.⁣

⁣Both girls are grief-struck, devastated by the loss of their father. Camino has dreams of going to college in New York and studying medicine, and now isn’t even sure how she and her aunt will survive, especially as a dangerous man she has been protected from all this time circles closer.⁣

⁣Yahaira, who discovered a secret about her father before he died, feels guilty, angry, and deceived, yet doesn’t know how to live without her hero. She tries to push everyone away.

⁣When the two girls learn of each other, it is a shocking discovery of a connection that wounds but might ultimately save them both.⁣

Clap When You Land is poignant, luminous, and powerful. Acevedo imbues her words with such vivid imagery and raw emotion. It didn’t quite hit me as hard as I expected it to given the subject matter, but it still was a book that will stick with me.⁣ Acevedo's two earlier books, The Poet X and With the Fire on High, are master works.

Book Review: "Happy and You Know It" by Laura Hankin

Happy and You Know It, Laura Hankin's new novel, is an insightful, humorous commentary on the pressures of motherhood.

Claire has impeccable timing: she gets kicked out of her band just before their meteoric rise to fame. Now, barely able to make ends meet and filling her spare time with alcohol, she’s forced to take a job as a musician for a children’s playgroup.

But as hellish as the job sounds, the wealthy mothers whose infants make up the playgroup take a shine to Claire. There’s Whitney, the group leader whose Instagram presence as a super-mom belies the anxiety and boredom she feels in her everyday life; Amara, who would rather be working than mothering but she still worries that her baby might be lagging behind developmentally; and Gwen, the know-it-all mom always happy to dole out advice.

Even though the women involve Claire in some of their activities, she envies their perfectly put-together lives. That is, until she realizes why everything seems so manageable, and discovers these women are hiding more secrets than Claire can imagine.

"Women had to grapple with a choice that men never did while remaining uncomplaining and generous so that they didn't nag their husbands straight into the arms of less complicated lovers. And now moms weren't even allowed to acknowledge how much work it all was anymore."

This was a quick, enjoyable read, one of those “sure, the rich are different but are they happy” books. There’s humor and melodrama and some sharp observations about motherhood and marriage and the pressures of trying to hold it all together.

Hankin has definitely written a fun and thought-provoking book!

Friday, May 29, 2020

Book Review: "Feels Like Falling" by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Kristy Woodson Harvey's newest book, Feels Like Falling, is an utterly charming book about second chances, friendships, and the families we choose as well as those we’re born into.

“...even when the chips are down, life can change in an instant.”

Gray has worked hard to have it all—marriage, a strong family, and a multi-million-dollar company. But when it all starts to fall apart—her mother dies, her sister takes up with an extremist preacher, and her husband leaves her for another (younger) woman—she wonders what to do. And then she inadvertently gets Diana, a local woman, fired from her job processing photos at the drug store.

Diana’s life is on the verge of falling apart, too, and losing her job may be the last straw. But buoyed by Gray’s guilt and her generosity, she’s able to get back on her feet while living in Gray’s guesthouse—and she proves equally talented at helping Gray manage her own life as well.

When an old love returns, it opens up a whole world of possibilities for Diana, while also pushing some secrets out into the open. Meanwhile, as Gray wrestles with her own challenges, she is presented with a romantic possibility far different from what she pictured, and she’s unsure of what to do.

This was such a fun, satisfying, totally engaging read. I warmed up to these characters immediately and started rooting for them, and I was so glad that while Harvey introduced some drama into the story, it never went off the rails like I feared it might. (I’ve read too many melodramas!!)

If I had any criticism of this book, it's that there was a gay character who entered one scene, threw out some stereotypical commentary, and then wasn't heard from again, so I don't understand what the point of even introducing him was. Additionally, there was some banter about whether Gray's assistant was gay, and everyone kept commenting that he wasn't, but they thought he was. Again, no point to that dialogue, so I'm not sure what Harvey was aiming for.

On Goodreads, my good friend Jen referred to this book as her pick for “the book of the summer.” Once you read it, you’ll see how accurate she is, as it's definitely a book you'll want to add to your summer reading list!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Book Review: "That's Not a Thing" by Jacqueline Friedland

Can a relationship survive when old love walks back in? That's Not a Thing, Jacqueline Friedland's new novel, has its own ideas.

Meredith is happy. She’s engaged to Aaron, a handsome pediatric neonatologist, and while her job as a corporate lawyer doesn’t quite satisfy her, it does give her financial security and the occasional chance to work on a human rights case. Sure, she'd rather do something more fulfilling, but maybe someday.

One night when she and Aaron are at dinner with friends at a hot new NYC restaurant, Meredith discovers the chef is Wesley, her ex-fiancé. Their relationship collapsed spectacularly four years before and left her reeling. It took a while for her to trust and love again, but Aaron seems so right for her.

Seeing Wesley again, however, reawakens her feelings for him, and Meredith is unsure what to do. And when she learns about the challenge Wesley faces, she makes a split-second decision that has significant ramifications for her, Aaron, and Wesley.

I thought this was a pretty fantastic book, and given what happens, it’s surprisingly not too maudlin. There’s a lot to think about here and how you would react in the situations that occur in the book. (I’m being more vague than the description of the book on Amazon and elsewhere because I didn’t know about some key plot points.) At the start, the book shifts narration between Meredith's relationship with Wesley and the present time.

The course of love never runs smoothly and that certainly was the case here. But That's Not a Thing was poignant and powerful, and romantic in its own way. And you've got to love a book that can deliver lots of emotions without leaving you a sobbing mess!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Book Review: "Breath Like Water" by Anna Jarzab

How hard will you push to achieve your dreams, and what will you sacrifice to achieve them? These questions are at the core of Anna Jarzab's Breath Like Water.

All Susannah has known for as long as she can remember is swimming. She dreams of going to the Olympics, a dream she felt even closer to when she won a world championship at age 14. But when her body starts to slow down and change as she gets older, she wonders if her chance is over or whether she should listen to her overbearing coach and push harder.

When a new coach comes to the swimming club, Susannah wants nothing to do with her, until she realizes that her unique training techniques may take her where she needs to go. It’s a delicate balance between self-belief and recognizing the limits of her body.

"I feel like I'm one person in the water, and another on dry land. Me on land is still hesitant and uncertain; having faith is hard for her, and so is letting go. But me in the water, the girl Beth found beneath the rubble? She's elegant and powerful and fast."

Meanwhile, when she meets Harry, another talented swimmer, she wonders whether continuing to push herself for a dream she might never achieve is worth not taking a chance to follow her heart. But Harry has secrets of his own which also threaten to weigh Susannah down. She doesn’t understand why she can’t have it all, but if she has to choose, what’s the right choice, not just for her, but for those she cares about?

This really was a thought-provoking story, and Anna Jarzab does a great job in making you feel the tension of Susannah’s choices. But at its core, Breath Like Water is powerfully emotional, as you ride both the highs and the lows that these characters experience.

I’m honored to have been part of the blog tour for this book. NetGalley, Inkyard Press, and Harlequin Teen provided me with an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Book Review: "The Tourist Attraction" by Sarah Morgenthaler

You can’t trust tourists not to do make you fall in love with them.⁣ This is the moral of sorts in The Tourist Attraction, Sarah Morgenthaler's new rom-com.

⁣ FYI: I’m a sucker for sappy rom-coms, books set in Alaska, and dogs wearing outfits, so I was a goner here. There's also a moose in love with the smell of freshly baked bread. I mean, I was SUNK with this book before I started.

⁣ ⁣ Graham runs the Tourist Trap, a small diner in Moose Springs, Alaska that has become a huge tourist stop despite its limited menu and his less-than-stellar customer service. He’s one of many in his town who makes money off the tourists but doesn’t like the chaos and demands they bring.⁣

⁣ When he first meets Zoey, she’s nearly passed-out drunk in the diner and suffering from jet lag since she just arrived in Alaska. Since her friend abandoned her at the diner, Graham drives her back to the ultra-fancy resort where she’s staying, and it’s not long before he can’t get her out of his mind—despite the fact she’s a tourist.⁣

⁣ For Zoey, the trip to Alaska has been the dream of a lifetime. She’s spent all of her savings and planned everything down to the last detail—but she didn’t count on the sexy but grumpy local to get under her skin.⁣ Is she crazy to let him get to her? Should they start something that is sure to end when she leaves Alaska, if not before?

The Tourist Attraction was such a sweet, fun, sappy, slightly melodramatic book that I devoured. I loved the quirky and memorable cast of characters that Morgenthaler created (both human and animal) and hope to see them again in her next book, Mistletoe and Mr. Right, scheduled for release in October. (There's even a third book planned for January 2021!)⁣

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Book Review: "A Good Marriage" by Kimberly McCreight

How much do we really know about the person to whom we’re married? How much do we care? These questions are at the forefront of Kimberly McCreight's new book, A Good Marriage.

When Lizzie met Sam, she thought she had truly found a partner in taking on the world. She’d be a prosecutor and he’d be a writer, both beating back injustice. But things didn’t work out the way she hoped. Now their relationship is filled with anger and guilt, and Lizzie was forced to take a job at a fancy law firm and work long hours.

One night at the office she gets a collect call from Rikers Island. An old law school friend whom she hasn't seen in years, Zach Grayson, desperately needs her help. He’s been arrested for the alleged murder of his wife, Amanda, at their Park Slope brownstone. He maintains his innocence and pleads for Lizzie to defend him.

It’s the last thing she wants to do, but she’s encouraged by one of the firm’s partners to do so. And as she starts to dig into what happened that night, she discovers that Zach and Amanda’s marriage wasn’t quite what it seemed, and neither are Amanda’s seemingly well-put-together friends and neighbors. Everyone has secrets to hide about their lives and their marriages. Even Lizzie herself.

For me, this book started SO SLOWLY that I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep reading. I get slow burn, but this took a long while to hit its stride. When it did, however, it took off. I honestly didn’t know what to think or what to believe, and even though I figured some of the twists out, I was still surprised by some of the plot, too.

I loved Kimberly McCreight’s Reconstructing Amelia, so I was eagerly anticipating this one. It’s definitely twisty and suspenseful, provided you have the patience to stick with it until it takes off.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Book Review: "The Liar and Other Stories" by Alison Ragsdale

Alison Ragsdale's new short story collection, The Liar and Other Stories, is full of emotion-tinged short stories with notes of hope.

A grieving woman whose day is waylaid by a bridal veil flying out of someone’s car. A former flight attendant flying to her 30-year high school reunion. A once-wealthy man who is now homeless. A man who is on the trip of a lifetime with his wife, but he has a secret. A woman who makes an impulsive purchase on the way to the reading of her father's will. A compulsive liar trying to determine if she can stop.

These are just some of the characters in the stories in Ragsdale's new collection. Each of these stories is very short—some a little more than a page or two—but they’re tremendously fulfilling and, in many cases, emotionally rich. The characters are often at a crossroads of some sort or in the midst of a crisis, and Ragsdale leaves you with a glimmer of hope for them.

I’m a huge fan of short stories. For me, the measure of a great story is the question of whether I’d want to read more about the characters. In almost every case, I would love to see these stories expanded because I’d be fascinated to know more about the characters and their lives, as well as what happened to them when the story ended.

I know not everyone loves short stories, but if you do, or have been thinking you need to give them a whirl, here’s a good collection for you!!

I’m so lucky to be part of the blog tour for this book. Kate Rock Book Tours and Alison Ragsdale provided me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Book Review: "Time of Our Lives" by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka

Time of Our Lives, the newest novel from husband-and-wife writing duo Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka, is a thought-provoking YA romance with surprising emotional depth.

“Do you think a guy who dreads forgetting the past and a girl who’s focused on the future could, you know, be friends?”

Juniper is immensely smart, driven, a total planner. The oldest child in a large, tight-knit family, she’s always the one people depend on, and she can’t wait to spread her wings and experience college on her own. But how willingly will her family let her go?

On the other hand, Fitz knows exactly what he wants—to go to college close to home so he can care for his mother, who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. But she is determined that he experience life away from home and her, so she plans a week-long tour of colleges on the East Coast he’ll take with his older brother, a college student with whom Fitz hasn’t seen eye-to-eye in a while.

Fitz encounters Juniper while she’s on a college tour of her own. They couldn’t be more at odds with each other’s goals, yet they immediately feel a connection—which Juniper is determined to keep platonic since she’s touring colleges with her boyfriend. But as the two keep running into each other, they start to realize the impact they’re having on one another, far beyond the physical attraction they feel.

Time of Our Lives is such a gripping story about how easy it can be to live your life for someone else rather than yourself, and how hard it can be not to feel guilty about wanting to take your own path. It’s also a moving commentary about what makes memories.

Emily and Austin are a fantastic writing team. The book feels seamless, not like two people wrote it. Their books are really enjoyable, but I loved this one, and stayed up late to devour it. And even hours later, I'm still thinking about it.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Book Review: "The Summer Set" by Aimee Agresti

No one does drama quite like actors and actresses, you know? That's on full display in Aimee Agresti's fun new novel, The Summer Set.

Charlie Savoy was once the hottest actress around. Raised in London where she acted with her famous mother at the Old Globe Theatre, she received an Oscar nomination for her very first film. And then, amidst a gigantic flop at the box office and her own mercurial behavior, her star burned out.

She’s now 39 and owns an art house movie theater in Boston. She doesn’t miss acting. (Or does she?) When a brush with the law gets her sentenced to community service at the summer theater program where she got her start in America, she’s not happy, especially when she finds she’s being reunited with Nick, who is now the program’s artistic director. He's also the man she met at this very same program all those years ago, the man who directed her in that first film. Their pairing was the stuff of legend—and tabloids.

Nick is energized by Charlie’s return and hopes they can start anew. And when Charlie starts acting again, and realizes she never really lost her groove, it’s easy to slip into the old dynamic between her and Nick. But there are three shows to do, the theater program is in danger of shutting down, and a new arrival spells trouble. But are second chances in acting—and love—really possible?

This was fun and soapy and silly and full of drama and I was there for ALL OF IT. Sure it was predictable, but that doesn’t faze me. I do wish the parallel story with young actors was a little more fleshed out, but it was cute, so I can't complain.

Make The Summer Set part of your summer reading—or whenever you like! It's definitely entertaining.

I was fortunate to be part of the blog tour for this book. Thanks to Graydon House Books for making this possible!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Book Review: "November 9" by Colleen Hoover

I tell you, Colleen Hoover wrecks me emotionally so often yet I keep coming back willingly!! And it happened again with November 9.

Fallon was a successful television actress for two years, until she was 16, when she was seriously injured in a fire. Left with significant physical and emotional scars, she always keeps her guard up, convinced people only see the damage she has sustained.

Two years later she meets Ben, an aspiring writer, the day before she’s moving to NYC from Los Angeles. Their chance encounter intrigues both of them and both are shocked by the intensity of their feelings for one another. They spend Fallon’s last day in LA together and then make a vow: they’ll meet for the next five years on the same day (November 9), no matter what their life is like. After five years, they’ll see if they’re ready for forever. But in the meantime, no contact with each other except that one day a year.

Each year finds them in different places, feeling different things, facing different obstacles. Can someone who doesn’t believe in “insta-love” let their guard down? Is that even realistic?

How much can your life be shaped by someone you’ve barely met? Will the feelings you have for one another intensify or die in the absence of regular contact?

"When you find love, you take it. You grab it with both hands and you do everything in your power not to let it go. You can't just walk away from it and expect it to linger until you're ready for it."

This book is romantic, tragic, frustrating, and beautiful. I love the way Colleen Hoover writes and this book kept me guessing a bit. I stayed up late to devour this one.

Bravo, CoHo!!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Book Review: "This Is How I Lied" by Heather Gudenkauf

Heather Gudenkauf's new thriller, This Is How I Lied, is not to be confused with Riley Sager's The Last Time I Lied or any other thriller with the word "lied" in it.

If you’re looking for a slightly creepy thriller with some great twists, one that will have you flipping pages as you race toward the ending, stop. You’ve found it right here.

Twenty-five years ago, Maggie’s best friend Eve was murdered. Maggie and Eve’s troubled younger sister Nola found Eve’s body. There were a few suspects, including Nola herself, but the police were never able to close the case. Maggie’s father, who was the town police chief at the time, worked tirelessly to try and solve the murder, but failed. Maggie can't help but wonder if the stress of this case led to her father's dementia.

New evidence has been found at the scene of Eve’s murder, and the new police chief wants to retest all of the old evidence using new technology. Maggie, now a detective in her hometown, takes the case despite being seven months pregnant. (You betcha, I thought of Frances McDormand in Fargo, too.) She’s desperate to figure out what happened, and she hopes she won’t find her father missed something crucial.

But there are a lot of people with secrets related to Eve, both obvious ones and some who surprise Maggie. And there’s at least one person who wants Maggie to come to the conclusion they believe—and they’ll stop at nothing to make sure that happens.

This book hooked me from start to finish. As usual when I read thrillers I suspect everyone, and there were some people I hoped weren’t guilty. Heather Gudenkauf threw in lots of twists and they kept my heart racing.

One character is pretty creepy and has a bit of a penchant for not-quite animal torture. It's gross, but you can skim. (I did.)

I’ve always been curious about Gudenkauf’s books but never read one before, but if they’re all like this? Count me in.

I was fortunate to be part of the blog tour for this book. Thanks to Park Row Books and NetGalley for making an advance copy of the book available in exchange for an unbiased review!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Book Review: "My Kind of People" by Lisa Duffy

What makes a family? What sacrifices should you have to make to have one?

Leo’s life is turned upside down when his best friends Brian and Ann die and name him the guardian of their 10-year-old daughter, Sky. He temporarily moves back to his childhood hometown on Ichabod Island, just off the coast of Massachusetts. His new responsibilities threaten his job and his marriage to Xavier, who doesn’t want to have kids and wants to continue living in NYC.

"How do you build a new life? Leo wonders. How do you fill shoes so goddamn big?"

From the outside looking in, Brian and Ann seemed to have the perfect marriage. But were secrets taking their toll?

When Agnes, the island’s resident busybody, invites Sky’s maternal grandmother, whom she has never really known, to stay on the island, it causes a great deal of friction among longtime friends and neighbors, not to mention Leo and Xavier. What are her intentions toward Sky? And what does Sky want?

My Kind of People studies relationships of all kinds: romantic, marital, parental, friendships, and those which fall somewhere between the two. How do we protect someone else from getting hurt while keeping our own guard up at the same time?

Lisa Duffy has a magnificent way of immersing you in her books. Only a few pages in and you feel like you’ve known these characters forever. Despite the tensions, the island itself seemed so welcoming.

This story took a little longer to click with me than Duffy’s other books. There’s a lot of angry people in this book, and it wasn’t fun to process all of that early on. But Duffy’s storytelling is so beautiful that I started caring about the characters and what happened to them. One storyline was a little more melodramatic than it needed to be, but it still worked within the confines of the plot.

Duffy is definitely an auto-buy author for me and I can’t wait until her next book! You really should read her books if you haven't already. This is Home is my favorite.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Book Review: "The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly" by Jamie Pacton

You gotta fight for your be a knight. Or so it goes in The Life and Medieval Times of Kit Sweetly.

Kit is a “serving wench” at The Castle, a medieval restaurant, but what she really wants is to be a knight. Her older brother, Chris, is a knight, and she knows all of his routines really well. But company policy for the entire Castle franchise states that only guys can be knights, Game of Thrones be damned.

One night when Chris gets hurt and can’t perform, Kit puts on his costume and pretends to be him. She goes off script and beats the knight she is fighting, and the moment that she reveals she—not Chris—was behind the armor quickly goes viral.

Although she is threatened with the loss of her job, or even the shutting down of the entire franchise, Kit can’t get the thrill of being a knight out of her head. And judging from the responses the video is getting, more and more people want to see female knights. So she and some Castle colleagues start training, with the plan of showing corporate management just how smart and valuable of an investment female knights can be. Sounds like a foolproof plan, no?

Meanwhile, Kit also has to deal with her family’s financial woes, which might impact her going to her dream college, Marquette. And not only that, but she tries to fight her growing attraction to her best friend, Jett, despite the fact they’ve agreed to only be friends.

This is a fun book that takes its feminist message seriously but isn’t heavy-handed. I’m also impressed at the diversity in this book—there’s an interracial relationship at its core, there are bisexual, nonbinary, and trans characters, and no one makes a fuss. (It's ironic that a restaurant would have a problem with a woman being a knight but doesn't have a problem with a trans character being a serving wench.)

I read this really quickly and like in the movie A Knight’s Tale, I played lots of Queen music while reading. Although I felt the ending was a little rushed, this was still a fun read, and Jamie Pacton created really likable characters.

Book Review: "The Knockout Queen" by Rufi Thorpe

Rufi Thorpe's newest novel, The Knockout Queen, is an unflinching, sometimes painfully honest look at two teenage misfits trying to find their way in the world.

Michael is a gay teenager who has been hooking up with men since he was 13. He thinks his septum piercing and his long hair somehow make him more invisible. Since his mother went to prison, he lives with his aunt in an old house amidst mansions in a California suburb.

Although he’s been spying on their house for a while, one day he meets his next-door neighbor, Bunny, who is his age. Even though it looks from the mansion she lives in with her real estate agent father that she has it all, Bunny has more than her share of problems. At 6’3”, she is taller and bigger than anyone in her class, which is good for her dreams of becoming an Olympic volleyball player, but not for being accepted by her peers, and her father is a bit of a hustler with a serious alcohol problem.

The two connect with each other, fellow outcasts trying to handle difficult family situations and maybe even find their ticket out. When Michael embarks on his first real relationship and it is discovered, nasty gossip ensues, which leads to a shocking act of violence that changes everything in both of their lives.

"...being true to yourself, even if it makes everyone hate you, even if it makes people want to kill you, is the most radical form of liberty, and when you make contact with something as electric and terrifying as the unadorned truth of yourself, it burns away so many other smaller forms of bondage you weren't even aware of, so you find yourself irradiated and unencumbered. That there is something holy in that kind of stubbornness."

The Knockout Queen can be brutal but it is tremendously astute in how it captures the feelings of those who want nothing more than to be accepted, be loved, yet can’t seem to succeed, especially among family and friends. Rufi Thorpe doesn’t pretend her characters don’t have flaws; she makes them real and complex and not always sympathetic.

The book hit a little too close to home for me at times, so while this wasn’t an enjoyable book per se, it was affecting and thought-provoking. I did feel like things got a little rushed toward the end, and I didn't quite get the closure I had hoped for.

One thing I know for sure: this was definitely not the look back at high school and early adulthood I was expecting!

Book Review: "The House in the Cerulean Sea" by TJ Klune

OMG, this was so good! It really gave me All. The. Feels!

“The world is a weird and wonderful place. Why must we try and explain it all away? For our personal satisfaction?”

Linus Baker is a quiet man leading a quiet life. He’s a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, where he always follows the rules to a “t.” He doesn't question authority and does what's expected of him: nothing more, nothing less. Other than that, he lives with a cranky cat and his music to keep him company. It’s a lonely existence but he doesn’t know anything else.

And then one day he is summoned by Extremely Upper Management and sent on a top secret assignment: to investigate the Marysas Orphanage, located on a remote island. The children that live there are supposedly unlike any Linus has ever seen—dangerously magical, apparently—and there’s a rumor one could bring about the End of Days. He is also urged to investigate the home's master, Arthur Parnassus, for reasons no one explains to him.

When Linus arrives, he is shocked by what he finds, in that these children ARE different. Sure, they have the potential to be dangerous (particularly one), but they have the same needs of all children—to be loved and cared for, to be taken seriously, and to have their dreams nurtured. All of this definitely is happening thanks to the enigmatic Arthur Parnassus.

What happens when a man who has always followed the rules and been led by his brain suddenly has his heart opened? What will that mean for his life, his job, and the children?

One of the blurbs for The House in the Cerulean Sea says it’s “very close to perfect,” and I couldn’t agree more. This is a gorgeous book about our tendency to fear what we don’t understand, the magic love can do, and the different meanings of family.

This is a fantasy, of course, so it’s not for everyone, but while there are fantastical elements to the story, beyond that it's just a story about love and relationships and belonging. Boy, this is one I’ll remember and love for a long, long time.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Book Review: "All Adults Here" by Emma Straub

All aboard the Strick family dysfunction train!

When Astrid Strick witnesses a long-time nemesis get hit by a bus, it suddenly makes her realize two things: life is too short, so she needs to act on things before it’s too late, and perhaps equally important, she might not have been the best mother to her three children.

As she strives to make things better with her children, she also makes a major decision in her own life which further destabilizes her relationship with her oldest son, Elliott, a developer and builder, who nurses a long-held grudge and feels the need to prove himself to the town and his mother.

Meanwhile, Astrid’s daughter Porter is pregnant and yet can’t seem to give up her boyfriend from when she was a teenager, and Astrid’s youngest son, Nicky, who was an actor as a teenager and never quite gave up that lifestyle, has sent his teenage daughter to live with Astrid after an incident at her school.

All Adults Here is an interesting exploration of love, parental responsibility, infidelity, mortality, friendship, sexuality, and even gender. The book shifts narration among a number of characters—Astrid, Elliott, Porter, Nicky, Astrid’s granddaughter, and her friend.

There is a lot going on in this book and while I enjoyed most of the separate storylines, they didn’t seem to coalesce until nearly the end of the book, and no story seemed utterly complete. There was a lot that seemed to go unsaid in many cases, which was frustrating. Obviously that happens in real life, too, but when you're hoping that some loose ends in a story will get tied up, it doesn't quite help.

I really enjoy the way Emma Straub writes, though, and I can’t seem to get enough books about family dysfunction, so I still found this a good, satisfying read.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Book Review: "A Bad Day for Sunshine" by Darynda Jones

A Bad Day for Sunshine is a fun, slightly wacky mystery with a great set of characters I can’t wait to see again!

Although it’s the last thing she really wanted to do, Sunshine Vicram returns to her crazy hometown of Del Sol, New Mexico with her teenage daughter, Auri, in tow. She didn’t have much of a choice, really, because her parents somehow got her elected sheriff, which doesn’t sit too well with the mayor or the incumbent she defeated, since Sunshine never actually expressed interest in being sheriff in the first place).

She figures the sheriff gig can’t be all that bad, so she’ll stick around long enough to find those responsible for the reason she left town years ago. And apart from two neighbors fighting over a rooster named Puff Daddy, all is calm—for a few minutes. Then a friend of her mother's sends over a basket of her famous muffins and all hell breaks loose. (This apparently happens every time Ruby sends muffins.)

The next thing Sun knows, a teenage girl has been abducted, a fugitive is on the loose, a boy with autism is lost in the snowy mountains, and Auri is getting seriously bullied at her new high school.

Sun is going to have to confront some painful memories, some truths will need to be revealed, and she’ll come face to face with the boy who broke her heart who turned into a man who is as sexy as hell, whose family can't stand Sun, to put it mildly. She's never quite been able to get him out of her system, family hatred or not. (Oh, and she has a bunch of crimes to solve.)

I really enjoyed this book. These characters were so much fun and there’s still so much history between them that Darynda Jones hasn’t even touched on, so I can’t wait for what she'll put in a second book.

At times the book got a tiny bit too silly for me—there’s humor and then there’s farce. One recurring joke, while it all revealed itself in the end to be for a purpose, annoyed me a bit. But in the end, this is a fun book with a badass female character I loved and one I'll eagerly await the chance to see again.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Book Review: "Meet Cute Club" by Jack Harbon

Could Meet Cute Club, Jack Harbon's new book, BE any more adorable?

Jordan believes in happy endings. Inspired by his grandmother, he loves romance novels of all kinds. He puts his heart and soul into ensuring that the Meet Cute Club, his romance-book book club, runs smoothly, the way his grandmother's book club used to when he was younger.

"It was about more than the books. It was about the community surrounding them, and the interpersonal relationships that were built all because of a mutual love of stories."

When the new cashier at the bookstore where he buys most of his romance books mocks them as stuff grandmas would read, it gets under Jordan’s skin. But that’s precisely why Rex said those words, because he could tell how much the books meant to Jordan and he wanted to ruffle him a little bit.

When Rex asks to join the Meet Cute Club, at first Jordan thinks he’s doing it as a joke, but Rex says the books—and Jordan—really interest him. Since Jordan is worried about the group losing members, he lets Rex join, and is surprised to see he actually starts enjoying the books he once mocked.

Little by little, both let their guards down and their feelings for each other intensify. But life—and love—aren’t as easy as they are in books, and sometimes, a happy ending might take more work and cause more pain in real life than they do on the page.

This was the perfect change of pace for me after I had read a bunch of heavier books. At first I thought the characters were going to be clichés, but there was a lot more depth to them than I expected.

Meet Cute Club was fun and steamy (just two scenes, so those who are averse to steam can skim), and the M/M rom-com is a variation on the genre I’ve not read much of yet. Maybe there was something in my eye, or perhaps I’ll admit the darned book might have made me tear up as well.

Book Review: "Swimming in the Dark" by Tomasz Jedrowski

Swimming in the Dark is a gorgeous story about love, longing, sacrifice, and secrets.

Ludwik and Janusz first meet at a Polish summer work camp in the early 1980s. Ludwik is mesmerized by Janusz’s carefree manner, his bravado, and his handsomeness, all of which awaken a longing which frightens him. The two connect by chance one night at the river, and they quickly fall into an intense relationship.

When their time in camp is done, they spend a few weeks alone together, camping in the wilderness, living a romantic and dreamy existence that they know is impossible upon their return to the repression of their “real world.” Ludwik, the dreamer, tries to encourage Janusz to leave Poland with him, but Janusz knows that isn’t realistic.

Soon after they return home, the divide between them grows. Janusz gets a job working for the Party, while Ludwik wants to pursue a doctorate. They spend time together in brief, furtive encounters, yet Ludwik isn’t content with living a secret life forever. But what sacrifices is he willing to make, and what will they mean to him and Ludwik?

"...people can't always give us what we want from them; that you can't ask them to love you the way you want."

Lyrical, gorgeously told, and powerfully emotional, this quiet book packs a punch. It’s a tremendous exploration of a time and a culture where getting what you wanted often meant compromising yourself, and not everyone was willing to do this. Tomasz Jedrowski is an exceptionally talented storyteller.

God, this book was really beautiful.

Book Review: "The Night Swim" by Megan Goldin

Megan Goldin's new novel, The Night Swim, is part courtroom drama, part mystery, part thought-provoking exploration of how horrible society and the criminal justice system treat those who have been raped.

Rachel has gained notoriety as the creator and host of a true crime podcast. While the first two seasons focused on past crimes—and helped a man go free—this time she’s focusing on a rape trial, covering it from the small town where it happened.

The son of the town’s wealthiest family and a prospective Olympic swimmer is accused of brutally raping a teenage girl, the granddaughter of the former police chief. The town is torn apart by the case, with some thinking the girl “deserved” it and is lying, while others think he needs to be punished.

Meanwhile, Rachel, who is known more for her voice than her face, is being followed around town by a woman who says her sister was murdered in the same town 25 years ago, but the police refused to investigate, calling it an accidental drowning. This woman, Hannah, wants Rachel to tell the true story of what happened to her sister, even if it riles up old ghosts.

What will be the outcome of the rape trial? What was the truth behind Hannah’s sister’s death? Rachel will find herself in the middle of both cases, with their similarities and overlaps.

This is a very slow burn of a book and it’s definitely not the thriller Goldin’s first novel, The Escape Room, was. That being said, it’s a compelling and emotional story about rape and reputations in a small town, and the scars we bear.

NetGalley and St. Martin's Press provided me with an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

The book publishes 8/4.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Book Review: "Ship It" by Britta Lundin

Sometimes a book has the best of intentions but loses its way trying to get there.

Sixteen-year-old Claire lives a fairly lonely existence in her small town in Idaho. She doesn't quite fit in with anyone; her one "friend" is the girl she sits next to on the school bus who reads her bible the whole ride and doesn't say a word to her. Claire's one source of comfort is the fantasy television show Demon Heart.

She is so obsessed with the show that she writes fan fiction, or more specifically, slash fiction (fan fiction that pairs two characters of the same sex), about the show's two main characters, Smokey and Heart. She's fairly well-known among fans of the show; in fact, her Tumblr page has a very healthy number of followers.

When Claire learns that the two actors who play Smokey and Heart will be appearing at a local Comic-Con, she can't wait to meet them, and ask the show's creator whether the sexual tension between the two characters is imagined by so many of the show's fans, or whether the chemistry is intentional, and if they plan to bring that aspect of their relationship on to the show. She gets the chance to ask such a question during a panel discussion, and Forest Reed, the actor who plays Smokey, literally laughs at her and says she's crazy, which devastates her. Forest asserts that there's no way his character could be gay, and there's certainly no way he plays it that way.

But when the clip of Claire's question and Forest's reaction goes viral, the show's producers realize they're in trouble with their fans and the LGBTQ community, so they get Claire to be their guest at the next two ComicCons on their publicity tour. Their hope is that Claire will be starstruck and eventually will forget about her issues with Forest's response. But they don't count on how seriously Claire takes the idea that Smokey and Heart should be gay, and that LGBTQ representation really matters. It's not long before Forest, Claire, and the show's creator, Jamie, are in a bit of a battle, with each one trying to foil the other.

Meanwhile, as Claire becomes more and more insistent, she is also struggling with an identity crisis of her own, when she keeps running into Tess, a pansexual artist, who clearly is interested in Claire. But does Claire know what her heart wants? Would pursuing a flirtation with Tess, who thinks she should drop the idea of Smokey and Heart's sexuality becoming canon, distract her from her focus? Will Forest's exposure to the show's fans and fanfic help him better understand why such representation might be important to the LGBTQ community?

I loved the concept of Ship It. I'll admit I've read some slash fiction over the years and I do think it's good that the fantasy/superhero world is becoming more open to characters who are queer, gender fluid, etc. But I really found Claire's character to be utterly unrealistic and just way too entitled, plus I didn't like the way she treated other people, including Tess. The actions of other characters were a little questionable, too.

Others have enjoyed this, so it might have just rubbed me the wrong way. I loved the ideas on which the book was built, but I just didn't think the execution worked. Oh well...

Book Review: "You and Me and Us" by Allison Hammer

I’m not sobbing, you’re sobbing.

Alexis knows she works too much and she has done so since she started her own ad firm a few years ago. She’s missed a lot of things like family dinners and school plays, but she knows Tommy, her supportive partner, will smooth everything over, especially with their teenage daughter CeCe, who is definitely at the stage of hating everything Alexis does or says. (She even hopes that the couple will split up so she can live with Tommy alone.)

When Tommy is diagnosed with terminal cancer and chooses not to fight it, everything Alexis has depended on is thrown into disarray. He wants to spend his last summer at their beach house in Destin, Florida, where they first met as children, so despite her concerns about his ex-wife, a television actress, being in Destin at the same time they will be, she can’t deny him this wish.

It’s not easy going from being the one taken care of to becoming the caretaker, especially when your daughter has such resentment for you. The worse Tommy’s condition gets, the more strained her relationship with CeCe gets, even though Alexis is (mostly) doing the best she can.

As you can imagine, this is a tremendously poignant book but it’s not maudlin. It’s a book that is tremendously genuine in its depiction of grief, facing the loss of your true love or your parent, and how hard it is to see someone who was so vital become so physically ill.

The one area I struggled with was CeCe. I understood her attitude toward Alexis, and know it’s probably accurate, but she was just so hurtful and mean sometimes I didn’t entirely enjoy reading scenes with her in them. Ultimately it got easier, but that was the sore spot for me in this book.

To be honest, it might not have been the best idea to read this book as the sixth anniversary of my dad’s death approaches, but I was really captivated by the beauty of the emotions Allison Hammer captured. Sure, my eyes were red afterward, but reading You and Me and Us was worth the emotional trauma.

Thanks to William Morrow Books for the Bookstagram giveaway through which I won a copy of this book!