Friday, July 31, 2020

Book Review: "Good Talk" by Mira Jacob

Packing an emotional, powerful punch, Mira Jacob's Good Talk is a great read!!

The book is subtitled A Memoir in Conversations, and that’s exactly what it is. It recounts conversations that the author had at different points in her life with her husband, family, friends, her young son, people she dated, even strangers, about race, identity, prejudice, racism, and love.

Most of the conversations with her son occur in the lead-up to the 2016 election, as she tries to help an eight-year-old process the things Donald Trump said, the unease of many yet the embrace of many as well of his candidacy for president and the things he espoused, and what all of it would mean to a young Indian boy.

She also recounts snippets of post-9/11 life in New York City for a brown woman, what dating was like, the hope that came from President Obama’s election, and ultimately, the emotional realities of being in an interracial marriage, particularly in the Trump era.

This is gorgeously emotional and so thought-provoking. To read Jacob’s thoughts as a woman, an artist, a mother, a wife, and a woman of color in both good and tumultuous times was really eye-opening.

I didn’t know when I first started hearing about this book that it was a memoir of sorts told in a graphic novel-style, but in a tongue-in-cheek way. The pictures are hand-drawn or are actual photos and they’re superimposed on different backgrounds, so it almost looks like the start of a collage. I love it but don’t want people to be caught off-guard. I've seen some people comment on that, but it didn't bother me at all.

You’ve got to read this.

Book Review: "Fence: Rivals" (Volume 4) by C.S. Pacat, Johanna the Mad, and Joana LaFuente

We return to Kings Row Boys School for more adventures with the fencing team, in the fourth volume of the Fence graphic novel series.

When Volume 3 ended, the members of the fencing team were chosen. To no one's surprise, prodigy Seiji Katayama was selected, but much to his own shock, Nicholas was selected as one of two reserve team members. But when an old rival of Seiji's comes to visit and tries to encourage him to return to his old school, it makes him more determined than ever to stay at Kings Row...but he still thinks he's better than everyone else.

But just as the team starts getting into a groove, the coach throws them for a loop: they're going to have an exhibition match with Methodist Lads College (MLC), the school that knocked them out of the state championships last year. While Seiji is prepared to lead his team to victory, what neither he nor Nicholas understand are the strategies involved with a team fencing event. Since fencing is usually an individual sport, a team event is entirely different, and it's going to take more than talent to win.

Will Kings Row be able to pull out a victory, or will they fall prey to their rival once again? Will one team member be responsible for the win, or will they finally start working together? Will Aiden show up for the match?

In Fence: Rivals, the relationships between the teammates start to develop into more than simple competition with one another. Friendships start to build, and who knows what could happen next?

I enjoy these graphic novels because the characters are so diverse without any discussion (Aiden goes from guy to guy, but there's never any conversation about his sexuality, just that he's a bit of a slut) and they teach me a lot about fencing, which I knew nothing about!

The downside is they're super, super slow-burn, so I hope the next volume advances the plot a little quicker. There are so many threads I'd love to see develop and I hate having to wait, lol! But I'm super excited because a full-length novel called Fence: Striking Distance, based on this series, will be published at the end of September.

See my review of Volume 1 here, and see my review of Volumes 2 and 3 here.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Book Review: "Blacktop Wasteland" by S.A. Cosby

Now HERE’S an excellent crime novel/thriller for you: S.A. Cosby's new book, Blacktop Wasteland!!

“You were never out of the Life completely. You were always looking over your shoulder. You always kept a gun within reach, not buried under cement in your basement. Having a gun nearby was the only way you could pretend to relax.”

Once the best getaway driver on the East Coast, Beauregard “Bug” Montage has put that life behind him. He’s a husband, a father, an excellent mechanic. But lately the pressure has been mounting—the kids need glasses, braces, everything, and business has slowed down—and he doesn’t know how to get his head above water.

So when a guy with whom he’s worked before shows up, recently out of prison and talking about a can’t-miss scheme involving a jewelry store and a tremendous payoff, Bug can’t resist the temptation to get back behind the wheel again, despite everyone’s warnings to the contrary.

What Bug doesn’t really count on, however, is just how messy a web he’s about to step in. At the same time he’s trying to figure out what kind of life he really wants to lead, he’s haunted by memories of his father, who also was a renowned wheelman, and who disappeared when Bug was younger. His father left him a classic car, and he can't help but conjure up memories of him each time he gets behind the wheel.

In addition to some pulse-pounding chases and action scenes, this book explores the idea of whether a life of crime is somehow hard-wired in our genes, or if it’s just a life some are backed into. S.A. Cosby is such a fantastic writer because he makes you root for Bug and his family despite the choices he made. I've never read any of Cosby's earlier books but I'm definitely going to check them out now!

Such a fantastic book, both fast-paced and cerebral.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Book Review: "Sex and Vanity" by Kevin Kwan

Sex and Vanity is another zany tale of wealth, love, and excess from Kevin Kwan, the author of Crazy Rich Asians and its sequels.

⁣ ⁣ "When we align with the truth of who we are, all things are possible."

Lucie Churchill arrives on the gorgeous island of Capri for the wedding of her old babysitter. She can’t believe she’s been invited to what will inarguably be the wedding of the year, especially in such a beautiful location. She also can’t believe she’s being chaperoned by her older cousin Charlotte, who always reminds the half-Chinese, half-American to “think of her [white] family’s name” when doing things.⁣

⁣ When Lucie meets the handsome, intelligent George Zao, something about him makes her bristle. He seems to always be where she is, he always seems to know everything, and he’s too confident. But when an incident brings them together she suddenly can’t get him out of her mind no matter how much she tries. And when they are caught in a delicate position, she is forced to leave Capri and forget him for good.⁣

⁣ A few years later, now engaged to society’s most in-demand bachelor, Lucie runs into George again. The more that she learns about him, the more she becomes conflicted about how she feels. In the end she does everything she can to push him away, to once again sublimate the Chinese side of her heritage.

⁣ ⁣ What will win out, heart or heritage? Love or social appropriateness? Once again, Kwan brings his trademark sly humor along with his immense descriptive talent. This is a book that should be seen, felt, and tasted, because everything sounds so breathtaking. (Plus most of the food sounds utterly outrageous.)

⁣ ⁣ This book didn’t really wow me, though, as much as the Crazy Rich Asians series did. I think there was more fun in those books and the romances were more exciting. Even the constant bragging got old after awhile. But despite its shortcomings, I still enjoyed the book and I will read everything Kwan writes. I just wanted to love this one more.⁣

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Book Review: "Hieroglyphics" by Jill McCorkle

This was a thought-provoking meditation on the fickleness and the resonance of memory.⁣

⁣ I’ve often remarked at how easily I can remember song lyrics from the 1980s, specific instances or people from my childhood, even what theaters I saw movies at (and with whom) years before, but I can’t remember why I walked into the kitchen or where I put my keys. Those same things would certainly be familiar to the characters of Jill McCorkle’s newest book, Hieroglyphics!

⁣ ⁣ Frank and Lil have moved from Boston to North Carolina, ostensibly to be closer to their daughter. But both also suffer from health problems and are starting to have issues with memory.⁣

⁣ Both Frank and Lil lost a parent tragically when they were young. It’s one of the things that connected them early on. And now the memories of their parents and the emotions around their loss seem fresher than what is currently happening around them. ⁣

⁣ As Lil sorts through papers and other mementos and junk she brought in the move in order to assemble some sort of record for their children of their lives and the decisions they made, Frank becomes more obsessed with visiting his childhood home, determined to find if he left something there years ago, and causing upheaval for Shelley, the woman who lives there, and her young son.⁣ Shelley has her share of issues with memories as well.

⁣ This was a poignant and well-written story, told by multiple narrators. It meandered a bit too much for me at times, but definitely resonated in many ways. I’ve always been a fan of McCorkle’s storytelling ability and her use of language, since her very first books.⁣

⁣ I’m grateful to have been a part of the blog tour for this book. Algonquin Books provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!⁣

Monday, July 27, 2020

Book Review: "Percy Jackson & The Olympians, Book 1: The Lightning Thief" by Rick Riordan

Yeah, I’m about 15 years late to the party on this one!

I don’t know why I never read these books before. I was a huge fan of Harry Potter and other books like it, and I really liked the mystery series Rick Riordan wrote before he reinvented himself, but for some reason these never made it on to my radar. So when a friend suggested a buddy read of the series, I jumped at the chance.

I’m not going to do my usual plot summary because I’d imagine most of you know what these books are about, either because you’ve read these books or your children have. But suffice it to say that Percy Jackson is a kid who can never seem to stay out of trouble, because it always seems to find him. When he gets kicked out of yet another boarding school, his mother takes him to Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp for demigods. The next thing he knows, he's on a quest to the underworld to try and get back Zeus' master lightning bolt, which has been stolen.

I thought this was a fun way to bring mythology to life (seeing as it has always intimidated me). I really enjoyed the characters, particularly Percy and Grover. While I felt the book took a long time to get to the real exciting stuff, I liked the journey that Percy and his friends had to take.

Since this was the first book in the series, there was a lot of explanation about things, a lot more telling rather than showing, but I’d imagine that will change as the series progresses.

Does this feel a little like a Harry Potter imitation? Maybe, but it's not too distracting.

I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the series next month!

Book Review: "Today Tonight Tomorrow" by Rachel Lynn Solomon

So much to love about Rachel Lynn Solomon's new book, Today Tonight Tomorrow.

Neil and Rowan have been bitter rivals all four years of high school. From an essay contest freshman year, they’ve battled over everything—grades, SAT scores, pull-ups in gym class, college acceptances—they even had to be student council co-presidents. They constantly taunt and torture one another, and Rowan is hoping that today, the last day of high school, she’ll be named valedictorian over him.

When that doesn’t happen, she has one more chance to beat her rival, playing Howl, a senior-class game that is part scavenger hunt, part “assassin.” But when Rowan overhears a group of classmates talking about beating her and Neil together, she decides to pair up with him for one opportunity for them to finish one-two.

As they race all over Seattle for the game and take care of some other obligations along the way, they start to let their guard down with the other for the first time, and discover there’s more to like about their rivals than they ever knew. Both have been hiding secrets which few other people know, but for some reason they feel comfortable sharing them with each other. But what does that mean ultimately?

So rom-com fans know where this book is headed, but it has such charm and heart, it doesn’t matter that the plot is predictable. There were lots of things Solomon threw in the book to give the characters more depth and I loved them—some things aren’t typically discussed in YA rom-coms.

"But I do want something big and wild, something that fills my heart completely. I want a fraction of what Emma and Charlie or Lindley and Josef or Trisha and Rose have, even though they're fictional. I'm convinced that when you're with the right person, every date, every day feels that way."

This could be such a fun movie, with gorgeous Seattle as a backdrop and great music as a soundtrack. Hope someone is paying attention to that idea!!

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Book Review: "Dignity & Grace" by Alison Ragsdale

Dignity & Grace, Alison Ragsdale's new novel, is gorgeously lyrical and emotional.

Iona has just turned 21 and her life is at a bit of a crossroads. An immensely talented musician, she’s given up her beloved cello and left university because it dredges up too many painful memories of her mother, Grace, who died of a form of ALS 10 years earlier. She also mostly avoids her father, because of blame and resentment related to her mother’s death as well.

On her 21st birthday, her father sends her a letter her mother wrote her years before. In the letter, Grace urges Iona to visit her old music teacher, a man Grace worshipped and trusted more than any other. At the same time, Iona finds an old photo in the bottom of her cello case, of her mother when she was much younger.

Visiting Grace’s music teacher starts to help put the events of her childhood in perspective. And this visit is just the start of a journey that her mother is sending her on, to help her find a way back to the things—and the people—she loves and needs. Along the way, she starts to better understand her mother and the choices she made.

This beautiful book resonated with me in so many ways. Can you imagine what it must be like to receive letters from someone you lost years ago, and whom the adult you never got to know? The book deftly explores so many emotions and choices but allows you to make your own decisions about what happened, as it did Iona.

This is the second book I’ve read by Ragsdale (I read her story collection, The Liar and Other Stories, earlier this year), and man oh man, can she tell a story! The book takes place in Scotland (a place I’ve always wanted to visit) and her imagery was so vivid I could see the places she described so well. Plus there’s nothing quite like a good cry late at night while you’re reading!

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

Read this if you love family drama.

Book Review: "The Extraordinaries" by TJ Klune

TJ Klune's newest book, The Extraordinaries, is a book that truly lives up to its name!

We all have crushes on celebrities when we’re teenagers. It just so happens that Nick Bell worships Shadow Star, the bravest Extraordinary in Nick’s home of Nova City. Shadow Star has vowed to fight the evil in the city, and he is the subject of all of Nick’s popular fanfiction (in which he may or may not have feelings for a Nick-like character).

After a chance encounter with his hero, Nick realizes he needs to become an Extraordinary too in order to have a chance at being noticed. That’s a tall order for anyone, much less a teenager with ADHD and anxiety and an overprotective police officer father.

Nick will try to enlist the help of his best friends—Seth (with whom he may be head over heels in love), Gibby, and Jazz—none of whom want to indulge this fantasy. But Nick is determined that his hero will notice him, even if it may jeopardize his friendships, his relationship with his dad, or even his life.

"Love is such a weapon in the face of darkness, if you only know how to wield it."

This book was utterly squee-inducing. Nick and Seth are utterly adorable, Jazz and Gibby are a hysterical “power lesbian” couple, and Nick’s relationship with his dad definitely choked me up more than a time or two. There’s definitely humor here, too. The scene when Nick finally meets his crush made me laugh out loud, as did some of the things his father said.

But there was so much more to love about this book as well, such as the friendships, and the story of a young man trying so hard to make sense of a world that often doesn’t make sense.

It’s amazing that before this year I had never heard of TJ Klune and now he’s written what will unarguably be two of my favorite books of the year, The House in the Cerulean Sea and this one. I want more of these characters!!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Book Review: "One to Watch" by Kate Stayman-London

Boy, I sure did love this one!!

Bea Schumacher is a popular plus-size fashion blogger, determined to show women they can look and feel beautiful, no matter what the fashion world and others may demonstrate.

But while she demonstrates confidence and pride outwardly, she doesn’t always feel worthy inside. And when the one man she’s been in love with forever leaves her hanging and hurting one time too many, she wonders if she’ll ever find the right person.

After a ranting blog post about a popular dating show’s lack of body diversity, the show’s eager new producer offers Bea the chance to become the next bachelorette on "Main Squeeze," so she could choose one lucky suitor among men vying for her heart. Bea wants to do it to show the world that you don’t have to be stick-thin to be worthy of love, and she hopes that she can further her career by appearing on the show.

However, the one thing Bea does NOT want to do is fall in love. Yet as much as she steels herself against getting her emotions involved, when amidst a group of handsome men (some of whom seem genuinely interested in her), going on romantic dates to beautiful locales, and being dressed in gorgeous outfits, how can her heart not be moved? But is true love possible from a show like this, or does her heart still belong to the man from her past?

I’ve never watched “The Bachelor” in its various permutations but I was utterly hooked on One to Watch. Having struggled with my weight most of my life, I recognized some of the things that Bea felt and thought the book did a great job in being realistic about the various reactions people had to her. All of the various dates and manipulations were pretty interesting as well, and I wondered how closely they hewed to the shows this was modeled on.

This is a funny, sexy, emotional book that I stayed up super late to finish. I could totally see this as a movie or series I’d absolutely binge watch!! Kudos to Kate Stayman-London for such a great story!!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Book Review: "Boyfriend Material" by Alexis Hall

Sometimes it takes a fake boyfriend to turn your world around.

In Alexis Hall's newest book, Boyfriend Material, Luc is the son of musicians, and while he never met his rock star father, it’s not stopped the tabloids from covering Luc’s every misdeed, especially with his father’s resurgent career.

Since everyone just assumes Luc is a depressed lush who flits from guy to guy, he feels it’s easier just to behave that way. And since he's only had disappointing relationships, it's best not to expect anything else.

But when the media coverage of his exploits starts to impact his job as a fundraiser for a charity, a colleague suggests he pretend to find the “right” sort of man and fake a relationship, so the media can provide more positive coverage. Luc’s best friend has just the guy: Oliver, a handsome barrister who has often acted as if Luc is the last man on earth he’s interested in.

However, Oliver could benefit from having a fake boyfriend, too, so he reluctantly agrees to Luc’s scheme. As the two get closer (for “verisimilitude,” as Oliver puts it), they discover that each is far more complex—and appealing—than they thought. But could they ever succeed in a “real” relationship?

If you don’t know what happens next, you’ve not read a romance before. Yet it didn’t matter that you could predict the way the plot unfolded—these characters were fun and charming and sexy and damaged and I was there for every second of it.

I’ve always been a fan of the fake relationship trope in rom-coms, and I love reading M/M romances that aren’t all steam or all drama. This was such a great read, and I’d love to see lots more of Luc and Oliver, as well as the great supporting characters. This was funny and thought-provoking and emotional and a bit steaamy as well.

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

Monday, July 20, 2020

Book Review: "How to Save a Life" by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

Sometimes saving the person you love is harder than you think. That's the concept behind How to Save a Life by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke.

Dom and Mia had what seemed like a storybook romance, culminating in a magical engagement. But shortly afterward, things fall apart, and they never see each other again.

Almost 10 years later, Dom runs into Mia at a coffee shop. He can’t believe he might have a second chance to try and build a relationship with her, and she seems interested, too.

On their first date, he’s determined to show her how much he’s changed from the overly cautious guy she used to know, but when Mia tragically dies, he is devastated. How could his second chance at happiness end so quickly?

But when he wakes up the next morning and discovers he’s repeating the same day, he thinks maybe fate has intervened. Yet no matter what he tries to do, Mia’s fate remains the same. He keeps living the day over and over again.

Dom’s desperation increases as he tries to figure out a way to save Mia. Can you actually control fate, or are we doomed to repeat life’s tragedies? Can he save Mia?

This is an interesting and thought-provoking story a la Groundhog Day. It definitely keeps you guessing and you feel for these characters, so you root for things to work themselves out.

This is the second book of Liz and Lisa I’ve read and I enjoyed their storytelling once again. I did think the storyline took a little too long to play itself out, but I still was pretty invested in how things unfolded.

And now I have the song by The Fray stuck in my head...

Book Review: "What You Wish For" by Katherine Center

Life can bring you down, but you have the power to bring yourself up.

In Katherine Center's new book, What You Wish For, Samantha is a librarian at an experimental school. She loves her job—the students, her colleagues, all of it. But it took her a long time to find that place in her life.

“Dude, I’m not happy because it comes easily to me. I bite and scratch and claw my way toward happiness every day.”

When the board of the school hires a new principal, Sam is shocked to find out it’s Duncan Carpenter. She had an enormous crush on him while teaching at a different school years ago, but he never noticed her, which caused her to leave.

While no one wants a new principal, Sam feels confident because Duncan was always full of life, spontaneity, and joy when she worked with him. But that is not the Duncan that arrives at their school. This Duncan is buttoned-up, humorless, strict, and threatens to destroy everything that makes their school special.⁣

As the morale of the school and the teachers—and the future of the school itself—slips away, it’s up to Sam and her colleagues to take their school back. And at the same time, Sam must try to understand this new Duncan, and help him find his way back—without sacrificing herself or her own life in the process.

Katherine Center is such a terrific writer. Her ability to wring emotion and heart out of her characters is so amazing, and she does so again in this book. While at first I thought Sam was a little too goofy and naive, the more I read the more I understood what made her tick and how hard she fought for that goofiness.

When you read romances, you know what will happen, and ultimately, that’s one of the things I enjoy so much. Thanks to Center for bringing us another book to warm our hearts and perhaps, shed a tear or two.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Book Review: "The Voting Booth" by Brandy Colbert

Brandy Colbert's new book, The Voting Booth, is thought-provoking, timely, and sweetly romantic.

It’s Election Day. Marva has been waiting for this day for so long—it’s the first time she gets to vote and the stakes have never been higher. She is so excited to walk into that booth and cast her vote.

Having grown up with an activist older brother, Duke knows the importance of Election Day. Yet when he goes to vote before school he discovers he’s not registered at his precinct.

Overhearing Duke's predicament snaps Marva into action, and she is determined that Duke will vote before the end of the day, because she can sense he's just willing to let it slide rather than do the work to make it all happen. She drives him to a second polling place, and wants to follow through when they encounter other situations. Along the way they talk—about frivolous and serious things—and realize that sometimes the most intense connections are the ones which are most unexpected.

Each also has their own struggles to deal with, both relationship-related and otherwise. Will the day end with each going their separate ways?

I really enjoyed The Voting Booth. It dealt with some weighty issues and felt so immensely relevant but it was never preachy or heavy-handed. There was a fresh sweetness to the storytelling which made you root for the characters.

If you’re a fan of YA rom-coms, here’s one for you. And don’t forget to vote!!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Book Review: "I Was Told It Would Get Easier" by Abbi Waxman

Who knew that a week-long trip to look at colleges would be so full of drama?

There’s an old “Far Side” comic which had a split screen of a man and a woman. The man is thinking about the woman, wondering if she's thinking about him, too. The woman is thinking about ice cream. The caption of the comic is “Same Planet, Different Worlds.”

I thought of that comic a lot while reading Abbi Waxman’s new book, I Was Told It Would Get Easier.

Jessica has worked hard to provide a comfortable life for her daughter, Emily. Sure, working those long hours meant she couldn’t always be there for her daughter, but Emily was able to go to an excellent school and has a great future ahead of her. So what if the live-in nanny raised her a little bit more than Jessica did?

The two participate in a week-long, cross-country tour of colleges. But while Jessica wants Emily to get into a good school, Emily isn’t even sure she wants to go to college, and doesn’t have a clue what she wants from life. Plus she's hiding a secret from her mother, and her mother has something she's not sharing with Emily either.

Of course, this only ratchets up the tensions between them. Emily feels that Jessica only cares about her job; Jessica feels like she’s always walking on eggshells with her daughter. And as they deal with a tight schedule, ultra-competitive parents, and visitors from Jessica’s past, the two will learn a lot about each other—and themselves—on this trip.

This was a sweet book which looked at the always-complicated relationship between mother and daughter (particularly teenage daughters). It alternated narration between the two, so it was interesting to see how differently each perceived what was happening and their interactions. (Hence my thinking about the "Far Side" comic.)

It’s not fun to spend a lot of time with a sullen, unhappy person, so at times Emily’s behavior—however understandable—took a little of the enjoyment out of the book for me. But I love the way Waxman writes, so I kept with it, and in the end, was left with a fun story. (And speaking of Waxman's writings, her last book, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill was excellent!)

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Book Review: "Camino Island" by John Grisham

When a major literary theft occurs, who better to help investigate than a writer?

Thieves steal five highly valuable manuscripts from Princeton’s Firestone Library. The authorities are determined to find out what happened to them and hopefully get them back.

Mercer Mann is a novelist with writer’s block and a mountain of debt. She is approached by a woman seeking her help. She wants Mercer to move into her grandmother’s house on Camino Island and help investigate the local bookstore owner and raconteur, to see if he’s involved with the manuscript theft. In exchange they’ll eliminate her debt.

She’s no spy, but she gets drawn into the investigation. She becomes involved with a circle of writers on the island, each more colorful and dysfunctional than the next, and finds herself being pulled into the orbit of Bruce Cable, the handsome and enigmatic bookstore owner who may or may not also deal in stolen books.

As they get closer and closer to finding out the truth, Mercer isn’t sure how she wants things to end. She likes being part of the action, and she finds herself drawn to Bruce and his wife, Nicole. But who’s playing whom?

It’s been forever since I’ve read a John Grisham book. I was a huge fan when his books first started coming out—I even met him at a signing (swoon) in the early 90s. I remember missing my stop on the metro one morning because I was so engrossed in reading. Somewhere I lost track of his stuff but I thought I’d pick this one up and see what I’ve been missing.

This was a fun, charming caper. Not a lot actually happens and things are a little confusing at times, but the story is pretty entertaining and the characters are appealing, so I enjoyed it. There’s no doubt Grisham knows how to tell a story!

I’m definitely interested in the follow-up, Camino Winds, and I may check out some of his other books as well.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Book Review: "Not Like the Movies" by Kerry Winfrey

I’d love to see this book as a movie!

⁣ ⁣ Can the love that happens in movies happen in real life? If so, would we want it to? Chloe may be overwhelmed by her life, but she’s not looking for true love. Yet ever since her best friend wrote a movie loosely based on her job at a coffee shop and her playful banter with her boss, it seems that all anyone wants to talk about is whether she and Nick are in love in real life.⁣

The answer to that question is emphatically “no.” Well, isn’t it? I mean, she can’t stop thinking about wanting him to kiss her, but that’s just the movie’s effect, right? She is barely holding it all together; if she lets anyone in it will just complicate things. And besides, isn’t it disastrous to fool around with your boss, even if you’re as much the boss as he is?⁣

"But believing that would require me to be a different person—one who thinks soul mates are real, for starters. Or one who believes in rom-com perfect happy endings, instead of what I actually believe in, which is the real-life right now. Those happy endings don't exist for people like me, but joy-filled moments sure do."

⁣⁣ Kerry Winfrey’s books really feel like they belong on the screen. They’re so appealing and fun, and even though you know what will happen from the start, you’re so pulled into the story and these characters. I think Chloe was a little too much of a martyr for a little too long, but I still rooted for her and Nick just like everyone else was.⁣

⁣ If you’re looking for a fun rom-com to make you smile—and you might even get a tear or two in your eyes—read this, and Winfrey’s Waiting for Tom Hanks. They're totally engaging and so enjoyable. I easily devoured this in one sitting.

And speaking of devouring, there's lots of talk about baked goods in this book, so carb-phobes beware!!⁣

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Book Review: "The Bright Lands" by John Fram

Wow, what a ride this book took me on!

If Stephen King and John Boyne were to have a literary baby, it might resemble John Fram’s debut novel, The Bright Lands. But to try and compare it to something else does it an injustice—this is part mystery, part allegory, part social commentary, and part horror novel, with emotional heft to boot.

Joel Whitley couldn’t wait to flee his tiny Texas town after he was publicly outed during high school. But texts from his younger brother Dylan, the charismatic quarterback of the high school football team, bring him back home. And when Dylan goes missing shortly after Joel’s return, the town—which worships its team and many of the players—is on edge.

But this is a town full of secrets, and for Joel, many of those secrets circle back to incidents and people from his past. Meanwhile, police detective Starsha Clark is determined to get to the bottom of Dylan’s disappearance, despite the similarities to her own football-playing brother’s disappearance years earlier, and despite some resistance from her colleagues.

As the town circles its wagons to protect its own, Joel, Clark, and others continue their dogged search for the truth. But in doing so, they’ll be forced to confront horrors both imaginary and real, which demonstrate the depths some will go to keep their secrets.

This blew me away in many respects. Shifting perspectives from past to present and multiple narrations add to the haunting feeling that hung over me while reading. There are definitely disturbing things that happen in this book, and the bullying took me back to my own teenage years, in which I experienced far more than I ever divulged.

At times, however, I felt like the book wasn’t 100 percent sure what it wanted to be. There are definitely pieces of the plot I could’ve done without, and things that left me with questions, but on the whole, this was a book that moved and troubled me, and left me thinking. It's honestly unforgettable.

A pretty terrific debut for John Fram! Can't wait to see what his career holds.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Book Review: "These Witches Don't Burn" by Isabel Sterling

It’s not easy being a witch these days. That's what I picked up from Isabel Sterling's These Witches Don't Burn, at least.

Being a witch in Salem, Massachusetts may seem like a clichè, but that’s Hannah’s life. As an Elemental witch, she has the power to control fire, water, earth, and air, but she’s forbidden to let any non-witch see her magic. So instead, she spends her time trying to avoid her ex-girlfriend, Veronica (who is also an Elemental), and working at the Fly by Night Cauldron, which sells candles and crystals to tourists and Wiccans.

When the town starts to see signs of black magic that seem to be targeting Hannah and Veronica, Hannah is convinced a Blood Witch is to blame, even though her coven doesn’t agree. But as things become more dangerous, she’s forced to team up with Veronica to try and flush the evil out of Salem. And at the same time, Hannah is intrigued by Morgan, a new crush.

Will Hannah be able to stop what is happening before it puts her and those she loves in danger? Will the time she spends with Veronica jeopardize any chance she might have with Morgan?

It’s been a while since I’ve read a fantasy novel and I enjoyed this. Sterling did a great job creating a world within our world and deftly juxtaposed the witchy issues with emotional ones. At times it got a little too melodramatic, but that's just like teenagers, isn't it?

I’ll definitely check out the sequel, plus there's a prequel of sorts that apparently sets up this book. (I didn't read that and didn't feel as if I missed out.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Book Review: "Party of Two" by Jasmine Guillory

One of my go-to authors, Jasmine Guillory, is back with Party of Two, another fun, sexy, and timely rom-com!

Olivia has just moved back to California from NYC so she can open a law firm with her best friend. While staying at a hotel until her place is ready, she meets a handsome man at the bar. He looks vaguely familiar, but she figures he must be an actor or something. (It is LA, after all.)

They talk and joke and flirt all night, and she definitely feels the attraction to him, but they go back to their respective rooms at the end of the night instead of getting together.

It’s not until she turns on the television that she discovers she spent the night flirting with Max Powell, the junior senator from California. (Also known as the "sexy senator.") She’s not really interested in dating, but when he pursues her with cake, she gives in fairly quickly.

They really enjoy being together although they keep their relationship secret given his high profile. While he’s impulsive and a little arrogant, Max is highly committed to social causes close to Olivia’s heart, not to mention he’s sexy, smart, and fun. Both can’t help but fall in love, although Max falls quicker and more intensely.

When they decide to make their relationship public, and Olivia’s past becomes news, things start to go awry. She’s not sure she wants her life on display and she’s not sure if Max is really right for her. But can they move on without each other?

Guillory’s books are just so engaging and romantic and sexy (there’s some pretty serious steam in a few places) so they’re just fun to read. While each book features a minor character from a previous book, each can be read as a stand-alone. (But they're all really good, so you don't want to miss any of them.) This book really felt timely, too, with conversations about privilege, sexism, and racism, which felt natural, not forced.

And now the wait begins for Guillory's next book!!

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Book Review: "The Request" by David Bell

After you read David Bell's newest thriller, The Request, you’ll think twice the next time a friend asks you to do them a favor!

If people didn’t do stupid things and/or lie, would thrillers exist? That’s the question I asked myself while reading this twisty thriller.

Ryan and Blake were very close in college; Blake was practically a brother to him. But they’ve been estranged for the last several months, so Ryan is surprised to see Blake one night after work. Blake needs Ryan to break into a woman’s house and steal some evidence that proves Blake had an affair with her. And if Ryan doesn’t do it, Blake will expose his darkest secret, which will upend his life.

When Ryan gets to her house and goes to look for the letters, he makes a shocking discovery. Not only does he know this woman, but he finds her body in the house, and it appears she has been murdered. Of course, this puts him in the middle of a tangled web that threatens to destroy his life and his marriage—and he has no idea whom to trust or where to turn.

Despite the fact that I guessed a key plot point really early on, this book kept me guessing. Bell throws in lots of twists and turns and the book moves pretty quickly. You do need to suspend your disbelief, but that’s typical of thrillers. It really becomes fast-paced at one point and things get a little tense.

It’s amazing how dumb people can be when they think they’re doing the right thing!

I was honored to be part of the blog tour for this book. Get Red PR and Berkley provided me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

Monday, July 6, 2020

Book Review: "Summer of Second Chances" by Andrea Hurst

Summer of Second Chances feels like a gigantic hug.

“Grief is just love with nowhere to go.” This quote by Jamie Anderson is the epigraph to this beautiful book, and it’s just so appropriate.

Sixteen-year-old Shelby has never had any sense of permanence in her life. Her mother is always chasing after another man, moving them around, never letting her stay in one place long enough to make friends or become part of something. And just when she’s hoping to train as a lifeguard over the summer, her mother is going on a cross-country trip with a new boyfriend and will be dropping Shelby in Moonwater Lake to stay with her grandmother, Alice.

Staying with Alice is the best thing that can happen for Shelby. Alice hasn’t been the same since her husband died, and Shelby is determined to help her get on with things. Not long after arriving in town, while walking Alice's dog, Shelby meets Theo, a lonely widower with an elderly dog, and he suggests she start a dog-walking business.

It’s not long before Shelby has become a part of the town, walking dogs and friending people clearly in need of a smiling face. She also meets Logan, a neighbor and handsome lifeguard, who makes her feel special. And Shelby’s energy is infectious—people in Moonwater Lake find their lives changing through her inspiration, including Alice and Theo.

But what happens when Shelby’s mom is ready to come back and take her to another new town, another new school? Does she have to give up her chance at happiness again?

It doesn’t matter that you can predict pretty much everything that will happen in this book. It is so sweet and charming and warm that I devoured it, and Andrea Hurst’s imagery made this a place I wish I could see for real. (Plus, I smelled waffle cones every time she mentioned them.)

If you love dogs and/or utterly endearing books about love and friendship and second chances, here’s a great one for you.

I was fortunate to be part of the blog tour for this book. Kate Rock Book Tours and Andrea Hurst provided a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Book Review: "Head Over Heels" by Hannah Orenstein

I honestly never knew I was missing a gymnastics-related love story until I found Hannah Orenstein'a Head Over Heels, but boy, was I ever!

Avery spent her entire childhood training to be an Olympic gymnast. She sacrificed any chance at being a “normal” teenager, endured the emotional abuse of her famous coach, stressed about her weight, and dreamed of the Olympics. And in one moment, her dreams and her career ended, leaving her ill-prepared for what came next.

Now, 7 years later, on the heels of breaking up with her football-star boyfriend, she moves home to Massachusetts to live with her parents. Not long after coming home, she gets a call from Ryan, a former Olympic gymnast that she and her best friend used to have a crush on. He asks if she’d be interested in helping coach a teenage gymnast with true Olympic potential.

Avery jumps at the chance to help coach Hallie, and feels like she’s making a difference. She can’t ignore the sparks flying between her and Ryan, but she isn’t sure if she should trust her heart again, and worries a relationship might complicate coaching. And when a scandal rocks the gymnastics world, and an offer is made, everything may be on the line, including any possibility of a relationship with Ryan.

This book hooked me from the very first word. I was nervous because the last two books I read didn’t wow me, but Orenstein pulled me in completely. I felt totally vested in Hallie’s dreams and Avery’s rebuilding her life and, of course, the sparks between her and Ryan.

Even as I knew the typical obstacles were coming, I rooted for everyone and hope things didn’t go too off-course. I also really loved the way Orenstein meshed some serious subjects with the lightness of a rom-com and the nerves around whether or not Hallie would succeed where Avery failed.

Looking for a great new rom-com of sorts? Maybe you’ll flip for Head Over Heels! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Book Review: "The Lion's Den" by Katherine St. John

The Lion's Den by Katherine St. John is a soapy, melodramatic beach read about money, friendship, and betrayal.

Belle and Summer have been friends since high school. And while there were lots of good times, a great deal of their relationship has consisted of Summer taking advantage of Belle or Belle having to clean up after her.

Still, when Summer invites her on her extremely rich (and much, much older) boyfriend’s yacht for a Mediterranean cruise, Belle jumps at the chance to get away from her flagging acting career and her hellish bartending gig for a bit of luxury.

But it’s not long before Belle realizes that while the boat is beautiful and the locales are gorgeous, everything is not what it seems. Summer’s boyfriend is tremendously controlling, and the women are expected to be seen and not heard. It’s Summer’s behavior, however, that is most worrisome, and one night, Belle sees just how dangerous Summer can be to anyone who threatens what she wants.

So…I didn’t like this. I really wanted to DNF it, honestly, but kept with it in the hopes it would get better. Given the fact that the book fluctuates between past and present, you see what a horrible friend Summer was to Belle, so I don’t honestly understand how anyone would put up with Summer for as long as they did and believe all of her utter lies. I also didn't understand why everyone else seemed not to care about what was going on. St. John threw in some twists, which were interesting, but at the same time even those seemed a little far-fetched.

Others have really enjoyed this, though. I'm not sure what I missed here, but don't take my word as the sole decision whether or not to read this!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Book Review: "All My Mother's Lovers" by Ilana Masad

Emotionally powerful and thought-provoking, Ilana Masad's debut novel, All My Mother's Lovers, is a look at family dynamics, secrets, motherhood, sexuality, marriage, and grief.

How can you not be pulled into a book that starts, “Maggie is in the midst of a second lazy orgasm when her brother, Ariel, calls to tell her that their mother has died”?

Maggie is thrown by news of her mother’s sudden death. They hadn’t been particularly close in years, as Maggie felt Iris never accepted her sexuality, always seeming to insinuate it was some sort of phase. But she always assumed they’d get past this and work things out.

Still, Maggie’s grief is palpable, and she has trouble navigating her father and brother’s feelings as well. Going through her mother’s papers, she finds envelopes addressed to five different men whose names she doesn’t recognize.

In an effort to escape the stifling environment of a house in mourning, she decides to deliver these letters by hand to the men. Along the way, she discovers a side of her mother she never knew existed, secrets she (and in some instances, Maggie’s father) kept, and she starts to understand things her mother did and said which never had context before.

How well do we truly know our parents? How do we know the things that make them react the way they do to circumstances in their lives? How do our parents’ relationships impact our own relationships?

All My Mother's Lovers was a really well-written and thoughtful book. Narrated by Maggie in the present and Iris at various junctures in her past, it’s a fascinating commentary on how the people we love often hide their true selves from us, and how that affects our interactions with them.

I didn’t get to finish this before the end of June but this was my last Pride Read of the month.

Book Review: "She's Faking It" by Kristin Rockaway

Kristin Rockaway's latest book, She's Faking It is a cute, insightful commentary on our social media-obsessed society and the pressure to succeed.

Bree knows that she’s not living her best life—she dropped out of college, her car is barely running, she ignores her bills because she doesn’t have enough money, and her food delivery job isn’t glamorous. But it’s all hers, you know?

When a series of events leave her jobless and car-less, her hyper-organized older sister encourages her to follow the advice of a self-help guru. If she just visualizes what she’s passionate about, and puts that out into the universe, she can make it happen.

So Bree starts a new Instagram account and thinks she’ll become a social media influencer. It’s all angles and smoke and mirrors anyway, and little by little it starts to work. Is this what she wants out of life? She has no idea, but she’ll take whatever she can get, including a budding romance with the surf god who lives nearby.

"There was something deeply satisfying about looking at all those pretty pictures of pretty people, perfectly poised in pretty places. It was also much easier to lose myself in the aspirational imagery of someone else's flawless feed than it was to plan out a life of my own."

But faking it can only take you so far, and when the façade she has built starts to crumble, what will the cost be? And how will she focus on what is real and what is just Instagrammable?

I thought this was a cute read and very timely. I enjoyed it, although I am not sure that I had much empathy for the characters and I felt like it almost veered into farce a few times. But still, the book’s message is a good one. (And no, the irony isn’t lost on me that I’m posting this review on Instagram and other social media outlets.)

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