Monday, November 30, 2020

Book Review: "Love Sold Separately" by Ellen Meister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Book Review: "Admission" by Julie Buxbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book publishes 12/1/2020.

Book Review: "He Started It" by Samantha Downing

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was a crazy book!!

Friday, November 27, 2020

Book Review: "The Flip Side" by James Bailey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: "Forever Eve" by JB Lexington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Book Review: "Bitter Falls" by Rachel Caine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2020

Book Review: "Written in the Stars" by Alexandria Bellefleur

Alexandria Bellefleur's Written in the Stars is just the fun and sexy rom-com I was looking for!

Ever since she moved to Seattle, Darcy’s brother Brendon keeps setting her up on blind dates that don’t seem to work. The latest one was the last straw. While she and Elle definitely had chemistry, they couldn’t have been less suited for each other—Elle is a quirky free spirit and an astrologer, and Darcy is an actuary who definitely doesn’t believe in that stuff.

In an effort to get her brother off her back, Darcy tells him that she has fallen for Elle. Of course, she didn’t count on him telling Elle (who happens to be his new business partner), who was surprised considering how dismissive Darcy was during their date. (She heard her tell someone on the phone that Elle was "a mess.") But when Darcy begs her to play along for a while, Elle agrees, because Darcy’s stability might help her own family take her seriously for once.

So they decide to fake their relationship, just for a few weeks. What could go wrong? It’s not like they’ll ACTUALLY fall for each other, right? (If you’ve never read a rom-com before you might wonder what will happen, lol.)

This was fun, steamy, and romantic, and I loved Darcy and Elle, as well as the two supporting characters, Margot and Brendon. I so enjoy the fake-dating trope, and this book had so much going for it.

I’d love to see this made into a movie. I’m also psyched that Bellefleur is writing a second book with Brendon as the protagonist. Of course, we'll have to wait until sometime in 2021...

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Book Review: "Pretending" by Holly Bourne

Holly Bourne's new novel, Pretending, is a thought-provoking look at a woman’s struggles, both in dating and emotionally.

April wants to be in a relationship. She’s pretty, smart, kind, thoughtful, and tremendously empathetic, but she can’t seem to make it beyond the fifth date with a guy before they break it off or ghost her. It’s shattered her confidence and self-esteem, but it's also causing her hatred of men to grow, too.

On a whim she creates an alter ego, Gretel, who has tremendous self-confidence and knows how to hold her own when it comes to dating and romance. She thinks Gretel is the type of woman all men would like to date. When she meets Joshua, as Gretel she has control of the relationship for the first time, and she likes how confident she feels instead of constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But as they grow closer, when is the appropriate time for April to stop pretending and tell Joshua the truth? And if she’s able to pretend so successfully in this aspect of her life, what else isn’t she dealing with?

I liked the concept of Pretending as it captured dating in the #MeToo world. It’s humorous at times but also very emotionally powerful, and it definitely made me think.

While the book took a humorous approach to the whole “I hate men” thing, there were more serious things in play at the same time. I feel like April wasn’t dealing with some past trauma, and that was just as much an issue as the dating foibles she had to face. At times that put a damper on the book's sense of humor.

I was lucky to be on the blog tour for this book. Mira Books provided me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Book Review: "Little Wishes" by Michelle Adams

Michelle Adams' newest book, Little Wishes, is sappy and romantic, just how I like it.

I mean, I’m not crying, you’re crying.

One day every year for the last 49 years, Elizabeth wakes to find a small blue crocus and a romantic note on the porch of her English cottage. The notes say things like, "I wish that today we could lounge in bed all morning, listening to the sound of the waves.” Although the notes aren’t signed, she knows they’re from her first and only real love, Tom, to mark the anniversary of their first kiss.

But today, on the 50th anniversary, there is no flower, no note from Tom. What could have happened? Despite the fact that they’ve had no actual contact in 50 years, Elizabeth leaves the small village where they grew up and heads to London to find out what might have kept Tom from delivering his annual gift.

When the two are finally reunited, Elizabeth discovers that Tom is terminally ill and he didn’t have the strength to keep their tradition going this year. But now that they are together, they’re determined to take advantage of every last second, and try to fulfill as many of the wishes Tom left for her through the years.

Given their love for each other, why did it take 50 years to get together? What secrets have been kept, what assumptions were made, what obstacles stood in their way?

Alternating between past and present, Little Wishes is a story about second chances and enduring love. I knew how the story would unfold but I was utterly captivated by it. I stayed up super late to finish it and, yes, I got a little weepy a few times.

Thanks to William Morrow Books for the complimentary copy in exchange for an unbiased review!

Friday, November 20, 2020

Book Review: "The Guest List" by Lucy Foley

In The Guest List, Lucy Foley's new mystery/thriller, a posh wedding on a remote Irish island turns deadly.

Guests are gathering on Cormorant Island for the wedding of Will, the handsome, magnetic star of a reality survival show, and Julia, the driven, ambitious publisher. Every detail has been attended to in order to make sure the first wedding in this new place will be unforgettable.

Everyone is there for the wedding—Will’s boarding school friends, serving as best man and ushers; Charlie, Julia’s best friend (and perhaps more?) and his wife, Hannah; Julia’s troubled sister, Olivia, and many more. Once the alcohol starts flowing, old memories and hurts and jealousies are brought up and have the potential to put a damper on things.

But all of the melodrama is no match for the weather. In the midst of the reception, a storm hits the island. The electricity goes out, leaving the guests in darkened, wind-whipped tents. And then a scream cuts through it all, as someone found a body.

Who was killed? Who was responsible? It seems like everyone had a motive, so who was the killer? Was it the bride? Her sister? The best man? The wedding planner? The guest of someone in the wedding party?

I loved the concept of this story and the drama that flowed through it. The story shifts back and forth between the events leading up to the wedding and the discovery of the body, and is narrated by multiple people. The plot moved a little slower for me than I would’ve liked, and there were a couple of coincidences that made me roll my eyes a tiny bit.

In the end, though, I needed to know what everyone’s secrets were, how they’d be revealed, and who would get their comeuppance. I was hooked on The Guest List, even though I didn't love it.

Book Review: "As Far As You'll Take Me" by Phil Stamper

Phil Stamper's upcoming book, As Far As You'll Take Me, is an enjoyable, moving story about finally making your own way and finding your own people.

Seventeen-year-old Marty has never been more ready to leave his tiny, conservative Kentucky hometown. His parents disapprove of him being gay and have forced him to stay in the closet (what would their neighbors and the people from church think), so he’s headed to London for a summer music program. But the truth is, he never even got into the program and he hasn’t purchased a return ticket home. His plan is to get a job with an orchestra and stay in London forever, so he can finally live his life his own way.

Of course, life never goes as you plan. Marty loves London and his independence but he’s struggling emotionally and he's having little luck finding a job. As he lands his first boyfriend, he’s torn between London and home, new friends and family and old, and it intensifies his anxiety. He's not sure where he fits in, and he doesn't know what he wants to do.

Can he find his place, his people, his happiness without hurting anyone? Can he truly be himself without forsaking his old life completely?

I enjoyed this book tremendously. So many of us have dealt with emotions and problems similar to Marty's, although I never went overseas to try and escape! I'm a big fan of how Stamper tells a story and I really liked the genuine way he treated Marty's struggles with anxiety and how those around him handled it. Trying to find your way is hard enough without dealing with emotional problems on top of it all!

I loved Phil Stamper’s last book, The Gravity of Us, too. He's definitely a YA author worth reading because of the way he so deftly weaves emotion and humor.

I was excited to be part of the blog tour for this book. Bloomsbury YA, Storygram Tours, and Phil Stamper provided me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

As Far As You'll Take Me will be released 2/9/2021.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Book Review: "The Fascinators" by Andrew Eliopulos

The Fascinators is a poignant story about being true to yourself, secrets, the often-confusing line between friendship and love, and magic.

Maybe we’re all under someone else’s spell.

Sam, James, and Delia are best friends, and the three members of their high school’s magic club. Each of them has some magical skill, and in their small, conservative Georgia town they’re looked at as freaks, especially Sam, who is openly gay on top of it all.

As they enter their senior year, things among the friends are starting to fray. Sam’s feelings for James have intensified and while he doesn’t think James feels the same way, he’s afraid to say anything for fear of messing everything up. They have plans to be roommates at UGA next year—Sam can't imagine going to college without James.

Meanwhile, James is spending more time with a girl from his church, and he’s been acting erratically to compensate for his abusive father’s behavior. Delia wants to attend an exclusive magic college, and she’ll stop at nothing to get in, even if it means abandoning her friends for more serious magickers.

When a group of dangerous magickers eyes the Fascinators to avenge something James did over the summer, the group falls further into disarray. And when a handsome new member joins the club, it complicates things even further for Sam.

At times this felt like two separate stories—one about friendship and one about magic—but other times the two storylines meshed so well. Despite the magical elements, this story felt very real and relatable—lord knows I had my share of unrequited crushes on friends growing up!

The ending felt a little bit rushed for me so I hope Andrew Eliopulos has a sequel in the works. But I loved the emotions in this book so much.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Book Review: "A Heartfelt Christmas Promise" by Nancy Naigle

Nancy Naigle's A Heartfelt Christmas Promise was the perfect book to launch me into Lifetime and Hallmark holiday movie season!!

Vanessa has always put work first. She’s hoping that her long hours will pay off with a plum assignment that will allow her to spend Christmas in Paris, but her boss has other ideas. He sends her to the small town of Fraser Hills, NC, and tasks her with closing Porter’s, makers of the country’s best fruitcake, and converting all the property into warehouse space.

This is a job she’s done countless times. Get in, make assessments, lay people off, and go home. But she quickly realizes Fraser Hills and Porter’s aren’t like every other job she’s done. Shouldn’t she and her company care that Porter’s is the very heart of the city? Shouldn't they take a closer look at the numbers?

Mike’s family built Porter’s, but he’s never forgiven his grandfather for selling the company. Widowed for quite some time, he spends his days raising his teenage daughter and caring for his Percheron horses. When he meets Vanessa, he is completely intrigued—until he realizes why she has come to town.

If you love small towns where everyone knows everyone’s business, meet-cutes at high school football games, the spirit of small-town Christmas, adorable puppies, and romances that flourish despite obstacles, A Heartfelt Christmas Promise is totally for you. Just add hot cocoa and a cozy blanket.

I was so lucky to be part of the blog tour for this book. Kate Rock Book Tours, Nancy Naigle, NetGalley, and St. Martin's Griffin provided me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

Book Review: "The Boy in the Red Dress" by Kristin Lambert

The Boy in the Red Dress is a fun, unique, and compelling story about living your life on your own terms—and trying to protect your friends.

It’s New Year’s Eve in New Orleans in 1929. Millie is running her aunt’s speakeasy while she is out of town. Everyone has come to the Cloak and Dagger to see Marion Leslie perform. This “boy in the red dress” is a consummate performer and Millie’s best friend.

That night, though, a young socialite is showing people an old picture of Marion and asking questions. Seeing her has truly upset Marion, as it reminds him of an earlier, horrible time in his life. But he’s also angry that this woman has shown up and he wants her to leave.

Before the clock strikes midnight, the woman is found dead outside the club. It appears she was pushed off a balcony, and her friends immediately accuse Marion of her murder. But Millie knows he couldn’t possibly be guilty, even if the police want nothing more than to accuse a boy who dresses as a woman to be punished.

Determined to clear his name, Millie starts her own investigation. She uncovers secrets, blackmail, illicit love affairs, and people bent on keeping her from the truth, but she doesn’t care. She’ll stop at nothing to figure out what happened, even if it puts her in danger.

As she mounts her own investigation, she has to deal with her own conflicted feelings between Olive, a young waitress at the club, and Bennie, the handsome bootlegger. But romance has to take a back seat until she finds the real killer.

I enjoyed this book tremendously. Despite the time period, I love how the book never made a big deal about anyone’s sexuality or how they choose to live. Millie is a conflicted teenage girl unsure of what her heart wants, but she will fight to protect anyone who tries to hurt someone she cares about.

This was a great story, so well-told and poignant at times. I loved these characters and would love to see another book with them!

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Book Review: "The Blue Bistro" by Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand's The Blue Bistro is an utterly satisfying look at the drama and romance that occur at a popular Nantucket restaurant in its last season.

Adrienne has rarely stayed in one place too long. She and her father moved a lot when she was younger, she drifted among a few different colleges on her way to a degree, and she has worked in some leading hotels throughout the world. But she’s not really sure what she wants from life, career-wise or relationship-wise.

When she winds up in Nantucket without a clue as to what her next job will be, she has a chance meeting with Thatcher Smith, the owner of The Blue Bistro, perhaps the hottest restaurant on the island. This encounter lands her a job as assistant manager of the restaurant, despite not having any restaurant experience. She’s immediately thrown into a different world, full of people with outsized egos and expectations, and while it's exhausting, she loves every minute of it.

She and Thatcher are immediately drawn to each other, and while Adrienne feels herself surrendering, she also has too many questions. What really is Thatcher’s relationship with Fiona, his business partner and the chef at the restaurant? Why would a restaurant at the top of its game close? And more importantly, should she trust her heart or listen to her head?

This is the third of Elin Hilderbrand’s books I’ve read, and this one was recommended by a few friends. I was hooked instantly and once again, stayed up late to finish it. She definitely knows how to immerse you in her stories!!

I totally want to go to Nantucket and I was drooling over the descriptions of the food at the restaurant. Having waited tables a few times in my life, I’m a big fan of books about chefs and restaurants and the food business. Couple that with a great but dramatic story, and this was another winner for Hilderbrand!!

Friday, November 13, 2020

Book Review: "Breathless" by Jennifer Niven

Jennifer Niven's latest YA novel, Breathless, is emotional and enjoyable. It's a story about love, trust, family, and friendship.

“I imagine a room or maybe an entire planet where all the love goes to live once we’re done with it. Like a kind of junkyard. Little remnants of love scattered everywhere. People picking through, collecting the strongest, biggest pieces, and trying to make something of them again. Isn’t this what we do every time we meet someone new or fall for someone new or start loving someone new? Pick up the old battered bits of ourselves and try again?“

Claudine is getting ready to graduate from high school. She and her best friend Saz have a major road trip planned over the summer before they head to separate colleges in the fall.

But the next thing she knows, Claude’s life has been upended, and she and her mother are headed to a remote island in Georgia for five weeks. The road trip is off, Claude’s trust has been shattered, and she’s angry, as she realizes how easy it is for people to lie about what they promise.

When she meets Jeremiah Crew, the last thing she wants is to have feelings for a boy, but it isn’t long before both fall for each other. Miah is cocky and confident, yet he has secrets he doesn’t want to talk about, but he sees Claude for exactly who she is. (And he's the only one.) They know this is only a summer thing, but how do you prepare and protect your heart for that?

Jennifer Niven wrote All the Bright Places, which was one of my favorite books of the last decade, so I love the way she can wring emotion and beauty from simple stories. Of course, her characters speak a little more eruditely than typical teenagers, but their behaviors are fairly genuine.

I really enjoyed this and I stayed up very late to finish it. And I might have shed a tear or two while I was reading...

Book Review: "Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters" by Emily Carpenter

Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters, Emily Carpenter's new novel, is a suspenseful and compelling story of family secrets, faith, and love.

Eve’s grandmother, Dove Jarrod, was once a famous faith healer and evangelist. Eight years after her death, her granddaughter Eve runs her charitable foundation and fiercely protects her legacy. But regardless of her job, Eve knows the truth about her grandmother.

In the midst of great progress for the foundation and a film crew producing a documentary about Dove, Eve is confronted by a dangerous stranger bent on avenging Dove’s actions years ago. These actions, if true and if exposed, could topple Dove’s legacy permanently.

While Dove hid a lot of things in her life, is she guilty of murder? What motivated her to follow the path she did, and should her followers know the truth?

The story alternates between the present and the past, starting in 1934, when a young woman escapes from the psychiatric hospital where she was born and tries to forge a new life for herself, only to be dogged by a dangerous man.

This book had me hooked from the very start. I don’t know much about faith healing so I found it fascinating, but the whole story was tremendously compelling. It’s part mystery, part a story about finding the strength to overcome obstacles.

Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters is apparently a sequel of sorts to Emily Carpenter’s earlier book, Burying the Honeysuckle Girls, although you don’t have to have read that book to enjoy this one. I’ll definitely read that one too!⁣

Sabrina Dax and Lake Union Publishing provided me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Book Review: "When You Were Mine" by Rebecca Serle

Rebecca Serle's When You Were Mine is a sort-of modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet, with a slightly different focus. (Apparently at the start of the play, Romeo is in love with Roseline, and he goes to a party to try and catch sight of her, then Juliet enters the picture. Story over.)

Roseline and her best friends are excited that senior year of high school is about to begin, and they’re ready to make it the best year ever. She’s hoping that she and Rob, her longtime crush, will finally be able to take their relationship to the next level.

Everything is going well. And then Juliet returns to town. Juliet is Rose’s cousin and former best friend, and they haven’t seen other in a long while. She’s the complete opposite of Rose—impulsive, emotional, confident—and she’s decided she wants Rob for her own.

When Rob falls prey to Juliet’s advances, Rose is angry and devastated. But the more rumors she hears about Juliet’s instability and neediness, the more Rose’s jealousy and hurt turns to worry about Rob and Juliet. Are they heading toward a tragedy?

This was an interesting, soapy YA romance. Nothing is really surprising but it’s still a captivating read.

I’ve loved Serle’s first two adult novels, The Dinner List and In Five Years, but I didn’t know she had written YA novels before this. When You Were Mine was originally published in 2012 but it’s recently been re-released.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Book Review: "Memorial" by Bryan Washington

Bryan Washington's new novel, Memorial, is an intriguing look at relationships and the things we don’t say to those we care about.

“...loving a person means letting them change when they need to. And that doesn’t make them any less of a home. Just maybe not one for you. Or only for a season or two. But that doesn’t diminish the love. It just changes forms.”

Benson and Mike have been together for a few years. When things work, they’re good together, but it seems lately those moments have been fewer and farther between. But neither wants to start a conversation about what they want from each other.

Mike’s mother Mitsuko arrives from Japan, and at the same time he learns his estranged father is dying in Osaka. He decides he needs to go to Japan to be with his father, so he leaves his mother with Benson, despite the fact the two have never met before.

As Benson and Mitsuko try to negotiate the strange arrangement they’ve been left with, Mike begins to better understand his father and their relationship, and see how his memories differ from reality. At the same time, both Benson and Mike think about their relationship and its potential longevity, or what they might want from the future.

Bryan Washington is such a talented storyteller and I love the way he writes. There is definitely some beauty and emotion in this book. That being said, I kept waiting for a big revelation or moment in the story, and it never quite happened.

I felt like so much of the interactions between the characters were shaped by the things they didn’t say, and that was frustrating at times. It was almost like we were viewing Benson and Mike’s relationship through a window, and everything wasn’t quite clear.

This is one of those books that will resonate more for some than others, and it probably would benefit from some discussion. Still, reading Washington’s work is a real privilege.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Book Review: "A Very Punchable Face" by Colin Jost

A Very Punchable Face, Colin Jost's memoir, is both funny and introspective.

I don’t read a lot of memoirs, particularly those written by celebrities, but when I was in the airport the other day looking for a backup book for a cross-country flight, I saw Colin Jost’s face staring at me and I decided to pick this one up. While I watch Saturday Night Live rarely, I do enjoy the "Weekend Update" segment that Jost does with Michael Che. I also think he and Scarlett Johansson make a great couple. (Plus, I will admit that his face may be punchable, it’s also handsome.)

In this memoir, Jost touches on many different aspects of his life. He recounts his childhood growing up in Staten Island and his immensely accident-prone nature (he’s had numerous stitches and broken bones). Of course, the bulk of the book follows the trajectory of his comedy career, from writing for the Harvard Lampoon to his 15 years (and counting) with SNL.

While most of the book is told in a sarcastic and self-deprecating style, there are times when Jost is surprisingly sensitive and introspective, including a chapter about his mother and her activities during 9/11. Don't go looking for gossip about SNL or his relationship with Johansson, though; this is more a recounting of events and his feelings about them than a tell-all.

A Very Punchable Face was a very enjoyable read. It’s not shocking or mean-spirited; it’s just as fun as Jost appears to be. And that hit the spot!

Book Review: "The Heir Affair" by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Royals—they’re more screwed up than we are!!

In The Heir Affair, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan's sequel to the enjoyably soapy The Royal We, Prince Nicholas of Wales has just married Bex Cooper when scandal breaks, turning the fairytale wedding into a nightmare. The Queen is angry, the public is outraged, and they go into a self-imposed exile and try to live a “normal” life for a while, imagining what it might be like not to have the weight of public expectation smothering you every day.

But when a crisis forces them back home and back into their expected roles, they have to mend a lot of relationships that were harmed, particularly with the Queen, as well as Nick’s father and his brother, Freddie, whose stock seems to have risen while Nick and Bex were away. They also have to contend with a critical press that watches their every move, waiting for another hint of scandal.

As time passes and Nick throws himself back into the life of the heir to the crown, the couple must also deal with the strains on their own relationship, as well as the new pressure of producing their own heir. And when shocking secrets emerge, they have to decide exactly what path to follow for their future.

I really enjoyed this, perhaps even a little more than The Royal We. I love drama and family dysfunction, and when you combine that with royal intrigue, I’m totally there for it.

It felt like this may have been the end of this series but I hope not. I’d love to see what happened to these characters after the book ended. So here's a gentle plea: please bring back Bex and Nick!!

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Book Review: "Long Bright River" by Liz Moore

Although it's marketed as a thriller, Liz Moore's Long Bright River is more of a compelling story of a complicated relationship between two sisters and the events that sent them down the paths they travel. But even though it's not a thriller per se, it's still a tremendously well-written and emotional story.

Mickey and her younger sister, Kacey, used to be inseparable. From a young age, Mickey felt a need to protect Kacey, even though she was powerless to keep her from getting addicted to opioids, a common occurrence in their suburban Philadelphia neighborhood. After numerous instances of trying to pull Kacey out of trouble and help her get clean, the sisters drift apart and couldn't take more disparate paths: Mickey becomes a police officer while Kacey turns to drug dealing and prostitution to support her habit.

While the sisters cross paths periodically as Mickey is on patrol, they haven't spoken in some time. But when Kacey disappears right around the time a number of young women are winding up murdered, Mickey begins to fear more for her sister than she has in some time. She is determined to find her sister—and the murderer—before it's too late. But she'll need to contend with a supervisor who doesn't seem particularly motivated to find the culprit, a tangled web of family relationships that are difficult to navigate, the challenges of raising a five-year-old son on her own while occasionally dealing with the boy's father, and the guilt she feels for not being able to protect Kacey from all she faces.

The book alternates between past and present. It follows the sisters' relationship from childhood and the various challenges they dealt with, through to their estrangement, and there are some surprises thrown in for good measure. It also follows Mickey's investigation into the murders and her search for answers, as well as her desperaate hope that her sister doesn't become the next victim.

I enjoyed this book a great deal and found it was a powerful and emotional read. It's a poignant look at how we can choose to rise above the circumstances we are born into and raised in, or choose to be a victim, and how hard it can be to change your trajectory when you've fallen so far. It's also searing commentary about the opioid crisis in our country, which cuts down too many people.

Liz Moore is a terrific writer. I've read her last two books, Heft and The Unseen World, and each story she tells is so different. As long as you don't go in expecting a thriller, I think you may find this a really worthwhile read you'll remember.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Book Review: "Summer of '69" by Elin Hilderbrand

Full disclosure time: I was born in 1969 (no comment from the youngsters out there), and I get totally jazzed when that year is mentioned in pop culture. I swear, when the Eagles sing the lyric "We haven't had that spirit here since 1969" in Hotel California, I grin like a total jackass.

So needless to say, I absolutely had to read Elin Hilderbrand's Summer of '69, partially inspired because it was the year she and her twin brother were born as well.

Every summer the Foley-Levin family looks forward to spending the season at their grandmother's home in downtown Nantucket. But this year, things are different, and only 13-year-old Jessie will be in Nantucket with her mother and grandmother (and weekend visits from her father). Jessie's oldest sister Blair is stuck in Boston, awaiting the birth of twins and dealing with suspicions about her husband, an astrophysics professor at MIT. Her outspoken other sister, Kirby, already participating in civil rights protests while in college, has taken a job on Martha's Vineyard for the summer so she can further express her independence. And the greatest source of anxiety is Jessie's brother, Tiger, who has been deployed to Vietnam.

As Jessie tries to navigate what it's like to be on the cusp of womanhood amidst a status-conscious grandmother and a mother wracked with guilt and worry about the fate of her son, the rest of the family experiences their share of drama as well. And as the crises and positive moments occur, they do so against an historical backdrop of events, from the Apollo 11 landing on the moon to the Chappaquiddick tragedy and, of course, the fears caused by the Vietnam War.

I read Hildebrand's 28 Summers last month and absolutely fell in love with it. I was a little less enamored of this one. I was hoping for more of a laid-back, beachy vibe with this book, but the juxtaposition of family and relationship drama along with historical events didn't quite work for me. Despite all of the different things happening to the characters, I never quite felt emotionally connected to them or the story as a whole.

I do love the way Hildebrand tells a story, however, so I'm still going to be plowing through her backlist!

Monday, November 2, 2020

Book Review: "Fence: Striking Distance" by Sarah Rees Brennan

Fencing is far more fun than team bonding, that’s for sure!!

Over the last year, I’ve read four volumes of a great YA graphic novel series called Fence, by CS Pacat and Johanna the Mad. The series follows the adventures of the Kings Row fencing team, the rivalries, relationships, and challenges they face.

Sarah Rees Brennan has now written Fence: Striking Distance, an original novel featuring these characters. It was fun to spend an extended amount of time with them. This book delved more deeply into the dynamics between teammates and the emotions involved.

While Coach Williams knows that her team has some solid fencing skills, they can’t seem to work together. She knows if she can foster a sense of teamwork it may improve their success in competition as well.

She makes Harvard, Aiden, Seiji, Nicholas, and Eugene try to bond with each other. What she doesn’t count on is how much work that will require, particularly in some cases. It’ll take a few disastrous dates, a major prank carried out by an unlikely prankster, and lots of self-realization for this to work—if it will at all.

I love this series because the dynamics between the characters feel natural. I enjoyed getting to spend more in-depth time exploring their relationships than you usually get in the graphic novels. The book also treats sexuality as a non-issue, and I love the relationships between Nicholas and Seiji and Harvard and Aiden.

Looking forward to another graphic novel—or another novel—soon!