Sunday, February 28, 2021

Book Review: "Malibu Rising" by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Don’t you love it when a book you’ve been dying to read by one of your favorite authors lives up to the hype? That's how I feel about Malibu Rising, the upcoming book by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

It’s 1983. Superstar model Nina Riva and her siblings—surfing all-star Jay, talented photographer Hud, and Kit, the youngest, who’s ready to be taken seriously as a woman and a surfer—are getting ready to have their annual party at the end of the summer. Once again this year the party is at the Malibu mansion Nina was sharing with her tennis-star husband, although he recently left her.

The Riva party always promises to be the craziest, most epic event. You never know what celebrities you’ll see there—and what they’ll be doing. But Nina’s heart isn’t in it this year, although she’s doing it for her siblings—a role she’s played for a number of years now.

As preparations for the party roll into full swing, each Riva is trying to figure out how to unburden themselves of a secret or a wish they’ve been hiding. When all are revealed, it’s just going to be one aspect of a party—and a night—that will change their lives immensely.

I like a book that teases at one thing that’s going to happen and then builds the tension toward that incident the whole story. In this case, the story alternates between preparations for the party and the story of how the Riva siblings’ mother met their father, Mick, who became a music legend. The book then follows their childhood.

Taylor Jenkins Reid is one of the best storytellers I know. I really enjoyed these characters and honestly wouldn’t have minded if the book were longer because I would have loved to have gotten to know more about what their futures held. The party is crazy and melodramatic and there’s a lot to follow, but the core of the story—family, loyalty, love, desire—just blew me away.

There's one of her older books I haven’t read yet and I may hold on to it for a while so I have something of hers left to read!!

Goodreads, Random House, and Ballantine Books provided me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Malibu Rising publishes 6/1. I expect it to be quite the beach read this summer, if people can go to the beach!

Book Review: "Bright Burning Stars" by A.K. Small

Drama and angst and jealousy at a Parisian ballet academy? Sign me up for A.K. Small's Bright Burning Stars!

Marine and Kate have been roommates and best friends for years at the Paris Opera Ballet School. They’ve both weathered moments of emotional and physical exhaustion, backbiting rivalries, and constant pressure to be at the top of their game dance-wise or be sent home.

But as they enter their final year, the desire to win the ultimate prize becomes even stronger. Only one female dancer will be asked to join the Opera’s legendary ballet company. It will make that girl a star.

How far will Marine and Kate go to win that prize? Are they willing to lie? Cheat? Sabotage? Seduce the most handsome and gifted male dancer at the school, whom they've nicknamed "The Demigod"? Sacrifice everything, including their friendship? As both struggle with issues that could end their time at the school prematurely—and perhaps even their careers or their lives—they must decide if ballet and winning are the most important things for them.

Along the way there will be flirtations and romantic dalliances, accusations, and lots of tension, but lots of dancing as well. If you’re a fan of movies like Center Stage, then you know what kinds of issues the characters confront. (They’re actually adapting this book into an Amazon Prime movie called Birds of Paradise later this year.)

A.K. Small was a dancer, so this book definitely feels authentic. At times you forget that these characters aren’t adults, but quickly something brings you back into focus. I love dramas like these and couldn’t get enough!

Algonquin Young Readers allowed me to be part of the blog tour for Bright Burning Stars and sent me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Book Review: "100 Boyfriends" by Brontez Purnell

100 Boyfriends, Brontez Purnell's new short story collection, is raunchy and frank, poignant and powerful. These short stories look at sexuality, race, lust, addiction, inequity, and the need for connection, be it fleeting or permanent.

With this new book, Purnell hits the ground running on page 1 and doesn’t let up the pace until the very last word. His characters are all Black men of various ages and in various states of fitness—physical, emotional, and psychological. In some cases these men are fully aware they’re a mess and continue to self-sabotage; in others they’re totally (and, at times, blissfully) unaware.

“There are periods of my life that roll through me hazily. Not like an apparition, more like that moment a cartoon villain gets hit in the head with, say, an anvil or whatever, and all he sees is stars — my life was all flashbacks that never materialized.”

The characters in these stories are often searching. Sometimes it’s for their next fix or their next hookup, sometimes it’s for something more, something deeper. At times they find fulfillment—temporary or otherwise—but at other times, they’re still searching.

These stories are often explicit, so they’re not for those who are uncomfortable with graphic language or sexual content. But even when he shocks you, there’s an underlying note of poignancy or emotion in many of the stories, which only increases their power.

100 Boyfriends is definitely not a collection for everyone, but Purnell’s storytelling is a talent to behold.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Book Review: "Much Ado About You" by Samantha Young

Samantha Young's Much Ado About You is a steamy, emotional rom-com that confronts lots of issues, plus it features a book-loving protagonist, so how can you lose?

After one last attempt at dating fails and she gets a disappointment on the job front, Evie Starling has had it. She needs to get away from Chicago for a while. And she finds the perfect escape—she can run a bookshop in the English countryside for four weeks and rent the owner’s flat. For a voracious reader, this is a dream come true. (It would be for me, too!)

She heads across the pond, ready to recharge herself and avoid dating for a month. And wouldn’t you know she has a run-in with gorgeous country farmer Roane Robson within a day of arriving? After she saves his dog, Roane is totally smitten, and as much as Evie feels herself falling for him, she is determined that they just stay friends.

But as Evie’s time flies by, she quickly gets acclimated to life in the small village and can’t really imagine going back to Chicago, despite friends and family being there. As she fights her growing attraction to Roane, and starts getting involved in helping (or meddling) some neighbors with their problems, has she found home? And can she let her guard down enough to trust her heart?

Much Ado About You is a sweet, fun, sexy book with lots of steam, and it takes some inspiration from Much Ado About Nothing, but it isn’t a retelling by any means. Along with being a rom-com the book also confronts serious issues like racism, sexuality, abusive relationships, and being the child of an alcoholic, so there’s definitely some poignancy and emotional weight thrown in.

This is definitely another good rom-com to add to your list!!

Book Review: "The Secret Recipe for Moving On" by Karen Bischer

Karen Bischer's upcoming book, The Secret Recipe for Moving On, is a cute YA rom-com about overcoming heartache and finding your place.

Having to switch high schools junior year was hard for Ellie, but after she quickly met and started dating Hunter, a handsome classmate, she quickly became part of his circle of friends and started doing things they wanted to do. But things between them seem strained just before senior year starts, although Hunter tells her everything is fine.

On the first day of school, Hunter dumps Ellie unexpectedly, and it’s not long before she finds out he’s already hooked up with his longtime friend, Brynn. (Perhaps even before he and Ellie broke up.) To make matters worse, she has to share a life skills class with both of them and watch everyone ship the adorable couple, saying how great it was that they finally got together.

When Ellie gets teamed up with a group of misfits for a year-long competition in class, at first she feels like an outsider. But when her competitive spirit is awakened, and the team focuses on beating Hunter and Brynn’s team, Ellie allows herself to have fun with her new friends, especially Luke, a tattooed stunt-biker who is much more complex than she imagined.

But is Ellie willing to trust someone again after Hunter’s lies? The more she focuses on competition the more she ignores the needs of those around her. She’ll need to figure out what she really wants—and whom she wants to be with.

The Secret Recipe for Moving On was a really cute high school-based rom-com. There’s nothing quite like teenage drama!

I was grateful to be part of the blog tour for this book. Storygram Tours, Fierce Reads, Swoon Reads, and NetGalley provided me with an advance complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

The Secret Recipe for Moving On publishes 3/23/2021!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Book Review: "The Bad Muslim Discount" by Syed M. Masood

The Bad Muslim Discount, the new novel by Syed M. Masood, is a funny, emotionally searing, and thought-provoking look at the experience of Muslim immigrants in the U.S.

“There is no true measure of pain. Each hurt is unique, and even small wounds can bleed a lot.”

Anvar Faris and his family live in Pakistan until fundamentalism becomes more prevalent and his father moves them to California. His devout mother, for whom Anvar’s sarcasm and nonchalance toward their religion is a constant source of frustration, and his older brother, who always does the right things, quickly adjust to life in America. Anvar decides he’ll do everything he can to be a bad Muslim.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, Safwa, a young woman, is living a life full of grief, violence, guilt, and anger. When circumstances grow ever-more dangerous, she must make an untenable bargain in order to get her and her father to America. It is a necessary but dangerous agreement.

When Anvar and Safwa’s lives intersect in the mid-2010s, both are struggling in different ways. But how they choose to survive—and depend on one another to do so—will have powerful repercussions on their lives and those they care about.

This book was so powerful and unforgettable, an amazing look at relationships, family obligations, religion, prejudice, love, pain, and salvation. I was so moved at times and at others I laughed out loud. The characters Masood created, even the supporting characters, were so appealing and memorable.

Thanks to my friend Louis, a fellow Bookstagrammer, for reading The Bad Muslim Discount with me. It’s always fun to discuss books with you, and to find one we both loved that didn’t depress us!!

Book Review: "The Long Road Home" by Braden Hofeling

Braden Hofeling's The Long Road Home is a beautifully written and heartfelt collection of poems, prose, and personal essays.

So, what’s your feeling on poetry? Do you read any? Do you read it occasionally or are you a big fan? Is it a genre that you know you’d like to read more of but there never seems to be enough time?

I definitely fall into that latter category. When i read poetry I often marvel at how much it touches and/or moves me, but it’s not a genre I gravitate toward frequently. But when my friend Braden Hofeling asked if I’d be interested in reading his new collection, I jumped at the chance.

This is a fairly short book, and many of his poems are very brief, so there are a good number of them. I can’t tell you how often I marveled at his use of language, emotion, and imagery to draw the reader in. There were so many poems that made me say, “YES!”

These are poems about love, relationships, family, dreams, nature, fears—and they are punctuated with beautiful artwork from Madison Bird.

There were too many poems to choose a favorite from, so here’s a brief one I really enjoyed, called “Slippery”:

When I tell you I’m falling
I don’t mean in love
I mean I’m slipping through your fingers

If you enjoy poetry or are curious about it, The Long Road Home is a beautiful collection to try. Braden Hofeling provided me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Monday, February 22, 2021

Book Review: "Troubles in Paradise" by Elin Hilderbrand

Troubles in Paradise is a dramatic and romantic conclusion to Elin Hilderbrand’s Paradise trilogy—but I want more!

Irene Steele and her adult sons, Baker and Cash, are still trying to come to terms that Russ, their late husband and father, wasn’t the man they thought he was. It’s been an emotional and difficult realization, particularly for Irene.

If learning he was leading a double life with a secret family on the island of St. John wasn’t hard enough to reconcile, now the federal government has seized both his villa on the island, where Irene, Baker, and Cash have been staying, as well as Irene’s home in Iowa. They have no money, no clothes, and all of Irene’s possessions have been seized, and they have to depend on the kindness of new friends.

But trying to make sense of it all causes friction for Irene and Huck, who has become both her boss and a friend with some potential. Baker and Cash experience difficulties in their romantic relationships, too. All three are at a crossroads in trying to figure out what their next steps will be, but they know they want to stay on St. John.

Yet with a mysterious figure watching them from a jeep, and a hurricane threatening the island, will they be able to get closure of any kind? And will the island survive?

I have become a big fan of Hilderbrand’s books over the last six months, and I really enjoyed this series. She has such a talent for imagery—I’ve never been to St. John but I could see it in my mind’s eye. She’s also really skilled at creating tension and obstacles in romantic relationships.

There were times I really wanted to shake these characters for not saying what was on their minds. (I feel like that a lot when I read, lol.) I definitely felt invested in this series and I’m sad it’s over. But at least I have more of her books to read!

Book Review: "A Meeting of Two Prophets" by Judah Tasa

Judah Tasa's A Meeting of Two Prophets is a beautifully written, poignant story of a connection between two young men who recognize that beyond their vast differences they share some real similarities.

Moishe is an 18-year-old Hasidic Jew from London. He dreams of a lifetime of study, of marrying and being a good father and provider. But there’s also a part of him that has feelings he’s fought to ignore, feelings he doesn’t quite understand.

Mo (short for Muhammad) is a young Muslim man living in Manchester with his family. He is smart, devout, and has been struggling with depression. He, too, can’t seem to reconcile the feelings he has with the commandments and customs of his religion.

The two young men meet on a plane to Jerusalem, where Moishe plans to spend the summer studying and Mo will be visiting his grandmother, in the hopes a change of scenery might help with his depression. Another chance encounter encourages their friendship despite their differences.

“Moishe, the greatest prophet in Judaism, and Muhammad the greatest prophet in Islam are our namesakes. Looking out the window, I wonder what my neighbors would think about this scandalous meeting of two prophets.”

The more time they spend with one another, the more their feelings deepen and yet still worry and confuse them. They talk about everything—their religions, their families, the political climate toward both Muslims and Jews—except how they feel.

A short vacation helps both crystallize and confuse things further. Ultimately, both have to decide whether they can reconcile their hearts with their family and their religion, or whether they should follow the path they’ve always been expected to.

I really enjoyed this emotional story. To find a book like A Meeting of Two Prophets, which confronts issues like homosexuality and depression against a backdrop of Judaism and Muslim customs is so rare, and even rarer is that Tasa never forces you to take a side or confront some of the more dramatic issues I expected to arise in a book like this.

This was a find, a sweet story I won’t soon forget. I loved this kind of representation and can’t wait to see what Tasa does next!

Book Review: "The Ex Talk" by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Everything is true if you heard it on public radio, right? See what Rachel Lynn Solomon's The Ex Talk has to say about that!

Shay Goldstein has been working at a public radio station in Seattle for 10 years now, and she’s the youngest senior producer the station has had. She loves her job, and while she wishes she could one day make it on the air, she knows she doesn’t quite have a radio voice, so she’s content at doing what she does.

Dominic Yun is the station’s new wunderkind. Straight out of graduate school, he somehow has charmed his way on air already and he thinks he knows more about journalism and radio than everyone, especially Shay. Of course, she’s jealous of his success, and if he wasn’t so damned handsome (and tall), she’d hate him even more. (Or maybe she hates him more because of those things.)

During a brainstorming session, Shay suggests a great new show idea: a program hosted by two exes, discussing relationship advice, etc. Shay’s boss thinks “The Ex Talk” is just what the station needs, and he proposes that Shay and Dominic host the show, given their issues with each other. It doesn’t matter that they haven’t dated—they’re storytellers, right?

Faced with lying to listeners or unemployment, the two decide to host the show. Of course, it’s a big hit: people love the on-air chemistry and banter the two share, and some even hope they’ll “get back together.” And as their relationship becomes more complicated and intense, the show gets even better.

The problem is, they’ve lied to nearly everyone—their colleagues, their families, and, of course, their listeners. The deeper they fall for one another, the bigger of an issue their deception becomes.

The Ex Talk is such a playful, romantic, and sexy story. I loved Solomon’s last book, a YA novel called Today Tonight Tomorrow so much, and this was terrific, too. Sure, you know much of what will happen, but I couldn’t get enough of this deliciously fun rom-com.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Book Review: "Honey Girl" by Morgan Rogers

Morgan Rogers' Honey Girl is as much a love story as it is a story of both blood and chosen family and finding the courage to follow your own path.

Grace Porter has always been expected to be the best. Raised by a military father who tried to pressure her into studying medicine, she chose astronomy instead, and worked tirelessly to get her PhD. Now she’s expected to find the perfect job so she can change the world, but the world isn't quite ready for a Black lesbian astronomer.

On a celebratory trip to Vegas with her best friends, things go a bit awry. Grace gets extremely drunk and apparently marries a beautiful woman she doesn’t know. The woman leaves Grace before she wakes, and Grace can barely believe the events of the night before, yet there she is with a wedding ring and a picture of the ceremony.

Returning to her Portland home, struggling with the job market and feeling burnt out after all of the academic work she put in for years, Grace is at a loss. All she can think of is her wife, Yuki, a waitress and radio host in NYC. Their conversations provide an anchor for Grace but also more confusion and anxiety.

Unsure of what to do and chafing under parental pressure, Grace decides to go to NYC to spend the summer with Yuki. The more she gets to know her the more she falls for her. But they both know that this escape is simply a temporary respite from confronting all of the issues they face as a couple and that Grace faces individually. And at some point it all becomes too much for Grace to bear.

I’ve seen some mixed reviews of this book but I absolutely loved it. Rogers’ prose was romantic, emotional, and lush, and her imagery was just so vivid. I found so many of the characters to be so appealing, people I’d love to know. I was completely hooked on this story.

Park Row Books invited me to participate on the tour for Honey Girl and provided me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Honey Girl publishes 2/23!

Book Review: "Milk Fed" by Melissa Broder

Thought-provoking and intense, Melissa Broder's new novel, Milk Fed, is a story of one woman’s obsession with her eating habits, as well as a look at sexuality, religion, and relationships.

Rachel has always been fanatical about what she eats. She loves food, but from a young age, her mother ingrained in her a fear of gaining weight and looking fat. Every day is spent longing for delicious delicacies, but she has a regimented meal and exercise plan that she follows obsessively.

When her therapist suggests a 90-day communication “detox” from her mother to help Rachel confront her eating issues, Rachel meets Miriam, a young, zaftig, Orthodox Jewish woman. Miriam’s apparent confidence with her body and her unabashed love of food and eating utterly appeals to Rachel, and it’s not long before she starts eating that way, too.

But old habits die hard, and Rachel finds herself torn between the obsessions deeply ingrained in her psyche and the renewed love for eating she has found with Miriam. She also finds herself completely infatuated with Miriam, both sexually and religiously, and she can’t get enough of her.

Broder is a bold writer, one who goes for broke with every word. Like her previous book, The Pisces, Broder creates intense sex scenes that are graphic, and she also is frank about biological functions and other things. But at the same time, there’s an underlying sensitivity in dealing with the issues Rachel faces, and how she needs help.

As someone who has struggled with my weight since childhood, this book hit me hard in certain ways. I recognize the obsessions, the need to subsist on a wholly unrealistic number of calories, the pressures from family about what I ate and how I looked. (I actually had a great-uncle who used to grab my stomach whenever he'd see me, as if to tell me I was fat. So amusing.) For those who have struggled with eating disorders or food-related issues or anxieties, this book may be a real trigger for you.

Broder is tremendously talented and her books always give you something to think about. Milk Fed is certainly no exception.

Dart Frogg Communications and Scribner Books gave me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Book Review: "The Dating Plan" by Sara Desai

I can’t seem to get enough of these sweet, sexy, emotional rom-coms! Add Sara Desai's new book, The Dating Plan to the list!

Ten years ago, Liam broke Daisy’s heart when he stood her up at the senior prom. He was her older brother’s best friend and a total rebel; she was the science geek with a major crush on him. She was ready to show him that she was more than just a lovestruck teenager, but when he didn’t show up for prom he disappeared from all of their lives.

Needless to say she’s utterly unprepared to see him again—and he’s even more handsome—in the midst of embarrassing chaos at a venture capital convention. Yet as she encounters matchmaking aunties and her ex-boyfriend, Liam comes to the rescue and they wind up telling everyone they’re engaged.

Of course, after the smoke clears, Daisy will be fine if she never sees Liam again, but news of her “engagement” quickly spreads among her family. Then it turns out Liam is in need of a wife as well if he’s going to get his inheritance and be able to save a distillery that’s been in his family for generations.

So, they do what any couple would do: fake their relationship, plan a wedding, set out to accomplish their objectives, and divorce. Seems easy, right? As Daisy outlines their plan of dates to give credence to their relationship and let Liam meet her family, she’s nothing but business. And this plan does not include sex of any kind. (Yeah, okay.)

But is Daisy setting herself up for Liam to break her heart a second time? Why did he stand her up for prom anyway? And could Liam, who is known for a new woman every five minutes, actually be falling for Daisy?

Fake-dating rom-coms are such fun, and Daisy and Liam are terrific characters with fantastic chemistry. Throw in some workplace drama, dysfunctional Irish and Indian families, and some sexy steam, and you get a great book.

The Dating Plan publishes 3/16/2021.

Book Review: "Change of Tides" by Ashley Farley

They say a change will do you good, but where do you find the courage? This is the question at the core of Ashley Farley's newest novel, Change of Tides.

“The only thing in life that’s constant is change, Hannah. Like the change of tides. The water goes out, and you’re at your lowest, but then it comes rushing back in, and you’re riding high again.”

Birdie is a survivor. Her daughter Hannah and young grandson Gus have given her the strength to carry on after her husband disappeared and she finally acknowledged she was an alcoholic. Her life has changed so much—her café is flourishing—but is she ready for the next steps, namely trying to date again and having Hannah and Gus possibly move away?

Hannah, too, is ready for the next step. Her web design business is so successful, but is staying on Palmetto Island limiting her? Should she consider moving to Charleston and expanding her business? Should she consider the offer to buy her business from a handsome suitor? Will stepping out from under her mother’s wing be the change she needs to go to the next level, or will it expose the decisions she made relative to keeping Gus a secret from his father?

When a figure from their past returns, it sets off a chain of events that push Birdie and Hannah outside their comfort zones, forcing them to confront their fears and make decisions about their futures. It will take strength, courage, and the help of friends and loved ones to weather these storms.

Farley does it again with Change of Tides. She has been one of the best discoveries I’ve made on Bookstagram—her novels are so enjoyable, combining drama and romance with settings you absolutely want to be in. Every one of her books hooks me right away, and even if I suspect how things will turn out, I want to go on these journeys with her characters.

If you’re a fan of women’s fiction or just good stories, give her a try!!

My thanks to Kate Rock Book Tours and Ashley Farley for including me on this latest tour, and for giving me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Can’t wait for the next one—luckily, she writes fast!!

Book Review: "The Four Winds" by Kristin Hannah

The newest novel from Kristin Hannah, The Four Winds, proves that sometimes being tough is the only choice you have.

At 25, Elsa’s family has told her that she is too old and too ugly to ever find a husband, which in Texas in 1921 is the only path for a woman. So she’s expected to not make a fuss, stay out of the way, and live an uneventful life until the time comes when she must care for her parents.

But that’s not an acceptable option for her, and when she meets Rafe Martinelli, she makes a decision that changes the course of her life. When she finds herself shunned by her family and forced out of her home, her only choice is to marry a man she barely knows and move onto his family’s farm.

Thirteen years later, in the midst of the Great Depression and an unprecedented drought, the farm is dying. While Rafe is desperate to move to California where opportunities are rumored, his parents don’t want to leave their farm, and Elsa is determined to help them keep fighting. This causes friction in their marriage and with their older daughter, Loreda, who wants out of the relentless drought and dust storms, too.

When it gets to the point where the survival of her children are at stake, Elsa summons every last ounce of bravery she has and drives to California with them. Yet what they find when they get there, the lives they must pursue, will change each of them.

This is a beautifully written, emotional piece of historical fiction. Hannah once again proves herself an impeccable storyteller. Elsa is an exceptional character and her story is one of courage and exceeding what everyone has always told you that you could accomplish.

At times the darkness and emotions of this story feel a little relentless even though it’s fact-based, and I’ll admit I found Loreda’s character difficult to like. But this is definitely a book that moved me and once again made me thankful to those who came before.

NetGalley and St. Martin's Press provided me with a complimentary advance copy of The Four Winds in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Book Review: "The Push" by Ashley Audrain

I don’t think I’ve ever had a more "Bookstagram Made Me Do It" book than Ashley Audrain's new novel, The Push. Seeing all the raves from friends I had such FOMO, even though some said, "Larry, I don't know if this one is for you!" But boy, did it live up to every ounce of the hype I had built for it in my head—and then some!!

“You know, there’s a lot about ourselves that we can’t change—it’s just the way we’re born. But some parts of us are shaped by what we see. And how we’re treated by other people. How we’re made to feel.”

This is a story about motherhood. It’s about the beautiful moments when you’re blissfully in love with this life you’ve helped to create. But it’s also about the difficult moments—the exhaustion, the pain, the fears, the sorrow and even resentment when you feel your spouse has more of a connection with your baby than you do.

But what happens if you feel your child doesn’t like you, and you’re not sure that you don’t feel the same? Is that even possible, or is it indicative of a larger problem you're having? What happens if you start to think your child may actually be dangerous? What if no one believes you? Are the things you're seeing really happening or have you convinced yourself they are?

This is such a tremendously powerful, suspenseful, slightly creepy book I stayed up until nearly 1:30 a.m. to finish because I couldn’t put it down. It packs quite a punch as you catch glimpses of three generations of mothers, each affected in different ways by the lives they live and those who came before.

I’ve read some good books so far this month but I hadn’t yet found a 5-star read. The Push sure did fit that bill for me. It’s definitely one I won’t forget anytime soon, and I’d imagine it would be great discussion fodder for book clubs!

Book Review: "Let's Get Back to the Party" by Zak Salih

Zak Salih's upcoming debut novel, Let's Get Back to the Party, is a thought-provoking and emotionally rich story about two gay men trying to find their place in the world around them.

Oscar and Sebastian were best friends in childhood until Oscar moved away. They haven’t seen each other for years, until Sebastian spots him at a wedding when they’re both 35.

Sebastian, lonely and dealing with the breakup of a relationship, is excited to see Oscar and hopes they may be able to recapture a childhood friendship rich with potential. But Oscar doesn’t want to be reminded of those times, of his vulnerability at a young age.

It’s the weeks after the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage, and Oscar feels this is another strike against the gay community. Getting married, having babies, allowing drunk women to overtake gay bars? Is this what we fought for, risked our lives for, homogenization?

Both men are, in their own way, desperate for connection, desperate not to become invisible. Oscar spends his time with anonymous hookups and begins a friendship with a once-famous gay author who is much older than him. Sebastian, a teacher, supervises his school’s LGBTQ group and envies the easy way some students have with accepting and living their truth, something he didn’t have.

While the idea that men “of a certain age” become invisible to the gay community is both cliché and reality, Salih accurately captures the fears, loneliness, and moments of desperate need that many feel from time to time. When all of your friends are getting married and leaving you behind, or if you’re in a place where you really have no friends, what is left for you?

Alternating between memories of childhood and the present, Let's Get Back to the Party is a beautifully told story that really resonated with me. While I’m not sure I particularly loved either of the characters, I was tremendously invested in their story.

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

Let's Get Back to the Party publishes 2/16.

Book Review: "The Beautiful Things Shoppe" by Philip William Stover

In The Beautiful Things Shoppe, Philip William Stover shows us that opposites do attract...and sometimes they’re more similar than you think!

Accustomed to living a life governed by emotion and whim, Danny is looking forward to some stability as he gets the chance to sell his retro toys and other classic memorabilia at The Beautiful Things Shoppe. These collectibles bring him such joy to find and talk about, and he can’t wait to share them with customers.

What he’s unprepared for is that he’ll be sharing the shop with Prescott, a collector of fine antiques. Prescott has utter disdain for Danny’s merchandise and his fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants philosophy. How can anyone take Prescott’s merchandise seriously if it’s side-by-side with Smurf figurines and classic television show lunchboxes?

Of course, while they’re at each other’s throats, they also are both fighting the chemistry they feel for one another. And while they relish making the other one angry, when they come together on common issues, like trying to save two buildings in their town, they realize they are more alike in some ways than they think.

As they grow closer and start to acknowledge their feelings for one another, they’re also keeping some secrets, which could threaten to undo the connection they’re moving toward.

Can happiness be found by two people who aren’t quite ready to trust their hearts or someone else’s? Will their secrets undermine any chance at happiness? Perhaps more importantly, can Beanie Babies peacefully coexist with antique furniture?

The Beautiful Things Shoppe is a sweet rom-com which shows how wrong we can be when we make assumptions about people, and how we don’t know the secrets they are struggling with. It’s fun and playful, and the banter and the chemistry between Danny and Prescott is really adorable.

The other stars of this book are the terrific town of New Hope, PA (I’ve been there and it’s so charming) and the supporting characters, who are alternately pushing the two together and pulling them apart.

I really enjoyed this book and found Danny and Prescott so sweet.

Book Review: "Girls with Bright Futures" by Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman

Ah, Girls with Bright Futures is full of such delicious drama and deceit!

As a parent, you want what’s best for your child, and you certainly want to give them every advantage to help them succeed. But three mothers of students at the prestigious Elliott Bay Academy (EBA) take that idea to the extreme.

The Academy has always been able to help its most valuable students (read: wealthiest and those whose parents are the most powerful) get into the prestigious schools of their choice. Sometimes it's just influence, sometimes it's a little financial contribution here or there, but success is almost always achieved. But this year, when Stanford announces that it only has one more slot for an EBA student after the athletes it will accept, three mothers will have to fight for their daughters' futures.

For cutthroat tech CEO Alicia, there hasn’t been a problem her money and power haven’t solved for her, and she’s certainly not going to stop now. Who cares if her daughter doesn’t really want to go to Stanford? Kelly, who always believed the fact that she and her husband are both Stanford alums would be a hook for her daughter, tries to wield the insider information and power she’s gained as a school leader. Meanwhile Maren, Alicia's personal assistant, doesn’t have the money or the influence to compete in this battle, although she probably has the daughter most deserving of the slot.

When one of the girls gets seriously injured in an accident (or was it?), the stakes get exponentially higher. Secrets will be exposed and lies will be brought to light. Will anyone win?

Girls with Bright Futures was such a great and soapy read. I do love the whole adults behaving badly theme of this book. It’s frightening to think that some of this behavior actually does happen!

Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman have written a book you just might not be able to put down!

Monday, February 8, 2021

Book Review: "Heartbreak Boys" by Simon James Green

Simon James Green's most recent book, Heartbreak Boys, is an adorable and fun story about trying to overcome heartache and finding the strength to start over.

It’s prom night. Jack is hoping that he and his boyfriend Dylan might be crowned king and queen. Although school had been hell for Jack since he came out, once popular athlete Dylan did, Jack’s flamboyance became nearly tolerable by his classmates. (Nearly.)

Meanwhile, Nate is still coming to terms with publicly acknowledging his sexuality. He’s kept his relationship with Tariq very secret until this point, but on prom night he’s ready to finally let the world know who he is, and let everyone know he and Tariq are together.

But prom night isn’t the magical occasion Jack and Nate hope it will be, when they both get dumped, quite publicly. They’re both devastated, and while Jack is used to being the target of humiliation, for Nate, it seems like a good excuse to go back into hiding again.

With their now-ex-boyfriends showing no signs of regret or sadness, Jack comes up with a plan: he and Nate could create the illusion that they’re having the summer of their lives, too. Jack agrees to tag along on Nate’s family’s road trip across England, and document their exaggerated and/or fake moments of living their best lives for social media.

Nate and Jack were childhood friends, but Nate pulled away from Jack right around the time he came out. Nate knows he’s nothing like Jack and he isn’t sure he wants to be, but is the idea of rekindling their friendship really that awful?

If you’ve read a rom-com or two, you know where all of this is going. Heartbreak Boys was a really sweet, enjoyable book that accurately captured the emotions of young relationships and the battle between living your truth and staying out of the spotlight.

Given that you know how things will unfold, the pacing was a bit slow at times, and I wanted the characters to say what they needed to instead of constantly avoiding subjects. But Jack and Nate, as well as a few of the supporting characters, are such fun, you can’t help but root for them.

This is my first Simon James Green novel, but it won't be my last, that's for sure!

Book Review: "Masque of Honor" by Sharon Virts

Masque of Honor, Sharon Virts' new novel, is a truly fascinating and compelling historical novel full of action and drama.

On a cold, snowy February morning in 1819 (ironically 202 years and 1 day before I wrote this), two men stand ready to duel to the death. They are Armistead Mason and Jack Mason McCarty, second cousins, brothers-in-law, and descendants of American founding father George Mason IV. Only one man will survive. (Doesn't this almost sound a little Hamilton-esque?)

What brought these two family members to this point? They pursued different paths and have different ideas, but Armistead’s involvement in politics is what causes the rift. When Armistead’s bid for Congress is unsuccessful and his ego pushes Jack too far, a chain of events is set into motion that ego and bravado will not allow them to step back from.

Living in Northern Virginia like I do, you can’t escape the name of George Mason. A university in the area bears his name, as does a chain of banks and even a major road. That connection, as well as my familiarity with so many of the locations in the book, made this even more fascinating.

I don’t read much historical fiction, particularly about this time period, but Masque of Honor drew me in immediately. Virts gives such an impeccable, well-researched sense of time and place, yet the themes are still so relevant, particularly during such a fractured time in the U.S. as we're living in now.

Even if historical fiction isn't among your usual genres, this book feels more modern than you'd expect.

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

Masque of Honor releases 2/9!

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Book Review: "The Lost Love Song" by Minnie Darke

The Lost Love Song, the latest book from Minnie Darke, combines some of my favorite themes—love, loss, hope, and music—and it was just so good!

“What was it, Evie wondered, that made some people fit for a love like that, and left other people wanting? Was love like a radio signal, and you just had to be lucky enough to be born with your heart’s dials tuned to the right frequency? Or was it something that could only happen to you when you were young and fearless?”

For all intents and purposes, they shouldn’t have worked. Diana Clare was a famous concert pianist, even at 25, and had traveled the world, playing music in some of the most famous locations. Arie Johnson was an IT specialist at the music conservatory where Diana practiced. And yet the day after he set up her passwords, she asked him to lunch, and the rest, they say, is history.

Seven years later, they are engaged and they can’t imagine life without one another. But Arie wants marriage and a family, and Diana isn’t sure she wants those things, but she knows she can’t lose Arie. So she writes him a love song, although she doesn’t get to finish it until she’s on another world tour, but he hears her playing some of it before she leaves.

And in the midst of the tour, tragedy strikes, and Arie is left without Diana. He’s not sure how he’ll cope.

Meanwhile, Diana’s song finds its way through the world. One day, Evie, a young Australian woman who has never really put roots down, decides to head back to Australia and then she hears this unknown melody. It haunts her, but can it help her find the elusive things she has always wanted—true love and a home?

Like many love stories, The Lost Love Song is beautiful, moving, funny, and a little bit hokey at times. (There are some plot twists which seem a little too convenient.) Sometimes the book felt a little like it’s wandering off course. (For me, those “interludes” might all make wonderful books of their own.)

But I found myself fully immersed in this book, loving these characters, wishing I could hear the song, and, of course, crying at the end. (Hey, I’m an emotional guy.)

Book Review: "It Had to Be You" by Georgia Clark

Georgia Clark's upcoming book, It Had to Be You, is a sweet, fun, emotional rom-com about the pleasures, pains, and possibilities that love brings.

Liv and Eliot Goldenhorn know how to plan and execute a flawless wedding. Their company, In Love in New York, has been the talk of Brooklyn for 20 years, and the two play off each other’s strengths to create wedding magic, calm nervous brides, and soothe meddling parents.

But the bottom falls out when Eliot dies suddenly while visiting his younger girlfriend in Kentucky. And as if his infidelity and his death weren’t big enough shocks for Liv, apparently Eliot also left his half of the business to Savannah, his girlfriend, for reasons no one understands—not even Savannah.

Savannah isn’t interested in selling her half of the business—she wants to work with Liv to rebuild the company. While she doesn’t blame Savannah for the affair—Eliot told her he was divorced—Liv can’t imagine working with her to plan weddings given the way her own marriage ended. But Savannah’s optimism wears her down, and it’s not long before Liv realizes she missed the work.

As Liv starts to rebuild her life and her romantic confidence, It Had to Be You also follows the romantic struggles of her friends and vendors/employees—Gorman and Henry, the florists whose relationship has stayed static for far too long; Zia, the waitress whose connection with an unlikely suitor thrills and frustrates her; and Darlene and Zach, the wedding singer and DJ, who can’t seem to figure out what they want from each other.

This felt like one of the ensemble romantic movies, like Love, Actually or Valentine’s Day, in that you’re following multiple yet connected storylines at the same time. I really enjoyed all of the characters so much and found myself invested in all of their relationships and challenges.

At times the pacing was a little slow, but the sheer joy, emotions, and romance kept me hooked, and I will neither confirm nor deny getting choked up toward the end. Georgia Clark has created such a good read, and see if you can keep the song It Had to Be You out of your head!

Georgia Clark, NetGalley, Atria Books, and Emily Bestler Books provided me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

It Had to Be You publishes 5/4/2021.

Book Review: "Following You" by Eva Lesko Natiello

Eva Lesko Natiello's newest book, Following You, is a fascinating thriller where nothing—and no one—are quite what they seem.

Shae Wilmont is the most popular host on IShop, a popular shopping channel. She was off the air for a while because someone was stalking her, but that seems to have been handled. Yet apparently, her stalker—or perhaps another—has returned, and everyone is on edge.

On New Year’s Eve she reluctantly agrees to go to a party thrown by colleagues. In a way she hopes it will take people’s attentions off the stalker and maybe help her reputation of being stand-offish. But she makes a foolish decision on the spur of the moment and it lands her in trouble she never imagined.

Shae's disappearance rocks her fans, particularly Lawrence, a creepy police department employee who is more than a little obsessed with her. But as with Shae, and another woman, Honey, there’s more to Lawrence than meets the eye.

There’s so much to this story that you need to let unfold for yourself. This is a book about secrets, snap judgments, regrets, and trying to find your way, only to derail yourself again and again.

I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen in Following You, and Natiello really kept me guessing. There was a good amount of tension but beyond that, this was a thought-provoking read as well. I love it when books surprise you!

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

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Book Review: "Finlay Donovan is Killing It" by Elle Cosimano

Elle Cosimano's newest book, Finlay Donovan is Killing It is funny, twisty, and a really good read! (Plus, it takes place in Northern Virginia, so I always love books that take place in my area!)

“It’s a widely known fact that most moms are ready to kill someone by eight thirty A.M. on any given morning. On the particular morning of Tuesday, October eighth, I was ready by seven forty-five.”

Finlay Donovan’s life is in chaos. She’s barely able to raise two kids on her own, her ex-husband keeps threatening to sue her for custody, she can’t pay all of her bills on time, and she can’t seem to get it together to write her newest book, which her literary agent and her publisher are getting desperate for. (Lord knows she already spent the advance she received for it!)

When meeting her agent at a Panera (a Panera I actually go to from time to time) one day, she’s describing the plot of her new book, and a woman at a nearby table overhears. She thinks Finlay is a contract killer and offers her $50,000 to get rid of her horrible husband. Of course, the idea is shocking, but that $50K could go a long way...

It’s not long before Finlay realizes that writing about crime is a lot easier than committing one. But then things go totally awry, and before she knows it, she’s in the middle of a murder investigation, she’s being sought after by another woman to handle a similar job, and she’s caught the eye of a handsome detective. Truth is certainly wackier than fiction.

I’ve seen this book all over Bookstagram so I was anxiously looking forward to reading it, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. It’s quirky, funny, sexy, twisty, and just so enjoyable, and Finlay is a terrific character. I also love her relationship with Vero, her children's nanny and her partner-in-crime. (The one negative is that my book jumped from page 251 to 262...ugh. Hope I didn't miss anything crucial!)

I hope Finlay Donovan is Killing It is the start of a series, because Cosimano has a great protagonist on her hands!