Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Book Review: "Love by Design" by Effie Kammenou

As we learn in Effie Kammenou's Love by Design, sometimes the biggest obstacle to happiness is our fear of being hurt.

Effie Kammenou returns with Book 2 of her Meraki series featuring the Andarakis sisters. Once again she brings us romance and drama and a little steam, as well as some beautiful imagery and some fantastic-sounding recipes!!

Mia has been dreaming of ultimately becoming creative director for a magazine. When she is tapped to work on Opul, a new luxury magazine, she’s so excited to be a step closer to her professional goal, and she’s more excited when she learns she’ll be working directly for Nick Aristedis, the handsome man she’s been swooning over from afar.

But her excitement is quickly dashed when every encounter with her new boss ends with them fighting with each other. He doesn’t seem to respect her talent or want to work with her, and why is it that everything he says and does seems to rub her the wrong way? (Well, we all know the answer to that even if they don't!)

Although it seems this working relationship is doomed, they keep trying, and little by little Nick not only realizes how talented Mia is, but he also can’t deny his feelings for her. And for Mia, the last thing she needs is a relationship with her boss, but she feels an unbelievable connection with Nick...until the next time he says or does something to drive her away.

What is causing Nick to act this way toward Mia? Should she try and see if there’s a possibility for a relationship with him or should she just keep things professional? Both have secrets they’ve kept tightly guarded, causing them to be more afraid of moving forward than ever before.

"Tragically, people die. Lovers break up, sometimes shattering our hearts. But when the right person comes along, they not only glue those shards back together, they also penetrate your soul in a way no one else can."

It’s great to be back amongst the Andarakis family again after reading Love Is What You Bake of It. I enjoy all of the characters and their relationships so much, and I liked getting more insight into a familial mystery that was touched on in the first book. I'm definitely looking forward to Book 3!

Kate Rock Book Tours and Effie Kammenou invited me on the tour and provided me with a complimentary copy of Love by Design in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks so much!!

Book Review: "Back in the Burbs" by Tracy Wolff and Avery Flynn

Back in the Burbs, a new collaboration between Tracy Wolff and Avery Flynn, is a fun, sexy, emotional rom-com about finding the strength to start over and take control of your life.

Mallory hasn’t had a great run of luck lately. Her marriage has ended, she lost her job (never a good idea to work with/for your husband), and she has had to move back in with her parents, who keep denigrating her and make her believe she’s a failure.

When it turns out that her beloved aunt Maggie left Mallory her house in her will, Mallory is floored. The house, with at least 47 HOA violations, is in desperate need of an immense amount of work, and it certainly makes sense to sell it, especially since Mallory has no money for repairs. But despite everyone telling her what to do, for the first time in her life she does what she wants, and moves in to the house.

Of course, the house is even worse than she imagines, and she isn’t prepared for the (incredibly sexy) neighbor across the street to immediately start harassing her to cut the grass. But little by little, Mallory starts to find her way, even when more bombshells explode in her face. (A hunky young handyman doesn't hurt matters either.)

How do you find the courage to start over when so many people—including your family—tell you that you can’t? How do you allow yourself to trust again when your trust and your self-worth have been so damaged? Are you willing to let a good thing pass you by because you’re too afraid of the risk?

I really enjoyed Back in the Burbs and read it in one sitting. It combines all of my favorite elements of rom-coms with family dysfunction and a little bit of steam, and some great characters. I’d go back to the burbs again!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Book Review: "Libertie" by Kaitlyn Greenidge

Thought-provoking and emotional, Kaitlyn Greenidge's Libertie is a reflection on what freedom really means and how relationships of all kinds are sometimes the things keeping you from being free.

“How is it possible to become free when you do not even know who you are?”

Libertie is a girl growing up in post-Civil War Brooklyn. Her fearless mother is a doctor, and Libertie marvels at the things she can do. And her mother has a plan—Libertie will become a doctor, too, and they can have a practice together.

While her mother is light-skinned enough to pass, Libertie is constantly reminded her skin is too dark. As she grows, she starts to chafe under her mother’s rules and plans, and wonders if her only course of freedom is doing what someone else wants her to do.

When she meets one of her mother’s protégés, she is utterly charmed by him. He promises her a life as his equal back at his home in Haiti, so she abandons everything to follow him. It’s not long, of course, before she learns that the promise of freedom he sold her is an illusion, and that the role of a Haitian wife is actually subservient. As Libertie considers her future, she must make a decision which could truly determine the course of her life.

Greenidge is an exceptional writer. I was so blown away by the characters she created, how evocative the different settings were where the book took place, and the realizations Libertie made along her journey.

One thing, however: I would’ve loved an epilogue for this book, because I thought the ending happened abruptly. I’d love to know what happened after the decision Libertie made.

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

Book Review: "How It All Blew Up" by Arvin Ahmadi

How It All Blew Up, Arvin Ahmadi's newest book, is a lovely, poignant, even funny story about finding yourself in the midst of emotional upheaval.

Amir always knew he was gay, but he also knew his Muslim family would never accept it. So he kept that part of him hidden, hoping that he can just coast until he can go away to college, where he can finally be himself.

At a new high school, when he meets a fellow student who’s also hiding his true self, he falls hard. But faced with blackmail and his parents discovering his secret, he does the only thing he can think of—he runs away. On the day of his high school graduation. To Rome. (Because of gelato, of course.)

Soon he finds himself with a group of friends in Rome, including some American expatriates. They accept him for the person he really is—or at least what he tells them—and he discovers what it’s like to feel free for the first time, to feel as if you had the opportunity to choose your family rather than be born into one. But amidst late nights drinking and kisses in the Sistine Chapel, he can’t ignore his family or the truth they all most confront.

When everything comes to a head in a messy altercation on an airplane, Amir and his family tell their story in the most unlikely of places—in airport interrogation rooms. Alternately heartbreaking and hopeful, funny and emotional, How It All Blew Up was such a great story.

Although he was a little naive at times, Amir was a terrific character, caught between his fears and his desire to be his authentic self. His family’s reactions weren’t always what I wanted but they seemed authentic.

I really loved this!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Book Review: "Her Dark Lies" by J.T. Ellison

In Her Dark Lies, J.T. Ellison's latest mystery/thriller, a destination wedding turns into a serious disaster.

Claire is more than ready to marry her fiancé, Jack, and really begin their life together. But since Jack’s family is incredibly powerful, well-known, and wealthy, this won’t just be any wedding. They’ll be getting married at the family’s cliffside villa (more like a castle) on the remote Isle Isola off the Italian coast. Sounds like a fairytale, right?

Already on edge from an event that occurred before they left for Italy, when the couple arrives on the island, things immediately start to go awry. Skeletal remains are found. A massive storm threatens the island and the festivities. Jack’s family is getting threatening tweets. Claire’s wedding dress is ruined. And that’s just the beginning.

Claire isn’t sure what’s going on. Is someone trying to destroy Jack’s family or stop their marriage? Have Claire’s own secrets caught up with her, too? And what’s the real story behind Jack’s first wife? As the body count starts climbing, she doesn’t know what or whom to trust, or if at the end of it all she’ll actually get married—or survive.

Much like Lucy Foley’s The Guest List, Her Dark Lies offers a great setting for a locked-room mystery of sorts. There are lots of twists thrown at you and you don’t know ultimately whom to root for or whom to fear.

I wasn’t wild about this one, honestly. There was just so much going on, so many multiple narrators, and yet virtually no surprises. My prediction at the very start was absolutely what happened and it just seemed a bit preposterous to me. I know others loved it, though, so maybe it’s just me.

I’m starting to think thrillers and I need a time-out. It's not them, it's me.

Book Review: "Nick and Charlie" by Alice Oseman

OMG, Alice Oseman's novella Nick and Charlie is truly cuteness and sweetness overload!! Squee!

“I have been going out with Nick Nelson since I was fourteen. He likes rugby and Formula 1, animals (especially dogs), the Marvel universe, the sound felt-tips make on paper, rain, drawing on shoes, Disneyland and minimalism. He also likes me.”

I’m an enormous fan of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper—in fact, all three of the books have been on my year-end list of favorites. It’s a series of graphic novels featuring Nick and Charlie, two high school students who fall in love. The books chronicle the struggles of acknowledging your sexuality, dealing with bullying and other mental health issues, and follow the ups and downs of young love.

This eponymous novella finds Nick and Charlie at the end of the school year. But it’s not just any school year—Nick is set to go to university in the fall since he’s a year older than Charlie. They’re planning to stay together and hope to see each other every few weeks. Everyone thinks it'll work—they're Nick and Charlie, after all.

But the idea of being apart when they see each other ever single day now is starting to wear on Charlie in particular. He knows that Nick is excited about going to university, but what if he meets someone better or doesn’t want to be with Charlie anymore? Are all of the things he hears from people on the internet about long-distance relationships not working true? Is it better to end things before they get hurt?

I’ve been missing Nick and Charlie, since it’s been a bit of time since I read Volume 3 of Heartstopper, so this was just perfect. I love their relationship and the things each brings to the other.

The only problem after reading Nick and Charlie? Now I want more! (Volume 4 of Heartstopper doesn't come out until December!)

Book Review: "Perfect on Paper" by Sophie Gonzales

In her newest book, Perfect on Paper, Sophie Gonzales gives us a cute YA rom-com that shows how the person giving advice is often the one most in need of taking it.

When students need relationship advice, there’s often only one place they turn—Locker 89. This is where they leave their letters asking for help—along with a contribution to pay for the advice. The system works pretty well, and the advice nearly always is correct.

Darcy is the person behind the operation, and no one has discovered her secret, until one day she is caught in the act of retrieving letters of help from the locker by Alexander Brougham, an arrogant classmate. Brougham agrees to keep Darcy’s secret—well, he blackmails her, actually—if she helps him win back his ex-girlfriend.

The thing is, Darcy could probably stand to listen to her own advice. She has an unrequited crush on her best friend, Brooke, who doesn’t seem to like her that way. And if Brooke ever finds out that Darcy is the person behind the advice coming from Locker 89, their friendship is sure to end because the advice Darcy gave in the past wasn't always helpful to those seeking it, especially Brooke.

When everything falls apart, why does Darcy find herself caring whether Brougham is successful at winning back his ex? What does that mean for her sexuality? Will she be able to regain anyone’s trust?

With Perfect on Paper, Gonzales has delivered another fun story full of high school drama, friendship, identity crises, thrift-shop fashion, and even a trip to Disneyland! (Her last book, Only Mostly Devastated, was fun, too.)

Book Review: "The Answer Is...: Reflections on My Life" by Alex Trebek

I'll admit I waited a while before reading Alex Trebek's The Answer Is..., reflections on life from the late game show host and television icon.

“...even if you are learning facts that you are not going to be able to use in your daily life, it enriches you—the fact itself just enriches you as a human being and broadens your outlook on life and makes you a more understanding and better person.”

I watch very little television, but watching Jeopardy every night has definitely been a ritual for many years, and I love playing along with (and sometimes doing better than) the contestants. I took the online quiz 10 times over the years and passed, and even went to take the in-person text nearly 30 years ago in Atlantic City, but never got the call to move to the next round. 😢

When Trebek announced he had pancreatic cancer, it felt like it happened to a family member, since I have been watching him all these years, and I was so sad when he died. I watched his last episode while sobbing and I still expect Johnny Gilbert to say his name when announcing the guest host.

The Answer Is... isn’t quite a memoir, but more reflections on his life—his childhood, family, ambitions, how he got into television, his career, his family, much about Jeopardy, and his thoughts on his impending mortality. He was wickedly funny and of course, as expected, there are moments of beauty and poignancy, as he speaks of his beloved wife and children.

As an avid game show watcher growing up, I remember him long before he started hosting Jeopardy, so this book was such an enjoyable read for me, but of course, one that left me teary-eyed at the end. (This is why I waited so long to read it.)

Even though I’ll never get to tell Alex I’d like to make it a true daily double, I’m grateful I was witness to a portion of his remarkable career and personality.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Book Review: "The Last Summer Sister" by Rachel Cullen

Family drama, dysfunction, and secrets galore? Sign me up!

You get all of that and more in Rachel Cullen's newest novel, The Last Summer Sister.

David Summer’s sudden death shocks his family. Jen, the older daughter, has always been known as the smart one and she felt a little like an ugly duckling. She went to Harvard, came back home, got married to an ex-football player, and has the seemingly perfect suburban life. Meanwhile, Lynn, the younger daughter, has always been known for her looks, and had a brief stint as a model and actress, moving to LA.

The sisters have barely any relationship, and Lynn’s return home for the funeral causes some friction. But the secret revealed when David’s will is read upends everything—the two apparently have a younger sister, Courtney, the product of a brief affair David had years ago. Courtney, a college student at Northwestern, never knew who her father was, and is just as shocked to find she has two older sisters and stands to inherit a third of David’s estate.

As Jen and Lynn try to deal with this bombshell and their father’s death, they also fall into similar patterns in their own relationship. They both try to get to know Courtney, who has her own share of issues, but she gets caught up in the drama between the sisters.

Everyone, including Jen’s husband, has secrets they’re not revealing, some more dramatic than others. But when everything comes to a head, will there be any relationship that isn’t destroyed?

It’s funny—when I first saw the title The Last Summer Sister, I thought “summer” like beach, and didn’t realize it was the last name of the characters. But at the same time, this will make a great beach read because there’s so much drama, betrayal, and things left unsaid to keep you totally hooked and entertained.

This is a quick read but an enjoyable, soapy, and completely satisfying one.

I enjoyed being on the blog tour for this book. Kate Rock Book Tours and the author provided me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

The Last Summer Sister publishes 3/25.

Book Review: "The Lost Apothecary" by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary, Sarah Penner's debut novel, features dual-narrative historical fiction with a dash of mystery and drama.

In late-1700s England, Nella works as an apothecary. Like her mother before her, Nella’s potions and powders and salves bring comfort and aid to women for their physical and emotional issues. But unlike her mother, Nella’s business has a more sinister side—she’s known secretly as the woman to see when a woman needs to take care of an abusive or philandering husband.

The last thing she is expecting is a 12-year-old client, but Eliza Fanning is there at the behest of her employer. This encounter awakens Eliza’s interest in Nella’s work—both the light and the dark sides. But Eliza’s presence involves her in a scandal that has the potential to destroy Nella and her business—and perhaps both of their lives.

Meanwhile, more than 200 years later, Caroline is visiting London alone on what was supposed to be an anniversary trip with her husband. Reeling from betrayal, the aspiring historian spends the afternoon exploring items found on the muddy shore of the Thames. It is there she discovers an apothecary vial, which awakens the dormant researcher in her, and it’s not long before she’s discovering a series of unsolved “apothecary murders” from the late 1700s...

I’ll admit I probably fell prey to the hype around The Lost Apothecary and was SO excited to read it. While I enjoyed the way Penner writes, and definitely found myself captivated by much of the Nella/Eliza storyline, the Caroline story had very little appeal to me. I understand the message that Penner was trying to convey but it dragged the story down for me, and I found myself skimming Caroline’s parts by the end. I honestly think the Nella/Eliza storyline could've carried the story on its own.

That being said, The Lost Apothecary was still a quick, compelling read, and I look forward to seeing what’s next in Penner’s career. Plus, I know others have loved the book, so my expectations might have been too high, plus historical fiction isn't really my preferred genre.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Book Review: "Out of the Red and Into the Black" by Shane Ahalt, Sr.

If you like your thrillers/crime novels gritty and intense, you might want to check out Out of the Red and Into the Black by Shane Ahalt, Sr.

The brutal murder of Eric and Tammy Creasy doesn’t necessarily surprise the small southern town where they lived, but people want to know what happened to their teenage son, Tyler, who has gone missing since his parents’ murder. Will the kidnappers hold him for ransom, or will he meet a similar fate to his parents?

The more Chris Caldwell, the chief of police, and his team look into the murder, the more they discover just how horrible the Creasys were and the awful things they put their son—and others—through. It opens up a real web of secrets spanning decades, secrets that affect more people than the chief can imagine.

Meanwhile, as they try to track what might have happened to Tyler, they discover that the kidnappers may not be their enemies, although their methods may be questionable. Should the chief turn a blind eye or try to apprehend these people?

Out of the Red and Into the Black deals with a disturbing subject—sexual abuse of children—although it’s not graphic in any way, nor does it describe incidents. But this affected me a great deal and it may be a trigger for some.

This book is intense and graphic at times in ts description of violence, but it raises some interesting questions. It definitely kept me turning the pages to see what would happen.

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

Book Review: "I Think I Love You" by Auriane Desombre

Auriane Desombre's debut novel, I Think I Love You, is sweet and poignant, a hate-to-love (sort-of) rom-com that definitely touched my heart.

“The best love is matter-of-fact. It doesn’t need those big gestures and those bug romantic moments. Real love comes in the everyday moments, the daily life you share.”

When Emma learns of a film festival competition which could lead to college scholarships and an internship in the film industry, she instantly convinces her best friends to help make a movie. As a bisexual teen and a huge romantic, she’s never found a rom-com that makes her feel seen, so that’s her idea for a film.

But when Sophia returns after some time living in Paris with her mother, she’s quick to throw a wrench in Emma’s plans. Not only doesn’t she believe in love or romance, but she thinks a cheesy idea like Emma’s won’t win the festival—they need something artsy, introspective, and pretentious. The differing opinions between the two create a great deal of tension in their friend group, so they split up to make both movies.

Of course, having friends in competition with one another is never a good idea and many feel caught in the middle. When something happens to cause Emma and Sophia to start seeing each other in a different light, they realize there are reasons each behaves the way they do and perhaps their dislike of one another is misguided.

Come on, rom-com fans, you know what will happen. But this is an emotional story, so there’s drama, misunderstandings, and tension afoot and there are secrets to be revealed. In a lot of ways the book feels like a rom-com, but it also resonated for me in a number of ways.

I love the abundance of LGBTQIA+ rom-coms out there these days!!

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Book Review: "Revenge of the Sluts" by Natalie Walton

Natalie Walton's Revenge of the Sluts (awesome title) is a totally compelling, thought-provoking high school drama and a commentary on how young women are treated for being sexually active and confident.

“It all started with a pair of boobs. More specifically, a photo of Sloane Mayer’s.”

One morning an anonymous email is sent to all students at St. Joseph’s High School. The email includes nude photos of seven female students. These are photos they took at one point and sent to someone, but they never intended them for public consumption.

The school is in an uproar. While many feel these girls have had their privacy violated and don’t understand who would do this and why, others believe that it’s the girls' own fault for taking such photos, for being sexually active. Among the worst culprits of this philosophy are many male students, who think it’s great they get these pictures from girls but don’t have any problem sharing them or other lurid details with their peers.

Eden Jeong is the executive editor of the school newspaper, and she is assigned coverage of “Nudegate.” She’s amazed at the different attitudes of people toward this scandal—even the girls themselves—and wants to get to the bottom of it. But it appears even the school doesn’t want to figure out the truth—they want it all to go away and they don’t want the paper to cover it. Eden also has to resolve her own feelings about this issue and her own fears, too.

What ensues with Revenge of the Sluts is a terrific story—a little bit of mystery and a little bit of commentary on double standards. I really thought this was great—high school drama always appeals to me—and it’s sad how skewed people’s thinking still is in this day and age.

I enjoyed being on the blog tour for Revenge of the Sluts. Storygram Tours and Wattpad Books provided me with a complimentary copy in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Book Review: "Love is What You Bake of It" by Effie Kammenou

Effie Kammenou's Love is What You Bake of It is a charming rom-com full of drama, secrets, and lots of desserts.

There should totally be a sub-genre of fiction for books that leave you starving. I've read far too many of those to my waistline's detriment. Love is What You Bake of It would easily fall into that category, plus it has recipes!

Kally is finally living her dream of running her own bakery, The Coffee Klatch. Despite all of her success, everyone in her family is more fixated on her finding a man and getting married. But after a relationship left her scarred and doubting everything, she doesn’t believe she’s worthy of love even if she finds it.

When she meets Max, a local policeman, there’s no doubt that she feels a strong attraction to him. But the more she talks to him, the more confusing things become—it seems like he both wants to pursue her and convince her he’s no good to have a relationship with. But why is everyone pushing her toward him?

Can two people with broken hearts overcome their pain and scars and take another chance? What if both are hiding secrets they feel would surely push the other away?

Love is What You Bake of It is a sweet story which is the start of a series I’m looking forward to further diving into. (The second book, Love by Design, publishes March 24.) It switches from past to present and at times focuses on other characters in the story, too.

I enjoyed being on the blog tour for this book. Kate Rock Book Tours and Effie Kammenou provided me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Book Review: "Cheat Day" by Liv Stratman

Liv Stratman's upcoming debut novel, Cheat Day, is a thought-provoking, humorous look at the search for satisfaction.

Kit always feels as if her life is in flux. Her marriage to David, her college boyfriend, is stable, but she never feels like she has much control beyond that. She works at her sister’s bakery but as good as she is at her job, she keeps quitting and coming back.

The one way she attempts to take control of her life is through the temporary embrace of different diets. The latest one she has chosen is the 75-day Radiant Regimen, an intense cleanse that Kit is determined to follow to the letter, as she hopes that clean eating will bring clarity to the rest of her life. David participates as well in an effort to support her.

But the hunger she feels translates to more than her eating habits. She finds herself attracted to Matt, a carpenter doing renovations for the bakery. They quickly fall into a passionate affair even though Kit knows it won’t last. To cover her guilt over the affair, she becomes more and more obsessed with the Radiant Regimen, to the detriment of everyone.

What does Kit really want? What will satisfy her in the end, food-wise, relationship-wise, job-wise, and life-wise? Is having a “typical” life settling or is it worth throwing everything away to find better?

Cheat Day is at times humorous and at times serious, but it’s an interesting look at a woman unsure of what she wants. I don’t know that I particularly loved the characters or the way they behaved, but this was definitely entertaining and thought-provoking.

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

Cheat Day publishes 5/25.

Book Review: "Float Plan" by Trish Doller

Float Plan, Trish Doller's adult fiction debut, is a poignant and romantic story about finding the strength to pick yourself up after tragedy.

Anna had planned for a life with her fiancé, Ben. She was completely rocked by his death, and has been consumed by grief for the last 10 months. But when she gets a reminder about the trip they had planned, to sail from Florida to the Bahamas, she decides to make the trip alone, in their sailboat, much to the worry of friends and family.

Anna has never sailed without Ben but she feels this is the release—and the relief—she needs. After a few close calls and one treacherous night of sailing, she realizes she needs a co-captain. She hires Keane, a professional sailor, who has been trying to rebuild his life after a tragedy of his own.

Close quarters, emotionally vulnerable people, beautiful scenery, and a touch of adversity—aren’t those the ingredients for a perfect romance? But this isn’t an insta-love story. It’s a compelling, emotional look at how you find the strength to move on when there’s still part of you that doesn’t want to, and how it’s still okay to grieve what you’ve lost. And it's also a book about realizing you still can be happy if your life doesn't turn out how you planned it to be.

Float Plan really was a beautiful book. These characters were so appealing and so complex, I was definitely rooting for them. And I so appreciated that there wasn’t any real melodrama, which I totally expected given the plot. (Do you ever find yourself waiting for something bad to happen in a book or movie?)

This was just so good!

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Book Review: "Yes, Daddy" by Jonathan Parks-Ramage

Wow. Jonathan Parks-Ramage's debut novel, Yes, Daddy, is thought-provoking, disturbing, and emotional commentary on the power dynamics in a relationship and how easy it is to find yourself powerless. It's a fascinating look at #MeToo from a gay man's perspective.

Jonah was raised by a religious family in a small town, where he was taught his homosexuality was something that needed to be cured. But when the therapy leads to a bigger crisis, he is able to convince his mother to let him go to graduate school, then move to NYC and pursue a career as a playwright.

Subletting a tiny room in Bushwick, working as a waiter, Jonah barely has any money or friends, and hasn't been doing much writing. When he spots a picture of famed playwright Richard Shriver, who has a fondness for handsome, muscular, younger men, Jonah formulates a plan to meet Richard and make him fall for him.

Jonah’s well-researched plan works and their relationship takes off, although Richard is a mercurial man to deal with. And when he’s invited to spend the summer in the Hamptons with Richard and his famous friends, who all live on a fancy compound, he feels like he’s finally being enveloped in a life he deserves.

But while the summer has its moments, often Jonah feels the subject of scorn and ridicule. He doesn't feel like any of Richard's friends see him as anything more than a boy-toy. Jonah notices that the compound seems to have a “staff” of young, handsome men in its “employ,” but he doesn’t get their role and they seem to tell him he doesn’t belong. But while Jonah thinks that’s motivated by jealousy, he realizes that there is something far more sinister happening at the compound, and when the dynamics of his relationship with Richard change, he sees the truth.

Yes, Daddy is a story about being victimized and how hard it can be to come to terms with that truth, it’s about revenge and the way we don’t always act in even our own best interests, it's about the role that faith plays in people's lives, and it’s a story about finding your own strength, your own self-belief and self-esteem. Parks-Ramage has written an unforgettable book, one that you’ll want—and need—to discuss.

(TW: sexual assault, violence, and thoughts of suicide)

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

Yes, Daddy publishes on May 18.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Book Review: "One Stupid Thing" by Stewart Lewis

Stewart Lewis' newest book, One Stupid Thing, is an intriguing, poignant story about friendship and finding your own way.

There were three of them—Jamie, Sophie, and Trevor—the best of friends despite their differences. They spent their summer on Nantucket together. They mostly seemed to follow Trevor’s lead, and no one really seemed to mind. Then one night at a party, spurred on by Trevor, the three play an innocent prank, only to have everything go completely wrong.

The following summer, having been estranged from one another and being unable to take their minds off what happened that night, they reunite back on Nantucket. With the help of a new friend, they try to make sense of what they did and realize the guilt they have been carrying around may not be entirely theirs. At the same time, they start to come to some truths about themselves, their desires, and the lives they want.

Although One Stupid Thing is marketed as a mystery/thriller and it certainly has elements of that, in the end I thought it was just a good, strong story. I really liked the complexity of each character, their flaws and vulnerabilities. I also loved the LGBTQIA+ representation in the book. That's one of the reasons I find YA novels so refreshing.

I was pleased to be part of the blog tour for this book. Storygram Tours and Turner Publishing provided me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it avaiable!

Book Review: "Big Time" by Jen Spyra

Big Time is a sharply funny, often utterly crazy debut story collection, which left me smirking throughout and sometimes even laughing out loud.

When you have a book written by a former staff writer for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Onion, you know you’re in for a wild ride. And that’s certainly the case with Jen Spyra’s debut collection.

The 14 stories are in this book are sarcastic, creative, downright wacky, and sometimes even totally bizarre, but they certainly were never dull. Spyra has a memorable voice and while at times I thought a few of the stories went a bit too far (at the very least), I found many of them really entertaining.

Among my favorites: “The Snowman,” in which a boy gets far more than he imagined when his snowman pal comes to life (I don’t think Jimmy Durante would narrate this!); “The Adventure of the Mistaken Right Swipe,” about a woman who finds a unique boyfriend on a dating app; “First Kid Second Kid,” which contrasts different parenting approaches between children; and “The First Influencer,” about the power of persuasion before the internet existed.

These stories are sometimes a little graphic in terms of their language and imagery (nothing awful, but just worth an FYI for some), and at times you wonder where Spyra came up with some of her ideas. But when a story hit on all cylinders, I actually laughed until I nearly cried more than a few times.

Random House provided me a complimentary advance copy of Big Time in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Book Review: "Gathering Dark" by Candice Fox

Candice Fox's Gathering Dark is a twisty thriller that gets your pulse pounding from the very start.

Blair was once a pediatric surgeon, renowned and respected. Until, that is, she killed her neighbor and spent a number of years in prison. Now she’s trying to rebuild her life, stay out of trouble, and hopefully gain custody of her son.

When she gets an unexpected visit from Sneak, her former cellmate, Blair’s carefully laid plans for keeping a low profile fall out the window. Sneak’s daughter, Dayly, has gone missing, and Sneak asks for Blair’s help in tracking her down. Even though she knows the risks of associating with Sneak, Blair can’t think about leaving any person’s child in danger.

Meanwhile, police detective Jessica Sanchez is ostracized by her department because she was left a sizable inheritance after she found the killer of a wealthy man’s daughter. Her treatment from fellow officers gets increasingly cruel—she’s left without backup and her private life is made public.

When Jessica gets a visit from Blair, whom she arrested for murder years before, she’s expecting retribution. But Blair is looking for help, not revenge. She asks Jessica to help her and Sneak and another person they’ve recruited to find Dayly. Should Jessica turn Blair in or help?

I’ve not read any of Candice Fox’s books before but this definitely kept me turning the pages. Some of the twists were a little unbelievable, but I was hooked from start to finish.

I was glad to be part of the blog tour for Gathering Dark. Storygram Tours and Forge Reads provided me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Oscars Nominations: What Might Happen

Tomorrow morning, the Oscar nominations will be announced. Like everything else, this has been a strange year for movies, so the Oscar eligibility period was extended and the ceremony itself was delayed until late April. (It's usually all over by now.) And with everything eventually being available on streaming services, the number of movies eligible has increased as well.

I'm a huge Oscar fan, and every other year I would've seen nearly everything that's under consideration for awards. This year, however, I've seen only a few movies so far, although I intend to pick up the slack and see everything that gets nominated before the ceremonies occur.

One of my stupid pet tricks is my ability to name the nominees and winners for Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, and Director from when the awards started in 1927 until present day. (Go ahead. Test me.) As I've done the last several years, I've tried to predict what I think the Academy will do with regard to nominations. Some years I'm right on target and some years I get surprised (both positively and negatively). These predictions aren't what I would like to happen necessarily, it's just how I predict the Academy will behave.

This is a weird year, however. I expect to be either very right in most categories or very, very wrong. (I'm not sure which I hope for more.) So here's what I think, and I'll be back tomorrow to share what actually transpired!

Best Picture
The Father
Judas and the Black Messiah
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

: Once again this year, the Academy has been mum on how many films will get nominated for Best Picture. (Starting next year, they'll go to a solid 10 nominees.) I picked 9 movies, but who knows? It's possible the Academy could go the comedy route with Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, go with The Mauritanian or One Night in Miami, or drop one or a few of these.

Best Actor
Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Gary Oldman, Mank
Steven Yeun, Minari

Analysis: One thing is for absolute certain, and that is that Chadwick Boseman will win a posthumous Oscar for his utterly incredible performance in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Ahmed and Hopkins are definite locks for nominations (some say this award would have been Hopkins' had Boseman not lost his courageous battle with colon cancer); Oldman probably will get in, although enthusiasm for Mank seems to have cooled a bit, and for me, Yeun is the wild card. I think he'll get in, although I wouldn't be surprised if either he or Oldman is passed over for Tahar Rahim in The Mauritanian. Delroy Lindo, who gave a strong performance in Da 5 Bloods, was the early favorite, but he didn't get Golden Globe or SAG nominations, so I don't know if that bodes well for him.

Best Actress
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Andra Day, The United States Vs. Billie Holliday
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
Rosamund Pike, I Care a Lot

Analysis: I hemmed and hawed a bit here, and decided to go with Pike, who won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy, over Vanessa Kirby for Pieces of a Woman. Pike has been nominated before, but dark comedies don't always resonate well with the Academy, while Kirby has never been nominated but gives an emotional performance. Of course, I could be surprised even more and the sentimental favorite, 86-year-old Sophia Loren, could sneak in for A Life Ahead, 50 years after she won an Oscar for Two Women. I wish there was a slot for Michelle Pfeiffer for French Exit, but that seems less and less a possibility.

Best Supporting Actor
Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7
Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods
Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Leslie Odom, Jr., One Night in Miami
Paul Raci, Sound of Metal

Analysis: So I'll address the elephant in the room first. I believe Boseman will be the first person to receive two posthumous acting nominations tomorrow, but I'll only be happy with one of them. I don't believe this performance would be recognized had he not died—it's really not much of a role, IMHO. I believe his slot should go to either Glynn Turman or Colman Domingo, Boseman's costars in Ma Rainey. Also, Kaluuya, who appears to be the frontrunner in this category, is the co-lead of the movie and doesn't belong here, but that's typical of the Oscars. In terms of other surprises, it's possible if Minari has an incredible showing that adorable Alan Kim could get a nod, or Jared Leto with his prosthetic overbite could sneak in for The Little Things.

Best Supporting Actress
Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman, The Father
Jodie Foster, The Mauritanian
Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari

Analysis: So this category is utterly unpredictable. I believe a spot belongs to Amanda Seyfried for Mank (she was great), but again, I think she'll be a victim of the movie's cooling hype. There is some momentum for Ellen Burstyn to get a nomination for a short performance in Pieces of a Woman, 20 years after her last nomination (which she should have won for, cough cough), but like Sophia Loren, she didn't receive Golden Globe or SAG nominations. Bakalova is actually the female lead, but anyone who had to act opposite Giuliani deserves something, no?

Best Director
Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
David Fincher, Mank
Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7
Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

Analysis: If the Academy knows what's good for it, history better be made tomorrow, with the nomination of at least two women for Best Director. Regina King could sneak in as well for One Night in Miami, but whether she knocks out Sorkin or Fennell remains to be seen. Florian Zeller could sneak in, too, if the Academy likes The Father.

How right or wrong will I be? Tune in tomorrow!

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Book Review: "Moments Like This" by Anna Gomez and Kristoffer Polaha

Moments Like This, the first book in a new series by Anna Gomez and Kristoffer Polaha, is a romantic, thought-provoking story about finding the strength to overcome grief and despair, and making the most out of life.

Andie has stopped at nothing to make partner at the venture capital firm where she’s worked. She’s sacrificed a romantic relationship, repeatedly neglected friends and family, and jeopardized her health. And when it all falls apart—including her—she needs to figure out how to move on past her disappointments and regrets.

She agrees to leave her high-pressure life in Chicago and help her best friend run her family’s coffee shop in Hawaii. Andie is immediately taken with the beauty that surrounds her and the more relaxed pace, and quickly starts to find ways to improve the shop. She misses her family but doesn't miss the hectic chaos that had become second nature to her.

Late on Christmas Eve, a lone customer comes into the store. This man, Warren, is looking for some coffee and conversation. He and Andie have an immediate connection, intense chemistry. The more time they spend together, the deeper their feelings grow for one another, even though they both know Annie eventually has to return to Chicago and the life she left behind.

Each week, Warren shows Andie how to better appreciate every moment she’s in, not to mention the beauty that surrounds her. But what secrets, what hurts are they both hiding, and how will revealing those affect any chance at happiness?

I really enjoyed this book. It was a story about strength, overcoming setbacks, and realizing the importance of those around you, as much as it is a romance. Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, and the imagery the authors use reminded me how much I loved it there.

I'm grateful to have been part of the tour for Moments Like This. Storygram Tours and Rosewind Books provided me with an advance complimentary copy of the book. Thanks for making it available!

Book Review: "Later" by Stephen King

With Later, The Master returns with a nostalgic-feeling book that has glimpses of Stand By Me and IT in its storytelling.

Sometimes growing up means facing your demons. Jamie is a young boy growing up in NYC, the son of a single mother who tries to do her best to give him a good life, even when they're struggling financially.

Jamie has an unnatural ability, one that few others have. Sometimes it traumatizes him, but most times it’s fairly innocuous. There are times, however, when he can use it to gain information to help someone. However, Jamie’s mother warns him to keep this ability secret because he could be exploited.

When an NYPD detective, trying to secure their own future, uses Jamie to try and find out a serial killer’s last move, it exposes Jamie to the more terrifying side of his abilities, and awakens fears and anxieties that will haunt him and make him question everything around him.

I’m being purposely vague with the plot description of Later because I went into this book knowing next to nothing, and I might have had different expectations if I knew more. I really loved Stephen King’s storytelling style here. It drew you in and made you worry how he was going to scare the s—t out of you and/or break your heart.

There’s a lot I enjoyed about this book, but in the end, I didn’t find anything really scary about it. The ending was a little anti-climactic for me as well.

Still, reading Later reminded me of my younger days, reading King’s early novels and being totally transported into his worlds. It’s nice when he writes a simpler story every now and again.

Book Review: "Playing the Palace" by Paul Rudnick

Paul Rudnick's upcoming rom-com, Playing the Palace, is a funny, sweet look at what happens when you fall in love with the future king of England.

Carter Ogden has been wallowing a bit since he broke up with his cheating ex. It’s getting to the point where he almost doesn’t believe true love exists, even though he prays to his patron saint, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that his prince may come along someday.

And then he does, in the form of Prince Edgar, the openly gay Prince of Wales, next in line to the throne. Edgar and Carter meet at the UN, when Carter’s company is arranging an event that Edgar is speaking at. The chemistry between them is intense, but he’s royalty—isn’t he this polite with everyone?

It’s not long before Edgar makes his interest in Carter clear. But for self-doubting, self-deprecating Carter, trying to have a relationship with the future king is more challenging than he could ever imagine. Not only is Carter and his every action under intense scrutiny by the Palace and the world (and Carter is prone to colossal missteps), but both he and Edgar have their guards up to protect themselves from getting hurt, which keeps them from expressing their true feelings and their fears.

Playing the Palace is romantic, sometimes funny in an almost slapsticky way, and it’s a beautiful story that shows everyone deserves their fairytale romance. Paul Rudnick is a comedy genius, and some of his characters made me laugh—and reminded me of some relatives!

Don’t go in expecting Red White & Royal Blue (which was my favorite book of 2019): this is a very different story and it doesn’t want to be that one. Enjoy the rocky ride with Edgar and Carter (and you may never want to eat trifle again)!

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

Playing the Palace publishes 5/25!!

Book Review: "Accidentally Engaged" by Farah Heron

Accidentally Engaged, Farah Heron's new book, is a fun, sexy, sweet rom-com about trying to make your own way despite what your parents want. (Like that's easy?)

Reena’s parents want what’s best for her, and in their eyes, finding a man for her to marry is best. Sure, it’s not worked any of the previous times they've tried this, but it looks like this candidate, Nadim, definitely has his pluses—he’s handsome, he has a great body and a sexy British accent, and he loves food as much as she does. (Of course, his negatives include the fact that he works for her father and lives in her apartment building.) But she flat-out refuses to be with anyone her parents set her up with, no matter how good he may look.

When Reena learns about a television cooking competition open only to couples, she starts to think things through. An avid baker always looking to perfect her bread recipes, winning this competition might give her that chance. So what would be wrong with asking Nadim to pretend to be engaged to her for the sake of the program, as long as they keep it a secret? (It turns out that's not the only secret she's keeping, and Nadim has secrets of his own as well!)

Ah, dear fellow rom-com readers, what happens when secrets are kept in a story? And what happens with fake engagements? Yes, you know, but Accidentally Engaged is a delicious, sexy, romantic one, full of family dysfunction and yummy-sounding food! I couldn't resist even though I knew where things would go.

I loved this book. Don’t read it on an empty stomach, especially if like me, carbs are your spirit animal, and/or if you love Indian food. And maybe it was just me, but for some reason the title of this book had me singing the Counting Crows’ Accidentally in Love. (Sorry not sorry if that gets stuck in your head, too!)

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Book Review: "Under Red Sky: The Boss" by J Calamy

Man, J Calamy's Under Red Sky: The Boss was a HOT, steamy, and intense read, with lots of emotion and action!

Since I joined Bookstagram more than two years ago I’ve been fortunate to work with some groups that organize blog tours for books. Through those groups, I’ve been lucky to find books I might never have heard of otherwise, and I'm so grateful.

That holds true for Under Red Sky: The Boss, too! Thanks to Pride Book Tours for putting it on my radar and for sending me a complimentary copy in exchange for an unbiased review!

Nick did a horrible thing in the heat of the moment—he killed a family in a traffic accident as a result of road rage—and he paid the price for it. Shunned by family and friends, he spent some time in prison and then fled the U.S. for Singapore, where he’s content being a tiny cog at the U.S. Embassy there.

But when his past is discovered, it threatens to destroy him professionally and personally until Lord Nelson Graves, a powerful shipping magnate, intervenes. Feeling guilty about nearly running Nick over with his sports car, he helps Nick land a job which puts him on a much better path and shows him he is worthy of happiness and success again.

Nick can’t help but feel drawn to Graves, even if he’s never really had an interest in men before. But Graves has secrets, too—he is the head of Red Sky, a major arms and drug dealer in Asia. He’s hunting a traitor in his midst and between that and fighting his growing attraction to Nick, he’s all over the place and doesn't know what he really wants.

This was a quick read and I was hooked from the start. There’s action, intrigue, serious sexual tension, emotion, and some immensely hot (and graphic) sex scenes, both M/M and M/F. The relationship between Nick and Graves is really fascinating—it's a younger/older thing, and I love how the book doesn't shy away from dealing with Graves' disability while still portraying him as a powerful, virile man.

I could really see this as a series on Netflix or something because of the drama and action!

Book Review: "Can't Take That Away" by Steven Salvatore

Can't Take That Away, Steven Salvatore's debut novel, is an absolutely fantastic book about the courage to be yourself and be proud of yourself that left me in a complete emotional puddle.

Carey is a genderqueer teenager who is finally starting to feel comfortable in their own skin. Coming out to friends and family was difficult (because they were essentially blackmailed into doing so) but apart from some homophobic bullying from a fellow student and a teacher, they’re trying to find the joy in life. They have a fiercely loyal best friend, a tremendously supportive mother, and an understanding English teacher, all of whom have Carey's back.

What Carey wants more than anything is to be a diva, like their idol (and namesake), Mariah Carey. They dream of bringing the house down with their voice. They have the talent to do it but they don’t like to call attention to themselves. But after they meet Cris, their burgeoning relationship gives Carey the confidence they need to audition for the school musical and play the part of Elphaba in Wicked.

But some in the school don’t think Carey should play that part and they’ll stop at nothing to create trouble. Carey, with the support of their best friends and family, must decide if they’re willing to let their dream be killed or if they are ready to stand up and make change happen. At the same time they have to struggle with doubts about their relationship with Cris and deal with the rapid decline of their grandmother, who was Carey's biggest fan and musical inspiration.

Can't Take That Away works on so many levels. It's funny, thought-provoking, moving, and so emotional. Salvatore brings such life and complexity to the characters, and Carey's grandmother reminded me so much of my own paternal grandmother, who was my biggest supporter. (I still miss her even though she's been gone almost 16 years.) Another touch that was so incredible is that each chapter of the book is headed by the pronouns Carey identifies with on that particular day.

God, I loved this so much!! Storygram Tours and Bloomsbury YA provided me a complimentary advance copy of Can't Take That Away in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Book Review: "Cover Your Tracks" by Daco S. Auffenorde

Daco Auffenorde's thriller, Cover Your Tracks, is a heart-pounding thriller that reads like it would make a great movie.

Margo Fletcher is traveling by train from Chicago to Spokane, Washington, for a family event. The weather forecast called for light snow, but the storm seems a little heavier than expected. Somewhere in an isolated portion of the Rockies, the train starts to brake but initially no reason is given. Since Margo is eight months pregnant, she’s justifiably concerned about what is going on.

Nick Eliot, a former Army Ranger, knows trouble is ahead. A massive avalanche is headed directly for the train. He warns everyone in their train car to move to the back of the train for safety, but since the conductor tells everyone to stay seated, only Margo is willing to listen. Is Nick right? Should she trust this man she’s never met with her life and her baby’s?

She decides to follow Nick, and they make their way to the last train car, which he uncouples to separate them. Not long after, the avalanche engulfs the rest of the train, destroying it and throwing the cars into a ravine far down below. It is doubtful anyone could have survived.

Now they’re alone in the middle of nowhere, in the midst of a winter storm. A rescue crew may never find them, if they even realize the train is missing right away. Nick and Margo try to find shelter but must contend with the elements and worry about wild animals looking for food, with Margo growing increasingly concerned about her baby.

But as Nick leads her to a watchtower on top of a mountain—away from where she thinks they need to go to find help—Margo has to decide whether to trust this stranger. Both have secrets that have brought them to this moment—will these secrets impact their ability to survive?

When I first heard about Cover Your Tracks I joked that it sounded like a Liam Neeson movie, and it really does. The plot alternates between the present and both of Margo and Nick’s backstories. It’s an intense story at times and so atmospheric—I really felt like I could be out in the middle of the storm. There are lots of twists and turns which take you to a very different place than I expected.

One warning: the book is a bit graphic in its descriptions of violence and killing animals. It’s not gratuitous but it could be a trigger for some. (You could skim over those parts and not miss anything.) But this is definitely one pulse-pounding read!

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Book Review: "Too Good to Be True" by Carola Lovering

Carola Lovering's newest book, Too Good to Be True, is a twisty domestic thriller that keeps you guessing!

Skye Starling has finally found happiness. After suffering through some horrible relationships and dealing with her OCD, she met a handsome older man, Burke Michaels, who loves her for all that she is and isn’t put off by her compulsions.

Despite the fact that they’ve been together less than a year, and despite the concerns and warnings expressed by Skye's best friend and her father, Skye and Burke first move in together and then get engaged. But Burke isn’t who he says he is, as letters to his therapist reveal the secrets Burke is hiding.

Juxtaposed with Skye’s story and Burke’s letters is a narrative from 30 years earlier following Heather, a poor teenager whose life is turned around by a wealthy woman when she begins babysitting for the family. The woman convinces Heather she is worth more than her ne’er-do-well boyfriend and a lack of belief in her future.

The book is full of twists—some surprising and some very evident (at least to me)—so it’s best you go into the book not knowing much. (The plot summary in the book itself gives a little more away than I did.)

Apart from one twist that surprised me, I felt a lot of the plot was fairly predictable. But Lovering knows how to tell a story, so I was completely hooked and needed to know what was going to happen here.

I’m fairly tough on thrillers so I’m kind of cynical about surprise twists. But Too Good to Be True was a compelling thriller, and having enjoyed Lovering’s last book (Tell Me Lies), I’m definitely a fan of her writing.

Book Review: "Love at First" by Kate Clayborn

In Kate Clayborn's new rom-com, Love At First, you realize that sometimes the past brings you comfort, but you have to focus on the future in order to find happiness.

He fell in love with her voice. As a teenager, Will was standing under an apartment balcony when he heard the voice of the girl of his dreams. He never actually saw her, but from the joyful tone of her voice, he just knew. But moments later his life was changed by something he overheard, and he soon forgot about the girl on the balcony.

Sixteen years later, Will has returned, as he has inherited an apartment in the same building from someone he never knew. Now an overworked doctor, he plans to clear out the apartment and get it sold as quickly as possible, although he has to consider a temporary solution first. But then he hears a familiar voice from a balcony above—it couldn’t possibly be her, could it?

This apartment building has been Nora’s home since she moved in with her elderly grandmother, but she used to spend her summers there since childhood. She doesn’t take kindly to Will’s plans for his apartment and how it will affect the family unit she and her fellow tenants have formed. It doesn’t matter how handsome and charming he may be—he must be stopped.

As Nora sets out to foil Will’s plans, she’s not above a little bit of friendly sabotage. And as much as her interference stirs up memories for Will he’d rather not deal with, he can’t deny that Nora is irresistible to him, and he wonders if he should let another chance with the girl from the balcony pass him by. Nora, fighting her own attraction to Will, must also decide whether loyalty to her grandmother means staying rooted in the past or moving forward.

Love At First is a cute story about second chances, trusting your heart, and finding comfort in familiarity. I felt like Nora and Will's chemistry was a little more slow-burn than a lot of rom-coms (the whole story seemed slower to gel at first) but there was definitely some steam when they finally got together.

If you’ve not read Kate Clayborn’s Love Lettering, and you’re a rom-com fan, definitely pick that one up.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Book Review: "We Begin at the End" by Chris Whitaker

OMG, OMG, OMG. Chris Whitaker's new novel, We Begin at the End is worth every bit of hype it is getting!!

Can your heart be broken and be filled with love simultaneously? Asking for a friend.

“Hal said we begin at the end.”
“So where are we now?”
“I’m not sure it matters.”
“Wherever it is, I hope we can stay here a little longer.”

More than 30 years ago, the small coastal California town of Cape Haven was rocked by the death of a young girl. Fifteen-year-old Walk gave the testimony that put his best friend Vincent in jail. He’s never forgotten how badly he feels about that, and it haunts him every day, even now that he’s the police chief of his hometown.

Vincent is about to be released from jail after 30 years. The town is on edge, no one more than Star Radley, who was friends with Vincent and Walk when they were younger. She has been struggling for years, particularly lately, leaving her 13-year-old daughter, Duchess, to take care of herself and her younger brother, Robin (not to mention Star, quite a bit of the time).

Duchess, a self-proclaimed outlaw, is blunt and brash, but fiercely loyal to those she loves. She knows Walk is trying to protect her mother and them, but she doesn’t have much faith that men can be good.⁣

What follows is an unforgettable, emotional story about chosen family vs. blood, loyalty, love, the difficult decision about whether to trust people, friendship, secrets, and love. These characters are truly some of the most memorable I’ve read about in a long while and they have stolen my heart.

So much of We Begin at the End's strength comes from letting things unfold without much knowledge of what's to come. I will say I stayed up until 1:30 a.m. to finish this and my eyes are still kinda swollen from crying.

In short, read this.

Book Review: "This Is For Tonight" by Jessica Patrick

Jessica Patrick's upcoming This Is For Tonight is a cute YA rom-com which also explores grief, familial obligation, and even a little crafting.

Andi loves her little YouTube crafting channel, and she loves her loyal band of followers, but no one is going to mistake her for an influencer or an internet celebrity, and the biggest perk she's ever gotten was a few skeins of free yarn.

But when it becomes necessary to turn her channel into a moneymaker if she has any chance to go to her dream college with her twin brother, she needs to think of a new strategy. Making friendship bracelets might not cut it.

When she and her brother go to the famed Cabazon Valley Music Festival, she’s hoping inspiration will strike. She does get a meet-cute in the dark with a hot guy who helps her set up their tent, but the next morning she finds out she was lusting after Jay Bankar, the incredibly hot but horrible guy who hosts a popular prank program on YouTube and insults everyone. (He even pranked his own grandmother.) Andi hates everything his program stands for, so of course he’s the one she connects with!

Andi is determined to win a contest that would land her an interview with headlining band The Known, and that could launch her channel the right way. But of course, she’ll have to beat Jay and his even-more-horrible brother (not to mention ignore her growing feelings for him). At the same time, she'll have to confront the grief and insecurities she’s been feeling about the anniversary of her father’s death and the possibility of not going to her dream college.

This was a sweet, quick read, but there was also more to it than just the typical rom-com. I’m always a fan of books that give me more than I expected!

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

This Is For Tonight publishes May 4!

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Book Review: "The Final Revival of Opal & Nev" by Dawnie Walton

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, Dawnie Walton's upcoming debut novel, is a sweeping and thought-provoking look at the meteoric rise and fall of a 1970s-era music duo.

First things first: this book is written in the same style as Daisy Jones & The Six, in that it uses interview-type responses to tell the story rather than narrative. It’s an interesting choice and I’ll admit at first I felt it was a little too copycat for me, but ultimately it worked for the story.

It was the most unlikely pairing: Neville, the gawky, earnest English musician, and Opal, the blunt, brash, young Black woman from Detroit. But somehow the meshing of their styles, particularly as Opal grows more comfortable with her voice and her presence on stage.

It’s the early 1970s, and racism is everywhere. And one night during a performance, the racially charged atmosphere leads to violence, and an act that forever changes the duo and the lives of those around them.

Flash forward to 2016, and rumors are flying that Opal and Nev might reunite for a tour. Music journalist S. Sunny Shelton, who has a connection to the duo’s early days, begins an oral history of them. But as she talks to those who were involved, she finds out there are secrets that have been kept hidden for decades, secrets which could jeopardize everything.

I definitely found The Final Revival of Opal & Nev to be a fascinating read, and while it had the usual elements of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, there was more to this book than that. I was surprised by the level of suspense in the book as well as how the book was an examination of how music and social issues are so intertwined. Walton really did a great job with this.

Again, as I felt when reading Daisy Jones, reading about songs and music is always missing something when you can’t hear them, so I hope that perhaps they’ll make an adaptation of this book, too. It’s definitely a compelling story!

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

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev publishes March 30.

Book Review: "The Love Study" by Kris Ripper

Sometimes what you’re looking for is right in front of you and you just don’t see it. That's at the crux of Kris Ripper's The Love Study.

Declan’s last relationship ended when he left his boyfriend at the altar. It’s not something he’s particularly proud of in any way, but it’s the one thing his best friends say when they introduce him to everyone.

Since then, he hasn’t dated. (Would you?) But maybe it’s time to look for something more than just hookups. So when he meets Sidney, the host of a popular YouTube program, Declan agrees to let Sidney and their viewers set him up on dates and then he can report back on how they went.

Of course, none of the dates work. And little by little, Declan starts to wonder if maybe he blew his only chance at happiness by not getting married, even if it was the right thing to do. Maybe the things his friends say about him being unable to love are true?

But the more he appears on Sidney’s show, the more Declan realizes that he has the best time when he’s with them. Should he risk hurting someone else, though, because he may be incapable of love? Would Sidney want to take a chance on someone like Declan?

The Love Study was a fun book. I really enjoyed Declan and Sidney’s characters and the chemistry between them. Of course, we’re smarter than Declan in that we know what he wants before he does, but isn’t that the stuff rom-coms are made of?

I also really enjoyed the exploration of different sexual and gender identities in this book without any of them being held up for ridicule or feeling like you were being lectured to. It’s crazy that in 2021 I have to say that, but it is what it is.