Friday, April 30, 2021
Book Review: "Long Walk Home" by Ellyn Oaksmith
Ten years ago, Lola and Gus were in love. They were teenagers from different worlds—she was the youngest daughter of the family who owned the Blue Hills winery, he was a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Then one night Gus made a host of stupid decisions which put Lola in danger and landed him in jail, and pushed him out of her life.
Now, Lola wants to make a bigger impact at the winery but keeps running into resistance from her older sister, Carmen. Lola thinks she’s ready to be the chef for Blue Hills and has so many ideas, but Carmen still treats her like the little sister. So when Lola gets the idea to build some tiny cabins for vacationers on a part of the winery’s property, she has to go behind Carmen’s back to get it done.
The last thing she expected is that the master carpenter assigned to build the cabins is Gus, who has returned home to try and make amends with those he hurt, and hopefully make a fresh start. But Lola’s father threatened him to stay away from her all those years ago—will anyone be able to see him for the man he’s become, not the boy he was?
If you had a second chance with your first love, would you take it? Lola and Gus’ story plays out amidst family struggles, as Lola demands that her ideas for the winery be taken more seriously by her family. All of this takes place against a gorgeous backdrop.
I enjoyed Long Walk Home a great deal. I love second-chance love stories and definitely rooted for Lola and Gus. I did think Lola acted like a brat sometimes, and Carmen was inflexible, but that’s family dynamics for you!
This is the third book in a series but I read it as a stand-alone and didn’t feel like I missed anything. Oaksmith’s imagery made me feel like I was there (and I wished I was), and her descriptions of food made me hungry!!
I was glad to be part of the tour for this book. Bookouture provided me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!
Book Review: "The Lucky Ones" by Liz Lawson
When a deadly shooting occurred at her school, May survived by hiding in a closet. But her brother and her friends were among those killed. She knows she should feel lucky but she doesn’t. No one understands the guilt, the hurt, the anguish she feels as her life is falling apart around her. All she wants to do is lash out, but one friend tries to keep her close.
After the shooting, Zach’s life changed in a different way. When his mother decides to become the shooter’s defense attorney, he loses everything. His girlfriend dumps him, his friends ostracize him, and he spends most of his time with only his little sister and the one friend who still cares about him.
Neither May nor Zach feels like they are really living anymore, and both wonder if it’s worth going on with life. But when the two meet, it’s the first time in a long while they’ve felt something other than grief or anger or guilt or pain. Can two people barely surviving help each other live again?
I thought The Lucky Ones provided a really interesting perspective on the survivors of a school shooting. Sadly, there are far too many of these shootings occurring these days, so this story is really relevant.
At times, as you’d imagine, this book got a bit heavier than I could handle, but it was a really well-told and moving story that definitely made me think.
NetGalley, Random House Children's, and Delacorte Press provided me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!
Book Review: "She Drives Me Crazy" by Kelly Quindlen
Scottie hasn’t quite gotten over the fact that her girlfriend Tally broke up with her and then transferred to the more exclusive, rival high school. (She also can't seem to get over Tally.) Facing Tally at a basketball game, Scottie and her team get humiliated, and she wants to get even.
Leaving the game, she gets into a fender-bender with Irene, head cheerleader and all-around queen bee, who caused one of Scottie’s most humiliating moments. When Irene is left without a car, it’s decided by the mothers of both girls that Scottie can drive Irene to school—much to both of their displeasure.
Scottie quickly sees that her proximity to Irene raises her profile at school, and suddenly Irene and her minions start attending the girls’ basketball team’s games, which motivates them to play harder. (Plus, Tally is getting jealous, so, win-win.)
So Scottie does what everyone else would—she essentially convinces/bribes Irene to pretend to date her, in order for people to keep coming to the basketball games and hopefully motivate the team to beat their rival in the Christmas Classic. (And if it upsets Tally in the process, oh well!)
Through the course of their “relationship” both come to realize their assumptions about the other are wrong. Both have serious hurts they’re dealing with and have their guards up, but could a real relationship flourish amidst all of this?
I thought She Drives Me Crazy was a great story. There’s a lot going on here—issues with self-esteem and trust, toxic relationships, using people’s sexuality as a weapon against them—but it never gets too heavy. The characters aren’t perfect (who is?), so everything feels very real.
There are some really terrific moments here—some cheesy, some funny, some emotional. I need to go back and read Quindlen’s first book now! (I also couldn't get a mash-up of Fine Young Cannibals' "She Drives Me Crazy" and Britney Spears' "(You Drive Me) Crazy" out of my head.)
Pride Book Tours and Roaring Brook Press sent me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available and inviting me on the tour!!
Posted by Larry at 12:14 PM No comments:
Labels: book reviews, bullying, competition, family, fiction, friendship, growing up, high school, jealousy, lesbian, LGBTQ, lies, love, relationships, secrets, self-esteem, sports, young adult
Book Review: "Boy Queen" by George Lester
Robin has his future planned—he’s going to attend a performing arts academy and set the theatre world on fire. Everyone tells him how talented he is, even though he doesn’t always believe it.
When he doesn’t get into the academy as he (and everyone else) thought he would, he’s utterly devastated. What’s next for his future? He didn’t apply to university and all his friends did, so he has no clue what he’ll do, and he doesn't want to have to stay in his hometown alone.
On his birthday, to try and get him out of his doldrums, he and his friends go to Drag Night at a gay bar, and he is utterly mesmerized. He realizes that this is what he wants to do. This is who he wants to be.
Under the tutelage of the glorious Kaye Bye, he sets out to find his true self. But he’ll need to believe in himself and his talent first, and realize he also needs to focus on the people who love him for who he is—not the ones who only support and love him when no one is around.
“I’ve never felt so powerful or fully in control of myself before, but, in that moment, there it was. The more applause I got, the more powerful I felt, like some kind of oversized Tinkerbell in three pairs of tights and a six-inch heel.“
So full disclosure: while I have immense admiration for the artistry, talent, and sheer confidence of drag artists, I’ve never been a huge fan. But this book by George Lester has gotten me hooked a bit!!
I absolutely loved Boy Queen and the characters, especially Robin’s friends, some of his teachers, and his mother, who was incredible. The support and encouragement they gave him really filled my heart.
It was fun buddy reading this with my friend Javi. We both loved it, and hopefully you will, too!
Book Review: "We Are the Brennans" by Tracey Lange
When Sunday Brennan wakes up in an Los Angeles hospital after a drunk-driving accident, she’s both surprised and unsurprised to find her older brother Denny at her bedside. He convinces her to come back with him to the Long Island town—and the house—where she grew up.
Sunday left suddenly for Los Angeles five years ago without any explanation to anyone—not her family or her long-time boyfriend—so her return stirs up a lot of questions and emotions. And as she settles back into her family, she realizes that they’re struggling just as badly as she has been all these years, and it's not too long before she falls into the all-too-familiar role of caretaker. But she really doesn't seem to mind.
When she discovers that some financial decisions Denny has made threaten the survival of the family’s bar business and the family home, Sunday knows her help is needed more than ever. And that help means revealing the secret that sent her running away five years ago—but revealing the truth will have real ramifications, too.
I don’t know what it is about family drama and secrets that draws me in, but it’s definitely a genre that appeals to me. We Are the Brennans was such a compelling, engaging story, and I was really hooked on these characters. It's hard to believe this is a debut novel!
Celadon Books provided me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!
We Are the Brennans publishes 8/3.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
Book Review: "Infinite Country" by Patricia Engel
“And maybe there is no nation or citizenry; they’re just territories mapped in place of family, in place of love, the infinite country.”
Talia was sent to a juvenile facility in the Colombian mountains after committing a sudden act of violence in retribution for horrible animal cruelty. (Was what she did more extreme than what the person did? She doesn't think so.) She doesn’t feel she belongs there and is desperate to get home to her father in Bogota.
One night she and some of the other teenage girls escape from the facility. Talia must make it home so she can catch a flight and finally be reunited with her mother and siblings, who have been living in America. If she gets caught or somehow doesn’t make it home in time, she might miss her chance to ever get to America.
Infinite Country is the story of two generations. It follows Mauro and Elena, Talia’s parents, as they fall in love as teenagers in Colombia and try to build a life together in America, only to be thwarted by immigration issues. It traces their path as they are forced to make a decision that splits the family.
The book juxtaposes their story with Talia’s, as she tries to get home. She wonders whether leaving her father for America is the right decision, or whether she should stay with the parent who knows her. It’s an all-too-familiar struggle faced by families.
I thought Infinite Country was gorgeously written and it brimmed with emotion. I didn’t necessarily agree with all of the storytelling choices Engel made—all of a sudden the narration in the book switches to two other people that hadn’t yet had a role in the story. But it’s a minor thing, really, amidst the beauty of her writing.
So grateful to have read this with a friend of mine on Bookstagram. Thanks for the discussion and for encouraging me to read this!
Book Review: "The Restarting Point" by Marci Bolden
Jade has always been a driven person determined to succeed. That spirit has made her a successful marketing executive, and when she was faced with a serious cancer diagnosis, her strength and determination helped her beat it.
Now it’s time to relax a little before getting back to the grind. When her husband asks where she wants to go on vacation she chooses idyllic Chammont Point, where she has memories of their earlier days from when their children were young. When he can’t make the trip because of a conflict, she goes herself, only to find herself injured after a freak accident. Returning home to nurse her wounds, she discovers the real reason her husband couldn’t join her on vacation—and now she’s really entering a new phase of her life.
For someone who’s always fought hard for what she wants, she’s not sure what comes next. But with the support of an unlikely crew of people—who become friends—she’s ready to take the next steps in her life, even if she has no idea what they are.
This was a fun, poignant read that really drew me in! Even if we all can't identify specifically with the things Jade went through in the book, many of us have experienced a time in our lives when we've been knocked for a loop by circumstances. Essentially we have two choices: let circumstances destroy us, or fight back. That's what was so meaningful about the book.
Storygram Tours and the author provided me with a complimentary advance copy of b>The Restarting Point in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!
Book Review: "The Magic Fish" by Trung Le Nguyen
Tién knows he is gay, but he’s not ready for everyone to know it yet until he tells his parents. The thing is, his parents are Vietnamese refugees and they don’t speak English very well. He worries he might not be able to find the right Vietnamese words to tell his parents who he really is. And if he does, will they accept him or will he disappoint them?
One way that Tién communicates with his mother is through their shared love of fairytales. Through stories handed down from generation to generation, sometimes the words are easier to find—and expressions of love and acceptance are truly understood.
This was a really special story, full of emotion and beauty and identity. It was a terrific mix of fairytale and reality, and it definitely made me think about how much more difficult it could be for people from other cultures to find the words to tell their truths. I'm so glad I read this!
Sunday, April 25, 2021
Book Review: "The Mandevilles' Marvelous Marvels" by J.E. Miller
Janie has always been a bit of a vagabond, moving from place to place, doing odd jobs to make ends meet, and then moving on. When she meets Andrew she recognizes a kindred spirit, and after a while they start to make plans to travel city by city until they get to their ultimate destination—Fimaldi Hunu.
“Fimaldi Hunu was a huge place that had everything, the best of all worlds. It had city life, full of opportunity, ever changing and progressing.”
While on a train, Janie meets a man who is traveling to audition for a circus, The Mandevilles’ Marvelous Marvels. Apparently this show is quite renowned in the circus world, both for its spectacle and its mysterious owners. When Janie and Andrew hear that the circus travels all over the place, they decide to audition—he as a drummer with a gimmick, she as an aerialist.
After some good auditions (and with a little outside help), they land spots in the circus. They’re quickly taken in by the spectacle of it all and the camaraderie of their fellow performers, but there’s already things that make them—or at least Janie—feel uneasy. And when they stop in a strange city, the addition of a bizarre final act sets everyone on edge—and sets chaos in motion.
With, The Mandevilles' Marvelous Marvels, Miller has created a story that is part fantasy and part mystery. Her descriptions are so vivid and so fascinating that this is one story begging for a tv/movie adaptation. There are so many characters I can't wait to learn more about. And this is just the first part of a series—she definitely leaves you hanging and waiting for part 2!!
Thanks to the author for providing me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!! She’s got me hooked!!
Posted by Larry at 12:59 PM No comments:
Labels: book reviews, circus, entertainment, family, fantasy, fear, fiction, friendship, lies, money, mystery, relationships, secrets
Book Review: "Under the Southern Sky" by Kristy Woodson Harvey
“I found out my marriage was over the day my ‘Modern Love’ piece appeared in the New York Times.”
Even though her life has come crashing down around her, Amelia is still focused on her work as an investigative journalist. While researching a story at a fertility clinic she discovers that frozen embryos belonging to her childhood friend Parker and his late wife Greer have been labeled “abandoned.” She takes it upon herself to deliver this news to Parker.
Three years after his wife’s death, Parker is still dealing with his grief and definitely isn’t ready to move on with his life. When he learns about the embryos, it sparks a desire to become a father and bring a piece of Greer back into the world, so he decides to hire a surrogate and asks Amelia to help him with the process.
As they both try to navigate through emotional issues and figure out the next step in each of their lives, Amelia and Parker begin to lean on each other more and more. But life—and emotions—are complicated ones, and each has secrets they’ve kept hidden away. Sometimes happiness means stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking chances, which is harder to do when you've been hurt.
Set against a gorgeous North Carolina waterfront backdrop, full of family drama, poignancy, love, laughter, and sadness, Under the Southern Sky was such a fantastic book. I felt these characters in my heart and was so invested in their story.
I loved Harvey's last book, Feels Like Falling, but this one really blew me away!!
Posted by Larry at 12:50 PM No comments:
Labels: book reviews, family, fear, fiction, friendship, grief, illness, journalism, lies, loss, love, marriage, parenthood, relationships, romance, secrets, writing
Book Review: "The Plot" by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Jacob Finch Bonner had always dreamed of being a writer. His first novel even made the “New & Noteworthy” section of the New York Times Book Review. But that didn’t translate into success, and after his second book barely made a blip, he can’t seem to get anything else published, or even find any inspiration to keep writing.
He’s been relegated to teaching in a crappy MFA program and hoping he’ll find ideas. One semester his most arrogant student, Evan Parker, tells Jacob he doesn’t need his help, because he has the perfect plot for a book—a book that is sure to be a total sensation. Jacob doesn’t believe a word Evan says...until Evan tells him the plot of his book.
Almost three years later, Jacob’s trajectory continues downward. While lamenting his life he realizes that he never saw the fanfare he expected once Evan’s book was released. Was it not as good as Evan thought? After some research, he finds that Evan died shortly after leaving the MFA program.
If Evan died and the book was never published...what else could Jake do? And Evan was right—the publication of Jake’s newest novel takes him to heights he’d always dreamed of. He’s riding high: a movie adaptation in the works, the book in people’s hands everywhere he looks. And then one day he gets an email: “You are a thief.”
As more emails arrive, Jake is desperate to figure out who is sending them. If Evan died, who knew about his book idea? Will Jake be able to stop his world from crashing down?
I was addicted to The Plot from the first page and could not go to bed until I finished. Korelitz created such a thought-provoking book and a twisty thriller that honestly kept me guessing. This was so good!!
Celadon Books provided me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!
The Plot publishes 5/11!!
Posted by Larry at 12:40 PM No comments:
Labels: ambition, book reviews, books, celebrities, fame, family, fiction, lies, relationships, secrets, theft, thriller, writers
Book Review: "Kate in Waiting" by Becky Albertalli
Kate and Anderson are almost-inseparable best friends who do everything together. They drive to school together (well, Andy drives), audition for the school musicals, even crush on the same guys. But they’d never let anything get between them.
Until Matt, their mutual crush from theater camp, moves to Georgia and goes to their school. The more time she spends with Matt, the more she realizes how much she likes him. But the thing is, Andy does, too. When Matt and Andy share a class that Kate isn't in, they grew closer. And suddenly the competition for his affections may be the wedge that destroys Kate and Andy's friendship.
Time for an unpopular opinion: I am a huge fan of Becky Albertalli and I was eagerly awaiting this book. However, this one did not work for me at all. Usually being able to predict what happens within the first few pages doesn’t bother me, but this time it did.
But the real reason I disliked this book is the use of the words “fuckboy” and “f-boy.” I get using authentic terms but literally Albertalli used the word “fuckboy” in many cases 2 or 3 times per page, and used it interchangeably with “f-boy.” (Why one sometimes and not the other?) I seriously couldn’t believe it. It’s like talking to someone who uses a particular word or phrase over and over and over again. It just isn’t fun. (For the record, I've no objection to the word or the language, just the overuse.)
I love the diversity of Albertalli’s characters, particularly since her books take place in Georgia, and this has a theater-kid component I always enjoy. But I’ll just gloss over this experience and hope her sequel to What If It’s Us (which she again wrote with Adam Silvera) is more to my liking!
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
Book Review: "Last Summer at the Golden Hotel" by Elyssa Friedland
Back in the day, The Golden Hotel was the jewel of the Catskills. Benny Goldman and Amos Weingold, childhood best friends, owned the hotel and each summer their families presided over the jubilant crowds of Jewish families escaping the heat of NYC for time in this mountain oasis. The best entertainers would perform, the meals would be bountiful.
But over time, the appeal of the Catskills started to dwindle and families began vacationing elsewhere. Many of the leading resorts fell into disrepair and were converted into other things, from casinos to yoga retreats. Only The Golden has survived—and it’s barely hanging on.
When an offer is made to buy the property, three generations of the Weingolds and Goldens must come together to decide what to do. Do they find ways to make the hotel appeal to a new generation, or do they sell something that has been such a significant part of their lives for so long?
Of course, when families and longtime friends and business partners get together, there’s bound to be drama. What secrets will be revealed? What old wounds will be reopened? Can the relationships survive?
Family drama (when it’s not mine) is so appealing to read about, so I was sold on Last Summer at the Golden Hotel the moment I heard about it. But having grown up Jewish in the NJ/NY area in the 1970s, we made many trips to the Catskills so this book felt so familiar to me. It’s a world that was so hard to explain to other people.
I really enjoyed this book so much, and there was even a little bit of a Dirty Dancing vibe in the resort's similarity to Kellerman's. (No Patrick Swayze, though.) There was drama, family dynamics, and a sense of nostalgia that pervades the book. Such a fun read. Bravo to Elyssa Friedland!
Get Red PR and Berkley provided me with an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. I also had the opportunity to participate in a great group chat about the book on Bookstagram, and may participate in a Zoom chat with Friedland, so thanks to all who made this possible!
Last Summer at the Golden Hotel publishes 5/18!
Book Review: "Enjoy the View" by Sarah Morgenthaler
Handsome mountaineer Easton Lockett gets more than he bargained for when he stops for a woman walking down the side of the road, pulling a suitcase. It turns out that she’s no damsel in distress—it’s actress River Lane—and she happened to be in the middle of filming. And Easton ruined her shot. (And he wasn't the only one, so she's even angrier.)
With her acting career on the decline, River is determined to get relevant again, so she decides to film a documentary about the charming little town of Moose Springs, Alaska. One tiny catch: the town and its residents don’t want the documentary to be filmed. But resistance has never stopped River before, so she’s going to shoot the film no matter what.
In an effort to compromise (and spend more time with River), Easton agrees to lead her and her film crew on a climb up Mount Veil, so she can shoot from up there. An experienced climber, River is excited for the challenge—and excited about climbing with Easton. What could go wrong?
Lots of things, of course. With a wayward crew, a lovesick marmot, and bad weather on the horizon, it’s going to take all of Easton’s skill to get them back safely. And if they do make it back, can Easton convince River to put down roots in the town he loves so much? Can two people with wholly different lives find happiness together? (What do you think?)
It’s so good to be back in Moose Springs again. I love the characters Morgenthaler has created—even the animal characters are so appealing!! I so enjoyed getting to see the characters from the last two books, The Tourist Attraction and Mistletoe and Mr. Right, again.
I’ll admit, it took a while for River’s character to grow on me, but I loved the chemistry between her and Easton. I also loved the climbing aspect of Enjoy the View, which added another dimension. (It’s something I will NEVER do, so it was fun to live vicariously through the characters.)
I hope we get to take another trip back to Moose Springs soon!!
Book Review: "In Deeper Waters" by F.T. Lukens
Tal is the youngest son of the Queen. He’s spent most of his life hidden away in the castle, as all are afraid he might inadvertently reveal his magical abilities, which could shatter the peace that his family has worked so hard to preserve.
Now, he’s been allowed to partake in the kingdom’s traditional coming-of-age tour, and travel throughout the kingdom with his older brother and the family’s bodyguard. But not long into the journey they find a burning ship and a mysterious prisoner, Athlen, with whom Tal feels an immediate connection. Athlen convinces Tal to free him, only to watch him jump overboard into the ocean.
Tal is devastated by Athlen’s disappearance, sure he must have drowned. When he sees Athlen a few days later, he’s surprised—and very pleased. But their time together is fleeting, as Tal is kidnapped by pirates who want to trick him into revealing his magical powers, which will instigate a war. It will take all of his strength and cunning to survive and get back home—and it’s Athlen’s turn to save him now.
What secrets are Athlen hiding? Will they help Tal or put him in more danger? Can Tal warn his family about what is happening before war breaks out? And can two very different young men from two different walks of life find happiness? There are lots of obstacles to overcome.
This book was utterly charming and so sweet. It felt a little like The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, a little like Carry On, but yet all its own. I really enjoyed all of these characters and their immediate acceptance of people’s differences.
I don’t know if In Deeper Waters is intended to be the first in a series, but I’d love to see this world and these characters that Lukens created again.
Posted by Larry at 3:40 PM No comments:
Labels: bisexual, book reviews, family, fiction, friendship, gay, LGBTQ, love, loyalty, magic, pirates, royalty, secrets, siblings, war, young adult
Sunday, April 18, 2021
Book Review: "The Good Sister" by Sally Hepworth
I've been wanting to read this since I received an awesome advance copy of the book from St. Martin's Press (along with some amazing gardening swag) and it lived up to every rave I've seen. Had to stay up until 2:00 a.m. to finish!!
Some women would do anything for their sisters.
Rose and Fern are twin sisters, and they’re very close. They have dinner together three nights a week. But even though they’re twins, they couldn’t be more different.
Fern works in the local library (don’t ask her about the printers or photocopiers) and has a very strict routine. She has some sensory processing issues and can’t stand loud noises or crowds, or people touching her. Rose has always looked out for Fern, ever since they were young.
What Rose wants more than anything is to have a baby, but she is unable to get pregnant. When Fern learns of this, she thinks that perhaps she could get pregnant and give the baby to Rose as a way of thanking her. But what Fern doesn’t realize is that this one decision made out of selflessness will upend her world, and change so many things.
I'm going to leave the plot summary there. I love a book that surprises you, one that slowly becomes a different story than you were expecting. Bravo to Hepworth for keeping me guessing and for creating some very memorable characters, especially Wally.
Many of you know my relationship with thrillers so I’m so excited about how much I enjoyed The Good Sister!! Thanks again to St. Martin's Press for the complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!
Book Review: "A Girl Like You" by Cari Scribner
When Jessica Gabriel’s second marriage ends, she finds herself wondering whether happiness is possible for a woman on the downward slope toward 60. And what does she even want the third time around?
“I’d grown up on Cinderella and Snow White fairy tales, without question believing there was a prince out there for me. I never really got behind the idea of being saved by that prince, because I was always quite certain I could save myself, but that wildly romantic notion of having a soulmate? I’d bought into it big time.”
Lonely, craving sex and companionship, and sadder than she expected about her marriage ending, she knows it’s time to start over. Armed with a new haircut and a gym membership, she gets a job, learns to fix things around the house, and, with the convincing of her two adult kids and her best friend, she decides to take a tentative step into the world of online dating.
What she quickly finds is a motley crew—some men who are more emotionally damaged than she is, some whom she thinks might have promise (but only briefly), and some whom are wrong from the start. And then there are a few for whom she lets her guard down, emotionally and sexually, only to discover that they aren’t what they seem.
I really enjoyed A Girl Like You, and the characters were all really appealing. It’s nice to have a story with an older woman as the main character when she's not portrayed as a doddering idiot or a burden, and have her explore her sexuality as well as her vulnerability. The book is funny, sometimes sad, and definitely a bit steamier than I anticipated. And you’ll never look at clothespins the same way again!
Cari Scribner provided me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!
Book Review: "Little Pieces of Me" by Alison Hammer
A few years ago, Paige took a DNA test and it cemented everything she knew about her background. One day she gets an email from the DNA testing website letting her know that she matches a man she has never met, but the site claims that genetically, he must be her father.
How could that be? She was raised by her parents and had a tremendously close relationship with her father, who died two years ago. But the more she thinks about things she wonders if this question in her parentage is why her mother always seemed so distant from Paige, why she doesn’t resemble anyone else in the family, and why she's the only one with artistic talent.
Paige is desperate to understand the truth, but her mother isn’t interested in sharing details. She insists that Paige’s father is the man who raised her. And that's true, really. But what isn’t her mother telling her? And what does it mean if everything she has ever believed about herself is no longer true?
Little Pieces of Me is told in dual narratives. One follows Paige’s search for answers, perhaps from the one person she never knew existed, while the other, some 44 years earlier, follows Betsy, Paige’s mother, as she tries to reconcile wanting a life of excitement with the person offering her a life of stability.
I looked a lot like my dad, who died almost 7 years ago, and we shared many of the same mannerisms. (Plus he loved to read, too.) While there never was any doubt who my father was, I can’t imagine what it would be like to find out that you never actually knew the truth about your father.
As she did with her first book, You and Me and Us, Hammer left me teary-eyed at times but fully invested in the story. While perhaps the lack of communication among characters frustrated me occasionally, I love the way Hammer writes and needed to finish the book before going to bed.
William Morrow Books and Get Red PR Books provided me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!
Saturday, April 17, 2021
Book Review: "Before She Was Helen" by Caroline B. Cooney
Clemmie lives a fairly uneventful life in a retirement community in South Carolina. When checking on a neighbor one day, she notices a beautiful glass sculpture unlike anything she’s ever seen. Curious about what it is, she sends a picture of it to her grandnephew and grandniece.
Apparently this sculpture is actually a rig for smoking pot. When her grandnephew shares the picture of the rig on the internet, it turns out there’s a story behind this object—and it was stolen. It’s not long before the owner wants to track down Clemmie and get his rig back.
What Clemmie doesn’t realize is that her carefully crafted life is about to come crashing down around her. She’s been living a secret life for more than 50 years, and apparently her secrets are about to be revealed. And she’s not the only one with secrets—turns out her fellow neighbors have some things to hide, too.
I was excited to read Before She Was Helen because I love when older characters aren’t portrayed as burdens or wise sages, but flawed, complex people. But there were so many competing storylines in this book as well as multiple timelines, that it was hard to keep track of who was doing what, who had done what in their past, and what was happening. (It also made it difficult to find sympathy for these characters.)
I read this as a buddy read and had a great discussion with some friends. We agreed the book needs some trigger warnings for rape, assault, violence, etc. We also agreed that the ending was so rushed (and incomplete) that there were so many unanswered questions and things that didn't quite make sense.
Oh well! On to the next!!
Posted by Larry at 4:58 PM No comments:
Labels: book reviews, crime, drugs, family, fiction, friendship, growing old, money, murder, mystery, rape, relationships, scandal, secrets, violence
Friday, April 16, 2021
Book Review: "Destiny" by D.D. Larsen
At age 18, Jamie fled her small Colorado hometown, feeling stifled and needing to make a fresh start. She cut all ties to her friends, figuring it was easier that way than feeling the pull of home. After college she landed a job with a top biotech company and started to pursue her dreams.
Now, seven years later, her career has fallen apart and her last romantic relationship crashed and burned as well, so she decides it’s time to go home. While it’s good to see her parents, she quickly finds out it’s hard work to rebuild relationships with people you’ve neglected for so long.
Not long after her return home, she meets Wren, a ruggedly handsome park ranger with whom she feels an immediate, intense connection. He always seems to be around when she is in need of help, but otherwise he’s brooding and pushing Jamie away.
Meanwhile, people in her town are reportedly seeing wolves for the first time, and everyone is worried. And in a few cases, some creatures are harming people. Are the wolves to blame? Why does Jamie keep having dreams in which wolves appear, even one where she is a wolf? Is she safe, or is she in danger?
Little by little, Jamie realizes her town—and her family—is full of secrets, secrets of epic and almost magical proportions. She is drawn into a world she had never imagined, one that will change her life and her destiny.
This was a really fascinating read, with a brooding Twilight-esque vibe, although I don’t mean that in a negative way. Destiny had an interesting mix of romance and fantasy and even a little bit of the paranormal, and this was so compulsively readable. Can’t wait for Book 2 of the series!!
Kate Rock Book Tours and D.D. Larsen invited me on the tour for the book and provided me a complimentary advance copy in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!
Destiny publishes 4/20!!
Posted by Larry at 3:14 PM No comments:
Labels: book reviews, danger, family, fantasy, fiction, friendship, legend, lust, magic, paranormal, relationships, secrets, wolves
Book Review: "The Hunting Wives" by May Cobb
Thanks to my friend Phil for buddy reading this one with me. As with our last buddy read, I think our discussion was even better than the book itself!
Sophie was a high-powered magazine editor in Chicago, trying to balance a career and raise a young son with her husband, Graham, when she felt they needed a simpler life. She and Graham decide to move to the small Texas town of Mapleton, where Sophie spent her last two years of high school before going away to college.
Of course, small-town life is now incredibly boring, and Sophie longs for some excitement. It’s not long before she is pulled into the orbit of Margot, a glamorous, wealthy socialite, and her group of friends. Sophie is excited to join their secret Friday night group for skeet shooting, but she quickly finds out that the women, with Margot as their ringleader, do more than just shooting. Some weeks they decide to go to out-of-the-way bars and flirt with men...and that’s just the start.
Sophie finds herself becoming increasingly obsessed with Margot and seeking her approval. When she lavishes her attention on Sophie and draws her into her web of illicit encounters, Sophie feels tantalized and alive, but she knows everything is sliding out of control. And when a young woman winds up dead, Sophie quickly realizes how dangerous loyalty and jealousy can be.
The Hunting Wives definitely had a Desperate Housewives or Real Housewives feel to it, and that was the element I enjoyed the most. Even the partying and flirting and hookups were deliciously soapy (although some creeped me out until I realized what the age of consent is in Texas).
The thing is, this book is billed as a thriller and it really isn’t. There are mystery elements that I thought were the weaker link in the book, because that was where the plot seemed to drag a little for me, and there were a few loose ends that never got resolved.
But all in all, this was a fun read, and as someone who grew up with soap operas (and still tunes in from time to time), I enjoyed the vibe.
The book will be released 5/18!
Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Book Review: "The Sky Blues" by Robbie Couch
God, I loved this book. Robbie Couch has created a beautiful, unforgettable story with an incredibly diverse group of characters, and I’m so glad I got to buddy read it with a friend of mine.
It’s almost time for high school graduation. While Sky is worried whether he’ll have enough money to pay for community college since his religious mother kicked him out of the house once he came out to her as gay, his biggest focus is prom. He has decided to ask his crush, Ali, to prom—even though he’s not sure if Ali is into guys. He and his best friend, Bree, are brainstorming the best—and even some of the worst—promposal ideas.
When Sky’s plans are somehow broadcast to the entire school along with homophobic and racist messages, he’d like to just retreat into himself. But he quickly discovers that his friends and classmates are with him every step of the way—and want him to stand up for himself, so they can stand up with him.
As the end of the school year draws closer, Sky makes some unexpected discoveries about his long-deceased father, and realizes that sometimes the things you want and need most are right in front of you.
The Sky Blues gave me all the feels. My mom died when I was a baby so I identified with Sky’s feelings, and I, too, had plans for an event during high school (a party, not prom) ruined by some homophobic bullies. (And that was pre-internet, so they had to work HARD to ruin you then!)
I’m so grateful today’s youth have books like The Sky Blues and authors like Robbie Couch. Can’t wait to see what’s next in Couch’s career!!
Sunday, April 11, 2021
Book Review: "People We Meet on Vacation" by Emily Henry
Poppy and Alex met during college orientation. Ironically, while they met in Chicago, they found out they were from neighboring small towns in Ohio. But Poppy couldn’t wait to flee her hometown (although she loves her family) while Alex likes his and plans to return after graduation.
The two couldn’t be more opposite. Poppy embraces everything with gusto while Alex is more reserved; Poppy dresses vibrantly while Alex is all about the pressed khakis, for every occasion. But somehow they hit it off and build an intense friendship through college and beyond.
Poppy becomes a travel blogger and social media influencer, known for traveling cheaply. She finds a willing travel partner in Alex, and they take a trip each summer, no matter where they are in their lives or relationships with others. And while Poppy definitely feels more for Alex than friendship, she knows they want different things out of life, so she's willing to keep everything in the friend zone.
Two years ago, everything fell apart during a trip to Croatia and they’ve not spoken since. Now a writer for a high-end travel magazine, Poppy has achieved her career dreams, but she’s not happy. She realizes she hasn’t been happy since she and Alex stopped talking. So she sees if he’d be willing to take one more trip together.
Surprisingly, Alex agrees, so Poppy is determined to try and recapture the magic of their friendship. Both have changed in two years, but have their feelings changed? Is that line between friendship and love still dangerously tempting to cross? Would they even work as a couple?
Much as she did in her terrific debut, Beach Read (one of my favorite books from last year), Henry creates a multi-layered rom-com that delivers so much more. There’s some real emotional complexity here and I truly felt seen more than a few times in some of their issues and emotions. I just love the way she writes!!
What a terrific book, and it definitely lived up to the hype for me. People We Meet on Vacation will be published 5/11!
Posted by Larry at 5:37 PM No comments:
Labels: ambition, book reviews, family, fiction, friendship, love, lust, relationships, rom-com, romance, secrets, travel, unhappiness
Book Review: "Every Vow You Break" by Peter Swanson
I have loved a number of Swanson’s thrillers, so I was eagerly anticipating his newest one. But wow, this one just didn’t work for me in the slightest.
Abigail is set to marry Bruce, a wealthy man a few years older than she is. She never thought she’d marry someone with that much money, but that’s not what attracted her to him—it’s his stability.
While in California for her bachelorette party, she meets a man and winds up spending the night with him. They gave each other fake names and she chalked it up as one last fling, nothing to mention to Bruce. And then the guy shows up in New York, claiming he felt something for Abigail and believes she felt the same.
How can she get rid of this guy without confessing her infidelity to Bruce, who prizes fidelity above almost everything? And how did this guy find her in the first place? His reappearance in her life sets off a chain of events that has her questioning whom she can trust, and what is real and what is her imagination.
I don’t want to give anything away so I’ll stop the plot summary at this point. I felt like the setup of the book took a lot longer than it needed to—I was more than 100 pages in and I was wondering when everything would get going—and while the pace definitely picked up, so did the crazy factor. I’m not really good with suspending my disbelief in thrillers and I felt parts of this were preposterous.
A few people whose opinions I often agree with really loved this book, so don’t let my review dissuade you. I will still read Swanson’s next book and hope it’s more like the previous ones of his I’ve loved.
William Morrow Books provided me with a complimentary copy of Every Vow You Break in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!
Posted by Larry at 5:27 PM No comments:
Labels: betrayal, book reviews, crazy, fear, fiction, friendship, infidelity, lies, love, lust, marriage, relationships, secrets, thriller
Friday, April 9, 2021
Book Review: "Twice Shy" by Sarah Hogle
(Fans of 80s music, I couldn’t get the song “Once Bitten Twice Shy” by Great White out of my head when reading this. You’re welcome.)
Maybell is a dreamer, because her dreams are better than the reality she’s living. She’s lived out romantic scenarios with her dream man in her head many times, but at the end of the day, she’s still stuck in a job she hates and she’s not treated well by anyone.
When she finds out she’s inherited a house in the Tennessee mountains from her Great-Aunt Violet, she thinks she may have hit the jackpot. But of course there’s a catch—two of them, actually.
First, the house should be condemned. The glorious house Maybell remembers from childhood is falling apart and is filled from top to bottom with things her aunt hoarded. And second, apparently Violet also left the house to her groundskeeper, Wesley. Wesley isn’t happy about sharing this inheritance with Maybell, and he has very different ideas about what to do with the property.
Maybell has nowhere else to go, so can they peacefully coexist and come to some agreement on what to do? And just maybe, will Wesley stop hating her? (Rom-com fans, what do you think?)
Twice Shy took a while to get going but once it did, it was sweet. I liked the way it dealt with social anxiety and I liked what happened when the characters—especially Wesley—let their guard down. Distinguishing Maybell’s dreams from reality was a bit confusing at times, but you could see why she preferred dreams.
I loved Hogle’s first book, You Deserve Each Other, so I’m becoming a real fan!!
Book Review: "The Secret Lives of Church Ladies" by Deesha Philyaw
Full disclosure: I totally thought this was a nonfiction book until a friend read it. I saw it was getting an immense amount of praise but I just figured it was something I probably wouldn't read. But as soon as I found out it was a story collection I jumped on it and boy, am I glad I did! These stories are truly unforgettable.
The nine stories in this collection are sometimes funny, sometimes frank and defiantly sexual, and sometimes poignant. Philyaw’s characters are daring to live their lives the way they want, but it often takes them a while to get there, and it sometimes requires reconciling their religion with their desires.
I seriously loved so many of the stories but my true favorites were: “Instructions for Married Christian Husbands,” a woman’s rules for the men she plans to sleep with; “Not-Daniel,” about a couple who comes together for comfort in the parking lot of the hospice their loved ones are in; “Peach Cobbler,” in which a young woman is determined not to make the same mistakes her mother did; and my absolute favorite, the luminously beautiful, “How to Make Love to a Physicist,” which tells of a woman who must free herself in order to find what she wants.
I devoured this collection in one sitting and was blown away by Philyaw’s talent. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies was really fantastic.
I know when I post about short stories, I hear from a lot of people that they either can’t get into them or have never read any before. Some say they don't want to get invested in characters for such a short amount of time. I used to feel the same way until I discovered that in the right hands, short stories can be just as powerful as full-length novels.
Give short stories a try!
Wednesday, April 7, 2021
Book Review: "Zara Hossain is Here" by Sabina Khan
“My presentation in class today has reminded me that I exist in a sort of no-man’s-land. I wasn’t born here, but I don’t remember much of Pakistan and I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I still lived there. But I know how a lot of people here feel about immigrants. So...where do I belong?”
As the only Muslim in her conservative Texas Catholic high school, Zara Hossain stands out—and not for the reasons she wants to. Every day she faces abuse—vicious stares and comments about terrorism, especially from football player Tyler Benson and his friends. But when she dares to challenge him in front of his friends, he vandalizes her locker, which sets off a chain of events that leads to tragedy and upheaval.
Zara’s parents contemplate moving back to Pakistan, but that will upend Zara’s life. She won’t be able to get as good of a college education there, and being bisexual, she’ll face even more prejudice from her own people. But how can she stay in the U.S. if her parents go?
I thought Zara Hossain Is Here was a really good, thought-provoking read about an all-too-familiar experience immigrants face. It’s also particularly timely given the recent rise in violence against Asians.
This is the first book of Sabina Khan’s I’ve read, although her first book, The Love and Lives of Rukhsana Ali, is on my TBR as well. I love how she captured both the racial prejudice immigrants face and the judgment faced in their own communities for things like not being “devout enough.”
It was great to be part of the tour for this book. Storygram Tours, IReadYA, and Sabina Khan provided me with complimentary copies of both of Khan's books in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making them available!
Posted by Larry at 5:04 PM No comments:
Labels: bisexual, book reviews, crime, family, fear, fiction, friendship, high school, immigration, LGBTQ, Muslim, parents, prejudice, racism, relationships, religion, violence, young adult
Book Review: "The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre" by Robin Talley
The Beaconville High School theater program is well-known. Many of their shows have won awards through the years, and some students have gone on to bigger and better things. But a lot of peculiar things happen during productions, so each year the cast and crew have to follow a lot of superstitions to try and pacify the “theater curse,” and even have counter-curses in case someone slips up.
Melody McIntyre is thrilled to be the stage manager for the spring musical, Les Miserables. She has a terrific crew helping her out, and if the show goes well, she’s hoping it will help her get into a college program to be a professional stage manager one day.
Her friends and fellow crew members have noticed that things seem to go wrong in shows when Melody is in a relationship, and she always seems to be in a relationship. So she vows to swear off dating until the musical is done. And that should be easy—it’s not like she NEEDS to date or anything.
Of course, the last thing she’s counting on is for Odile Rose, the school’s most talented actress (she’s even done a Game of Thrones prequel and is rumored to be doing a Scorsese film) to audition. And more than that, Melody isn't expecting Odile to be funny or sweet or...into her. So now what? The production or her love life? Her college career or a potential relationship?
I was a theater kid way back when it wasn’t really cool to be one, so I really enjoyed The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre. I remember the relationships that cropped up and fizzled out during shows, the feelings of not getting the part you wanted (still bitter), and the rush of performing. And Les Miserables is one of the shows I would kill to be in—even now!
This is the second book of Talley's I've read, and I really enjoy the way she tells a story!
Book Review: "Everything After" by Jill Santopolo
“Choices are made all the time. One choice doesn’t have to define a life.”
Emily is a psychologist at NYU, helping students navigate the things that are troubling them. Although the job weighs on her from time to time, she once was rescued by a psychologist and feels this is her way of paying it forward.
Emily and her husband, Ezra, a pediatric oncologist, have a good, loving marriage. Each draws strength from the other. They’ve finally decided they’re ready to start a family, and neither can wait to be parents.
When tragedy strikes, it reminds Emily of an earlier time in her life, when she was a musician, in love and performing with Rob. But when faced with tragedy and pain, Emily makes the difficult choice to put that side of her life away, and ultimately, that choice leads her down the path her life has taken, to being a psychologist and marrying Ezra.
When Emily hears a familiar voice on the radio, singing about the one that got away, her life is once again upended, and the secrets she’s kept for so long suddenly are revealed. Did she make the right choices years ago? Is she on the right path now? Will she have to abandon some dreams to pursue others?
What I love so much about Santopolo's writing is how she captures emotions of all kinds—love, grief, excitement, pain—and the trajectory of relationships. That talent is on full display here, and I was really moved by Everything After, even when I didn’t necessarily agree with a character’s behavior. (I also loved her first book, The Light We Lost, and enjoyed her second, More Than Words.)
This may be a difficult story for those dealing with or who have dealt with fertility issues, but it’s really a powerful and emotional read.
Book Review: "Astrid Sees All" by Natalie Standiford
It’s 1984. Adrift after college, Phoebe finds herself in NYC, hoping to find something to excite her and help her figure out what she wants from life. After the death of her beloved father, she comes back to the city against her family's wishes and finds an apartment on the Lower East Side with a college acquaintance, Carmen.
Carmen, shrugging off the yoke of a privileged childhood, and Phoebe find themselves in the midst of the wild club scene, where celebrities and junkies mingle. Carmen takes up with a junkie, while Phoebe is still seething about the way she was mistreated by an older man. Phoebe is desperate to make money and finds an opportunity telling fortunes at club parties as “Astrid the Star Girl.”
Drugs and sex and the glamorous life prove too intoxicating to resist, and it’s not long before Phoebe and Carmen’s friendship ends with a betrayal. Both young women hit rock bottom in their own way, but can they find their way and survive despite the chaos of the city, where young women are actually going missing?
I love everything about the 80s and so I really enjoyed the setting of Astrid Sees All. Even though I wasn’t old enough for the party scene at that time, I remember NYC when it was seedy and gritty, and Standiford really captured that so well.
While I didn’t necessarily find the characters sympathetic, I felt the sense of sadness and fear and uncertainty that seemed to exist beneath the surface of the story, the “smile although you’re crying inside” mentality that characterized the atmosphere and the time. It was a really vivid book.
Posted by Larry at 4:20 PM No comments:
Labels: 1980s, ambition, betrayal, book reviews, drugs, family, fiction, friendship, nostalgia, NYC, parties, relationships, sex
Saturday, April 3, 2021
Book Review: "The Road Trip" by Beth O'Leary
Dylan and Addie were in love. It was an intense relationship, but Dylan’s indecisiveness about his future and his constantly choosing his longtime best friend Marcus, who had wanted nothing more than to break them up from the start, dooms them. But when a betrayal occurs, it shatters everything.
Two years later, they know they’ll see each other at their mutual friend Cherry’s wedding. They've not spoken since the day their relationship ended. But the last thing they’re prepared for is when Dylan accidentally rear-ends the car Addie and her sister are driving to the wedding.
While the logical choice would be to let Dylan and Marcus fend for themselves, they’ll never make it to the wedding on time. So instead Addie and Deb invite them to drive with them to Scotland. In a Mini. Along with another random wedding guest, Rodney. What could go wrong?
Of course, hijinks ensue. And amidst crises and traffic and arguments about the trip playlist, Dylan and Addie realize their feelings for each other haven’t changed no matter how they try to fight them. But are feelings enough to overcome the hurt and guilt and betrayal? Have they changed that much?
The story alternates between present and past, tracing the trajectory of their relationship and what brought them to this point.
I’ve loved Beth O’Leary’s previous books, The Flat Share and The Switch, so much, so I had high hopes for The Road Trip as well. I loved Dylan and Addie and their story, but much like the trip itself, the book took a long while to get going. And honestly, Marcus was one of the most ridiculously insufferable characters and he took up far too much space in the story. But in the end, I still got teary. Lol.
NetGalley and Berkely provided me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!
The Road Trip publishes 6/1.
Posted by Larry at 10:20 AM No comments:
Labels: anger, betrayal, book reviews, family, fiction, friendship, future, growing up, hurt, loss, love, relationships, rom-com, romance
Book Review: "The Last Time I Lied" by Riley Sager
“What happened to Vivian, Natalie, and Allison wasn’t an accident. I know because I’m the one who caused it. Although their eventual fate remains a mystery, I’m certain that what happened to those girls is all my fault.”
Fifteen years ago, Emma attended Camp Nightingale. She was assigned to a bunk with three older girls, and found herself drawn to the self-proclaimed leader, Vivian. Cocky and cruel, yet vulnerable, Vivian took Emma under her wing, although no one was ever free from her sudden cruelty.
One night Emma awoke to find Vivian, Allison, and Natalie sneaking out of the cabin. Vivian told Emma she was too young to tag along. That was the last time anyone saw the three girls.
The mystery of their disappearance has haunted Emma since that night. She became an artist, and every painting includes the three girls, hidden beneath the elements Emma creates. Fifteen years later, Emma’s work catches the attention of Franny, the wealthy owner of the camp, and she makes Emma an offer: she’s reopening Camp Nightingale and wants Emma to work there for the summer.
For someone haunted by that one night, this could either be the move that brings closure or destroys her completely. Because there are secrets about that night that Emma has kept bottled up all these years. And she’s not the only one who’s kept secrets. Whose secrets might prove dangerous to a new group of campers or counselors?
It’s funny—summer camp is such a popular setting for horror movies and thrillers, but I went to camp for 10 summers and no one was murdered or attacked or disappeared. Did I miss out? Lol.
As many of you know, I have a tough time with thrillers more often than not because I usually figure everything out before the conclusion. I must say, even though I predicted one thing (although not quite the way it happened), this book kept me guessing, and I had to stay up and finish it. In my mind, you can't beat that!
I've now read three of Sager's books and The Last Time I Lied is definitely my favorite.
Posted by Larry at 10:02 AM No comments:
Labels: art, artists, book reviews, camp, family, fear, fiction, friendship, growing up, mystery, relationships, thriller
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