Monday, May 31, 2021

Book Review: "Very Sincerely Yours" by Kerry Winfrey

The upcoming rom-com from Kerry Winfrey, Very Sincerely Yours, was just absolutely adorable.

When Teddy’s boyfriend ends their five-year relationship and asks her to move out of their home, it completely throws her for a loop. Sure, she’s spent most of her time doing whatever he wanted and trying to please him, but that’s what people in a relationship do, right?

She quickly finds out no one liked her controlling ex-boyfriend, but now she’s at a dead end of sorts. She enjoys her job working in a vintage toy store, but is that a real career? What does she actually want from life? What is her “thing”?

One thing she does enjoy is watching episodes of a local children’s television show, more because she finds the host, Everett, to be handsome and he seems to have all the answers. (She’s not the only adult female enamored of Everett—there are message boards of suburban moms talking lustfully about him.)

She decides to write Everett and ask for advice. It’s rare that he receives a letter from an adult that isn’t sexual in nature, so he’s excited. The two begin corresponding and it becomes a highlight for both of them, so they decide to take the next step and meet.

As Teddy searches for purpose, Everett is at a crossroads with his career and life, too. He's always known what he wanted to do, and he has an opportunity to expand the show. But has he sacrificed everything else in his life for the sake of his career?

Can two people unsure of what they want from life and their futures find a secure footing for happiness?

I really loved this. I’m a huge fan of Kerry Winfrey’s—she creates such unique characters who could be annoying in other people’s hands, but she makes their quirks endearing. Teddy and Everett's relationship and the story follows the path you might expect, but their flaws make everything a little more interesting.

b>Very Sincerely Yours was the perfect book to put a smile on my face and a tear (or two) in my eye!

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

The book releases 6/15.

Book Review: "Crying in H Mart" by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart is a moving, thought-provoking look at grief and the complicated relationship between mother and daughter.

“Sometimes my grief feels as though I’ve been left alone in a room with no doors. Every time I remember that my mother is dead, it feels like I’m colliding with a wall that won’t give. There’s no escape, just a hard surface that I keep ramming into over and over, a reminder of the immutable reality that I will never see her again.“

Michelle Zauner, a writer and indie musician known as Japanese Breakfast, lost her mother to cancer in 2014, when Michelle was 25 and her mother was 56. Although they had had a difficult relationship through Michelle’s troubled adolescence and early adulthood, there was no question that she was going to fly home to Oregon to nurse her mother through her final days.

In this beautifully poignant memoir, Zauner recounts her relationship with her mother and its peaks and valleys. Her mother was Korean and her father is American, so Zauner struggled with identity and being caught between two worlds. At times she embraced and at other times she ran from her Korean heritage and the pressures of her overbearing mother.

But their relationship was best celebrated through food, such a vital part of so many cultures. Zauner talks about eating with such gusto, the memories of her mother making different dishes to mark different occasions or for special situations. She also recounts cooking for her mother and her family in the last months of her life.

Losing a parent is never easy; she lost her mother just five months after my dad died suddenly. While every person’s grief is unique and they deal in different ways, this book definitely hit me in the feels and made me think of my relationship with my dad, which had its own beautiful moments and challenges.

Don’t read Crying in H Mart on an empty stomach, especially if you’re a fan of Korean food! (My stomach was HOWLING.)

BookSparks, Knopf Books, and Michelle Zauner sent me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review as part of #SRC2021. Thanks for making it available!

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Book Review: "With Little Means" by Raimo Strangis

Raimo Strangis' debut novel, With Little Means, is a thought-provoking book about the things we dream of and how far we’d go to make them come true.

“So, I ask you, would you give up all you have to go back and live the life you’ve always dreamed?“

Rai Starr once dreamed of being a musician. He and his band were on the verge of hitting it big when illness sidelined him. After a while, he was able to move on, and he found happiness as a chef, and built a beautiful family with his wife, Rachyl.

But years later, the dream he never achieved still resides in his memories. When he learns about Remarkable, a new reality show that uses special technologies to give people a second chance to go back into their past and actually achieve their dreams, he cannot wait to audition.

Of course, given his story, Rai is a natural for the show. But as he realizes the technologies the show uses may be more dangerous than he ever imagined, and he meets an actress along the way, he has to decide what is more powerful—the opportunity to finally become a star or having the life he’s come to love.

With Little Means was really thought-provoking and very creative. There are definitely paths in my life I wish I’d taken (or hadn’t taken), and I wonder what would’ve happened to me had things changed. Of course, that might mean other things might never have happened, so who knows?

Raimo Strangis provided me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks so much for making it available! You’ve given me so much to think about and created a great story!!

Book Review: "The Siren" by Katherine St. John

The Siren, Katherine St. John's newest book, really has So. Much. Drama.

The Caribbean island of St. Genesius is going to be the setting of spectacular drama, both on-screen and off. Megastar Cole Power has agreed to star in The Siren, a film written by his son, Jackson, and in a major casting coup, Cole’s ex-wife, Stella Rivers, has agreed to co-star. After their marriage fizzled, Stella had a long run of public breakdowns and incidents, visited a rehab or two, and is finally trying to get her career back on track.

Taylor Wasserman is producing the movie and hopes the success will help give her a second chance in the film industry after her ruthless father ruined her reputation with a scandal. But it won’t be easy—Cole has a reputation for being a manipulative womanizer, Stella is supposed to stay sober throughout the filming (no easy feat there), and then there’s Stella’s new assistant, who definitely seems to have secrets of her own.

As if keeping everyone’s egos and weaknesses in check isn’t difficult enough, there are challenges during filming. And then a hurricane is headed for St. Genesius. Will the film get made? Will anyone survive? What damage will the secrets that surely are hidden do to the film and its participants?

You know, I love good melodrama, and boy, The Siren had it by the boatload. It was full of secrets and lies and scandals and romance galore, with lots of possible scenarios as people’s schemes and lies and treachery start to see the light of day.

I wasn’t planning to read this because I was the only person on earth who didn’t love the author’s first book (The Lion's Den), but FOMO on Bookstagram is a powerful thing!! I liked this better for sure. There certainly were lots of twists I saw coming (kudos for the one I didn’t), but it was definitely a fun, soapy ride.

There’s no drama like drama on a movie set!!

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Book Review: "After Happily Ever After" by Leslie A. Rasmussen

Leslie Rasmussen's debut novel, After Happily Ever After, is a poignant, thought-provoking look at a woman who wants more from her life.

Maggie used to feel important. She used to feel needed. She decided to leave her successful career as an editor when her daughter Gia was born and stay at home while she grew up, but now Gia is getting ready to go to college, and to say they don’t see eye to eye is a bit of an understatement. What happens when your daughter just views you as a chauffeur and errand-runner?

Meanwhile, her husband Jim, a therapist, is getting more and more distant. He barely wants to be in the same room with her, let alone have sex, and he doesn’t want to tell her what’s bothering him.

To top it all off, Maggie's father’s dementia seems to be getting worse, leaving her to deal with her mother and her brother, with whom she has complicated relationships.

So this is 45? When the only thing giving her any happiness is a flirtation with a handsome younger man at the gym, Maggie really doesn’t know which way to turn, or what her future might hold. But if she doesn’t know what she wants, how can she get it?

So many of us around a certain age have struggled with one or more of these issues, so After Happily Ever After has resonance and emotional weight to it. The characters don’t always make the best choices, and of course if they only said what they were thinking, things would be easier, but that’s just life.

I did feel the ending was a little abrupt, and I would have loved an epilogue of some sort to know what happened. But this is a debut novel that definitely didn’t feel like one, so can’t wait to see what comes next for Rasmussen!!

BookSparks and She Writes Press provided me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Book Review: "East of Manhattan" by Amanda Johnson

What happens when you and your husband make a plan, and then everything changes? Amanda Johnson shows you one path in her upcoming book, East of Manhattan.

Clearly I’m in a New York state of mind with my second consecutive review of a book taking place in the Empire State! (I mean, my blog is basically a line from my favorite Billy Joel song, so what else would you expect?)

When Julie’s husband Scott took a job as a butler for a famous reality television star, they agreed it would only be for two years, and then they could start having a family and building a solid future together.

But when 35-year-old Julie is told by her doctor that she’s becoming “geriatric” from a fertility standpoint, it throws everything out of whack. Should they spend (a lot of) money to freeze her eggs like her doctor suggests, or is that just a scam, like Scott thinks it is?

As she starts to feel that Scott’s job is causing him to neglect her more and more, Julie wonders what that means for their future. And when Scott admits that maybe he doesn’t want to have kids at all anymore, it’s up to Julie to make some life-changing decisions in many aspects of her life.

I really liked Julie’s character and the way she ultimately took control of her life. She could’ve let herself be a victim in many ways but l’m so glad she didn’t. East of Manhattan was a fun book, and boy, it sounded like Scott’s job was a nightmare!! (Working for famous people often is!)

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

East of Manhattan publishes 6/1.

Book Review: "Take Me Home Tonight" by Morgan Matson

In Take Me Home Tonight, Morgan Matson's new YA novel, when two best friends sneak out for a night in NYC, they get an evening they never imagined.

Kat and Stevie are best friends. They couldn’t be more different from each other in many ways, but they’re both theater kids, and their lives often revolve around the fall play and the spring musical. And they mostly tell each other everything. Right?

When Stevie’s plans to celebrate her 18th birthday in NYC fall apart, Kat decides that they should go into the city anyway. They’ll go see a play, go to the restaurant Stevie was supposed to, and have an incredible time. (Of course, Kat has an ulterior motive beyond doing something nice for her friend, but whatevs.)

So they sneak into NYC (their parents would never let them go to the city alone on a Friday night) and get ready for a memorable night. And that’s what they get, complete with family drama, a dog that likes to wander, broken phones, and even the possibility of romance. At the same time, they’ll have to confront their fears about the future and explore the rough spots in their friendship.

I grew up about an hour outside of NYC so I love stories that take place there, and as a theater kid, I stan books about them. This was a cute story, balancing serious and silly (there’s an awesome joke about Paul Rudd, whom I’m obsessed with). The characters aren’t perfect—Kat, in particular, is fairly ridiculous—but there is growth in their arcs.

While there definitely were some coincidences and situations that made me say “Really?”, the one thing that didn’t work for me in Take Me Home Tonight was a secondary plot line involving the girls’ other best friend, Teri. If it had been removed, I don’t the book would have missed it.

Having been a YA fan for so long I can’t believe this is my first Morgan Matson book, but I’ll definitely remedy that!!

Friday, May 28, 2021

Book Review: "Yearbook" by Seth Rogen

Yearbook, the new book from Seth Rogen, is a funny collection of vignettes/recollections from the comic actor.

What’s your feeling on Seth Rogen? Do you think he’s funny? Are you a fan of him and his movies? I think he’s talented and I’ve enjoyed some of his stuff, but my general feelings toward him definitely depend on my mood. (Then again, I feel that way about everyone, lol.)

Sometimes the wildly or mildly outrageous stoner comedy appeals to my juvenile sense of humor and sometimes I simply chuckle. I do love how self-deprecating and awkward he can be. (Plus he gives hope to chubby Jews everywhere, so thank you very much!)

That’s kind of how I felt about Yearbook, Rogen’s collection of reflections, memories, rants, etc. Some of the chapters made me laugh out loud (luckily it was in the privacy of my own home), some made me chuckle, and some I thought, “Ok...” But overall, I really enjoyed myself.

Rogen tackles everything from the joy he’s found in stand-up comedy since he was 12 (and his grandparents were his first subjects), taking karate, having a Bar Mitzvah, and going to summer camp, to his experience making

The Green Hornet, and ranting a bit about Twitter and Donald Trump. (It’s not a political book by any means but he makes his feelings known, which could be a trigger for some.)

Funny books, particularly those written by comedians, are often hit-or-miss for me, so I’m glad to say this was mostly a hit. It’s silly but fun, and I certainly can use more of that in my life lately. And I'd bet this would be a fun one to listen to!

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Book Review: "Decanted" by Linda Sheehan

And another book keeps me up late because I can’t stop reading—Decanted by Linda Sheehan. This was really entertaining.

Samantha loves wine. She loves learning about new varieties and she has an exceptional palate for nuances and flavors. She dreams of a career in the wine industry and hopes to get her accounting firm to consider branching out into that industry.

One day, inspired by the memory of her spirited great-aunt Vivian, she quits her high-pressure accounting job and goes to France, to help a renowned family harvest their grapes. It’s hard work in a gorgeous setting (the family’s handsome son doesn’t hurt) and she learns so much about the business—not to mention about love.

Julien takes her all over France to understand how different wines are made, and what differentiates exceptional wine from good wine. It's an incredible, invaluable education. But when she leaves France suddenly she’s more determined than ever to make her own wine—and make it exceptional. She’ll need hard work, luck, confidence, and more inspiration from Aunt Vivian.

Meanwhile, snippets throughout the book show Vivian, a young woman who goes to pre-WWII Paris to escape the boring life her parents want for her. There she becomes an artist’s muse and finds herself in the midst of some extraordinary situations.

Decanted was a great story about following your dreams and believing in yourself against all odds. I learned so much about wine (the author is co-owner of a winery in Napa so she knows her stuff) and boy, this book made me hungry! It’s a hopeful, emotional, sexy, enjoyable book.

Suzy Approved Book Tours, Linda Sheehan, and Black Rose Writing provided me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. (Sheehan also sent a bottle of wine!) Thanks so much for making it available!!

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Book Review: "The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes" by Xio Axelrod

So I stayed up until 1:30 a.m. to finish Xio Axelrod's The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes. Just. So. Amazing!

Toni Bennette (yes, she’s heard the jokes) was the daughter of a musician mother who left her behind to pursue fame. She grew up in a small town with a father who gave her nothing and never treated her as anything more than a burden.

Her only salvations during those days were making music and spending time with her best friend, Sebastian. Toni and Seb dream of getting away from their town and their parents, and pursuing their musical dreams. They even save money to help them make their escape. But the day Seb turns 18, he takes his share of the money and leaves without a trace.

Years later, Toni is a successful session artist and a musician-in-residence at a small club in Philadelphia. Her talent is evident and exceptional but she lacks the belief in herself and the desire to pursue fame. When she unexpectedly runs into Seb, it reopens old wounds and awakens feelings neither acknowledged as teenagers. But Toni isn’t willing to let herself get hurt again or get drawn in by him.

When an immense career opportunity comes Toni’s way, she’s unsure what to do. A band on the verge of stardom needs at least a temporary guitarist to replace their current one, who is a mercurial, talented trainwreck. It may never amount to anything, but it could change her life completely. Is she ready for the possibility of fame? And what does Seb have to do with the band?

The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes was such a great, emotional story about pursuing your dreams, finding your way, and trying to move beyond old hurts and resentments. I loved these characters and was so impressed with Axelrod’s storytelling choices, because there definitely were places where things could have veered into melodrama. (I have seen it happen too many times, y'all.)

I’ve been reading a lot of books lately where music factors into the plot and this is definitely a favorite among them. What an exceptional book!

Book Review: "Happy Singles Day" by Ann Marie Walker

Ann Marie Walker's Happy Singles Day is a feel-good rom-com about two people who say they’re fine being single. (Yeah, sure.)

Paige knows how to take control of chaos. As a certified professional organizer, she helps her clients get their clutter under control and find peace with the more-organized version of themselves.

Ironically, the only thing Paige doesn’t have control over is her love life. Well, she does have control, in that she isn’t interested in having one. She’s combatted loneliness with work, and now she’s rewarding herself with a vacation to celebrate Singles Day.

She’s not happy to find that the charming bed-and-breakfast she booked a room at isn’t quite what was advertised. At least the scenery is great to look at—particularly Lucas, the owner of the B&B, which hasn’t been operational for some time.

Lucas isn’t pleased that his meddling sister took Paige’s reservation and promised much more than he or the inn could deliver. He knows his sister is hoping this will be the push he needs to get the business going, and perhaps make a fresh start romantically, but he’s not interested in spending time with any women except his young daughter, Maddie.

Could two people with nothing in common except their desire not to be in a relationship connect with one another? Is their desire for solitude real, or is it a defense mechanism? Can the professional organizer bring order to the handsome yet surly innkeeper?

I’ll bet you know what will happen. Happy Singles Day really was an adorable rom-com, full of all my favorite plot devices—puppies, rainstorms, forced proximity, and meddling siblings and friends. It’s predictable but sweet, and deals with overcoming grief and taking second chances.

If you’re looking for something light and fun, here’s a cute one for you!

Book Review: "Mary Jane" by Jessica Anya Blau

Looking for a terrific coming-of-age story about a teenager who realizes there’s more to life than her sheltered upbringing? Read Mary Jane, the new novel by Jessica Anya Blau.

Was there a point in your childhood when you realized your parents weren’t always right about everything, that their views of the world might be out of step? That’s what happens to 14-year-old Mary Jane.

It’s 1970s Baltimore. Mary Jane is a good girl—she loves Broadway show tunes, sings in the church choir, and grows up in a conservative, traditional household. (There’s even a picture of President Ford hanging in the house.) Her father works; her mother takes care of the house and makes sure dinner is always on time.

Her mother gets her a summer job in “a respectable home,” working for the Cone family, helping care for their young daughter Izzy. (If only her mother knew that what appeared "respectable" on the outside was anything but on the inside!) But Mary Jane quickly realizes the Cones need far more than a helper—she practically takes over running the household in no time. She also knows that the Cones’ lifestyle is one her parents would definitely disapprove of, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

Mary Jane’s life is thrown for a loop when one of Dr. Cone’s patients and his wife move in, so Dr. Cone can help him beat his addiction. But it’s not just any patient—it’s Jimmy, a famous musician, and his even-more-famous wife, Sheba. Suddenly Mary Jane is the only person paying attention to what goes on with Izzy, ensuring whether there’s food in the house, getting the laundry done, etc. And at the same time, she starts to learn things about life, love, relationships, and music, things that conflict with the things she’s always believed. It’s good when your eyes are opened to what’s around you, but difficult at the same time.

I thought Mary Jane was great. I definitely felt like Blau captured the mood in society of the 1970s and the conflict between more "traditional" or conservative beliefs and more modern ones. Mary Jane was a terrific character and I loved seeing how her eyes were opened, but yet how she felt rooted in what she had been taught by her parents.

This was definitely a well-written and thought-provoking story!

Book Review: "Local Woman Missing" by Mary Kubica

Local Woman Missing, Mary Kubica's newest book, is a twisty, slightly creepy mystery/thriller about a small town dealing with the reopening of old wounds.

Eleven years ago, Shelby went out for a run late one night, leaving her infant daughter at home with her husband. She never returned. Shortly thereafter, Meredith, a doula, and her young daughter, Delilah, disappear.

Are these disappearances related? Did the women even know each other? Their small town is rocked as they search for answers, but eventually, although some leads are found, the cases grow cold.

It turns out both women had secrets and, quite possibly, enemies. Did those secrets lead to their disappearance?

When a young woman is found after being held captive for a long time, many questions arise. Is it Delilah? All signs seem to point to that, but why does her younger brother Leo, who was just an infant when Delilah disappeared, have doubts?

Local Woman Missing had me on edge throughout nearly the entire book, as I couldn’t wait to see how everything tied together. There was definitely a creepy vibe to it.

And then...I felt completely let down by the ending. I like twists and surprises but I don’t like when things come out of left field as they did. It seemed like everything to that point was just to throw you off the track. It was disappointing because I thought the book was so good until then.

I know lots of people have raved about Local Woman Missing. Some have complained about the ending but said that they loved the rest of the book so much that they didn't let it bother them. I definitely think this is still worth a read; hopefully you won't feel the same way I did.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Book Review: "Anna K Away" by Jenny Lee

Anna K Away is another emotionally layered romp with a group of wealthy teenagers, as they deal with love, grief, family, and relationships, and spend lots of money.

Have you read last year's Anna K, by Jenny Lee? That retelling of Anna Karenina set among the teenagers of NYC and Greenwich, CT, was an entertaining if melodramatic look at how the rich are as messed up as “regular people.”

The sequel takes place right where the first book left off, and I believe I enjoyed it more than the first book! (I found the original book a little annoying because the characters were so unlikable; while they've not changed that much, maybe it just didn't bother me as much here. Mostly.)

Anna is reeling from a tragedy and the appearance of a sex tape, so her father sends her to Korea for the summer. He hopes she'll be willing to start fresh and go to school in Korea come fall. As she deals with her grief, she realizes she has the opportunity to reinvent herself and be the person she wants to be.

Meanwhile, back in New York, her brother Steven and his girlfriend Lolly attend lavish parties and bicker, as Lolly prepares to attend theater camp for the summer. (Lolly's worries about Steven's previous infidelity take on extra weight as she's away for the summer.) Lolly's sister Kimmie and her boyfriend Dustin are both nervous about taking their relationship to the next level, each for different reasons. And Beatrice, dealing with her own grief and anger, finds real love for the first time and isn’t prepared for how much it changes her.

While you could read this as a stand-alone, I’d definitely recommend reading Anna K first. I’m fascinated by the extravagance of how the “other half” lives, but what I really enjoyed about this book was its emotional nuances. These characters are, in many cases, spoiled and/or shallow, but they’re also more complex than you think they are. This book was fun, too—there’s even a little K-pop!

BookSparks invited me to be part of their #SRC2021 campaign, and as such, they and Flatiron Books sent me a complimentary copy of Anna K Away in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

Book Review: "Falling" by T.J. Newman

If you’re looking for a thriller that reads like a movie, here’s one for you: T.J. Newman's upcoming debut thriller, Falling!

Are you a good flyer or a nervous flyer? If you are a white-knuckle flyer you’ll probably want to skip this one so it doesn’t give you something else to worry about when you get on a plane!

Captain Bill Hoffman is ready to fly 143 people from Los Angeles to NYC for Coastal Airways. He’s done his preflight checks and his favorite flight attendant, Jo, is in charge of the cabin. Bill and his first officer are ready to go, and they expect a smooth flight across the country.

Then he receives an email message: his wife and two young children have been kidnapped and have bombs attached to them. If Bill doesn’t crash the plane, the kidnapper will kill his family. His choices: kill everyone on board (including himself) or let his family die. And he can't involve the authorities, because his family will suffer the consequences.

Falling was written by a former flight attendant who wrote most of this during cross-country flights when her passengers were asleep. It definitely reads like a book written by someone who knows her s—t!! (Plus, I've heard from two friends who are flight attendants that it's pretty authentic.)

This was one of those books that you frantically turn the pages of, as you can’t wait to see what unfolds. It’s a tremendously entertaining thriller, fast-paced in many ways, with a diverse and enjoyable supporting cast. As I was reading it, I was totally casting the movie in my head!

If I had any criticism, I felt the kidnapper was a little too stereotypical, but as my friend Phil and I discussed in our impromptu buddy read, it could’ve been problematic any way Newman went. But the book had more emotional depth than I expected, which was great. I devoured this in one sitting.

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

Falling publishes 7/6.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Book Review: "Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake" by Alexis Hall

In Alexis Hall's new book, Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, a young mother hopes participating in a TV baking competition might be the key to a new path for her future.

Rosaline is a single mother of a precocious young girl. She wants to give her the perfect life, but that’s not easy—she has a low-paying job, and her parents don’t approve of that, nor are they comfortable with her bisexuality. They do provide her financial assistance and babysit her daughter, but they never let her forget how much they're helping her.

But she has a plan. She’s going to compete on Bake Expectations, a television baking show, and she hopes the exposure—especially if she wins—will change her life and her daughter’s for good.

Of course she’s utterly unprepared for the rigors of a television show, and with baking requiring the utmost focus, she worries she’ll be quickly eliminated. She also finds herself in a relationship with fellow contestant Alain, who is handsome and talented with a definite arrogant streak, while she becomes more curious about Harry, another contestant, a salt-of-the-earth, sexy electrician who’s not quite politically correct.

I loved Alexis Hall’s last book, Boyfriend Material, so my expectations were pretty high for Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake. There were things I really enjoyed—I’m obsessed with cooking/baking shows, so I loved that element, and wanted more, in fact. I love the way Hall treated Rosaline’s bisexuality, as there aren’t many main characters out there who are bi, and I also loved the book's acknowledgement of anxiety-related issues.

I did think, however, the book was way longer than it needed to be. I’m not a huge fan of love triangles when one character is particularly odious, and I felt the parental disapproval seemed a little one-dimensional. And while I thought Rosaline’s daughter’s view on the world was adorable and refreshing, a little goes a long way with precocious children.

Still, I had fun reading this and really enjoyed my buddy read with my friend Phil. (He loved it more than I did.)

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

Book Review: "The Soulmate Equation" by Christina Lauren

Can science help determine who we’re best suited for? That's the question at the heart of The Soulmate Equation, Christina Lauren's latest romance. They get their science on and I loved every minute of it. This is definitely one of my new favorites of theirs!

"Have you ever wondered what a soulmate truly is? Is love a quality you can quantify?"

Jess is a single mother and a freelance statistician. Her grandparents raised her and are helping her raise her daughter. Sure, she wishes from time to time she had someone else in her life, someone to share in the big and small moments with, but when is there time to date? How can she find the right person without sacrificing her relationship with her daughter?

She and her best friend Felicity learn about a new company, GeneticAlly, which matches you to people based on your DNA. On a whim one night she submits her DNA and finds out that she has 98-percent compatibility with a person in the company’s database. It’s unheard of. And with whom does she match? Dr. River Peña, a geneticist who is one of the company’s founders.

The thing is, she knows River. Despite his magnetic handsomeness, he’s aloof, sometimes rude, and he once said she was “average.” She can’t believe they matched genetically, and neither can he. But with just a few months before the company’s IPO, GeneticAlly makes Jess an offer: get to know River, see if there’s a spark. And they’ll pay her.

Swept up in the publicity around this near-perfect match, Jess and River do get to know one another, and they realize the façade everyone sees isn’t the real person. Maybe science does know something about compatibility?

My fellow romance/rom-com fans can see the arc of the story, but it doesn’t matter. I loved everything about The Soulmate Equation—the love story, the supporting characters, even the sciency stuff. Christina Lauren’s books often have this inexplicable mix of steam, sensitivity, and emotion I just love.

Book Review: "Dial A for Aunties" by Jesse Q. Sutanto

As Jesse Q. Sutanto proves in her new novel, Dial A for Aunties, sometimes family helps get you out of trouble, sometimes they create more trouble. But they (almost always) mean well!

If you like your books zany with a healthy helping of wacky, this is a book for you! It’s a mixture of oversized farce, accidental murder, family drama (and pressure), even a little second-chance romance.

Meddelin “Meddy” Chan tries to be the dutiful Asian daughter, but it’s hard when you have not only your mother to please, but three of your aunts as well. Fear of disappointing her mother has led her to make some foolish decisions, like ending the best relationship she ever had because she didn’t want to introduce him to her family. (Not that there was any reason for her mother or family to disapprove, but she still worried.) But now she’s part of the family wedding business, as the photographer. It wasn't quite her choice, but she does like photography, so...

When a blind date her mother arranged for her (some of the funniest stuff in the book pertains to the way the date was arranged) turns into a disaster, Meddy accidentally kills the guy. In a panic, she goes to her mother, who, of course, summons the aunts. With a big wedding weekend ahead they decide to do what anyone would—hide the body.

What could go wrong? While obviously there’s lots of craziness to be found here, at its core Dial A for Aunties is a story of family, of trying to do the right things, and of finding the courage to be your own person and follow your own path. Sutanto called it a love letter to her own family, and you can definitely see why.

I heard they’re making this into a Netflix movie, so that should be fun. I read this with my friend Louis; buddy reads with him are always so enjoyable. Books are more fun when you talk about them with good friends!

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Book Review: "One Last Stop" by Casey McQuiston

Casey McQuiston's upcoming novel, One Last Stop, proves that love can flourish in even the most mundane of places, like the Q train on the NYC subway.

For the longest time it was just August and her mother against the world. But helping her mother with her obsessive need to find her brother, who went missing in 1973, became too much to bear, so she left New Orleans to go to college.

She bounced from place to place, school to school, and finally lands in Brooklyn. She figures it’s a big enough place to be on your own and not connect with anyone. But she soon finds an apartment and a job, and becomes part of a circle of friends for the first time.

After a disastrous start to her morning on her first day of school, she sees her on the Q train. Jane is everything August is not—sexy, brash, outgoing, helpful, and utterly confident, the type of person who could start a dance party on a crowded subway train. August starts planning her morning commute in the hopes of seeing Jane—and she invariably always does.

But little by little, she realizes Jane isn’t your typical subway encounter. And it’s up to August, with a lot of help from her friends, to see if they can fix Jane’s “situation.” But what would that do to the potential of a relationship with August?

You can get more information if you read the plot synopsis, but I didn’t know anything about One Last Stop when I started it. It’s a very unique twist on a love story which will require suspension of your disbelief. (Or maybe this happens all the time on the subway, lol?)

I liked the chemistry between August and Jane, and I loved the diverse supporting characters. I just felt the whole concept of the story took so long to unfold and solve, and at times it dragged the pace of the story down for me a bit. But that’s not to say I didn’t get teary-eyed at times, because, well, I’m me.

McQuiston's first book, Red, White and Royal Blue was my favorite book of 2019, so certainly my expectations were high for this one. But I wasn't expecting her to write the same book, and that wasn't my challenge with this. I just felt that the whole wasn't as great as the sum of its parts.

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

One Last Stop publishes 6/1.

Book Review: "The Last Thing He Told Me" by Laura Dave

Laura Dave's new thriller, The Last Thing He Told Me, asks the question, how well do we really know the people we love?

Once again, the one book I didn’t pick as part of my Book of the Month box in May was the one giving me FOMO! I’m so glad I picked this up because it was so good.

Hannah never thought she’d get married, and she was fine was that. But then she met Owen and she realized she’d found the man she wanted to spend her life with. And despite his teenage daughter, Bailey, resenting her, their first year of marriage has been a good one.

One day she gets a message from Owen that says “Protect her.” Then he disappears, just as the software company he worked for is raided by the FBI. Was he complicit in the things they say his company did? Why did he run? And should she trust the U.S. marshal who seems to know more than he’s saying?

As Hannah realizes that Owen isn’t whom he said he was, while there are implications for her and her marriage, there are even greater ones for Bailey. Has her whole life been a lie? Together they try to figure out the truth, unaware of just what that will mean for them.

“That’s how you fill in the blanks—with stories and memories from the people who love you. If they lie to you, like he did, who are you then? Who is he?”

The Last Thing He Told Me is part-mystery, part-thriller, but it’s also an introspective story, a look at love and relationships and truth and doing everything for those you love. The pacing is slow at times and fast at others, but I was totally hooked on the story.

I know it’s been optioned for a television movie and that totally makes sense. Loved this!

Book Review: "Good Company" by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

In the new book by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, Good Company, a surprising discovery causes a woman to reevaluate her marriage, her relationship with her best friend, and the path for her future.

Flora and her husband Julian have the type of marriage that people envy, the “real deal.” It hasn’t always been easy. They’ve weathered ups and downs in both of their acting careers, raised a daughter who’s about to head off to college, and they’re looking forward to what’s next.

Then one day in an old filing cabinet, she finds Julian’s original wedding ring in an envelope. The ring he said he lost years ago. What she learns about the ring will cause her to reexamine her marriage, her future, and her relationship with Margot, her best friend.

“She’d lost her husband and her best friend and couldn’t figure out which one she wanted back first—if she wanted them back at all. Here was the rub: to have been chosen—first by Margot, then Julian—to have been plucked from her life into theirs, it had been the greatest fortune of her life...”

Margot, meanwhile, who has been a cast member on a long-running television medical drama, is trying to figure out what she wants next. Flora and Julian have been there for her and her husband for years, through victories and challenges—will all of that go away?

Like she did in her first book, The Nest, in Good Company, Sweeney looks at the way multiple people are affected by an event. It’s narrated by many of the main characters and alternates between past and present.

As I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for some good drama, so I liked this. It’s a little slow at times and the characters aren’t entirely sympathetic, but I was hooked on their crises. (Better than dealing with my own!)

Book Review: "Lowcountry on My Mind" by Ashley Farley

Lowcountry on My Mind is Ashley Farley's newest novel, and it's about two old friends who both experience immense challenges in this story of family secrets, friendship, love, and fresh starts.

Amelia has been the perfect wife her abusive husband has demanded for far too long, and she’s had to sacrifice many things, including a closer relationship with her mother. But when her mother dies unexpectedly, she flees to her childhood home on Palmetto Island to make a new start. She won’t let her husband call the shots this time—no matter what it takes.

Being home in the lowcountry is revitalizing, as she gets to reunite with her two best friends from childhood. But as she reflects on what she lost through her marriage and she readies for her husband to find her, she has to deal with an unexpected visitor from her past.

Meanwhile, her friend Max has her own set of crises. Anxious about the renovations her hotel sorely needs, she’s waiting for her loan to be approved by the bank. At the same time, she’s realizing that the impulsive relationship she fell into isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but her boyfriend isn’t interested in ending things. And trying to get rid of him might prove more costly than she realizes.

Both women will need all of their strength to overcome some of their greatest battles. They are both facing dangerous enemies with the potential of destroying everything, but will the support of friends new and old be what they need?

Through participating in Kate Rock Book Tours, I’ve had the opportunity to read a number of books by Farley, and I’ve loved every single one. I devour all of her books and I wish I could be where her books are set!! She has such a talent for storytelling and creating gorgeous, gorgeous imagery.

Lowcountry on My Mind is the third book in her Palmetto Island series and it’s another winner. (You could read each as a standalone, but it probably would be better to start at the beginning of the series.) I sat down to start the book and the next thing I knew, I was finished. She writes such great stories.

Thanks to Kate Rock Book Tours and Ashley Farley for a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Book Review: "The Girl I Used to Be" by Heidi Hostetter

Heidi Hostetter's new book, The Girl I Used to Be, is an emotional story about rebuilding and finding one’s way again.

Jill fell in love with Marc and knew she wanted to be with him. She knew he had been married before, and but she was determined to make their marriage stronger than his previous ones. Sure, Marc was a little controlling, telling her how to dress, how to look, what to do, but he loved her, and they had a picture-perfect life together.

Or so she thought. Her whole life comes crashing down when she learns of Marc’s infidelity. She didn’t care about his money, but she also doesn’t want to be taken advantage of. With Marc claiming everything were assets of his business or covered by the prenup Jill signed, the only thing she gets is a beach house on New Jersey’s Dewberry Beach.

She really wants nothing to do with the house and plans to sell it right away. But she’s thrown for a loop when she discovers that everything to do with the house isn’t on the up-and-up, and she might have had unknowingly been involved.

As she tries to get to the bottom of Marc’s deception and make good on the wrongs he left behind, she falls in love with the beach town where her house is. But more than that, she starts to find herself again—the real her, not the person Marc tried to mold her into.

Sometimes it’s hard to stand on your own two feet after you’ve been knocked down. But Jill is realizing the strength to do so comes from within yourself. Her story is powerful and relevant, and even if all of the characters aren’t likable, the story is.

Thanks to Bookouture for a complimentary copy of The Girl I Used to Be in exchange for an unbiased review!

Book Review: "The Summer Job" by Lizzy Dent

What could go wrong when a woman pretends to be her best friend for a job? Read Lizzy Dent's upcoming novel, The Summer Job and find out.

Elizabeth “Birdy” Finch hasn’t had it easy. She had a tough childhood, she’s blundered from one job to another, and never found a relationship that would stick. But she’s always been there for her best friend, Heather, supporting her through her achievements as a sommelier, and as she chases after a love she’s so desperate to find.

When Heather decides to abandon the new summer job she’s landed at an old Scottish resort hotel to pursue a relationship, Birdy agrees to notify the hotel. But instead, Birdy decides to pretend to be Heather, like she’s done at parties and events before. How hard can it be to learn wine? And if the resort is old, how challenging will it really be?

Of course, the resort has been redone and the restaurant is now posh, with 124 wines(!) on its list. Birdy has her work cut out for her. The last thing she’s counting on is a handsome chef to distract/motivate her, not to mention actually starting to enjoy herself, despite the deception she’s perpetuating.

I really enjoyed The Summer Job so much. Sure, it was predictable in many ways, but it was funny and sweet and poignant (a little heavier than the average rom-com, which I always enjoy), and I love any book that takes place behind the scenes at a restaurant. This would definitely be a fun Hallmark or Netflix movie.

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

The Summer Job publishes 5/18.

Book Review: "The Maidens" by Alex Michaelides

In The Maidens, Alex Michaelides' upcoming follow-up to his hit thriller, The Silent Patient, when a friend of her niece is murdered, a troubled therapist tries to get to the bottom of what happened.

Mariana is a group therapist who hasn’t quite been able to move past the death of her husband more than a year ago. When she learns her niece’s friend is found murdered at Cambridge University, she goes to help her, returning to the place where she once was a student and met her husband.

Her niece, Zoe, is convinced that the charismatic professor Edward Fosca, who teaches Greek tragedy, is responsible for her friend’s murder. He has a group of female student acolytes who call themselves The Maidens, inspired by Greek legend, and seems to have them in his thrall.

The more Mariana learns about Fosca the more she becomes sure of his guilt. But everyone else seems to think she’s losing her bearings—is that the case? Is her obsession with Fosca blinding her to the truth? Could this single-mindedness be putting herself in danger?

Given the success of The Silent Patient (which I loved), there has been a lot of hype surrounding The Maidens. I’ve definitely seen some mixed things so I went in with relatively low expectations.

So...I felt like this book should’ve been called The Red Herrings. I felt like there were so many plot points and characters that were introduced and nothing ever came of them. I wasn’t surprised by the way things were tied up as I had my suspicions from the start.

The thing I didn’t quite get, however, is why Mariana was so obsessed with Fosca. Was there something I missed? Was this focus distracting her from her own grief or was it triggered by something from her past?

Celadon Books sent me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

The Maidens publishes 6/15.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Book Review: "That Summer" by Jennifer Weiner

That Summer, Jennifer Weiner's upcoming book, is a thought-provoking and timely story about friendship, secrets, and trust.

Daisy has the life she thought she always wanted—a beautiful home, a growing cooking business—but there are definitely downsides. Her husband is demanding and belittling, her teenage daughter is rebelling, and she wonders if this is all that her life will hold.

She starts getting emails meant for another woman, Diana (their email addresses are one character apart), which always discuss fancy events and important responsibilities. If it’s possible to be envious of a person’s life from a distance, that’s the way Daisy feels.

After forwarding and receiving emails, the two women strike up a conversation and decide to meet. They wind up forming a friendship that becomes important to both of them. But the start of the relationship wasn’t completely coincidental—Diana might not be quite what she says she is. What will that mean for Daisy?

This is an interesting story spanning more than 30 years, narrated by the two women and Daisy’s daughter. There are sadly, all-too-familiar themes, but in Jennifer Weiner’s hands, That Summer is a compelling and emotional story.

I’ve come late to Weiner’s books, having only read the last three now. Which of her older books should I read?

Atria Books sent me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

That Summer publishes 5/11!

Book Review: "Better Than the Movies" by Lynn Painter

A young woman obsessed with rom-coms hopes for a love story of her own in Lynn Painter's new book, Better Than the Movies.

“When she died, my mother bequeathed to me her unwavering belief in happily ever after. My inheritance was the knowledge that love is always in the air, always a possibility, and always worth it. Mr. Right—the nice-guy, dependable version—could be waiting around the very next corner. Which was why I was always at the ready. It was only a matter of time before it finally happened for me.“

Liz is dreaming of her happy ending even though she’s only a senior in high school. Her romantic relationships to this point haven’t been too promising, but when her childhood neighbor and former crush/obsession, Michael, returns to school (more handsome than ever and with a southern drawl), she knows Michael is Mr. Right.

It seems, however, Michael still sees Liz as the wacky little girl next door. So Liz enlists the help of her next-door neighbor and general annoyance, Wes, to make her seem more attractive and interesting in Michael’s eyes. Wes is all too happy to give Liz some (scarily accurate) styling advice and talks her up to Michael. But of course, she and Wes start spending so much time together that everyone thinks they're dating.

Liz knows Michael is the guy she wants. But why is it that the more time she spends with Wes the more she can’t stop thinking about him? Wes is the bad boy—and all of the rom-coms she watches tell her it never works with the bad boy. Could real life be different?

I thought Better Than the Movies was a cute book, and since I’m such a fan of rom-com books and movies, I really enjoyed this. In addition to the romance aspect, the book did a great job exploring grief and how hard it can be to move on.

Can you predict what will happen in the book? Sure. But this was a sweet, fun, poignant ride that warmed my sappy heart.

Book Review: "Things We Lost to the Water" by Eric Nguyen

Eric Nguyen's debut novel, Things We Lost to the Water, is a beautifully written look at an immigrant Vietnamese family, and how their lives are shaped or reshaped by America.

Huong and her two young sons leave Vietnam in 1979 and move to New Orleans. Huong’s husband, Cong, stays in Vietnam, although she looks forward to the day they will be reunited. She sends letters and audiotapes home to Vietnam in the hopes that her words will motivate him to come to America, so her boys can know their father.

As she starts to settle in to their new home, Huong starts to lose hope that she’ll ever see her husband again. But she’s determined to create a better life for her sons, even though it’s hard to understand what it’s like for them growing up when you’re different to those around you.

“If her sons asked about their father, she told herself, she would tell them some kind of truth, what she knew of it: their father would not be joining them in New Orleans; this was all beyond their control and they had to try their best, she would say, to move forward.”

The book moves forward as snapshots in time, from 1979 to 2005, narrated by Huong and her sons. Huong becomes more acclimated to life in America and becomes involved with a Vietnamese car salesman. Her older son, Tuan, tries to keep his Vietnamese identity by joining a gang and trying to prove himself, while her younger son Binh, who calls himself Ben, struggles with his sexuality and his desire to escape the life his mother has built.

Ultimately they are all changed when New Orleans faces its greatest challenge ever. Will it bring them together or push them further apart?

I was so taken in by Eric Nguyen’s storytelling ability. It’s so hard to believe that Things We Lost to the Water was a debut novel. This story is thought-provoking and moving, although the challenge of the narrative structure is I didn’t feel like I got to know the characters as well as I would have liked, because we saw them in short bursts rather than consistently.

I definitely believe this will be a highly talked-about book, and I look forward to seeing what’s next in Nguyen’s career!

Book Review: "The Marvelous" by Claire Kann

Claire Kann's The Marvelous shows what happens when four followers of a popular social media app get invited to the founder’s house for a weekend, and discover they’re in for more than they could ever imagine.

Jewel Van Hanen has always been in the public eye. As an heiress and actress her every move was captured, so it seemed only natural that she’d create a video-sharing app. Golden Rule becomes extremely popular—and then Jewel disappeared for a year. No one knows where she went.

But now she’s back and has decided to make a splash by inviting four of Golden Rule’s followers to her private estate for the weekend. And when they arrive, they realize it’s not quite the weekend they imagined—Jewel has planned for a series of challenges and puzzles and obstacles that will require every last ounce of cunning and intelligence they have. But is money the only thing at stake?

The Marvelous was a really interesting story told from the perspective of three of the followers. (Why not all four followers I'll never understand.) The concept of the book reminded me a little of the idea behind Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in that an eccentric person lets people into their world. But no Oompa Loompas here, lol.

My challenge with the story is that there were a lot of unanswered questions. Many plot points were introduced or mentioned and then never touched on again. But at its core, the book was an interesting exploration of the ever-changing world of social media as well as a fun challenge for those who love puzzles and riddles.

My thanks to Storygram Tours, Swoon Reads, and Fierce Reads for allowing me to be part of the tour for The Marvelous, and for sending me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!

The book publishes 6/8.

Book Review: "A Theater for Dreamers" by Polly Samson

In Polly Samson's upcoming book, A Theater for Dreamers, a young woman learns about life and herself when she spends time amidst writers and artists on a Greek island.

(First things first, I want to be where this book cover is. It’s the Greek island of Hydra, and I’m adding it to my post-COVID travel bucket list.)

It's 1960, and 18-year-old Erica is reeling from the death of her mother. When she reads a book by the Australian author Charmian Clift (who was friends with her mother) set on Hydra, Erica decides to escape the oppression of her abusive father and travel to Hydra with her boyfriend, an aspiring writer, and her older brother.

When they arrive on the island, Erica finds it an artists’ colony of sorts, led by Charmian and her writer husband, George. Erica tries to find inspiration for her own writing, she also grows closer to Charmian, as she tries to find out more about her mother and her secrets.

Meanwhile, the drama factor on the island rises with the advent of a love triangle which includes the young poet Leonard Cohen (later the singer of “Hallelujah,” among other things). The passions, pains, infidelities, and repercussions show Erica a side of relationships she hadn’t been aware of, and the events on the island will change her inexorably.

A Theater for Dreamers meshes real events and people with fictional ones. It’s an interesting story in a beautiful setting, but at times the imagery of the setting almost overpowers the narrative. There’s a lot going on here, with a lot of characters, so there was real power in the emotions of the story, but also it got a bit overwhelming.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for inviting me on the blog tour, and providing me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!

A Theater for Dreamers publishes 5/11.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Book Review: "How Lucky" by Will Leitch

Will Leitch's new novel, How Lucky, is an utterly unforgettable, beautiful book about hope, friendship, and survival.

If you were to look at Daniel, you’d assume he was miserable. Since childhood he’s lived with a degenerative disease that has confined him to a wheelchair, mostly unable to speak, and he knows ultimately that this will be his death sentence.

But while Daniel may not be living the kind of life people envy, he has a full life. He has friends and a strong support system of people who care about him, a job for a regional airline, and living in Athens, Georgia, he loves to experience the jubilation of college football and how it transforms everything.

“Real life, mercifully, isn’t a thriller. Those things don’t happen to you, and they don’t happen to me. My life is nothing but small moments, and so is yours. We don’t live in a series of plot points. We should be thankful for that. We should realize how lucky we are.”

One morning Daniel sees a young woman walking down the street past his house. She does this every day. But on this day he sees her get into a car, and the next day he hears she has gone missing.

What could have happened to this woman? Daniel wants to tell the police what he knows, but will they believe someone like him? What Daniel doesn’t realize is he’ll set a chain of events in motion which could threaten his life—but he’d probably do it anyway for the sake of the young woman.

How Lucky is suspenseful, uplifting, funny, poignant, and utterly charming. It has elements of Rear Window but it’s a story all its own, with one of the most engaging and wonderful protagonists I’ve ever seen. It makes you think, it’ll make you smile, and if you’re like me, you’ll probably tear up.

Leitch did such a great job creating these characters and definitely did his research on what it's like to live with a disability like Daniel's. And extra points for commentary on the fact Glenn Close STILL hasn’t won an Oscar!!

Book Review: "The Mary Shelley Club" by Goldy Moldavsky

The Mary Shelley Club is an excellent YA thriller about a group of horror movie-obsessed students, with dashes of Gossip Girl thrown in for good measure.

“There’s nothing more visceral than being scared. It’s why some people love watching scary movies. I love being scared.”

Rachel is a scholarship student at tony Manchester Prep. It’s a fresh start after a tragedy forced her and her mother to leave their old home. But rather than dwell on traumatic memories, Rachel has taken to watching horror movies for comfort.

When her proximity to a prank involving a popular student gains her the kind of notoriety she doesn’t want, she also catches the attention of the Mary Shelley Club, a small group of students obsessed with horror movies. She’s thrilled to finally be a part of something, after feeling like she was on the outside looking in for so long.

The club conducts Fear Tests, elaborate pranks designed to significantly scare someone. Each club member gets to design a Fear Test, and all club members must participate in everyone's tests. But it’s not long before the tests seem to veer out of control and become dangerous, with components that seem to awaken the horrors Rachel has tried so hard to hide. Is someone in the club targeting her? Is someone else?

Man oh man, The Mary Shelley Club was so good. It’s rare that a nearly 500-page book is so addicting but I didn’t want to put it down. I loved the conversations about movies and how they foster a shared sense of belonging, and I loved how all of the horror movie tropes were played out—and I’m not even a horror movie fan because I’m a total chickens—t.

I hope there will be a sequel to this one. I loved discussing this during my buddy read with my friend Phil. We finally found a book we loved!!

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Book Review: "Where It All Lands" by Jennie Wexler

At the core of Jennie Wexler's upcoming YA novel, Where It All Lands, is the question of whether fate is the only thing that determines love, or if it will happen on its own.

Shane and Drew have been inseparable best friends for years. They’ve always been there to support each other—Drew was there when Shane’s dad was dying and he helped him through his grief, and Shane has helped Drew with his anger about his father moving out.

Nothing has come between them. And then Stevie shows up for the first day of marching band practice.

Both boys are drawn to her, and judging from their conversations with her, she seems interested in both of them. With some reluctance on Shane’s part, they decide to flip a coin—the way they always decide things. The winner gets to ask Stevie out.

Where It All Lands follows two paths—one where Drew wins the coin toss, and the other where Shane does. Would things wind up differently depending on who asked Stevie out? Do fate and luck play a hand in determining our future, or do we have control ourselves?

I enjoy when books take the Sliding Doors-type approach to a decision and explore the ramifications of both sides. There are familiar scenarios here and some less-familiar ones, and Wexler weaves them all together into a thought-provoking, emotional story.

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

Where It All Lands publishes 7/6.

Book Review: "Conscience Point" by Tade Reen

When two people who couldn’t be more different connect, is real love possible? This is a question at the core of Tade Reen's Conscience Point.

Rachel is at the top of her game career-wise, holding an executive position at a hedge fund. She’s great at what she does and she loves her job, and she’s certainly reaped the benefits of her success in terms of money and lifestyle. So what if her personal life has taken a back seat? Since breaking up with her last boyfriend, she hasn’t had much motivation to find someone new.

While taking clients on a trip to the Hamptons, she meets Walter “Scallop” Koslowski, a local farmer who lives a simple life with his young son, Kosumi. When he’s not working on his family’s farm, he’s also the local carpenter, volunteer fireman, and fisherman. He left the farm right after high school to travel the world, surfing, mountain climbing, exploring, and became a Navy SEAL after 9/11. The things he did and saw have scarred him, but the simplicity of his life and the love of his family eases the stress.

"He thought explaining yourself honestly and thoroughly was akin to opening a trap door to your soul. You could stand on the edge of the hole and look down at the underpinnings of your life and then close the door again and walk away, or something could trip you up, and you could end up down there with the snakes and moldy cardboard boxes of your past and no ladder."

Immediately, Rachel finds herself drawn to Scallop, but how could he fit in her world? And would he even want to? With the future of his family’s farm in danger, Scallop doesn’t know what his next steps might be. How could he uproot his son from the only life he’s ever known?

As their feelings for each other deepen, Rachel and Scallop must figure out whether love means sacrifice—and at what cost? Can two people who are so different be so right for each other, or is love doomed to fail?

Reen has created such a beautiful opposites-attract love story with Conscience Point. Scallop and Kosumi, in particular, are such unique, gorgeous characters, and I found myself so emotionally invested in this story. Plus, Reen’s gorgeous imagery made me feel like I was right there with Rachel and Scallop.

Thanks so much to Kate Rock Book Tours for introducing me to this fantastic book, and for sending me a complimentary copy in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Book Review: "Bath Haus" by P.J. Vernon

Bath Haus, P.J. Vernon's upcoming book, is a taut and twisty thriller about truth, trust, and the cost of secrets.

Oliver and Nathan have been together a while now. They have a solid, stable relationship, even though there is a difference in their ages and their income. Nathan is a successful surgeon from a wealthy family, while Oliver's upbringing in rural Indiana was quite the opposite.

One night while Nathan is out of town on business, Oliver decides to go to Haus, a gay bathhouse. He knows he shouldn’t do what he’s gone to do, he knows there’s a significant risk Nathan will find out, but he gives in to his urges. He goes with a handsome man into a private room, where things go completely awry, and Oliver has to fight for his life.

He is able to escape and runs out of Haus, afraid, shaken, with angry bruises already forming around his neck. He gets home and realizes he’s in a quandary—how can he explain this to Nathan? So he does the only thing he can think of: he lies.

“When it comes to lying, there’s a golden rule: tell as much truth as you can. The truth is, after all, the easiest to remember. It’s the most consistent with inarguable fact.”

What Oliver doesn’t realize is what a ripple effect his lies will have. More and more, he finds himself enmeshed in a game of cat and mouse, fearing for his life and his relationship and his future, but he doesn’t know whom to trust or what to expect next.

We’ve seen this scenario before but almost never with a gay couple, so that brought an added dimension to this terrific, tense thriller. There’s a lot at play here—issues of trust, communication, addiction, secrets, lies, infidelity—and it all makes this story so compelling.

I’ve seen a lot of people on Bookstagram rave about this, so I felt a little like the last gay in the village to get my hands on an ARC, but it definitely lived up to the hype. Congrats to Vernon on creating such a fantastic thriller, one I’ll definitely think about for a while!

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

Bath Haus publishes 6/15.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Book Review: "Runaway Train" by Lee Matthew Goldberg

Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom in order to find your way back up. That's one of the messages conveyed in Lee Matthew Goldberg's new YA novel, Runaway Train.

“My sister Kristen died the same day as the actor River Phoenix, October 31st, 1993, he from a drug overdose in the middle of the night outside the Viper Room, her on an early morning run through Laurel Canyon, two days before her seventeenth birthday.”

Although 16-year-old Nico and her sister were very different, she’s still devastated by her sudden death. With her parents ignoring her because of their own grief and dysfunctional relationship, Nico spends her days with her two best friends, Winter and Jeremy, getting high, drinking, cutting school, and listening to grunge music.

Nico is full of anger and angst, and she doesn’t know what to do with herself. Her friends encourage her to run away for a while, maybe cross some things off her bucket list, and ultimately wind up at her musical idol Kurt Cobain’s house in Seattle.

The journey she goes on is eye-opening in many ways, full of beautiful, sad, and disappointing moments. Her sister’s spirit accompanies her, as does a mixtape she made for Kristen, which provides music for the journey. She meets an interesting crew of people along the way, some who show her that life is worth being present for and that it’s still worth living, despite her grief.

But before she can figure out what’s next, she’s on a collision course with sadness and her self-destructive, anger-filled behaviors. Will she be able to appreciate the good things she’s experiencing on this trip? Can she save herself before it’s too late?

Runaway Train so perfectly captured teenage angst and the spirit that pervaded the mid-1990s. Nico isn’t an entirely sympathetic character but her emotions and her attempts to manage them felt very real.

As a fan of grunge music of that era, I loved all the references to bands and songs. (Even before I started reading this, I found myself singing Soul Asylum's "Runaway Train." Little did I know some of the lyrics would appear in the book's epigraph!) I’m looking forward to Goldberg’s second book in this series.

Suzy Approved Book Tours, Wise Wolf Books, and Lee Matthew Goldberg provided me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!