Saturday, July 31, 2021

Book Review: "To Sir, With Love" by Lauren Layne

No, it's not an adaptation of the classic late 1960s movie with Sidney Poitier. But Lauren Layne's new novel is an adorable, emotional rom-com that’s almost a modern-day take on You’ve Got Mail.

Gracie Cooper has always been a dreamer. But when her father dies, she puts aside her dreams of becoming an artist and begins running the family’s champagne shop. She isn’t prepared for how precarious the store’s financial position is, or just how time-consuming running a business can be, but she’s fulfilling her father’s wishes. Shouldn't that count for something?

She’s also a romantic—she’s always known exactly what her dream man will be like. But since he hasn’t materialized, she’s been finding herself increasingly drawn to a man she’s been corresponding with on a blind dating app, a man she only knows as “Sir.” She's never met him or exchanged photos or descriptions, so she doesn’t know what he looks like but she feels a connection through their banter.

One day she has a meet-cute with a handsome man—and soon after she realizes that he’s Sebastian Andrews, the arrogant businessman whose family’s company owns the building her shop is in. He wants to buy Gracie out so they can tear down the building and replace it with something more expensive. But Gracie is determined not to close the shop—even if it might ultimately be the best thing for her.

As her encounters with Sebastian make her vacillate between hatred and attraction, she realizes at the same time she’s falling head over heels for Sir, yet what if he’s not the person she thinks he is? Of course, she finds herself torn between a man she knows and one she doesn’t, but she has no idea just how much Sebastian and Sir have in common.

I’m a total sap; we’ve established this before, but I just loved To Sir, With Love. It’s sweet and funny and thought-provoking and emotional, even though I knew everything that was coming. I’d love to see Lauren Layne turn this into a series using some of the supporting characters, as she's done with other books!

Book Review: "They'll Never Catch Us" by Jessica Goodman

The latest book from Jessica Goodman, They'll Never Catch Us, is part coming-of-age story and commentary on girls who go after what they want, part satisfying YA thriller.

Stella and Ellie are sisters, and both are cross-country runners. Stella is an intense competitor; she knows the only way she can get into an elite college is to get a scholarship. But that intensity and competitiveness doesn’t make her an easy person to be friendly with, and when an incident occurs with a fellow classmate at the end of her sophomore year, her fellow students view her as crazy, even violent.

Ellie wants to be an elite competitor, too, but she is more laid-back and easier to get along with. She knows her sister is her biggest rival, and they used to be closer than ever, but both have secrets they’re not willing to share.

When Mila comes to town, it throws everything into an uproar. Mila was the best runner at her school, and suddenly Stella has to push herself even harder, between overcoming everyone’s perceptions of her, trying to get back the chances she lost following the incident sophomore year, and now she has to beat Mila.

Mila sees Stella for who she really is, and Stella starts letting her guard down, even if she’s not sure she can trust anyone. And of course, that wreaks havoc on her competitive spirit. Ellie, too, becomes close with Mila, even revealing a secret that she’s told no one else.

When Mila disappears on a run early one morning, the town is quick to blame Stella. But could a serial killer who terrorized the town years ago be back, or is the perpetrator someone closer to home?

This was a bit of a slow burn at first but I couldn’t put it down. It’s a family drama, a bit of a mystery, and commentary on the double standard that girls and women face when they’re competitive and go after what they want. I really enjoyed Goodman’s last book, They Wish They Were Us, and They'll Never Catch Us is just as good.

Thanks to BookSparks and Razorbill for providing me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review, as part of #SRC2021!!

Book Review: "Maurice" by E.M. Forster

One of E.M. Forster's lesser-known novels, Maurice is a classic gay love story that was ahead of its time.

Wait, what? I’m not only reading a backlist title but also a classic? Look at me, expanding my horizons!!

Maurice was written in 1913 and 1914, but Forster (author of A Room with a View and Howard's End, among others) knew that publishing it would destroy his career. He stipulated it couldn’t be released until after he died. It was published in 1971.

While certainly much of the language used in the book is very old-fashioned and some (if not all) if the attitudes around class are different, it’s amazing how ahead of his time Forster was.

This is the story of Maurice, a young man we first meet when he is 14. It follows him through his education and his path toward the life expected of him. But when he strikes up a friendship with a fellow classmate, he realizes how different his life is from what he thought, and how ultimately he needs to follow his own path in order to be happy.

Who would’ve thought you’d ultimately get a gay Edwardian love story with a happy ending, not one where the characters are trapped in marriages of convenience or something worse happens? The movie adaptation of Maurice is wonderful—it was one of the first gay love stories I saw.

I had a conversation with a friend the other day about people reviewing classics long after they were published. While I think it’s difficult to view a classic in a sphere different than the one in which it was written, it’s fascinating to find a book so ahead of its time yet it needed to be hidden until much later.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Book Review: "Jonny Appleseed" by Joshua Whitehead

I'll put it simply: Joshua Whitehead's Jonny Appleseed is such a vibrant, beautiful read.

I saw some Bookstagram friends reading this a few months ago and I was intrigued, but when my friend Lindsay bought me a copy I couldn’t wait to read it. This is such a unique, gorgeously written queer book which really opened my eyes to what it’s like growing up as a queer Native American.

Jonny is a two-spirit/Indigiqueer young man who is currently living and trying to make it in the big city, away from the reservation. He makes a living as a cybersex worker, fulfilling his clients’ Native American fantasies, but he is in love with his childhood best friend, who is struggling with his own sexuality and trying to fulfill traditional male roles.

Jonny has to get back to the rez for his stepfather’s funeral. This book, told in nonlinear fashion, follows his journey home and his efforts to make enough money to get there, but it is interspersed with flashbacks of his growing up, his special relationship with his kokum (grandmother), and what it’s like to grow up Indigiqueer both on and off the rez.

This book doesn’t pull any punches—it’s frank in describing sex and the occasional violence that he faced. But Whitehead’s storytelling draws you in and leaves you feeling the same kaleidosope of emotions that Jonny does. He’s such a vivid character and I loved following his journey.⁣

Jonny Appleseed is not a book for everyone but it’s one I’ll definitely remember.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Book Review: "Rock the Boat" by Beck Dorey-Stein

What song winds up in your head while reading this book (or even just seeing my review) is definitely a generational thing. Some (like me) hear the 70s song "Rock the Boat" by Hues Corporation; the hipper (read: younger) ones among us mostly hear Aaliyah's song of the same name.

This is a summery read about friendship, love, family, and figuring out what to do when your plans are derailed.

Kate has her life in NYC figured out, and a big part of that includes marriage to her longtime boyfriend Thomas. But when his marriage proposal doesn’t quite happen as she expects, she doesn’t go to Harvard Law like Elle in Legally Blonde (what, like it’s hard?), but she has to move out of their apartment. Licking her wounds, she moves back home to her Jersey Shore town of Sea Point and back in with her parents—but it’s only temporary.

Meanwhile, her best friend Ziggy, who has never left Sea Point, is dealing with his grief following his father’s death and trying to make sense of the financial status of the family plumbing business. He’s asked for the help of his childhood best friend Miles—the so-called “Prince of Sea Point,” who is also returning home in an effort to prove to his mother that he’s worthy of becoming the CEO of their family’s company.

The lives of Kate, Ziggy, and Miles intersect in many ways, and with all three of them in one place for the first time in a long time, there’s bound to be ups and downs. Memories will be held up to the light, old wounds will be reopened, secrets will be revealed, and each of them has to figure out what they really want.

I usually really love books like Rock the Boat, but I never warmed up to this one. While I want Ziggy to be my book boyfriend, I found Kate and Miles fairly irritating for a while. I did love the feelings they had about their hometown—whenever I visit mine I’m hit with a mixture of nostalgia, longing, and dread. But I know others have enjoyed this more, so if it sounds up your alley, give it a try!

I really enjoyed Beck Dorey-Stein’s memoir, From the Corner of the Oval, in which she recounted her years as a stenographer for the Obama administration, so I’d recommend that.

Book Review: "For the Love of Friends" by Sara Goodman Confino

Too many bridesmaids’ gigs can drive a woman mad! At least that's what happens in For the Love of Friends, the debut novel from Sara Goodman Confino.

Lily is 32 and single, much to her mother’s horror. She’s always dreamed of being a writer—so what if she has a boring job at a foundation?

The thing about being single in your early 30s is that everyone around you—family, friends, etc.—is getting married. And while that’s all well and good in theory, Lily suddenly finds herself as a bridesmaid for five weddings in six weeks.

It’s a lot to handle—her friends are turning into demanding monsters, she’s constantly being shamed and criticized and judged, the expense of being a bridesmaid FIVE TIMES is killing her, her friends' friends are ridiculous and unrealistic, and she can’t even figure out what she wants from her own love life. So she does what anyone else would do—she creates an anonymous blog and vents online.

Of course, what’s said anonymously online never stays that way. Can she mend fences, do what’s expected of her, squeeze into those bridesmaids' dresses, and chart a course for her own happiness?

I so enjoyed this!! For the Love of Friends has familiar elements (it may sound a little like the movie 27 Dresses), but Confino weaved them into a story all her own. It’s funny, emotional, sarcastic, insightful, and just downright fun. It was the change of pace I needed after some heavy books and some books that weren’t as good as I’d hoped.

Thanks so much to Kate Rock Book Tours and Lake Union Publishing for inviting me on the tour for this book, and for providing a complimentary advance copy in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Book Review: "The Final Girl Support Group" by Grady Hendrix

The latest book from horror master Grady Hendrix, The Final Girl Support Group, wasn't quite the horror novel I was expecting, and that’s totally okay with me!!

First things first: if you have any trigger, be it graphic violence, murder, sexual assault, mentions of animal cruelty, etc.—this book probably has it, so be aware of that if you choose to read it.

“None of us have to be defined by the worst thing that ever happened to her. Unfortunately, those things have a bad habit of coming back and trying to kill us again. After a while, you start to realize that your life isn’t the thing that happens between the monsters, your life is the monsters.”

They’re the final girls—the ones left standing after the murderer is taken down. For more than a decade a group of them have been meeting secretly to provide each other support. While these meetings have meant a lot through the years, they’ve become a nuisance to some, which dismays Lynnette, for whom the group is the only contact she has with the outside world.

But when one of their own is murdered and related events occur, Lynnette realizes the paranoia she has had for years about someone trying to kill them hasn’t been as crazy as the rest of them thought. It’s up to her to figure out who’s behind this lashing out at the final girls before none are left standing after the second go-round.

Hendrix pays homage to the horror movies of the 80s and 90s with some fun touches (each of the chapter titles is a spoof on a horror movie title). There are also some surprising notes of emotion sprinkled throughout.

The thing is, though, for a book about a support group, there wasn’t a lot of time where the whole group was together, and that would’ve been cool. There also was a lot more telling than showing—I equate that to superhero movies when the villain has an overlong monologue about why they’ve wanted to destroy the world for so long.

I read this with my friend Louis, who was worried it would be too gruesome for me (I’m delicate that way), but in the end I think I liked it more than he did. It was a good read but I wanted more.

Book Review: "The Happiness Thief" by Nicole Bokat

Nicole Bokat's The Happiness Thief is both a twisty mystery and an exploration of how guilt and memory can drag us down.

When Natalie was 13 years old she was in a car crash that killed her mother. She has flashbacks to the last seconds before the crash, and she remembers being told it was somehow her fault.

Even in adulthood, the guilt is a constant companion, causing panic attacks and depression. Her stepsister Isabel is a therapist known as The Happiness Guru, and she offers to try and help Natalie move on, as these feelings have ruined her marriage and could jeopardize her relationship with her teenage daughter.

Tagging along with Isabel to a conference in the Cayman Islands, one night they’re involved in a small car accident. Natalie is convinced they hit something—an animal, a person—yet no traces can be found. She can’t help feeling like she’s responsible for tragedy yet again, and this starts triggering memories of the night her mother died all those years ago.

When she returns home, a series of incidents motivate her to start looking into what really happened the night her mother died, and whether anything really happened in the Cayman Islands. Will she find that her memories are true, that she is responsible for her mother’s death? And if not, who was?

There’s a lot that happens in this book so I’m trying to be vague. It’s both a layered mystery and an interesting, well-written story about trying to find a way past guilt and sadness you’ve carried with you for far too long. There are lots of twists—some surprising and some less so—but it’s a satisfying, emotional, and thought-provoking read.

My thanks to Suzy Approved Book Tours, Nicole Bokat, and She Writes Press for inviting me on the tour for The Happiness Thief and providing a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Book Review: "What's Not to Love" by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka

How blurry the line can be between rivalry and love, demonstrated in What's Not to Love, the latest YA rom-com from Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka!

Alison and Ethan compete for everything. They’ve been in every single class together since freshman year of high school and they’re constantly fighting to get ahead of the other—with regard to grades, extra-curriculars, even community service. But with the likelihood that Harvard will only take one of them, neither can afford to let down their guard.

When they get an assignment from their principal to work on planning an event, with a recommendation to Harvard on the line, they’re both ready to win again. But little by little, Alison starts to realize that while she likes beating Ethan, maybe winning isn’t the most important thing. And maybe Ethan is more to her than just a nuisance or a competitor?

I know, you’re thinking, who could’ve seen this coming? ๐Ÿ˜‚ This was apparently based on Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka’s real-life relationship. It was a cute book, and it reminded me very much of a favorite of mine from last year, Rachel Lynn Solomon’s Today Tonight Tomorrow.

I do love an enemies-to-lovers rom-com, but I have to understand why both characters dislike each other. I felt like Alison was a much more fleshed-out character (and I wouldn’t want to mess with her), and while Ethan was certainly swoon-worthy, I would’ve liked to have seen the book told from both their perspectives.

Still, What's Not to Love was a fun read, and I really have enjoyed Emily and Austin’s other books.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Book Review: "When We Were Young" by Richard Roper

Is there anything quite like an old friend? See what you think after reading Richard Roper's new novel, When We Were Young.

Another late night getting surprisingly emotional over a book…this was another good one!!

Joel and Theo were childhood best friends who dreamed of being comedy writers. They haven’t spoken since one fateful night when they were 16.

Now, Joel is the writer of a hit television series and is still dating his high school girlfriend. Theo, on the other hand, is about to get evicted from his parents’ garden shed, where he’s been living for the last two years. He’s still reeling from a breakup and some career disappointments.

Joel shows up unexpectedly on Theo’s 30th birthday to remind him that they once made a pact to hike all 184 miles of the Thames Pass when they turned 30. Even though the last thing Theo wants us to spend an extended amount of time with his former best friend, Joel extends a carrot that’s too good to resist, and besides, what else is Theo doing?

While they make a promise not to rehash the past, of course, they can’t escape it. But there are things they don’t want to tell one another—things that could have changed the last 14 years and things that could impact the future.

As I’ve said before, I love books about old friendships and coming to terms with the past. When We Were Young snuck up on me and surprised me, and I really cared about these characters. It’s a beautifully written and emotional story, one that I’ll think of the next time I consider reaching out to an old friend.

Book Review: "The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives" by Kristin Miller

What a fun, soapy read Kristin Miller's new mystery, The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives, was!!

When Brooke and her much-older, tech-magnate husband look at a mansion in a prestigious Bay Area neighborhood, they think they’ve found a home where Brooke can write her mystery novels and there won’t be a lot of interference from their neighbors. (Although the HOA rules are rather ridiculous.)

But what they didn’t realize is that one of their neighbors is Georgia, the so-called “Black Widow,” whose first two husbands died mysteriously. Many people think she’s behind their deaths even though the law has found otherwise. But now she claims to have found true love with another wealthy man, and everyone’s wondering whether she’ll strike again.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s best friend Erin, a news anchor and the HOA president, has her own issues. Jealous of Brooke’s youth and freshness, she walks off her newscaster job in a snit, hoping her husband will make her a trophy wife, too. But he’s less than enthused with her stunt, and she starts to wonder whether there’s something he’s hiding from her.

When an incident occurs after Georgia’s engagement party, Brooke starts to realize that her neighbors and friends might be the inspiration she needs to break out of her writing slump. But it’s not long before she finds herself drawn into their web, which gets crazier and crazier by the second.

No one is quite what they seem in this neighborhood…and not knowing whom to trust could be dangerous!

I had such a great time reading The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives. It reminded me of a great nighttime soap opera and I was hooked on the story, which was twisty enough to keep me guessing but not ridiculous. I love reading about the fabulously, dastardly rich. Heck, I’d even love a sequel!

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Book Review: "Sorrow and Bliss" by Meg Mason

This is a book that had been on my TBR for a while. I’d seen a few 5-star reviews from Bookstagram friends, and the general average rating on both Goodreads and Amazon is above 4 stars, so when my friend Lindsay said that she also had this one her list, I suggested a buddy read.

The best part? The discussion with her about the book. Sometimes a book just rubs you the wrong way and if this hadn’t been a buddy read I would have DNF’d this. (While I was reading this I kept hoping Lindsay wasn’t loving it, lol. She was not, BTW.)

As a person with depression, I am always in great support of books that highlight mental illness. But while this book demonstrated the highs and lows that occur, the way mental illness can erode personal relationships, and the way people around you just tell you to get better, I felt like it also made the main character, Martha, seem really unlikeable and unsympathetic. Mental illness doesn't make you a bad person, period.

The book said Martha was diagnosed with “____” rather than anything real, and proceeded to use “___” frequently. I guess I might understand the rationale, but it frustrated me. And then the kicker was this ending note: “The medical symptoms described in the novel are not consistent with a genuine mental illness. The portrayal of treatment, medication, and doctors’ advice is wholly fictional.” Wait, what?

Anyway, you know I don’t often write negative reviews and I have a tremendous amount of respect for anyone who writes. Sometimes books just don’t click for you—obviously lots of people have loved this one. So on to the next!!

Book Review: "Morningside Heights" by Joshua Henkin

Joshua Henkin's newest book, Morningside Heights, is an emotional, well-written look at love, marriage, and family.

Pru has big dreams when she moves to New York from Ohio in the mid-1970s. What an impact she’ll have on the world! But it’s not long after that she finds herself falling in love with Spence Robin, her Shakespeare professor, already a hotshot on the academic literary scene.

After a few years of dating, Spence wants to marry Pru and despite the life she thought she’d live, she wants to marry him, too. He throws her for a loop when he reveals he was married before and has a young son he rarely sees, but after realizing she’d be lost without him, she agrees to marry him.

They have a good life and raise a daughter, Sarah. But as Spence approaches his 50s, he just doesn’t seem the same anymore. He can’t seem to write, his teaching ability has declined, his personality has changed, and he’s forgetting things. He is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Morningside Heights follows Spence’s family as they deal with the diagnosis and the course of their lives change. Pru is devoted to caring for her husband but what does that mean for the rest of her life? Will there ever be another chance for her happiness? What hope can Arlo, Spence’s estranged son, who is now a wealthy tech entrepreneur, bring?

This is an emotional story but not an entirely sad book. It’s a love story, a story of relationships—marital and parental—and a story about hope. I’ve always been a fan of Henkin’s writing and his stories are always full of complex characters and emotions.

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

Book Review: "Love Scenes" by Bridget Morrissey

When love blossoms on a film set, is it for real or just for the cameras? Bridget Morrissey's fun, new rom-com Love Scenes tries to find out.

Even though she comes from a famed Hollywood family, Sloane’s experience on one movie almost made her quit her acting career. Her love interest, hunky Irish actor Joseph Donovan, was utterly unprofessional and horrible to work with, but because he was the bigger star, he convinced everyone the problems were Sloane’s.

Now, with her successful stint on a series over, her family gives her a made-up producing job on their WWII-era movie. Her sister is directing, her stepfather wrote it, her mother is the executive producer and a supporting player, even her brother composed the score. How did they neglect to mention that the male lead is being played by none other than Joseph Donovan?

When Sloane sees Joseph, he promises he’s changed. And when she gets roped into helping him rehearse his lines, she starts to see that he may be telling the truth. Little by little they let their guard down with one another and grow closer. So when the lead actress gets fired, it seems only natural that Sloane step into the part, one her family wanted her to take originally anyway.

As expected, Sloane and Joseph’s chemistry onscreen is intense, mirroring their relationship offscreen. Sloane is determined that they keep this a secret from her family. But how much of what they feel is real and how much of it is acting?

When you grow up in a dysfunctional Hollywood family with every relationship overanalyzed, and you’ve had a bad track record of relationships, it’s hard to let yourself go. How do you know when you might be missing out on the real thing?

I love the movies and behind-the-scenes stuff, and of course, I love rom-coms, so I really enjoyed Love Scenes. As you might expect, the characters aren’t always the most sympathetic but they’re fascinating and you find yourself rooting for them—and the movie!

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Book Review: "Up All Night" edited by Laura Silverman

Up All Night, the YA short story collection edited by Laura Silverman, contains stories that take place between sunrise and sunset. (Literally, not metaphorically.)

I recently read a collection of YA short stories called Blackout, which took place during a blackout, so when I saw Bookstagram friends reading one called Up All Night, how could I resist?

The 13 stories in this collection all take place between late afternoon/early evening and sunrise. They’re a mixed bag—some are love stories, some are about friendship, and there are even a few creepy stories.

There are a lot of YA authors whose work I enjoy in this collection—Julian Winters, Nina LaCour, Tiffany D. Jackson, Karen M. McManus—and some I’ve either never read before or I’m not familiar with. I loved the diversity in these stories—racial, gender, sexual, even characters with disabilities—but I never felt like those stories threw that in for effect.

As with any short story collection, there are some stories that were stronger or resonated more with me. My favorites included “Under Our Masks” by Julian Winters, about a young superhero whose crush is the same person determined to reveal his identity; “Con Nights, Parallel Hearts” by Marieke Nijkamp, which reflected on a young woman’s desire to share her darkest secret with her best friend; “Old Rifts and Snowdrifts” by Kayla Whaley, about getting stranded during a snowstorm with your former best friend; and “Never Have I Ever” by Karen M. McManus, in which an innocent drinking game turns into something else.

I continue to be amazed by the depth of talent among YA writers. There’s a reason why it’s among my favorite genres to read. We can debate the effectiveness of short stories for each of us—I’m clearly a fan—but it’s great to see so many writers sharing stories which might eventually become full-length works. (And even if they don't, they're still fun to read.)

Book Review: "For Your Own Good" by Samantha Downing

What a crazy, twisty, addictive thriller Samantha Downing's newest book, For Your Own Good, was!!

I love it when a book I’ve been highly anticipating by an author I love lives up to every expectation and then some. Downing has done it yet again!!

The Belmont Academy is a highly prestigious private school. Parents expect their children will ultimately get accepted to an Ivy League school. Sure, they’re demanding of their children and the teachers, but that’s what it takes to get results, right?

Teddy Crutcher was (finally, as far as he's concerned) named Teacher of the Year at Belmont and couldn’t be more proud of this recognition. He’s a stickler for his students following the rules and doing good work, and won’t tolerate any deviation—he doesn’t care if the students are privileged and their parents ask him to be lenient. He may make some enemies but it’s in his students’ best interest.

When a series of deaths start occurring at Belmont, the campus is rocked, but it doesn’t really affect Teddy. He just wants to see that the right person gets punished, no matter who that is.

I have nothing more to say because the beauty of Downing’s tightly wound plot is best seen as you let it unfold, little by little. You think it’s all straightforward and it’s really not—that’s what I love about the way she writes. It kept me guessing, wondering just what would come next.

Many of you know I have an uneasy relationship with thrillers because I really need them to surprise and wow me. For Your Own Good did that and more. I love Downing’s books My Lovely Wife and He Started It) and I can’t wait for the next one!!

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

Friday, July 16, 2021

Book Review: "All Together Now" by Matthew Norman

There’s nothing like your childhood friends, so Matthew Norman proves in his newest book, All Together Now.

They were the Baltimore Prep Rejects, four best friends—Robbie, Blair, Cat, and Wade—who met in high school. But even though they all kept in touch, their lives have gotten in the way and it’s been six years since they’ve all seen each other at once.

Now in their mid-thirties, each has their own set of challenges, in marriage, career, relationships. Robbie, who is a billionaire, is dying, so he brings his friends together for one last weekend on Fenwick Island in Delaware, a place that holds so many memories for them.

When they arrive and start to learn about Robbie's condition, plus all he has done and planned for the weekend, they are devastated by his news and shocked by the depth of his plans. But it’s not too long before Robbie reveals one last component—plans to help change the course of each of their lives and move them down the path he thinks they want to go.

It’s a weekend of nostalgia, laughs, and tears, but it’s also a weekend where secrets will be revealed, lies will be uncovered, and decisions will be made. They’ll discover that there’s nothing wrong with struggling, as long as you can find the strength to move on and embrace what’s ahead.

Many of you know that I’m a gigantic sap. All Together Now isn’t a maudlin book despite the subject matter but I started tearing up early on, lol. I love books about old friends coming together after a while and discovering truths about themselves and others.

I’m a big fan of Norman's writing and his newest book definitely didn’t disappoint. It’s funny and heartwarming and hopeful and, yes, a little sad, and it kept me flipping the pages well into the night.

Book Review: "The Damage" by Caitlin Wahrer

Caitlin Wahrer's debut novel, The Damage, is a powerful, emotional look at how far we will go to protect those we love.⁣

⁣ Nick, a college student, enjoys a night at a bar with a close friend. After some drinking and dancing, he’s approached by a handsome older man. They flirt, talk, and ultimately decide to go to the man’s motel room. The next thing he knows, Nick wakes up bruised and bloody—and he has been raped.⁣

⁣ As Nick helps the police try to identify his rapist, he must confront a jumble of intense emotions. Meanwhile, his older brother Tony, who had always been a surrogate father to Nick, feels powerless in the face of Nick’s pain and wants to solve his problems and protect him.⁣

⁣ When Nick’s rapist is identified and he publicly contradicts Nick's story, shifting the blame to him and raising ideas about Nick's proclivities, Tony’s wife Julia, a former defense attorney, worries that Nick may be harmed by the scrutiny of a trial. She becomes increasingly worried Tony might take matters into his own hands to try and fight his brother's battles.⁣

⁣ This is a story that packs a punch on so many levels. It’s narrated by Nick, Tony, Julia, and the detective mounting the case. There is so much rich character development in this book it’s so hard to believe it’s a debut novel.⁣

⁣ I’ll admit I hesitated to read The Damage because as a survivor I worried this would be too painful of an experience for me. But I commend Caitlin Wahrer for doing right by survivors of sexual assault and presenting their struggles and challenges in an accurate, not overly dramatic way. ⁣

⁣ NetGalley, Penguin Random House Canada, and Doubleday Canada provided me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available! Really a great and thought-provoking read. ⁣

Book Review: "Lady Sunshine" by Amy Mason Doan

Lady Sunshine, Amy Mason Doan's newest novel, is a beautifully written, nostalgic story of friendship and family secrets.

The summer Jackie was 17, in 1979, she went to live with her musician uncle at The Sandcastle, his sprawling, campground-like, coastal estate in California. Friends, acolytes, and fellow musicians would flock there and live a bohemian lifestyle in the cabins and on the grounds, bringing and finding merriment, love, and musical inspiration.

Jackie took all of this in earnestly, marveling at the coastal beauty of the estate and the love and intensity her uncle radiates. She becomes fast friends with her free-spirited cousin Willa, and each shares their unique life experiences with the other. It’s an idyllic summer until one fateful moment ends it all, and Jackie leaves abruptly as Willa vanishes.

Twenty years later she gets the surprise of her life when she learns she has inherited The Sandcastle, despite not having set foot there since 1979. As she plans to get the compound ready to be sold, the process of packing reawakens memories and reopens questions about the past.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Jackie, her estranged aunt had agreed before her death to let a music producer create a tribute album to her uncle and produce it at The Sandcastle. While she is first reluctant to share the space, his presence, and that of his musicians and their families, rekindles the spirit of those days of Jackie’s youth.

How reliable are our memories? How indelible are the friendships and relationships we form as teenagers? How much can the trajectory of our lives change in an instant? Lady Sunshine addresses these questions in a story that feels nostalgic and yet timeless in many ways.

I’m not one of those people who reads books based on seasons but this really was a great summer read. Amy Mason Doan's imagery is particularly evocative and gorgeous, and this is definitely a book I’d love to see on the big or small screen someday.

Book Review: "Flash Fire" by T.J. Klune

Sure, T.J. Klune's Flash Fire is a gay superhero novel but it’s so much more, too!⁣

⁣ It’s funny, two years ago I hadn’t heard of Klune at all, but having just read and loved his fourth book, he’s become one of my favorite authors. And even though his books may be considered “fantasy,” they have contained some of the realest, most powerful, memorable emotions I’ve seen.⁣

Flash Fire is the sequel to last year’s The Extraordinaries. You really need to read the first book so I won’t spoil anything, but the book is about Nick, a teenager with ADHD, who has a bit of an obsession with the superheroes who protect (and sometimes traumatize) his town. He imagines what it would be like to be an Extraordinary.⁣

⁣ But while the book does focus a bit on the Extraordinaries (and one particular one quite often), at its heart this book is about relationships. Nick and Seth are adorable; their best friends, Gibby and Jazz, are seriously kick-ass (and an adorable couple as well); and his relationship with his dad provides some of the book’s most tender and most hysterical moments. (Imagine watching porn on your phone only to discover it’s on Bluetooth—in your dad’s car.)

⁣ ⁣ The book is also an important look at the relationship between police and the society they are supposed to be protecting. It touches on racial inequity and the way police officers often get a pass on their brutality and mistreatment, particularly toward and of racial minorities.⁣

⁣ Maybe you’re thinking you don’t like superheroes, so these books might not be for you, and maybe they’re not. But if they intrigue you in the slightest, give them a try. Klune’s books tend to leave me in tears—sometimes from laughter, sometimes from the profound emotions he provokes—and to me, that’s some of the best stuff to find in books.⁣

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

Book Review: "Rise to the Sun" by Leah Johnson

Leah Johnson's newest YA novel, Rise to the Sun, is a poignant yet hopeful look at finding and healing yourself, as well as friendship, love, and music’s power.

Olivia needs an escape. Junior year of high school ended disastrously with her involved in a scandal, and a major decision awaits her. So she convinces her best friend Imani to accompany her to a three-day music festival. Imani agrees but makes Olivia swear that the weekend will be just about them—that Olivia won’t fall in love and then fall apart, needing to be rescued as always.

Toni has been coming to the festival since she was little, always accompanying her musician father. But since his death she’s been adrift, trying to figure out what’s next for her. Her mother wants her to pursue a more stable path, but is that what’s best for her? Or is music what will give her life, well, life?

When Olivia and Toni meet cute, Toni immediately throws up walls around her but Olivia immediately feels a connection. Can a relationship sustain given the flux in both of their lives—and if so, is it the right thing to do?

“What if one person can only lose so much before they fall apart completely?” I ask.

“I don’t know, man,” he says. “But I’ve gotta believe the people I have left will love me enough to try and put me back together again.”

Insta-love doesn’t always work for me but these characters both needed someone to truly believe in them. All four of the main characters definitely have their quirks.

Rise to the Sun is an emotional story and there are some heavy issues, but it’s ultimately hopeful. If you've not already read Johnson's first book, You Should See Me in a Crown, definitely pick that up!

Book Review: "The Queer Bible" edited by Jack Guinness

The Queer Bible is such a terrific and inspiring concept!!

While this would have been perfect for Pride Month, I was still excited to get this book. It’s a collection of essays written by queer people about the queer people and cultural phenomena that inspired them, and each essay is illustrated by a queer or ally artist.

“The moment young people realize that they’re LGBTQIA they can instantly feel cut off from those around them. They feel separated from the very people they should feel closest to—their friends and families....This is the book I wish I’d read when I was growing up,” remarked Jack Guinness, the book’s editor, in his foreword.

This is such an enjoyable, rich resource. The essays are written about celebrities, actors, musicians, authors, and changemakers, as well as movies and television programs. I’ve heard of some but not all, and the authors of these essays are both familiar—Elton John and Gus Kenworthy, to name two—and people I had the chance to learn about as well.

I really found The Queer Bible fascinating. I mean, where can you read a book that talks about Adam Rippon, George Michael, James Baldwin, Pedro Almodรณvar, Harvey Fierstein, Susan Sontag, Queer Eye, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert? This is definitely one of those books where you can open it at any page and find something really interesting to read about. And you'll never find yourself bored, because you'll just keep discovering something new.

Thanks to Dey Street Books and William Morrow Books for the complimentary copy in exchange for an unbiased review! This would make a really great gift.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Book Review: "While We Were Dating" by Jasmine Guillory

Jasmine Guillory's newest book, While We Were Dating, is a fun yet weighty rom-com and another installment in this great world Guillory has built.⁣

⁣ Ben (whose brother Theo was a main character in The Wedding Party) is an ambitious ad executive. When he gets to present his firm’s idea for a major ad campaign featuring famous actress Anna Gardiner, he’s excited to get his break, especially when Anna shows up at the pitch meeting. (And it doesn’t hurt that Anna is beautiful, too.)⁣

⁣ After one Oscar nomination, Anna is ready for the next step in her career. She’s hoping this ad campaign helps put her in the public eye at the right time. She’s impressed with Ben—he’s smart, kind, funny, and sexy as hell—and it’s great to have a Black man in charge. The two build up a flirtatious relationship but both know moving beyond that would be disastrous.⁣

⁣ When an emergency occurs in Anna’s family, Ben comes to her rescue, and the two start to let their guard down with one another. Both reveal secrets about themselves, and that vulnerability leads to passion and intimacy, even though they know it must be fleeting.⁣

⁣ But when it’s suggested that a relationship (even a fake one) might help keep Anna in the public eye at the time she’s being considered for her dream role, Ben agrees to play along. Making it look like he has feelings for her is easy. Keeping it casual? Not so much.⁣

⁣ Of course, this is a rom-com, so you know where things are headed. But along the way we get some frank discussions about anxiety and mental health, family loyalty, and the pressures of fame. As always, Guillory’s writing is so charming, accessible and appealing, and she gives you characters to root for. (Plus, I love the interconnectedness of her books.)⁣

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

While We Were Dating publishes 7/13.⁣

Book Review: "The People We Keep" by Allison Larkin

Allison Larkin's upcoming novel, The People We Keep, is a beautiful, emotional, hopeful look at the impact people have on our lives even for a short time, and the impact we can have on theirs.

I’ve learned that when my friend Lindsay raves about a book on my TBR, I need to drop everything and read it. That certainly was the case with this book, which broke me and put me back together, left me with smiles and with tears.

“I say that it’s amazing how much you can miss people you only got to be with for one tiny little perfect bit of time; how a place where you barely got to live can be the closest thing you’ve ever had to home.”

April is 16 years old and living alone in a dilapidated motor home in upstate New York, since her father moved in with a woman and her young son. She finds joy in playing the guitar, singing, and writing songs, and when she sneaks into a club to perform one night, she is hooked.

After a bad fight with her father, she leaves town, taking his car and driving with no destination in mind. She winds up in Ithaca, lonely and desperate to find a connection, when she stumbles upon a cafe. It is there she makes friends who change her, but she never fully allows herself to enjoy what her life has transformed into, so she leaves before they can hurt her.

The book follows April’s journey over three years, traveling the East Coast, making connections but always leaving just before they stick, in an effort to protect herself (so she thinks) and those around her. But a few major events show her just what an impact she’s had on people, and makes her realize she needs to trust in those who care about her.

Although it started a little slowly, The People We Keep hooked me completely and wouldn’t let me go until I finished. It’s a powerful and poignant book that made me think of those who have drifted in and out of my life through the years, and what an impact they’ve left. I really loved this.

The People We Keep publishes 8/3!

Book Review: "We Can't Keep Meeting Like This" by Rachel Lynn Solomon

The newest YA rom-com by Rachel Lynn Solomon, We Can't Keep Meeting Like This is a funny, sweet, and emotional look at love, friendship, family, romance, and trying to find your way.

Quinn can’t escape weddings—her family runs a successful wedding planning business and her parents have already planned her future, which includes her course of study in college and eventually joining the company full-time. How does Quinn tell them this isn’t what she wants without destroying her family? And how does she figure out what she does want?

If there’s been a plus side to being part of the family business all these years, it’s been working alongside Tarek, whose family runs the catering company they partner with. She and Tarek have been friends for years, they’ve even flirted a bit, but just before Tarek went to college Quinn sent him an email letting him know that she actually liked him—and he never responded.

Now Tarek is back for the summer and looks cuter than ever. And as angry and hurt as she was by him, Quinn can’t stop the resurgence of her feelings. He is a romantic, a fan of the grand gesture, and she hates all of that, believing love is ultimately doomed to fail. But as they grow closer and learn just how vulnerable the other is, Quinn needs to make sense of all of it—her feelings, her future plans, and her fears.

I really enjoyed We Can't Keep Meeting Like This, as I have some of Solomon's other books, including Today Tonight Tomorrow and The Ex-Talk. I love the Jewish representation she always includes and I loved the conversations around mental health, which are so important. It’s funny and emotional and these characters are really complex—sometimes Quinn is annoying, but that’s just like life!

I’m a huge fan of Solomon’s writing and can’t wait to see what’s next for her!

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Book Review: "Is There Still Room in Your Life for Me?" by Will Manwill

If you like romantic, poignant stories of second-chance love and finding the courage to move on, you'll want to check out Will Manwill's Is There Still Room in Your Life for Me?

Jake Ruiz is a chef and restaurateur whose restaurants are struggling because of the economic hardship so many have faced. But that’s not his only problem—his husband died and left him with their five-year-old son, and he’s afraid to go anywhere other than in case something should happen to him, thus orphaning his son. And don’t even think about dating again; his first date left him in tears.

When a family emergency summons him back to Newport, his small Washington hometown, he’s not looking forward to seeing his parents, who disapprove of his being gay and have almost no part in his life. And even though he continues fighting with his angry, highly religious mother to the point he’s ready to leave, he finds that his parents’ restaurant is in desperate need of help as well.

He’s also not prepared to come face to face with Colton Humphrey, his childhood best friend and first serious crush. Jake was in love with Colt through high school, but their relationship hasn’t been the same since one Halloween night during college, when things were said and done.

Being home in Newport for a while reignites Jake’s feelings for Colt. Could this be the chance to finally have what he dreamed of when he was younger? But can he stay in a place where his mother is so constantly cruel and manipulative?

I love friends to lovers stories as well as stories of second-chance love, so Is There Still Room in Your Life for Me? was an enjoyable, sometimes emotional story. It’s told from both Jake and Colt’s perspectives so you see certain incidents through both of their eyes. They’re just great characters and you can’t help but root for them.

This is also an all-too-familiar story of the rejection so many LGBTQIA+ people have to deal with at the hands of family and others, and the importance of chosen family. Like many rom-coms, you know what will happen but I know I loved going on the ride anyway!

Thanks to Pride Book Tours and Will Manwill for inviting me on the tour for this book and providing a complimentary copy in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Book Review: "Ruby Falls" by Deborah Goodrich Royce

Deborah Goodrich Royce's second novel, Ruby Falls, is a twisty, slightly creepy mystery with a gothic feel which really kept me guessing.

In 1968 when she was 6-1/2 years old, Ruby’s father abandoned her in a dark cave, a tourist attraction they were visiting. No one was sure how her father could have gotten away from her, so many thought he drowned in the cavern below.

Years later, in 1987, Ruby, now known as Eleanor, becomes a successful soap opera actress. When her run on the show ends unexpectedly, she flees to Europe, where she meets a mysterious, handsome man named Orlando, and they get married after only a few weeks of knowing each other.

Eleanor and Orlando return to Los Angeles to begin a new life. They buy a picture-perfect little house and Eleanor is ready to continue her acting career. She’s excited to land the starring role in a loose remake of Rebecca.

But as filming begins, she starts to have flashbacks from that day in the cave years ago. At the same time, her husband starts acting strangely, sometimes even meanly toward her. What secrets is he hiding? Is she in danger? What happened to her father that day years ago?

Goodrich Royce definitely kept me guessing for the entire book. I didn’t know what was memory and what was really happening, whom to trust or fear. Ruby Falls was a creepy, entertaining read, and I love the way she writes. (As an aside, since I’m a huge 80s movies fan, reading books by someone who acted in one of my absolute favorite 80s movies—Just One of the Guys—is super cool.)

Thanks to Suzy Approved Book Tours and Post Hill Press for inviting me on the tour for this book, and for giving me a complimentary copy in exchange for an unbiased review!

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Book Review: "Razorblade Tears" by S.A. Cosby

S.A. Cosby's new thriller, Razorblade Tears, is a fantastically gripping story of revenge, regret, and transformation.

What is it that makes one author get an enormous amount of hype while another more talented one doesn't get the same recognition? Cosby has written two absolutely electrifying books—Blacktop Wasteland and now this—and if there was any justice, he would be a household name. Maybe this book will do the trick.

“Folks like to talk about revenge like it’s a righteous thing but it’s just hate in a nicer suit.”

Ike is devastated when he learns his son Isiah was murdered along with his white husband, Derek. Ike spent years in prison during his son’s youth, but his inability to accept Isiah’s sexuality and subsequent marriage was his biggest failing and caused the biggest strain in their relationship.

Buddy Lee, Derek’s father, is also an ex-con, and also fought with his son about being gay. Descending from a long line of racist miscreants, Derek was not only gay but married a Black man—double the sin, as it were, in his father's eyes.

But with the police unable to make any headway in their sons’ murders (or do they just not care?), Ike and Buddy Lee reluctantly team up to do some digging. They both know they may cross a line from which they can’t return, but both feel they owe it to their sons to find the person responsible. Along the way, they have to come to terms with their own prejudices and decide whether avenging their sons’ deaths is worth a return to violence.

Powerful, sad, gritty, and utterly searing, Razorblade Tears is easily one of the best books I’ve read all year and it was one of my most anticipated. It’s very violent, so that may be a trigger for some, but it is truly a fantastic book.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Book Review: "Blackout" by Dhonielle Clayton et al.

In Blackout, even love stories can glow when the lights go out.

I love this concept! Six best-selling Black YA authors—Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon—got together and wrote a collection of interconnected stories that all take place when a blackout hits NYC during a heatwave.

Each story focuses on a relationship—a reunion of exes, meeting and being intrigued by someone new, revealing a longtime crush on your best friend, even showing your true self to someone for the first time. Characters in one story are connected to those in another, sometimes significantly and sometimes in passing.

For many authors who usually write heavy, emotional stories, this is an opportunity to share stories of Black joy and Black teen love, and the results are fun, sweet, moving, and hopeful. Jackson’s story, “The Long Walk,” is divided into five parts, and is scattered throughout the book.

I enjoyed all of the stories but my favorites were “Mask Off” by Nic Stone, in which a young man encounters a classmate on a subway train during the blackout and it forces him to come to terms with who he really is; “Made to Fit” by Ashley Woodfolk, about a young woman brooding over an unrequited crush on her best friend when she meets someone new at her grandfather’s senior home; and Nicola Yoon’s “Seymour and Grace,” which recounts the discovery a young woman makes after an intriguing ride share.

You know I love short stories, YA books, and rom-coms, so Blackout was a fun read. Having experienced the NYC blackout of 2003, this brought back some memories!!

Book Review: "Have We Met?" by Camille Baker

Can a dating app really find your soulmate? That's the question at the core of Camille Baker's debut rom-com, Have We Met?

Do you believe there’s one person out there for everyone? Corinne doesn’t have time or energy to think about that—she’s just moved back to Chicago after the death of her best friend; she needs to find a job and figure out her life.

But when a dating app called Met mysteriously appears on her phone and tells her she’ll reconnect with four people from her past and one of them will turn out to be her soulmate, after some healthy eye-rolling she realizes she can’t resist the opportunity. And when she meets two people she hasn’t seen in some time, she thinks the app might be speaking the truth.

As Corinne tries to navigate her demanding mother, come to terms with her grief over the loss of her friend, and find the perfect job (if she can figure out what that is), she’s also been spending time with a guy she met outside the app. But if he’s not her soulmate, should she bother?

I thought Have We Met? was a cute, quirky, creative rom-com. I liked the chemistry between Corinne and her love interest. But what I liked best was the diversity of the characters—there were characters of different races and ethnicities, and a character with a disability, as well as lesbian, bisexual, and non-binary characters. And it never felt like this diversity was there for diversity’s sake.

Of course, the whole app thing seemed a little contrived to me and it never quite was explained exactly how it even wound up on her phone, but I didn’t dwell on the small details! This was a fun story that also touched on the challenges of moving on when you’re grieving.

Thanks so much to Amazon Publishing and Blankenship Public Relations for providing me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!

Book Review: "Survive the Night" by Riley Sager

In thriller author Riley Sager's latest book, Survive the Night, a troubled young woman thinks she may be stuck in a car with a killer, but her mind might be playing tricks on her.

Charlie is obsessed with movies. I mean, she's even named for a character in Shadow of a Doubt. In her tragedy-filled life, they’re the only thing that have given her comfort. Until she met Maddy, her brash, confident roommate, who tried to drag her out of her self-imposed loneliness. And sometimes she succeeded.

But when Maddy is murdered by a serial killer who has been preying on young women near their college campus, Charlie falls apart, her grief and guilt taking her down. She needs to leave college and go home to Ohio, to try to pull herself back together, if such a thing is possible.

She meets Josh at the campus ride board. He's handsome, wearing a college sweatshirt, and he’s looking for someone to drive with him to Ohio, since he needs to care for his sick father. Even though driving in a car for 9 hours with a man she doesn’t know, especially in the wake of a serial killer on campus, may not be the wisest choice, Charlie agrees to ride home with him.

It’s not long into the ride that Charlie starts wondering if Josh really is who he says he is. As she starts catching him in little lies, she knows he’s hiding something—but what? Could it be possible that Josh is the Campus Killer? And if so, what should she do—try to escape or stay and fight?

The entire book takes place over the course of one night in November 1991. Sager certainly captures the mood of that time well and creates a sense of tension throughout the book.

That being said, I thought it took a really long time for Survive the Night to get going, although when it did, it took off quickly. And while there are lots of twists, I cynically predicted whom the killer would be early on, and I really hate being right. (In thrillers, lol.)

Lots of people are loving this and if you’re one of them, I’m glad! Thrillers and me, we just don’t mesh all the time.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Book Review: "Home Sweet Mess" by Allison Ashley

You know I love my fun, steamy, emotional rom-coms, and Allison Ashley's newest book, Home Sweet Mess is a good addition to the list!!

When Logan and Jeni first meet, he’s immediately smitten; she takes a fairly instant dislike to him because she believes him to be a womanizer. But with Logan being her brother’s best friend, it appears she won’t be able to escape seeing him.

When Andrew, Jeni’s twin brother, is diagnosed with cancer, he needs the support of both of them. Little by little, Logan and Jeni grow closer, but she’s not interested in a relationship since her marriage failed. But Logan wants more than friends with benefits; he wants it all, and he wants it with Jeni. Can he convince her to try again?

I loved the banter between these characters and their great chemistry. The smack talk about each other’s football teams totally cracked me up, but there was also tenderness and humor between them, too. Rom-coms that combine chemistry with emotion are always my favorite.

Sure, at times I wanted to shake Jeni and make her realize that Logan wasn’t her ex, but I want to shake lots of people, real and fictional. (It's funny because it's true.)

Home Sweet Mess is Ashley’s second book featuring some of the same characters; I’ll definitely want to go back and read her first book, Perfect Distraction.

Thanks to Kate Rock Book Tours and Allison Ashley for allowing me to be part of the tour, and providing a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!