Thursday, September 30, 2021

Book Review: "Epic" by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Epic is another installment in Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy's always-hot, always-romantic relationship of Wes and Jamie!

I’m definitely adding this hockey duo to my list of favorite couples, because they are just so amazing! In Him, Us, and now this novella, you get to share in their moments of happiness, as well as experience the crises, the challenges, and the romance that comes with being a same-sex couple, of which one half is a professional athlete.

In this story, which takes place after at least Book 1 of Bowen and Kennedy’s new series featuring Jamie’s sister and Wes’ teammate, Jamie and Wes are enjoying life together—Wes as a hockey player in the NHL, Jamie as an assistant hockey coach for kids. Both love their jobs, and then complications ensue when a new opportunity (a bunch of them, actually) comes Jamie’s way.

What would taking the opportunity do to their relationship? What sacrifices would they have to make? My only criticism of this is that it was too short. I need more of Wesmie!!

If you’re a romance fan, this is a series to enjoy. I know I’ll be picking up the related series soon!

Book Review: "10 Truths and a Dare" by Ashley Elston

Fans of cute YA rom-coms, here’s one for your TBR: Ashley Elston's latest, 10 Truths and a Dare!

Olivia has always been the one person in her family who knows what she wants. She’s going to be the salutatorian of her graduating class, she knows what she’s going to study at LSU, and she has her whole future mapped out.

Needless to say, she’s more than a little bit thrown when she discovers that she didn’t get credit for the off-campus PE class she took (to cram more classes in), and if she doesn’t get it fixed in a few days, she won’t graduate. And with her parents out of town, she needs to keep this a secret until she solves the problem. Should be easy, right?

That’s when the s—t hits the fan. The coach of the class requires that Olivia help out at a golf tournament in order to get the credit she needs. But that means missing all of the graduation parties—at least one a day—that she’s been looking forward to. And with her mother monitoring her every move via an app—and texting constantly—how can she be two places at once?

That’s where her best friends and cousins, Sophia, Charlie, and Wes come in. They’re willing to help, but things get more and more complicated. And when she keeps bumping into a cute guy who could blow her secret, she has to decide what’s more important—love or the appearance of having your s—t together.

Ashley Elston’s last book, 10 Blind Dates, was absolutely adorable (and featured many of the same characters), and while I didn’t love 10 Truths and a Dare as much as its predecessor, it’s still super cute. And darned if I didn’t get emotional at the end!

Book Review: "Heartbreak Bay" by Rachel Caine

Heartbreak Bay was a tremendously satisfying conclusion to an excellent series, even though I’m sad why it had to end.

I’ve loved Rachel Caine’s Stillhouse Lake series. The five books feature a great combination of heart-pounding action and suspense along with thought-provoking emotion. I was so sad to learn that Caine lost her battle with a rare form of cancer late last year. (Her author’s note at the end of this book is particularly poignant.)

You could read the series out of order but it’s best to start with Book 1, Stillhouse Lake. The series is about Gwen Proctor (formerly Gina Royal), a woman who inadvertently discovers her husband is a serial killer. She tries to escape him and his lethal reach so she can save their two children, only to face an immense amount of hatred from his “fans,” those who blame her for his getting caught and/or who think she’s guilty, too.

In this book, Gwen agrees to help her friend Kezia, a Tennessee police detective, investigate a particularly dark case. They don’t realize what a web they’ve stepped into with this one. And at the same time, new stalkers have targeted Gwen and her family, threatening the life they’ve settled into, not to mention their safety. They’ll face a challenge unlike any they’ve ever known.

I’ve really grown fond of these characters and I’ll be sad not to have any more books in this series. It’s a really interesting concept—what would you do if you discovered the person you loved was a serial killer?

If you like thrillers, I’d definitely encourage you to read these books!

Book Review: "Spin Me Right Round" by David Valdes

A gay, YA twist on Back to the Future? Yes, please, give me David Valdes' Spin Me Right Round! (Oh, and you'll probably find yourself singing the song, either the original 80s version or Flo Rida's.)

Luis’ high school is supposed to be “progressive,” but students aren’t encouraged to be out, so the thing Luis wants more than anything, to take his boyfriend to prom, isn’t allowed. And while his mother is fully supportive of his being gay, she worries about him making a big issue of this at school because when she was a student there, Chaz, a gay classmate, was found dead on the night of the prom.

As the student-body president and a favorite of many of the faculty, Luis thinks he might be able to find a way to trick the school into allowing same-sex couples to go to prom. But his hopes are quickly dashed, and he's not sure how to handle his disappointment and anger, or his mother's resistance to his speaking up.

When a bump on the head sends him back to 1985, he finds himself in his very same high school—and his parents are students. Luis is determined to let Chaz know it’s ok to be who he is, and hopefully save his life in the process. But a super-conservative school isn’t the best place to stand out, and if he changes the course of the past, how will it affect the future?

I loved Spin Me Right Round so much! It was fun and silly and sweet and thought-provoking and a reminder of how far things have come but also a reminder of how far they still have to go.

Thanks to Storygram Tours and Bloomsbury YA for inviting me on the tour and providing a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!

The book publishes 12/7.

Book Review: "The Baseball Widow" by Suzanne Kamata

Suzanne Kamata's The Baseball Widow is a well-written exploration of family, belonging, connection, and, of course, baseball.

Christine has longed for connection, for purpose, to belong. When she meets Hideki, a teacher, she thinks their relationship will sustain her, but it isn’t until after she goes abroad to help Cambodian refugees that he realizes how much he needs her.

Once she returns to Japan, they get married and Christine gives birth to two children, including a young daughter with multiple disabilities. She needs her husband more than ever. But Hideki serves as a coach for his high school’s baseball team, a responsibility he takes very seriously, so he spends more time with his team than he does his family.

When Christine and Hideki’s son is bullied in school, a neglected and overwhelmed Christine takes the children home to the United States, thinking they might be safer there. But while she might have more help at home, she also has more temptation—in the form of Andrew, a friend from high school whose service in Fallujah left him emotionally and physically scarred.

Will Hideki realize that he may lose his family before it’s too late? Will Christine realize what’s most important to her? What sacrifices will both need to make?

This was a beautiful, thought-provoking book about being caught between two cultures. Thanks to Suzy Approved Book Tours, Suzanne Kamata, and Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing for inviting me on the tour and providing a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

The Baseball Widow publishes 10/5.

Book Review: "Hello (from here)" by Chandler Baker and Wesley King

In this collaboration between YA authors Chandler Baker and Wesley King, two teens develop a connection as the world goes into COVID lockdown.

Jonah and Max have a fairly unique meet-cute: he tries to negotiate with her to get some toilet paper out of her shopping cart (she shops for people), since the grocery store is mobbed. And while she gets the upper hand in their negotiations, both are intrigued by the other, so Jonah does the (logical? stalkerish?) thing and tracks her down.

What ensues is a budding relationship of sorts, conducted mostly over FaceTime, and via calls and texts, along with some clandestine (and masked) meetings along the way. Both have been hurt before and both have their own issues—Jonah suffers from anxiety and is dealing with unresolved grief over his mother’s death, while Max worries about her workaholic mother and their financial status as everything shuts down for COVID.

When I read 56 Days earlier this month I wasn’t affected by its being set during COVID, but reading Hello (from here) definitely was a little soon for me. It very accurately depicted the anxieties of the early days of the pandemic, where no one knew how it could spread and there was so much worry about infecting those you loved with weaker immune systems.

Beyond that, though, I just didn’t love these characters. Their banter was cute but their behaviors at times (particularly Jonah’s) weren’t very redeeming. I enjoyed a subplot about one of Max’s customers and would’ve liked more of that.

I guess I’m not really ready to read a book set fully in the COVID pandemic!! Are you?

Book Review: "Meet Me in Paradise" by Libby Hubscher

Whoa, this one threw me for a loop!!

Look at the cover of Libby Hubscher's Meet Me in Paradise. Doesn’t it look like a fun rom-com set in a beautiful location? Well don’t be fooled—there is some rom, and some com, but this book is gonna tear you apart emotionally!!

Marin has always been the safe one. Since her journalist mother died while on assignment she’s always taken care of her younger sister Sadie, and she’s never left her home state of Tennessee. She has a good, solid job, and she’s always right there waiting when Sadie, a photojournalist, comes home from a globetrotting trip.

Sadie reluctantly convinces Marin to take a sisters’ trip to the small Caribbean island of Saba. As much as Marin doesn't want to travel, she thinks it's the perfect opportunity to convince Sadie to settle down and join her in a business venture. Then Sadie misses the flight, leaving anxious-flyer Marin to face the trip alone. And what a trip it is—including a bout of turbulence that sends her into the lap of her sexy seatmate.

With plans to return home or meet up with Sadie foiled by residual weather delays, Marin reluctantly decides to take advantage of the trip Sadie planned. She spends more and more time in the company of Lucas, the sexy hotelier she met on the plane. And as she lives outside her comfort zone for the first time in forever, it becomes clear to her why Sadie planned this trip in the first place, and Marin has to come to terms with what that will mean for her.

I don’t want to spoil the plot but suffice it to say this book is SAD for a while. And if you’ve recently dealt with a loss or if reading about that is a trigger, avoid this book.

I enjoyed Meet Me in Paradise but really wish it was marketed more accurately.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Book Review: "Catch Us When We Fall" by Juliette Fay

Boy, I loved this. One of my favorite books of the month!

Thanks to Get Red PR, William Morrow Books, and Juliette Fay for the complimentary advance copy of Catch Us When We Fall in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Cass and Ben have been together for 11 years, since she was 18. She loves him fiercely and thinks he’s the smartest man she’s known, but they spent most of their time together drunk, barely eking out an existence and trying to make ends meet, and periodically finding themselves in dangerous situations.⁣

When Ben dies, Cass finds herself alone and broke—and pregnant. She’s determined to do the right thing for the baby and stop drinking, but with no money, no real skills, and no friends who don’t drink, the prospects for sobriety don’t look good.

That’s when Cass reluctantly turns to Scott, Ben’s brother, who plays for the Boston Red Sox. She asks for his help to get sober and get on her feet, and they make a deal that neither really believes will come to fruition.

As Cass struggles with trying to stay sober and starting to think about a life for her baby, she deals with her unresolved feelings about her relationship with Ben and starts to open up to Scott, even though he keeps waiting for her to backslide. She also develops some strong friendships with others in recovery, which puts her in more stressful situations but also helps her realize her capacity to love and care for others—and be loved and cared for by them.

This is a beautiful, emotional story about embracing your vulnerability and the possibility of a future when you never thought there was one. Juliette Fay did a great job of keeping the book from getting too melodramatic—there were a few times I hoped over-the-top things wouldn’t happen and they didn’t.

Definitely one I’ll think about for a while!!

Book Review: "This Is Why We Lie" by Gabriella Lepore

An angsty and compulsively readable YA thriller, Gabriella Lepore's This Is Why We Lie is also a story about secrets, friendship, and chosen family.

It was an early morning taking pictures at the beach for Jenna when a cry for help shattered the peace and quiet. She sees Adam, a student at nearby Rookwood School, trying to pull a body out of the water. It’s the body of Colleen, a classmate of Jenna’s at her all-girls’ prep school.

It’s not long after Colleen’s body is found that accusations fly, and Jenna’s best friend winds up in the hot seat. She’s convinced that her friend is innocent, but will the cops—including Jenna’s aunt—believe it? Jenna is determined to do a little investigation of her own.

Meanwhile, Adam worries that suspicion will turn to him and his friends. As students at what is ostensibly a last-chance school for troublemakers, they’re used to being blamed for things. But whether or not one of them is guilty, they’re determined to protect one another, and keep their secrets protected as well.

As people start acting stranger and stranger, no one is sure what to think, and when another incident occurs, Jenna is more determined than ever to figure out the truth. But as she and Adam grow closer, she has to worry if her feelings might be blinding her to the real perpetrator.

There’s a lot going here, but This Is Why We Lie moves quickly and Lepore throws in a few twists. I was pleased that she didn’t make one particular character the villain or have them fall apart completely—DM me if you’ve read the book and I’ll share what I mean.

All in all, this was a compelling read!

Book Review: "Sailor Proof" by Annabeth Albert

A steamy, fake-dating, M/M romance with sailors? Hell, yes, I'm on board for Annabeth Albert's newest book, Sailor Proof!!

It started out as a ploy to make his ex jealous. When Derrick’s submarine is scheduled to come home to its base in Washington State, his ex, Steve, is going to have some new random guy waiting to kiss him. Derrick will have no one, and while he’s fine not rushing into a relationship, he’d love to piss Steve off.

And that’s where Arthur comes in. He’s the younger brother of Derrick’s best friend Calder and he’s all too happy to help Derrick out. Derrick is unprepared for just how hot Arthur has gotten, so the scheme isn’t quite a hardship.

Apparently their welcome-home kiss is a little too convincing and a video of it goes viral, and before long they’ve been swept into a fake relationship. Of course, as they continue pretending, their feelings for each other grow. But Arthur is determined not to have a relationship with someone who will be deployed, and Derrick isn’t sure he wants to leave himself vulnerable again.

Will their relationship have to just remain a fictitious one?

I really enjoyed this book. The characters were really complex, their relationship was great, and the steam was HOT. (No complaints whatsoever, just letting you know.) I also thought the story was really well-developed and emotional at times, too.

I’m all in for this series—Book 2 will feature Calder as its main character—and in the meantime, I’ll be checking out more of Albert’s books!!

Book Review: "Ordinary Hazards" by Anna Bruno

Ordinary Hazards is a powerful look at grief, love, and the ordinary moments that can define—and destroy—a life.

“You can worry all you want, but you’ll never predict the thing that will destroy you.”

It’s 5:00 p.m. Just an ordinary night. Emma is settling in for a night at The Final Final, her hometown bar. It’s a place that has had so much meaning to her through the years—it’s even where she met her husband, Lucas, on a blind-blind date. (Neither of them knew they were being set up.)

There’s something about a hometown bar. She’s surrounded by people she’s known for a few years, people who—in positive and negative ways—have been part of her life.

As she drinks throughout the night, and Lucas comes up in conversation periodically, she reflects on their relationship, their marriage, their life together. And throughout the night at The Final Final, tensions rise to the surface, old wounds are reopened, and discoveries are made, discoveries which could change everything.

This was a very good, emotional story which unfolded little by little. Emma isn’t necessarily the most likable character—she’s definitely a bit of a snob—but you feel for her as you realize what has happened to her.

The narrative structure of Ordinary Hazards is interesting in that it flashes between past and present, but not in a linear way. Emma remembers different moments, different incidents, so at times it was difficult to orient myself to where we were in the story. But the pull of the plot is still so powerful.

I remembered seeing this when it came out in hardback so I’m glad I picked it up. This was definitely one that left me thinking!

Book Review: "How Sweet It Is" by Dylan Newton

One thing to keep in mind about Dylan Newton's debut rom-com, How Sweet It Is: its title says it all!

After reading a few thrillers and some heavy, emotional books, a light rom-com was exactly what I needed. And this one sure fit the bill!

Kate Sweet is an event planner extraordinaire, the “Queen of Happily Ever Afters,” known for creating magical moments at client weddings. But somehow she gets roped into planning a book launch for Drake Matthews, the eccentric horror writer.

When Kate and Drake meet—in truly one of the most memorable meet-cutes I’ve ever read about—sparks fly. But Drake isn’t interested in Kate’s plans. He’s tired of the act he has to put on for fans, tired of acting mean and frightening for effect. He’s not even sure he wants to write horror anymore!

Can Kate—despite their less-than-professional first meeting—convince Drake to let her plan his book launch without turning it into a circus? Can the two fight their growing attraction to each other, or what would giving in to it mean? Will there be a spookily, or a happily, ever after?

C’mon, rom-com fans. You know what’s in store. But what an adorable, romantic, sexy story How Sweet It Is was—a fun, Hallmark-like romance with a tiny bit of steam. And it’s perfect for the fall and Halloween season!

Gotta love a book that lives up to its name.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Book Review: "Grown" by Tiffany D. Jackson

Boy, did Tiffany D. Jackson's Grown pack a punch!

Enchanted Jones dreams of being a singer, of being a superstar. But dreams like that are hard to come by, especially when you’re one of only a few Black girls growing up in suburbia.

When she’s spotted at an audition by R&B legend Korey Fields, everything changes. Suddenly her career takes off and she’s thrust into the spotlight, getting access to all she’s ever dreamed of.

But that dream comes with a steep price. Korey may be able to make her dreams come true, but it’s all under his control. She’ll do what he says or she’ll pay the price, in more than just her career opportunities. It’s a frightening, disturbing time for her, but how can she jeopardize all she's dreamed of?

When Korey winds up dead, and Enchanted wakes up covered in blood, immediately she’s the suspect. Could his actions have led her to kill him, or is someone else to blame? Her life depends on answers, and she has none.

Grown is a thought-provoking, emotional, searing look at what young women—particularly those of color—often go through in their search for stardom. There are lots of triggers—rape, sexual abuse, assault, and addiction to name a few—but it’s a story that’s all too real.

I won this from a giveaway months ago, but I held off reading it because I knew it would be tough. It’s such a great book, though.

Book Review: "Burnt Toast and Other Disasters" by Cal Peternell

In his newest book, Burnt Toast and Other Disasters, renowned chef and cookbook author Cal Peternell shares advice on how to weather common cooking mistakes and what to do when the food you've cooked or have at your disposal isn’t quite what you’d hoped.

Some of you may know that I went to culinary school about 16-17 years ago and worked as a personal chef for a while, so needless to say, I love cooking. But no matter how much I’ve cooked through the years, and for how many people, I’ve had disasters, and there also have been times where things just didn’t work the way they were supposed to.

What I love so much about this new book Peternell gives great advice on what to do when your meat is too dried out, your bread is too burnt, your vegetables are too boring or too mushy. He shares tips, advice, and great recipes to either transform your mishap into something else or rescue it.

The subtitle of this book, A Book of Heroic Hacks, Fabulous Fixes, and Secret Sauces, really lives up to its name. There are so many recipes in here I’m going to try, from sauces to ideas on how to jazz up store-bought mac and cheese or cans of beans. I often say one of the greatest things I learned in culinary school was how to make a meal using stuff in my refrigerator; with this book in hand, you’ll feel just as empowered.

Many thanks to William Morrow Books for the complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!

Book Review: "56 Days" by Catherine Ryan Howard

56 Days, Catherine Ryan Howard's new thriller, hooked me COMPLETELY!!

The FOMO got too powerful to resist on this one, considering how many people I had seen reading this on Bookstagram. Given that the book takes place in the early days of the COVID pandemic and subsequent lockdown in Ireland, I wasn’t sure how triggering it would be, but while it set a mood and provided evocative description, I didn’t see it as a hurdle to overcome.

Fifty-six days ago, Ciara and Oliver meet at a supermarket. They share some witty banter and start dating shortly afterward. Neither is sure what to expect from this relationship.

Three weeks later, as COVID lockdown restrictions start to be enforced in Dublin, Oliver suggests that they move in together and deal with quarantine together. Both are hopeful but nervous, for very different reasons.

Today, police have been summoned to Oliver’s apartment because of a horrible odor. They find a body that has been decomposing for a little while.

Whose body is it? What happened? What secrets will be uncovered?

The concept of 56 Days, shifting from past to present, shifting in narration between Ciara, Oliver, and the police detective investigating the case, drew me in instantly. Howard created a twisty web of a plot that continued surprising me as each new detail unfolded.

Yay, another thriller I enjoyed! Go me! (If you follow my reviews, you'll know that I have an uneasy relationship with thrillers. I always get excited when I find one that surprises and hooks me.)

Book Review: "The Missing Hours" by Julia Dahl

Looking for a compelling story of revenge? You may find that in the latest from Julia Dahl, The Missing Hours.

Claudia Castro is a freshman at NYU, the daughter of a Grammy Award-winning musician and producer and a model. She has a bit of a reputation as a partier, a drinker, and someone known to hook up with guys from time to time, and a recent appearance on a reality show cemented that reputation among her peers.

While most of her classmates have left for spring break, she wakes up one morning extremely hung over, bruised, bloody, and she’s fairly certain she had sex—but she can’t remember what happened the night before. Who did this to her? What actually happened? Who was with her, who might have seen it?

Licking her wounds, she cuts herself off from her family, spending time with only one classmate, who becomes her friend and confidant. When a video from that night surfaces, suddenly everyone is looking for Claudia—for different reasons—and she’s nowhere to be found.

This book hooked me from the start, as I wanted to know what happened to Claudia as much as everyone else. Then the book flipped the script and I had no idea what to expect. It’s definitely a revenge story you’ll want to discuss with someone!

I liked the concept of The Missing Hours and found the family dynamics fascinating. I just thought the plot was a little unrealistic (or at least I hope so). But it definitely outlined the treatment women in society face.

Book Review: "Some Girls Do" by Jennifer Dugan

Jennifer Dugan's latest YA romance, Some Girls Do (following Hot Dog Girl and Verona Comics), is sweet, heartfelt, and thought-provoking.

Morgan wasn’t planning to make a fresh start so late into her senior year. When her Catholic school disciplines her for being gay, she transfers to another nearby school and hopes she’ll be able to regain the college track scholarships she was offered before the problems with her school arose.

Ruby has been doing pageants since she can remember to fulfill her mother’s interrupted dreams. She’d rather be fixing cars than parading in gowns, but if people in her town talk about her already, what would they—and her mother—do if she revealed who she really is and what she really wants?

Morgan and Ruby’s first meetings are somewhat adversarial but the friction between them turns to friendship. Both definitely feel the pull for more than that, but while Morgan is out and proud of it, Ruby doesn’t feel she can live like that and doesn’t want it. She wants to be with Morgan more than anything, but how can she risk what people will say, what her mother will do?

What I loved about Some Girls Do is its exploration of how coming out is different for every person. Not everyone is willing or ready to bust down the closet doors in a public fashion and for some, the risks are too great. But everyone deserves support and understanding through their journey, however long it may take.

This is a sweet, emotional story, about how sometimes our family is there to support us and sometimes it’s our chosen family we need to turn to. There’s a lot to think about here and it’s a very well-written book.

Book Review: "Donuts and Other Proclamations of Love" by Jared Reck

How's this for a title? Donuts and Other Proclamations of Love is an excellent story about love, family, following your dreams, and lots of food.

If he had his way, Oscar would work during his senior year of high school, so he and Farfur, his Swedish grandfather who raised him, can take their food truck to the next level, maybe even turn it into a cafe someday. But no matter how many people love their Swedish kebabs, munkar (donuts), and other delicacies, Farfur is determined that Oscar complete his education and maybe even go to college.

When Lou, senior class president and all-around academic cyborg, sabotages Oscar’s independent culinary study at school to rope him into a project, he’s irritated with her at first. But it’s not long before he not only enjoys spending time with her, but he loves what they’re (well, mostly he's) accomplishing. And little by little, Lou becomes part of the food truck team with him and Farfur.

As they get ready for festival season and Lou waits to get accepted to the Ivy League college of her choice, suddenly everything changes, which leaves his friendship with Lou and his entire future in question. Will it be up to Oscar alone to make his dreams a reality?

From this description you could assume this is your typical YA romance, albeit one that might make you hungrier than others. And while there certainly are those elements, Donuts and Other Proclamations of Love is much more than that because of the nuances Jared Reck gives his characters, particularly Farfur and his relationship with Oscar.

This was just so good!! And I must have donuts.

Book Review: "A Little Hope" by Ethan Joella

Ethan Joella's debut novel, A Little Hope, is a beautifully written, thought-provoking, and moving story about love, despair, and second chances.

This was so good! I received this from Scribner Books and didn’t know what to expect, but it really captured my heart.

In the small town of Wharton, Connecticut, people are struggling.

Greg, a father and businessman, is dealing with a cancer diagnosis that leaves him and his wife Freddie trying to both confront and avoid the future that lies ahead. Luke is struggling with addiction, the feeling he constantly disappoints his mother, and regret over the life he let slip away. Luke’s mother, Darcy, still mourns her husband, and can’t seem to connect with her son.

Meanwhile, when Ginger returns to Wharton for a friend’s wedding, she runs into an old boyfriend, and that encounter—as well as the subsequent wedding itself—makes her question the direction she's chosen for her life. And Greg’s boss and his wife deal with an issue resulting from a betrayal years ago, and are surprised how it impacts them now.

The lives of all these characters intersect in myriad ways over a period of time. Their stories are familiar yet in Joella’s hands they take on extra poignancy and hopefulness. At first the large number of characters took some getting used to, and I wanted to know what was happening with Greg and Freddie, but after a while I loved the way the story was told.

There’s nothing overly dramatic (I worried a few times the plot might veer that way) or flashy about the book, but it’s just an excellent read. So glad to have this cross my path!

Thanks to Scribner Books for the complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

A Little Hope publishes 11/16.

Book Review: "Us" by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Steamy, fun, and romantic. I love this series by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy!

I never knew how much my life was missing M/M hockey romance until I picked up Him, the first book in this series, and I absolutely fell in love with it. And now, with the second book? Damn, I’m hooked.

Us picks up with teenage best friends-turned-lovers Ryan and Jamie moving to Toronto so Ryan can play in the NHL and Jamie can help coach a junior team. They agreed to keep their relationship a secret for Ryan’s rookie season so the focus could be on his athletic skills, not his sexuality.

But both start to get tired of hiding, of only being able to see each other when Ryan is home from games and doesn’t have appearances to make. And when his nosiest teammate moves into their apartment building, it further curtails their time together and they wonder how long it will be before their relationship is discovered.

When a crisis arises, it forces them both to think about what they want—personally and professionally. Can their relationship survive? Do they want it to?

I love "Wesmie" so much, and the supporting characters are fun, too. Once again, as it was in Him, the steam is SERIOUSLY hot (no complaints whatsoever) and the book definitely had me tearing up in more than a few places.

I definitely need more of these books!!

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Book Review: "Better to Trust" by Heather Frimmer

In Heather Frimmer's upcoming novel, Better to Trust, a woman’s medical crisis lays bare a multitude of issues in her life and her family.

After Alison collapses while teaching one day, she discovers she has a brain bleed which requires surgery. Since her brother-in-law Grant is an acclaimed neurosurgeon, it seems only natural to ask him to take her case.

When complications arise after her surgery leaving her with significant physical and cognitive issues, at first they’re accepted as the risks associated with brain surgery. But it’s not long before Grant’s secret is discovered: he’s addicted to pain pills, and this addiction may have caused negative outcomes in Alison’s case as well as with other patients.

Amidst a difficult rehabilitation and the revelation which threatens to tear her family apart, Alison also has to think about her attraction to a female teacher, which was just starting to progress when she collapsed. What does this mean for her future, or her marriage?

Meanwhile, Grant’s teenage daughter Sadie is becoming friends with a troubled classmate who pushes her to do things she doesn’t want. What will be the ramifications of these risky choices?

I really liked this book. It so accurately captures the challenges faced by individuals recovering from brain injuries, both physical and emotional. But the added issues provided even more depth and tension to the story. The multiple narrations, by Alison, Grant, and Sadie really worked for me.

Thanks to Suzy Approved Book Tours, Heather Frimmer, and Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing for inviting me on the tour and providing me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Better to Trust publishes 9/21.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Book Review: "When I Ran Away" by Ilona Bannister

For a powerfully emotional story about grief, love, motherhood, and guilt, look no further than When I Ran Away.

Gigi and Harry meet on the Staten Island Ferry not long after both have fled the chaos following the collapse of the first tower on 9/11. Harry used to visit Gigi's favorite coffee shop but they never met officially, and yet here both are, covered in ash and not truly comprehending the magnitude of what is happening on that day.

Harry, an Englishman living in NYC, has nowhere to go, so Gigi brings him to her dysfunctional family home in Staten Island. But when the family discovers her younger brother was somehow in the Twin Towers that day and won’t ever come home, Harry helps them through one of the most painful moments in their lives, and then leaves them with their friends to process their grief.

When Gigi and Harry meet by chance 10 years later, she’s a single mother raising a young boy. They fall deeply in love, and Harry ultimately asks Gigi to move to London with him. It’s a very different atmosphere than what she’s used to, but she’s determined to make their marriage work, and to raise her son and their new baby right.

But after a while, the pressure of balancing motherhood, marriage, career, and her own happiness, all in an unfamiliar place away from friends and family, becomes too much to bear. She is faced with a crucial moment where she doesn’t know how to handle any of it, not to mention her and her family’s unresolved grief over her brother’s death 15 years earlier.

When I Ran Away is a beautifully told story, searing and poignant, but with flashes of sly humor. I’ll admit I thought it would be sadder and I was glad it wasn’t, especially having spent the weekend in a funk mourning friends lost on 9/11. But I’d imagine that for many mothers out there this will be an even more emotional and relevant read, one which will make many feel seen.

I’m glad I finally read this after it sat on my TBR stack for a while. Definitely one worth discussing with others.

Book Review: "Tomorrow There Will Be Sun" by Dana Reinhardt

As Dana Reinhardt shows us in Tomorrow There Will Be Sun, sometimes the vacation you need isn’t quite the one you get.

⁣ ⁣ Jenna has organized the perfect trip to Puerto Vallarta to celebrate her husband Peter’s 50th birthday. They’ll be traveling with their teenage daughter, Clementine, as well as the family of Peter’s best friend and business partner, Solly.

⁣ ⁣ The villa is as beautiful as promised and the staff are tremendously attentive. So why isn’t Jenna enjoying herself? Why is Solly’s braggadocio annoying her more than normal? Why is Clementine suddenly cozying up to Solly’s teenage son Malcolm when she has a boyfriend she won’t stop texting? Why can’t she get her fourth book done while Solly’s much-younger new wife has written a manuscript while raising a young child? (And of course, it’s good.)⁣

⁣ Things come to a head when Peter keeps getting mysterious phone calls from his beautiful assistant, and then unrest in Puerto Vallarta threatens their whole vacation. This isn’t quite the celebration Jenna imagined—and she’s not even sure this is the life she wants any longer.⁣

⁣ I tend to enjoy stories about dysfunctional family vacations but I just never warmed to Tomorrow There Will Be Sun. The characters aren’t particularly appealing but I feel like the author also threw in far too much—like there had to be violence and chaos in Puerto Vallarta with drug cartels, etc., on top of everything else? It seemed a wee bit stereotypical to me.⁣

⁣ Still, the villa sounded amazing. And I wouldn’t mind someone to hand me a margarita every now and again! ⁣ ⁣

Book Review: "Plot Twist" by Bethany Turner

As Bethany Turner's new rom-com, Plot Twist, goes to show you, a lot can happen in 10 years.

February 4, 2003: Greeting card writer and aspiring screenwriter Olivia Ross has a meet-cute with a handsome actor at a coffee shop. They share some friendly, flirty banter and vow to reunite at the same coffee shop in 10 years, on the same day, and he will star in her screenplay.

One drawback? They never traded names or contact info.

Every year on February 4, Olivia finds herself in an uncertain position in her life. The day is full of coincidences, wacky events, and romance gone awry. Sometime during the 10-year period, she finds out that the “sexy Irish guy” (her words) she met back in 2003 might actually be Scottish actor Hamish MacDougal, whose star is on the rise.

Could Hamish be what she’s looking for, career- and life-wise? Or is knowing that possibility is out there keeping her from appreciating what’s around her now? Will she find the success she dreams of?

I thought Plot Twist was a fun concept and a cute book, with a few surprises up its sleeve. I didn’t really love the characters all the time, and I wanted things to move a little quicker, but darned if I didn’t get choked up at the end! (Stupid emotions.)

This was a fun read to lighten the mood after a few heavier books.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Book Review: "Rock Paper Scissors" by Alice Feeney

Rock Paper Scissors, the new thriller from Alice Feeney is worth every bit of the hype it’s getting—and more!

“I love my wife. I just don’t think we like each other as much as we used to.”

Adam and Amelia’s marriage is in trouble. Adam is tired of her nagging him about working too much. She’s tired of his singular focus on work, plus the fact that he suffers from prosopagnosia, or face blindness, means he doesn’t even recognize her in a crowd or even a room. She’s tired of not being seen.

The couple wins a weekend getaway in Scotland. Both know it’s their last chance to save their marriage. Neither is sure they want to. But the getaway doesn’t quite seem as appealing as they thought it might be. Does someone else not want their marriage—or perhaps them—to survive?

I’ll leave it at that since it’s best to let the plot unfold. The story is interspersed with letters written to Adam for every year of their marriage, letters that up to this point he hasn’t seen.

I thought Rock Paper Scissors was absolutely great. I had my suspicions but most of them were wrong, and I just couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I always love when a thriller makes me say, “Wait, what?”

Given the hype and my uneasy relationship with thrillers I was nervous about this book but it definitely delivered. I’ll definitely go back and read some of Feeney’s earlier stuff!!

Book Review: "Fraternity" by Benjamin Nugent

Benjamin Nugent's collection, Fraternity is full of quirky, thought-provoking, and, at times, surprisingly sensitive stories about the goings-on in—yep, you guessed it—a fraternity.

If you went to college/university, did it have fraternities and sororities? Were you in one? I worked full-time in college so I didn’t participate but I’ll admit there was always something so intriguing and, dare I say, hot (I was a closeted college kid, so don't judge) about fraternities.

Nugent’s short story collection takes place at the Delta Zeta Chi house on the campus of a college in Massachusetts. The interconnected stories follow a motley crew of characters—Newton (aka Nutella), the charismatic fraternity president; Oprah, so named because he likes to read and ask a lot of questions; even a girl the fraternity calls God.

As you might expect, many of the stories involve some sort of drug- and/or alcohol-fueled antics, but even within those, serious issues are touched on. There’s discussion about sexual insecurity and coming to terms with one’s sexuality; what constitutes sexual assault; friendship and loyalty; and missing the glory days of youth.

Not all of the stories work as well as some do, but overall, Fraternity is a good collection. I was impressed at how well the stories actually treated women for the most part, not something you traditionally expect of fraternities.

Sometimes an unexpected bookstore find reaps great dividends!

Book Review: "In Polite Company" by Gervais Hagerty

You’ll want to head to Charleston after reading Gervais Hagerty's debut novel, In Polite Company!!

“Here’s the thing about Charleston families: we regard civility above all else. No matter what is said or done, we remain in polite company. It’s what we’ve been bred to do: hide our disagreements beneath the smiles. Not say what we mean.”

Simons Smythe was born and raised to do the right things. Her family has been part of Charleston society for generations, and everyone knows the role they are expected to play. Her older sister is having her second baby while her younger sister is scheduled to make her debut into society shortly, which puts her family in the center of the public eye, just the way they like it.

But Simons has always been the one to question expectations. She never quite followed the route her parents wanted, but now she’s engaged to a suitable man and will have the wedding and the life she’s supposed to. The challenge is, she doesn’t think she loves Trip, her fiancé—but is that enough to stop the marriage? (She's also not interested in stopping working once she gets married.)

As a producer for a local television news station, she’s inclined to dig deeper and ask probing questions. But sometimes her work crosses the line and tests the mores of the genteel society she’s supposed to uphold, and that creates tension among her family.

What do you do when you find yourself wanting something different than you’re expected to, when bucking the status quo could mean risking it all? How do you balance what you want with what you need?

In Polite Company is both the story of one woman’s struggle to find her own path and a love letter to Charleston, South Carolina. I really enjoyed this as I love books that provide social commentary about societies I don’t live in. (Plus I love Charleston!)

Thanks to William Morrow Books for the complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Book Review: "Talk Bookish to Me" by Kate Bromley

A sweet, sexy rom-com in which the main character is a Bookstagrammer? Yes, please! That's what you get with Kate Bromley's debut rom-com, Talk Bookish to Me.

Kara is a romance writer and Bookstagrammer who is under significant pressure to finish her next book. Then she discovers that one of the groomsmen at her best friend’s wedding will be Ryan. Ryan, her college boyfriend and perhaps one true love. The breakup of their relationship was one of the most hurtful and angry that either had ever known, and happened in the midst of a terrible time in Kara’s life.

It’s been 10 years. Why does he look so good? Why is their banter so much fun but he is still so infuriating? But more importantly, why does her writer’s block disappear whenever she spends time with him?

In order not to ruin her best friend’s wedding festivities and hopefully get her book done before the rapidly encroaching deadline her publisher has set, she decides to spend time with Ryan. Of course, she still has feelings for him, but is she actually willing to open her heart up to the possibility of being hurt so badly again? Can they overcome the things they said and deal with the things that happened when their relationship ended?

I loved Talk Bookish to Me so much! It was a great mashup of second chance love and enemies-to-lovers, and the characters were all fun and appealing, but what I loved most was the discussions about reading, romance tropes, and, of course, Bookstagram.

Cheers to Bromley for giving us a sexy, sweet, fun rom-com for the book lovers and the lovers of love!!

Book Review: "Take Me With You When You Go" by David Levithan and Jennifer Niven

A new collaboration between YA authors David Levithan and Jennifer Niven, Take Me With You When You Go is a sad yet ultimately hopeful story about survival and the kindness of those around you.

Ezra awakens one morning to find his older sister Bea has left home. No warning, no note, just a random email address only he could find. How could she leave him alone with their abusive stepfather and neglectful mother, knowing they’ll somehow blame him?

As they begin to correspond via email, Ezra understands how wracked with guilt Bea is about leaving him behind but ultimately her self-preservation was at stake. And as she slowly reveals the real reason she left, it could awaken possibilities for both of them, or at least provide answers to questions they’ve had all their lives.

But as things further unravel at home for Ezra, he has to figure out whom he can trust to help him survive, and who is willing to take on his burdens. Bea, too, in an unfamiliar city, must depend upon strangers to help her see the possibilities life still holds.

This epistolary novel is told solely in emails between Ezra and Bea (and occasionally a few other characters), and it’s a sad, often all-too-real story of abuse and neglect and how children get caught in the struggles of those who are supposed to protect them. But while parts of the story hit a little closer to home for me than I expected, the structure of the story made it harder to connect emotionally with the characters.

Levithan and Niven are two of my favorite YA authors so I definitely had really high hopes for Take Me With You When You Go. I’m glad they called attention to such a sad but important subject.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Book Review: "When the Stars Go Dark" by Paula McLain

Paula McLain's latest book, When the Stars Go Dark, is powerful, poignant, and utterly amazing.

To paraphrase that mid-90s jam, this is how you do it. What a fantastic book Paula McLain has written.

San Francisco detective Anna Hart specializes in missing persons work, and often deals with cases involving children and young adults. It’s always been hard for her to separate from the trauma and brutality she sees, but when personal tragedy strikes, she can’t figure out what to do with her grief.

With nowhere else to go, she returns to Mendocino, the village where she spent some of her childhood with her foster parents. It’s the closest thing she can call home.

When she arrives home, she learns that a teenage girl has gone missing. Her childhood friend is now the sheriff, so she agrees to help him try and figure out what happened. The case triggers memories of a similar case from when they were growing up, and between that and the trauma Anna has been bearing, it’s a lot to handle. But Anna understands the mind of the abductor and tries to figure out what has happened to the girl before it’s too late—and before she falls apart herself.

There’s so much to say but the beauty of When the Stars Go Dark—other than the mesmerizing writing—is letting all the pieces slowly click into place. Interestingly, the book takes place in 1993, so McLain intersperses this case with a real-life child abduction case, so it gives the story more emotional weight.

I’m so glad I finally got to this one. What a fantastic book—it reminded me a tiny bit of Rene Denfeld’s books but it’s a story all its own.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Book Review: "Reasons for Avoiding Friends" by Megan Leavell

Is the grass actually ever greener on the other side? That's a question Megan Leavell tries to answer in her upcoming book, Reasons for Avoiding Friends.

Gwen’s life is exactly what she dreamed of—a great husband, three children, a beautiful house in her Wisconsin hometown. But if you look a little closer you might see the cracks—she hates how she looks, her husband is unemployed, her children have issues, and she really doesn’t like her friends.

Iris, Gwen’s childhood best friend, left Wisconsin as soon as she could and never looked back. She’s living a glamorous life in New York with a handsome husband, but she doesn’t let anyone see the truth behind the façade. She knows no one will understand, except maybe for Gwen, whom she hasn’t spoken to in years.

When an embarrassing incident sends Iris back to her hometown, she and Gwen reconnect. But neither is willing to admit just how out of hand things have gotten for them. Can they let down their guard enough to let an old friend see what’s really going on?

Reasons for Avoiding Friends is a book about friendship, loving yourself and learning to put yourself first, and realizing the only person you need to measure up to is yourself. It’s a familiar story but it definitely resonates if you’ve ever felt envious of those around you.

Thanks to Suzy Approved Book Tours, Megan Leavell, and Cedar House Press for inviting me on the tour and providing me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

The book publishes 9/14.

Book Review: "Songs in Ursa Major" by Emma Brodie

If you’re a fan of books about the music industry, here’s one for you: Emma Brodie's debut, Songs in Ursa Major.

In 1969, all eyes were on the Bayleen Island Folk Fest as Jesse Reid was getting ready to perform. His star was already on the rise but the festival performance was expected to launch him into the stratosphere. But when a motorcycle accident renders him unable to perform, local girl Jane Quinn and her band, The Breakers, get their break on the main stage.

While at first the crowd is angry that Jesse isn’t performing, Jane captures the crowd within the first few notes. She gives a star-making performance that quickly catches the eye of the music industry.

Jesse stays on Bayleen Island to recover from his injuries, and he and Jane become friends. As she and her band work on their first album and she encounters the sexism and capriciousness of the music industry, Jesse and Jane inspire each other musically and deeply connect on a personal and romantic level.

When Jane and The Breakers get the opportunity to open for Jesse on tour, the music they play is electric, and Jane’s star rises, both because of her talent and her proximity to Jesse. But both have dark secrets they are keeping from one another, and when it all becomes too much for Jane, she walks away, only to be inspired to create some iconic music.

I loved this book. I wondered if it would be similar to Daisy Jones and the Six, and while there are some parallels, this is a story all its own. Books about the music business and musicians hook me completely, and I tried so hard to imagine what the music must’ve sounded like.

Just excellent and atmospheric.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Book Review: "Her Perfect Life" by Hank Phillippi Ryan

The upcoming thriller from award-winning author Hank Phillippi Ryan, Her Perfect Life, can be summed up in three words: Twisty, twisty, twisty!!

Lily Atwood lives her life in the public eye. Fans of the television reporter follow her every move, they “know” her young daughter, and they worship Lily on social media. But do they know everything about her or just what she wants them to know?

Lily always seems to have the right story. But it’s not her journalism skills that help her there—it’s an anonymous source that feeds her tips. They’ve never steered her wrong before. But suddenly the source starts feeding her information about her own life, the things she’s kept hidden all these years.

Who is this source? What do they have to gain by exposing Lily’s secrets? What has she been hiding? And what could happen if it all comes out?

There’s a lot more to Her Perfect Life than meets the eye—a dual timeline, secrets, a missing woman, a jealous colleague. It all adds up to another twisty book from Ryan. I had my suspicions about certain things, sometimes I was right and sometimes I was wrong, but I couldn’t stop reading!

Thanks to Suzy Approved Book Tours, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Forge Reads for inviting me on the tour and providing me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!

Her Perfect Life publishes 9/14.