Sunday, October 31, 2021

Book Review: "The Ghost Variations: One Hundred Stories" by Kevin Brockmeier

Kevin Brockmeier's The Ghost Variations is a quirky and creative book.

⁣ ⁣ Happy Halloween, y’all! Hope your day has been or will be as spooky and fun as you want it to be. I know I’ll be handing out candy later and trying not to eat as much as I give out. (“Trying” probably being the operative word.)⁣

⁣ I’m not a fan of horror or ghost stories. I used to read Stephen King’s early stuff but somewhere down the road I got tired of being frightened, lol. So while so many of you have accumulated the creepy and witchy reads this month, I’ve stuck to my usual stuff.⁣

⁣ But then, thanks to my Bookstagram friend Deedi, I saw this. (This is the second "Deedi made me do it" book I've read in about a week.) I love the concept—100 ghost stories, each just a few pages. However, these aren’t traditional ghost stories, these are more thought-provoking, poignant, esoteric in nature, and they touch on a variety of subjects. If there’s haunting to be done, no one’s really upset about it. (Even the ghost who spends every day of her existence being asked if she’s going to Toledo.)⁣

⁣ I loved the concept of The Ghost Variations perhaps a bit more than the execution, and like any collection of stories, some are stronger than the others. But if you want an interesting twist on traditional ghost stories, curl up with this one!⁣ ⁣

Book Review: "Doubting Thomas" by Matthew Clark Davison

Matthew Clark Davison's debut novel, Doubting Thomas, is beautifully written and thought-provoking.

Thomas is an openly gay elementary school teacher at a progressive private school in Portland, Oregon. In a school and a city where many kids have same-sex parents, Thomas’ sexuality is far from an issue—it’s an asset to many, and one the school boasts proudly.

Until the day he is accused of inappropriately touching a male student, an accusation he’s ultimately cleared of. But the damage is done. He is forced to resign from the job he loves and is shunned by those who liked him, his every move and every word questioned and overanalyzed.

At the same time Thomas is dealing with the accusations and their aftermath, he is reeling from a recent breakup, and one of his brothers is facing a health crisis. Thomas rallies to support his brother as relationships change and dynamics shift, both within his family and among his friends. He needs to figure out how to chart his future without teaching.

This is a powerful story of finding yourself, of finding the strength to rebuild your life after it falls apart through no fault of your own. It’s also a story of family dynamics in the midst of crises, of finding allies and discovering those you can depend on. It’s a different story than I expected but it really blew me away.

My thanks to Amble Press for the complimentary (and signed!) copy, and thanks to Davison for the gift of this book.

Book Review: "The Wedding Crasher and the Cowboy" by Robin Bielman

Sweet romance, beautiful setting, and cowboys? Yes, please. I'll take The Wedding Crasher and the Cowboy for all three.

The last thing Kennedy was expecting was a drunk, late-night call from her soon-to-be-married ex, saying that he isn’t sure he wants to get married. Kennedy knows that his fiancé is the right one for him. She has only one choice: grab her best friend Andrew and head to the picturesque California town of Windsong to crash the wedding and convince Reed to get married.

And there she comes face-to-face with HIM. Maverick Owens. Her college nemesis and academic rival. They competed for everything, and he used to call her “Shortcake.” Of course the wedding festivities would take place on his family’s ranch, and of course he’s gotten more handsome since college. He knows she wasn’t invited to the wedding and is keeping his eye on her…

Crashing a wedding isn’t easy when your best friend is an actor with a crush on the best man, and he keeps telling guests more outlandish stories about him and Kennedy. To top it off, Kennedy and Maverick keep getting thrown together. But for some reason, it doesn’t seem to bother either of them as much as it should, although both have their guardrails way, way up.

Can sworn enemies find their way to something else, something more serious? Can Kennedy convince Reed to get married without her cover getting blown? And will they all survive the hoedown?

I thought this was just so much fun and so romantic. And I always live by the philosophy, “save a horse, ride a cowboy.”

My thanks to TLC Book Tours, Entangled Publishing, and Robin Bielman for inviting me on the tour and sending me a complimentary advance copy of the book as well as some great swag!! I could definitely see this as the start of a series—some of the supporting characters are just fantastic!

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Book Review: "Top Secret" by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

With Top Secret, my favorite duo delivers again, with a super-hot, M/M, enemies-to-lovers, frat romance.

Keaton is a football player and fraternity member at Darby University. When his girlfriend suggests she’d like to have a threesome with another guy, Keaton is far more intrigued than he thought he’d be. And when he starts chatting with a potential participant on a hookup app, he realizes he may be more interested in the other guy than his girlfriend is.

Luke is one of Keaton’s fraternity brothers, who has to work multiple jobs just to stay in school. His decision to challenge Keaton for fraternity president is more out of economy—he’d get a free room—than actual desire to run the fraternity. But speaking of desire, he’s intrigued by this guy he’s been chatting with on a hookup app who is looking for someone to join him and his girlfriend in a threesome.


Bet you know where this one goes!! Even though it’s predictable, I loved the combination of steam, romance, and strong character development. Keaton starts realizing more about himself and his need to take control of his life rather than let his father dictate what he should do. He knows what he wants most, though—if only he can convince the other person.

I cannot get enough of Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy’s books. They’re compulsively readable and they leave me with all the feels and a little red-faced from the steam.

Book Review: "Sidelined" by Kara Bietz

Sidelined is a sweet YA book about rekindling old friendships, football, and life in a small town.

Sometimes a legacy is a tough thing to live up to—or live down. Julian Jackson has lived his whole life in the small town of Meridien, Texas. Now it’s his senior year of high school and he’s captain of the football team.

He feels a lot of pressure—he has to get a scholarship in order to leave town, attend a good college, and pursue his dreams, but he’s also expected to come up with a series of colossal pranks against his team's biggest rival. It’s a tradition the town lives for. But he’s worried the pranks could go awry and his whole future could be destroyed.

The last thing he expects is for Elijah Vance to return to town. Elijah was his best friend and teammate, and there was a brief minute where it looked like they could be more than friends. But then Elijah and his family left town suddenly and he didn’t say goodbye to Julian. It’s been three years since then.

Elijah is nervous about returning to Meridien after all this time, and he’s even more nervous about seeing Julian. Can they recapture their friendship—and is something more possible?

But first, both must confront the legacies their fathers left behind. Julian’s dad was the football hero, destined for great things, while Elijah’s was a pariah. But legacies aren’t always accurate.

I enjoyed this sweet story a lot. I loved that this was a small, working-class town in Texas, and no one cared that the captain of the football team was gay. There was A LOT of focus on the whole prank thing (a little too much, IMHO), but it was actually the catalyst of an interesting thread in the story.

Another example of why I love YA books so much!

Book Review: "Once Upon a Wardrobe" by Patti Callahan

Patti Callahan's new book is utterly magical and beautiful.⁣

⁣ I’m a firm believer that sometimes whether or not we like a book depends on what’s going on in our lives and where we are emotionally, as much as anything else. And sometimes a book comes along at just the right time.⁣

⁣ The latter was the case for me in reading Once Upon a Wardrobe. I recently found out that one of my closest friends had decided to end his fight against multiple illnesses and go into hospice. That news, and subsequently saying goodbye to him, hit me hard. This book was just the balm to help with those emotions.⁣

⁣ Megs Devonshire is a fiercely intelligent young woman on scholarship at Oxford. She loves figures and equations, but she loves her younger brother George even more. Eight-year-old George has been ill since he was born, but the doctors don’t expect him to see his ninth birthday.⁣

⁣ What George loves more than anything is a good story. He is utterly captivated by a brand-new book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and he dreams of being transported to a magical land like that. When he learns that the author of this book, C.S. Lewis, teaches at Oxford, he convinces Megs to seek the man out and ask where Narnia came from.

⁣ ⁣ When Megs connects with the man and his brother, “Jack” Lewis regales her with tales of his childhood and the magical places they created. But while he never quite answers Megs’ question directly, what he gives her and her brother is something even more special.⁣

⁣ I loved this so much. It’s sad but hopeful and just utterly beautiful!!⁣ ⁣

Book Review: "Plenty: A Memoir of Food and Family" by Hannah Howard

In Plenty: A Memoir of Food and Family, a food writer pays tribute to the women in the food industry who served as role models or mentors, juxtaposed with key events in her life.

As I’ve said before, I’m totally obsessed with food and cooking (and eating, of course), so when I see a memoir by a chef or food writer (or eater, lol), I, well, devour it. I enjoyed Hannah Howard’s last book, Feast, so I was really excited for this one.

The food industry has always been male-dominated, so Howard thought it was important to highlight the women she has met through her career—chefs, cooking teachers, restaurant/cafe owners, cheese makers, food purveyors, buyers, etc. But while each anecdote is important, Howard also shares her own struggles amidst these profiles.

She discusses what it’s like to be a woman in the food industry who has struggled with an eating disorder, and spends a significant amount of the book addressing the challenges she and her husband faced with having a child. It’s a powerful look at how even when you work in a fascinating field that people may envy, you still can face real problems.

Howard imbues her work with a great deal of emotion, and those who have struggled with fertility and/or eating disorders may find some of the book triggering. I would have liked more food-related content (I have a one-track mind), but this was an interesting read!!

Monday, October 25, 2021

Book Review: "The Secret, Book & Scone Society" by Ellery Adams

Why didn’t I read this book sooner? I loved it, although the lack of Oxford comma in the title is making me tense!!

You know you love a book when you want to go where it is set, and after reading The Secret, Book & Scone Society, I surely want to go to Miracle Springs, North Carolina!

Nora once was a librarian, but after tragedy left her physically and emotionally scarred, she’s started over in the small town. She owns a store called Miracle Books, and it seems she has a special talent for bibliotherapy. After hearing a person’s problems, she can suggest a book or books for them to read, and suddenly their way forward is clearer.

One such man, a troubled real estate developer, was supposed to meet her at her shop for help, but he never made it—he got pushed in front of a train. What secrets was he trying to unburden himself of? Was he pushed or did he jump?

Nora gets together with three other local women—Hester, the bakery owner, whose “comfort scones” provoke powerful memories; June, who works in the town’s mineral springs; and Estella, the town’s hairdresser, who wants more out of life. They team up to try and figure out what happened, but in order to solve that mystery, they must share their own secrets at the same time, and let others in.

Ellery Adams did such a great job with this book! This is my first cozy mystery and you can bet I’m reading the sequel soon!!

Book Review: "A Spindle Splintered" by Alix E. Harrow

Are you up for a feminist, subversive retelling of Sleeping Beauty? I’m all in for Alix Harrow's A Spindle Splintered.

⁣ ⁣ “Sleeping Beauty is pretty much the worst fairy tale, any way you slice it. It’s aimless and amoral and chauvinist as shit.”⁣

⁣ Zinnia Gray is turning 21. She’s dying of something called General Roseville Malady, a disease about which little is known except that no one has lived past the age of 21. Zinnia has always been obsessed with fairy tales and, because of her illness, was able to graduate high school early and attend college, where she studied in the Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology.⁣

⁣ For what is expected to be her last birthday, her best friend Charm goes all out, throwing her a Sleeping Beauty-themed party in an abandoned tower, complete with spinning wheel. Of course, Zinnia pricks her finger, but instead of falling asleep (or dying), she finds herself in another world, a modern traveler in a fairy tale kingdom of sorts, where another cursed princess is in need of her help.⁣

⁣ This was so freaking creative, fun, poignant, and beautifully done. I love retellings and this one really just hooked me completely. My understanding is that this is the start of a series of novellas Harrow will write and I’m here for them.⁣

⁣ This is a definite Bookstagram made me do it (or more specifically, my friend Deedi made me do it), and I’m so grateful!!⁣

Book Review: "Uncommon Type: Some Stories" by Tom Hanks

The two-time Academy Award-winning actor tries his hand at fiction with Uncommon Type: Some Stories.

⁣ ⁣ Did you ever use a typewriter in school or are you one of those youngsters to have only known computers? (I’m old enough to have taken three years of typing in middle school, but whatever.) Anyway, I ask what seems to be an unrelated question because Tom Hanks LOVES typewriters. So much so, in fact, that he’s worked one into every story in this collection. (Yup.)⁣

⁣ That gimmick notwithstanding, this is an interesting and at times amusing and insightful collection. The first story made me laugh, some stories made me think. Hanks is a talented writer but in the end, these stories just didn’t wow me.⁣

⁣ I’ve commented with some of you about the unevenness of short story collections and this was definitely an example of that, with some stories stronger than others. But still, were Hanks to write a novel, I’d definitely check it out.⁣

What's your feeling about celebrities as authors? Other than memoirs, have you read books by celebrities that you've enjoyed? ⁣

Book Review: "The Other Man" by Farhad J. Dadyburjor

In The Other Man, boy meets girl…and then he meets boy.

At age 38, Ved is truly an eligible bachelor. He’s handsome (many say he resembles George Clooney), he’s smart, and he is in line to run his family’s electronics empire. His mother knows any woman would be lucky to have him as a husband, and she’s determined to find him a suitable wife. She doesn’t understand why he keeps rejecting all the women she suggests!

The thing is, Ved doesn’t want to disappoint his mother, but he is living as a closeted gay man. Being gay is a crime in India, and he knows that telling his parents the truth will break their hearts. He has already fallen in love and had his heart broken once, so what’s the point anyway?

But to keep the peace, he agrees to go out with the vivacious Disha. She’s smart, beautiful, independent, and her family could be an excellent business connection. He’d be foolish not to get engaged—who cares if he doesn’t love her?

And then he meets Carlos, an American vacationing in Mumbai. Carlos is everything he could want, and he feels alive whenever he’s with him. With Carlos he dreams of a life he never thought he could have, and he’s finally ready to take the first step. But there’s the small matter of his engagement…

This was a sweet, thought-provoking story, one which so many LGBTQIA+ people all over the world have dealt with. It’s a reminder that it’s sometimes so much harder to find the courage to live the life you want instead of the one others want you to live. I'll admit I wasn't completely enamored of Ved's behavior in the book, but I can't say I blame him.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Book Review: "Good in Bed" by Jennifer Weiner

Sorry if this makes you feel old, but Good in Bed, Jennifer Weiner’s debut novel, is celebrating its 20th anniversary!

Cannie feels like she’s in a good place. She has a job she loves as a pop culture reporter, good friends, a dog, and she’s even feeling reasonably okay about her body, which is no easy thing for her. And then her happy place gets blown to smithereens when she learns that Bruce, her ex-boyfriend, has penned an article for a popular magazine called, “Loving a Larger Woman.”

At first she is devastated. How can someone she thought loved her do this to her? She wants to get even. She wonders if she’ll ever find anyone to love her when she’s not your “typical” woman (read: model-thin).

What ensues is a funny, heartwarming, thought-provoking journey of self-discovery. Cannie is a tremendously real character and many of the things that she feels and does (although not all) are very genuine. As someone who has struggled with my weight my whole life, I totally felt the range of emotions she went through, and I totally loved that everything wasn't solved with her suddenly becoming thin and beautiful!

Amazingly, although Weiner has been writing books for 20 years, I only have read her last few books, so I have her whole backlist to explore. And if there are more books like this, I’ll happily dive in!

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

Book Review: "Tonight We Rule the World" by Zack Smedley

Zack Smedley's new YA novel (following Deposing Nathan) was so good but so heartbreaking.

For the longest time, Owen had trouble fitting in. Being on the autism spectrum, sometimes he struggled with expressing himself and making friends. But when he met Lily, he found in her a kindred spirit and his first girlfriend. And as he connects with her group of friends, he feels like he belongs for the first time.

Senior year in high school is a big one for everyone. Owen finds the courage to admit he’s bisexual. But then the school is rocked when it’s anonymously reported to the administration that Owen was sexually assaulted during a school trip. It’s something he had wanted to keep hidden from everyone—the school, his military-veteran father, who will stop at nothing to uncover the truth, and especially Lily, because everything will change after that. What happened that night? Who assaulted Owen? And why doesn't he want to share the truth?

Tonight We Rule the World is so powerful, emotional, and thought-provoking. It’s a look at gaslighting and how often we’re failed by those who say they have our best interests at heart. But more than that, it’s about finding the inner courage and self-belief to do the right thing and stand on your own. I struggled a bit with the behaviors of some of the characters, but I was just so moved.

Thanks to Page Street YA, Storygram Tours, and Zack Smedley for inviting me on the tour and providing me a complimentary copy of the book in excahnge for an unbiased review!

Book Review: "Battle Royal" by Lucy Parker

A rom-com with feuding bakers? Doesn’t Battle Royal take the cake? (I’m here all week, lol.)

Sylvie is an immensely talented baker with the flair for the creative. Her appearances on the popular baking competition “Operation Cake” made her a darling of the viewing public. Nearly everyone was a fan of her creations—except esteemed (and super-handsome) baker and judge, Dominic De Vere. And when one of Sylvie’s amazingly creative cakes went awry, he made sure she was voted her off the show.

A few years later, Sylvie is a successful baker. Could her business be better? Sure. So she reluctantly agrees to serve as a judge on the next round of the show, alongside Dominic. It should prove, umm, interesting.

But if that’s enough to get temperatures rising, when the engagement of Princess Rose is announced, everyone expects Dominic’s bakery to be selected for the wedding cake. His family has been baking for the Royals for years. No one expects that Sylvie wants in on this opportunity too, and her style is perfect for the avant-garde princess.

It's a battle of tradition vs. modern. And when there’s cake—and bragging rights—on the line, who will come out on top? Will the competition bring out the passion in both of them?

This was a fun, cute, and hunger-inducing rom-com. I’m a sucker for books with cooking shows in them and I love rom-coms, so…

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

Book Review: "Blush" by Jamie Brenner

Wine, cheese, and trashy romance novels from the 80s? Yes, please!⁣ I'm all in for Jamie Brenner's Blush.

⁣ The Hollander Estates winery was once the pride of Long Island’s North Fork, but it’s not the jewel it once was, and the family’s finances are in a bit of trouble. Vivian Hollander is determined that the winery can survive, but her husband isn’t much interested in her opinions where the business is concerned.⁣

⁣ Leah, Vivian’s daughter, always dreamed of running the winery, but after her father made it clear women had no place in the wine business, she made her own way, eventually running her own successful wine and cheese shop in NYC. But now she’s not sure what she wants—in business or her marriage—so she heads home for a visit.⁣

⁣ Her daughter Sadie, in the midst of an academic crisis, heads to her grandparents’ for a visit, too. While trying to write her thesis, she uncovers journals from the book club Vivian used to run at the winery in the 1980s. Those women used to read “trashy” romance novels by authors like Jackie Collins and Judith Krantz.⁣

⁣ Vivian, Leah, and Sadie decide to restart the book club and read some of these books again. They discover that the heroines of these “trashy” books are stronger than they appeared to be, which provides each woman the inspiration they need. At the same time, decisions are made, old secrets are revealed, and truths are uncovered.⁣

⁣ Jamie Brenner is such a great writer and her books always mesh emotion and gorgeous scenery. Blush was a fun concept—I read many Jackie Collins and Judith Krantz books back in the day!⁣

Book Review: "We Run the Tides" by Vendela Vida

We Run the Tides is a provocative, powerful coming-of-age novel and a look at the uneasy path to finding your own way.

“We are thirteen, almost fourteen, and these streets of Sea Cliff are ours. We walk these streets to our school perched high over the Pacific and we run these streets to the beaches, which are cold, windswept, full of fishermen and freaks.”

In mid-1980s San Francisco, Eulabee and her best friend, the charismatic Maria Fabiola, are on the cusp of womanhood. They and their friends attend an all-girls’ school and they know their neighborhood well, as well as the characters that inhabit the houses around them.

One day while walking to school, a man talks to Eulabee and her friends. At that moment something traumatic purportedly happens, at least according to Maria Fabiola and their two friends. But Eulabee’s insistence on adhering to what she saw rather than follow Maria Fabiola’s lead leaves her on the outside looking in, the subject of ostracism by her classmates.

Shortly thereafter, Maria Fabiola disappears. The daughter of a wealthy family, she is believed kidnapped, but Eulabee wonders what the truth is. And as she tries to make sense of being shunned by her friends, to understand her burgeoning sexuality, she finds herself caught up in the stories Maria Fabiola weaves.

This was a quirky but well-told book about the fragility of friendships, particularly among teenage girls, and the pressure to decide how much of yourself needs to change in order to fit in. The whole thing seemed a bit improbable but I remembered its 1980s setting.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Book Review: "Good Boy" by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

The cover isn’t the only hot thing about this one!

I can’t seem to stay away from hockey romance lately (thanks to my dear friend Abby for the inspiration), especially with these great characters created by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy. (I only wonder if I’ll be able to watch hockey without blushing, lol.)

This book picks up at the end of Bowen and Kennedy's Us but focuses on Jamie’s sister Jessica and Wes’ gregarious teammate, Blake. The two had one wild night when they were watching over a sick Jamie, but Jess is determined it will never happen again. The challenge is that this oversized man-child is everywhere she goes, since he’s best friends with her brother, and he might very well be the sexiest man she’s ever seen.

As a professional hockey player, Blake is used to women throwing themselves at him. But even though he can hook up whenever he wants to, all he can think about is Jessica. Yet she seems intent on pushing him away.

Jessica is intent on proving to her family that her flightiness in terms of finding a career is finally over when she gets to nursing school. But does she have what it takes? And when she agrees to pretend to date Blake to make his ex jealous, she realizes this big man has an even bigger heart.

This book is fun and super-steamy, and Jessica and Blake have amazing chemistry. He’s a character that has definitely grown on me, and boy, I’d like to see what a film or television version of him would look like!!

I’ll definitely be reading the second book in this new series and once again I’ll say to Sarina and Elle, more Wesmie!!

Book Review: "Act Cool" by Tobly McSmith

If you want people to like you for who you are, it helps if you show them who you really are. That's the message behind Tobly McSmith's newest YA book, Act Cool.

August dreams of being an actor. But his evangelical parents don’t approve of his being transgender—they just think their daughter is confused—so he goes to stay with his aunt in New York, and he’s able to get an audition for the prestigious School of the Performing Arts.

His mother agrees to let him stay there as long as he promises not to continue transitioning and act like their daughter. August is convinced that he’s a good enough actor to be the person he wants to be in school and with his new friends, and still play the role his parents want him to.

Of course, when you’re playing different roles for different people, it’s hard to figure out who you really are. And the role he chooses to audition for in the school musical further blurs the lines. But who is the real August? What does he want?

This is a great story about finding yourself and your chosen family, as well as a relevant conversation about representation in acting, the question of whether any actor should be able to play any role or if specific roles should only go to actors who live that role in real life—if a trans actor should only play a trans role.

I found Act Cool fun, sweet, poignant, and very thought-provoking, as well as a little sad. I’ve now enjoyed both of Tobly McSmith’s books, including his first, Stay Gold.

Book Review: "A Song for the Road" by Kathleen Basi

Apparently I haven’t stopped torturing myself emotionally just yet, as I read this book on the heels of Nicholas Sparks' The Wish.

It’s been a year since Miriam’s husband Teo and their teenage children, Talia and Blaise, were killed. She’s barely holding on most days, but when she receives flowers for her birthday “from” Teo (from an auto-delivery set up a year before), it causes her to act a little impulsively. Which would be fine if she weren’t the music director of a church.

She knows she needs to process her grief but isn’t sure how. And she can’t even bring herself to go through any of their stuff. But when she opens her daughter’s computer she discovers that her children had created a road trip challenge for Miriam and Teo to take, a romantic journey across the country, full of coin-flip choices and random tourist spots.

Moved by the amount of effort the kids put into this, Miriam decides to take the trip, accompanied by Teo’s guitar, Talia’s cello, and Blaise’s unfinished piano sonata. Along the way she meets Dicey, a pregnant hitchhiker, who decides to join Miriam on the journey.

The trip is unpredictable, memorable, and emotional, as Miriam not only comes to terms with her grief and loss, but her guilt at not always appreciating her loved ones or giving them what they so desperately craved. For anyone who has ever thought, “If only I…,” you’ll feel this book so palpably.

As you can imagine, A Song for the Road packs an emotional punch, but it’s sweet and funny and thought-provoking as well as poignant. Just a beautiful book.

Book Review: "The Wish" by Nicholas Sparks

With his new book, The Wish, the master of the romantic tearjerker is back to tug at your emotions!

Is there anyone else who stays up super late to finish a book and it seriously rips you apart? Well, I wasn't surprised, but Nicholas Sparks’ new book definitely did that to me. It reminded me of some of his classics like The Notebook.

Maggie is 16 in 1996 when she is sent away to live with her aunt in the remote village of Ocracoke, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. It’s a fairly solitary life—she mostly does her schoolwork and helps keep the house clean—and she misses her friends. But it’s not long before she strikes up a friendship with Bryce, one of the few other teenagers on the island.

Bryce starts tutoring Maggie to help her keep up with her schoolwork. He starts to show her things he loves about the island and he introduces her to photography, which becomes a love of hers. And little by little, the two fall hard for one another. But Maggie knows she’ll be headed home to Seattle in May, and she knows they’re both too young to derail the course of their lives.

In 2019, Maggie is a famous photographer who co-owns an NYC gallery, where she works when she’s not traveling the world. But faced with a serious medical diagnosis, she needs to hire an assistant for the gallery. As her condition worsens, she and the young man she hires develop a friendship, and she tells him the story of that Christmas in 1996, and its impact on her life.

Not much in The Wish surprised me (there was one twist that threw me) but I was fully immersed in it, falling in love with the characters and the love story. My eyes are still puffy this morning, but boy, it was a good cry!!

Friday, October 15, 2021

Book Review: "When Ghosts Come Home" by Wiley Cash

Wiley Cash's new book, When Ghosts Come Home, is a brooding and evocative crime novel.

It’s late October 1984. The sound of a low-flying plane overhead awakens Sheriff Winston Barnes and his wife at around 4 am. Although he can see no fire or wreckage, he knows that something is not right, so he goes to the nearby airfield to investigate.

He’s correct: something isn’t right. He finds a large plane has crash-landed on the runway, but there is no sign of a pilot or any cargo. He does find the body of a local man who has been shot dead, and he later finds that the plane has been wiped clean of prints.

The investigation into this murder rocks the town, as the man was Black and racial tensions were already out of control. To make matters worse, Winston is up for re-election in less than a week and he faces a formidable and corrupt challenger. There’s no doubt that his every action on this case will determine his future—as if it hasn’t been determined already.

As his own past comes to light, he also has to deal with his wife’s terminal illness and the return of his adult daughter, who is struggling to deal with a difficult loss. It’s all weighing on him in ways he never expected.

This was a well-told story, one where you know things are going to happen but you don’t know what. The anticipation in this story was powerful and well-teased-out, and there definitely were surprises. It’s a slow pace at times but not noticeably so.

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

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Book Review: "Taste: My Life Through Food" by Stanley Tucci

Taste: My Life Through Food is part memoir, part love letter to food and eating and cooking.

My name is Larry and I love food. I mean, seriously. I love to read about it, I love to cook it, and I seriously love to eat it. Most of the memoirs I’ve read have been written by chefs or have been about people’s love of food, so when I saw Stanley Tucci (one of my favorite actors) had written this book, I jumped on it like I would a buffet. (Hey, #fatboysgottafat.)

In this book, Tucci shared memories of growing up in an Italian family that shared an immense love of food, and how his preferences were much more expansive than those of his peers, yet he still craved the junk foods of his youth.

He shares memories of some of the best (and worst) meals he’s ever had, memories of discovering new restaurants while filming or traveling or vacationing. He also discusses the shared love of food with both his late first wife and his current wife and their children, and one of his greatest fears when battling his own cancer diagnosis. (Plus, recipes. I’m in heaven.)

So often I could picture Tucci with his sly wit and slightly curmudgeonly manner telling me these stories. (He loves poking fun at Meryl Streep, too.) Taste really was just an all-around fantastic reading experience that made me so hungry, and I, well, devoured it in no time.

If you’ve never seen his movie Big Night, and you like movies about food, check it out!

Book Review: "I Am Not Who You Think I Am" by Eric Rickstad

Wow, this was dark and twisty.

When he was eight years old, Wayland’s father killed himself in front of him. The only explanation was a cryptic note which read, “I am not who you think I am.” He can’t understand why his father would’ve killed himself or why his mother has gotten rid of anything connected with him.

Now 16, Wayland is still haunted by the memories of that day, but when he makes a startling discovery, he thinks the note his father left may be the key to some answers around his death. But the more he digs, things get more mysterious, and Wayland gets more and more unhinged. And what he finds out may be far more bizarre than he ever imagined.

I Am Not Who You Think I Am was a definite slow burn but it was very intriguing. But as Wayland started to lose his grip, the book starts getting darker and darker and definitely more bizarre. By the end it felt a little like a mashup between a gothic novel and Riley Sager’s Lock Every Door, more in tone though, not horror.

If dark and twisty books are your jam, check this out!

Book Review: "Kind of Sort of Fine" by Spencer Hall

It’s like this book had my name written on it.

Hayley has always been the perfect student, determined to get in to the best college. She takes all the right classes and is a fierce competitor on the tennis team. And then one day before the end of her junior year it all just gets to be too much for her and she has a very public breakdown of sorts, one which quickly goes viral.

Lewis has always thought of himself as the chubby, funny sidekick in the 80s movie that is his life. But for senior year he’s determined to change that, and become the leading man. He starts exercising and watching what he eats, and he’s hoping that he’ll find the courage to let a good friend know he’s interested in her.

When Hayley is forced to take TV Production as an elective (to “lighten” her schedule), she thinks it will just be a bunch of burnouts, but it’s Lewis’ favorite class. Once they’re paired on a semester-long assignment, they begin making documentaries on the things people would be surprised to learn about their fellow classmates.

Along the way they discover that there’s often a gap between what we perceive about people and reality, and that applies to them, too. They’ll also learn that in trying to change the way people think about you, you may lose what makes you special.

Kind of Sort of Fine really was a funny, emotional, thought-provoking book. I saw a little bit of high-school Larry in both Lewis and Hayley, and of course, any book that has an 80s vibe is all right with me!!

Book Review: "In Another Light" by A.J. Banner

A.J. Banner's new thriller, In Another Light, asks, how well do we really know those we love?

Phoebe has been trying to pull her life back together since a tragic accident killed her husband, but it’s not easy. She keeps some semblance of normalcy by continuing her work as a cosmetologist at a mortuary, where she helps grieving families get one last bit of comfort before saying goodbye to their loved ones.

She is rocked when the latest body to arrive at the mortuary is a young woman who could be her twin—and she has a distinctive tattoo Phoebe remembers seeing before. But stranger than that, the woman has a picture of Phoebe among her personal effects.

Who is this doppelgänger? Why did she come to town, and what did she want? Phoebe is determined to get answers, but they make take her down some paths she doesn’t want to explore, and her investigation threatens to jeopardize her own life and her own already-tenuous grip on reality.

I got hooked pretty quickly on this. Banner definitely threw some twists and turns into the story, and while ultimately I had a feeling what would happen, I also suspected a lot of crazy things that didn’t happen, so even a stopped clock is right twice a day, lol.

What I liked about In Another Light was that, while obviously some things were exaggerated, grief does make people do crazy things, so you could see some of this story actually happening. This was a good thriller to curl up with for a bit!

Thanks to Get Red PR Books and Lake Union Publishing for a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Book Review: "Bewilderment" by Richard Powers

The newest book by Richard Powers, Bewilderment is a gorgeous and poignant meditation on the world around us and the relationship between father and son.

Theo is an astrobiologist. But of all the mysteries of the world he has studied, there’s no greater mystery than his nine-year-old, neurodiverse son, Robin. Robin is fiercely passionate and intelligent, he craves the knowledge his father gives him. But sometimes he cannot handle the jumble of emotions he feels at once, so that is manifested in outbursts, tantrums, even violence.

When Robin hits his classmate in the face, the school gives Theo an ultimatum: medicate him or they’ll intervene.

“My boy was a pocket universe I could never hope to fathom. Every one of us is an experiment, and we don’t even know what the experiment is testing.”

With no real choice, Theo enrolls Robin in an experimental neurofeedback treatment to help his emotional controls. It actually involves training Robin on the recorded patterns of his mother’s brain, who died when he was younger. Is this the right course of treatment? What are the risks?

This is such a beautiful, emotional, evocative book. It’s a little science-heavy at times but skimming over those passages didn’t dampen the book’s strength. It’s at once a book about the fragility of our world and the fragility of our hearts, about the fierce love of a father for his son.

Richard Powers is one of those prolific, well-respected authors I’d never read before except short stories. Bewilderment really blew me away.

Book Review: "The Love Hypothesis" by Ali Hazelwood

Ali Hazelwood's new rom-com is just what the science lab ordered!!

Some people are good at spur-of-the-moment decisions. Not Olive. Despite her brilliance, she does some crazy things under pressure. That’s the only reason why she would’ve randomly kissed the first guy she saw in an effort to convince her best friend she was dating someone.

Of course, nothing is ever simple. It turns out that the guy she kisses is none other than Dr. Adam Carlsen, who happens to be the most hated professor in Stanford’s biology department. Strangely enough, even though his reputation as a complete ass is warranted, he doesn’t really object to her kissing him. And in fact, he even agrees to be her fake boyfriend.

Fake dating is actually more fun than either imagined (and boy, is he handsome), although it’s hard to negotiate the way her fellow PhD candidates treat her when they think she’s dating someone who shreds people’s self-esteem. But with her, Adam is surprisingly gentle, kind, and supportive—and he surprises her with his willingness to support her, even when professional crises threaten to come between them.

The thing about fake dating, though, is it rarely feels fake for long. As someone who never believed romance could last, Olive suddenly has to examine her hypothesis—but what does that mean for a real future with Adam?

This was straight-up adorable, sexy, and just so much fun. Like every great rom-com there are elements of predictability, but with the added component of the struggles faced by women in STEM, it just worked on all levels. A lot of people listed this as one of their favorite reads of September and I can surely see why!

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Book Review: "Heard It in a Love Song" by Tracey Garvis Graves

How do you know when your heart is ready for a second chance? Heard It in a Love Song might have the answer, if such an answer really exists.

Layla (no, she wasn’t named for the Eric Clapton song) has been licking her wounds since her 10-year marriage ended. She works as a music teacher but remembers all too well her time as the lead singer of a band. Her friends want her to get back out there and start dating, but the thought of starting over doesn’t appeal to her in the slightest.

Josh and his wife, whom he met in high school, recently separated after 20 years of marriage. He never thought there would be anyone for him but her, but now he devotes himself to shared custody of their young daughter, Sasha, who attends elementary school where Layla teaches.

Layla and Josh strike up conversation as he drops his daughter off at school every morning. Little by little, they start looking forward to seeing one another, and as their interest grows, they both wonder if they’re ready to start dating again.

Does everyone get a second chance at love? How do you know if it’s real or just a rebound romance? Could the right person come along at the wrong time?

Tracey Garvis Graves is an engaging storyteller (I loved her last book, The Girl He Used to Know) and you definitely find yourself rooting for these characters. There are a lot of flashbacks which come randomly in different chapters, as they trace Layla and Josh’s previous relationships, but sometimes I wished we could just focus on the story at hand. Still, this is an enjoyable story and I love any book that deals with music in whatever form.

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!

Heard It in a Love Song publishes 11/2.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Book Review: "The Last House on Needless Street" by Catriona Ward

The Last House on Needless Street is, quite simply, one of the wildest and most unique books I’ve ever read. (What would I expect from a book with a blurb from Sarah Pinborough, of the WTF-was-that-ending Behind Her Eyes?)

There’s a boarded-up house at the end of Needless Street. In that house lives a troubled man who doesn't always have a hold on his memory. His teenage daughter lives there too, and he demands that she stay inside the house. Then, of course, there's the cat, Olivia. Olivia isn’t your ordinary cat.

You need to know nothing more in order for this book to truly work.

This seems like a fairly simple story, but it’s anything but that. It’s creepy, disturbing, sad, thought-provoking, disorienting at times, and honestly, just so unique. It may trigger some (I don’t want to spoil anything by listing triggers so DM me if you’re concerned) but reading Catriona Ward’s afterword definitely makes everything make more sense.

I can't honestly say if I liked The Last House on Needless Street, but I admire the way it all worked together. And if you're a fan of audiobooks, apparently this is one you should listen to.

Thanks to Storygram Tours and Tor Nightfire for inviting me on the tour and providing me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. This is a perfect book for spooky season!

Friday, October 1, 2021

Book Review: "Hold Me Down" by Clea Simon

As Clea Simon's latest book, Hold Me Down, shows us, sometimes painful memories confront us even when we have no idea they’ve been hiding within us.

Gal remembers what it was like to command an audience as the singer of a once-popular band. But life on the road, particularly for three women in a band, was tough, full of drugs, alcohol, sex, and those who believed women were inferior in the music world.

Now middle-aged, it’s been a while since she’s performed, but she agrees to participate in a tribute for her former drummer and best friend. She is shaken when she spots a familiar face in the crowd, and that shock intensifies when she finds out that man was killed not far from the concert venue later that night—and her best friend’s widower is accused of the murder.

Gal can’t believe her friend would murder anyone, but when he refuses to fight the charges, she needs to understand why. She learns the dead man had been asking about her, but why after all these years? But the deeper she digs, the clearer memories of her past become, memories she had hidden so deeply she didn’t realize they existed.

While some of the blurbs promoting this book have called it a thriller, I’d say it’s more a story about survival, how memory can both protect and hurt us, and the immense responsibility we feel toward those we care about. The story shifts between past and present and almost feels as if things are being revealed like memories becoming clearer.

Thanks to Suzy Approved Book Tours, Clea Simon, and Polis Books for inviting me on the tour, and providing me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!

Hold Me Down publishes 10/19.