Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Book Review: "I'm Dreaming of a Wyatt Christmas" by Tiffany Schmidt

I'm Dreaming of a Wyatt Christmas (how can you not love this title?) is a sweet YA book about the holiday spirit, crushes, friendship, and trying to put grief behind you.

Noelle Partridge (another super-adorable name for a holiday rom-com) loves Christmas. She always plans major activities for her and her best friends, and she and her father always team up to try and have the best holiday they can, because it helps them deal with the loss of her mother.

But this year, her friends are making every excuse not to do Christmas activities and her father is barely paying any attention to her or the upcoming holidays. So when one of her best babysitting clients asks her to accompany their family on a ski trip over the holidays, she jumps at the chance. The snow can awaken her spirit and she can make lots of money to help pay for Beacon, the exclusive ballet school she wants to attend.

What she doesn’t count on, however, is the arrival of Wyatt, her babysitting charges’ older stepbrother. Wyatt is a fantastic dancer at Beacon and Noelle has an enormous crush on him. Of course, things are awkward and Wyatt doesn’t understand why Noelle is there with his family, but after a while they both let their guards down and share their anxieties and sadness with each other.

This is a YA novel which definitely skews really young, so it would be perfect for younger readers. There’s none of the heavy emotional angst or mature themes you usually find in YA books. It's a cute read!

Book Review: "These Precious Days" by Ann Patchett

These Precious Days is a new collection of essays by Ann Patchett that make you think, make you feel, and may even make you cry.

Patchett is a total auto-buy author for me. I’ve read all of her fiction and even though I’m not a huge nonfiction fan, I devoured her memoir and her previous essay collection. So needless to say, when I heard she had a new book of essays coming out, I had to purchase it immediately.

There’s just something about the way Patchett writes that just draws me in. There’s a quiet beauty to her words, and her essays feel like stories in many ways. I was utterly captivated by characters I’ll never meet but I was fully invested in their lives.

These essays dealt with topics such as marriage, family, writing, friendship, people she admires, her love for knitting and Snoopy, and more. Each one is insightful and what I love so much about her writing is that she never belabors a point or uses 50 words when 10 will do.

My favorite essay in the collection is the title one, the longest in the collection by far. When Tom Hanks agrees to do the audiobook of The Dutch House, Patchett forges a connection with his assistant, Sooki, a connection that transcends schedules and logistics and blossoms into a life-changing friendship. This essay truly could’ve been a novel.

Even though I don’t follow a lot of Bookstagram trends, yay me for getting in another book for #NonfictionNovember just under the wire!

Book Review: "The Matzah Ball" by Jean Meltzer

Here's another rom-com for your holiday season, but this time it’s a Hanukkah one!

Happy Hanukkah to those who celebrate! I don’t know about you, but for me, growing up Jewish was always a little tough on the holidays, because not a tremendous amount of attention was paid to Hanukkah. People don’t go Hanukkah caroling, and Charlie Brown and his gang didn’t mark the Festival of Lights. But I always loved the Christmas spirit and all that came with it.

Rachel loves Christmas, too, but since her father is a prominent rabbi, she has to keep that hidden. She also has to hide the fact that she’s actually a best-selling Christmas romance author. But when her editor says that their readers are tiring of the same-old holiday stuff and want something different—maybe a Hanukkah romance—Rachel is at a loss. Where will she find inspiration for that?

Inspiration enters in the form of Jacob Greenberg, the handsome festival organizer and mastermind behind the exclusive Matzah Ball. Jacob also happens to be Rachel’s first love—and heartbreak—back from their preteen summer camp days. And even though she still holds a bit of a grudge, she’s determined to get a ticket to the Matzah Ball.

I loved the representation in this book. Not only were there Jewish MCs and Shabbat candles, but Rachel also had chronic fatigue syndrome, and the book dealt with the mistreatment and prejudice and pity many with invisible illnesses face.

The thing that worked the least for me was the romance, believe it or not. I didn’t feel a ton of chemistry between Rachel and Jacob, and the pranks he played on her would’ve knocked him off my list, lol.

Still, I hope that The Matzah Ball signifies the start of more Hanukkah rom-coms. It was great to buddy read this with my friend Louis, too—he’s the best to discuss books with!!

Book Review: "Lore Olympus" by Rachel Smythe

Who knew the lives of gods were so dramatic? Lore Olympus gives you all the scoop!

So many of my Bookstagram friends seem to enjoy books with mythological themes. And when they ask, “What's your favorite mythological figure,” I usually answer with, “Mythology isn’t my jam,” due to some unfortunate scarring in high school. (Surprise quiz after returning from a sick day=being labeled "brain dead" by your English teacher. Even with a doctor's note.) But if mythology was more like this amazing graphic novel? I’d be all over it and then some!

So, in Rachel Smythe's retelling, Persephone is new in Olympus after finally being able to escape her overprotective mother, Demeter. One night, Persephone and her roommate Artemis go to a party, where she meets Hades. The two feel an instant connection to one another, which sets off a cavalcade of jealousy, revenge, and repercussions among the gods.

This is tremendously creative, beautifully drawn, and it’s not your everyday graphic novel. There’s adult language, some things which could be triggers (e.g., rape, drugs), and drama galore, and I couldn’t get enough. The only thing that would have made this better for me was if I knew mythology so I understood the issues the gods had with, and their relationships to, one another. (I often joke that if I ever was a contestant on Jeopardy, mythology would be all of the clues!

I’ll be anxiously waiting for Volume 2 in July 2022!

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Book Review: "These Silent Woods" by Kimi Cunningham Grant

These Silent Woods was an excellent book—emotional, suspenseful, and it packed a real punch. Definitely one of the best I've read all year.

Cooper and his young daughter, Finch, have lived off the grid in a remote cabin in the Appalachian woods for eight years now, since Finch was an infant. They survive off the land, raising a few chickens, and Cooper’s best friend Jake delivers a massive amount of supplies once a year. The only other person they see is their neighbor, Scotland, who seems to be a thorn in Cooper’s side more than anything. Is he spying on them for a reason?

It’s not an optimal existence, particularly not to raise a young girl in, but it’s all Cooper can do. Because to come out of hiding would mean the secrets he’s kept would be revealed, and it would jeopardize his ability to raise, or perhaps even see, his daughter.

“A small and insulated world for both of us, and there is a simplicity to it that makes it difficult to explain the complexities of life. The unreliable and often shifting line between right and wrong.”

This year, Jake doesn’t show up. They knew this could happen one day but it necessitates Cooper taking actions he wasn’t prepared to. And when a stranger appears in the woods, a stranger Finch becomes fixated on, the whole life Cooper has so carefully prepared for him and his daughter could be totally upended.

I’ve been waiting to read this for so long, since so many others on Bookstagram received advance copies. And boy, it lived up to the hype in every way. (There are some very brief scenes of animal death but you can skim them easily.) What a gorgeous, lyrical, suspenseful, thought-provoking book.

Book Review: "Winter Street" by Elin Hilderbrand

In this, the first book in Elin Hilderbrand's Winter Street series, one family experiences a ton of chaos right around Christmas.

Kelley has been running the Winter Street Inn on Nantucket for years, but lately it’s really been struggling. He knows he needs to do something about it, but for now he looks forward to the Inn’s annual Christmas party and spending time with his family.

And then he sees Mitzi kissing Santa Claus. Mitzi is his second wife; Santa is actually George, the man who’s been playing Santa for their party for years.

The end of his marriage doesn’t quite put Kelley in the holiday spirit. Couple that with crises being experienced by his three older children and his youngest son, Bart (his only child with Mitzi), unreachable in Afghanistan, and there are few “Ho Ho Hos” to be found. Can Margaret, Kelley’s first wife and a famous news anchor, sweep in and save the day?

I’m a fan of many of Hilderbrand’s books and I’ve been looking forward to starting this series for a while. This was emotional and fun but just a bit too melodramatic and stuffed full of chaos. Every character had at least one issue to deal with, and none of them were simple, either.

I’ll still read the rest of the series because I love the way she writes and I love Nantucket as a setting. For those of you who have read the series, is every book as dramatic?

Book Review: "Window Shopping" by Tessa Bailey

The cold of the holiday season is tempered by the steam in this Christmas novella from Tessa Bailey, Window Shopping!!

“I’ll never be able to explain why I deviated from my route and veered down the bustling thoroughfare of high-end shopping. If I was a girl who believed in magic, I would say there was a tingle of Christmas magic in the air that propelled me east, carrying me through the shopper’s paradise on a wintery gust of wind.”

Stella needs to rebuild her life but doesn’t know how to start. Somehow she winds up in the mash of tourist traffic in front of the department store windows, and gets stuck looking at the holiday displays of the famed Vivant department store.

For someone who once dreamed of a career in fashion and design, the displays don’t impress her, and it’s hard not to hide her distaste. And when a handsome, fancily dressed stranger sees her expression and asks her opinion, how could she know he runs the store his family owns?

But this man—Aiden—encourages her to apply for a window dressing position at the store. (She still has no idea who he is other than that he works for the store.) That could be a dream—but she has a secret that would keep anyone from hiring her. So why does she show up for the interview anyway?

For his part, Aiden can’t get Stella out of his mind. He’s determined to make her a part of Vivant despite her background, no matter what his family might say. And it’s not just her design mind and talent that intrigues him…

This was a cute, sexy holiday story, complete with insta-love, second chances, and window displays. Insta-love isn’t always my favorite trope but it’s enjoyable here, and Tessa Bailey always knows how to bring the steam like it rises from the winter streets in NYC!!

Book Review: "How to Find Love in a Bookshop" by Veronica Henry

When the owner of a beloved English bookshop dies, his daughter and his customers must find a way to carry on, in Veronica Henry's How to Find Love in a Bookshop.

“…a town without a bookshop was a town without a heart.”

Nightingale Books was truly a fixture in its small English town, and its owner, Julius, was a friend, confidante, and counselor (and sometimes more) for his customers. When he dies, his daughter Emilia as well as his customers are at a loss.

The shop has been a part of Emilia's life since she was an infant. How can she fill her father’s shoes? And with the shop in financial peril and developers becoming more aggressive with their offers to buy the store, how can she keep the promise she made to her father to keep the bookshop open?

Emilia’s story is juxtaposed with those of a few of the shop’s customers who looked to Julius for more than book recommendations, and need to figure out how to get on with their lives.

Parts of this book made my heart full and made me tear up, but at times the book got bogged down in more stereotypical plot lines. I could’ve done without the evil developers and the love triangle pitting rich against poor. Those side stories were what kept me from truly loving this book, which I so wanted to do.

Still, give me a book about bookshops and how reading can heal us and I’m here for all of it!!

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Book Review: "Nanny Needed" by Georgina Cross

Be warned: Nanny Needed takes you on quite a wild ride!

The flyer advertising for a nanny position seemed to be the answer to Sarah’s prayers. She can’t seem to get out from under the mountain of debt accumulated while her beloved aunt, who raised her, was dying, and Sarah and her boyfriend are struggling to make ends meet.

The “Discretion is of the utmost importance” line on the flyer doesn’t worry Sarah. Maybe she’ll take care of the daughter of an actor or other celebrity.

When she meets Collette Bird, she feels an instant connection. She feels more like a friend, and Sarah can’t wait to spend time with her and nearly four-year-old daughter, Patty. Sarah is blown away by the Birds’ Upper West Side penthouse apartment, and she quickly agrees to the job and signs the NDA without a thought.

And that’s when the crazy s—t starts to hit the fan, y’all. One twist I saw coming, but the plot just takes off like a rocket at one point. You really need to suspend your disbelief for some of it, which is something I don’t really enjoy in thrillers, so if you’re good with that, you may be totally hooked.

Still, Nanny Needed is one page-turner I couldn’t put down. And it goes to show you—if it seems too good to be true, IT IS.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Book Review: "The Santa Suit" by Mary Kay Andrews

If you need a book to get you in the holiday spirit, here it is!

Ivy, still hurting and bitter from her recent divorce, which forced her to leave the company she helped build, is ready for a new start. Tired of the rat race in Atlanta, she decides to buy an old farmhouse—sight unseen—in the small town of Tarburton, NC. She hopes that this will be the jumpstart she needs to redo her life.

It turns out, however, that the house is a little more “well loved” than she expected, and the previous owners’ relatives left nearly everything in the house. Among the possessions left behind is a gorgeous, old-fashioned Santa suit. (The previous owner was the town’s Santa Claus for many years.)

Inside the pocket of the Santa suit, Ivy finds a letter from a young girl hoping her father comes home from the war. Why did he keep this particular letter? Did the girl have her wish come true? With not much else to do but add to her growing list of necessary home repairs, Ivy decides to do some digging into the letter, and her detective work connects her with some new friends.

At the same time, her handsome real estate agent seems to be all too willing to help her at a moment’s notice. Should she let her heart go where it wants, or does taking another chance only risk disaster?

The Santa Suit is such a heartwarming story, full of small-town charm, holiday spirit, hope, and love. You could almost feel the snow in the air and get enveloped in the holiday atmosphere. It was so freaking charming!!

Book Review: "The Heartbreak Bakery" by A.R. Capetta

Add romance, a cup of magical realism, a few spoonfuls of finding yourself, and lots and lots of baking. This book was absolutely fantastic!!

Syd (not ready to pick a gender yet) is an amazing young baker at the Proud Muffin in Austin, TX. One day, after Syd’s relationship with W ends, Syd deals with it in the best way—baking. And amazing Breakup Brownies are created.

The problem is, anyone who eats the Breakup Brownies well, breaks up, including Vin and Alec, the owners of the Proud Muffin. With the future of the bakery at stake as well as a number of relationships on the rocks thanks to Syd’s brownies, Syd is desperate to make it all right. And that means more baking and more feelings and trying to find the right recipe for everyone.

With the help of Harley, the sexy delivery messenger for the bakery, Syd makes some important discoveries—about love, about assumptions, about bravery, and about how cupcakes have no gender, and that’s ok. It’s okay to be an agender cupcake.

What a special, magical book The Heartbreak Bakery was! And it wasn’t crazy—just a bit of imbuing baked goods with emotions felt by those eating them. But aside from all of the mouthwatering food, this book had so many beautiful, glorious, life-affirming things to say. (And recipes!! I love books with recipes!!)

This will easily be one of my favorite YA books of the year.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Book Review: "The Holiday Swap" by Maggie Knox

Simply put, The Holiday Swap is all kinds of adorable.

Charlie is a successful pastry chef and co-host of a renowned baking show. She’s battling with her annoying co-host to get her own show, so when a concussion robs her of her senses of taste and smell, she knows that she’s in trouble.

Cass, Charlie’s twin sister, is trying to prove to their parents that she can take over the family bakery. At the same time, she has to convince her long-time boyfriend that she does NOT want to marry him, but he can’t seem to get the message.

What else is there to do? The sisters—identical twins at that—decide to switch places for a week. This way, Cass can salvage Charlie’s show and hopefully keep her co-host at bay, and the more no-nonsense Charlie might be able to clean up Cass’ personal life. No one will figure it out, right?

Of course, nothing is as simple as it sounds. And when a firefighter and a physician’s assistant get involved, there’s sure to be confusion—and trouble!

When I was young, I used to dream of having an identical twin brother with whom I could trade places whenever we wanted. I love that The Holiday Swap took that concept to a new level.

This was a cute read, but if you’re a carbs junkie like me, don’t read this on an empty stomach, because mine was GROWLING while reading this! (BTW, Maggie Knox is actually the pen name for two authors, Karma Brown and Marissa Stapley.)

Book Review: "Mayflies" by Andrew O'Hagan

Andrew O'Hagan's Mayflies is a powerful and poignant look at friendship and how far we will go to help a friend.

James and Tully met in a small Scottish town in 1986. They are drawn to one another by their love of music and film, their difficult relationships with their fathers, and their devil-may-care attitude, although the 20-year-old Tully embodies that far more than James. But theirs is a fierce, loyal friendship.

“He had innate charisma, a brilliant record collection, complete fearlessness in political argument, and he knew how to love you more than anybody else. Other guys were funny and brilliant and better and this and that, but Tully loved you.”

Along with some friends, they make an epic trip to Manchester that summer to see one of their favorite bands, The Sex Pistols. On that trip they vow to always go at life differently.

In 2017, James learns that Tully is dying. As always, Tully wants to live—and leave—life on his own terms, so he asks James for help. Can a friendship be so strong you’d truly do anything for your friend?

Mayflies is a book in two parts, really—it’s ebullient and buzzing with energy at the start, and it’s moving and tremendously thought-provoking at the end. I’ll admit I struggled with the dialect in which the story was told, which put me at a bit of a disconnect, but this is still so moving. With one of my friends currently at the end of his life, I can only wonder how I’d react in the same situation as the book describes.

NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada provided me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

Book Review: "Unforgettable" by Robin Covington

What would you do if you got a second chance with the one that got away? This is the question at the core of Robin Covington's Unforgettable.

This book contains two M/M second-chance romance novellas, “Ghost” and “Sacred Son.” Both are super-steamy (although the first one has more encounters than the second) and powerful—each has well-drawn characters struggling with some aspect of their lives, which affects their ability to truly let their guard down.

In “Ghost,” Oliver had a one-night stand with an amazing artist, Gareth, and while he wanted to stay forever, he snuck out in the early hours of the morning. A few years later, he’s at the top of the comic publishing world and determined to sign the mysterious artist “G,” whose graphic novel series has taken the world by storm. Imagine his surprise when he discovers that “G” is Gareth, the one he should never have left in the first place.

“Native Son” follows Judah Nighthorse, a man who made some mistakes when he was younger but has rebuilt his life. He’s determined to regain custody of his son, who has been placed with a non-Native foster family. So Judah asks Adam, a lawyer who fights for Native Americans in court, for help. Adam doesn’t shy away from a fight, but this means helping the man who broke his heart when he was younger.

Covington is a Native American author of color. I loved that she brought that background to her characters in these novellas and addressed some issues that disproportionately affect the Native community. These are hot romances with some emotional heft.

The thing is, I’ve known Robin since middle school and I’m awed by her talent, but do you have any idea what it’s like to read sex scenes written by someone who’s known you since you were even more awkward than you are now? (She’s always been a badass.)

This was awesome!!

Book Review: "The Year I Stopped Trying" by Katie Heaney

The Year I Stopped Trying was a sweet, thought-provoking, and engaging story of a young woman at odds with her life.

Mary has always done what she’s supposed to. She gets good grades, does extra credit, turns in assignments on time, and participates in class. She wouldn’t even know what else to do—she just does what’s expected.

One day amidst all of the multiple competing priorities of her life she discovers she didn’t complete a homework assignment. What is she going to do? But when she doesn’t turn in the assignment, nothing happens. The teacher doesn’t even notice!

Emboldened by this discovery, she starts testing the boundaries of her life. If she doesn’t feel like doing something, she just doesn’t. She even starts to do the opposite of what’s expected, and in the course of upending her life a bit, she grows to understand some things about herself she never had acknowledged before.

I really enjoyed this book. Growing up, I wish I had had the courage to do what I wanted rather than what was expected of me.

Thanks to Storygram Tours, Knopf, and Underlined for inviting me on the tour and sending me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!

Book Review: "The Secret Next Door" by Rebecca Taylor

You haven’t seen neighborhood drama until you’ve come to The Enclave, the heart of Rebecca Taylor's novel, The Secret Next Door.

The Enclave is your typical exclusive neighborhood, full of the haves and those struggling to pretend they’re haves. Everyone tries to make their lives look enviable from the outside even as they deal with marital, financial, and/or parenting challenges.

The neighborhood is roiled by the proposed building of a golfing entertainment facility on adjacent land. Neighbors take sides and accusations are thrown that one family might actually benefit from the development.

But when the body of a 13-year-old boy is found by the neighborhood lake, it touches off a powder keg of fear, suspicion, guilt, and, of course, gossip. It also causes two families to evaluate everything they hold dear and determine just what they want.

The Secret Next Door is a soapy, twisty book. If you’re a fan of this type of neighborhood drama book you’ve seen some of the story before, but it’s still pretty addictive. And Taylor really threw in some twists I didn’t see coming.

Thanks to Suzy Approved Book Tours, Rebecca Taylor, and Sourcebooks Landmark for inviting me on the tour and providing a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Book Review: "Model Home" by J. Courtney Sullivan

In J. Courtney Sullivan's short story Model Home, all is not rosy behind the scenes of a popular home remodeling program.

“Lately I think of my husband as a disappointment turducken: a lack of ambition wrapped in a beer gut wrapped in a statement tee designed for a much fitter man.”

Katie and her husband Damian are the hosts of “Down Home,” the nation's second-most popular home-makeover show. They seem to have at all: a loving marriage, sweet tween daughters who have grown up in the public eye, and the talent to change people’s lives through their creative eyes.

In truth? Their marriage is failing, their daughters hate Katie and refuse to appear on the show, and at the end of the season, when their contract is up, Damian wants out. Katie can’t imagine what her life will be like if the show ends, and what it will mean for her marriage and her life.

While none of the characters are very sympathetic, this was a compelling and quick read, where nothing is quite like it seems!

Book Review: "Ski Weekend" by Rektok Ross

It was supposed to be a fun weekend. No one expected all that occurs in Rektok Ross' Ski Weekend!

Everyone is looking forward to senior ski weekend. Except Sam. She has to look after her younger brother Stu (like always) to make sure he doesn’t get hurt following the lead of his best friend, Gavin. So now Sam, Stu, Gavin, Sam’s best friend (and Stu's girlfriend) Lily, and two others are in Gavin’s fancy new SUV, along with Gavin’s dog, Champion.

Sam once had a thing for Gavin, but when he left for boarding school a year ago, he never returned her emails or texts. So she’s got a bit of a chip on her shoulder where he’s concerned.

Not far into their journey, the cops start turning people around because of an impending snowstorm. One of their friends convinces them to try a shortcut through the mountains (those always work) and before they know it, they’ve crashed into a snowbank and their car is stuck. Of course, temperatures are dropping and cell coverage is non-existent.

When a foray to try and find help winds up with Stu getting hurt and then becoming feverish from his injuries, Sam has to keep him alive. But as their food supplies shrink and people start fighting, it’s becoming more a question of who will survive, not how. And it only gets worse from there.⁣

I never went on a lot of trips with friends when I was growing up, but if I was that age now, I’d never go anywhere!! Fun trips always seem to turn to disaster in books, lol, and I’m not the survivalist type. (To put it mildly.)

This was a very readable YA thriller. It was a little melodramatic, but Ross did a great job with the setting because I felt so cold while reading it! And boy, did I love Champion!!

Monday, November 15, 2021

Book Review: "You Can't Be Serious" by Kal Penn

No, You Can't Be Serious isn't the John McEnroe story: it's an insightful, funny memoir from Kal Penn, actor and one-time Obama administration employee.

I’ve been a big fan of Kal Penn’s since Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (I am, at my very core, a 12-year-old), and I really think he’s talented. I also was impressed that he left his acting job on House to take a position in the Obama administration for two years. Couple that with the recent public acknowledgment that he is gay and engaged, and I was all in on this memoir.

Most important thing I learned: when he was in middle school/high school, HE LIVED IN MY HOMETOWN. C'mon, Marlboro people, did no one else know this? Seriously, he even name dropped my middle school! He’s eight years younger than me so I was already in college but he went to middle school with my brother. (He was using his real name, Kalpen Modi, then.) How crazy is that?

I really enjoyed Penn’s self-deprecating style in this memoir, as he talked about what it was like to grow up Indian and be the child who wants to act rather than go to medical or law school as expected. He also talked a lot about how difficult it was (and is) to get a job in Hollywood when you look like he does, and fight the stereotypes casting directors and producers have about Indian actors.

He also really comes alive talking about his time campaigning for President Obama and working the administration, seeing the political system from both sides.

The one thing I expected a little more of was a discussion about his sexuality, since there was public acknowledgment of it prior to the book's release. He refers to being gay in passing a few times and then talks about meeting his now-fiancé, and how their relationship progressed. But clearly, it’s just another aspect of his life, so it doesn’t get special treatment. I'm glad to see he didn't view it all as a big deal.

I don’t read a lot of memoirs, particularly by celebrities, but I like him, and found this as engaging as I’d imagine he’d be in real life. Plus, Marlboro people gotta represent!

Book Review: "Just Haven't Met You Yet" by Sophie Cousens

This was an ultra-quirky, sweet, slow-burn romance about finding your own love story.

Laura is a writer for a website (oops, don’t call it that), and she hosts a series of interviews with couples detailing how they met and fell in love. It’s only natural that this job would make her long for a love story of her own—one that takes her breath away. She hasn’t found that yet.

The challenge is that, for her, nothing measures up to her parents’ great love story. When she travels to the British island of Jersey to chronicle their story’s beginning, she has an embarrassing encounter with a handsome man in the airport, and then discovers upon her arrival that she grabbed the wrong suitcase.

Of course, she can’t help but look through the suitcase she took, and the more she sees, the more she’s convinced the owner of the suitcase is her dream man. She just needs to find him, and she enlists the help of Ted, the island’s grumpy cabdriver, to try and track him down while at the same time revisiting the places in her parents’ love story.

But as she uncovers family secrets and tries to track down suitcase man, she starts realizing that perhaps what she’s wanted all along may need some revising. What is the right love story for her?

This whole story took a lot of time coming together, but pieces really choked me up. Sometimes the quirkiness really irritated me, though—I’m so tired of the ridiculous boss character, and the accident-prone person—so I was a little grumpy at times, but overall this was sweet. (I can't help but wonder if Sophie Cousens worked out a deal with Michael Bublé, because I couldn't get his song of the same name out of my head while reading the book!)

Book Review: "The Geek Who Saved Christmas" by Annabeth Albert

This M/M romance by Annabeth Albert is sweet and super sexy, and it gave me All. The. Feels!!

Well, as of November 11, I’ve read my first holiday romance. I’m planning to read a bunch between now and the end of the year, and hope they all have couples to ship like Paul and Gideon!!

Gideon Holiday (adorbs) truly lives up to his name. He’s never met a decoration he doesn’t like (but always tasteful), loves a bargain, and is the center of his neighborhood’s holiday decorating efforts. Nearly everyone is a fan of the spirit he brings—everyone except his grumpy but super-hot neighbor, Paul Frost.

For his part, Paul isn’t grumpy, he just doesn’t like the holidays. He’s not one for participating—it’s just him and his dog. He sees Gideon’s enthusiasm and thinks he’s handsome (albeit a little uptight), but it’s just not his thing. And he has his reasons.

Until Paul’s younger brother, whom he raised himself, announces he’s coming to town for Christmas with his girlfriend—and he wants to use the holiday backdrop to propose. He’s expecting the whole thing—tree, snow, decorations. What’s Paul going to do, when he was planning to spend the holiday hiding out in his bare house?

Of course, it’s Gideon to the rescue. He steps in with his carefully thought-out plans to help Paul add life to his house and decorate for Christmas. And as Gideon works his magic, he starts to understand what’s behind Paul’s anti-holiday spirit, and he can’t keep himself from wanting to deck his halls. (Sorry, I can’t resist.)

I thought The Geek Who Saved Christmas was just so adorable and super-steamy. (Man, does Albert write some HOT M/M sex scenes!) But there’s romance, emotion, and some heavier stuff, too, which just makes the story so well-rounded and squee-worthy. And I loved that these characters were in their 40s.

I’m ready for more holiday love stories!!

Book Review: "The Comfort Book" by Matt Haig

Matt Haig's The Comfort Book is one of those perfect little books you’ll want to give as a gift over and over again.

Oh, this book, y’all! I’ve said before that sometimes books come around at just the right time, and boy, this one sure did for me. Talk about a big hug and a thumbs-up and a pat on the back, all in book form.

As Haig explains in the introduction, “I sometimes write things down to comfort myself. Stuff learned in the bad times….It is a strange paradox, that many of the clearest, most comforting life lessons are learned while we are at our lowest.”

This is truly one of those books that you can pick up from any point and just marvel at what you’re reading. It’s full of advice, anecdotes, encouragement, lists, stories, things designed to bring comfort to those in need. Many of these observations helped Haig through his serious emotional struggles.

Here are two favorites of mine:

“You don’t have to continually improve yourself to love yourself. Love is not something you deserve only if you reach a goal. The world is one of pressure but don’t let it squeeze your self-compassion. You were born worthy of love and you remain worthy of love. Be kind to yourself.”

“I used to worry about fitting in until I realized the reason I didn’t fit in was because I didn’t want to.”

This is just so beautiful. I’ll be re-reading The Comfort Book so often because just picking up the book and opening it at a random point feels so good.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Book Review: "Tahira in Bloom" by Farah Heron

Sometimes your dreams don’t turn out the way you planned them. That's the lesson learned by Tahira Janmohammad, the protagonist of Tahira in Bloom.

Tahira has dreamed of being a fashion designer for as long as she can remember, and her Desi parents are determined that she succeed and get into the best college for this field of study. But when her summer internship with an up-and-coming designer is foiled by an unruly parakeet (seriously), she has to regroup.

Now, instead of spending the summer in Toronto with her boyfriend and best friend, she’s headed to the small town of Bakewell to help her mom’s cousin redo her clothing shop. It’s not quite the internship she imagined but pictures of the transformation should look great in her portfolio, right?

Trouble is, her ambitions far outweigh the shop owner’s ideas and budget. And no one mentioned that Bakewell is like the flower capital of the world—and Tahira is allergic. Plus, her aunty lives next door to “Plant Boy,” aka Rowan, an aspiring landscape architect and plant expert who thinks Tahira is just a vapid social media influencer. (Maybe it was the fact that she spilled manure all over the place at his family’s nursery while trying to take a picture for her Instagram?)

When she learns that a major floral design competition in Bakewell could get her in front of a major designer and help launch her career, she teams up with Rowan on an entry. (It doesn’t hurt that while grumpy, he’s extremely handsome.) She realizes how much she loves this aspect of design, and how maybe she needs to revise her dreams a bit.

Tahira in Bloom was a really sweet YA book complete with a little enemies-to-lovers romance and a diverse cast. There was some serious talk as well, about racism and expectations towards Indian and Black people. I really enjoy the way Farah Heron writes (I loved her enemies-to-lovers rom-com, Accidentally Engaged).

Thanks to TLC Book Tours, TLC Diversity, and Amazon Publishing for inviting me on the tour and providing a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Book Review: "The Whispered Word" by Ellery Adams

The Whispered Word brings a welcome return to Miracle Springs, North Carolina and this memorable cast of characters!!

Not only do I salute Ellery Adams for a terrific follow-up in this cozy series, but thanks to her for fighting for the Oxford comma this time. The Secret, Book, and Scone Society returns!!

When Nora, owner of Miracle Books, finds a young woman asleep in her store, she and her friends don’t know what to make of her—she’s wearing ill-fitting clothes and a hospital bracelet. Nora knows all too well what it’s like to be running from something, so while the thought of sharing her space with a stranger doesn’t thrill her, she wants the woman to know she’s not alone.

This woman, who says her name is Abilene, is clearly hiding something. Nora and her friends know that you have to be ready to trust others when you share your story. But when a customer of Nora’s dies in what is assumed to be a suicide, they discover a connection to Abilene that leaves them wondering whether to worry she might be next—or if she’s hiding something sinister.

When another death occurs, once again, Nora, Hester, June, and Estella try to figure it all out before disaster strikes even closer to home. And once again they’ll demonstrate the value of books, baked goods, and the trust of friendship in helping get through tough times.

There are so many things I love about this series—the setting, the way Adams lets her characters’ vulnerabilities come through, the way she recognizes that you are never miraculously free from all of your demons. It’s such a terrific series. I’ll admit I shied away from cozy mysteries for far too long because I thought they’d be too cutesy, but if more are like this, sign me up!!

Book Review: "In the Wild Light" by Jeff Zentner

Jeff Zentner's latest YA novel is a powerful, poignant story about family, friendship, heritage, love, and finding yourself.

This was just excellent! Zentner is one of my absolute favorite YA authors, and this book was another reminder why.

“I’ve seen that life is filled with unimaginable horror. But it’s also threaded through with unimaginable wonder. Live through enough of the one, maybe you’re due some of the other.”

Cash lives in the tiny rural town of Sawyer, Tennessee, raised by his beloved grandparents since his mother died from opioid addiction. He’s content for his life to consist simply of going canoeing on the river, mowing people’s lawns, and spending time with his best friend, Delaney.

When she makes a remarkable scientific discovery locally with Cash’s help, it gets Delaney a full ride to a prestigious Connecticut boarding school, where she’ll finally be challenged academically. She convinces them to award the same opportunity to Cash, since she can’t imagine undertaking this adventure without him.

Cash doesn’t want to ride Delaney’s coattails, and with his grandfather’s emphysema worsening, he fears leaving Tennessee for a life he never imagined. But the thought of Delaney struggling all alone is also too much to bear.

How do you make the choice between those you love? How do you know if going after something you never thought you’d have is worth the risk of losing what you know? How do you find the courage to let people in?

I loved everything about this book. I went to bed with puffy eyes from crying but it was just so good. (And if you love this, definitely read The Serpent King, if not all of Zentner's other books.)

Book Review: "Keep What Remains" by Carrie Beamer

Carrie Beamer's Keep What Remains is an emotional coming-of-age novel about love, family, and difficult choices.

It’s 1985. Megan is trying to be a good daughter but she’s also a teenager, craving something big, something exciting, something like she’s seen in the movies.

When her charismatic, bold best friend Tessa moves to a different school, she opens Megan’s world up. It’s not long before Megan meets Jason—not quite a bad boy, but a bit of a rebel—and they both quickly fall in love with one another.

With Megan’s dad being immensely overprotective, she’s forced to lie about Jason and their relationship. And when unexpected tragedy strikes, followed by a shocking surprise, Megan must decide whether to do what she feels is right or follow her dad’s rules and expectations. It’s one of the toughest choices she’ll ever have to make.

This was a really good book—sad in places but hopeful in others. You can bet I was a sucker for the 80s setting, but I really felt the characters’ emotions were genuine. I remember the weight of what felt like all-encompassing love when you were a teenager, the thought that no one but you ever felt this way before.

Carrie is one of the authors I’ve met on Bookstagram since I joined and she’s absolutely terrific. I’ve really enjoyed both of her books, this and Signs We Don’t See. Thanks to Carrie and Evernight Teen for a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Book Review: "My Brother's Husband" by Gengoroh Tagame

I had all the feels for this amazing graphic novel, told in traditional Japanese manga style (read in the opposite direction of traditional books).

Yaichi is a single father, dutifully raising his young daughter Kana. One day, a visitor arrives: Mike, a bearish Canadian man who was the husband of Ryoji, Yaichi’s estranged twin brother. Ryoji had always promised he’d show Mike the area in Japan where he grew up, and although he died, Mike is determined to see those places anyway.

Mike’s arrival stirs up questions and emotions. Kana didn’t even know she had an uncle, much less one who died. And men marrying other men? That doesn’t happen in Japan. Does that really happen in other places?

Yaichi must deal with his unresolved feelings toward his brother and his sexuality. Mike is just so unapologetically open about everything, which is in sharp contrast to Japanese culture, and Yaichi isn’t sure how he feels about the whole “gay thing.” But the longer Mike stays with them, the more Yaichi realizes that HE is the one whose thinking must change, for Kana’s sake, and if he wants to have any sort of relationship with Mike in the future. Plus, he sees things through the openness of Kana's viewpoint.

My Brother's Husband is such a sweet, beautiful story. The book I have has all four volumes in one, but it was an easy read I couldn’t put down. I totally was waiting for melodramatic things to happen but then I remembered that’s not the way things often happen in Japan.

I loved this story of family and love and acceptance!

Book Review: "Meet Me in Madrid" by Verity Lowell

In Verity Lowell's Meet Me in Madrid, two career-minded women embark on a long-distance relationship and encounter obstacles along the way.

Charlotte’s job as a museum courier gives her the opportunity to travel the world, but honestly not see much of it in the process. So when complications strand her in Madrid, she’s excited to extend her stay. If only she knew someone to spend her time with.

And then she remembers: Adrianna, who was a few years ahead of her in school when they were both PhD candidates, lives and works in Madrid. Adrianna, the thought of whom makes Charlotte a little weak in the knees. When the two reconnect, sparks fly, and Adrianna offers Charlotte the opportunity to stay with her during her time in Madrid.

It’s not long before they’re head over heels for each other and figuring out how to make a long-distance relationship work. But if that’s not enough of a challenge, when Charlotte finally finds a way back into academia, Adrianna’s latest career move may be the biggest obstacle of all for the two of them.

While the romantic component of Meet Me in Madrid is sweet and interesting, what I thought was best about the book was its discussion of the prejudices and racism that people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, and women face in academia.

I haven’t read a lot of F/F romance but Carina Adores definitely has a number of titles I’d like to check out!

Friday, November 5, 2021

Book Review: "Carry the Dog" by Stephanie Gangi

Carry the Dog is an emotional, compelling read about what constitutes art, and a look at complicated familial legacies and how they impact our interpersonal relationships.

Miriam Marx was a noted photographer in the 1960s, particularly renowned for her provocative photos. Her most controversial—and, therefore, best-known—work is a series of photos featuring her preteen and teenage children called the Marx Nudes. Public outcry was fierce and it led to a chain of tragedies at the tail end of that decade.

Years later, Miriam’s daughter Bea is nearing 60 and still hasn’t been able to completely put her childhood behind her. She’s twice-divorced from aging rocker Gary Going but they’re still together periodically, and she’s trying to decide what to do with the rest of her life. Should she write a memoir? Sue Gary for money he owes her for writing one of his most iconic songs?

Suddenly, interest in Miriam’s work has grown again, and both the Museum of Modern Art and a Hollywood producer are interested in telling Miriam’s complicated story. Bea must decide whether to let someone have access to the work and her trauma for the sake of money, or whether to keep it under lock and key in a storage unit.

This was a fascinating book that really packed a punch. It’s about coming to terms with the trauma our parents visit upon us, both willingly and unwillingly, and how we let it affect our lives. It’s also about growing older and trying to determine who we want in our lives.

Thanks so much to Algonquin Books for inviting me on the tour and providing me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Book Review: "How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days" by K.M. Jackson

The latest rom-com from K.M. Jackson, How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days, is a sweet, fun, friends-to-lovers rom-com about celebrity obsessions.

Many of us have crushes on celebrities, but for artist Bethany Lu Carlisle, “crush” doesn’t quite describe the feelings she has for Keanu Reeves, and has for years now. But when news breaks that he’s getting married in 90 days, Lu doesn’t know how to handle it.

What do you do when the man of your dreams, whom you know would be yours if he only knew you existed, is actually going to be someone else’s? For Lu, there’s only one thing to do: drive cross-country, track him down, and convince him she’s the one for him. Logical, right?

With her best friend Truman willing to accompany her on this adventure, they set off to stop Keanu from making the mistake of his life. Of course, True wouldn’t mind if Lu realized the biggest mistake of her life would be passing up a chance with him, not Keanu, but could she think of him as more than a forever friend?

This was a fun, sweet, sexy, and wacky romp. It gets a little silly at times but it also touches a bit on moving past traumatic times in your life. A fun Book of the Month Club pick!