Friday, December 31, 2021

Book Review: "If You Love Something" by Jayce Ellis

Jayce Ellis' If You Love Something is a sweet, sexy, and thought-provoking M/M romance!!

Thanks to my friend Phil for putting this one on my radar.

DeShawn Franklin is the executive chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Washington, DC. Everyone wants him—he’s a media darling and VIPs stop by the restaurant to meet him all the time, but what he’d really like to do is cook. But he keeps getting pulled away from the kitchen.

One day he gets summoned home by his grandmother, who raised him. She tells him she no longer plans to continue her cancer treatment. She also tells him that while she’s leaving him her house, she’s leaving the assets of her estate to Malik, DeShawn’s ex-husband, with whom she’s still very close. Oh, and their divorce apparently never went through, so they’re still married.

Of course, this throws DeShawn for a loop. He loved Malik but as DeShawn’s star rose, Malik was less enamored of a life in the spotlight, especially when he wasn’t out yet. But both regretted the end—even though both have moved on. Kind of.

When DeShawn’s uncle starts legal action to get what he believes is his rightful inheritance away from Malik, DeShawn and Malik decide the best course of action to defend themselves is to pretend they’re reigniting their marriage. (And rom-com fans, we know what happens with pretend relationships, don’t we?)

I thought this book was terrific. A sexy rom-com with two somewhat older Black men is a rarity and I just loved the story, the relationships, the supporting characters, and the steam!! (Plus, a book about a chef? You know I'm there!)

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Book Review: "A History of Wild Places" by Shea Ernshaw

This book was creepy, emotional, and evocative…I could not put it down!!

Maggie St. James was a writer of dark children’s books. One day, she went on a hike in the woods and disappeared completely. No one was ever sure whether she started anew somewhere else or met a tragic end.

Five years later, Maggie’s parents hire Travis Wren to try and find her. Travis has a special gift: by touching an object that belonged to a missing person he can often see what happened to them. He tracks Maggie to Pastoral, a cult-like, isolated community in the Oregon forest. And then Travis disappears.

Years later, Theo, a member of Pastoral, finds Travis’ truck beyond the borders of the community. No one is allowed outside the community, for fear they might bring disease back to the other members. But Theo can’t stop thinking about the truck or the things he finds inside, items that mention someone named Maggie.

As the community faces growing challenges, Theo, his wife Calla, and her sister Bee are haunted by memories they can’t explain, memories of a man and a woman who might have come to Pastoral. But what happened to them?

"There is no history in a place until we make it, until you live a life worth remembering."

A History of Wild Places was fascinating and eerie, as mysteries are unraveled and long-hidden secrets are revealed. I stayed up so late to finish the book because I couldn’t put it down, as I needed to know what happened.

I was so mesmerized by the lyrical style of Shea Ernshaw’s writing. I’ll definitely be picking up some of her YA books!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Book Review: "How to Survive a Modern-Day Fairy Take" by Elle Cruz

How about a retelling of Cinderella with a diverse cast? Try How to Survive a Modern-Day Fairy Tale.

Claire loves her job at a bookstore, but her dream is to start a cookie decorating business. That’s where her talents lie. However, her demanding Filipino family can’t understand why someone so smart wants such a silly job.

When she has a meet-cute with Nate, a handsome, rich CEO and restaurant owner (although Claire almost hit him with her car), he quickly tries to sweep her off her feet. She is definitely smitten but she can’t believe someone like Nate would be interested in someone like her, no matter how hard he tries to convince her.

Can Nate and Claire’s relationship weather her family’s skepticism and demands, as well as Claire’s doubts? Can she find her way to the life she’s always dreamed of? (What do you think?)

This was a fun, sweet romp of a book. Thanks to Entangled Publishing for the complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Book Review: "If This Gets Out" by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich

In Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich's new YA rom-com, If This Gets Out, when two members of a popular boy band fall for each other, crises and craziness ensue.

Saturday is a world-famous boy band, and their fans know and love its four members: Jon, the sexy one; Zach, dark and brooding; Ruben, cute and likable; and Angel (not his real name), the sweet, innocent one. Of course, their real personalities are nothing like the perfectly curated images their management makes them adhere to.

They’ve been together for a number of years, but why is Ruben suddenly starting to have feelings for Zach? Ruben is always being told it’s not the right time to come out publicly, and all too often, guys use him. Besides, Zach is straight. Right?

For his part, Zach wants the label to give him a chance to write some songs, but he can’t seem to stay in Saturday’s music mindset. And why is he suddenly thinking about nothing but Ruben? Is this just a crush on a close friend?

When the two start falling for each other it touches off a powder keg, as the band members start resenting each other and the constant guidance/interference of their management. Angel wants to be seen as the sexy one and he has been acting out, and Jon is tired of having to flaunt his body.

They’re supposed to be friends but they’re feeling like anything but that. Ruben and Zach want to be together, but their management won’t let them, and the image of Saturday is in danger of slipping out of control. Are love—and freedom to be whom they want—worth risking it all for?

This was a fun book, full of drama and angst and young love. I’ll admit to having read some boy band fanfic (hot, BTW) so this was a cleaner, more dramatic version of some of that. You know what will happen but you’re happy to get immersed in Saturday’s story, and maybe you’ll try to label the characters with your favorite boy band members.

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

Monday, December 27, 2021

Book Review: "Last Night at the Telegraph Club" by Malinda Lo

Last Night at the Telegraph Club is a well-told story about a young woman’s awakening amidst turmoil around her.

In 1954, 17-year-old Lily Hu dreams of a job in science like her aunt, who works on a computer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But that’s not what good girls do—her mother expects that she’ll meet a nice man and raise children.

Lily wants more than going to dances and flirting with boys like her best friend Shirley. She can’t figure out what’s missing—until she sees a romance novel about two women, and everything seems to click into place, including her fascination with male impersonators.

She draws closer with her classmate, Kathleen, who takes her to the Telegraph Club, a lesbian club in downtown San Francisco. But to live her truth means risking it all—the disapproval of family and friends, and potential criminal action, as homosexuality isn’t legal in 1954.

This is an emotional, well-written and well-researched story, which touches on post-World War II treatment of Asians and the growing fear of Communism. The flush of first love and realizing who you are was captured so accurately.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Book Review: "Project Hail Mary" by Andy Weir

Andy Weir's latest book, Project Hail Mary, blinded me with science.

I've been waiting to read this for a few months now, since I really enjoyed The Martian. So many friends have raved about it, and the book has appeared on a number of friends' year-end lists.

A man wakes up on a spaceship. He can’t remember his name or his mission, and somehow he’s the only one on the spaceship who survived. What happened? What’s his mission?

Little by little, it comes back to him. He’s Ryland Grace, a science teacher, and he was drafted into a multinational effort to save the world from a being that threatens the existence of humanity. He’s been asleep for a long time, and the window for him to act is rapidly closing.

It’ll take all of his scientific bravado plus help from one of the most unlikely of sources to save humanity. Will he prevail? Can the threat to our world be stopped?

Andy Weir is an excellent storyteller. This is definitely a story with heart and emotion and, of course, you’re hopefully rooting for Ryland to save the day. The thing is, however, this book has so much science that it made my head hurt.

Sure, you can skim some of it and some of it you can figure out, but after a while it just reminded me that there’s a reason I didn’t go to medical school and become a doctor, thus contradicting the requirement in the Torah that the oldest Jewish son practice medicine. (I kid.)

Book Review: "The Collective" by Alison Gaylin

Nothing quite says Christmas like a revenge story, you know? That's why I was all in for Alison Gaylin's new thriller, The Collective.

Camille hasn’t been the same since her teenage daughter was raped and murdered five years ago. Although she has a graphic design business, she spends much of her time obsessing over the young man who was accused of, and then exonerated for, her murder.

When she captures the attention of the Collective, a secret group of grieving mothers who come together on the dark web to share their stories, their all-encompassing grief, and their rage toward those unpunished for their children’s deaths. The women talk about their desire for revenge, for enacting retribution in specific, grisly detail.

She thinks this is just an exercise in group therapy, but the more time she spends among these women, she starts to wonder if they are actually enacting the revenge scenarios they discuss. Suddenly she feels free of the burdens she’s been carrying.

“I’m willing to commit to this role-play, to believe in it when I haven’t believed in anything at all for the past five years. I’m willing to work my hardest to get every one of these steps to-the-letter-right because of the way this all makes me feel—as though my rage has a purpose. As though I have the power to kill, and I’m no longer alone.”

The deeper she gets in this group, the more she questions whether revenge is actually justified. But once she’s in the middle of it all, can she extricate herself from the group or will that prove dangerous?

I’m a huge fan of Gaylin's writing, and this book was both addicting and thought-provoking. I didn’t love the ending, but I couldn’t get enough of the story. Thanks to William Morrow Books for the complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!

Book Review: "Lovelight Farms" by B.K. Borison

OMFG. This book is EVERYTHING, y’all!!

Seriously, I have found my favorite holiday romance and perhaps one of my favorite books of the year. Lovelight Farms has everything I love—fake dating; friends to lovers; a beautiful small town full of memorable, special supporting characters; a little family drama; and even some steam.

Stella is the owner of a Christmas tree farm that has been struggling lately. When she enters a contest run by a famed Instagram influencer (the contest also comes with a $100,000 prize), she mentions she owns the farm with her boyfriend—because she thought it would sound more romantic. But when she becomes a finalist, the woman is planning to come to the farm, so where is Stella going to get a boyfriend?

Enter Luka, Stella’s best friend for what seems like forever. He agrees to pretend to be her boyfriend—but of course, they have to “practice” so it seems more natural, right? Little do they know the whole town has been rooting for them to get together. And, of course, what happens when the feelings are more intense than pretend?

“It’s hard to love someone without restraint. To give yourself over to the swell and pull of it without fear of what might happen. I think it’s only natural to hold a part of yourself back and protect what you can.”

Lovelight Farms is a debut novel and the start of a series, as the next books will focus on the supporting characters. Thanks to my Bookstagram friend Laura for putting this book on my radar!

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

If you've been following my reviews, you know how I’ve gotten about my steamy hockey romances! That's why I had to read Stay, the second book in Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy's WAGS series.

Hailey and her ex-husband own Fetch, one of Toronto’s leading virtual assistant services. While they offer their clients total privacy, even Hailey doesn’t know their identities, although she suspects one of their best clients is hockey star Matt Eriksson. She even bought furniture for his apartment after he got divorced.

Ever since his divorce, Matt is lonely, and he’s come to rely on Fetch—and the virtual assistant he only knows as HTE—to help him with everything. When he realizes that “Hottie” as he’s come to call her really is hot, he’s smitten. And for a hockey fan like Hailey, bantering back and forth with a sexy athlete like Matt is paradise.

When Hailey and Matt meet in real life, the chemistry is instantaneous and intense. Hailey knows she shouldn’t be fraternizing with clients (oh well, she is the co-owner of the company) and Matt knows that a pro hockey career doesn’t mix well with a relationship. But is taking a chance on love worth the risk?

If you’ve been following me this year you know I’ve become obsessed with Bowen and Kennedy's books. Their characters are like old friends now and the steam is top-notch, wipe-your-brow, make sure you’re not blushing too much.

I hope to see more of their WAGS series because I need more hockey romance—and I also wouldn't mind more books about Wesmie! (They're the couple at the heart of Him, Us, and Epic.)

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Book Review: "The Certainty of Chance" by Jacquelyn Middleton

Jacquelyn Middleton's The Certainty of Chance is a gorgeous holiday romance set in London, with lots of serendipity, emotion, and fun.

Madeleine and her actress sister were supposed to be in Paris over Christmas. But the eruption of an Icelandic volcano strands Madeleine in London, her sister in Thailand. The last thing Madeleine wants is to be alone in London as the one-year anniversary of her best friend’s death approaches.

She vows to make the best of it until she can fly to Paris. So when the ultra-handsome cab driver offers to show her around London, she overcomes her initial resistance to companionship and all things Christmas, and allows him to be her guide. It’s not long before the two grow close, although both know their time together is fleeting, so they resist temptation.

But Julian isn’t just a cab driver. He’s a writer with a fierce intelligence and a love for music and all his city has to offer. He’s a joyful person despite dealing with grief and betrayal of his own. Madeleine makes him feel alive, but once airspace opens again she could be gone for good.

The Certainty of Chance is such a fantastic story, one of love and friendship and hope as well as an exploration of grief and grieving and how people deal with it. Sure, it follows some familiar patterns (but not all, which was wonderful) but I was fully immersed in this from start to finish.

Book Review: "My Mother's Eyes: A Short Story" by Jeremy Ray

Jeremy Ray's My Mother's Eyes is a poignant and powerful story about regret, grief, and memory.

Jordie’s mother is in a coma, on life support. He and his older brother sit by her hospital bed every day. While his brother believes she can hear them and may come back at any time, Jordie knows the truth.

He’s been trying to draw a picture of his mother for some time now, and he can’t get her eyes right. More than 57 drafts and he can’t get her eyes right. Why? If he captures her essence, will she come back?

“Why had I never thought to draw her when she was alive, or better yet, take pictures?”

This is a beautiful story, and a powerful one. It reminded me how important it is to make moments matter when they happen because regret is all too prevalent. I just wish the story was longer!!

Thanks to Jeremy Ray for a free copy—which included a sweet super-short story at the start!! Y’all need to check out Jeremy’s writing because he’s so creative—his story The Houseplant made me care about a plant!!

Monday, December 20, 2021

Book Review: "The Dead Season" by Tessa Wegert

Can you ever outrun your past? That's a question raised in Tessa Wegert's The Dead Season.

Shana Merchant was abducted by serial killer Blake Bram, but he let her live, and she’s never forgotten that. Leaving the NYPD after her abduction and becoming a senior investigator in the Thousand Islands of upstate New York, she thought life would be easier but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

When the decades-old remains of her estranged uncle are found, it drives Shana back to her Vermont hometown to try and help figure out what happened to the man they all thought left for greener pastures. That’s exactly where Bram wants her—back in the hometown they share, and he’s watching her every move, letting her know if she doesn’t solve this mystery, she’ll be responsible for more death.

But as she interviews family members and old friends and acquaintances, she confronts old traumas and is struck by how far apart our memories can be from the actual truth. And as Bram kidnaps again, taunting Shana with the connections they share, she knows it’s up to her to unravel it all before it’s too late.

I loved Death in the Family, Wegert’s first thriller in this series, and I thought this was terrific, too. Her books are so atmospheric, and they often surprise where you least expect them to. It’s a little bit of a slow burn at the start, but that didn’t bother me.

Shana is a complex, fascinating, flawed character, and I like the interpersonal dynamics with her colleagues and family. I’m looking forward to Dead Wind, the third book in this series, due out in March 2022!

Thanks to Suzy Approved Book Tours, Tessa Wegert, and Penguin Random House for inviting me on the tour and providing a free copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Book Review: "The (Un)Popular Vote" by Jasper Sanchez

The (Un)Popular Vote is a thought-provoking book about fighting for what is right, no matter what the cost.

When Mark came out to his parents as trans, he wasn’t expecting the reaction he received from his father, a U.S. Congressman. He was against Mark’s transitioning, so the deal was, Mark and his mother had to move to another town and Mark had to promise to stay under the radar and hide his true identity.

Mark has found a group of close queer friends at Utopia High School, but only two know the truth of him being trans. When a younger gay friend who has been bullied is suspended for punching his tormentor but nothing happens to those who have been bullying him, Mark is outraged, at the school’s refusal to take a stand, as well as his failure to recognize what was happening. The reaction of the candidates for student body president don’t impress him, so Mark decides to become a late entry into the race.

Of course, this isn’t staying under the radar, so his father is furious. As Mark and his friends—political junkies fueled by Scandal and The West Wing—scramble to mount a strong campaign, he knows there’s a risk his secret will be discovered. But he also feels a sense of responsibility to queer kids to try and make sure they’re protected, although the election brings out things in him he’d rather ignore.

I thought The (Un)Popular Vote was a really great story, and despite my distaste for current politics, I do love a good student council election! This was emotional and thought-provoking, too, with a truly diverse cast of characters. Wow, am I glad I didn’t go to school in the era of blogs and the internet!

Book Review: "Love, Lists and Fancy Ships" by Sarah Grunder Ruiz

This book is amazing but the title is crying out for an Oxford comma!

Boy, I loved Love, Lists and Fancy Ships! It’s a book about love and family and grief and what happens when you try to insulate yourself from getting hurt.

Jo is a yacht stewardess, a job she enjoys fairly well, despite the occasional difficult guests. About a year ago, with her 30th birthday on the horizon, she put together a bucket list of things she wanted to do before she turned 30. She’s been making good progress and has been blogging about it along the way.

When the death of her beloved nephew turns everything upside down, the bucket list is the last thing she can think of. There are a few impossible things left—sleeping in a castle, visiting five countries—so it doesn’t seem like she’ll make her goal as her milestone birthday approaches.

When her best friend (and boss) Nina encourages her to check one item off her list—kissing a stranger—and she meets Alex, she’s unprepared for the ripples it sets off. And when her teenage nieces show up unexpectedly for the summer, they vow to help her complete the list, but at the same time they challenge Jo emotionally, as she tries to retreat from confronting her grief and helping them deal with their own emotions.

I can’t say enough about this book. It’s funny, sad, thought-provoking, and just so good. A sequel of sorts, Luck and Last Resorts, featuring other characters from the book, is due next summer, and I cannot wait!!

Book Review: "The Gift That Keeps on Taking" by B.J. Irons

The Gift That Keeps on Taking is a sweet, fun book about that one person who constantly gets under your skin.

Liam and Christian’s families are best friends, which means the two of them have spent a lot of time together through the years, including one vacation a year. Liam honestly cannot stand Christian—his good looks, his popularity in school, his athletic prowess, and the fact that he gets everything he wants.

But after a while it’s more than envy—Christian seems to ruin everything. While on vacation one night Liam planned to come out to his parents, and Christian came out to his parents first. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The book follows Liam and Christian’s rocky (at least from one side) relationship over a few years. Is Christian purposely trying to get the best of Liam? Is the rivalry real or in Liam’s mind?

This was sweet, a little sexy, and it definitely reminded me of a person I had a lot of close proximity to as a teenager who always seemed to have it all so much better than awkward Larry did. I really enjoy B.J. Irons’ books and really appreciate his sharing a copy of this with me!!

Book Review: "We Are Not Like Them" by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza

Christine Pride and Jo Piazza's new novel, We Are Not Like Them, is powerful and thought-provoking.

Wow. I’m a little late to the party on this one but thanks to my friend Jenni for sending me a birthday gift off my wishlist. I devoured it quickly, as this really was fantastic.

Jen and Riley have been best friends since childhood, so long that Jen remembers when Riley went by her given name, Leroya. Even though one is Black and one white, and their lives have taken different paths, their bond is as close as sisters in many ways. Jen is married and has finally gotten pregnant after years of trying, and Riley is on her way to becoming a news anchor—one of only a few Black female anchors in Philadelphia history.

One night it all changes. Jen’s husband, a policeman, is involved in the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager. Much to Jen’s dismay, Riley is the network’s choice to cover the aftermath of the shooting and the investigation. While the difference in their races hasn’t always been an issue in Jen and Riley’s friendship, the shooting may prove too big to overcome.

As Jen struggles both with her pregnancy and the public outrage against her husband, she has to examine her own feelings and biases. At the same time, Riley has to try and separate her feelings for her friend from her feelings not only about the shooting and the inequities of race, but also her ambitions and whether she’s being used as a pawn for the very reason her star is rising.

We Are Not Like Them is a tremendously thought-provoking book, one that would be great for a book club. The characters are not perfect—I often felt like the friendship was a little one-sided and that Jen was a bit of a brat—but thinking of how you’d react in a situation like this is eye-opening.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Book Review: "The Present" by Geanna Culbertson

Geanna Culbertson's The Present is a fun, magical, and thought-provoking twist on your typical holiday novel.

Frost Mason has worked for the Christmas Carol Department for nearly a century now. She and her countless ghostly colleagues are responsible for providing a Christmas Carol-type experience—complete with ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future—for “Scrooges” on earth, people who have lost their way or are headed down the wrong path.

Frost is a Present, and her 100th soul is Jay Nichols, a local politician on his way to becoming the governor of California. The plan is for her to become human and serve as his assistant, so she can then hopefully help him see the error of his ways and move him toward the right path.

The problem, however, is that Frost is starting to lose her holiday mojo. She believes in what she does, but if humans ultimately don’t fully change, is her work really making a difference? How can she get the holiday spirit back in time to save him?

I absolutely loved this book. What a creative, fun, special story! I’m so grateful to Culbertson, Boutique of Quality Books, and the Independent Publishers Group for sending me a complimentary advance copy of The Present in exchange for an unbiased review.

This gave me so much to think about and so much to enjoy!!

Book Review: "Tell Me How to Be" by Neel Patel

Tell Me How to Be is an emotional, well-written story about secrets, regrets, and coming to terms with the truth.

It’s been one year since Akash’s father died. Living in Los Angeles, mostly estranged from his family, he’s expected home in Illinois for the traditional ceremony celebrating his father. His mother calls and tells him she’s sold their house and will be moving back to London.

In the year since her husband died, Akash’s mother, Renu, has been binge-watching soap operas and longing to tell off everyone around her. She’s also been thinking nonstop about her first love, the man she let get away, and whom she’s longed to be with most of her life. So when she finds him on Facebook, she decides to reach out and see where that path might lead.

Returning home to Illinois is unsettling for Akash, who is adrift in every aspect of his life. He’s kept his sexuality a secret from his family, he’s struggling as a songwriter, and turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism has proven more destructive than soothing. And he can’t seem to stop thinking about his childhood best friend, who broke his heart years before.

As Akash and Renu pack the house up along with Akash’s ultra-successful older brother, they must confront the secrets they’ve kept hidden, the resentments that barely dwell beneath the surface, and accept themselves, flaws and all. It’s amazing how an offhand remark or gesture can scar someone so profoundly.

Having read his debut story collection, I love the way Neel Patel writes. I’ll admit it took me a LONG time to warm up to these characters as they’re not particularly likable, but I’m a sucker for good family drama and unrequited love. Tell Me How to Be is a thought-provoking, insightful read.

Book Review: "The Holiday Hookup" by Baylin Crow

My friend Phil recently featured a few queer holiday novellas and short stories on Bookstagram, and I had to snap a few of them up ASAP. I’m so glad I did!

In The Holiday Hookup, Finn is a workaholic and his coworker, Hunter, may be the laziest guy around, no matter how hot he is. Hunter is always flirting and laying on the sexual innuendo, and Finn is his regular target. As good as it might be to hook up with Hunter, Finn refuses to give in. (Although he sure could use it...)

But when Finn draws Hunter’s name in the office Secret Santa game, Hunter makes it clear what he wants: one night with Finn. Will that be enough for either of them? This is a steamy and cute story.

Book Review: "Eight Perfect Hours" by Lia Louis

Does fate determine our destiny? Lia Louis' new book, Eight Perfect Hours, strives to answer that question.

It was supposed to be just an evening out for a reunion at her college, but somehow on the way home, Noelle gets stranded on the highway in an unexpected blizzard. Her phone charger isn’t working and she has no food or water, but with traffic snarled she could be stuck for hours.

A knock on the window reveals a handsome stranger, Sam, who is also stuck in the traffic. Sensing Noelle’s distress, he offers her shelter in his car, where she can charge her phone and be a little more comfortable. While of course, getting in a stranger’s car seems crazy, Noelle needs her phone and after an emotional night, could use some companionship.

The two spend eight hours in the car, talking, sharing, napping…and then finally the snow stops and the road clears. They plan to head their own way—Noelle is going back to her house and Sam is headed to the airport to fly back to America. They don’t trade contact info, so Noelle figures she’ll never see this handsome man again.

But somehow, Sam keeps popping up in unexpected places, and they find themselves connected in multiple ways. Noelle doesn’t know what to do, because while it seems as if Sam ultimately keeps leaving, something else seems to keep bringing him back. Should she get on with her life without him?

I really enjoyed this book and parts made me so emotional. I did think it dragged a bit at times—the book seemed to come alive when Sam and Noelle were together more than anything—but it really made me think, and I’m a sucker for this type of story. I’m happy to add Sam to my list of book boyfriends, that's for sure!!

Book Review: "Under Red Sky: The Chief" by J Calamy

This thriller was action-packed and steamy!!

One of the things I love about Bookstagram is being introduced to books and authors I might not have heard of otherwise. I’m grateful not only for recommendations from friends but also from tours I’ve been fortunate to participate on.

Earlier this year I partnered with Pride Book Tours to read The Boss, by J Calamy. It was a great book, complete with action, intrigue, and lots of steamy romance. The second book in Calamy’s Under Red Sky series, The Chief, was just released and it’s another page-turner that got my pulse racing because of the suspense and the steam.

Natalie has one more assignment before she retires from her career as a counterterrorism agent. She’s posted to Sri Lanka and the beach is the perfect setting for a hot hookup with a sexy, bisexual surfer. And wouldn’t you know it? He’s her final assignment.

Alex is a money launderer for Red Sky, the behemoth crime syndicate in Southeast Asia. He wants out but he sees it as the best way to raise his younger brother, plus he’s loyal to the boss of Red Sky. But the deeper he gets in with Natalie, he’s torn about what to do.

Natalie has had a stellar career of following orders. But her connection with Alex makes her question her job for the first time, and the more she discovers what the powers that be have in store for Red Sky, the more she realizes she may have to turn her back on everything she’s held dear for someone she hopes she can trust.

I really got into this story and the steam factor is πŸ”₯!! I definitely recommend this series if you like a mix of intrigue, crime, and hotness.

Book Review: "The Holigay" by K.M. Neuhold

A Bookstagram friend of mine recently featured a few queer holiday novellas and short stories, and I had to snap a few of them up ASAP. I’m so glad I did!

In The Holigay, Caspian’s best friend since childhood, Matt, is devastated after he caught his girlfriend cheating on him. He was planning to propose and everything, and even had a romantic getaway to Fiji planned. Matt asks Caspian to go with him on the trip since it was nonrefundable, and the last thing he wants is to go alone.

Caspian has had a crush on Matt since they were young, but knows Matt is straight. But when Matt suddenly seems interested in him, Caspian can’t help but wonder if hooking up will destroy their relationship. Is Matt actually having feelings for him or is he just gay for the holidays?

This was HOT and romantic and emotional. A quick and enjoyable read!

Book Review: "The Life Revamp" by Kris Ripper

Sometimes the path to the love you want may be a little complicated. That's the message of Kris Ripper's The Life Revamp.

You’d think that being left at the altar at a young age would sour Mason on the idea of happily ever after, but he wants it all—marriage, children, a house, someone to drink coffee with in bed. But even though he’s dating someone, clearly that guy is not the one he wants.

Enter Diego. He’s a handsome fashion designer, he’s funny and intelligent. And he’s married to a (female) friend of Mason’s, but she’s the one setting them up. It turns out Diego is polyamorous and willing to have multiple relationships, regardless of the person’s gender or sexual identity.

Mason feels immediate chemistry with Diego. Their banter and flirtation ignite into something more, something which gives them both life. But how will he get the ever-after he wants if the person he wants is already married? Can he adjust his dreams and expectations, or is he setting himself up to get hurt?

The Life Revamp was a really sweet and thought-provoking book. Diego and Mason's banter was amazing!! This is the third book in a series (with The Love Study and The Hate Project), but you can read them as standalones. (I read the first book, but not the second one.)

If you’re not open to the idea of polyamory and open relationships, I’d say this one won’t be for you. But it’s a really enjoyable book, one worth reading.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Book Review: "The Christmas Bookshop" by Jenny Colgan

Jenny Colgan's The Christmas Bookshop proves I’m all about the books about bookshops this season, but how can you resist?

Carmen’s life is falling apart—again. When she’s laid off from her department store job, her mother wants her to spend Christmas with her sister Sofia, but Carmen wants no part of it.

Sofia has her life together. She’s a successful attorney, has a beautiful house, a solid marriage, and three gorgeous children (with one on the way). She’s tired of bailing her sister out, but she can’t stand to hear their mother beg, so she gets Carmen a job helping a client with his struggling bookshop.

For the first time, Carmen feels a sense of purpose at Mr. McCredie’s bookshop. As she tries to help him get the store ready for perhaps its last Christmas season, she realizes how much she loves the store and the charm of historic Edinburgh. She also gets a chance for romance, but is torn between two men, although there really is only one right decision.

Colgan’s books are so charming. I love her protagonists and the way they fall in love with their surroundings. Edinburgh is on my bucket list (Scottish accents make me melt) so this book definitely made me want to travel there even more.

Is it predictable? Sure. Did I care? Not at all. The Christmas Bookshop was just a sweet, fun read for the holidays or anytime! Thanks to William Morrow Books for the complimentary advance copy of the book!!

Book Review: "The Night of Many Endings" by Melissa Payne

I thought The Night of Many Endings was a heartwarming, poignant, and powerful story about finding the strength to carry on.

Nora is a librarian in a small Colorado town who believes it’s her mission to help anyone in need. Her older brother has struggled with homelessness and addiction for as long as she can remember. She’s always dropped everything when she thinks there’s a chance to save him, but those chances are fleeting, so she’s always willing to lend a hand or an ear or shelter to those she thinks can use it.

One night, a fierce snowstorm strands Nora in the library along with several patrons. There’s Marlene, the elderly woman whose blunt, critical demeanor masks real physical and emotional pain; Jasmine, a teenager who seems to be hiding at least one secret; Lewis, a homeless addict who doesn’t want Nora’s help—or anyone’s for that matter—and Vlado, the library’s security guard, who loves learning—and Nora, from afar.

Over the course of the evening, they will trade criticisms and accusations, and reveal the stories and pains they’ve kept hidden. They’ll face threats from the weather but also deal with physical and emotional setbacks. And at the same time, they may find, among their cohorts, the strength they need to take on their greatest challenges.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while and it really moved me. I love stories where people help each other through tough times, and while some of the crises seemed to be solved a little easier than you’d imagine they would be in real life, some very real struggles occurred too. Nora was my favorite character—I was irritated by the “meanness” of some of the characters. (I’ve had enough curmudgeons to last me a lifetime.)

I will never get tired of books that use libraries as a hub, and deal with the healing power of books and reading.

Book Review: "The Holiday Switch" by Tif Marcelo

If you're looking for a cute YA rom-com about family pressures, secrets, and the joys of the holidays, pick up Tif Marcelo's The Holiday Switch!

Note: This isn’t anything like The Holiday Swap, although it’s easy to confuse the two!

Lila is a type-A overachiever with big dreams. She’s hoping to get as many hours as she can at her part-time job working at the local inn, so she can help her parents pay for college.

Her hopes for more hours are foiled with the arrival of Teddy, her boss’ (super-cute) college-student nephew, as he’ll be staying over the holidays. Lila agrees to train him, but Teddy wants to do things his own way, and it’s not long before he and Lila start butting heads over everything, from the way he folds t-shirts to his never following any of the procedures Lila has outlined.

When the two accidentally pick up each other’s phones one night (and of course, both can’t help but snoop), both realize that the other has secrets. Lila is secretly the author of a popular holiday book review blog, but she can’t let her parents know. But what’s Teddy hiding? Where does he keep disappearing to?

All it takes is the return of movie stars to the inn—the setting for a much-loved holiday movie—and an unexpected snowstorm to shake everything up. What will happen if their secrets get out? And is there a chance for Lila and Teddy to be more than coworkers?

If you’re looking for a clean, sweet holiday romance with a diverse, multicultural cast of characters, pick this up!

Book Review: "I Hate You More" by Lucy Gilmore

I Hate You More is a cute, funny rom-com with an unforgettable golden retriever at the center.

Ruby is no stranger to competition. She was a pageant girl, trained and pushed by her mother, who served as her coach. But she couldn’t get out of that world fast enough, and when she turned 18, she was done.

When a friend asks Ruby to show her beloved golden retriever at the West Coast Canine Classic, she agrees to get back into the competitive spirit. But she didn’t realize Wheezy isn’t quite competition-ready: he’s lazy and not too interested in following commands.

And if that’s not enough, she faces another obstacle in Spencer, the handsome veterinarian and dog show judge. He is determined to keep Ruby—and Wheezy—out of the show. But even though Ruby has felt adrift since quitting pageants, she’s still a force to be reckoned with when she sets her mind to it. And she’s determined that Spencer will eat crow when Wheezy wins.

I thought I Hate You More was a cute story and Wheezy is one of my favorite dog characters!! I can always go for an enemies-to-lovers rom-com, and this has some added emotional weight, as well as identical twins.

Book Review: "A Better Heart" by Chuck Augello

This is an immensely thought-provoking and poignant piece of fiction.

A washed-up actor and a capuchin monkey walk onto a movie set. Sounds like the set-up for an interesting joke, no?

But this really happens to Kevin, on the set of the first indie film he's directing. His father, actor Edward Stacey (so yes, the main character's name is Kevin Stacey), Guinness World Record Holder for most appearances in a motion picture, arrives in a yellow raincoat, toting a gun, a stack of cash, and an (apparently) stolen capuchin monkey. Kevin hasn’t seen his father in four years.

It turns out that the monkey, Henry, was a test subject in a research lab, and he was freed by animal rights activists. Now this monkey, along with others that were freed, is wanted by the FBI.

Kevin and Henry quickly develop a bond, and as he learns more about the horrible treatment of research lab animals, he agrees to travel cross-country with his father in an effort to save Henry. The trip is not without hijinks, reopening old wounds, and family drama, but Kevin is determined to do the right thing.

The book takes place over multiple periods of time, and is heartwarming, funny at times, and it makes you think about the ways lab animals are treated. (It’s a little graphic when they talk about it, but nothing is actually happening to the animals in the book.) It’s a sweet story, a little goofy at times, but just an enjoyable read.

Thanks so much to Suzy Approved Book Tours, Chuck Augello, and Black Rose Writing for inviting me on the tour and providing a complimentary advance copy of A Better Heart in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Book Review: "You'll Be the Death of Me" by Karen M. McManus

You'll Be the Death of Me is another twisty YA mystery from one who does them so well!

They probably should have just taken a sick day…

Ivy, Cal, and Mateo were once inseparable best friends. In 8th grade, they skipped out of a field trip and had an epic adventure, but then things changed and got complicated, and now, in their senior year of high school, they barely talk.

But when all three arrive at school at the same time, and none are motivated to actually start the day, Cal suggests that they try another skip day. Why not? If Ivy can avoid the humiliation of listening to the burnout that beat her for student council president declare victory, even better.

Of course, shortly after they escape the school they realize they have nothing to talk about. So when they decide to follow a classmate whose presence away from school surprises them, they can’t believe it when he winds up dead and the police start to circle.

Suddenly they’re on the run, while rumors and school gossip run amok, and they realize there are a lot of secrets they’re hiding from one another. Can they get to the bottom of what’s going on before one or more of them winds up in danger—or is accused of the crime?

This started a little slowly but it really picked up steam. Karen M. McManus has a formula for her books that draws you in. She’s definitely an auto-buy author for me!

Book Review: "Small Things Like These" by Claire Keegan

Claire Keegan's Small Things Like These is a heartfelt novella that packs a major emotional punch.

Thanks so much to a Bookstagram friend of mine for putting this on my radar! Despite the cover and setting, this isn’t quite a “holiday” novel, although the theme of generosity is quite prevalent.

Ireland, 1985. Christmas is approaching. A purveyor of coal and other heating materials, Bill Furlong is in his busy season. As he and his men work tirelessly, he cannot help but reflect on his good fortune. He and his wife have five lovely, intelligent, talented daughters.

But Bill knows how different his life might have been. Born to a young, unwed mother who was working as a servant for a wealthy family, the matron of the family didn’t turn his mother away, as happened to so many young women in Ireland. The woman treated Bill in many ways as if he were a child of her own, and it set him down a path he never would have been able to follow otherwise. Sure, he wishes he knew who his father was, but he was lucky.

One day, while making a delivery to the local convent, he makes a shocking discovery. He can’t seem to get it out of his mind and knows he must do something to address it, even though he is warned about how his and his family’s lives could be upended.

I thought this was just fantastic. The vernacular took a little getting used to, but the story pulled me in, and I can’t get it out of my mind. Bill Furlong is definitely a memorable character.