Monday, January 31, 2022

Book Review: "Dear Emmie Blue" by Lia Louis

Dear Emmie Blue is a gorgeous, emotional story about friendship, love, chosen family, and hope.

This book falls under the “What took me so long?” category. OMG, excuse me while I ugly cry!!⁣

When Emmie was 16, she released a red balloon into the sky in the UK as part of a school festival, and attached her name, email, and a secret she needed desperately to share. Weeks later, Lucas found the balloon on a beach in France.

That discovery initiated an intense 14-year friendship, and they even share the same birthday. Despite the distance between the UK and France, the two become incredibly close, with Lucas’ family becoming the one Emmie wishes she had.

Lucas is her touchstone, her source of support and comfort. And at some point over the years, Emmie fell in love with Lucas, and is waiting for him to realize he feels the same way. But when life doesn’t work the way she hopes, suddenly Emmie is afraid of losing her best friend.

What do you do when you realize nothing is turning in your favor, when it feels like everyone is moving on and succeeding and getting everything they've been dreaming of, and you’re stuck in place? Where do you find the strength to take charge of your life and move forward when you’ve been afraid all this time of what might happen?

This is such a lovely, romantic, poignant book. Sure, it’s predictable, but that didn’t stop me from becoming a teary mess! If you haven’t read Dear Emmie Blue yet, give it a try!

Book Review: "Serendipity" edited by Marissa Meyer

If you’re looking for a gift for the YA romance lover in your life, you’ve found it: Serendipity, edited by Marissa Meyer!

Romance and rom-com lovers, we all talk about our favorite and least favorite tropes. (Mine are fake dating, enemies to lovers, and friends to lovers, BTW.) In this new story collection, 10 YA authors each write a story using a particular trope—the fake relationship, stranded together, class warfare, the best friend love epiphany, one bed, the secret admirer, the grand romantic gesture, trapped in a confined space, the makeover, and the matchmaker.

The subtitle of the book is “Ten Romantic Tropes, Transformed,” and while not all of the stories are as straightforward as you’d expect, I don’t know that there’s a lot of transformation. But it’s still a sweet bunch of stories!

Like any short story collection, I loved some stories, while some didn’t quite click for me. The stories are mostly M/F, with a few F/F stories and one M/M story. My favorites were: “Bye Bye, Piper Berry” by Julie Murphy (fake dating); Caleb Roehrig’s “Auld Acquaintance” (best friend love epiphany); “Shooting Stars” by Marissa Meyer (one bed); “Liberty” by Anna-Marie McLemore (the makeover); and Sandhya Menon’s “The Surprise Match” (the matchmaker). Sarah Winifred Searle’s “Keagan’s Heaven on Earth” is written as a graphic novel.

If you’re a fan of YA romance, Serendipity could be a nice palate cleanser between other heavier books. I enjoyed it!

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Book Review: "The Arc" by Tory Henwood Hoen

Does the perfect soulmate exist for everyone? If so, can an algorithm find that person? That's the question at the center of The Arc, Tory Henwood Hoen's debut novel.

Ursula has had it with relationships. She's dated a variety of men, thought she found the right person, only to have the relationship end or end it herself. She's successful otherwise—she's the VP of Audacity at a NYC branding agency, she's smart, beautiful, and funny. And maybe a little weird?

"'The point is,' said Ursula, 'I'm not normal, and my weirdness has never properly aligned with someone else's weirdness, and I don't know if it ever will. I just can't imagine it. But I refuse to rein myself in anymore.'"

After an encounter with a mysterious woman in a steam room, she learns about The Arc. It's an exclusive, expensive service that promises to curate your soulmate for you, using a series of complicated psychological, emotional, and physical assessments. When a professional windfall helps her conquer the price point of the service, Ursula is matched with Rafael, a 42-year-old lawyer, and from the very moment they meet, they feel something special.

As they fall deeper in love with one another and begin thinking about the future, a bump in the road throws them off course. But aren't they supposed to be soulmates? Shouldn't they be able to weather any storm?

This was an interesting book which had its moments, but I think it tried too hard to be a satirical commentary on modern society. There are so many over-the-top things in the book, like when Ursula goes to lunch with a millionaire and the narration goes into an at-length description of the foams, purées, reductions, shadows, breaths, etc., they're served, or when the book mocks a client meeting Ursula attends in which the name of a toilet-paper-on-demand company is debated. So often I just rolled my eyes at these things, but they completely distracted me from the story.

Those of you who follow my reviews know I love a good romance, so I wish The Arc had stuck more to that storyline than all of the other extraneous stuff. But others have enjoyed this, so maybe I'm not the satirical type?

NetGalley and St. Martin's Press provided a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

The Arc publishes 2/8/22.

Book Review: "The Invisible Husband of Frick Island" by Colleen Oakley

The Invisible Husband of Frick Island is a beautiful, emotional story about love, loss, determination, family, and an unforgettable community.

I’ve made it a goal to read more backlist titles this year, so I’ve been reading books I bought and never got around to before. And when I read a book like this, I want to slap myself and say, “What took you so long?”

Piper’s husband Tom is a waterman, like his father and grandfather before him. They live on Frick Island, a small island in the Chesapeake Bay you can only get to by boat. (This is inspired by Maryland's Smith Island.) When Tom’s boat doesn’t come back one day and his body can’t be found, Piper and the 90+ residents of the island are devastated. But it’s not long after that Piper begins acting as if Tom is still alive—so everyone on the island follows suit.

"'If something is there, you can only see it with your eyes open, but if it isn't there, you can see it just as well with your eyes closed. That's why imaginary things are often easier to see than real ones.'"

Anders is a young reporter who has always dreamed of making a name for himself, as a reporter and podcaster, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. He’s sent to Frick Island to cover their annual Cake Walk event and he is intrigued by the unique community. And while he feels that there’s a story in the island’s residents staying put despite the effects of climate change on their home, he realizes the biggest story is the fact that the entire town is pretending that a dead man still exists.

The deeper Anders gets into the story, the more attached to Piper he becomes. Is he really just interested in helping her? And when his podcast goes viral—along with Piper’s story—he has to decide what’s more important to him, fame or the possibility of something more.

I loved this story. It reminded me a little of a movie with Ryan Gosling called Lars and the Real Girl. The Invisible Husband of Frick Island was a poignant and fascinating story with some interesting little twists, and I couldn’t get enough.

Book Review: "You Love Me" by Caroline Kepnes

In You Love Me, everyone’s favorite book-loving psychopath returns!!

Joe Goldberg, the protagonist of You and Hidden Bodies, has made his way to a quiet island in the Pacific Northwest. He’s a little older, a little wiser, and a little sadder, but he lands a volunteer job in—of course—a library. And then he meets her: Mary Kay DiMarco. She’s a LIBRARIAN.

But MK, as Joe refers to her, isn’t your typical librarian. She’s a short-skirt-wearing, fighting-with-her-teenage-daughter, flirty goddess, who is also a little older than Joe’s past, umm, relationships. He must have her. And she seems pretty into him, too.

This time, Joe is different. He’s not going to do anything impetuous. He wants happily ever after and it seems like MK wants it, too. There is the matter of her daughter, of course. And Phil, her aging rockstar husband. But Joe isn’t going to let that stop him. There’s too much riding on him following the right path. (As if.)

You Love Me is one of those books for which you need to read the prior books first in order to understand what’s going on. (I don’t watch television so I don’t know if watching the You series is enough of a catch-up.) If you’ve read the previous books, you know Joe is freaking crazy, and if anything, he may be crazier in this book than ever before.

While Caroline Kepnes gives you a different side of Joe in this book, it is such a slow burn that I just didn’t love it, despite the craziness and the twists that came later. I don’t know about you, but thrillers need to thrill me the whole way through. Anticipation is cool, but don’t make me wait too long for payoff.

Still, Kepnes has done a masterful job of creating an evil, crazy protagonist you can’t help but root for in a way. (Of course, picturing the face of Penn Badgley, who plays Joe in the television series, doesn’t hurt.) I know some have loved this book, so if you’re a fan and haven’t gotten to it yet, immerse yourself again in the world of Joe...and get ready for Book 4!

Book Review: "Joan Is Okay" by Weike Wang

The second book from Weike Wang, Joan Is Okay is a quirky, thought-provoking look at work, family, our connections with others, and how we handle their expectations.

“Who really wanted to be different? I wondered. And to be treated differently for things about them that couldn’t be changed. Most people who were different just wanted to be the same.”

Joan is an ICU attending physician at a New York City hospital. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she was instilled with a strong work ethic, and she is willing to work constantly. Even though it can be difficult and stressful, Joan is lost without her work. She’s not one to seek out social connections with colleagues, peers, or potential love interests, but she doesn’t feel lonely or unfulfilled, even though others seem to think she should.

When Joan and her older brother were settled in their lives, their parents returned to China. Their father dies suddenly and Joan returns briefly to China for the first time in a long while. Her time there, coupled with her mother’s subsequent trip to America to stay with Joan’s brother, causes Joan to further increase her workload and reevaluate her relationships, with family, colleagues, and others. The only place she feels in complete control is when she is in charge of the ICU.

Joan’s mother’s return to America sets off family tensions, while at the same the world is on the cusp of dealing with the COVID pandemic. What does this all mean for Joan and her ambitions, as well as her family?

This novel is written in a very spare style, much like Joan herself, but there are many moments of wry humor. It’s one of those books that it feels like there's not much drama happening but at the same time so much character development occurs.

Joan Is Okay might not be a book for everyone but I found it really interesting and it definitely made me think.

Book Review: "Here's to Us" by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

The second collaboration between popular YA authors Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, Here's to Us is an utterly squee-worthy story of love and friendship and finding your own path.

This was one of a few long-awaited sequels to books I loved that came out toward the end of last year. I loved the first book, What If It’s Us, so much, and couldn’t wait to spend more time with the characters. But would the sequel be as good as the original? (Spoiler alert: It is.)

Two summers ago, Ben and Arthur lived an adorable love story in NYC. But after Arthur went home to Georgia, the strain of a long-distance relationship became too much, and they eventually went their separate ways. It’s gotten to the point where they’re mostly friends who text occasionally, which is sad, but, well, it’s life.

Now Arthur has landed a summer internship working for an off-Broadway director, so he’ll have a dream job back in NYC. He’s sad to leave his adorable, sweet boyfriend Mikey behind, but they can survive the summer. And the city is a big place, it’s not like he’ll even see Ben.

But of course, he sees Ben constantly, and they try for a friendship, which isn’t always easy when you’ve so much history together. Plus, Ben seems to be happy with his new boyfriend, Mario, even if Mario is talking about going to Los Angeles to pursue his screenwriting dreams. It’s all going to be fine, right?

Why is it that the universe keeps pushing them back together even when they’ve both tried to move on? Is Ben as happy as Arthur thinks? Has Arthur really moved on? Could a second chance be possible even with the same issues that cropped up for them before?

Here's to Us book made me laugh, made me tear up, and got me all emotional. If you love YA romance, these books are great!

Book Review: "Running Wild" by K.A. Tucker

Thanks to K.A. Tucker's latest book, I don’t care that it’s January, I happily went back to Alaska!!

When I think of my favorite book series, Tucker’s Wild series (The Simple Wild, Wild at Heart, and Forever Wild) quickly comes to mind. I fell deeply in love with Calla and Josh (especially Josh, yum) and the supporting cast of characters.

Running Wild, Tucker’s latest, focuses on Marie, a veterinarian who travels all over Alaska for her work. She’s also Josh’s best friend, and while she had hoped they could mean more than that to one another, it wasn’t meant to be. So she’s thrown herself into her work, which she loves, but she does get tired of everyone trying to set her up with someone, and her family treating her as if she's not whole without marriage and a family.

When she meets Tyler, who’s recently moved to the area to train sled dogs for the Iditarod, their first encounter is a tense one. (She’s investigating an alleged case of animal abuse.) But the more they get to know each other, the more she respects his talent and the more intense their connection to one another grows. However, Tyler is in love with someone else, and only wants to be with Marie as a friend. She's done that type of relationship before. Will true love ever swing her way?

I enjoyed Running Wild so much. Tucker pulled me right into this story and as always, made me care about these characters like they were my friends. I was also so impressed with the level of research she did on the Iditarod race and sled dogs, as I knew next to nothing coming into this book.

Here’s hoping there’s more Alaska to come for us Tucker fans!!

Book Review: "Anna and the French Kiss" by Stephanie Perkins

Getting to spend senior year of high school in Paris: can anything be better?

Anna had her senior year all figured out. She was going to spend tons of time with her best friend and had a great job at a movie theater, plus her crush on her coworker was starting to be reciprocated. And then her parents decide she should go to boarding school in Paris. It should be a dream come true—but not for Anna, who took four years of Spanish and just learned that the word “oui” wasn’t spelled “wee.”

When she arrives, despite her homesickness, she realizes Paris is a pretty cool place to go to school. She makes new friends, including Étienne, a handsome English student. All the girls love him, and it’s easy to see why. It’s not long before they become inseparable friends and it’s clear that both want more—but Étienne has a girlfriend.

When things back at home go awry and her feelings for Étienne cause tension with her friends and him, Anna is feeling lost on both shores. But will she ultimately find love in the City of Lights, with him or someone else?

Anna and the French Kiss was a fun, sweet book I’ve had on my shelf for a long while. There’s nothing quite like teenage romantic angst and the whole blurring of the lines between friendship and love. Paris is such a great backdrop for a romance and a healthy helping of drama.

If you’re looking for a clean, fun, romantic romp, here’s your book!

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Book Review: "Notes on an Execution" by Danya Kukafka

Powerful, profoundly thought-provoking, and emotional, Danya Kukafka's Notes on an Execution is easily one of the best books I’ll read all year.

Today is the day Ansel Packer will be executed. He’s known that this day would come, he knows what he’s guilty of. But he doesn’t want to fade into obscurity—he wants to be remembered for his ideas. He’s been writing his Theory, a missive which explains his thoughts and philosophies (but it's not a manifesto) for years.

As much as this day and this story is about Ansel, it’s also about three women. Lavender, his mother, a teenager when she gave birth to him in 1973 and found herself trapped with no way out. Hazel, the twin sister of Ansel’s wife, who has always resented her sister’s easy path to happiness but wonders about this man she has found. And Saffy, the homicide detective determined to make Ansel pay for his crimes—a dogged determination built over decades.

The story counts down the hours until Ansel’s execution, but also follows him from childhood, and sees his life through the eyes of the three women. Are his crimes his own fault? Are they the fault of his upbringing, of ridicule at the hands of others, or is there something inherently wrong with him? Is a person truly bad or can a good person just go wrong?

Notes on an Execution is a gripping, phenomenal story, emotional and thought-provoking, one that made me wonder where I stood on so many issues. This would be ideal for a buddy read or book club because you will want to discuss this.

Many thanks to William Morrow Books for the complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. This truly was phenomenal.

Book Review: "Reminders of Him" by Colleen Hoover

OMG, this book. Colleen Hoover's latest, Reminders of Him, is as good as I was hoping, if not better.

Kenna served five years in prison for a mistake she has lived with every single day. Now, she has returned to the town where she was living, in hopes she might be able to see her four-year-old daughter, Diem (as in Carpe...). But since the girl’s grandparents terminated Kenna’s parenting rights, does she even have a shot?

When she arrives in town, lonely, depressed, and broke, she meets Ledger. He is handsome and kind, and they have an immediate, intense connection. And then he realizes who Kenna is and why she has returned to town.

“…moments like these remind me that happiness isn’t some permanent thing we’re all trying to achieve in life, it’s merely a thing that shows up every now and then, sometimes in tiny doses that are just substantial enough to keep us going.”

Ledger is the only link to her daughter. He loves Diem fiercely. While he wishes Kenna would leave again, he can’t ignore the feelings he has for her. The more he gets to know her, the more he realizes that she isn’t the monster everyone believes she is, and maybe Diem deserves to get to know her mother. But if Ledger’s connection to Kenna is discovered, it could jeopardize his own relationship with Diem as well.

Hoover could write her grocery list and I would eagerly devour it—and it would probably make me cry. So many of her books deal with the question of who deserves a second chance, or whether a mistake makes us truly a bad person who cannot be redeemed. Her books are so thought-provoking, so emotionally engulfing, and I am there for every single one of them. (If all you've read of her books are Verity and/or Layla, you don't know what you've been missing.)

I had been waiting for Reminders of Him and it lived up to every single one of my expectations and then some! I am team #CoHo all the way!

Book Review: "She Wouldn't Change a Thing" by Sarah Adlakha

Would you change fate—even if it means losing what you love?

She Wouldn't Change a Thing was an intriguing story with a little bit of a Sliding Doors-esque feel, but it was very different at the same time.

Maria is a psychiatrist who never seems to have enough time—the demands of marriage, motherhood to two young girls, her third pregnancy, and her career leave her at wits’ end more often than not. Her husband wouldn’t mind if she didn’t go back to work after the baby is born, but she can’t imagine that.

One day Maria sees a new client who is clearly quite mentally ill. The woman fixates on a number of events, including a recent hurricane, but then makes claims about Maria’s life that disturb her. Shortly thereafter, the woman takes her own life, leaving a letter for Maria. But the police won’t let her see it until after the investigation is done.

And then Maria wakes up in her 17-year-old body. She wants to get back to her real life, but soon she realizes that she’s stuck in a time period just before a tragedy befalls her husband’s family. Should she stop it from happening, even though that could change the course of the rest of her life?

I’m always intrigued by books that involve time travel of some sort. I love the dilemma of wanting to change something without the butterfly effect occurring. My challenge with She Wouldn't Change a Thing, however, is that I found the plot a little too confusing at times and a bit meandering—there are a few threads that had to come together for it all to make sense for me.

Still, I love unique stories and if time travel intrigues you, definitely pick this up! (Other great time travel stories include Time and Again by Jack Finney, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, and How to Stop Time by Matt Haig.)

Book Review: "The Steal" by C.W. Gortner and M.J. Rose

The Steal has a little bit of everything: a jewel heist and a glamorous setting, plus secrets, emotion, and family drama. Sound good to you? It sure did to me!

Cannes, 1957. The famed film festival is about to take place on this gorgeous island, and an A-list of glamorous celebrities are there. So is jewelry designer Ania Thorne, representing her family's jewelry company with a new multimillion-dollar collection, which will adorn the bodies of the world’s most beautiful actresses.

But shortly after Ania's arrival in Cannes, her entire collection is stolen in a brazen heist by the notorious jewel thief known as "The Leopard."

Jerome Curtis is an investigator for the company that insures Thorne & Company’s jewels. He’s let The Leopard get the best of him before (with tragic results) and he’s determined that won’t happen again. But this world-weary detective isn’t prepared for the depths to which The Leopard will stoop to get what he wants.

Ania knows the future of her company is at stake, and isn’t sure if she should trust Jerome. And when she learns just what might be behind the heist, she has to decide whether she can take the thief on herself or if she should let Jerome in. This is further complicated by an attraction that can’t go anywhere.

When you read certain books, do you find yourself picturing the movie adaptation in your head? That definitely happened while reading The Steal. I really enjoyed everything about it and tried to picture whom I’d cast in the lead roles. This book has everything—action, suspense, drama, steam, glamour—it’s made for a movie!

Can’t wait to get my hands on the second book, The Bait!

Book Review: "Made in Manhattan" by Lauren Layne

First things first: this isn't a novelization of the Jennifer Lopez movie. (Notice that "Made" is spelled differently?) But one thing is for sure—Lauren Layne's newest book reminds me why I love rom-coms so much!

My friends, this should come as a shock only to a few of you, but I am a total sap. And that’s why rom-coms appeal to me—their charm, their predictability, the chemistry between the characters—it all makes me happy. And Made in Manhattan sure did make me happy!

Violet fits perfectly into NYC society. She knows what to say, how to dress, how to act. When a friend of her grandmother’s, who has been a sort of surrogate grandmother to her for the last several years, asks for her help, she’s quick to say yes. Her challenge? Help the woman’s newly discovered grandson fit in—both look the part and act the part—so that her company’s board might be willing to have him take over as CEO when she retires.

The thing is, Cain, the woman’s grandson, doesn’t have any desire to fit in. He misses his New Orleans home and his life there, and doesn’t want to have to dress differently or act differently. But the financial prospect of leading the multimillion-dollar company is enticing, so he agrees to let Violet make him over. However, he’s not going to do so without a fight.

But the more Violet and Cain butt heads over how he should dress and act, the more intensely the chemistry between them grows, and the more she realizes that maybe it’s not Cain whose life needs a makeover. Maybe a lifetime of being perfectly malleable and acceptable is no longer acceptable for her. What does she want, anyway?

This Pygmalion-in-reverse story was fun and steamy and emotional. Boy, I’d love to see who would get cast as Cain (who doesn’t like to wear a shirt very often) in the movie version of this book, because he was one sexy character, but he had more depth than I was expecting.

Layne’s books are just utterly enjoyable reads!

Book Review: "Radio Silence" by Alice Oseman

Alice Oseman's second novel is a poignant story about friendship, loneliness, finding your voice, and rescuing those in need of help.

Frances is determined to study English literature at Cambridge, and everything she does is toward achievement of that goal. She works incredibly hard all the time and rarely has time to spend with friends, not that she really has any. The one person she felt a connection to, Carys, disappeared shortly after the lines of their relationship got a little bit blurry.

The one guilty pleasure she has is listening to her favorite podcast and drawing fan art for it. When she gets to know Carys’ twin brother Aled, she discovers he’s the creator of the podcast. That deepens their relationship, as both are fairly lonely people who are forced to behave in certain ways, and when they’re together they finally feel free to be themselves.

But when the trust between them is shattered, Frances starts to wonder what she truly wants from life and who she wants to be. And as she sees Aled falling further and further into despair, she realizes she has to be brave, to confront all of her own issues and fears, in order to save her friend—and herself.

Radio Silence was a lovely story, one that is full of emotion and that feeling of being seen by a friend for the first time. It’s also a sad book, and there are triggers (abuse, cruelty) that could prove painful to some. I found myself fully immersed in the story and I needed to know what happened.

Oseman is the author and artist behind the amazing Heartstopper graphic novel series which I love so much, but I’ve had a few of her novels on my TBR as well.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Book Review: "The Last House on the Street" by Diane Chamberlain

The newest book from sensational storyteller Diane Chamberlain, The Last House on the Street, is worthy of every bit of the praise it’s getting!! Secrets, lies, family drama, tragedies, and a dual timeline? I was there for ALL OF IT.

In 1965, Ellie has grown up in a life of privilege in the small town of Round Hill, NC. She’s a university student studying pharmacology, but ultimately she’s expected to get married and raise a family. But when she learns about an effort that’s bringing northern college students to the south to register Black voters before the Voting Rights Act is signed, she decides to spend her summer break making a difference. She isn't interested in the same life that her mother and her best friend want for her.

This decision is met with anger from her parents and causes a scandal in her small town. But despite the danger her activities pose to her safety, she’s determined to move forward against her family and friends’ wishes. And when she falls for a volunteer, she quickly sees the depravity and anger of those she knows and those she doesn’t, driven by racism, ignorance, and fear.

Meanwhile, in 2010, Kayla and her husband were supposed to move into a beautiful new home they designed in Round Hill’s new development, but he died in a tragic accident while the house was being completed. Now, a stranger is warning her against moving into the house, and once she does, strange things seem to be happening. Her house is vandalized and she worries that she and her young daughter could be in danger. What secrets are people, including her father and her neighbor, hiding?

I loved this book and the way the two storylines intertwined. The Last House on the Street was a twisty mystery that was very timely given all of the voting rights issues that are in the news lately. There were some surprises and some things I saw coming, but I was completely immersed in the story.

I just love the way Chamberlain writes!

Book Review: "Legends of the North Cascades" by Jonathan Evison

Legends of the North Cascades is a beautifully written, ambitious story about love, survival, and recovery.

After his third tour in Iraq, Dave is coming apart at the seams. His PTSD is getting more intense, his marriage to Nadene is on the rocks. The only thing that’s going right is that, despite all the chaos, his 7-1/2-year-old daughter Bella seems to be flourishing.

When tragedy strikes, the only way Dave seems to find peace is through hiking in the North Cascades. The more time he spends there, the more he thinks that retreat from the world around them is the answer, so he makes the decision to move with Bella to an isolated cave in the mountains.

"Dave no longer wished to be around anybody, except for his daughter. And what was left for a child down there but a world that would likely forsake her, a world that would wring the wonder and humanity right out of her, as it sought to reduce her life force to an algorithm? The modern world held no more promise for Bella than it did for Dave."

It’s a beautiful setting but a difficult life, and people become more concerned about Bella’s safety. But as the two grow more comfortable living off the land, Bella starts to have visions, of a mother and son who lived in the same cave during the Ice Age. Both families will need to have strength in order to survive the world around them.

Jonathan Evison is a beautiful writer. I’ve enjoyed a few of his other books in the past, but his prose here is particularly luminous and poetic. I liked the different components of the story, and it brought attention to the treatment of veterans in this country. However, I felt like the pieces of the story lacked cohesion and it all didn’t quite flow together.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for inviting me on the tour and providing a complimentary copy of Legends of the North Cascades in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Book Review: "The Boyfriend Project" by Farrah Rochon

Farrah Rochon's The Boyfriend Project is a fun rom-com which deals with honesty, friendship, following your dreams, and the challenges of women in the STEM field.

At the start of 2022, I resolved to read more backlist books (not that I won’t go out and hit the bookstores) and get through a significant number (if not all) of my unread Boof of the Month picks. With this book I accomplished both!!

Samiah’s evening plans with the new guy she’s been dating take a turn when she discovers (via Twitter) that he’s been dating at least two other women simultaneously. The video of her confronting him in a restaurant quickly goes viral; while that is annoying (but not necessarily surprising), she is unprepared for the friendship that develops between her and the two other scorned women.

They vow to swear off dating and men for a while and focus on themselves, which is perfect for Samiah, since she has dreams of creating an app, and she never seems to have the time to work on it. Of course, with timing being everything, her newest colleague, Daniel, is seriously sexy and smart and sincere…what’s a woman to do?

Daniel is immediately attracted to Samiah but he is determined not to let a workplace romance keep him from his goal. On top of that, though, he has secrets that can’t be revealed. Is he a good guy or just another deceiver bound to break Samiah's heart?

I enjoyed this story and the characters. I thought the chemistry between Samiah and Daniel was really intense. However, I felt like the pacing was off for me—given all that was going on (and there really were a lot of subplots), the book dragged more often than not. But I felt what Rochon had to say about women—particularly minority women—in STEM was important.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Book Review: "Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun" by Jonny Garza Villa

Get ready for an emotional, powerful story about coming out, finding your way, and finding love!

I’ve been meaning to read Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun for a while. And how can you not love an author who writes this in their author’s note? “So, as the writer of the words that form this journey, I ask you to do me a favor and check in with yourself before starting. And I want you to know that it’s okay if you’re not ready for this book yet. It’s okay if you never are.”

Julián is a high school senior growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas. He can’t wait to graduate and get as far away as he can—hopefully to college in California—so he can finally feel free to be himself. He’s tired of his father’s expectations, criticisms, even occasional abuse, constantly telling him to act more like a man, not to be emotional, find a girlfriend, etc.

His best friends probably know he’s gay, but if he tells them, will everything change? He knows things with his father will only get worse, so he’s just biding his time. And then one night, with one drunken tweet, he throws his plans away, forcing it all—and himself—out into the open.

His friends are well-meaning, but when the abuse from classmates begins, they’re not as supportive as Jules expected them to be. But before his closet-smashing tweet he had met Mat, a high school student from California, by sliding into his DMs on Twitter. Little by little, this online friendship blossoms into something more serious, so Jules has someone to rely on as everything starts to come apart.

This is a beautiful story about taking control of your own life, about chosen family, and knowing that you have people in your corner. It’s tough at times, but I had faith that Jules would find his way.

Once again, I’m thankful that this generation has books like Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun to show them that they deserve love and friends and everything that they dream of, no matter how they identify themselves, no matter who they love.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Book Review: "Seasonal Work" by Laura Lippman

Seasonal Work is a collection of intriguing, thought-provoking short stories, some with a tinge of mystery. But they're not about seasonal work, lol.

Do you enjoy when authors you like take a bit of a departure from their usual stuff? I’ve read a lot of Laura Lippman’s mysteries, but in this, her latest book, she focuses more on fiction than on crime, although one of her most well-known protagonists, Tess Monaghan, makes an appearance in two stories.

The collection includes 12 stories. Some blew me away, some were really good, and a few didn’t quite click for me. There’s some element of deviousness or deception in each of the stories, which brings some added depth. Among my favorites in the collection: “Just One More,” in which a couple quarantining during COVID decide to join a dating app to see how compatible they really are; “Slow Burner,” about a woman who finds her husband’s burner phone; “Five Fires,” in which a spate of fires rock a small town; “Cougar,” about a woman whose no-good son moves back in and brings his girlfriend; and “Seasonal Work,” the title story, in which a scheming single father might have met his match.

As I’ve discussed a few times recently, I’m a fan of short stories but at times they leave me wanting more. And while that was the case with some stories, I love the way Lippman writes and some of the stories in this collection just hit that sweet spot for me.

Book Review: "The Violin Conspiracy" by Brendan Slocumb

When a gifted musician’s priceless Stradivarius violin disappears before a prestigious competition, who is responsible?

Growing up Black in rural North Carolina, there didn’t seem to be a lot of options for Ray. And when he discovered his talent as a violin player, the chance of him succeeding was almost zero. His mother wanted him to "stop that racket" and get a real job, and he couldn’t afford a real violin to practice on, not to mention the racist way people in the classical music world treated him.

But when his grandmother gave him a fiddle belonging to his great-great-grandfather, he was hooked. He caught the eye of the right teachers and started to get the training he needed to hone his talent. And then he discovered that this beat-up violin was actually a Stradivarius worth millions of dollars. Suddenly not only did his family want to get their hands on it, but so did the family whose ancestors enslaved Ray’s great-great-grandfather. They claim the man stole the violin from their family and are suing Ray.

As Ray prepares for the prestigious Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow, his violin is stolen, with a ransom note in its place. Who stole the violin—his family, the family suing for the return of what they claim is theirs, or someone else? Can it be found before he has to compete with another violin in its place?

This was a fascinating story. While I figured out the mystery part pretty early, I really liked Ray’s character and the book’s discussion of racism in the world of classical music. Since the author is a classical musician, this felt very authentic.

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

The Violin Conspiracy publishes 2/1/22.

Book Review: "Hang the Moon" by Alexandria Bellefleur

Can a man who believes in romance and true love convince someone who doesn’t? That's the question at the core of Alexandria Bellefleur's Hang the Moon.

Why did I wait so long to pick up this follow-up to Written in the Stars? And as much as I enjoyed that one, this one had me crying on an airplane!!

Brendon is a hopeless romantic, so much so that he created a dating app to help people find “the one.” He has yet to find his, though, but he knows she’s out there. And then Annie, his sister’s best friend and his teenage crush, comes to town.

The chemistry between the two is immediate. (Annie can’t believe Brendon went from a gangly teenager to someone so hot!) But Annie is only visiting Seattle for two weeks before she starts a new job in London. Plus, she doesn’t believe in true love, and isn’t a fan of the grand romantic gestures that Brendon lives for. He wants forever and she can’t think that far ahead.

Can a rom-com lover convince someone who doesn’t believe there’s necessarily the right one for everyone that he’s right for her? Can someone who thinks she’s got it all figured out realize she might be making a mistake if she doesn’t open her eyes to the possibilities?

Hang the Moon was funny, emotional, sexy, and just so freaking romantic. I love these characters and look forward to Count Your Lucky Stars, the third book in the series, featuring Brendon’s best friend, Margot. If you’re a rom-com fan, get these books!

Book Review: "Fiona and Jane" by Jean Chen Ho

This debut collection by Jean Chen Ho contains interconnected stories about friendship, love, family, relationships, and being caught between two cultures.

Fiona and Jane met in second grade, two Taiwanese girls living in California. Both were raised by their mothers—Fiona never knew her father, while Jane’s father went back to Taiwan for a teaching job. While they want nothing more than to be “normal” Americans, at times their mothers’ expectations are a little too much to bear.

These interconnected stories follow Fiona and Jane through their teenage years, years of some rebellion, sexual awakening, and intermittent tensions in their friendship, into adulthood, tracing their various relationships, careers, and connections with their mothers and each other. Each story is narrated through one of their perspectives.

The stories flip through time so it always took me a minute or two to orient me. (I’d say, “wait, didn’t she already move to New York?”) Some are more compelling stories than others—for the most part I found Jane a more interesting and dynamic person than Fiona.

What I found most fascinating is that while Fiona and Jane is promoted as stories about a friendship, other than a few stories, there’s barely any interaction between Fiona and Jane. Perhaps someone will ask about the other in passing, or one (Jane, probably) will reflect on not having spoken to the other in some time. I get that friendships drift apart but this felt a little odd to me.

All things considered, this was an interesting and well-written collection of stories which made me ponder my own friendships.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Book Review: "Weather Girl" by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Weather Girl, Rachel Lynn Solomon's newest rom-com, is fun, emotional, sexy, and just so good!!

You know when you’ve been eagerly anticipating a book from a favorite author and it winds up being even better than you hoped? I literally bought this one, sat down to read it, and here we are!

Ari has always loved the weather, so it’s only natural she became a TV meteorologist. She loves her job and gets to work with her idol, famed meteorologist Torrance Hale, although instead of mentoring Ari, Torrance spends a great deal of time loudly fighting with her ex-husband Seth, the station’s news director.

When the couple’s squabbling hits its low point during the station’s holiday party, Ari decides to team up with her colleague, Russell, a cute but shy sports reporter, to try and bring Torrance and Seth back together. Of course amidst their scheming, the two start to fall for each other as well. (Gee, who saw that coming?)

Ari, who suffers from depression, has always felt she needed to overcompensate in relationships so that no one realizes how low she can get. But with Russell she’s tempted to be totally honest—can he handle that truth?

Solomon has become one of my auto-buy authors. I love her characters and their chemistry, I love the diversity and Jewish representation she brings to her books without it feeling forced or token. I just love the way she can make me laugh and tear up in the matter of just a few pages.

Weather Girl was so good!!

Book Review: "The Performance" by Claire Thomas

Claire Thomas' The Performance is uniquely told and thought-provoking.

In the old cartoon series The Far Side, one comic depicted a man lying on his bed, saying, “I like her so much. I hope she likes me. I wonder what she’s thinking about right now.” There’s a split screen, and the woman says, “Vanilla. I like vanilla ice cream best.” The caption of the comic reads, “Same planet, different worlds.”

I share this example because I thought about that comic while reading The Performance. In this book, three women are at a theater in Australia watching a play, Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days. Margot is a professor nearing retirement, who is beset by professional and personal crises; Summer is an usher in the theater who is concerned about the wildfires occurring where her girlfriend’s family lives; and Ivy, a wealthy philanthropist who has built up her life after much tragedy.

There are chapters devoted to each of the women. They depict the women’s internal thoughts as the play is going on, as their focus on the actual play drifts in and out. Their thoughts are scattered, drifting between past and present, and then also incorporate their interpretation of the rather odd play, and their fellow theatergoers.

The book then has an interlude of sorts during intermission, in which the plot unfolds like a play, with the three women essentially performing. That portion of the book is written in script form. Then the book shifts back to the second act of the play and the women reacting to what happened during intermission.

This was an interesting story, mostly told through the women’s thoughts and reactions, as well as recollections of things past. It’s well-written and there are interesting things about each character, but as a whole this never quite came together for me. I liked the concept but I guess I’m more of a traditionalist when it comes to fiction.

Book Review: "Olga Dies Dreaming" by Xochitl Gonzalez

Xochitl Gonzalez's debut novel is a powerful, well-written saga of family, heritage, politics, sexuality, secrets, and lies.

In 2017, Olga Acevedo is a sought-after wedding planner for NYC‘s elite, while her older brother Prieto is an affable U.S. congressman representing their Brooklyn neighborhood. But while their lives seem charmed from the outside, in private, things aren’t as perfect. Olga can make magic happen for couples but can’t find her own happiness, and Prieto is haunted by secrets and decisions that he has made.

Their father was a drug addict who died of AIDS, while their mother abandoned the family when the children were young to pursue a radical political agenda in her native Puerto Rico. She barely keeps in touch with them except to have letters delivered to them, letters in which she berates Prieto for his political choices and tries to convince Olga she is wasting her intelligence by not focusing on the cause.

When Hurricane Maria devastates Puerto Rico, their mother resurfaces in a number of ways, trying to convince both of them to do her bidding. They don’t support her methods—nor do they want to get entangled in her mess—but they see the American government’s mistreatment of and horrible neglect toward Puerto Rico and its residents, and they feel compelled to act. But what sacrifices will they have to make in exchange?

Olga Dies Dreaming was one of my Book of the Month picks in December. There was much to love about Gonzalez’s novel, and I found both Olga and Prieto to be fascinating characters. But while I found the book spot-on in its indictment of America’s cruelty toward Puerto Rico, I lost interest in the book when it focused on their mother and her machinations.

If you’re a fan of character-driven books, this is worth a read. There’s definitely a great story and strong characters at its heart.

Book Review: "Lucky" by Marissa Stapley

Looking for a totally bingeable caper with a terrific main character? Check out Lucky, the newest book from Marissa Stapley.

Lucky. That’s what her father always told her she was. A grifter for as long as she can remember, she’s always been able to stay one step ahead—sometimes just barely.

Now, she and her longtime boyfriend have pulled off a major multi-million-dollar scheme, and are ready to start a new life in Dominica with new identities, and they won’t have to grift anymore. But of course, her boyfriend disappears, leaving her with nothing but their names and faces being shown repeatedly on the news, so their time is up.

Or is it? As Lucky tries to come up with a plan to start over, she also has an interesting dilemma: the lottery ticket she bought is worth $390 million. But of course, if she comes forward to claim her prize, she’ll be arrested for her crimes. She needs to figure out a plan—and it’s going to require confronting her father, who got her started in the grifting life long ago, finding her mother, who abandoned her as an infant, and dealing with some people who have double-crossed her, including the man she thought she loved.

The story shifts between the present and the past, giving glimpses of Lucky’s life with her dad as well as the road that led her to her current situation, being abandoned and double-crossed.

I thought Lucky was fun and I couldn’t put it down. I saw one major twist coming, but it didn’t detract from how much I enjoyed the story and Lucky’s character. I wouldn’t mind another book with her at the helm!! (Plus, the Britney Spears song is in my head, and that’s a good thing!)

Book Review: "Early Morning Riser" by Katherine Heiny

Early Morning Riser is a poignant and laugh-out-loud funny story about love and family and how those can appear in very different ways.

Jane moves to the small town of Boyne City, Michigan, and it’s not long before she’s fallen for Duncan, the town’s locksmith and woodworker. He’s handsome, charming, and has dated nearly every woman in Boyne City at some point, but that doesn’t dissuade Jane from getting into a relationship with him.

While running into women he’s dated through the years (or relatives of theirs) can sometimes be awkward—and unexpected when it happens in neighboring towns—Jane has made peace with that. But it’s harder to share Duncan with so many people, especially his ex-wife, Aggie, her doddering new husband Gary, and Jimmy, Duncan’s coworker. (Duncan still mows Aggie and Gary’s lawn because Gary doesn’t care for lawnmowers.)

But one split-second decision, one car accident, changes everything Jane had thought about marriage and family. Suddenly Jane’s life is inextricably connected to Jimmy’s, which also means to Duncan, Aggie, and Gary. Her future takes a far different path than she was thinking in some ways, but is that a bad thing?

Early Morning Riser is an absolutely fantastic book. It moves from 2002-2019, spanning the lives of these characters and a few more. (Freida, Jane’s best friend, cracked me up so many times.) I literally was laughing hysterically throughout the book and tearing up in other places, because Katherine Heiny is such an insightful storyteller.

Heiny’s first novel, Standard Deviation, was one of my favorite books of 2017, so I’m not sure what took me so long to read this one, but I loved it. It’ll definitely make my year-end best list! (Thanks to my friend Andy for the reminder!)

Book Review: "Reckless Girls" by Rachel Hawkins

Rachel Hawkins' latest thriller, Reckless Girls, centers around a pleasure trip to a legendary deserted island…what could go wrong?

When Lux met Nico, her life was in a weird place, so she was all too happy to leave San Diego with him when he sailed to Maui. And while she doesn’t quite feel like she’s found her groove, she still likes being with him and enjoys her surroundings.

When Nico is approached by two young women who ask him to sail them to Meroe Island, a deserted island in the Pacific with a creepy history (shipwrecks, cannibalism, murder), it sounds like an interesting adventure, but he’ll only agree if Lux comes with them. The money is good and it’s only a short trip, so why not?

They arrive they find an island of true beauty, but they’re not the only ones there. And although the quartet quickly bond with the two other people they meet on the island, many of them are hiding secrets of some kind. But while tensions rise occasionally, it’s not until another unexpected visitor to the island arrives that things start to fall apart—in dangerous ways.

I’ve been waiting to get my hands on Reckless Girls so I definitely picked it in my Book of the Month box. It definitely didn’t disappoint—I found it twisty and sexy and exciting. I really liked Rachel Hawkins’ last book, The Wife Upstairs, and I just really enjoy the way she writes.

The book shifts between past and present—Lux narrates all the present chapters but the past chapters set up the other characters. It was fast-moving and just so good!

Friday, January 7, 2022

Book Review: "The Heart Principle" by Helen Hoang

Wow, now I can see what all the hype for The Heart Principle has been about, since it showed up on a number of year-end best lists!!

Anna is a violinist for a symphony who accidentally achieves immense notoriety when a video of her performance goes viral. But that fame weighs on her, and she finds herself unable to keep playing her music without getting stuck on the errors she thinks she is making, causing her to withdraw from performing.

When Anna’s boyfriend Julian tells her he’d like an open relationship before settling down, she’s thrown for a loop, but she decides to get even. She plans to meet a bunch of men on dating apps and have one-night stands, even though that's totally out of character for her.

And then she meets Quan (a character from Hoang’s The Bride Test). He’s a handsome, smart, muscular, tattooed motorcycle rider. They have immediate emotional and physical chemistry but their attempts at an actual one-night stand fail—more than once. But Quan isn’t just interested in sex, he wants to be there for Anna, too, which is something she’s not used to. (Plus he's adorably nerdy, which I loved.)

When tragedy strikes Anna’s family, Quan is there for her, but slipping back into the traditional family roles takes a toll on Anna’s psyche. She’s constantly berated and belittled, and she's physically and emotionally exhausted, which causes her to question everything she’s come to believe. She has to decide whether she deserves Quan and if he’s willing to be with her regardless of her flaws.

Like Helen Hoang’s other books, The Heart Principle is a steamy one, but it’s also really tough emotionally. It deals with family illness and toxic family members, thoughts of suicide, cancer survival, and autism spectrum disorder, so one or more of these might be triggering for some. I love the respect Hoang has for her neurodiverse characters and her ability to show that they can be sexy, smart, and successful, too.

I loved Quan and Anna, and couldn’t get enough of them. I can’t believe I waited so long to read this!!

Book Review: "Golden Boys" by Phil Stamper

I loved Phil Stamper's upcoming YA book, Golden Boys so much. I wish my life (and the world) could’ve been like this when I was in high school!

The four of them are best friends—Sal, Reese, Heath, and Gabriel. They’re the only out queer students in their Ohio high school, so they naturally gravitated toward each other. And while all are inseparable, Sal and Gabriel have hooked up from time to time, while both Reese and Heath would like to, but neither has the courage to say so. They've seen each other through good times and bad, including a bullying incident at school that still haunts two of them.

This summer will be different, though. Sal is headed to DC to intern for a senator; Reese is going to Paris to attend design school; Gabriel will be volunteering for a Save the Trees-type organization in Boston; and Heath will be spending the summer in Daytona Beach, working at his aunt’s arcade as his parents navigate a divorce.

How will the summer change them and their relationships? When senior year of high school rolls around, will they be able to recapture their friendship or will everything be different? What will their future ambitions look like?

I thought this really was a fantastic book. When I was growing up, nobody was out, so there was no one to truly commisearte with who got what I was feeling. I'm so glad that kids today have it (at least somewhat) different, and have books like this to remind them that everything can be okay!

Stamper is one of my favorite YA authors, but I loved this new book best. Thanks to Storygram Tours and Bloomsbury YA for inviting me on the tour for this book and providing me a complimentary copy in exchange for an unbiased review!

Golden Boys publishes 2/8/22.

Book Review: "The Maid" by Nita Prose

The Maid, Nita Prose's debut novel, is a compelling mystery/thriller with a truly fascinating main character.

“I am your maid. I’m the one who cleans your hotel room, who enters like a phantom when you’re out gallivanting for the day, no care at all about what you’ve left behind, the mess, or what I might see when you’re gone.”

Molly loves her job as a maid at the Regency Grand Hotel. She loves the opportunity to restore rooms to “a state of perfection.” She prides herself on her work and doesn’t like her lazier colleagues who cut corners or steal her tips.

Molly is different, in that she doesn’t understand visual cues or people’s true intentions. She’s awkward in social situations and has an old-fashioned way of speaking, because her grandmother raised her. Because of this, people make incorrect assumptions about her and take advantage of her good-naturedness.

One day, she finds ultra-rich businessman Mr. Black dead in his hotel room bed. Not long after, because of her odd demeanor and the manipulations of those she thought were her friends, Molly is suspected of the murder. But when a group of friends she didn’t realize she had come to her rescue to try and clear her of the crime, Molly teams up with them to uncover the real culprit.

This book has been all over Bookstagram, and its selection as a Book of the Month pick will increase its exposure. I really enjoyed this, and while sometimes I thought Molly was a tiny bit too quirky for my liking, I loved the message of this book, that you should never make assumptions about a person’s character based on their personality traits.

Couldn’t put The Maid down! (And no, this isn't related to the Netflix series of the same name.)

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Book Review: "You've Reached Sam" by Dustin Thao

You've Reached Sam, Dustin Thao's debut YA novel, is an emotional look at grief, letting go, and letting others in.

Julie and her boyfriend Sam had their post-graduation future planned out. They’d move out of their small Washington town, go to college in the city, even spend a summer in Japan. And until then, there were so many things they were going to do or Sam was going to show Julie.

But one night, Sam died, and Julie doesn’t know how to move on. She skips his funeral, throws away his things, and avoids contact with everyone who tries to reach out, including Sam’s family and their friends. She’s sad, she blames herself, and knows others do as well.

One night, she’s so desperate to hear his voice that she calls his cell phone—and he answers. He can’t explain where he is or how long he’ll be reachable, but if Julie calls, he’ll answer. This second chance at goodbye fills her with emotion, the opportunity to say the things she never got to say, and Sam guides her to experience things he had always promised to show her before.

The more she starts to depend on the calls, the more she pushes others away, and Sam knows that at this rate she’ll never be able to move on. He encourages her to start reconnecting with those she pushed away, those in need of attention, so that someday soon she can say goodbye to him for real.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to get another chance to talk to those we’ve lost. You've Reached Sam was an emotional book for sure, and one that showed how everyone grieves differently. We can’t expect everyone to react the same way we do.

That being said, I really didn’t like Julie’s character very much. She was so selfish and impulsive that it was sometimes hard to have sympathy for her because of how she treated others. But still, this story is beautifully written, and it moved me.

Book Review: "Wahala" by Nikki May

In Wahala (Nigerian for "trouble"), three’s company, four’s a mess.

Ronke, Boo, and Simi have been friends since university, when the three Anglo-Nigerian women bonded over their multiracial backgrounds. Each has a good life but wants more—Ronke is a successful dentist but wants to find the perfect man, Boo has the perfect man and an impish daughter but wants to work more and be taken seriously, and Simi often feels like an imposter in her own life, and while her husband thinks they’re trying to get pregnant, she’s not.

Into this tight-knit group comes Isobel, Simi’s childhood best friend whom she hasn’t seen in years. Isobel is glamorous, tremendously wealthy, and desperate for friends, so she ingratiates herself into the trio. It’s not long before she’s jogging with Boo, giving Simi marriage and career help, and trying to find a new man for Ronke (despite the fact that Ronke loves her current boyfriend).

But the deeper Isobel works her way into the group, the more trouble she causes among the friends. She spills their secrets to one another, spreads lies, and is always just on the search for fun, debauchery, and drama.

Ronke isn’t a fan of Isobel’s but Simi and Boo seem to have fallen under her spell. But who is Isobel, really? Are best friends all she wants, or does she have another motive? And will her own secrets be discovered before it’s too late?

The drama came fast and furious with this one. While the book markets a Sex and the City-type feel, it definitely felt more Big Little Lies-like to me. These are women so desperate to have what they think they want that they don’t see what they’re missing.

This was a soapy read—not really a thriller as some have tried to position it—and it was both funny and thought-provoking in its look at racism in the business world and elsewhere. I enjoyed it but unlikeable characters tend to wear on me after a while.

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

Wahala publishes 1/11/22.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Book Review: "The Tenderest of Strings" by Steven Schwartz

Steven Schwartz's new novel, The Tenderest of Strings, is beautifully written, thought-provoking family drama.

"It was sad, really, how you could become a stranger in your own marriage. You could never imagine such a thing during the promise of the beginning amidst that heady scramble to know everything about each other. It was all hunger back then."

Seeking a fresh start, Reuben and Ardith Rosenfeld move from Chicago to the small western town of Welton, Colorado, with their two sons. Reuben buys the local paper with dreams of transforming it, only to realize how set in their ways the townspeople are. They also buy a dilapidated old house, but lack the money and the motivation to put the renovation plans they had into motion.

One day, their teenage son Harry, who is already troubled, is found wandering the streets, having skipped school. He apparently lost a front tooth in an incident he will not explain to his parents or police. Instead he becomes more of a loner and grows even angrier with his parents. Meanwhile, Ardith is having an affair but doesn’t know what she wants it to ultimately mean.

When a hit-and-run accident occurs one night, the town is torn apart. Secrets are uncovered, and the accident sets off a number of ripples in the Rosenfelds’ lives, ripples they’re not sure they can survive, or even if they want to.

Schwartz is a really talented storyteller. While these characters aren’t necessarily sympathetic, I found this book really fascinating. It would be a great book club or buddy read book because there are so many things you’ll want to discuss, and figure out how you might react in similar situations. I did find some of the conclusions a little abrupt.

Thanks to Regal House Publishing and Over The River Public Relations for inviting me on the tour and providing a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

The Tenderest of Strings publishes 1/4/22.

Book Review: "Well Matched" by Jen DeLuca

Fake dating and a hot man in a kilt? Yes, please!

In Well Matched, Jen DeLuca’s third book after Well Met and Well Played, April is a single mom who has always done it all by herself. With her daughter ready to head to college, April is planning to sell their house, move away from Willow Creek, and live life for herself for once.

First, she’ll need help with some home improvement projects, which her friend Mitch volunteers to handle. But Mitch requires a favor in return—he needs a date to a family dinner, so he won't have to endure the disapproval and criticism from his family about just being a gym teacher. April agrees to help. And when the family dinner turns into a weekend she also agrees, and of course, there’s only one bed in the hotel…

As the chemistry between them grows and it becomes difficult to determine if they’re still in a fake relationship or heading toward a real one, April is still moving forward with her plans to sell her house and move away. But where does that leave things with Mitch?

When she agrees to volunteer at the local Renaissance Faire, where each summer Mitch wears a kilt and not much else, she starts to wonder where she fits in, and whether the place she’s been so determined to leave is actually the place she really wants to be.

I really enjoy this series, and this is definitely my favorite of the three books. The chemistry between April and Mitch (despite all of the drama April creates) is hot, and I love the recurring supporting characters that appear in all the books. Plus, I love the Renaissance Faire setting!

Even though I meant to get to this last year, this was a great first book to start 2022!

Saturday, January 1, 2022

The Best Books I Read in 2021...

Happy New Year! The less said about 2021 the better (at least for me, professionally and personally), but the one thing that worked well was my reading. Amazingly, I read a record 372 books this past year. I didn't sleep much, and I didn't watch much television, but what else was I supposed to do when you never know whether you should stay inside or not?

As I've done every year since 2010, I put together a list of the best books I read in the last year. As the number of books I read increases, it gets more and more difficult to narrow the list down. So this year I came up with a top 26 (one was a two-book series) followed by an additional 24 books which were still too good not to mention. The title of each book is linked to my original review.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, either about these books or other books you loved this year!

The Top 26

1. Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune: It's the second year in a row that my favorite book of the year is by Klune. This gorgeous, life-affirming, romantic book teaches you that it’s never too late to make your life the way you wanted it to be. Even after you’re dead.

2. We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker: Can your heart be broken and be filled with love simultaneously? This is an unforgettable, emotional story about chosen family vs. blood, loyalty, love, the difficult decision about whether to trust people, friendship, secrets, and love.

3. The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun: I couldn’t have loved this book more if I tried. I was expecting a sweet gay love story—and boy, was this great—but I wasn’t expecting the deeper conversations about mental health, sexual identity, and self-esteem. I cried like a baby and smiled like a lunatic.

4. A Little Hope by Ethan Joella: A beautifully written, thought-provoking, and moving story about love, despair, and second chances. The lives of a number of residents of the small town of Wharton, Connecticut intersect in myriad ways over a period of time.

5. The Guncle by Steven Rowley: I loved this book so much. I didn’t want it to end, and I wanted to hug it when I was done.⁣ The story of a flamboyant, caftan-wearing gay man who suddenly becomes the temporary caregiver for his niece and nephew when their mother (and his best friend) dies. Ah-ma-zing.

6. In My Dreams I Hold a Knife by Ashley Winstead: One of the best, most addicting books I read all year. Five friends return to college for their 10-year reunion despite the fact that one of their original group was murdered, and another was accused. And someone wants to unmask the real killer from among the remaining friends.

7. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner: A moving, thought-provoking look at grief and the complicated relationship between mother and daughter. A writer and indie musician recounts losing her Korean mother to cancer in 2014 and discusses how their relationship was best celebrated through food, such a vital part of so many cultures.

8. The Push by Ashley Audrain: This is such a tremendously powerful, suspenseful, slightly creepy book I stayed up until nearly 1:30 a.m. to finish because I couldn’t put it down. It's a story about motherhood, the beautiful and the difficult moments. I won’t forget this anytime soon!

9. Catch Us When We Fall by Juliette Fay: This is a beautiful, emotional story about embracing your vulnerability and finding the possibility of a future when you never thought there was one. A woman tries to make a new life for herself after her long-time boyfriend dies, leaving her pregnant, broke, and alcoholic.

10. Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby: A fantastically gripping story of revenge, regret, and transformation by a thriller writer who should be a household name. Powerful, sad, gritty, and utterly searing, it's also very violent, so those of you who don't enjoy that should steer clear of this book, but you'll miss a masterpiece.