Monday, May 30, 2022

Book Review: "The Bodyguard" by Katherine Center

She’s been hired to protect him, but she’s been protecting herself as well.

This was great!! Katherine Center’s newest book has nothing to do with the movie of the same name but I couldn’t resist singing the soundtrack. (It is what it is.)

She may not look it, but Hannah is an Executive Protection Agent (bodyguard) at the top of her game. After dealing with some personal issues, she gets an unusual assignment—protecting famous actor Jack Stapleton while he’s in Houston visiting his family.

Jack is one of the most recognizable (and handsome) actors, but after a family tragedy a few years ago, he dropped out of the public eye. He certainly doesn’t think he needs a bodyguard at first but his studio gives him no choice. The thing is, however, he doesn’t want his family to know he has stalkers, so he insists Hannah pretend to be his girlfriend. She doesn’t think anyone would believe Jack would date her—she’s a far cry from his other girlfriends—but he’s a good actor.

When she and Jack move into his family’s ranch, she must negotiate the tension between him and his brother. But more than that, the more time she spends with Jack, the more she starts to feel like she could be his real girlfriend—which is bad for the job, and bad for her heart. Is he falling for her, too, or is he acting?

I love the way Center tells a story, and even though this was fairly predictable, I was there for it all. These characters—Hannah, Jack, even the supporting characters—were terrific, and I was completely hooked. This would be a great movie!

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

Book Review: "The Beach Trap" by Ali Brady

Romance, family drama, house renovations, and a beautiful beach setting—could you ask for more? If this sounds up your alley, check out The Beach Trap.

Kat and Blake became inseparable best friends at camp the summer they were 12 years old. But as the summer ends they make a shocking discovery: they’re half-sisters, and Blake hasn’t seen their father in years. Devastated by this betrayal, Kat breaks off all contact with Blake.

Fifteen years later, their father dies and leaves both of them the family’s beach house in Destin, Florida. Blake wants to sell it as soon as possible because she needs the money to care for her grandfather, but Kat wants to hang onto the place that held so many memories for her.

The house is run down, so the sisters—in a rare moment of agreement—decide that they will renovate it and at the end of the summer, Kat will buy Blake out. But while Blake does most of the work, Kat, a popular social media influencer, wants complete creative control, which causes more friction between the former friends.

Meanwhile, both embark on summer romances, although Blake finds a man with family secrets of his own. Can the happiness they’ve found last more than the summer? Will the sisters be able to find their way through their past resentments and hurt in order to rebuild their relationship? And what will happen to the house?

This was such an enjoyable read. It had everything I love in a book—even an adorable dog—and I was immersed from start to finish. It’s definitely a bit steamy, but it’s also poignant, funny, and sweet.

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for the advance copy in exchange for an unbiased review!

Friday, May 20, 2022

Book Review: "Remarkably Bright Creatures" by Shelby Van Pelt

This is an absolutely fantastic, beautiful story about friendship, family, and second chances.

I love when a book is even better than I hoped it would be. That’s definitely the case with this one!

After Tova’s husband dies, she starts working as a cleaner at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. Her friends think she’s crazy, a woman of her age doing that kind of work, but it gives her a sense of purpose, and it keeps her from mourning her husband as well as her son Erik, who disappeared one night more than 30 years ago and was presumed drowned.

Tova strikes up a most unlikely friendship with Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living in the aquarium. Marcellus is smarter and more resourceful than anyone realizes, and he starts to take a liking to Tova too, in his own way.

Little by little, Marcellus starts to realize a secret that’s been kept hidden for years, and he’s determined to help Tova discover the answers she’s been seeking. But it will require every bit of cunning he has left—and could endanger his life.

I didn’t think another non-human character would touch me more than Six-Thirty from Lessons in Chemistry, but Marcellus was amazing. I really enjoyed so many of the characters in this book. It’s the kind of story that will make me look at aquatic creatures a little closer the next time I’m at the aquarium!

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Book Review: "Yerba Buena" by Nina LaCour

This is an utterly exquisite story of longing, regret, love, and the memories that haunt us.

Nina LaCour has been one of my favorite YA authors for years now, so I was tremendously excited that she was writing her first adult novel. This book is as beautiful and poignant as her YA books, and it filled my heart with emotion.

Sara was 16 when a tragedy forces her to leave home and head for Los Angeles. She makes a life for herself and ultimately becomes a sought-after bartender and mixologist. But her memories are full of a girl she once loved and a disturbing discovery.

Emilie has always been a bit directionless, unsure what she wants. Her academic career reflects her inability to commit to one thing or another. She gets a job arranging floral displays for restaurants, including Yerba Buena, and before she realizes it she falls into an affair with the chef/owner. She meets Sara at Yerba Buena and feels a connection, but neither is ready to take the first step.

As time passes, Sara and Emilie connect and realize the intensity of their feelings for one another, yet the secrets from their past that they cling to always seem to be a roadblock. How do they step beyond the fear, the regret in their lives to capture the longing and embrace their vulnerabilities?

I was drawn in from the very first page of this book. It’s sad and joyous and hopeful and these characters will resonate in my head for a long while.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Book Review: "Book Lovers" by Emily Henry

They always were helping others—at the expense of themselves.

Good lord, I loved this book. This is a terrific rom-com but like all of Emily Henry’s books there’s so much more to it, as two people realize they don’t have to sacrifice their own happiness to be someone’s hero.

Nora is a literary agent extraordinaire. She fights for her clients and puts work above everything—except her sister, Libby. For as long as she can remember, she’s taken care of Libby, dropping everything to ensure her happiness and safety, even now that they’re adults.

That is why she agrees to accompany her sister on a month-long jaunt to the small town of Sunshine Falls, North Carolina—the setting of one of Nora’s client’s most-famous books and a favorite of Libby’s. Libby has prepared a checklist of adventures they’re going to have and things she wants her sister to do, to transform her life of all work and no play.

But the town isn’t quite what Nora—who loves living in NYC—pictured. And instead of embarking on a relationship with a local farmer or carpenter, she is inexplicably drawn to Charlie Lastra, an editor from New York, who seems to be hanging around in Sunshine Falls, too. Charlie is sarcastic, hard-to-please, and Nora can’t seem to get him out of her system, especially when they start working together on her client’s book.

But everyone has issues they’re dealing with and secrets they’re keeping close to themselves. Will Nora be willing to risk it all for Charlie, or will her happiness take a back seat again? Will Charlie let his guard down for Nora? And what hurdles stand in their way?

This was just excellent.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Book Review: "When You Call My Name" by Tucker Shaw

Gorgeous and emotional, When You Call My Name evoked such memories for me.

It’s 1990 in New York City. Adam is 17 and has just been asked out on a date by Callum, an aspiring conductor. Adam quickly falls for Callum, who is a few years older than him, but something seems to be holding Callum back.

Ben left his upstate New York home after his mother discovered his secret stash of gay magazines, and he heads to NYC to live with his brother, who is a doctor. Fashion-obsessed Ben gets a glimpse into the world he wants to be a part of, and he falls in love with the city and its possibilities, even if his brother doesn’t quite get him.

When Callum disappears, Adam desperately searches for him, until he finds that he’s in the hospital, slowly declining from AIDS. Adam devoted himself to caring for Callum until he reaches the end, and the toll that AIDS has taken on the gay community overwhelms him.

One night, when Adam is at his most vulnerable, he meets Ben near Callum’s hospital. Ben realizes that Adam is in pain and needs help, and although their connection is brief, they begin seeing each other at random times. Sometimes their encounters are meaningful, sometimes they say the wrong things, but both start to depend on one another more than they’re prepared to admit.

This is such a beautiful book, one that so accurately captures the mood of 1990, the sadness, defiance, anger, and fear that pervaded the LGBTQ community at that time. It’s a book about the power of friendship, love, chosen and blood family, and finally finding yourself. This reminded me a little of The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels (a favorite of mine from a few years ago) in the emotions and nostalgia it evoked.

Thanks so much to Fierce Reads, Storygram Tours, and Tucker Shaw for inviting me on the tour for this book and providing a complimentary advance copy in exchange for an unbiased review.

Book Review: "By the Book" by Jasmine Guillory

In By the Book, an editorial assistant wanting to get ahead in the publishing world goes toe to toe with a reluctant author.

So…let’s talk retellings. I feel like the word is getting really overused and not always accurately. To me, a retelling needs to have some actual elements of the original story, not just a character name or a sprinkling of references. Maybe I’m wrong, but those tend to be the ones I’ve enjoyed.

And that is probably why By the Book dissatisfied me, especially surprising given that Guillory is a favorite author. This book is being marketed as a (very) loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast…only I don’t agree. Sure, the two publishing companies are called Tale As Old As Time and Maurice (crazy old Maurice, eh?), and the protagonist is named IsaBELLE. (There’s another reference or two in blink-or-you’ll-miss-them moments, but that’s it.)

Is the grumpy/sunshine romance enjoyable if you take away the undelivered promise of a Beauty and the Beast retelling? It was sweet and emotional, but it took longer for the characters to act on their shared chemistry. And I just felt like these characters didn’t sizzle like they do in other Guillory books.

Maybe my expectations were just too high. Others have really enjoyed it and been charmed by it. (Julie Murphy’s If the Shoe Fits, the first book in the Meant to Be series, was a much more faithful retelling than this was.) I guess you just can’t love everything, even books by your favorite authors sometimes.

Thanks to NetGalley and Hyperion for the complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!