Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Book Review: "The Last Housewife" by Ashley Winstead

This book was utterly and completely insane…but so good!!

WTF did I just read? I had heard that the latest book by Ashley Winstead was wild and triggering, but I was utterly unprepared for this level of craziness. If you’re thinking of reading it, know that nearly every single trigger warning applies to this book. But I couldn't turn away!!

Shay has made a new life for herself. She’s married a rich man, achieved success as a writer, and plans to write a book. She plays the role to perfection—entertaining their friends and her husband’s business associates, lounges by the pool, etc.

She’s also obsessed with true crime podcasts, and one that she listens to regularly is hosted by an old childhood friend, Jamie. Shay is utterly shocked when one day Jamie discusses his suspicions about the suicide of Laurel, Shay’s best friend in college. Although they had lost touch, she is devastated by Laurel’s death, which brings up reminders of another suspicious death years before.

Shay decides to reach out to Jamie to help investigate what really happened to Laurel. But that will require reopening old wounds and facing the truth about the horrible secrets she’s tried to put behind her. And those secrets might pull her right back in…

It’s best to go in fairly blind here and just let it all unfold. I’d seriously read anything Winstead writes—her two previous books were among my favorites. Can’t wait to see what she does next!

Book Review: "Carrie Soto is Back" by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Was it worth the hype? Yes, yes, a million times, yes!!

“My ambition has long felt oppressive. It is not a joy—it is a master that I must answer to, a smoke that descends into my life, making it hard to breathe. It is only my discipline, my willingness to push myself harder, that has been my way through.”

Carrie Soto was raised by her father, a former tennis player, to become the greatest player in the world. She was singularly focused on this goal, a ruthless competitor who made no friends and absolutely hated losing. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she rose to the top of the game, winning a record 20 Grand Slam titles, becoming #1 in the world, before retiring.

Known as “The Battle Axe” while competing, she lives a fairly lonely existence, with few friends and no real romantic relationships. But in the mid-1990s, as she watches a new women’s tennis star’s meteoric rise, Carrie starts to get hungry to play again. And when this player, Nicki Chan, ties Carrie’s record of 20 grand slams, Carrie decides it’s time for a comeback. But can she play the kind of tennis she needs to at age 37? And can she win one more Grand Slam to take the record?

Taylor Jenkins Reid has long been one of my favorite authors, and I have been eagerly anticipating this book for months. It’s a fascinating, emotional, totally compelling story, and what impressed me so much was that she created an entire world of 1970s-1990s tennis; she didn’t just drop Carrie into the middle of the real players.

I absolutely devoured this book and now I have to wait perhaps a year for her next!!

Book Review: "The Women Could Fly" by Megan Giddings

Megan Giddings' newest book is utterly unique, powerful, and thought-provoking.

Thanks so much to BookSparks and Amistad Books for providing a complimentary copy of this book as a part of #SRC2022!!

Jo’s mother disappeared 14 years ago, and no one ever knew what happened to her. Did she leave for a fresh start somewhere else? Was she abducted, or worse, murdered? Or were the rumors true, that her mother was a witch? In a world where expectations are that you’ll tow the line—especially women—the idea of having a witch as a mother is a dangerous prospect.

Now Jo is 28, only two years away from the state-mandated deadline that women marry by the age of 30 or register to be monitored. But Jo isn’t interested in getting married, although the idea of giving up her freedom certainly doesn’t appeal.

When she gets the opportunity to carry out a request from her mother’s will, it takes her to another place entirely, and she feels a connection to her mother she never expected. But beyond that, she realizes who she is and what she wants for the first time.

This is a fascinating social commentary on the role of women, made even more timely by what’s been happening in the U.S. lately. Even though the idea of witches may seem like this book is fantasy, it’s really much more contemporary fiction. And it’s tremendously well-written!!

Book Review: "Mr. Perfect on Paper" by Jean Meltzer

In Mr. Perfect on Paper, this matchmaker has met her match.

Dara is the third generation of matchmaker in her family, after her mother and grandmother, but she’s taken matchmaking into modern times as the creator and CEO of J-Mate, the popular Jewish dating app. Yet while her app has been responsible for thousands of people finding true love, her own love life is rather empty.

When Dara and her beloved bubbe (grandmother) appear on television to talk about matchmaking, the last thing Dara is expecting is for her bubbe to humiliate her on air by sharing her secret checklist for “The Perfect Jewish Husband.” But the segment is such a hit that the show’s handsome host, Chris Steadfast, proposes that he find men that meet Dara’s characteristics and she go on dates with them—on the air.

Of course, the more time Dara spends with Chris, the more she realizes that he’s the one she wants. But the non-Jewish widowed father is not the match that Dara has in mind. Should she settle for merely content with a man who checks off boxes on her list, or should she choose the man who makes her heart beat faster, regardless of the complications?

This book was so good—it’s romantic, funny, poignant, and it really gives an in-depth look at Judaism and the tug-of-war people feel when dating and finding a mate. It’s also an emotional look at starting over, and provides perspective on living with generalized anxiety disorder.

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours, Jean Meltzer, and MIRA Books for inviting me on the tour and providing me a complimentary copy of the book. I loved it!!

Book Review: "Keya Das's Second Act" by Sopan Deb

This was a poignant story about forgiving yourself and finding the strength to move forward.

One day, much to the surprise of her Bengali parents and older sister, 18-year-old Keya came out to her family. Their reactions hurt, disappointed, and angered her, but they never found the opportunity to apologize to Keya, as she died shortly thereafter.

Years later, Keya's father Shantanu lives alone. His marriage is over and he doesn’t speak to his other daughter, Mitali, that often. One day he finds boxes in the attic, and one contains notes Keya wrote to her then-girlfriend as well as a play that the two young women had written.

When Mitali suggests that the family stage the play as a tribute to Keya, it is seen as a chance to make amends in a small way for the way Keya felt when she died. And as the production of the play progresses, it represents a chance for each of Keya's family members, who have been mired in grief and guilt for some time, to take tentative steps toward a new start as well.

This was a really well-told and emotionally rich story. I found myself really hooked on these characters and rooting for them to succeed. I felt like there was one thread, related to the man that Mitali is dating, which seemed extraneous and didn’t advance the story much, but I wasn’t too distracted by it.

Having grown up in the New Jersey suburbs, I loved the mention of lots of familiar places. I also was impressed that this is Sopan Deb’s debut novel and I look forward to seeing what comes next in his career.

Book Review: "A Hundred Other Girls" by Iman Hariri-Kia

How far would you go to keep the job a hundred other girls are ready to take?

Noora has dreamed of being a writer for as long as she can remember. Even though the only writing she seems to do is either on her blog or papers for her spoiled tutoring clients, she’s determined to land a job at a magazine. And when she learns about a job opening at Vinyl magazine, she can’t believe her luck.

Vinyl became an older friend. It taught me how to properly insert a tampon, select which political philosophy I subscribed to, and differentiate between an orgasm and an organism.”

Amazingly, Noora lands a job as assistant to Vinyl’s legendary editor-in-chief, Loretta James. But this job won’t quite be the foot in the door she was hoping: Loretta is an immensely insecure, manipulative tyrant who is struggling to hold on to her domain while print publications are being put out to sea in favor of digital. She needs Noora to feed her information that will keep the print side of the magazine—and Loretta herself—relevant.

It’s not long before Noora finds herself in the middle of a turf war between print and digital, crushing on a colleague, and negotiating toxic office culture. How much will she be willing to sacrifice to make her dream a reality?

This book has been called an updated version of The Devil Wears Prada and there are definitely many similarities between the two. But this story didn’t grab me that much. I really wasn’t a fan of many of the characters and while I know there were places I probably should have been laughing, it just didn’t work for me.

Book Review: "Nothing More to Tell" by Karen M. McManus

The YA thriller queen Karen McManus has returned with one of her best!

After her favorite teacher was murdered, Brynn was more than happy when her father’s job moved her family away from Sturgis, Massachusetts and Saint Ambrose School. But four years later, Brynn is back for her senior year of high school, licking her wounds after being involved in a scandal with her school newspaper.

When she lands an internship at Motive, a true-crime show, she pitches them on the idea of investigating Mr. Larkin’s murder. Her three classmates—including her ex-best friend Tripp—who found his body always seemed to know more than they said, and they were able to skate away without any scrutiny. What were they hiding?

For four years, Tripp has wanted nothing more than to fade into the woodwork. But somehow, finding Mr. Larkin’s body with two popular classmates catapulted him into the social elite, especially since he didn’t tell the police the truth that day. His friends have never forgotten what he did—and neither has he.

The more Brynn digs into the case the more she discovers lots of inconsistencies that don’t make any sense. And as much as Mr. Larkin was her favorite teacher, it turned out a lot of people weren’t fans of his. Why? What is everyone hiding?

This definitely has Good Girl, Bad Blood vibes but McManus’ signature style sets it apart. There’s more character development in this book than in many of hers, and I’m a big fan of complex characters. If you like mystery/thrillers set in academia, here’s one for you!

Thanks so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the advance copy.

Book Review: "Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between" by Jennifer E. Smith

Every ending is also a new beginning.

“Whatever happens later, they still have the rest of tonight. And maybe that will be enough.”

Clare and Aidan leave for college on opposite coasts in the morning. And while they’ve spent so much time talking about whether they should break up or stay together (each feels differently), they have one last night, one last chance to look back on memories, and perhaps convince the other about what to do.

But the perfectly romantic evening goes incredibly awry, as tensions bubble to the surface, secrets and lies come out in the open, and the realization that they’ll have to say goodbye to their friends and family as well as each other becomes too much to bear.

Will they break up or try to make a long-distance relationship work? And if they break up, is this forever or will they get a second chance at some point?

This was a sweet and emotional book. Nothing too earth-shattering happens, and I don’t know that I loved Clare’s character very much, but I did enjoy Aidan and Clare as a couple, as well as some of the supporting characters. It definitely reminded me of saying goodbye to friends and family before college.

Book Review: "Cobblestones, Conversations, and Corks" by Giovanni Ruscitti

This was a moving memoir about discovering one’s heritage.⁣

Did your parents or grandparents ever tell you stories about your family’s history? Giovanni Ruscitti used to hear stories of his parents and grandparents’ life during World War II in Cansano, Italy. Cansano was invaded by the Nazis and the town’s residents had two choices: stay and get killed, or flee.

Following the war, the town was destroyed. Ruscitti’s parents and grandparents immigrated to a small town in Colorado in the 1950s and 1960s. But in 2013, he traveled to Cansano for the first time with his parents, along with his wife and a few of his children. His eyes were opened as the stories of his heritage came to life in front of them.

This was a tremendously moving and beautiful account. I’ll admit that as a third-generation American I lack the connection to my heritage that Ruscitti has, so that enhanced my enjoyment of this story.

Thanks so much to Get Red PR Books for inviting me on the tour and providing a complimentary copy of the book!! Grateful to Giovanni Ruscitti for sharing his and his family’s story.

Book Review: "My Government Means to Kill Me" by Rasheed Newson

Rasheed Newson's debut novel is a moving, informative story of a young, gay Black man’s coming of age in 1980s New York City.

“…all great activists start off as young people who don’t really know what the hell they’re doing.”

Trey leaves his wealthy family in Indiana and turns his back on his trust fund and moves to New York City in the mid-1980s. He has very little money but refuses to compromise his values by hustling. He meets an interesting group of friends and explores his sexuality despite NYC being an epicenter of the AIDS epidemic.

After volunteering at a home hospice for those dying of AIDS, he gets pulled into the early days of ACT UP, an activist group trying to get the government to provide better support to those living with the disease. Along the way he tries to navigate his guilt about a childhood incident, deal with the demands of his family, and better understand the dynamics of sex and love.

This was a really good book that felt like a memoir. Trey is essentially dropped into an historical narrative and comes into contact with a number of individuals both key to the gay rights movement and those who caused trouble for it. Newson peppers the book with footnotes about different people and references in the book, and while many times I feel footnotes in books are distracting, these were really informative.

Having been a bit younger than Trey in the mid-1980s, I still vividly remember this time in history, and figuring out my sexuality a few years later was still as confusing, frightening, and complicated in the midst of uncertainty about AIDS. This was a fascinating story.

Book Review: "Dirt Creek" by Hayley Scrivenor

When a young girl disappears from a small Australian town, the investigation uncovers many secrets.

I don’t know what’s in the water in Australia, but they really have some great mystery writers! I’ve seen a lot of great crime novels reviewed by my Australian Bookstafriends that don’t even get published here in the U.S., so I was excited to get my hands on this.

“We understood, even then, that bad things happened. And we understood that sometimes people made them happen. Sometimes those people were people close to us, or even ourselves.”

When 12-year-old Esther goes missing after school, her disappearance rocks the small town of Durton. Everyone seems to see everything, so did no one really see what happened to her? As the detectives dig into the events of that day and suspicions shift, they step into a web of secrets and lies that have remained hidden just below the surface.

The story is narrated by multiple people, including Esther’s best friend, who starts an investigation of her own; Sarah, the lead detective, who is trying to hold her life together following a breakup with her girlfriend; and a Greek chorus of sorts made up by the voices of local children.

This is a slow-burn mystery with a Jane Harper-esque feel to it, but it is so rich in character development. There were so many nuances I really enjoyed.

Book Review: "The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches" by Sangu Mandanna

Friends, please meet my new favorite book of the year!!

When a friend suggested this book for our monthly buddy read, I hadn’t heard of it, but it sounded cute. I wasn’t expecting a book to fill my heart so much.

Mika Moon is a young witch in Great Britain. There is an unspoken rule that witches should hide who they really are, and mostly stay away from each other so their magic doesn’t mingle and cause problems. The one outlet she turns to is posting videos online, where she pretends to be a witch. She figures people will take it as a joke, as camp.

But one day she gets a message requesting her presence at Nowhere House, a mysterious yet charming home. She is asked by the house’s caretakers to help three young witches control their magic so as not to attract attention. Mika knows that having three witches in the same house—even young witches—is potentially dangerous and breaks rules, but she is drawn to the opportunity.

It’s not long before Mika is fully ensconced in Nowhere House, teaching the girls things they never knew. For Mika, who grew up lonely and raised by strangers, being a part of a family of sorts where she can be herself is amazing. She becomes enamored of the girls and the house’s caretakers—a former actor and his gardener husband, a housekeeper, and Jamie, the handsome librarian who is protective of the girls and sees Mika as a threat to their safety.

This book is so full of joy and love, of chosen family, diversity, and the feeling of being totally yourself for the first time. It honestly reminded me of The House in the Cerulean Sea in that this book, too, feels like a gigantic hug, and left me smiling and teary-eyed. Any of these characters could have their own story told.

I wish I could read this again for the first time.

Book Review: "When We Were Bright and Beautiful" by Jillian Medoff

The newest book from Jillian Medoff is a gripping family/courtroom drama about a family caught in scandal.

Cassie tries to assert her independence from her wealthy family every now and again, but when she is summoned home to NYC because her brother Billy is in trouble, she shows up in the middle of the night. It turns out that Billy, the youngest child, a star athlete and an aspiring pediatrician, has been accused of raping his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Diana.

The family is shocked by this accusation. Billy and Diana have had a tumultuous relationship and their breakups have been difficult, but there’s no way that he could have raped her. But Billy is a privileged, handsome, white athlete—one who stutters when he gets nervous—so the family knows he may have a difficult time getting acquitted, especially in the current #MeToo environment.

While their parents fight over everything, from whether Billy should take a plea to whether he has the right attorney, family relationships start to splinter under the stress. But even as Cassie starts wondering about what really happened between Billy and Diana, she’s determined to prove her brother’s innocence—no matter what secrets have to be revealed.

This was my August BOTM pick, and it really surprised me just how much it hooked me. We’ve seen this storyline before, but in Jillian Medoff’s hands it’s immensely compelling and complex. As long as it doesn’t involve my family, I’m all in for good family drama!!

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Book Review: "An Exaltation of Larks" by Suanne Laqueur

This was one of my favorite books of the last decade, but when I was given the opportunity to receive a free copy of the book from Red Clover Digital and Suanne Laqueur, I wanted to reshare my review.

To borrow from a language spoken periodically in this book, Madre de Dios, este libro! (Mother of God, this book!)

"Second chances are given or made."

In 1973, 11-year-old Alejandro Penda is living in Chile in the midst of a military coup. Both of his parents are arrested, and Alejo doesn't know if he'll ever see them again. With the help of family friends, he escapes to America, to live with his uncle in the upstate New York town of Guelisten. Although the trauma of what he lived through, and his grief over his parents, is tremendously difficult for him, he finds himself becoming very close to the Larks, a large, active, warm family that is friends with his uncle.

Alex becomes best friends with Roger Lark, and he and the Larks' oldest daughter, Valerie, have a love/hate relationship which turns into infatuation when Valerie returns home from college. But although she and Alex are drawn to each other, they give each other the freedom to live their own lives for a while, with Val becoming a successful costume designer in New York, and Alex studying veterinary medicine in Colorado.

Javier Landes had a tumultuous childhood growing up in Queens. When a bout of teenage experimentation is discovered, he loses his family and is forced to make his own way. Through a chance meeting with an older woman, Jav becomes a successful male escort—he's always in demand, highly skilled, and well-versed to meet the needs of his clients. But the only thing that is missing is a love of his own, although he isn't sure exactly what he wants.

Alex and Val first meet Jav in New York City when they're in their 20s. These meetings leave indelible impressions on all three, and their interactions take on different dimensions and intensities before they go their separate ways. Through the years each experiences their own set of tragedies and challenges—Val and Alex together as a married couple, while Jav tries to find his way and his heart's true path.

Years later the three are reunited when Jav comes to Guelisten, after being named the guardian of his orphaned nephew. The three become inseparable, more like family than friends, and together they weather some difficult challenges, and learn some tough truths about one another. But it's the secrets they keep from one another, the feelings they try to keep hidden, the needs each person has that threaten to untie their bonds and unmoor them forever.

An Exaltation of Larks absolutely blew me away. This is a 500-page book and I literally stayed up until 1:30 a.m. because I desperately needed to finish it. This is a story about friends that become family as well as the often-blurred lines between friendship and love. It's a story about how we can never completely outrun the traumas we face, and some times our struggles are more difficult than others, yet life is worth living to the fullest, surrounded by those you love. This is also a book about the challenges of parenthood, the trust that is so key to the success of long-term relationships, and what it is like to feel like you keep missing your chance at happiness.

I absolutely loved these characters, every single one of them. Suanne Laqueur has such love and respect for them as well that she fleshed them out so skillfully and gave them so much complexity that I found myself feeling the same way about them that the other characters did. Yes, there are one or two coincidences that made me roll my eyes a tiny bit, but they didn't detract from the beauty of Laqueur's storytelling or the emotions she made me feel.

There are a few incidences of animals getting injured or dying, due to political unrest and accidents. Those scenes may be difficult for some to read or may make some avoid the book altogether, but I skimmed them and didn't miss anything.

This book, along with the two others in this series (A Charm of Finches and A Scarcity of Condors), are some of the best books I've read in years.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Book Review: "Teen Killers in Love" by Lily Sparks

Even assassins-in-training can fall in love.

How about the title of this book and the cover? When Kate Rock Book Tours invited me on the tour for this book, I jumped at the chance, even though I never read the first book in the series, Teen Killers Club, and this is a bit out of my comfort zone. But what a fun one this was!!

In the world this book takes place in, teens who are convicted of murder are sent to a secret program that trains them to become assassins. But when a few of them realize that the government is tracking them, they plot to escape. Yet it’s not as easy as that sounds, as some of those sent to hunt them down are people they once called friends.

The main focus of this book are Erik and Signal. Signal was sent to the camp even though she didn’t commit murder, so Erik is determined to help her prove her innocence. But when they become internet sensations, there’s nowhere to hide.

Meanwhile, as the attraction between Erik and Signal grows, Signal has to decide whether to trust her heart or the questions in her head. Love on the lam is never an easy thing!!

I thought this was a fun and action-packed YA thriller. I definitely want to go back and read the first book in the series. Definitely a great change of pace!!

Book Review: "The Trees" by Percival Everett

Wow. This one really blew me away.

So far this year I’ve read some truly fantastic books, and then there have been books so unlike anything I’ve read before, or at least in a long while. The Trees definitely falls into the second category.

“If you want to know a place, you talk to its history.”

The small town of Money, Mississippi isn’t well-known. For now. Because two white men were brutally murdered, and no one can figure out how anyone could’ve gotten into to kill them. But even more perplexing is the fact that next to the body is another body, of a man who resembles Emmett Till. And that body keeps disappearing and appearing again.

Three Black investigators come to Money to try and determine what is happening. These murders seem to be revenge killings, but then this same thing keeps happening across the country. To understand the genesis of the murders requires an understanding of the history of lynching in America.

As serious as this subject is—and Percival Everett has given it and racism the attention it deserved—I never would’ve imagined a book like this would’ve been so funny at the same time. It truly kept me hooked on every word. This is the second of his books I’ve read—I loved So Much Blue a few years ago.

Absolutely genius.

Book Review: "Dream On" by Angie Hockman

Sometimes our dreams seem so real…and they actually may be.

“Most people wake up from a coma with memory loss. I woke up with memory surplus—specifically, countless memories of a man named Devin Bloom.”

When Cass Walker awakens from a six-day coma after an accident, she doesn’t remember what happened that night. But she does have vivid memories of Devin, the guy she’s been dating for three months. Only one catch: Devin doesn’t exist.

A year later, as she’s attempting to restart her life and her law career, Devin remains a memory. So when Cass meets the actual Devin in a flower shop, she’s completely thrown for a loop. He’s never met her before yet all of the things she knows about him are inexplicable. As the two explore what possible connection they could have had, or whether it’s fate that brought them together, they embark on a real relationship.

Isn’t it funny, though, when you get all you want, it’s not quite what you wanted? Do you follow the path of your dreams, the one fate seems to have led you down, or do you carve your own path?

This is a sweet story. It has dashes of While You Were Sleeping in it but it’s also very different. I loved the concept and thought the romance part was sweet, but things tied up a little too neatly for me.

Book Review: "Smells Like Tween Spirit" by Laurie Gelman

Smells Like Tween Spirit heralds the return of one of my favorite fictional mothers/grandmothers!

I’ve really enjoyed Laurie Gelman’s series of books featuring smart-ass mom Jen Dixon (Class Mom, You’ve Been Volunteered, and Yoga Pant Nation) and I’m so glad that her fourth book helped wake me from my reading slump.

Now that her son is in 7th grade, Jen’s days as class mom are over, but much to her surprise she’s now a “mat mom,” as Max has decided to take up wrestling. (She does hate the name “mat mom,” but no one jumps at her suggested name changes.)

While she’s amazed at what being the mom of an athlete entails—including having to wash the gym clothes of a bunch of middle schoolers on occasion—she’s more amazed at the competitiveness of other mothers and the extents to which they’ll go to motivate and cheer for their kids.

But that’s not all Jen has to deal with. Her daughters decide to go into business together and start feuding, her aging parents are becoming more difficult to deal with, and her decision to get to know the students in her spin classes comes with some hilarious results.

What I really enjoy about these books is Jen, and how she’s matured (sort of) through the series. While she still has her smart-ass tendencies, as her son has grown up, she has, too, and as she juggles marriage, motherhood, grandmotherhood, and the realities of aging, her character has become even more well-rounded.

If you enjoy humorous books, dive into this series!

Book Review: "Wrong Place Wrong Time" by Gillian McAllister

Can going back in time help her save her son?

You’ve probably saw this thriller all over the place this summer, and for good reason: it’s fascinating and tremendously addictive, with some twists you might not see coming.

It’s late one night, and Jen is waiting for her son Todd to come home. She knows she shouldn’t worry about him now that he’s 18, but she can’t shake her protective instinct. She sees Todd approach their house, and then she sees a man walk over to him. Much to her horror, she watches Todd stab the man to death.

Todd is arrested and refuses to have a lawyer. Jen and her husband Kelly feel powerless to help their son, but more than that, Jen is desperate to understand who this man was, and why her son killed him.

But when she wakes up the next morning, ready to fight for her son, she finds it’s the day before the murder. She feels she’s losing her mind, but she knows she has to do everything she can to prevent the murder from happening. That becomes much harder when every morning she wakes up it’s one day earlier.

I enjoyed this very much. The pace was a little slow at times but the whole concept was so compelling. Jen’s fierce love for her son and her husband gave the story such emotional heft.

Book Review: "Luck and Last Resorts" by Sarah Grunder Ruiz

Sometimes love means letting yourself be vulnerable.

Nina learned the hard way not to depend on anyone else. And she’s done a good job of that for the most part—except for Ollie, who has been her on-again, off-again flame for nearly 10 years.

It’s been easy to avoid any real commitment, with Nina working as chief stewardess on a yacht and Ollie working as a sous chef at a restaurant. But when Ollie decides to return to working on the yacht, he comes with an ultimatum: if Nina isn’t ready to admit she loves him by the end of the charter season, he’s going back to Ireland.

It should be easy for Nina: she really only feels complete when she’s with him. But life—and emotions—are far more complex, and her fears and vulnerabilities keep her from admitting how she feels. And a secret they share could tear it all apart.

This follow-up to last year’s Love, Lists, and Fancy Ships is romantic, funny, sweet, emotional, and even a little steamy. Banter is one of my favorite things in a rom-com, and Nina and Ollie make it into an art form. But their chemistry and their feelings for one another work so well, too.

You could read this as a stand-alone but I’d totally recommend reading the first book, which I absolutely loved. I hope to see all of these characters again!!

Book Review: "She's Up to No Good" by Sara Goodman Confino

She's Up to No Good is a fantastic story about love, family, and finding happiness.

Boy, I love the way Sara Goodman Confino writes!! I really enjoyed her first book (For the Love of Friends) but this one blew me away, and I’m so grateful to her and Get Red PR Books for sending me a copy!!

Even though Jenna knew her marriage wasn’t great, she never imagined her husband would actually want a divorce. But yet here she is six months later, sleeping in her childhood bedroom, watching movies with her father, and hiding from life.

When her irrepressible grandmother Evelyn plans to visit Hereford, the seaside town in Massachusetts where she grew up, Jenna agrees to accompany her on the road trip. Along the way, she learns about Evelyn’s first love, and how the decisions she made shaped her life—and future generations.

Evelyn’s story fascinates Jenna, and when Jenna meets Joe, the great-nephew of Evelyn’s first love, Tony, she realizes that she went for far too long accepting unhappiness, and that she deserves so much more. She learns more about her grandmother than she ever imagined and those lessons help her consider a fresh start.

I just loved this book so much. It alternates between Evelyn’s story in the 1950s and the present, and it was romantic, funny, and so moving. I’ll be waiting for whatever Confino does next!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Book Review: "The Swell" by Allie Reynolds

This thriller doesn’t let up, from start to finish.

Well, after Allie Reynolds took the locked-room thriller to the top of a snowy glacier with Shiver, she’s back, but in the Australian surf this time.

When Kenna learns that her childhood best friend Mikki is engaged to a man Kenna has never met, she leaves her home in the UK and flies to Australia. She hopes to see if the creepy feeling she gets about this guy continues, and if so, she hopes to bring Mikki back to the UK with her.

Kenna finds that while the love between them might not be intense, their love of surfing is definitely mutual. They convince Kenna to join them on a trip to Sorrow Bay, an isolated paradise on the coast, that they, along with some friends, think of as “their place.”

This group of extremely talented and competitive surfers think of themselves as a tribe, and will stop at nothing to keep strangers from finding out about their place. They’re definitely thrill-seekers, risking everything for excitement and victory.

But there are things that don’t seem to add up for Kenna. Why is Mikki acting strangely? If people who have left “The Tribe” did so out of free will, why are some of those same people being reported missing? Someone in the group will stop at nothing to keep those secrets, and Kenna has to fight for her life.

This was definitely a book I had been eagerly anticipating and it definitely lived up to the hype. It feels a little like The Beach but with twists all its own. Reynolds has definitely become a go-to thriller author for me!!

Book Review: "The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America" by Erik Larson

It may be nonfiction, but boy, it reads like a thriller.

How have I gone this long without reading this book? I’ve thought about it so many times and read other Erik Larson books, but for some reason, this has been one I’ve never picked up. I got it a few weeks ago when my colleagues and I did a book swap—one friend had the unenviable task of picking a book out for me. He hit this one out of the park!

The subtitle of this book is “Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America.” It’s about the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and Larson tells the story of two men, Daniel Hudson Burnham, the famed architect behind the Fair, and Henry Holmes, a doctor and serial killer who used the Fair as a way to lure women to their deaths.

This was such a fascinating read, and I’ve heard that they’re finally adapting it into a movie with Keanu Reeves as a star. If you’ve never read this, give it a shot!!

Book Review: "Hello, Goodbye" by Kate Stollenwerck

Hello, Goodbye is an emotional, sweet story about family secrets, the beauty of connection, and The Beatles.

Hailey’s summer plans fall apart when her best friend gets in trouble and is sent to a wilderness camp. And then things get worse when her parents ask her to spend a few days a week with Gigi, her grandmother. Even though Gigi lives 15 minutes away, they don’t see her often, so Hailey has no idea what to expect.

She’s in for a surprise when she learns that Gigi is a woman who lives life to the fullest, who believes that the trinity of a perfect day is a good book, a cool car, and a great song. It’s not long before Gigi has taught Hailey about The Beatles, her favorite band, and shared some secrets about her ancestors. Hailey doesn’t understand why her mother doesn’t know these stories, or why she won’t spend any time with her grandmother.

When tragedy strikes, Hailey is left to question whose version of the truth is more correct—Gigi’s or her mother’s. And when she finds a letter from her great-grandfather, she’s determined to solve the mysteries of her family once and for all, even if she has no idea what she’s getting into.

I loved Gigi’s character. She reminded me a lot of my Grandma Gloria, who was a dynamo in her own right. There is lots of emotion in this story as well as the opportunity to try and heal old wounds.

Thanks so much to BookSparks, Kate Stollenwerck, and Spark Press for the pop-up review opportunity!

Friday, August 5, 2022

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

With The Heist, this fun, glamorous caper series set in the late 1950s comes to a close.⁣

⁣ I’ve really enjoyed this series of novellas, which started with The Steal and The Bait. In this book, Ania Thorne has been hiding as she plots her next move to try and take down the notorious jewel thief, the Leopard. And she’s figured the perfect bait—she’ll design special jewelry for the Oscar-nominated actress of a major film.⁣

⁣ Jerome Curtis has been living a bleak existence in London, mourning the end of his relationship and the fact he threw away his career for the woman who abandoned him. A friend offers him a security job at her father’s movie studio, but unbeknownst to him, this job will put him right in the middle of Ania’s plan to trap the Leopard, who has gotten the jump on both of them before.⁣

⁣ This is really a series you should read in order, but since each book is less than 200 pages, it’s not that huge of a commitment. I love the glamour of old Hollywood that runs throughout the series, as well as the relationships and characters.⁣

⁣ Thanks so much to Get Red PR Books and Blue Box Press for the complimentary copy of the book. Here's hoping that C.W. Gortner and M.J. Rose team up again, or at the very least give us another installment in this series! ⁣

Book Review: "The Swimmers" by Julie Otsuka

Julie Otsuka's first novel since 2012, The Swimmers is a uniquely told book about our obsessions, but it’s also a poignant story about aging, memory, and loss.

I’ve been wanting to read this for a while but wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s so beautifully written, although the way it’s structured, it feels like two separate stories with one narrative link.

In the first part of the book we hear from a collective group of people who swim at a community pool. Some have been swimming for years, some are newer, but all share an obsession with their lives at the pool, preferring to be there than anywhere else. The chapter is told in a collective “we” voice, almost a Greek chorus, reciting the litany of rules and routines, providing vignette-like descriptions of the swimmers.

When a crack appears at the bottom of the pool, the swimmers are dismayed. Some see it as a sign that they should find another pool or stop swimming altogether. And when the pool closes, they are sent back into their “real lives,” their pleasures and routines ended.

One such swimmer is Alice, a woman in the early days of dementia. Swimming gave her comfort, a circle of friends, a structured routine when everything else in her life is starting to fade away. The remainder of the book follows her as the dementia worsens, as she remembers some things and not others, and tells of her relationships with her husband and daughter, and their feelings of loss.

There is an enormous amount of emotion in this book, so if you’ve had a loved one encounter dementia, this may be triggering. It definitely feels a bit semi-autobiographical, as the daughter is a writer trying to better connect with her mother as she slips away. Just an intriguing and beautiful read.

Book Review: "The Last White Man" by Mohsin Hamid

Mohsin Hamid's latest novel, The Last White Man, is powerful, thought-provoking, and so timely.

“One morning Anders, a white man, woke up tofind he had turned a deep and undeniable brown.”

So begins the latest book by the author of Exit West, a book I absolutely loved. Anders doesn’t understand what happened to him, and for a while he can hardly believe he is the person looking back at him in the mirror. He feels totally different and feels everyone is judging him differently (although that could just be his paranoia).

He keeps his secret from everyone around him except Oona, an old friend with whom he’s recently become much closer. But as the same phenomenon starts occurring to many others, people wonder what could be causing this and what it means.

This is a fascinating story, with a walk-a-mile-in-my-shoes feel, and it’s tremendously thought-provoking. How often do we feel like strangers in our own skin when nothing has changed, so this is pretty profound.

I wanted a bit more from the book, but I honestly just love the way Hamid writes and captures both emotion and the zeitgeist of the moment. This would definitely be a great book for book club discussion.

Book Review: "Immoral Origins" by Lee Matthew Goldberg

How far would you go to help those you love? That's the question Lee Matthew Goldberg raises in Immoral Origins.

Thanks so much to Suzy Approved Book Tours, Lee Matthew Goldberg, and Rough Edges Press for inviting me on the tour for this book. It was wild!

Jake is a petty thief living in New York City in 1978. He mostly sells stolen goods, but he does it to help Emile, his younger brother, who has a host of health problems. He wishes there was a better way.

And then he finds her—a woman with a Marilyn Monroe mask at a Halloween party. It turns out she works for The Desire Card, a shadowy organization that promises to fulfill its high-paying clients’ wishes—for the right price.

As always, what seems too good to be true usually is. Jake finds himself falling for Marilyn and getting drawn deeper and deeper into The Desire Card. But little by little he realizes that it’s not only magnanimous wishes the organization is fulfilling—some of them are actually deadly. In that someone winds up dead.

Having read Goldberg’s Runaway Train trilogy, which so accurately captured the music and ethos of the 1990s, it came as no surprise that the late 1970s setting, complete with the excesses of Studio 54, felt so right. But the thriller elements of the book worked so well, too, that I couldn’t put this down.

This is the start of a brand new series worth reading. It’ll make you think twice about how much you’d sacrifice for those you love.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Book Review: "Ben and Beatriz" by Katalina Gamarra

Ben and Beatriz is a modern-day YA retelling of Much Ado About Nothing.

Do you like Shakespeare? While I’ve not read or seen a ton of his plays, Much Ado About Nothing is definitely one of my two favorites. I’ve read and seen it, I love the 1990s film adaptation, and also enjoyed the 2012 updated adaptation, so when Graydon House Books invited me on the tour for this retelling, I was all over it.

Beatriz and Ben are both students at Harvard. Beatriz is fiercely intelligent and blunt, a queer, biracial woman in a world that doesn’t quite get her. Ben is handsome, the son of privilege, known for hooking up with nearly every girl who looks his way. Beatriz loathes Ben and what he represents; she gets under his skin but he hasn’t been able to get her out of his mind since they hooked up freshman year.

The last place Beatriz wants to spend spring break is at Ben’s family’s mansion on Cape Cod, but her cousin and best friend Hero is dating Ben’s best friend Claudio, and she’d do anything for Hero. And it’s not long into the trip before Ben and Beatriz are tearing into each other, fighting over every remark and false assumption they make about one another. But of course, they’re also intensely drawn to each other.

The more time they spend together, the more they discover how vulnerable the other is. Beatriz has nightmares from childhood trauma and is trying to find her place in a country that recently elected Trump president, and Ben is tired of the expectations of his conservative family and his abusive older brother, John. Can the two break through the walls they’ve built around them and find happiness?⁣

I enjoyed this very much. It’s fascinating to experience the themes of the original play with modern twists. This is definitely darker and angstier than the play, but these characters are so beautifully complex. I love the creativity of retellings!