Friday, September 30, 2022

Book Review: "All That's Left Unsaid" by Tracey Lien

This debut novel is a well-written family drama, as a young woman fights to find the truth about a family tragedy.

Ky was more than eager to leave her home of Cabramatta, a suburb of Sydney, to pursue a career as a journalist in Melbourne. Each time she returned home to visit her family, she became more depressed over the decline of Cabramatta, home to countless refugees from Vietnam and other countries, riddled by crime, drugs, and poverty.

Her parents summon her home with sad news: her studious brother Denny was apparently murdered at a restaurant after celebrating his high school graduation. The police don’t know what happened and don’t seem to care much about the fate of another refugee; amazingly, there were dozens of witnesses in the restaurant but no one apparently saw anything.

Wracked with guilt because she convinced her parents to let Denny go that night, and frustrated by their reticence to push for answers regarding his death, Ky is determined to uncover the truth. She sets out to track down the witnesses to Denny’s murder and find out what they know and why they won’t speak up.

In doing so, Ky uncovers a picture of a town under the vise of violence and anti-immigrant sentiment, where the police are ones to fear, not look to for protection. And at the same time, she learns more about her brother, and her family, than she ever knew.

This was sad and very insightful. It is told by Ky and a number of the witnesses, so the voice of the book changed often, and that kept taking me out of the story. But there was a lot to marvel over here for a debut novel.

Book Review: "Bookish People" by Susan Coll

Bookish People chronicles a wacky week in the life of a bookstore owner.

Boy, this one had such promise and some wonderful moments, but overall, it just didn’t work for me.

It’s the summer of 2017, and Sophie is in a bad place. Her husband has died, the increasing antisemitic and racist rhetoric in the country is upsetting her, and she’s finding it harder and harder to care about the bookstore she owns. To top it off, Jamal, her favorite manager, is leaving for law school. Should she just give in to the calls from the developer who’d like to buy the property?

As the world becomes increasingly unsteady, Sophie becomes more obsessed with going into hiding in a secret book in the back of her store.

But she also has multiple crises brewing around the store. A famous poet has just released a new collection but he’s dogged by rumors that he caused his wife’s suicide, so many bookstores have canceled his appearances. Sophie starts to fear that her customers might object, so she tasks an employee with canceling. And then hijinks ensue…

I’m a sucker for books about bookstores, booksellers, and libraries. I felt like this had some really great elements but as a whole it wasn’t sure what tone to take, which made it a muddle.

Book Review: "The Feeling of Falling in Love" by Mason Deaver

Nothing can ruin your life like an “I love you.”

Neil and Josh are longtime best friends and currently friends with benefits. They’ve promised each other no strings, no feelings, just fun. And it seems to be working, until Josh tells Neil he loves him. Why did he have to go and ruin everything?

Of course, this happens just at the start of spring break, when Neil has to fly home to California and spend a week with his horrible family for his brother’s wedding. Josh was supposed to be his date, his buffer, and now that can’t happen.

Enter Wyatt, Neil’s roommate and the bane of his existence. Why does he always have to be so NICE all the time? Somehow, despite the fact that Neil doesn’t treat Wyatt all that well, he convinces him to fly home with him and pretend that they’re dating. Hopefully this will convince Josh, who also will be at the wedding, that there’s no chance of anything happening between them.

As the week unfolds, Wyatt realizes that Neil’s family is just as bad as advertised, which explains why Neil acts the way he does. And the more time they spend together, the more they start having feelings for one another. But of course, the truth about them is bound to come out…

I’m a big fan of Mason Deaver’s books, and the characters they create. There are diverse sexualities and ethnicities and it never feels forced or cookie-cutter. I’ll admit that Neil was a bit of a spoiled jerk at first, but like Wyatt, I understood why he was the way he was the more I read.

Love makes me happy.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Book Review: "The Perfect Marriage" by Jeneva Rose

His mistress is dead. His wife is his only hope.

I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, as I’ve really enjoyed Rose’s other books. And wow, talk about twisty!!

“That’s the thing about relationships, you never really know what’s going on in them, unless you’re a part of them.”

Sarah is a successful criminal defense attorney, one of the best around. She’s a named partner at her law firm and she’s doing extraordinarily well.

Her husband Adam may be the total opposite. His writing career has never taken off the way he hoped, and he spends most of his time resenting Sarah for working so hard. So he embarks upon an affair with Kelly, a young waitress at the cafe near his and Sarah’s summer house.

One night he and Kelly make love and then Adam heads home to Sarah. The next morning Kelly is found murdered in Adam and Sarah’s bed in the summer house. And Adam is arrested for murder. There’s a lot of evidence pointing toward his conviction. So who is his best bet to defend him? Sarah, of course. Could he have murdered Kelly? Does she want to know if he did?

This was a wild ride. Some of it was a little unbelievable and I called a few of the twists, but I couldn’t put this book down. It definitely turned the cheating husband/scorned wife thing on its ear!!

Book Review: "Victor and Nora: A Gotham Love Story" by Lauren Myracle, illustrated by Isaac Goodhart

Victor lives a solitary existence, wracked with guilt about the death of his older brother Otto, and closing himself off to the world. The only bright spot is his job as a scientist, where he hopes to make significant contributions.⁣

Nora believes in living every day to the fullest. But that’s not just a mantra: she has a terminal illness that will rob her of everything—movement, speech, memory. She’s determined not to let that get her down until it’s time, and she has a plan.⁣

⁣ Victor and Nora have a not-quite meet-cute in the cemetery where his brother and her mother are buried. Little by little, Nora’s devil-may-care attitude thaws Victor’s frozen heart. But when he discovers the secret Nora’s been hiding, he’s determined to use science to save her—but what will the consequences be?⁣

⁣ This graphic novel, beautifully drawn and full of emotion, is essentially the origin story of Mr. Freeze, who resurfaces in Batman comics (and a movie). There’s no hint of his ultimate supervillain future here, but obviously there’s a tinge of sadness along with hopefulness.⁣

⁣ I’m a fan of graphic novels, especially ones with some emotional heft to them. I really enjoyed this.⁣

Book Review: "Pizza Girl" by Jean Kyoung Frazier

Pizza Girl is quirky and entertaining, but with surprising emotional heft.

Our main character is 18 and pregnant, and works as a delivery girl for a local pizza place. She has a strong support system in her mother and her boyfriend, but the love they both give her seems smothering at times. She is also grieving the death of her father, but she doesn’t want to acknowledge that he was an alcoholic—and maybe she drinks more than she should.

One day she takes a call from Jenny, a mother who calls with a strange order—a pizza with pepperoni and pickles. If she doesn’t get the pizza, her son won’t eat, as his way of expressing displeasure that they moved to Los Angeles from North Dakota. While the pizza place doesn’t offer pickles as a topping, she can sense Jenny’s desperation, so she buys a jar of pickles to top the pizza with.

It’s not long before she’s delivering a pepperoni-and-pickles pizza to Jenny’s house once a week, and the two strike up a strange friendship. She sees motherhood through Jenny’s eyes and becomes slightly obsessed with her.

This was a very interesting story that made me wonder where it would go. I kept worrying it might veer into creepy territory but thankfully it didn’t. The story is a mixture of the mundane and the unusual, and was surprisingly emotional at times, as the narrator struggles with grief and uncertainty about the direction her life is taking before she’s sure she’s ready.

I’ve seen very mixed reviews for this but I loved the complexity of the main character. This is a strange but utterly fascinating story.

Book Review: "Destination Unknown" by Bill Konigsberg

Two teenage boys, one openly gay and one closeted, navigate friendship, love, and fear in late-1980s New York City.

"Destination Unknown is for everyone who has ever been made to feel ashamed of their identity, anyone who has ever been told that their lives are less meaningful because of who they are.”

It’s been amazing to see the number of books being written over the last few years about coming to terms with your sexuality in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Each of these books has touched me in many ways, but few have spoken to me the way that Bill Konigsberg did with Destination Unknown.

It’s 1987. Micah is gay but only his best friend Deena knows. One night they’re at a dance club and Micah spots a beautiful young man wearing a plexiglass bra. He is C.J., and Micah is both attracted to him and envies him for the freedom he has in being himself, everyone else be damned.

That moment launches them into a friendship, one that is at times flirtatious and at times protective. Micah is trying to find the courage to come out of the closet, but more than that, he’s deathly afraid of getting AIDS. He’s not even sure how you can get it. At the same time, he realizes the confidence and bravado C.J. walks through life with isn’t always genuine, and covers up fear, hurt, and loneliness.

This is such a beautifully written, emotional, evocative book. I remember being so much like Micah in so many ways, desperate to be “the real me” but so afraid of what that might entail. Konigsberg captures this time period so well, I almost felt my collar popping and smelled the excessive amount of cologne I used to wear.

I absolutely loved and was moved by this. Thanks to Pride Book Tours and Scholastic for inviting me on the tour for this book, and providing a complimentary copy.

Book Review: "One's Company" by Ashley Hutson

One's Company is dark, quirky, and unique.

After a series of tragedies and traumas, Bonnie lives a fairly solitary existence, and she’s fine with that. She has all 174 episodes of the classic 1970s sitcom Three’s Company to, well, keep her company.

One day she wins the lottery, the biggest payout in U.S. history. She’s decided how to spend her earnings: she wants to move somewhere private, somewhere she can literally build the set from Three’s Company and create the world outside the apartment, where most of the show takes place.

She moves to an isolated compound atop a mountain and brings her obsession to life, recreating the set in painstaking detail. And then she plans to settle into her fantasy. But as she retreats from the world completely, her estranged best friend, Krystal, is determined to keep her from slipping away.

This was a tremendously unique story in many ways, but at its core it is a reflection on trauma and how we process (or fail to process) it. It’s a fascinating and sad look at how something we enjoy can become an obsession and how easy it is to avoid our problems and get lost in our obsessions.

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, so Three’s Company was definitely a show I watched frequently. But even if you’ve never heard of the show, Ashley Hutson gives you enough details to understand what it was about.

This is a thought-provoking book you’ll want to discuss with others. I felt at times Bonnie was an unreliable narrator, which is a trope I cannot stand, and that took me out of the story a bit. But I couldn’t help but be immersed in the sadness and uniqueness of this story.

Book Review: "The Decoy Girlfriend" by Lillie Vale

This cute rom-com had a whole new twist on fake dating!

Freya’s first book was a tremendous success when she was young, but the pressure of a second book has paralyzed her. She can’t seem to break through her writer’s block.

The one thing that seems to alleviate her tension is pretending she’s actress Mandi Roy, for whom she’s a dead ringer. Getting into an exclusive club or getting free drinks is just the ticket to making her feel a little better. There’s no harm in it, right?

When she meets handsome actor Taft Bamber, she can’t help but feel drawn to him, which is ironic, since Taft has been dating Mandi Roy for several years. But the truth is, their relationship is a publicity stunt, and Taft is ready for it all to be over, especially when he meets Freya.

But when Freya gets caught pretending to be Mandi and it goes viral, the rumors swirl that Mandi and Taft are no more. So Mandi blackmails Freya into pretending she’s the actress for a month: she can move in with Tate and show the world “their” relationship is stronger than ever. We all know what happens when you pretend to have a relationship, though, right?

This was a fun book and Tate definitely seemed like a book boyfriend worth crushing on!!

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Book Review: "The Lost Ticket" by Freya Sampson

You never know how your life can be changed by a random encounter.

Libby’s life is falling apart. Her longtime boyfriend broke up with her, and she’s out of a job and a place to live. When she boards the number 88 bus one day, she meets Frank, a kind, elderly man.

Frank tells her that in 1962, on this same bus route, he met a beautiful red-headed girl whom Libby reminds him of. The two made a plan to visit an art museum the next week, and she wrote her name and phone number on a bus ticket. Which he promptly lost.

For the last 60 years, Frank has been riding this bus, hoping to catch a glimpse of his mystery girl. Libby is enchanted by this story, and with the help of a new friend she meets on the bus, decides to search for the girl, so Frank can finally be reunited with her after all this time. But as his dementia worsens, she wonders if their search will succeed before it’s too late.

Meanwhile, Libby finds the strength to start a new life, to chase her own dreams instead of following the path she’s been expected to. Will she take a chance on happiness this time or will it slip away again?

A friend told me how much she loved this book, and I can certainly see why. It’s sweet, heartwarming, and life-affirming, and it left me with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes!

Book Review: "See You Yesterday" by Rachel Lynn Solomon

As if freshman year of college isn’t bad enough, you get caught in a time loop? So is the premise behind Rachel Lynn Solomon's See You Yesterday.

Barrett had high hopes for her freshman year of college. She was hoping for a brand-new start, away from the problems that plagued her in high school. But on the first day of class, she discovers her high school nemesis will be her roommate, she gets tormented by a guy in her physics class, she screws up her interview at the school paper, and her attempt to make friends at a frat party ends in a fiery mess.

When she goes to bed that night, utterly depressed and defeated, she feels like college isn’t much better than high school. But when she wakes up, she discovers she’s repeating that day from hell. Again and again and again, no matter what she tries. And then when she runs into Miles, her tormentor from physics class, she finds out she’s not the only one experiencing this phenomenon—he’s been stuck for a long time.

Despite the fact that she doesn’t want to deal with the scientific aspects of the time loop they’re stuck in, eventually she and Miles decide to work together to try and solve the time loop mystery. But while some of the approaches are fun, none seem to succeed. The more time they spend together, the harder they start to fall for one another. But if they ever get out of the loop they’re in, will they remember what they’ve shared?

Solomon always delivers fantastic books, whether YA or adult, and this is no exception. I loved the banter between Barrett and Miles, and the relationship between her and her mother. This is so sweet and emotional and romantic, and it certainly makes me hope I never get caught in a time loop!

Book Review: "Frat Wars: Master of Mayhem" by Saxon James

This book was a sexy frat house romance that stole my heart!⁣

⁣ “This brotherhood you love so much? The idea that we’ve all got each other’s backs through thick and thin, no matter what. That’s what a relationship is.”⁣

⁣ Robbie and Brandon are fraternity brothers and very close friends. They couldn’t be more opposite, however. Robbie is loud, cocky, competitive, and the king of pranks at Sigma Beta Psi. Brandon isn’t as comfortable being the center of attention, and as the frat’s risk manager, he’s always worrying about the havoc Robbie and the other brothers cause with their schemes.⁣

⁣ When Robbie decides he’s curious about what it’s like to have sex with a guy, no one thinks it’s that big of a deal. But when none of his frat brothers—not even those who are gay—are willing to experiment with him, no one is expecting that Brandon will volunteer to kiss Robbie to see what he thinks. And of course, no one is expecting them to love it.⁣

⁣ Although there is some initial reluctance to take their friendship to this level, after a while their attraction to one another is too strong to ignore. But Robbie has never been the type to want a relationship, they’ll be graduating soon, and Brandon isn’t sure if he’s bi, gay, or what. Is this just college fun, or something else?⁣

⁣ I loved the first book in this series, King of Thieves, and this is just as good. It’s super-steamy in places, romantic and funny in others. It was a very quick but emotionally satisfying read, and I can’t wait to pick up Presidential Chaos, the third and final book in this series.

Book Review: "Big Red" by Jerome Charyn

Jerome Charyn's Big Red is a compelling, fascinating novel about Old Hollywood.

I was so excited to be part of the virtual tour for this book, and I’m grateful to Over The River PR, Jerome Charyn, and Liveright Publishing for the signed first edition!

“I was an actress who couldn’t act, a dancer who couldn’t dance, a singer who couldn’t sing. So I went straight to Hollywood after my sophomore year of college.”

With those words we are introduced to Rusty Redburn, the book’s feisty narrator. It’s 1943. She is in love with the movies and the movie business, and works at Columbia Pictures.

The legendary Rita Hayworth is Columbia’s biggest movie star to date. But studio mogul Harry Cohn is worried about Hayworth, because she’s with troubled filmmaker Orson Welles. So Cohn does what any other studio head would do—he hires Rusty to spy on Hayworth. She becomes her private secretary and confidante, but things don’t quite unfold the way Cohn hopes.

I found this book so fascinating. It’s a look behind the curtain at the rise and fall of a Hollywood legend, but at the same time it’s commentary on how actresses were treated by the studio system. It’s also an interesting look at what life was like for a lesbian in the 1940s.

Whether or not you’re a fan of classic movies and Old Hollywood stories, this is a great read.

Book Review: "Self-Made Boys" by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Great Gatsby, but make it queer and YA.⁣

⁣ I loved this book so much. It definitely will be a contender for one of my favorite books of the year. And amazingly, it’s the second fantastic Gatsby retelling I’ve read this year (although this one is referred to as a “remix”)—I absolutely loved Jillian Cantor’s Beautiful Little Fools, too. ⁣

⁣ Nicolás Caraveo is a 17-year-old trans boy from a small Wisconsin farm town who moves to New York City in 1922. He’s offered a job in the stock market and he’s determined to make a better life for his family. He’ll be reunited with his cousin, Daisy Fabrega-Caraveo, who already has made a life for herself.⁣

⁣ Imagine Nick’s surprise, however, when he discovers that Daisy is nearly engaged to wealthy Tom Buchanan—and she’s reinvented herself as Daisy Fay, passing for white despite her Latina heritage.

⁣ ⁣ Nick has a small cottage in West Egg. And then he meets his neighbor, the magnetic young Jay Gatsby, whose house is host to the most extravagant parties and who wears the most beautiful clothes. Nick is drawn to Jay, and then he discovers that Jay is also transgender. But he also finds out that Jay is slightly obsessed with Daisy, and Nick is willing to bring the two together—even if it means Nick has to ignore his own feelings for Jay.⁣

⁣ This is such a beautifully written, creative book. I was drawn into all of these characters, some who are more familiar to the original than others. And knowing the story as I do, I was totally hooked in needing to see how McLemore pulled everything together. Just incredible.⁣

Monday, September 5, 2022

Book Review: "Just Another Love Song" by Kerry Winfrey

Just Another Love Song is a sweet second-chance romance about the courage to follow your dreams.

“It’s a whole lot harder to pretend someone doesn’t exist when they’re standing right in front of you, wearing a thin gray t-shirt that clings to their chest and low slung jeans that are faded and ripped in all the right places.”

When they were in high school, Sandy and Hank dreamed of getting out of their small Ohio town of Baileyville and chasing their dreams together. Sandy was going to be an artist and Hank was going to be a musician. But when circumstances change that leave Sandy behind, she lets Hank go so he can succeed.

Fifteen years later, Sandy is still in Baileyville, running a business she loves and being highly involved in town activities. Hank is now a successful country singer, and when he returns home, it seems like everywhere Sandy turns, he is there, reminding her of what she could’ve had.

When it seems like Hank is interested in spending more time in Baileyville, it becomes harder and harder to ignore the chemistry that remains between them and the desire to try again. But what happens when Hank goes on tour again? Can Sandy leave the life that she has built or is it easier just to let him go again?

This is definitely a slow-burn romance, even though you know what will happen. But the supporting characters in this book are so fantastic that it almost doesn’t matter that it takes so long for Sandy and Hank to admit their feelings for one another.

I’m a huge fan of Kerry Winfrey’s books and she’s definitely an auto-buy author for me!! Many thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for an advanced copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Book Review: "Other Birds" by Sarah Addison Allen

About Other Birds, I simply say this: Just beautiful.⁣

⁣ “There are birds, and then there are other birds. Maybe they don’t sing. Maybe they don’t fly. Maybe they don’t fit in. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be an other bird than just the same old thing.”⁣

⁣ Zoey relocates from Tulsa to Mallow Island, which is off the South Carolina coast. The plan is for her to live in her late mother’s condo until college starts in the fall in Charleston. When she arrives with her bird, Pigeon, she is quickly enchanted by the mischievous, beautiful birds—the dellawhisps—which inhabit the complex and give the building its name.⁣

⁣ Equally as enchanting, however, are her human neighbors. Each has their own secrets, their own burdens, their own stories. And, of course, there are the ghosts who inhabit the Dellawhisp as well.⁣

⁣ I loved everything about this book—the magical realism, the theme of chosen family, the vivid imagery and gorgeous storytelling. So much of this book's beauty comes from letting things unfold slowly. This was my first book by Sarah Addison Allen but it definitely won’t be my last. What a perfect pick from BOTM this month!!⁣ ⁣

Book Review: "The Truth about Ben and June" by Alex Kiester

Ben's wife disappeared. Why? Where did she go?

Ben wakes up one morning to the cries of his infant son, Mikey. He’s a little surprised that his wife, June, hasn’t gone to console the baby, but he gets up to take care of him. And then he realizes that June is nowhere to be found.

He can’t seem to remember whether she had an appointment that she might have told him about. But the more he looks around, he realizes her car is still at the house, the freezer and refrigerator are fully stocked, and her suitcase is gone. She left them, apparently, but where did she go? And why?

As Ben tries to figure out where June might have gone, he starts to think about their marriage, and the stresses of parenthood. The more he digs, the more he finds out about June that he never knew, secrets she kept from him and her friends. Can he find her and convince her to come back?

The Truth about Ben and June was an interesting story, told in alternating perspectives, so you can see how each saw the same incidents. Alex Kiester did a great job in showing the effects of postpartum depression and dealing with the way your life changes after you have a child.

While the concept of the story was interesting, however, I never felt fully immersed. You can’t win them all!!