Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Book Review: "The Deal of a Lifetime" by Fredrik Backman

This novella is an inspirational story about love and sacrifice.

“Hi. It’s your dad. You’ll be waking up soon, it’s Christmas Eve morning in Helsingborg, and I’ve killed a person. That’s not how fairy tales usually begin, I know. But I took a life. Does it make a difference if you know whose it was?”

With that, Fredrik Backman draws you into a story about ambition, regret, love, fear, life, and death. I’m totally late to the party on reading this although I love his books.

There’s not much to say without giving the plot away, but essentially, the story is narrated by a father for his son. It has a bit of a holiday feel, and it’s definitely a poignant story. I wish it were a little longer, but it is what it is.

Book Review: "Best Served Hot" by Amanda Elliot

In Amanda Elliot's follow-up to Sadie on a Plate, the heat gets turned up when two restaurant critics team up.⁣

⁣ Julie loves being a restaurant reviewer on social media. She works as an executive assistant in order to support her side gig as @JulieZeeEatsNYC, and her more than 50,000 followers love her food photos and videos.

⁣ ⁣ What Julie wants more than anything is an actual job as a restaurant reviewer for a newspaper, and her dream job is to work at the New York Scroll. But when the Scroll doesn’t even contact her after receiving her application, and they hire Bennett Wright (whose mom is friends with the paper’s CEO) instead, she’s angry and hurt.⁣

⁣ While at a food festival in Central Park, Julie runs into Bennett, and their encounter devolves into Julie confronting him for his snobby attitude toward social media and those who use it for restaurant/food reviews. Her video footage of their confrontation sees her follower count jump dramatically—and it brings more traffic to Scroll's social media, too.⁣

⁣ Seeing benefit for both of them, Bennett proposes that they collaborate. They’ll both visit the same restaurants at the same time and contrast their approaches and opinions. And after some initial hijinks, they start to enjoy each other’s company, and they learn from each other.⁣ Of course, the more they collaborate, the more the chemistry intensifies. Is this a reservation for love or disaster?⁣

⁣ I love books about food and restaurants, so this was right up my alley. I loved Sadie on a Plate (and Sadie makes a cameo in this book), and this is fun, steamy, and romantic. I enjoyed the discussion about social media and the battle of print vs. internet, too.

⁣ Thanks so much to NetGalley and Berkley for the advance copy! The book publishes 2/21/2023!⁣

Book Review: "Even Though I Knew the End" by C.L. Polk

This is a novella that’s a little creepy, a little mysterious, a little fantastical, even a little poignant and romantic.

⁣ ⁣ Helen is a talented magical detective in Chicago in the early 1940s. But instead of being recruited into the shadowy Brotherhood, promising her soul in exchange for her brother’s life leaves her shunned and without the Brotherhood's support. She knows she only has a few days left to live before the devil comes calling.⁣

⁣ But Helen’s mysterious client offers her a job too good to resist: find out the identity of the brutal murderer being called the “White City Vampire” and her debt will be considered paid. That means she’ll be able to spend the rest of her life with Edith, the woman she loves.⁣

⁣ Figuring out the identity of the killer is far more complicated than Helen bargained for. She finds herself in the middle of a gigantic web full of unspeakable evil. Will she be able to survive to enjoy her freedom, or will the job prove too dangerous?⁣

⁣ This was fairly outside my comfort zone but I absolutely loved it! It has a lot of different elements—magic, angels and demons, and a sapphic love story. At its core this is a story of how far we’re willing to go for those we love. I would love if C.L. Polk wrote a sequel someday!!⁣

Book Review: "Christmas in Peachtree Bluff" by Kristy Woodson Harvey

In Christmas in Peachtree Bluff, the holiday season comes along with romance, family drama, and a hurricane.

I received this book last year after the holidays had ended, so I decided to add it to my stack of holiday reads for this year. Once again, I’m reminded just how much I love the way Kristy Woodson Harvey writes, how she pulls you into her stories immediately.

Ansley is excited to have all three of her daughters, Caroline, Sloane, and Emerson, home for Thanksgiving with their families. The peace and joy of the holidays is slightly marred by the antics of Caroline’s 15-year-old daughter Vivi, who keeps lashing out at Caroline because of her impending divorce. At the end of her rope, she asks Ansley and her husband, Jack, if Vivi can stay with them through Christmas.

Before that, however, Ansley and Jack have a cruise to Australia planned. But the hurricane of the century is headed for Peachtree Bluff, and she’s worried about leaving the town that means so much to her. When Vivi acts out again, little does she realize how many people she’ll put in harm’s way.

Will the hurricane hit Peachtree Bluff, and if so, will the town survive? Will each of Ansley’s daughters deal with the problems they’re facing? This is technically the fourth book in the Peachtree Bluff series, but I haven’t read the other two, and that didn’t matter at all.

This is such a charming story of family, home, and the holiday spirit. I definitely want to go back and read the rest of the series now!!

Book Review: "Mabry's Minor Mistake" by Sam E. Kraemer

If you're looking for a sweet, steamy, enemies-to-lovers/second-chance holiday romance, look no further!

Mabry was a star basketball player going into his senior year of college when he met Jimmy, a young and naive incoming freshman and IT whiz. Over the course of an evening, Mabry and Jimmy visited a bunch of frat parties together and Mabry made sure Jimmy didn’t get taken advantage of.

They felt a connection, but Jimmy was drunk and Mabry didn’t want to take advantage of him. But Jimmy felt rejected, so he enacted his revenge—an action that nearly wrecked the end of Mabry’s college career.

Ten years later, Mabry has retired after a number of years as a successful professional basketball player, and now owns a car dealership in a Chicago suburb. The last person he’s expecting to walk into his dealership is Jimmy.

Jimmy (now JJ) is a tremendously successful businessman who owns a video game company. He wants to make a basketball video with Mabry, but his offers have been rejected in the past. He’s willing to do—and give—anything to work with Mabry on this game, and of course, he also hopes he might have a second chance at a relationship with the former athlete.

Jimmy has never been far from Mabry’s mind—mostly for negative reasons—but it is good to see his nemesis after so long. And he’d be lying if he said he didn’t still feel some kind of connection with Jimmy. But can he trust someone who made his life a living hell?

This was a sexy, sweet, emotional romance about two people finding their way back to each other, and a fun holiday read!

Monday, November 28, 2022

Book Review: "Only When It's Us" by Chloe Liese

Loved it, loved it, loved it!

A few months ago I fell completely in love with Everything for You, technically the 5th book in Chloe Liese’s Bergman Brothers series. I’ve been meaning to get back to the start of the series, and now that I’ve read the first book, I’m utterly hooked.

Willa is an amazing soccer player who hopes to turn pro after college. She’s fiercely competitive and has a tremendously short fuse; she’s definitely the type to get angry first and ask questions later.

Ryder is handsome, brooding, and dresses in flannel every day like a lumberjack. He’s not sure what he did to become the target of Willa’s wrath, but they start to enjoy needling each other in class. And then Willa makes a startling discovery: she thinks Ryder is just an egotistical idiot who’s ignoring her, but he’s actually deaf.

Thrown together by their professor, their connection is immediate and intense. But both are hiding secrets, vulnerabilities, and fears, and every time they get close to giving into their feelings, something happens. Can they trust another enough to let their guards down? Can they both give each other what they need and want, or will fear and stubbornness keep them away?

What I love about Chloe Liese is that her books combine humor, chemistry, banter, serious steam, and also serious emotion. All of the supporting characters—from Ryder’s family to his and Willa’s friends, even the manipulative professor who threw them together—are fantastic, too. I just got hooked on this world and can’t wait to go back!!

Friday, November 25, 2022

Book Review: "Lark Ascending" by Silas House

Silas House's new book is an evocative, powerful story of survival and connection.

In a perhaps not-too-distant future, the U.S. has been destroyed by fires across the country. Lark and his family had left their Maryland home for sanctuary in Maine, but that proves to be fleeting, as religious radicals turn to violence and persecution.

With nowhere else to go, Lark and his parents are able to get on a crowded ship to Ireland, which is apparently the only place where Americans are still welcome. The trip is treacherous and even their arrival is filled with chaos and violence, and ultimately, Lark is the only survivor left from the ship.

Alone in an unfamiliar country, Lark must find his way. Ultimately he finds two companions—Helen, a woman desperate to find her son, and Seamus, a dog who has seen quite a bit in his life. They want to make it to what they believe is a safe haven, but it will take all their strength and courage.

This is a bleak but gorgeously written book. I love the way House writes, and Seamus joins the list of my absolute favorite non-human characters this year. There is so much amazing imagery, I could see it in my mind’s eye.

Definitely not an easy, carefree read, but an important and beautiful one nonetheless!!

Book Review: "All This Could Be Different" by Sarah Thankam Mathews

This book was a finalist for the National Book Award and several friends raved about it. The best description I’ve seen from people is that it is a quintessentially millennial novel, one that captures the angst of dealing with work, love, friendship, money, and family. Being a bit (ahem) older than a millennial, this book didn’t quite hit me the same way but it’s definitely well-written and powerful.

Sneha moves to Milwaukee for a consulting job shortly after college, at the cusp of the 2008 recession. The job is soul-crushing, but she actually likes some of it. But the job provides her with a free apartment (despite a challenging property manager), a group of colleagues she can at least drink with, and enough money to spend as she wants and still send money home to her parents in India.

All is definitely not perfect, though; she struggles with real connection. Although she is able to get a job for one of her college best friends, and while she finds a close friend, Tig, the dating apps aren’t helping her find a girl to really connect with. Then she meets Marina, a dancer and choreographer with her own set of problems.

Sneha’s life and those of her friends seem built on the flimsiest of foundations. Jobs are in danger, evictions are threatened, addictions are struggled with, and Sneha must come to terms with secrets she has tucked away.

These characters are flawed and complex, and Mathews isn’t afraid to show you their unflattering sides. That doesn’t always make for easy reading; at times characters are racist, transphobic, and fatphobic, but those attitudes are more typical of the time in which the book was set.

If anything, this book may make you happy you survived the stressful days of youth and made it to wherever you are now!!

Book Review: "They're Going to Love You" by Meg Howrey

The latest novel from Meg Howrey is a story of ambition and family dysfunction, set against the backdrop of the ballet world.

With a mother who was a former Balanchine ballerina and a father who managed a dance company, could Carlisle want to be anything other than a dancer? She pursued it with great gusto, especially because it gave her more chances to enter her father’s glamorous world, where he lived in Greenwich Village with his partner, James, a former dancer-turned-teacher.

She loved spending time with her father Robert and James in particular, although in the mid- to late 1980s, the AIDS crisis decimated their circle of friends. But James also taught her about the world, about art, life, and of course, dance. Until a betrayal occurred which tore them apart and estranges her from her father.

Nineteen years later, Carlisle has made a life for herself as a choreographer and dance teacher. One day she gets a phone call—it’s James, and he tells her that her father is dying. She’s not spoken to her father in almost 20 years, but James thinks he’d like to see her before he dies. Doing so reopens old wounds and forces Carlisle to confront the reasons for their estrangement.

Howrey is a former dancer and she brings such authenticity to her descriptions of the dance world, the hunger to perform. I felt like there was a little too much detail here, which bogged the plot down, and it took SO LONG for the reason for Carlisle and Robert’s estrangement to be revealed. (And honestly, I was like, "That's it?")

I’ve seen some great reviews of this, so it might’ve just been me. I have enjoyed some of her previous novels.

Book Review: "Aesthetica" by Allie Rowbottom

Allie Rowbottom's debut is a searing look at the pressures of social media and beauty standards for women.

Ever since Anna was young, she wanted to be beautiful and famous. As she grew into her teen years, she realized that her best bet was to become an influencer on social media. She was constantly obsessed with photos, angles, likes, and followers.

After graduation from high school, she moves to Los Angeles and really ups her social media game. She quickly catches the attention of Jake, who is handsome and well-connected, and he becomes her boyfriend and manager of sorts. And little by little, she finds she needs to change herself to be what the public wants, so she becomes obsessed with plastic surgery.

The book alternates between Anna at 19 and Anna at 35, barely recognizable because of all the surgeries, procedures, and fillers she’s had through the years. Gone are the days of influencing; she now works at the cosmetics counter of a store that sells anti-aging products.

Anna is about to have revolutionary surgery called Aesthetica, which will reverse all of her past surgeries and procedures and return her face to what it should look like for a woman her age. She hopes it will help her find her true self again—if she survives the risky surgery. At the same time, she’s being asked to speak out against Jake, who has also remade himself as an adventure-seeking family man despite all of his transgressions through the years.

This is a really powerful book. It’s not a happy one, necessarily, but it definitely made me think about the unrealistic pressures social media and fame put on people, especially women.

Book Review: "The Rewind" by Allison Winn Scotch

The Rewind is a cute second-chance rom-com about what happens when old college friends reunite for a wedding.

The last thing Frankie wanted was to be a bridesmaid at her college roommate’s wedding. And having to wear some horrible dress isn’t even the worst part—it’s that she will probably see Ezra, her college boyfriend. They had an angry breakup 10 years ago and haven’t spoken since.

Ezra is a little anxious about seeing Frankie, too, but he has a plan, anyway: his girlfriend Mimi is coming to the wedding and he intends to propose to her right after, as the clock strikes midnight and 1999 turns to 2000.

And yet the morning before the wedding Ezra and Frankie wake up in bed together in their freshman dorm. They both have pounding headaches, Frankie is wearing the engagement ring Ezra intended for Mimi, and he’s also wearing a wedding ring.

Of course, neither of them have any idea how they got there or what happened the night before. Did they get married? Why does Frankie's head hurt if she doesn't drink? As they try to figure out the events of the previous night, both are also reminded of everything that went wrong—and what was right—with their relationship in college. Have they changed enough to want a second chance with one another, or is there too much baggage from the past?

This was a fun, sweet book, infused with late-90s nostalgia. I felt like the “figuring out what happened” piece took longer than anything else, but I’m definitely a fan of second-chance love stories!

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Book Review: "Frat Wars: Presidential Chaos" by Saxon James

Frat Wars: Presidential Chaos is a tremendously satisfying and sexy conclusion to a terrific series.

Zeke has been president of Sigma Beta Psi for a few years now. He loves the job and he loves his fraternity brothers, but with graduation not too far in the distance, he’s ready to move on. He wants to focus on pursuing his dreams of becoming an Olympic swimmer.

Charles is the president of Rho Kappa Tau, their biggest rival and usually the target of their pranks. He never really wanted to be president but agreed to step into the role. The Sigmas annoy him and his brothers but dealing with Zeke is a definite plus, although he wouldn’t admit that to anyone.

When rumors about hazing—and particularly the Sigmas’ role—surface, Zeke needs to find out who is making the false accusations and why. And while at first it looks like Charles and his fraternity might be behind the rumors, Zeke trusts they’re not responsible, and he and Charles team up to track down the troublemaker. But the closer they work together, the more they realize their feelings go beyond rivalry—and those feelings could affect both of their futures.

This series is excellent—it’s super-steamy, romantic, funny, and thought-provoking. It definitely turns some stereotypes on their head. I’ve really become a huge fan of Saxon James (she's also the co-author of the Puckboys series I'm loving)—and would love it if this wasn’t the last book in the series!!

Book Review: "All I Want for Christmas" by Maggie Knox

This is a sweet, emotional rom-com set in Nashville with a sweater-wearing dog named Patsy Canine. (I mean, how could you resist?)

Sadie has dreamed of a country music career for as long as she can remember, but nothing has happened. Her final shot is competing on the singing competition show “Starmaker,” which she hopes will be the start she needs.

The son of two country music stars, Max doesn’t need to appear on “Starmaker,” but he wants to do things his way. Yet to this point, despite his good looks and his pedigree, his music hasn’t excited people. He’s determined to make this chance work.

When Sadie and Max and paired up for a duet on the show, neither wants to share the spotlight. Sadie remembers meeting Max a few years ago, and the memories weren’t positive.

Their sexy, romantic duet is gold, and video of their performance nearly breaks the internet. People quickly start worshiping #Saxie and want more. So the network forces them to compete as a duet—and pretend to be in love—or they’ll be eliminated from the show. If they’ll agree, they will win.

They agree, and while magic happens when they sing together, it’s hard to pretend to be in love when you don’t like each other. Both also have their own issues to deal with. Will they last as long as they need to, or will they crack under the pressure? Or will fake love turn real?

This book had so much I loved—fake dating, family drama, a cute dog, a sexy love interest who knits, singing, etc. I really enjoyed a lot of the characters. The biggest frustration was that so much happened because of a lack of communication. But it’s still a fun story.

Book Review: "I Was Born for This" by Alice Oseman

Meeting her favorite band is far more than she ever expected.

Angel’s favorite band is The Ark. She loves them more than almost anything, much to the chagrin of her parents, who want her to focus more on school. But she’s kind of obsessed, and spends tons of time online communicating with fellow fans, dissecting the latest gossip.

Jimmy loves being part of The Ark, making music with his best friends. And although success is all he’s dreamed of, it also exacerbates his anxiety. Fame is amazing, but it’s come with a price—he was forced to come out as trans sooner than he would’ve liked, and while most of the fans have been accepting, they also love imagining he and his best friend and bandmate, Rowan, are in a relationship. But that isn’t the case.

When Angel gets to attend a meet-and-greet with the band, who are just on the cusp of international stardom, the last thing she’s expecting is to connect with Jimmy. It turns out they understand each other far more than they’d imagine.

Alice Oseman is so good at creating diverse casts of characters without it seeming forced or fake, and each character has their own issues they’re dealing with. This is a sweet story but one which also addresses heavier issues like anxiety, parental pressure, addiction, and more.

It’s interesting: this was featured as a new release at my bookstore a month or two ago but it turns out this was from 2018, so if you’re an Oseman fan, this may be familiar to you already!

Book Review: "In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss" by Amy Bloom

This memoir is poignant, beautifully written, and quietly hopeful.

I’ve been a fan of Amy Bloom’s writing for years and have read everything she has written, short story collections and novels. Needless to say, Bloom's memoir was just as good as her fiction, and it will be something I think about for a long while.

Amy and her husband Brian enjoyed life together—travel, food, intellectual conversation. But suddenly Brian started changing, withdrawing from social gatherings with friends, retiring from his job (which he loved), and once his issues with memory loss and struggling to find the right words intensified, they received the bad news: Brian had Alzheimer’s disease.

Both Amy and Brian knew what that diagnosis meant, and how little by little he’d lose himself. After much conversation, they decided to go to Dignitas, a Swiss-based organization that helps people die when they want, with their dignity intact.

“I don’t want to end my life, he said, but I’d rather end it while I am still myself, rather than become less and less of a person.”

The book follows Amy and Brian’s emotional journey to Zurich and the steps they had to take. It also chronicles Amy’s life after his death, how she had to find the strength to live and work and hope again.

Although short in length, this book is so powerful, so thought-provoking. Is it sad? Of course. But at the same time, it’s hopeful and it could provide some inspiration for others facing similar challenges.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Book Review: "We All Want Impossible Things" by Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman's first novel for adults is a tremendously moving story about lifelong friendship, love, and saying goodbye. It's really beautiful!

Ash and Edi have been friends since childhood. They’ve shared everything together—high school prom, weddings, pregnancies, all of their hopes and fears. When Edi’s battle with ovarian cancer nears its end and her doctors recommend she be moved to hospice, the only option is for her to go to a hospice near Ash’s home in Western Massachusetts.

Ash spends hours and hours every day with Edi, reminiscing, crying, eating, drinking, and getting to know the staff and other residents of the hospice, many of whom, like Edi, wind up living longer than their doctors predicted, although they are slowly moving toward their end.

“Edi’s memory is like the backup hard drive for mine, and I have that same crashing, crushing feeling you have when the beach ball on your computer starts spinning. I have the feeling you’d have if there were a vault with all your jewels in it, everything precious, only the person with the combination to the lock was hanging on to a penthouse ledge by a fingertip.”

At the same time, Ash is dealing with her own midlife crisis. She still pines for her husband despite their separation, but that isn’t stopping her from sleeping with several different men. As she comes to terms with her best friend’s mortality, she’s also concerned about her daughters and what will happen to Edi’s husband and young son.

This is definitely an emotional book, but it wasn’t actually as overwhelmingly sad as I thought it would be. There are surprising flashes of humor and levity throughout. And as someone who lost a best friend last year, the book captured many of my feelings very accurately.

Book Review: "Lavender House" by Lev AC Rosen

Lavender House was a satisfying mystery that delivers so much more. It was fantastic!

California. 1952. Andy was a police detective in San Francisco until he was caught in a raid at a gay bar. Fired, disgraced, and shunned, he is nearing the end of the rope.

Then he is approached by a woman who asks him to investigate the murder of her wife. Her wife was Irene Lamontaine, the head of the famous Lamontaine soap empire, and she was killed at Lavender House, their secluded estate. It turns out that the house is home to a number of gay people, living their lives freely, even if it’s only within the walls of the house.

Andy agrees to investigate the murder and takes residence at Lavender House. He never imagined that he’d see people like him so openly embracing love and having the type of relationships that wouldn’t be possible in the outside world. It forces him to come to terms with his own life and sexuality, as well as reconcile his being a police detective with the way his colleagues treated gay people.

“Just because we know what we are, and we know what the world is, doesn’t mean we can change anything about either of them.”

The mystery in this book is fairly standard but the book worked for me on so many levels. I loved many of the characters and would love to see a sequel someday. (Rosen has certainly set things up for that.) This was a fascinating, emotional look at the struggles queer people faced back then.

Book Review: "Scattered Showers" by Rainbow Rowell

When one of your favorite authors writes a story collection, you jump on it.

I love the way Rainbow Rowell writes. Eleanor & Park is among my all-time favorites, and I’ve loved Fangirl, Landlines, Attachments, and the Simon and Baz series. Seeing as I’d read her grocery list, you can bet I was excited to read her first-ever story collection.

All nine of these stories are love stories. A few feature familiar characters—Simon and Baz appear in “Snow for Christmas,” Beth and Jennifer from Attachments are featured in “Mixed Messages,” and Reagan from Fangirl is the star of “If the Fates Allow.” It’s so good to return to characters I’ve loved, but it’s equally wonderful to meet new characters.

These stories are charming, funny, romantic, and one even features a prince who falls in love with a troll. (But the story has much deeper meaning.) Unlike when I’ve read many story collections, there wasn’t one weak link for me. Each story made me smile, some made me laugh, and I even teared up from a few. (That shouldn’t be surprising.)

If you love charming stories that will touch your heart, pick up Scattered Showers. Now that I'm done, of course, I'm ready for another of her books, but I can be (mostly) patient…

Book Review: "Flight" by Lynn Steger Strong

Drama ensues when siblings and their families gather for the holidays.

Every Christmas, siblings Martin, Henry, and Kate, as well as their spouses and families, spend the holiday at their mother’s home in Florida. But their mother Helen died eight months ago, so for the first time, they’ve all converged at Henry’s house in upstate New York.

As to be expected when any family gathers, the same old arguments and resentments bubble up. This one hates that one’s husband, this one is too tense, this one’s kids are too wild. But this year, there’s the added burden of grief and the uncertainty of what they should do with their mother’s house, so the tension is ratcheted up a bit more.

If there’s a novel about family drama and/or dysfunction, I’m always there for it. Flight definitely had promise, but I didn’t find any of the characters appealing in any way, and the addition of another young woman and her child just served to bog the plot down for me.

Book Review: "Once Upon a December" by Amy E. Reichert

She’s met the perfect man. There’s just one catch.

Astra Noel Snow loves the holidays. Even though her job as a library director is challenging and sharing custody of her dog with her manipulative ex-husband is stressful, nothing brings her more joy than spending time with her college roommates, getting the Yuletide spirit at Milwaukee’s enchanting Christmas market. (And the handsome baker who always saves some of the best kringle for her is a definite bonus.)

Jack Clausen and his family live in the Julemarked, where it’s Christmas all year-round. Once the holiday is over, those who run the market prepare for the next holiday every four weeks, and they never know where in the world the magic will take them. But Jack loves the years they wind up in Milwaukee, because he hopes he’ll see her—the beautiful woman who comes into the bakery each time, with whom he feels a special connection.

When Astra and Jack share a romantic evening, Astra feels like she’s found the man she’s been looking for. But when she returns to the market after Christmas, she finds no trace of it—or Jack—and her friends only have foggy memories of the whole thing. Did she hallucinate a magical Christmas market AND a handsome man?

When the next Christmas rolels around, and the market returns to Milwaukee, Astra learns the truth about the Julemarked and Jack. Is she willing to give up everything in her life to live with Jack in the market? Or can he sacrifice his family and the only life he’s ever known to live outside with Astra?

A sweet love story? A handsome baker? A magical Christmas market where time runs differently? This was definitely a story full of holiday spirit. Sure, you have to suspend your disbelief, but isn’t that part of the holiday magic?

Book Review: "The Wilderwomen" by Ruth Emmie Lang

They're trying to find their mother. They may find themselves, too.

Five years ago, Nora Wilder walked away from her daughters. Her older daughter, Zadie, knew something was going on with her mother, but Nora wouldn’t tell her what it was. And even though Zadie has psychic abilities, she is unable to figure out where Nora went or what made her leave.

Zadie’s younger sister, Finn, experiences “echoes” of memories of other people when she’s in particular places. During her high school graduation party, she has her strongest echo yet, and she wakes up in the aviary of a zoo. She realizes that this memory belongs to her mother, and she thinks it’s a sign that Nora wants to be found. And regardless of what Zadie or Finn’s foster parents think, she’s determined to find Nora.

Reluctantly, Zadie agrees to accompany her sister on a trip which takes them to places Nora might have gone. And as Finn’s echoes grow more intense, Zadie has to try and figure out how to save her sister—and decide if she thinks their mother wants to be found.

This is a beautiful, emotional story with elements of magical realism. I loved Ruth Emmie Lang’s first book, Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance, and this had a similar feel. A great BOTM pick this month!

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Book Review: "Now Is Not the Time to Panic" by Kevin Wilson

Kevin Wilson's latest novel is an absolutely excellent book about friendship, growing up, finding your place in this world, and the effect of art.

“How did you prevent your life from turning into something so boring that no one wanted to know about it?”

Frankie is 16. She’s a loner, growing up in Coalfield, Tennessee, ready to face another long, boring summer. She wants to be a writer but she doesn’t know if she’s any good.

One day she meets Zeke, who has moved to Coalfield to stay with his grandmother, hopefully just for the summer. Frankie and Zeke connect quickly and are determined to do something with impact this summer. They decide to create a piece of art that will get people’s attention but one that no one will know was created by them.

In a burst of inspiration, Frankie comes up with the phrase “The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us.” Zeke creates a drawing to accompany the phrase, and they create posters that they put up all over town. The posters create a sensation—no one knows what they mean or who is responsible, but they touch off a frenzy of imitators and panic throughout Coalfield, which leads to tragedy.

Twenty years later, Frances gets a call from a reporter who wants to write about the Coalfield Panic and believes she was behind the posters. This is a secret she's kept all of this time. Does she reveal the truth? What will happen if she does?

I thought this was absolutely fantastic, poignant and thought-provoking. I’ll read anything that Wilson writes!!

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Book Review: "Hidden Pictures" by Jason Rekulak

Boy, this book sure was creepy and twisty!

You’ve probably seen this all over but I’ve been meaning to read it for months. I’m proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and reading something spooky, too!

Mallory, looking for her first job after rehab and recovery, gets hired by Ted and Caroline Maxwell to care for their five-year-old son, Teddy. Despite some stringent rules, Mallory quickly grows to love the job and becomes a part of the family. And Teddy is a loving child, shy but curious and creative.

Above everything, Teddy loves to draw. His pictures are sweet and childish, depictions of his family, Mallory, and the things he sees. But suddenly his drawings stark to take a sinister tone—one day he draws a man in a forest, dragging a woman’s body, and shortly thereafter he draws the man throwing her body into a hole.

Mallory is disturbed by these drawings, but when they evolve into more sophisticated, creepier drawings that a five-year-old couldn’t possibly have drawn, she starts to think he’s being controlled by a supernatural force, perhaps the spirit of the woman in the drawings. But Caroline and Ted believe Mallory must be using again, and suspect she’s the one drawing the pictures.

Mallory is determined to solve the mystery, but it’s far more complex than she can even imagine. While I was a little disappointed by the big twist in the book, I was hooked on this story, which has a surprising amount of emotion for this genre. And the pictures are creepy, so be sure to pick up a physical copy of the book, so you can see the drawings, too!!

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Book Review: "The Do-Over" by Lynn Painter

This Valentine’s Day will be totally unlike what she imagined…

Emilie is super excited for Valentine’s Day. She can’t wait to tell her boyfriend Josh that she loves him. But the day starts out badly on her way to school and gets progressively worse and worse. She goes to hide out at her grandmother’s house to wallow in her misery…and promptly falls asleep.

But when she wakes up, she’s back in her own bed. And it’s Valentine’s Day again. Apparently she’s stuck in a time loop and has to relive the whole dumpster-fire of a day over and over again, from academic disappointment to family upheaval, not to mention a cheating boyfriend. And then there’s the fact that she keeps running into her lab partner—sometimes literally.

So when she decides to throw caution to the wind and do what she wants rather than what people expect, it’s tremendously freeing. But what happens when the time loop ends? Will the things she’s done and the people she’s connected with matter, or will they be forgotten?

I really enjoyed this fun, sweet, YA rom-com. Lynn Painter always brings such heart and humor to her books, and I thought this was really so good. It was a great change of pace for me!

Book Review: "Irresponsible Puckboy" by Eden Finley and Saxon James

Yep, another steamy hockey romance. I don’t even watch this much hockey!

Tripp and Dex are NHL teammates and best friends. They spend so much time together and are so close, most people joke that they’re secretly in love with each other. But for Tripp, it’s no joke. He’s definitely in love with Dex, even if it’s the oldest story in the world—the gay guy in love with his straight best friend. Even his closest friends, the other gay hockey players in the league, warn him about getting hurt.

To Dex, Tripp is the most important person in the world. He’s been sad when relationships have ended but he always has Tripp to turn to. But he has no idea that Tripp is actually in love with him.

When commitment-phobic Dex worries he might never get married, he comes up with a crazy scheme: he and Tripp should get married but not file the license, so he can get more comfortable with the idea. No one in their right mind would agree to that, right? Well, no one except Tripp.

And when their marriage turns out to actually be legal and the press gets wind of it, they agree to pretend to be married for a while. Otherwise, the resulting chaos could see one of them get traded, and that’s unacceptable.

Anyone want to guess what happens when you pretend to have a relationship? This is a sweet, sexy, friends-to-lovers AND fake dating story with as much fun banter as the first book in the series. I’m definitely on board for Book 3!!

Monday, November 7, 2022

Book Review: "Signal Fires" by Dani Shapiro

Dani Shapiro's first work of fiction in 15 years is a beautifully written, poignant story about two families and how their lives are connected.

I didn’t know much about this book when I picked it as an add-on with my BOTM order this month. But how could I resist the story of two families over more than 30 years, full of drama and emotion? I mean, if ever there was a recipe for a perfect “Larry book,” this was it. And it was utterly fantastic!

The book opens in 1985. One summer night, three teenagers are hanging out and drinking when they decide to go for a drive. In a split second, everything changes, and for the Wilf family, the decisions made in the subsequent moments will change all of them.

On New Year’s Eve, as 1999 is about to turn to 2000, Dr. Wilf is pressed into service to deliver a baby for the Shenkmans, a new family in the neighborhood. And years later, as Dr. Wilf prepares to move out of the neighborhood and into assisted living, the two families will be connected again, in myriad ways.

So much more happens in this beautiful story, but it’s best to let it unfold. There are emotional moments, moments of regret and renewal, and an exploration of the ways we are inexorably connected. This is a quietly powerful novel, which reminds me of one of my favorite writers, Ethan Joella, and his ability to create emotion and drama from life’s simple moments.

Book Review: "Kiss Her Once for Me" by Alison Cochrun

I couldn’t love this book any more if I tried!!

Alison Cochrun's debut novel, The Charm Offensive, was one of my absolute favorites from last year. I’ve been eagerly waiting for her follow-up book and it was all kinds of sweet, emotional, and romantic.

Ellie can never forget the woman she met last Christmas Eve, when she was at an emotional low point. But after a magical day (and night), she gets her heart broken, and shortly thereafter, loses her job as an animator.

Almost one year later, Ellie is barely making ends meet, working in a coffee shop (it is Portland, after all), and struggling both emotionally and financially. But then Andrew, the handsome and very wealthy landlord of the coffee shop, makes her a deal: if she’ll marry him for one year, he can access his trust fund, and he’ll give her a healthy cut of the inheritance.

Seems easy, no? They agree to spend Christmas with Andrew’s family at their winter cabin. Ellie feels quickly immersed in the family and finally being cared for—until she discovers that Andrew’s sister is Jack—the woman with whom she spent that one magical day a year ago. It turns out things didn’t quite end the way Ellie believed, so Jack is utterly shocked that Ellie has reappeared in her life—and is now engaged to her brother.

The more time Ellie spends in Jack’s presence the more she longs to tell her the truth. But she needs the money, and she’s fairly convinced that it’s easier not to risk your heart for something that might not work.

This was such a charming, sweet, and emotional story, full of humor but also some serious exploration of family pressure, anxiety, and the fear of taking a risk. Another home run for Alison Cochrun!!

Book Review: "The Hero of This Book" by Elizabeth McCracken

The Hero of This Book, the new novel from Elizabeth McCracken, is thought-provoking and emotional.

“Once somebody is dead, the world reveals all the things they might have enjoyed if they weren’t.”

When is a memoir not a memoir? That is a question raised a lot during this book. The narrator, a writer, is grieving following the death of her mother 10 months earlier. She decides to take a trip to London, which was the last place she traveled with her mother a few years earlier.

As she wanders the streets and sees the sights—some they visited on their trip—she thinks a lot about her mother and their relationship. Her mother was tough, feisty, fiercely intelligent, and had to deal with multiple physical challenges which affected her ability to walk and stand. But her mother was also a private person, and there are many things that she never truly knew about her.

What’s interesting about this book is that Elizabeth McCracken’s mother died also, and there are similarities between the narrator and mother in this book and the mother and daughter in real life. McCracken (or the narrator) spends much of the book considering whether writing about her mother’s life would be a violation of her privacy, even after death. But someone who lived a life like her mother deserves someone to write about her.

The very meta nature of this book made it both fascinating and a little bit frustrating. The narrator’s mother was very vividly depicted in the book, but when the focus wasn’t on her, it wasn’t as interesting to me.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Book Review: "How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water" by Angie Cruz

How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water (cool title, huh?) is an emotional and humorous book with a tremendously memorable narrator.

Cara Romero never dreamed she’d be looking for work in her mid-fifties. But when the factory where she’s worked for years moves to Costa Rica, she has to find work again before her unemployment checks stop coming. She enrolls in a program where she’ll meet with a job counselor and try to find the right type of job.

Over the course of 12 sessions, she defiantly tells the counselor she wants to work. (But she’s a little particular about what, and where, a potential job should be.) More than that, however, in each of the sessions, she gives her counselor far more than she bargained for in hearing about her life.

Cara tells her counselor about her early life in the Dominican Republic, the marriage that made her flee to the U.S. She talks about her best friend, Lulú, and her difficult relationship with her sister, Ángela, who resents her for many things. But what plagues her the most is that her son, Fernando, abandoned her. She was just being a good mother and trying to protect him and toughen him up so the world didn’t take advantage of him. Why was that so bad?

Her sessions become increasingly emotional as Cara shares secrets and fears—but she still wants to work, mind you. Cara is the type of woman who has faced life head-on and as much as she has experienced setbacks, she still believes in herself.

This was such a fascinating story. Cara is funny, proud, stubborn, and sad, and as the sessions go on, the layers of her life and personality are slowly revealed. She’s definitely a character I’ll think about for a long while!

Book Review: "We Are The Light" by Matthew Quick

The latest book from the author of Silver Linings Playbook is a tremendously moving story about grief, recovering from tragedy and trauma, and the impact people have on our lives.

The town of Majestic, Pennsylvania has recently been impacted by a terrible tragedy. A young man shot and killed 17 people in the town’s historic movie theater during a showing of a Christmas movie before dying himself.

Many in the town see Lucas Goodgame as a hero for his actions during the massacre, but he doesn’t like to think about that. All he can focus on is that his wife Darcy was among those who were killed, although he believes she comes to him each night as an angel.

Lucas doesn’t know how to process his grief, and the worst thing is that his Jungian analyst of three years, Karl, has ended their sessions because Karl’s wife was killed that day, too. He had come to depend on Karl and he is at a total loss, so the only thing he can do is write letters to him in the hope that Karl will decide to start seeing him again.

Things take an interesting turn when Eli, an 18-year-old whom Lucas had helped before, starts camping out in Lucas’ backyard. The entire town ostracizes Eli and he has nowhere else to turn.

This book, told completely in letters Lucas writes to Karl, is about the process of healing and how complicated it can be. As Lucas and Eli try to help the community—and especially the survivors of the massacre—with recovery, beautiful and troubling things will be uncovered.

I found this really moving. It’s very sad in places and there may be triggers for some. I don’t know about Jungian analysis, so the references to that went over my head, but this was a really poignant and beautiful story.