Friday, March 10, 2023

Book Review: "Pineapple Street" by Jenny Jackson

Pineapple Street is a fantastic, character-driven look at the foibles and crises of a wealthy New York family.

The Stocktons are an old-money family living in the historic section of Brooklyn Heights. Cord, the only son, works in their family’s real estate business with his father. Their mother occupies her time playing tennis and tracking the latest gossip among “their kind,” and can always be counted on for an appropriate tablescape for a party or everyday meal.

Darley, the oldest daughter, was once a businesswoman in her own right, but she gave up her career to raise a family, and her inheritance to marry for love. But when things get tough, she wonders if she gave too much away.

Georgiana, the youngest, hasn’t quite grown up yet. But when she strikes up a relationship with a coworker—a man she cannot have—it changes her, and she realizes she needs to make some major adjustments to be the person she wants to be.

When Cord marries Sasha, a woman from a middle-class family in Rhode Island, it causes friction among the Stocktons. Darley and Georgiana view her as a gold digger and resent the fact that Sasha and Cord got to take over the family brownstone. Sasha doesn’t really care about the money—what she wants is to feel a part of the family, not like an outsider. She even feels like Cord sides with his family over her.

I thought this was such a terrific story, even though it’s one in which not a lot happens. The characters were fascinating and flawed, but it took a slightly different path than I expected, which is great. A very impressive debut!

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Book Review: "Dibs" by Kimberly Knight and Rachel Lyn Adams

Dibs is a steamy and moving second-chance romance. (I mean, look at the cover!)

My Facebook algorithm doesn’t mess around—it showed an ad for this book; I was intrigued and bought it. I feel so athletic—I’ve moved from hockey romance to a baseball one!

Chase and Gage were baseball teammates and roommates at UCLA. One drunken night, after neither had any success finding a woman, one thing led to another and they messed around with each other. It wasn’t anything either of them had thought of before and both wondered what this might do to their friendship. But the next day, Gage suffers a random injury and he leaves UCLA with his parents, without saying goodbye.

Fifteen years later, Chase is just retiring from a fantastic professional baseball career. He’s looking forward to spending more time with his kids and getting to see his son play ball. He moves to San Diego to be closer to his ex-wife and kids.

Imagine his surprise when he meets his son’s coach—Gage. And their sons are best friends. Both can’t stop thinking about that one night in college, and little by little, they start building a new friendship. But one night, they need to address this growing attraction—and they decide to act on it. Their feelings for one another surprise them both.

As they start to take tentative steps toward a relationship, what will that mean for their careers, their children, their futures? It may be a difficult path, but is this completely different journey than they expected worth fighting for?

I loved this. It was romantic, super steamy, funny, emotional—it hit all the buttons. I’ll definitely be reading more books in this series!!

Friday, March 3, 2023

Book Review: "My Last Innocent Year" by Daisy Alpert Florin

An excellent, powerful coming-of-age novel about the decisions we make and the ripples they leave behind.

“…as small and unimportant as I mostly felt, the egotism of youth hadn’t left me, and I placed myself firmly and squarely at the center of the universe.”

It’s 1998. Isabel Rosen is a senior at Wilder College, a prestigious school in New England, where she is one of only a few Jewish students. She’s always been a bit of a follower, trying to find her place yet stay out of the spotlight. But a sexual encounter with an Israeli student confuses and frightens her, and she feels both angry and vulnerable.

She’s always thought about being a writer, following in the footsteps of her late mother, an artist, but her father tries to convince her there’s no money in that. And then she takes a senior writing seminar taught by R.H. Connelly, once a renowned poet expected to conquer the world, who now works for a local paper.

It’s the first time anyone has really praised her work and told her she has promise. It’s not long before Isabel starts an affair with her married professor, and he gets her thinking about pursuing a writing career and staying in New England with him. She knows, however, that this can’t last, and at a crucial juncture, she makes a decision that changes a number of lives.

I thought this was fantastic. It’s set against the backdrop of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, which sets the stage for a lot of interesting conversations, but this is more a story about Isabel coming into her own. It’s a sharply written debut that dazzled me.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Book Review: "Bookworm" by Robin Yeatman

Sometimes, the best stories are the ones in your head.

Do you ever feel out of step with other readers, in that you don’t like books that many seem to love, and you love some that have gotten mixed reviews? It seems like that’s been happening a lot lately for me, but I guess that’s one of the amazing things about reading!

Victoria would love her entire life to change. Her husband is a demanding boor who repulses her, her parents are constantly critical of her, she hates her job, and her one friend doesn’t seem to get her. She loves to lose herself in reading. (Same, girl. Same.)

One day she stops in her favorite cafe to read and relax and she spots the man of her dreams. Not only is he handsome, but he’s also a reader—in fact, he’s reading the same book she is! She definitely sees that as a sign that they’re meant to be together.

More and more she fantasizes about being with her dream lover; in fact, she envisions visiting him at night and their trysts. At the same time, she keeps envisioning scenarios in which her husband meets his end, inspired by some of her favorite books. And then one night, her fantasies and reality collide.

This is a dark book, and I’ll admit the line between fantasy and reality confused me at times. I also didn’t like that the characters hated A Little Life and liked Eileen, as I felt the opposite about those!!

Still, this is a unique story and I know it appealed to others, so maybe I'm not the person you should listen to about this one.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Book Review: "For Her Consideration" by Amy Spalding

What if her Hollywood job turns into a Hollywood ending?

Nina was devastated when her last relationship ended three years ago, especially when her girlfriend sent her a list of all her faults. She fled Los Angeles for the suburbs and moved into her aunt’s condo, leaving all of her friends and her old life behind.

Working for a talent agency, her job is to respond to emails that celebrities receive, but use their own tone and voice. One day she is summoned to Los Angeles by her boss because one of her clients, actress-on-the-rise Ari Fox, doesn’t quite feel that “her” emails sound genuine enough, and she wants to get to know Nina a little better.

Ari, whose name is being talked about as a potential Oscar winner, is a bit of a control freak. But she’s also proudly out, and sexy as hell, and she keeps wanting to meet with Nina. Is she flirting? She couldn’t possibly be interested in someone like Nina, could she?

Before she realizes it, Nina has fallen for Ari completely, and it seems the feeling is mutual. As the two take tentative steps toward a relationship, Nina is riddled with fears that Ari will quickly recognize the faults her ex-girlfriend enumerated. And at the same time, Ari pushes Nina to get back to writing scripts, which is what brought Nina to LA in the first place.

This is a sweet, steamy, emotional romance about allowing yourself to be vulnerable, remembering who in your life is there to have your back, and fighting for what you want. Nina is such a complex character, and I loved all of her friends and her aunt Lorna as well. Ari seemed a little less developed but I still enjoyed her. A fun one!!

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Book Review: "I Have Some Questions for You" by Rebecca Makkai

She’s not the girl she was back in high school. But can you truly shed your younger self?

When Bodie attended the Granby School in New Hampshire, she already had experienced more tragedy and trauma than most people her age. Being a scholarship student among the rich, privileged, and beautiful was difficult enough, but trying to find your identity and confidence when you’re at your most vulnerable definitely took its toll. Her former roommate was found murdered in the spring of her senior year, and although the killer was quickly convicted, the case remains one that intrigues and fascinates the public.

Years later, Bodie is now a successful film producer and podcaster. She is invited back to Granby to teach two short courses, and she’s pleased to be returning feeling and looking so much better than she did back in high school. But it’s not long before she starts to get drawn into the details of her former roommate’s case. Was it as easily solved as it appeared back in 1995, or did the police quickly rush to convict an outsider without considering other suspects?

As Bodie’s life starts to unravel, she finds herself growing more and more obsessed with the case, ostensibly in helping her students research it for a podcast. But she starts to realize that maybe she played more of a role in the rush to judgment than she ever thought. Can she help make a difference the second time around?

This was a really fascinating story, part mystery and part coming to terms with your past. The narration alternates between past and present and follows Bodie’s obsession with the murder and her confronting her own tragedies and hurts. It’s not a fast-moving book, and there’s a lot going on here, but I really loved it.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Book Review: "Someone Else's Shoes" by Jojo Moyes

Caution: unpopular opinion ahead.

Ever since picking up Me Before You a number of years ago and dissolving into an emotional puddle, Jojo Moyes has been an auto-buy author for me. I’ve loved a number of her books and I was eagerly anticipating the release of this one. But to say this one didn’t work for me would be an understatement.

Sam has been struggling to keep afloat. Her husband has been depressed for a while but doesn’t want to get help, or do much of anything more than lay in bed or stare at the television. He's certainly not trying to look for a job. And ever since her employer was bought by a larger company, she’s had to deal with a sexist boss who’s never satisfied with her work.

Nisha has lived a life of luxury, traveling the globe with her wealthy husband. Until one day her husband decides it’s time to find a younger woman and he files for divorce, cutting Nisha off completely–no clothes, no place to live, no money. All she has is a fancy pair of custom-made Louboutin high-heeled shoes. But she doesn’t even have those anymore, because someone mistakenly walked off with her gym bag, leaving a nearly identical one behind.

When Sam realizes she has inadvertently picked up the wrong bag, she is horrified. But when she puts on Nisha’s shoes, a more confident Sam emerges. She understands that it’s up to her to change her life. This is the story of how one action changes lots of things, and how friendship can get you through anything.

This book was so much longer than it needed to be. At times, it was hard to figure out exactly what the book wanted to be. Toward the end it veered into silliness and I honestly didn’t like either of the main characters–or some of the supporting characters–very much. But others have loved this, so maybe I was just cranky?

Monday, February 20, 2023

Book Review: "City Under One Roof" by Iris Yamashita

City Under One Roof is a compelling crime novel that gives a new twist to the locked-room mystery.

During the summer, the small town of Point Mettier, Alaska, is full of tourists. But in the winter, the population of this town—only accessible via a tunnel that closes for bad weather—shrinks to about 200 people. And they all live in the same high-rise building, where nearly everything is located.

When local teens find a severed hand and foot washed up on the shore, the police believe it’s the remains of someone who jumped off a cruise ship. The case raises the suspicions of Cara, a police detective from Anchorage, who comes to Point Mettier to investigate. But her reasons for investigating aren’t entirely above-board.

She is stranded in the town during a blizzard, and has to stay in the same condo building as everyone else in town. When a severed head is found, Cara, who teams up with local policeman JB, realizes the killer may be someone they’re all staying with. More and more, she discovers that everyone in Point Mettier is hiding something. And the arrival of a dangerous gang from a nearby Native village only complicates matters further.

First of all, the book had me at Alaska. It’s one of my favorite settings for books. And I loved the concept of the town and the condo—I totally felt claustrophobic.

This reads like a movie, which makes sense because Yamashita is an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, and it’s definitely full of unusual characters, some of whose stories definitely felt incomplete. I’m guessing a second book is in the works, especially given the twist Yamashita threw in at the end?

Book Review: "Stone Cold Fox" by Rachel Koller Croft

She knows what she wants and she’s not going to let anything—or anyone—stand in her way.

Y’all, I absolutely DEVOURED this book. Literally, I was hooked from the very first sentence: “I decided that I would marry Collin Case after the fifth time we fucked.”

Bea is beautiful, smart, and ambitious. She provokes strong reactions—and quite different ones—between men and women. After spending her childhood as a pawn in her mother’s calculated efforts to swindle wealthy men, Bea wants nothing more than to settle down with the right man. Provided he’s immensely wealthy.

She sets her sights on Collin Case, shortly after she lands his family company as a client for the firm she works for. Collin is handsome, very rich, pleasant, and dull. He’s perfect for Bea, and it’s not long before Collin realizes she’s perfect for him.

Of course, when an outsider tries to marry into a family that has been wealthy and highly connected for generations, they’re bound to face resistance. But Bea is prepared for the long game of winning them over to her side. And while she’s unfazed—and even energized—by the machinations of Collin’s best friend, Gale, Bea can’t help but wonder how much Gale knows, and how dangerous she might actually be.

Does the apple really fall far from the tree? Will Bea be satisfied if she gets what she wants? This book was excellent—twisty, sexy, and funny, and now I want more!!

Book Review: "After Perfect" by Maan Gabriel

This is the heartfelt story of a woman trying to find her way after her marriage ends.

Be the perfect wife. That’s what Gabby was taught to do by her traditional Filipino mother. And that’s what she’s done—put aside her dreams and supported her husband, Simon, whom she dated in high school. But after being married for 16 years, Simon tells Gabby he wants a divorce.

Gabby falls apart. Life with Simon is what she knows. But with the support of her best friend, she decides to go back to school to study creative writing. And it’s not long before she finds herself drawn to Colt, the bestselling author who teaches one of her classes. He, too, becomes an advocate for Gabby to pursue her dreams and independence.

As Gabby builds her new life, including getting a job, the attraction between her and Colt grows deeper. Yet as he opens up to her, Gabby sees that he’s perhaps as vulnerable, if not more so, than her. Can a fresh start be found with someone who may be too damaged to love and be loved?

This was an emotional book and Gabby is definitely someone to root for. I loved the NYC and DC area settings. (The book actually even mentioned a few places not far from my house.) The one challenge that I had is one of my least favorite tropes—miscommunication. I know it creates more drama, but I want to shake characters and say, “Just talk to one another!”

Book Review: "One Month of You" by Suzanne Ewart

She wants to deal with life alone. He won’t let her.

Ever since her mother was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, Jess has kept her burdens to herself, only letting a few people know. And when she tests positive for the disease herself, she knows she should share her struggles, what it’s like watching her mother’s condition deteriorate, knowing she will face the same fate. But she doesn’t.

One rule that Jess has set for herself is don’t fall in love. So when Alec, the bartender at the local pub, expresses an interest in her, she can’t allow it. Sure, he’s handsome (despite the beard), funny, and kind, and she can’t stop thinking about him. But she knows it won’t end well—it can’t—so why start?

Of course, they run into each other constantly. So when Jess tells Alec about her mother’s condition (not hers), he proposes an arrangement: date him for one month. Let her actually live her life and have fun for the first time in so long. But they cannot fall in love.

The time spent with Alec is amazing, and to no one’s surprise, they fall for each other. But what will happen if Alec finds out about her diagnosis? She wouldn’t want him to stand by her out of obligation, or worse, abandon her. So it’s best she break it off before things get too serious. Right?

This is definitely a moving story, although it didn’t destroy me as much as I expected. The challenge that I had was that I really didn’t like the way Jess treated Alec. She was really mean in the way she pushed him away and sent him mixed messages. At one point in the book, she asks him why he’s interested in her. I wondered the same thing.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Book Review: "Eileen" by Ottessa Moshfegh

Ottessa Moshfegh's debut novel is blunt and a little creepy, but it packs an unexpected emotional punch.

Are there authors you’ve been meaning to read for a while, authors you’ve heard a ton about and always wondered whether their writing was for you? I have many of those, and one of them is Moshfegh. This book has been on my shelf for a few years so I thought I’d give it a try.

Eileen is a dissatisfied, lonely young woman. She spends her days working in the office at a juvenile detention facility, where she feels total disdain for her two female coworkers, and often fantasizes about Randy, a handsome young guard. By night she lives with her alcoholic father, buying his liquor and keeping him from killing himself and others, and she dreams of running away, of ending her life, of getting out of the dilapidated house and its perpetual state of decay.

Into this miserable existence comes Rebecca, the prison’s new education director. Rebecca is everything Eileen wishes she could be—confident, beautiful, one who commands attention. Eileen dreams of building a friendship with Rebecca, one that could perhaps change her life. And before she knows it, she becomes a willing accomplice to a crime.

The book is narrated by a much-older Eileen looking back on that time of her life. The story is an interesting one and I read with a great deal of trepidation, worrying about what would happen. But Moshfegh’s style is very in-your-face; there’s a lot of detail about bodily functions, decay, body parts, etc.

I definitely recognize Moshfegh’s talent but I’m not sure if I’ll read another of her books unless someone can tell me they’re not as graphically detailed.

Book Review: "The Gentleman's Book of Vices" by Jess Everlee

Even though its title is similar to a few other books, including a popular YA series, this is a fun and romantic gay Victorian love story.

London, 1883. Charlie is a well-dressed son of privilege, although what he has to show for it is a mountain of debt, an immense tolerance for alcohol, and a collection of erotic novels that he keeps under lock and key. He spends many nights with a motley crew of friends at The Curious Fox, one of the city’s “molly houses” (gay bars).

All of this is soon to change, however, when Charlie gets married, in an arrangement brokered by both sets of parents. Charlie feels like he can be a dutiful husband even if he can’t truly love his wife.

But when he finds the true identity of Reginald Cox, his favorite author of erotica, he cannot wait to meet the man, Miles Montague. When Charlie shows up at the bookstore he owns, Miles thinks Charlie is there to blackmail him, but he just wants Miles to sign a copy of his favorite book. Their chemistry is instantaneous and intense, and it’s not long before the two are spending a lot of time together.

As Charlie’s wedding approaches, Miles and all of his friends at The Curious Fox try to convince him to call it off. Should Charlie risk the wrath of his family and the loss of his financial comforts to finally go after his happy ending, or should he do what is expected?

I enjoyed this so much!! I loved all of the characters and there was a lot more weight to the story than I expected. I hope Everlee has another book like this up her sleeve!! (Note: the second book in the series comes out in July!)

Book Review: "A Thousand Miles to Graceland" by Kristen Mei Chase

Two women. One convertible. One thousand miles.

This book was adorable and poignant.

Grace has found that the easiest way to deal with her outrageously over-the-top mother is to connect with her as little as possible. But when her husband ends their barely functioning marriage, she decides to cope with that by granting her Elvis-obsessed mother’s 70th birthday wish—a road trip from El Paso to Graceland.

What’s a road trip without adventure or chaos? Throw in an overabundance of her mother’s makeup and wigs, and lots of unresolved hurts and memories, and this one is sure to be a doozy. But as much as her mother aggravates her, spending all that time in the car, with Elvis songs on repeat, helps her understand some of what has made her tick.

Will they make it to Graceland in one piece? Can they overcome the issues from their past that made Grace leave home as soon as she could? And can the power of the King move them through?

This was a fun book, sweet and emotional. Reading it a few weeks after Lisa Marie Presley’s death gave it an added bittersweet note, but I love stories of family dynamics and, of course, Elvis.

Book Review: "Waiting for the Flood" by Alexis Hall

Sometimes you must weather the storm to find happiness.

It was supposed to be their dream home. While Edwin loved it a little more than Marius, they looked forward to spending forever there. But forever didn’t last very long, and it’s been two years since Marius left.

Edwin lives a lonely existence. He doesn’t go out much, at least since he saw Marius utterly happy with other people and it undid him. He works to restore and repair old books and memorabilia, both historic and mundane, which seems fitting because he’s often stuck in the past.

When fierce rains flood the area, Edwin is unprepared. But a savior arrives in the form of Adam, who works for the Environment Agency. As Adam shows Edwin how to weather the storm and they fight the waters that could greatly affect his neighborhood, Edwin realizes he can open his heart again. But will he fall back in the same patterns?

This is the second book in Alexis Hall’s Spires series, after Glitterland, which is already one of my favorite books of 2023. This, however, didn’t quite work for me. Instalove happened so quickly, it almost felt like something was missing. And I guess because Edwin was an intellectual, his dialogue was peppered with a lot of big words which didn’t quite fit.

There are two other books in this series, so I’ll give it another shot, because I do love the way Hall writes!

Book Review: "Afterglow" by Phil Stamper

Four best friends deal with senior year of high school and decisions about their futures, in this sequel to Golden Boys.

Oh, my heart.

Reese, Heath, Sal, and Gabriel were inseparable best friends growing up in the small village of Gracemont, Ohio. As the only openly gay students in their high school (and probably their town), it’s only natural they would have gravitated toward each other. And after each of them had a summer adventure of their own, they’re now back to take on their senior year.

Each of them has challenges to deal with. Sal wants to pursue a different path than his mother has been prepping for; Reese is ready to study fashion design in NYC, but is afraid to leave Heath, and has another secret he’s not ready to share; Gabriel is trying to weather a long-distance relationship and uncover a scandal in school; and Heath feels the pressure of waiting for a prestigious athletic scholarship.

Along the way, they’ll wonder how their friendships and romances may change when they’re not all in the same place next year. Will they succeed without their cheering squad, confidantes, and partners-in-crime?

I loved Golden Boys but thought Afterglow was even better because the boys’ stories better meshed together. And while this is the second book in Stamper’s duology, I wouldn’t mind if he brought the quartet back for a third book, because I’ll miss them!!

There’s nothing quite like high school friendships, and the feeling you’re ready to take on the world.

Book Review: "The Jeweler of Stolen Dreams" by M.J. Rose

Powerful and magical. M.J. Rose has done it again!

This dual-timeline novel is focused on French jeweler Suzanne Belperron. In 1942, she was ahead of her time in terms of her jewelry creations, with color and form, and she counted heiresses and royalty among her customers.

But while Belperron was world-renowned for her jewelry, perhaps her greatest contribution to society was secretly getting countless Jewish families out of France since WWII began. As the Nazis draw closer to discovering her secret, the risks increase, until the unthinkable happens.

In 1986, Violine is an appraiser for an auction house who is asked to visit the home of a political candidate and son of a former Senator. He has inherited a house full of valuable items that he’d like Violine to appraise.

She’s wowed by everything, but feels particularly drawn to a vintage trunk. Since childhood, Violine has had the ability to determine the provenance of an object and feel the secrets of its owners. What she discovers inside the trunk, a secret cache of precious jewels, awakens nightmarish visions. What are they, and to whom did they belong?

The lives of Suzanne and Violine intertwine as she tries to find out more about the jewels. But what will her discoveries mean, not only to history, but to her own life?

I don’t read much historical fiction, particularly set during WW2, but I always make an exception for M.J. Rose. I’m so grateful to Get Red PR Books and Blue Box Press for inviting me on the tour for this book.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Book Review: "Georgie, All Along" by Kate Clayborn

This is a heartfelt, poignant, and charming story about overcoming your past and finding yourself.

Georgie couldn't leave her small Virginia hometown fast enough. She got a waitressing job in Richmond, which led to an opportunity to become a personal assistant to a filmmaker, and the next thing she knew, she moved to Los Angeles. There, she worked nonstop as the PA to a famous screenwriter and director. It was crazy, unpredictable work, but she loved it and felt she had purpose and control.

But when her boss decides to retire, Georgie finds herself jobless and homeless. She moves back home to plan for her future and help her pregnant best friend Bel out, who also moved back home recently.

And then Georgie remembers that there’s no escaping your reputation in a small town. Everyone still thinks of her as a flake, a spontaneous prankster who never was serious about everything. As she tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life, she finds a notebook that she and Bel wrote when they were in 8th grade. This “friendfic” was full of all the things they were going to do to conquer high school.

Is it too late to live your 8th grade dreams? With the help of Levi, who knows all too well how hard it is to outrun your reputation, she’ll try to recapture that youthful enthusiasm. Yet as she tries to figure out what’s next, it may be what has been missing is right near her.

I’ve been a fan of Kate Clayborn for a while and I love the heart, charm, and romance she brings to her books. This is really good!

Book Review: "Maame" by Jessica George

Jessica George's debut novel is moving, thought-provoking, and just so good.

FOMO hits hard on Bookstagram from time to time. I saw this book since the end of 2022 and heard so much praise, so I couldn’t wait to read this. I love it when a book lives up to the hype!

Maddie is a dutiful daughter. She’s currently the primary caregiver for her father, who has Parkinson’s. Her mother mostly lives in Ghana, but that doesn’t stop her from haranguing Maddie about finding a man to marry or asking Maddie—who has to pay all of the bills—to send money. She also gets no help from her older brother, who always has an excuse to not be around or contribute financially.

At the same time, Maddie is struggling with motivation at work, where she is tired of being one of the only Black people, and she’s dealing with loneliness. When her mother decides to move back to London for a year and promises to take over her father’s care, Maddie is ready to move out and start living the life she should at 25.

But although she has decided to embrace saying yes to new opportunities—including drinking and dating—she still finds herself mired in unhappiness and dealing with similar issues at her new job. And after a tragedy and a betrayal set her back on her heels, she finds herself lost, yet afraid to actually speak her mind and admit she’s struggling.

I thought this book was excellent. It captured all the challenges of family, career, friendship, love, and responsibility. Maddie was such a fantastic character and I really felt for her. It’s amazing that this was a debut novel—I can’t wait to see what George does next!!

Book Review: "The Sweet Spot" by Amy Poeppel

Amy Poeppel's latest is a sweet (of course!) and slightly zany story about friendship, family—both chosen and blood, revenge, and fresh starts.

Lauren, a sculptor, is unbelievably excited when famed designer Felicity starts selling her stuff. It will be an enormous career move for her, although the volume of orders makes it harder for Lauren to spend time with her husband Leo, a truly absent-minded professor, their three children, and a rambunctious dog.

What Lauren doesn’t know is that an off-the-cuff remark to Felicity gives her the motivation to make changes in her own life. These changes upend Melinda’s life, and she’s determined to make both Lauren and Felicity pay.

But the course of revenge never runs smoothly, and it’s not long before Melinda’s anger has caused ripples in several people’s lives, including Felicity, Lauren, and Olivia, a young woman who was essentially collateral damage in Melinda’s rampage.

It takes a baby left behind by its parents to bring Melinda, Lauren, and Olivia together, and soon their lives—and others’—become intertwined as things go off the rails in very interesting ways. Can friendships, second chances, even love flourish amidst this chaos?

I love the way Poeppel writes. I’ve enjoyed all of her books and I was eagerly anticipating this. She never disappoints; her books are funny, warm, and just so charming. I definitely finished this with a smile on my face!

Book Review: "The Way They Were: How Epic Battles and Bruised Egos Brought a Classic Hollywood Love Story to the Screen" by Robert Hofler

This new book gives a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the classic love story.

Do you like to know the stories behind famous movies, the things that might have changed everything if they had come to fruition? I’m always fascinated by film history, so when Kensington Books offered me an advance copy of this book, which looks at the hard road to get The Way We Were onto the screen, I jumped at the chance.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, The Way We Were is a quintessential love story, about two completely different people in the 1930s—Katie, a Jewish activist who supports communism, and Hubbell, the handsome, privileged WASP—who fall in love and struggle with the world around them. The movie is on the American Film Institute’s list of top 10 movie romances.

While Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford seem tailor-made for their roles, the truth is, Redford didn’t want to make this movie. At first, he bristled against playing what he described as a “Ken doll” to Streisand, and he demanded that his role be expanded, so a bunch of screenwriters had to rework the script.

This was a really interesting story, a battle of egos, machinations, and compromises. What I found most fascinating is that Arthur Laurents, the original screenwriter, actually based the story on his own romance with his partner. Laurents was essentially the Streisand character while his partner, Tom Hatcher, was Redford.

Definitely a great read for film buffs and fans of this movie.

Book Review: "None of This Would Have Happened If Prince Were Alive" by Carolyn Prusa

Boy, was this a funny, moving book about finding strength to overcome disasters—both atmospheric and emotional!

Is this not such an amazing title? Prince was such a huge part of my musical life. I actually remember I was out having lunch with friends when I saw the news he had died, and couldn’t believe it.

When a Category 4 hurricane bearing down on your city isn’t your biggest problem, you’re a warrior. Ramona is constantly juggling the demands of her career—and a boss who says “kewl”—and raising two children, the younger of whom is failing at toilet training. It’s not that her husband Desmond doesn’t help, it’s just he always seems to mess things up or not listen to her.

But when she picks up her daughter early from daycare, she arrives home to find that he’s been cheating on her. She’s barely holding it all together, and having to evacuate with her kids, worry about her stubborn mother who lives on the water, and consider infidelity and ending her marriage is almost too much to bear.

The book alternates between the present and various points in Ramona’s relationship with Desmond. It’s at turns sarcastic, emotional, thought-provoking, and funny as hell. I love the voice that Carolyn Prusa gave to her characters, especially Ramona and her mother.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Book Review: "Endpapers" by Jennifer Savran Kelly

It’s 2003. New York City is just starting to move forward after 9/11. Dawn works as a bookbinder at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, repairing old books while hoping to find the spark to reignite her own artistic efforts.

At the same time, she is struggling with her sexual identity. She is dating Lukas, who wishes she were a man, while there are days she isn’t sure what or who she really is. In a time before people generally understood the concept of nonbinary or genderqueer, Dawn’s exploration serves to complicate her relationship with Lukas, her colleagues, and her family.

One day while repairing a book she finds the cover of a pulp novel from the 1950s bound inside the back cover. She cannot figure out how it would’ve gotten there. But that’s only the start of the mystery. The cover features a woman dressed as a man, and on the back is a love letter from one woman to another, written in German.

Who were these women? What happened to them and their relationship? And why does this book cover speak to Dawn so much? Solving this mystery becomes an obsession for her, as well as an opportunity to avoid dealing with her concerns about her creative block, her relationship with Lukas, and the violence that always threatens the LGBTQ community. It's sad that many of the issues addressed in the book haven't changed much in 20 years.

This was so good. Thanks so much to Algonquin Books for inviting me on the tour for this. I found it so compelling, and I cannot get it out of my mind.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Book Review: "Spare" by Prince Harry

Prince Harry's memoir is an informative, poignant glimpse into the life of one of the most recognizable princes.

Yep, I did it. I don’t normally read celebrity memoirs (unless they’re by chefs), but I will admit that I’ve always had a little bit of an interest? obsession? with certain people in the royal family. And I loved Meghan Markle in Suits, so how could I not get excited about her marriage to Harry and how in love they seemed?

But of course, it’s not the royals without drama. I know I have friends who are “Team Kate” and some who are “Team Meghan,” but in the end, will we ever know the full story? And does it matter?

Anyway, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Spare. It really focuses on three things—Harry’s dealing with, and his grief over, Diana’s death; his rebellious phase and his time in the military; and his relationship with Meghan and all that followed. At the end of the day, though, this is Harry’s memoir, so all of this is seen through his lens.

Could the book have been a little tighter? Yes. Did I need as many references to the Prince’s, umm, staff? Not really. But the emotions are palpable in this book and it really made me think about what it would be like to be raised as secondary to your brother.

Book Review: "The Course of Love" by Alain de Botton

The Course of Love is part love story, part meditation on love, passion, and romance.

This is the story of Rabih and Kirsten, who meet in Edinburgh, fall in love, and ultimately, marry and raise a family together. Of course, as we all know, there’s so much more to falling in love and having a relationship than the simple story.

Alain de Botton’s book—which was published in 2016 but I just stumbled on it—details Rabih and Kirsten’s relationship, the struggles and joys, their own issues, etc. But at the same time, the book provides commentary about love and relationships in general. It’s almost like a novel interspersed with a lecture.

It’s an interesting concept, and there are many things de Botton says that are dead-on. However, despite my sappy tendencies, I couldn’t fully embrace the book, because the “lecture” pieces kept taking me out of the story. But perhaps those who enjoy less-traditional narratives might enjoy this.

Book Review: "Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone" by Benjamin Stevenson

This book is a quirky, fun story of family dynamics and dysfunction, and murder.

“Everyone in my family has killed someone. Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once.”

Despite the fact that he’s been estranged from his family for a few years, when Ernie gets an invitation to a family reunion, he decides to go. The main purpose of the reunion is to welcome his brother home after a three-year prison stint for murder. A murder Ernie turned him in for.

The reunion is being held at a remote ski resort. The day after his family arrives, a man is found dead on the slopes. Most people, including the detective, think the man died of exposure to the cold, but Ernie’s stepsister discovers that he has inhaled a great deal of ash. Was he burned to death and then left to freeze?

A huge fan of crime fiction, Ernie takes it upon himself to help the overwhelmed detective solve the murder. The only question he has is, which of his family members has killed again? And why?

This was a fun and suspenseful twist on the locked-room mysteries that are so popular now. The plot gets a little convoluted at times but I definitely needed to see where the story would go.

Book Review: "Games and Rituals" by Katherine Heiny

Games and Rituals is an exceptional story collection from a writer at the top of her game.

I’ve been a big fan of Katherine Heiny’s books for a while now. Her two previous novels, Standard Deviation and Early Morning Riser were among my favorite books the years I read them. I love the way she balances sly humor, poignant emotion, and wry observation of both life’s mundane moments and when things go off the rails.

The 11 stories in Heiny’s upcoming collection were nearly all fantastic, following men and women at a crossroads of some sort. There’s the driving instructor in “Chicken-Flavored and Lemon-Scented” to the woman packing up her husband’s first wife’s house in “561,” from the woman dealing with her elderly father in “Twist and Shout” to the woman who finds out her life isn’t quite what she thinks it is in “Turn Back, Turn Back,” and many others.

If you’re a fan of short stories I’d encourage you to pick this up when it publishes on 4/14. Thanks to NetGalley and A.A. Knopf for the advance copy!

Book Review: "Really Good, Actually" by Monica Heisey

Monica Heisey's debut novel is a funny and poignant look at a woman trying to regain equilibrium after her divorce.

Maggie and Jon met in college and were inseparable. They fell in love, moved in together, and then, because there wasn’t anything else to do, they got married. But their marriage didn’t even last two years, and now Jon has moved out, taking most of their stuff (well, his stuff) and Janet, their cat.

Maggie was definitely not prepared to get divorced at age 29. And quite frankly, she doesn’t know what to do with herself. As she struggles to find her footing, and deals with a jumble of emotions, anxieties, and fears.

She doesn’t know if she’s ready to date again but she hates being alone. She’d like to have sex but hates her body. She wants to spend time with friends but is jealous of their romantic luck. She can’t afford to live in their apartment much longer but the alternatives aren’t great.

This book follows Maggie’s steps and missteps, her struggles and victories. Parts of the story are quite funny and parts are awkward, like you’re witnessing a person’s embarrassment and oversharing, and you’re trapped. I think this is a book that not everyone will get, but it was amusing and compelling.

Book Review: "The Faraway World: Stories" by Patricia Engel

The Faraway World is a short story collection from the author of Infinite Country.

I’ve been on a short story kick lately, so when I saw that Patricia Engel had a new collection out I thought I’d give it a try. She’s truly an exceptional writer, but these stories are really bleak at times.

Of the 10 stories, my favorites were “Aida,” about a teenage girl whose twin sister goes missing, and she loses both her best friend and her ally in saving their parents’ marriage; “Fausto,” in which a young Colombian woman finds out her boyfriend isn’t quite what she thought; “The Book of Saints,” narrated both by a Colombian woman hoping an American man will marry her, and the man; and “Guapa,” about a formerly obese woman who thinks she’s found happiness in her new body.

Where I struggled with this collection is that very few if any of the characters were sympathetic, and after a while the stories seemed a bit repetitive. But they definitely made me think!!

Book Review: "Dinosaurs" by Lydia Millet

The latest novel by Lydia Millet is one of those excellent character-driven books that surprises you with how much you love it.

I’d never read anything by Millet before, although she’s quite prolific. But a few friends really enjoyed this, so I decided to give it a shot. Boy, am I glad I did. I thought this was fantastic.

When Gil’s relationship ends, he is hurt and angry and feels rudderless. He decides to leave his home in NYC and move to Arizona—but he doesn’t just move there, he WALKS there. The whole way. It takes him five months, and the scenery was quite repetitive at times, but at times it was beautiful.

He buys a house sight unseen, one that looks like a castle. Then one day, a family moves into the glass-walled house next door. Gil can’t help but be drawn to the family as he witnesses the everyday occurrences in their lives, and it’s not long before his life becomes enmeshed with theirs. He becomes a mentor/friend to young Tom, a confidante to both Ardis and her husband Ted, and he even makes Clem, their teenaged daughter, smile on occasion.

This is a story about connection, how enhanced our lives become through our relationships, and how much life they bring to a solitary person. It’s also a story about nature, as Gil’s house attracts many different kinds of birds, and he becomes attached to them. And it’s also about regret, grief, and allowing yourself to let others in.

Not a lot happens in this book, but I hung on every word. There were so many places in which the plot could have veered into melodrama, and I was so glad it didn’t. Millet tells a beautiful, poignant story that I really connected with.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Book Review: "The Town of Babylon" by Alejandro Varela

This finalist for the 2022 National Book Award is an excellent, poignant look at growing up queer and non-white in suburbia.

When his father’s illness gets worse, Andrés returns to his suburban hometown. It will give him some time away from his husband so he can re-evaluate their marriage in the wake of his husband’s infidelity.

His return home happens to coincide with his 20-year high school reunion. He hasn’t any desire to attend, but with nothing else to do, he gives in. Immediately he is swept back into the memories of his time in high school, where he wasn’t always the nicest person in his quest to be popular.

At the reunion, he sees Jeremy, with whom he fooled around, to find that he is now married with children and a former convict and addict. He interacts with his high school bully and others, but he is struck by the absence of his best friend Simone, who struggles with mental illness.

While Andrés is home, he confronts his grief over his brother’s recent death, visits Simone in the mental hospital where she is receiving treatment, and deals with uncertainty around his marriage and his father’s illness.

I really loved this book and its exploration of many themes. Andrés isn’t always the most likable character but I identified with some of his emotions and actions. I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, so I’m really glad it’s so good!

Book Review: "Before the Coffee Gets Cold" by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

What would you change if you could travel back in time?⁣

⁣ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this in bookstores. I’ve always wondered whether it was worthy of all the attention, but I never actually knew what it was about. Once I saw there was an element of time travel in the plot, I decided to take the plunge.⁣

⁣ There is a cafe called Funiculi Funicula located in a back alley in Tokyo. The cafe isn’t much to look at, but somehow it’s been serving coffee for more than 100 years. What’s the secret to its success? In addition to coffee, the cafe serves up a chance for people to travel back in time.⁣

⁣ Of course, there are a lot of rules to time travel. Some make complete sense and some seem unfair, but the cafe’s employees don’t have any flexibility. Above all, the trip back in time has to be short—travelers need to return to the cafe before the coffee gets cold.⁣

⁣ This book follows four different sets of travelers as they seek to revisit a point in their past. Essentially it’s like four interconnected short stories, but there’s a lot of repetition, because the rules have to be explained every time. I was hoping this would be a bit more inspirational for me, but I’m still intrigued by the concept of getting to travel back into your past. ⁣

Book Review: "Glitterland" by Alexis Hall

How do you convince yourself that you’re worthy of love?

Ash is a successful writer who is clinically depressed. He has been in and out of the hospital and his body bears the scars of his struggles. He has pushed most of his friends away, because he doesn’t like to be pitied. Ash fills the lonely spaces with random sexual encounters but never lets anyone get close to him.

One night at a friend’s bachelor party he meets Darian, a model who is flashy, loud, and passionate about finding joy in every moment. He couldn’t be more different than Ash. But after one wild night, Ash can’t get Darian out of his mind. The initial pull is sexual, but Ash starts enjoying the way he feels when he’s with Darian, even though he’s also nervous that everything will fall to pieces as soon as Ash’s depression is revealed.

The deeper he falls for Darian, the more anxious he becomes about holding it all together. If he allows himself to truly care, does it just open him up to pain when it ends? If he doesn’t feel worthy of being loved, can he let it happen?

“And I’d known this mirage before. These shimmering moments. But they each had their price that must be paid. Looking back brought little comfort, only pain.”

I absolutely loved this book. I’ve always been a fan of Alexis Hall’s writing, but this just pulled me in and didn’t let go. And as someone with depression he captured the feelings and emotions so accurately.

Book Review: "Before We Were Strangers" by Renee Carlino

A missed connection. A second chance at love.

Matt and Grace met 15 years ago when he moved into the room next to hers in an NYU dorm. Their connection was instant, their chemistry intense, yet both were hesitant to jeopardize their friendship by acting on their feelings for one another. But they were inseparable, with Grace acting as Matt’s photographic muse, and they did so many crazy things to save and make money.

After graduation, Matt was scheduled to work in South America for National Geographic for the summer, and then in the fall, he’d stay in New York while Grace attended grad school. Yet when he returned from South America, Grace was gone. And that was it; he never saw her again.

Until 15 years later, when Matt catches a glimpse of Grace waiting for a subway train. They see each other as she gets on the train, but by then it’s too late, as the train leaves the station. Can he find her again? Where did she go all those years ago? Will love give them a second chance?

I’ve been meaning to read this for a few years now. I love second-chance romances and I was definitely drawn into this story. There were a few frustrating things—I’m so not a fan of miscommunication in romances—but I really enjoyed this!

Friday, January 20, 2023

Book Review: "Lunar Love" by Lauren Kung Jessen

Are perfect matches written in the stars, or are they found more practically?

Olivia’s grandmother is a legend in the matchmaking business. Her ability to use the Chinese zodiac to find the perfect matches for her clients has resulted in so much happiness through the decades, and the business she created, Lunar Love, is known through LA’s Chinatown neighborhood and beyond.

After passing the business to Olivia’s aunt when she retired, her grandmother is now ready for the company to be led by the next generation—Olivia. She has so many ideas, so much enthusiasm for how to attract a generation more interested in using their phones to find a match.

Imagine Olivia’s surprise when she discovers there’s a company with an app that utilizes the same principles as her grandmother but focuses on “animal attraction.” She’s furious, especially when she discovers that Bennett, the handsome guy she met cute at the bakery, is behind the app. She will not let him destroy her family’s legacy.

As the two battle and banter, they make a deal: each will try to find a match for the other. The first person to fall in love loses. (But do they really?) Will true love flourish because of tradition or something more modern?

This was a really cute book. I’m a sucker for banter as well as the whole enemies-to-lovers thing, so I enjoyed it!

Book Review: "Mr. Breakfast" by Jonathan Carroll

Jonathan Carroll's new book is a little odd, but it's tremendously powerful and thought-provoking.

“The best thing in the world, the most anyone can hope for, is to wake up in the morning liking where you are, what you do, and, if you’re lucky, who you’re with. Ask or expect more and you’re a greedy fool.”

Graham Patterson is a stand-up comedian, but his career never seems to have gotten the traction he’d hoped for. He needs to figure out what his next steps are, so he buys a car and plans to drive cross-country, and hopes that inspiration will strike and lead him to success.

Along the way, he stops in North Carolina and gets a tattoo. Shortly thereafter, he starts seeing things that don’t make sense. It turns out that the tattoo is tremendously unique, and it will give him the ability to see his parallel lives. He can choose the life he is living, or see two other possible paths he could take, and he can stay in the life he chooses. But once he makes a choice there’s no telling what will happen.

This book is so fascinating and compelling. It looks at the choices we make and the impacts those choices have on ourselves and others. It’s also a story about connection, love, and finding what—and whom—you care about. Obviously there’s some suspension of belief that’s necessary, but I just loved this.

Book Review: "The Most Likely Club" by Elyssa Friedland

It’s never too late to achieve your high school dreams.

In 1997, four best friends—Melissa, Suki, Priya, and Tara—were determined to set the world on fire after high school. Their classmates thought so, too, voting them Most Likely to Win the White House, Join the Forbes 400, Cure Cancer, and Open a Michelin-Starred Restaurant, respectively.

But as their 25th reunion approaches, while Suki has built a business empire and Priya is a doctor, no one is quite satisfied with the trajectory their lives took. Rather than let that get them down, they decide—with the support and help of each other—to finally achieve the superlatives they received in high school, or at least some success that truly brings them satisfaction.

They call themselves The Most Likely Club. But they’ll find that the path they most want to take might not be the easiest or the best, and it may take coming to terms with truths they’ve kept hidden. At least they’ll do it together.

I really enjoyed this book. I loved the nostalgic feel of looking back on your life since high school and seeing how different it is from what you thought it might be. I’m a fan of Elyssa Friedland’s books and the warmth and humor she brings to her stories—not to mention a touch of zaniness.

Thanks to Get Red PR for sending me a copy! I already have Friedland’s next book on my TBR for when it’s published!

Book Review: "The Reunion" by Kayla Olson

Can two former costars find happy ever after when their cast is reunited?

Twenty years ago, “Girl on the Verge” was the quintessential television series. And Liv, the show’s star, grew up on television, although she found it difficult to measure up to the perfection of the character she played. But while the series set her up financially, it definitely took a toll—her father died during the show’s run, and her costar and best friend, Ransom, took a step back from their relationship, leaving her hurt and betrayed.

When a streaming service decides to do a reunion show to celebrate “Girl on the Verge”'s 20th anniversary, Liv feels good about returning. Ransom is now a popular action movie star, and he’s certainly grown into a gorgeous man. Even though they haven’t seen each other in 15 years, the two quickly fall into the same groove, although the chemistry between them is more intense.

As Liv tries to decide whether to let her guard down with Ransom, she’s also trying to decide what path her future should take. Should she consider returning for a reboot of the show, or should she continue choosing films she feels strongly about. And if she decides not to do the reboot, what does that mean for any chance with Ransom?

Trying to determine what is real and what is for publicity can be difficult and nerve-wracking. Will they end up in the same place they did 15 years ago, or will this be the opportunity they both want?

I really enjoyed this. I love second-chance romances and am all about the nostalgia of a popular show reuniting. I’d love to see this made into a movie or Netflix special, because these characters were so well-described I see them in my head!!

Book Review: "The Uncommon Reader" by Alan Bennett

Boy, this novella was utterly charming and delightful!

One day when her dogs are being unruly, Queen Elizabeth leaves the grounds of Buckingham Palace to find that there’s a mobile library just outside. She decides to go inside—much to the shock of the librarian and the one other person in the library—and while she’s there, she might as well pick out a book.

She can’t remember the last time she read something for pleasure, something she didn’t have to. (One doesn’t have hobbies or pastimes as a monarch.) When she returns to the library, she again finds Norman, a young man who works in the palace kitchens. She is taken by his knowledge about books and reading, and she moves him onto her staff.

The Queen’s sudden zeal for reading doesn’t sit well with her private secretary or even the prime minister. Because her reading becomes her singular focus—she doesn’t approach appearances with her usual demeanor, she’s often late, and she always has a book with her. And the truth is, she’s frustrated most of the time because she’d rather be reading.

I thought this was just so enjoyable. The way everyone around the Queen reacts to her sudden love of reading is both funny and a little sad. While I never read this when the book was published in 2007, to read it now, not long after the Queen’s death, gives the book an added poignancy.

How can you not love a book about the love of reading?

Book Review: "Everybody Knows" by Jordan Harper

Jordan Harper's latest is a compelling thriller that reads like a movie.

“…when Mae looks at people, all she sees are secrets.”

When there’s trouble to be covered up, Mae Pruett is on the case. As a “black bag” publicist for one of the most powerful crisis PR firms in Los Angeles, she is one of the people who protects the secrets of the rich and famous, making sure the scandals and foibles are hidden or dismissed away.⁣

One day, her boss and mentor is gunned down, supposedly the victim of a random carjacking. But it was just before he was going to share information on something big he was working on. Coincidence? Mae thinks not. No matter how much she is told not to dwell on her boss’ death, she is determined to figure out what happened. But it will put her in the direct path of companies like hers, shadowy firms paid to keep things secret—no matter the cost.

Thrillers are not my go-to genre but I couldn’t get enough of this book. It read like a movie or crime series and that’s not surprising given that Harper is a television writer. He’s also an Edgar Award-winner, so I’ll definitely be checking out his backlist.

Book Review: "Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute" by Talia Hibbert

If they’re going to succeed, they’re going to have to make peace with their childhood best-friend-turned-nemesis, and maybe even themselves.

Celine has a plan for success which includes studying law at Cambridge, acing her exams, and getting an offer from a leading law firm. But first, she needs an “A” in philosophy, which should be easy—but she has to share a class with Brad.

Brad and Celine were best friends growing up—their mothers were also best friends. But as Brad became interested in sports and started to become popular, he wanted to have other friends too, although those friends might not appreciate Celine’s quirkiness or disdain for most people. So they parted ways, but not until both said hurtful things.

Of course, fate keeps throwing them together. As much as they resent each other, they also are drawn to one another. And when Celine decides to compete in a grueling outdoor expedition in order to set her on the right path to her future, her aggravation that Brad is there too dissipates when they start teaming up. Can they rekindle their friendship—or perhaps turn it into something more?

I’m a huge fan of Hibbert’s. Her Brown Sisters series was sexy, emotional, and funny, and I love the way she creates neurodiverse characters and characters dealing with other physical and emotional challenges. She did a great job portraying Brad’s OCD and his bisexuality, and captured the craziness of high school well.

Book Review: "The New Life" by Tom Crewe

The New Life is a thought-provoking, emotional look at the way society responds when its old mores are challenged.

In London in 1894, John is a writer and academic. He is also a homosexual, although married with grown daughters. His wife is aware of his orientation and his seeking satisfaction elsewhere; it’s not something she’s happy about but it’s a burden she’s willing to bear for her reputation in society.

John becomes connected with Henry, and the two collaborate on a book together, one which posits that homosexuality is natural and normal, and should not be punished or condemned. The two men have never met, and they lead different lives—John is in the midst of a not-so-secret relationship with a printer, while Henry and his wife have a nontraditional marriage, which becomes more complicated when another woman moves in to be with his wife.

The book is sure to inflame society. And just before the book is to be published, Oscar Wilde is arrested for gross indecency as a consequence of his homosexuality. That incident causes an uproar which leads to a great deal of scrutiny for John and Henry. They must decide whether to risk it all to publish the book or to accept the world isn’t ready to embrace a new way of thinking.

This is really an interesting story, poignant and very steamy in places, and it’s amazing both how much the world has changed and how much it hasn’t.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Book Review: "The Villa" by Rachel Hawkins

This book had me wanting to go to Italy on the next available flight!

You’ve probably been seeing this everywhere on Bookstagram. I know I have been anticipating this for a while, as I’m definitely a fan of Hawkins’ books.

Emily has been having a tough time lately. Her marriage has fallen apart, her health has been shaky, and she’s way overdue on delivering her 10th cozy mystery. And then there’s her childhood best friend Chess, who is creating an empire out of her self-help books, and is even pals with Oprah.

Chess suggests Emily join her on a six-week stint in Italy. She’s rented a famous villa in Orvieto which was the scene of a notorious murder of an up-and-coming musician. The night of the murder and the events surrounding it inspired both a famous horror novel written by the victim’s girlfriend, and a quintessential 1970s album written by her stepsister.

The beautiful setting does inspire Emily but it also magnifies some of the difficulties in her relationship with Chess. And as Emily becomes more obsessed with the murder and figuring out what truly happened, she realizes that there are secrets and mysteries in her own life that need solving—and they could prove dangerous.

This really never caught my interest completely. It’s not a thriller or even a mystery, but more of a drama, and while one twist actually was a bit surprising, another I predicted within the first few pages.

Many others have loved this, so maybe it’s just me.

Book Review: "Search" by Michelle Huneven

This is a quietly compelling and dramatic story of a church searching for its new minister. Plus recipes!!⁣

⁣ Dana is a restaurant critic and food writer, and a member of a fairly progressive Unitarian Universalist church in California. At one point in her life she attended seminary and had thoughts of becoming a minister, but that was when her writing career took off. But for her, the ministry has always been the path not taken.⁣

⁣ Lately, however, she’s been less enamored of attending church, despite a friendship with the minister. When he announces his retirement, Dana is asked to join the committee that will identify his replacement.⁣

⁣ In order to represent both the church’s past and its future, the committee is fairly diverse in experience, age, and tenure. Even at the outset, Dana wonders how this disparate group will ever reach a consensus, but she also realizes that this process is a tremendously rich subject for her next book.⁣

Search is told as if it were a memoir, and Dana faithfully records the tensions, enjoyable moments, and all of her concerns, about her fellow committee members, some of the candidates, even her decision not to complete her ministerial studies. The more Dana gets involved in the search, the more passionate she becomes about the church’s future and its new leader.⁣

⁣ I absolutely loved this. It’s gorgeously written, and it’s a fantastic study of human dynamics. I’m Jewish (although not observant at all), and I found the conversations about theology and philosophy to be fascinating and never heavy-handed.

And with all of the talk about amazing food and cocktails, the recipes are an excellent addition.⁣