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.⁣

Book Review: "The Locked Away Life" by Drew Davies

If you’re looking for a book to warm your heart while it chokes you up, look no further!!

Esther is an 82-year-old woman living alone in her once-grand house. She knows that the end of her life is drawing near, so she can’t stop thinking about Thackeray, her one true love. Why did he betray her? Where is he now?

The answer may very well be found online, or as Esther refers to it, the Inter-Net. But how to navigate that scary world? She places an advertisement looking for someone to help her, and it is answered by Bruno.

Bruno is 18 and feels like an outsider in his life. He’s interested in this opportunity so he can make the money he needs to escape and make the changes to his life he desperately wants.

The two form the most unlikely friendship, brought together by the secrets each has and the feelings of loneliness. But can they make each other see how special they are, just how they are?

This really was a beautiful book. It deals with some pretty heavy issues but it’s just so charming at the same time. These characters were really special.

Book Review: "Ms. Demeanor" by Elinor Lipman

Elinor Lipman's new book is an absolutely charming story about a woman’s efforts to repair her life after it falls apart.

Jane is a hardworking lawyer, highly respected in her firm. One night, running into a younger colleague leads to a night of drinking, flirting, and late-night sex on the rooftop deck of her NYC apartment building. Of course, it just so happens that a neighbor from the building across the street is looking at the roof with her binoculars—and she calls the police.

While she and her colleague get arrested, Jane is made an example of, and is sentenced to six months of house arrest, gets fired from her job, and has her law license suspended. What should she do now? Her twin sister tries to come up with ideas to keep Jane busy and keep from being bitter.

When the doorman of her building lets slip that there’s another tenant on house arrest, Jane strikes up a friendship with Perry, a white-collar criminal and former art handler. The two of them commiserate over their punishment and the way so many in their lives have abandoned them.

And then the police come knocking on Jane’s door again. Before she knows it she’s entangled in the lives of minor Polish royalty and another one of her neighbors…and is there a chance at romance?

I really loved this. It was funny, thought-provoking, emotional, and romantic. A real surprise just how much I loved the banter, the family dysfunction, all of it.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Book Review: "Sam" by Allegra Goodman

Sam is a poignant coming-of-age story about a young girl as she grows into adulthood.

“There is a girl, and her name is Sam. She has a mother named Courtney and a dad who is sort of around, sort of not. He lives ten minutes away, but he is not always home.”

When Allegra Goodman’s new novel begins, Sam is an energetic, curious seven-year-old being raised by her single mother. As her mother struggles to support Sam and her younger brother, she always stresses to Sam the importance of doing well in school so she can go to college, get a good job, and have a more comfortable life.

But what Sam loves more than anything is climbing—shimmying up the doorframes of her house, racing to the top of the monkey bars, climbing trees, even scaling the sides of buildings. And when her often-absent father takes her to a climbing gym, she is hooked. She dreams of becoming a champion, of taking climbing trips with her dad.

As she becomes a teenager and grows toward womanhood, she’s a loner who doesn’t care about being liked. She just cares about climbing. She resents her father’s constant disappearances and her mother’s demands. She’s unsure of how to handle her climbing coach’s attention. And after high school, she tries to figure out whether to follow her mother’s wishes and pursue a degree in accounting, or if she should find her own path.

There are moments of real joy and emotion in this book, as Sam tries to deal with the various emotions and people she encounters. I love the way Goodman writes but at times I struggled to connect with the story.

Book Review: "Locust Lane" by Stephen Amidon

Secrets and lies surface in a small town in this compelling story by Stephen Amidon.

When Eden Perry is found murdered, the incident sends shockwaves through the small town of Emerson, Massachusetts. These things don’t often happen in the wealthy part of town; in fact, she wasn’t even from Emerson, but had been living with a local couple as a caregiver.

A suspect is quickly identified and a case begins to take shape. But are things as clear-cut as they appear? It turns out that three teenagers were partying with Eden that night—Jack, the handsome, privileged son of a powerful family, who’s known for his manipulation; Christopher, a shy newcomer to Emerson, just hoping to fit in; and Hannah, Jack’s girlfriend, sweet but easily swayed.

All three teens were acting strangely the night Eden was murdered. It’s not long before stories change and accusations fly, and the parents of the teens try to manipulate the situation to protect their children. Will justice be served?

This is one of those twisty stories that happens far too often in real life. No one in this book is particularly likable, but I was hooked by the domestic drama.

Thanks to Celadon Books for the advance copy!

Sunday, January 1, 2023

The Best Books I Read in 2022...

Well, Happy New Year! I'm actually a little in shock that it's 2023 already, although I'm more than happy to kick 2022 out the door. This was a really difficult year, emotionally, professionally (for the first quarter of the year), and personally, but thanks to 4 months of unemployment and 2 bouts of COVID, I got lots and lots of reading done: in fact, I read 372 books for the second year in a row! (That was on purpose—as I got closer to reaching my total from last year, I pulled out all of the stops to match that.)

Every year I pull together a list of the best books I read. It's really difficult to look back on a year of reading and narrow it down, especially when you've read as much I have. So I've put together a top 25, followed by a list of 20 books that were still too good not to mention. The title of each book is linked to my original review.

As always, I'd love your thoughts on what you loved reading this year!

The Top 25

1. Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus: A beautiful story about love and family and standing up for what is right, but also about the unfairness of society towards anyone who doesn’t fit a specific mold, particularly in the 1960s.

2. Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt: An absolutely fantastic, beautiful story about friendship, family, and second chances which will make me look at aquatic creatures a little closer the next time I’m at the aquarium!

3. The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston: Take a love story, add friendship, grief, and self-discovery, and throw in some ghosts, and you’ll get this amazing book that totally stole my heart.

4. Self-Made Boys by Anna-Marie McLemore: The Great Gatsby, but make it queer and YA. (And this is one of two Gatsby retellings on my list!)

5. Book Lovers by Emily Henry: This is a terrific rom-com but there’s so much more to it, as two people realize they don’t have to sacrifice their own happiness to be someone’s hero.⁣

6. A Quiet Life by Ethan Joella: Like the title says, it’s a quiet story, about love, about overcoming grief and taking tentative steps toward something new, and about our desperate need for connection, especially in times of trouble.

7. One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle: Rebecca Serle’s books hit me in a place that few others do. She deals with grief and love and choices and desires, and bends the concept of reality slightly, which might not work for everyone, but it definitely works for me.

8. Look Closer by David Ellis: A twisty thriller that hooked me from the very start and never let go. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, Ellis flipped the script time and again. If you love twisty thrillers that keep you guessing, pick this one up!!

9. The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna: I wasn’t expecting a book to fill my heart so much. This book is so full of joy and love, of chosen family, diversity, and the feeling of being totally yourself for the first time, and it feels like a gigantic hug.

10. When You Call My Name by Tucker Shaw: This is such a beautiful book, one that so accurately captures the mood of 1990, the sadness, defiance, anger, and fear that pervaded the LGBTQ community at that time. It’s about the power of friendship, love, chosen and blood family, and finally finding yourself.