Friday, June 30, 2023

Book Review: "The True Love Experiment" by Christina Lauren

I couldn’t have loved this more if I tried!

Felicity “Fizzy” Chen is a famous romance novelist who loses her mojo—both creative and romantic—when she realizes she’s never had the all-consuming love she writes about. Sure, she’s had relationships and some steamy, no-holds-barred sex, but she’s never truly felt love, so she feels like a fraud. And she might have shared those thoughts. Publicly.

Connor Prince is a documentary filmmaker focused on the environment. He and his ex-wife share custody of their 10-year-old daughter and he is a devoted father. When his boss tells him he needs to create a successful dating reality show in order to keep his job, he’s thrown for a loop.

But when he discovers how popular romance novels are (and particularly, Fizzy's novels), an idea is born: how about a show where the audience watches Fizzy interact with different men, and hopefully fall in love with one of them? At first, Fizzy wants nothing to do with the show, so she makes all sorts of unrealistic demands about casting and everything else. And Connor meets nearly every single one. So now she’s trapped into doing the show.

As Connor helps Fizzy get ready for the show, the two become close friends. Both find themselves wanting more, but know it could be disastrous, especially for Connor. But how can he watch her flirt with other men, much less fall in love with one?

This was another fantastic Christina Lauren book. I loved Fizzy in The Soulmate Equation, and it was so good to see her in her own book!

Book Review: "Hi Honey, I'm Homo! Sitcoms, Specials, and the Queering of American Culture" by Matt Baume

While I watch very little television now, I was a television addict from the 1970s into the early 2000s. I still remember some episodes from my favorite sitcoms, and definitely had nights when we watched certain programs. (My Saturday nights growing up were ruled by The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.)

Although I didn’t fully come to terms with being gay until my late teens/early 20s, I definitely knew I was different earlier. (Case in point: constantly rewinding the swimming competitions in Battle of the Network Stars, which featured television actors in speedos.) But the way gay characters were portrayed on television (even when they weren’t explicitly labeled “gay”) fell into every bad stereotype there was. How could I be gay if I wasn’t like that?

Whether you’re a television savant like I am, a fan of reading about television and its impact on society, or just curious about how the portrayal of queer characters has changed over time, Matt Baume’s book is a fascinating and well-researched read. It looks at programs from All in the Family, Soap, The Golden Girls, and Ellen,” to Friends, Will & Grace, and Modern Family. It also briefly touches on celebrities like Paul Lynde, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Rip Taylor, their campiness and double entendres, which I absolutely did not understand back then.

Baume juxtaposes the changing tide of television relative to the portrayal of gay characters with the prevailing attitudes of society, as well as the movements toward and against equal rights. I learned some new things and some things definitely jogged my memory.

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction but this was a great read for Pride. Plus, I only caught one error, because I’m a savant!!

Book Review: "The Five-Star Weekend" by Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand’s excellent new book is such an easy and compelling read, full of drama, secrets, resentments, and friendship. I’ve never been to Nantucket, but every time I read one of her books, I’m ready to take off.

Hollis was born and raised in a small cottage on Nantucket, but while her best friends were content to stay near home, she wanted to get away, and went to North Carolina for college. That changed everything. Shortly after, she met Matthew, a doctor from the Boston area, and they got married and raised a child.

Now Hollis is one of the dreaded “summer” people. But she’s also grown a digital following with her popular food blog, Hungry with Hollis. While countless fans want to emulate her and cook like her, it’s put a strain on her marriage and her relationship with her daughter, Caroline.

When Matthew dies unexpectedly after they get into an argument and he leaves for the airport, Hollis is devastated. She tries to pick up the pieces but is finding it difficult to do so, especially with Caroline. Inspired by a woman she read about, Hollis decides to hold a “five-star weekend,” where she’ll invite friends from each phase of her life.

She invites Tatum, her high school best friend, who has always resented Hollis’ wanting more; Dru-Ann, her best friend from college, now a popular sports agent and TV host; Brooke, an off-island friend who is needy and insecure; and Gigi, a woman with whom Hollis connected on her blog but has never met. While the agenda for the weekend is full, each woman has her own problems and secrets which will be revealed.

I was seriously hooked on this story. And holy heck, did it make me hungry!!

Book Review: "The Language of Love and Loss" by Bart Yates

This was such an excellent, moving book about family—blood and chosen—as well as secrets and second chances. Bart Yates is such a talented storyteller and I was completely hooked from start to finish.

It’s been a while since he’s returned to his sleepy New Hampshire hometown, but Noah has been summoned by his mother, Virginia, who is New Hampshire’s Poet Laureate. They love each other, but their relationship has always been fraught with emotions and anger because they’re so similar, both being temperamental artists.

Virginia has bad news about her health, which throws Noah for a loop, and she has two requests for him: move home to New Hampshire and help her find the daughter she gave up for adoption when she was very young. He can’t imagine doing the first, and although he’s reluctant to help with the second, he realizes how much it would mean to his mother.

As if dealing with the discovery of a whole extended family wasn’t enough, he also has to deal with his unresolved feelings toward his one true love, J.D., with whom he grew up but pushed away. J.D. is now married and his husband doesn’t like Noah much—but given his constant penchant for sarcasm, that’s no surprise.

Other than one scene between Noah and his cousin, which creeped me out a bit and felt totally unnecessary, this book hit all the right notes. Just a beautiful story.

Book Review: "The Wishing Game" by Meg Shaffer

Friends, I think I’ve found one of my favorite books of the year!! When my dear friend Amy Clark raved about this book several months ago, I had to read it. And honestly, it was so incredible on every level—it’s a beautiful exploration of chosen family, the power of wishes and dreams, and what comfort books can provide.

Jack Masterson was the reclusive, prolific author of a bestselling fantasy/adventure series, the Clock Island books. It’s been years since he’s published anything, but suddenly the world is taken by storm when he announces he’s written a new book. Not only that, but he’s invited four fans to his home on the actual Clock Island to compete and win the one and only copy of the book.

Lucy is one of those fans. Now a teacher’s aide, her dream is to adopt Christopher, a foster child she tutors. But adoption requires money and stability, much more than Lucy has. She refuses to give up, and she knows winning the book could set her and Christopher on the right path.

There’s so much more to this book than meets the eye, so I'm keeping this review deliberately vague. It really resonated for me in more ways than I’d care to admit. I won’t stop thinking about this anytime soon!!

Book Review: "Open Throat" by Henry Hoke

This was honestly one of the most unique and creative books I’ve read in quite a while, and I don’t think I’ll forget it anytime soon.

Open Throat is narrated by a mountain lion who lives in the hills under the Hollywood sign. It’s difficult to be a creature living in the wild when you’re smart enough not to get caught, but in the drought-ridden world, finding food and water proves a challenge even for the most cunning of hunters.

The lion is lonely. They spend a lot of time listening to hikers and others pass by, talking about therapy, relationships, ambition, and lots of other things the lion doesn’t understand. They also dream of their father, who was brutally violent, and the life they wish they could live.

When a forest fire started purposely flushes the lion out of the hills, they find themselves having to go to the city of “ellay,” as the hikers call it. And from there, the lion is tempted by their true nature as well as the desire to become more human, to be cared for.

All of the descriptions of this book refer to the lion as queer. There isn’t anything in the text that leads you to that conclusion, so I’m wondering if it’s more of a metaphor, that the lion—like LGBTQIA+ people in many places—is fine as long as they stay hidden and behave in an acceptable way.

Maybe I’m overthinking, but this was fascinating. Thanks to MCD x FSG for the advance copy!

Book Review: "We Could Be So Good" by Cat Sebastian

I don’t know if it’s clinically possible, but I feel like this book made my heart grow two sizes larger.

Nick Russo is a talented reporter for the New York Chronicle in the late 1950s. He’s always wanted to be a reporter, and has worked his way up from a rough childhood. But that’s not his only struggle—he’s a closeted gay man at a time when being discovered could lead to his losing his job, going to jail, and even death.

“But he’s twenty-five and he’s already so tired. He’s so careful, all the time, about everything, from not letting himself look too long at other men to being almost paranoid about who he picks up.”

When Andy Fleming, the son of the publisher, starts working at the paper, it’s clear to everyone that he’s biding his time. Of course, Nick is immediately attracted to Andy, despite all the reasons why he shouldn’t be. Although Andy turns out to be a good reporter (even if he’s being groomed to take over as publisher), he’s also a bit of an absent-minded klutz, and Nick can’t help but want to take care of him.

Little by little, their friendship deepens, although Nick knows it’s just a matter of time before Andy finds a woman to settle down with. But somehow, they both seem to fall for each other, although how can they hope for a happy ever after?

This was such a fantastic book, full of self-discovery, romance, tension, and a good dash of history. I couldn’t get enough of these characters!!

Book Review: "Pageboy" by Elliot Page

I read very few celebrity memoirs, but when I heard that Elliot Page had written a book about his journey from struggling with being queer to the realization and acceptance of his identity as a trans man, I knew it was the perfect read for Pride Month.

Raised by divorced parents, verbally and emotionally abused by his stepmother and stepsiblings, Elliot had a rich fantasy life. He really wanted to be a boy, and often insisted on wearing boyish clothes and short hair. But as he grew older, his mother was less supportive of what she saw as merely tomboyish qualities.

He turned to acting as an escape from reality. At times it was frustrating that he had to wear dresses for the female characters he played. But as success grew—including an Oscar nomination for Juno—he found himself being forced into the role of quirky actress, and forced to hide who he truly was.

This was a terrific book, full of emotion, uncomfortable moments (for Elliot), sadness, and jubilant self-acceptance. There’s even a little Hollywood gossip.

“The act of writing, reading, and sharing the multitude of our experiences is an important step in standing up to those who wish to silence us. I’ve nothing new or profound to say, nothing that hasn’t been said before, but I know books have helped me, saved me even, so perhaps this can help someone feel less alone, seen, no matter who they are or what journey they are on.“

Book Review: "Same Time Next Summer" by Annabel Monaghan

Growing up, Sam used to spend every summer at her family’s Long Island beach house. It was an idyllic time—she learned to surf, and she fell in love for the first time with Wyatt, whose family lived next door. Wyatt and Sam spent nearly every minute together, until a discovery changed everything and he broke her heart.

Thirteen years later, the beach hasn’t been much of a refuge for Sam, but she comes to visit with her fiancé, Jack, to look at a possible wedding venue. Her life is much more organized and together now, as Jack, a handsome doctor, thrives on routines. She tries not to be thrown when she learns that Wyatt is in town, too, but he’s still a significant part of her family despite all that happened in the past.

While she tries to focus on her future, Sam keeps getting stuck in the past, since not much has changed. Wyatt still plays guitar in the treehouse, and still makes her heart race. She can’t help but relive the memories—the good and bad.

The book alternates between past and present, switching narration between Sam and Wyatt. It’s a familiar story with a few twists, and Monaghan’s writing is evocative and emotional. In a theme that has been quite familiar for me this year, I absolutely loved Monaghan's first book, Nora Goes Off Script, so my expectations for this book were very high. And while I enjoyed it, I just felt as if it moved really slowly as both the past and present storylines unfolded.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Book Review: "The Seven Year Slip" by Ashley Poston

Ashley Poston’s The Dead Romantics was one of my top three favorite books last year. And now, The Seven Year Slip is definitely a contender for a similar position in 2023!

First things first: if you’re not a fan of magical realism and weird time loop-ish storylines, you may not enjoy this. But I couldn’t get enough.

Clementine has been mourning the death of her larger-than-life aunt Analea, with whom she shared many adventures and stories since childhood. Analea believed sadness and ennui could be cured by picking up your passport and traveling somewhere exotic. Her aunt’s loss is devastating, and even though she left Clementine her apartment, she’s finding it difficult to imagine living there without her.

One day she arrives home at her apartment to find a handsome man, Iwan. He has a Southern drawl and a love of cooking. He says he’s the son of her aunt’s friend, and her aunt said he could sublet the apartment for the summer. Then Clementine realizes that he exists in the past. Seven years in the past. And she lives seven years in his future.

Analea told Clementine that the apartment was a pinch in time–a place where the past and present sometimes combined in strange ways. There was no rhyme or reason to when this would happen, but how do you stop your heart from falling for the person who seems to complete you? And when she finds Iwan in her present, what will happen?

Poston definitely knows how to hit all of my buttons. I loved this story so much, and it left me a complete puddle of emotions. I hope others love it as much as I did!

Many thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for an advance copy of this amazing book. It will publish 6/27.