Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Book Review: "How We Named the Stars" by Andrés N. Ordorica

“I thought about how, for so much of my life, I’d survived by staying quiet, making myself small enough to fly under the radar. I decided then that I no longer wanted to be quiet. I wanted to be loud and colorful and every piece of myself at any one time.”

Daniel is a scholarship student at a prestigious college in upstate New York. He is the first in his family to go to college, and the pressure to live up to the hopes and expectations of his parents and grandfather, who left Mexico before he was born. Daniel is also ready to be the person he’s always known he should be, someone confident and comfortable with his sexuality.

It’s not long before their easy friendship evolves into something sexual, but Sam isn’t quite able to give Daniel all he wants from a relationship. At the end of freshman year they go their separate ways, and Daniel is without Sam. And when an unspeakable tragedy occurs, Daniel must figure out how to cope. So he spends the summer in Mexico with his grandfather, learning more about his late uncle Daniel, for whom he was named and who, it seems, was quite similar to him.

This was gorgeous, emotional, and so moving. It’s incredible that this is a debut novel. I honestly hadn't heard of this book until shortly before I picked it up, and I'm so thankful for that! I fell in love with everything it made me think and feel.

Book Review: "Emergency Contact" by Lauren Layne and Anthony Ledonne

It's Christmas in New York, a time almost everyone loves. Except Katherine, an exceptionally ambitious attorney, who is hoping this will be the year all of her hard work comes to fruition and she'll be made a partner. Trying to dodge the tourists clogging the streets, she winds up sustaining a concussion and getting rushed to the hospital.

But that's not the worst part, as when she wakes up in the hospital she discovers that she never updated her emergency contact information, so her ex-husband Tom gets the call. And as much as the end of their marriage was rancorous, Tom is a good guy, and wants to be sure that Katherine is okay. When the doctors say she can't be left alone for 48 hours, and needs help dealing with a wound in her back, the only solution is that she must travel with Tom to his family's home in Chicago for Christmas. While Katherine misses Tom's family (and they miss her), the last thing she wants is to be stuck with him, especially when she learns he's planning to propose to his girlfriend on Christmas Eve, which is a family tradition.

Wouldn't you know it, though? Tom and Katherine confront obstacle after obstacle trying to get from New York to Chicago. Everything that can go wrong will, and Katherine is desperate to be available in case her boss calls to promote her to partner. While tensions run high as the two replay old arguments that led to their divorce, Katherine tries to be as helpful as possible in helping Tom get home in time to propose. But of course, the more time they spend together, the more their old feelings for one another ignite. What's more possible: a second chance at love, or a completely fresh start?

Lauren Layne has become an auto-buy author for me, and I love the way she balances romance, humor, and banter, and she creates really memorable characters. In Emergency Contact, she teamed up with her real-life husband (and high school sweetheart), comedian Anthony Ledonne, and the end result was definitely both "rom" and "com." Can't wait for her next book!

Book Review: "Listen for the Lie" by Amy Tintera

Maybe I needed some time away from reading thrillers to appreciate them, because this month I have read some fantastic ones! Many thanks to Celadon Books for the advance copy of this one!

Several years ago following a wedding, Lucy is found wandering around, covered in blood, and her best friend Savvy is dead. Lucy has no memory of what happened but her family and much of her hometown is convinced that she murdered Savvy. With no way to prove her innocence (or guilt), Lucy heads to Los Angeles to start a new life.

And then her purported involvement in Savvy’s death becomes the topic of a true crime podcast. The host seems pretty convinced of Lucy’s guilt. When she returns home for the first time since the murder, nearly everyone agrees. But when she meets Ben, the handsome (and immensely smug) podcast host, she’s determined to help him find the truth—even if it proves her guilt.

As she struggles to remember what happened that night, she finds that no one has been entirely honest about what they know or what they saw. While painful memories are dredged up, there’s still enough uncertainty for Lucy to wonder if she might really be guilty.

This was such a fantastic book. Lucy is snarky and flawed and amazing, and there are so many times that I really had no idea what the ending would be. You will definitely want to read this!

The book publishes 3/5.

Book Review: "The Rachel Incident" by Caroline O'Donoghue

I’ve been wanting to read this since it came out last year, and I’m so glad I finally did. What a great book!

Rachel is a university student in Cork city who takes a job at a bookstore. It is there she meets James, who is effortlessly funny and always good for a laugh or even a shoulder to cry on. It’s not long before they become inseparable best friends, moving in together and helping each other through the everyday angst in their lives.

When Rachel develops a crush on Fred Byrne, one of her professors, it is James who comes up with a scheme by which she can seduce him. But things don’t work out the way they planned, and events are set into motion that have a ripple effect on all of their lives, as well as the life of Deenie, Fred’s wife.

The Rachel Incident mostly takes place in the late 2000s and early 2010s, as Ireland deals with the recession as well as the fight for abortion rights. At times it flashes forward to the present, with Rachel’s narration giving some clues to the future, but leaving most of it for you to unfold.

There’s nothing quite like the angst and stress of your early 20s, navigating love, sex, relationships, career plans, and family. This book so accurately captures those emotions, the drunken nights, the arguments over nothing, the fear you’ll be left behind by life and love. It’s so beautifully written, and though it is more of a slow-burn, character-driven novel, I felt very invested in the story.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Book Review: "Most Ardently: A Pride & Prejudice Remix" by Gabe Cole Novoa

As many of you know, I love a good retelling, and boy, did I absolutely love this one! This book is part of a series called Remixed Classics, in which authors from marginalized backgrounds reinterpret classic works through their own cultural lens to subvert the overwhelming cishet, white, and male canon. (Two years ago, Self-Made Boys, a retelling of The Great Gatsby, was in my top 5 favorite books.)

Oliver Bennet longs for a life different than the one he is stuck in, a life away from gowns, corsets, and the pressures of society. Because Oliver is known to the majority of his family and friends as Elizabeth, and he is expected to dance at balls, flirt coquettishly, and act like a lady, in order to attract a suitable husband. Oliver has no desire to live his life as someone he is not; he cannot imagine life married to someone who wants to suppress his true identity and his spirit.

While his mother is desperate to marry off all of her daughters, Oliver resists every attempt. Sometimes he is able to sneak out of his house dressed in the way he feels most comfortable, as a young gentleman. And on one of his outings, he runs into Darcy, the handsome young man who is a close friend of Bingley, of whom Oliver's sister Jane is enamored. Oliver is shocked that Darcy is sensitive, intelligent, and enjoyable company, especially since he was rude to "Elizabeth" at a ball.

The more time Oliver spends with Darcy, the more he starts to believe he might be able to have the life—and love—he truly wants. But as some suitors become more persistent, and even threaten to reveal Oliver's true identity to his family, he has to decide whether to follow his heart and risk disgracing his family, or living the life that society expects "Elizabeth" to.

I am a huge fan of Pride & Prejudice and this "remix" hit all of the right notes. Gabe Cole Novoa did such an incredible job with this book. My heart swelled, I got teared up, and immediately needed to watch the film version of the original book, in which Colin Firth looked immensely delicious. Many thanks to NetGalley and Feiwel & Friends for an advance copy of the book!

Book Review: "The Heiress" by Rachel Hawkins

Over the last several years, Rachel Hawkins has become an auto-buy author for me. While her last book, The Villa, didn't quite work for me, her newest book is definitely a home run. It’s so twisted and gothic!

In the tiny North Carolina town of Tavistock, Ruby McTavish Callahan Woodward Miller Kenmore was as close to royalty as you could get. She was the state’s richest woman and perhaps one of the most notorious, as she was kidnapped as a very young child, and was married (and widowed) four times. Ruby's family estate, Ashby House, was the envy of both other family members and complete strangers.

When Ruby dies, her entire estate goes to Cam, her adopted son. But after years of living under Ruby’s thumb and dealing with the enmity of relatives who believe they were entitled to the inheritance, Cam leaves the house, money, and family behind, working as a teacher in Colorado and marrying Jules, a former actress who also escaped her own past.

But 10 years later, the death of Cam’s uncle summons him and Jules back to Ashby House. It’s not long before he is reminded of why he escaped, and dealing with resentful relatives is exhausting. But there are so many secrets hiding amidst the ornate decor and beautiful views, secrets that could change the course of everyone’s lives. Who is keeping which secrets, and how will they use them?

The plot may seem familiar, shifting between past and present, but Hawkins does such a phenomenal job getting you hooked quickly. I seriously couldn’t put this down, and can’t wait for her next book!

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Book Review: "You Only Call When You're in Trouble" by Stephen McCauley

From the moment their father died when Tom was in college, he has taken care of his sister Dorothy. He’s bailed her out when business ideas have gone wrong, and he’s been a father figure to his niece, Cecily.

Now in his early 60s, with his job as an architect at a risk when a client has second thoughts about building a guest house, Tom is ready to stop putting his family first. That tendency has cost him too much, including his relationship with his boyfriend.

But Cecily once again has multiple crises brewing, so she turns to Tom for help. She’s the target of a Title IX investigation at the college where she teaches, and her instability is wreaking havoc on her relationship with her boyfriend. To top it all off, her mother wants to reveal after all this time who Cecily’s father is. (Well, she wants Tom to reveal it, but…)

Things come to a head at a gala to celebrate Dorothy’s latest business scheme. Secrets will be revealed, friendships will be tested, and the ties of family will be stretched to the limit. How much longer can they fall back into their usual behavioral patterns.

I have been a fan of Stephen McCauley since I fell in love with his debut, The Object of My Affection. This book is funny, warm, and emotional, but it’s also a little overstuffed with characters, when it could’ve simply concentrated on the stories at its core. Regardless, however, I’ll read whatever he serves up.

Book Review: "Songs on Endless Repeat: Essays and Outtakes" by Anthony Veasna So

In 2021, Anthony Veasna So’s debut, Afterparties, was published to great acclaim. His stories about the children of Cambodian immigrants living in California dealt with issues of culture and sexuality, and were really fantastic. Sadly, however, So never got to see the response to his book; he died of an accidental drug overdose in December 2020. He was only 28.

In addition to his fiction, So wrote and published a number of essays. These were collected, along with a number of linked chapters of unpublished fiction, and recently released as Songs on Endless Repeat. The combination of essays and fiction really demonstrate the depth of his talent and the tragedy of his death.

So’s essays are funny, thought-provoking, fascinating, and emotional. He touches on what the film version of Crazy Rich Asians meant for the depiction of Asians in the movies, his love of and struggles with reading, and in the strongest essay in the book, he reflects on his grief following a close friend’s suicide. (The words are especially poignant in the light of So’s death.) The fiction is chapters from an unpublished novel called Straight Thru Cambotown,” in which three Cambodian-American cousins stand to inherit their late aunt’s loan shark business. It’s funny and insightful.

I had worried that this book would be a collection of writings that So never felt compelled to publish, but that’s not true. It's some really good stuff. With this book and Afterparties, at least his talent and his voice can live on.

Book Review: "The Fury" by Alex Michaelides

Many thanks to Celadon Books for the free copy!

“I knew what happened. I was there. Who am I? Well, I am the narrator of this tale—and also a character in it. There were seven of us in all, trapped on the island. One of us was a murderer.”

How do you feel about unreliable narrators? If your answer is, “I hate them,” then this is not the book for you. Suffice it to say that the story was deviously twisty, it doubles and triples back on itself more than a few times, and just when you think you’ve figured it out, you haven’t.

So much has been written about this book on Bookstagram and other review sites, so I won’t share a plot summary. But this is a tale of love, betrayal, guilt, murder, and dealing with one’s demons. I found it frustrating at times, especially because none of the characters are particularly likable, but I couldn’t put it down at all. Alex Michaelides takes you on another wild ride, like he did in The Silent Patient and The Maidens.

Book Review: "All Good People Here" by Ashley Flowers

This is my first backlist read (a book published more than a year ago) of 2024, so please clap!

Margot is now a big-city journalist, but she grew up in the small town of Wakarusa, Indiana, where keeping up appearances was vital. When Margot was six years old, her next-door neighbor and playmate, January Jacobs, went missing from her home and was found dead shortly after. It’s always been a memory that has weighed on Margot’s mind, because she has wondered what made January's killer choose her and not Margot.

Twenty years later, Margot returns to town to help her uncle, who was recently diagnosed with early-onset dementia. She finds not much has changed in Wakarusa—everyone still knows everyone’s business. But when a five-year-old girl disappears from the neighboring town and the circumstances seem eerily similar to January’s disappearance, Margot is determined to uncover the connections between the two. But with no one in town willing to talk, and everyone—including her uncle—keeping secrets, is it worth stirring up the past? Is the connection real or imagined?

I enjoyed much of this book, but then so many things started happening at once and it became hard to follow. And then the ending was far too abrupt. It was disappointing because I really was hoping things would tie up differently. I will say that Ashley Flowers (and, apparently, her ghostwriters) definitely captured the small-town feel of the setting.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Book Review: "Devils at the Door" by Tessa Wegert

One of my favorite mystery series in recent years has been Tessa Wegert's featuring New York State senior police investigator Shana Merchant. Shana has been through a lot over the last few years, both personally and professionally, and still bears the physical and emotional scars of that trauma. But she's definitely no victim; she's a complex, flawed character who isn't above following her own path despite what she's told by her superiors.

When the book (the fifth in the series) begins, Shana's older brother Doug calls to share concerns about his teenage daughter, Henrietta, who has gone from being a cheerful and popular 16-year-old to a rebellious, morose troublemaker, getting drunk and crashing his car. Doug hopes that if Hen spends a few months with Shana and her fiancé (and colleague), Tim, that she'll be back to her old self in no time. But Shana is shocked at just how much Hen has changed, how sullen and manipulative she has become, and her presence creates tension between Shana and Tim.

It's not long before Shana discovers some of her possessions are missing, and Hen is sneaking out at night. And while she starts to despair if Alexandria Bay is the right place for her niece, late one night she is called to Devil's Oven, a remote island that used to be a popular hangout for area teens, as a drowning has been reported. It turns out the victim is a local teenager, and as Shana tries to make sense of what happened, she makes two disturbing discoveries—she finds two other teenagers on another part of the island who don't seem the least bit concerned about the drowning, and she also finds Hen at the scene of the crime. Apparently Hen tried to rescue the young man, to no avail.

As the investigation proceeds, and neither Hen nor her friends will share much information about what happened that night, Shana is forced to recuse herself given Hen's involvement. And when a new investigator comes to town, Shana worries that her niece may become a suspect rather than simply a witness. She is determined to uncover the truth despite the scrutiny she's under, and she discovers a web of secrets that could rock their small town, as well as just how much her family's own secrets still trail her.

I love the way Wegert writes, and I have become so enamored of this community she has created. While frustrating at times, Shana is an absolutely fascinating character, and I really enjoy Tim and the other supporting characters I feel I have come to "know" through this series. I hope we get to see more of Shana and spend more time in A-Bay!

Book Review: "Interesting Facts about Space" by Emily Austin

Quirky characters have been all the rage, particularly in the years since the release of books like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Sometimes the quirkiness is understandable; sometimes I feel if authors create this type of character simply to provide a vehicle for bizarre habits or behavior.

Enid is a young woman who counts among her hobbies “listening to murder stories, having casual lesbian sex, and telling my mom interesting facts about space.” She has an inexplicable fear of bald men, she’s deaf in one ear, and she’s tentatively approaching a relationship with her two half-sisters, born after her father left her mother for another woman.

But Enid also feels like she’s losing her grip, perhaps unsurprisingly given her mother’s struggles with depression. Enid grows increasingly convinced there is someone following her and trying to break into her apartment. Clearly she has some repressed trauma in her life, because why else is she experiencing these feelings?

This is a tough book with a number of emotional triggers. But it’s also a beautifully written character study, which is at turns bleak and hopeful. Others have loved this more than I did, but I’m glad I read it.

The book will publish 1/30/2024.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Book Review: "Old Crimes: and Other Stories" by Jill McCorkle

This is my first story collection of 2024. I love reading short stories but I’ve become very particular about them. The ones that work best for me feel more like mini-novels, in the sense that they have well-developed characters and a plot that doesn’t leave me hanging.

With Jill McCorkle’s newest story collection, Old Crimes,” I needed a few stories before it hooked me. But once it did, I could see a number of the stories which would make great novels on their own.

Some of the stories in this collection deal with familiar, everyday situations—a woman and her mother fighting over differing points of view about religion and other hot-button issues; a group of women who meet regularly to lament about the man they all have in common; a woman dealing with growing older and reflecting on her difficult husband. But other stories are built on interesting concepts—a couple buys an antique confessional and it becomes much more than a piece of furniture; a man rents a small apartment above a gas station built in what used to be his grandparents’ house; a couple vacations with their adult children and deals with all of the drama accumulated through the years.

Not all of the characters in McCorkle’s stories are likable or even sympathetic, but many of the stories really resonated emotionally for me. There were familiar themes—growing older, feeling dissatisfied with your life, feeling alone, dealing with the decline or death of loved ones. It’s not a perfect collection, but it moved me.

Book Review: "First Lie Wins" by Ashley Elston

Wow, this was so good! Many of you know I'm not that big on thrillers, but I absolutely devoured this!

Evie Porter recently moved to a small Louisiana town and she has a handsome, devoted boyfriend, Ryan. She recently met (and was interrogated by) a number of his closest female friends, who want to know everything about her and her intentions toward their friend. How did they meet? Where is she from? What does she do for a living? Where is she currently living? The questions go on and on.

While Evie's interaction with Ryan's friends is somewhat unnerving, part of her understands their vigilance. But the fact is, Evie Porter doesn't really exist. This is an identity given to her by her mysterious boss, Mr. Smith. After she gets her identity and a location, she learns everything there is to know about "her" background and the town she is sent to. Then she gets her mark—in this case, it's Ryan—and then she awaits information on the job.

She doesn't know the true identity of Mr. Smith, and rarely knows who his clients are. And as she waits to find out what her assignment is, her feelings for Ryan are quickly intensifying and becoming real, and she starts to envision a different kind of life, and that's a problem. But given that her last job didn't wrap up the way it was supposed to, she's under significant scrutiny this time.

The one salvation she's always had is her real identity. It's always been a beacon for her, a fallback plan. So imagine her surprise when someone claiming to be that individual—her—comes to town and knows her background backwards and forwards. Is this a warning to Evie, or is it a more direct threat? She relishes a challenge, but it's going to take everything in her arsenal to find a way forward.

I loved this book. What's even more amazing to me is that this is Ashley Elston's adult debut—she's previously only written YA novels. (One of which, 10 Blind Dates, was absolutely adorable.) But the plotting, the twists, the tension in this book all were spot-on. Can't wait to see what she does next!

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Book Review: "Heartstopper #5" by Alice Oseman

The sweetest graphic novel series is back! It seems like forever since we've had a dose of Nick and Charlie's young love (in print, at least), so I've been waiting for this installment for a while. And it's just as heartwarming as its predecessors.

Nick and Charlie have finally conquered their fears about saying "I love you" to one another, and now they're both starting to think about taking their relationship to the next level. Are their friends telling the truth when they say they've had sex, or are they embellishing the truth in order to seem cool? And are both Nick and Charlie ready, or is one more ready than the other? As they start to prepare for that special moment, they also need to convince their parents they're mature enough to spend the night at one of their houses.

At the same time, Nick is growing anxious about his future, as he needs to think about applying to university. He isn't even sure what he wants to do with his life, but he's thinking he should attend a nearby school so he won't be too far from his mom or Charlie. But taking a university tour with some friends, he realizes that maybe he should choose the school he likes the best, regardless of the distance. Will that be an issue for his relationship with Charlie?

Not a lot happens in this book, but I think its main purpose is to serve as a bridge to Book #6, which Alice Oseman has said will be the conclusion of the series. Even though it's not as fast-moving or exciting as some of the previous books, I still love all of these characters and find that the depiction of young love is truly heartwarming.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Book Review: "A Winter in New York" by Josie Silver

With A Winter in New York, Josie Silver has written another light, sweet romance that makes you long for swirling snow, flirty glances, and gelato. Lots of gelato.

Iris has so many memories of her mother, from watching classic romantic comedies to enjoying homemade gelato from a secret recipe. Her mother used to talk about her magical time as a rock singer, which included a stint in New York City, but she gave up singing when Iris was born. So when she needed to escape after a bad relationship ended, she decided to restart her life in the Big Apple.

She finds a job as a chef at a noodle joint, and while it's not quite the gourmet job she dreamed of, she's able to find both a place to live (above the restaurant) and the owner of the restaurant, Bobby, becomes her best friend. When she's not working, she's more than content to stay home, watch her mother's favorite rom-coms, and eat gelato, but Bobby doesn't want her to languish indoors alone. One weekend he drags Iris to the famed San Gennaro Festival, and they stuff their faces with lots of Italian food. Walking through the festival, they come upon a family-owned gelato place, and for some reason, the store's logo seems tremendously familiar to Iris.

It turns out that the store appeared in one of Iris' mother's photos, accompanied by her mother's secret gelato recipe. When Iris visits the gelato store the next day, she meets Gio, the handsome member of the family who is running the store. He tells Iris that his uncle is the only one in the family who knows their gelato recipe, and since he is in the hospital recovering from a stroke, his memory is faulty and he cannot remember the recipe. Without it, the store may have to close.

When Iris tastes some of their last batch, she realizes that their secret gelato recipe is her secret gelato recipe—and the one in her mother's possessions. But she can't just tell Gio that his uncle actually shared the recipe with a stranger years ago, right? So she offers to help Gio and his family see if they can stumble on the recipe so they can get back to business. Through all of the attempts, Gio and Iris draw closer to one another, but what happens if his uncle regains his memory and exposes all the secrets that Iris has been keeping? Would they have any shot at a future together?

Once the plot starts to unfold, you can predict what will happen, and you won't be wrong. But the romantic vibes, the family dynamics, and the secrets on the verge of discovery kept me reading regardless of the predictability of the story. And I haven't stopped craving gelato since!

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Book Review: "Mercury" by Amy Jo Burns

This was so good! As I've said numerous times before, I love stories about family relationships and dynamics, and Mercury definitely fit the bill.

Marley and her mother, Ruth, came to the small town of Mercury, Pennsylvania in 1990. Marley was 17, used to spending lots of time by herself while her mother works as a nurse, and it's always been the two of them against the world. But she's wanted to belong, wanted to be a part of something bigger.

Not long after her arrival in town, Marley encounters brothers Baylor and Waylon Joseph, when they get into a fight at the end of a baseball game. The young men are the sons of Mick, the blustering, egotistical owner of Joseph & Sons Roofing, and both are expected to follow in their father's footsteps, as is their younger brother, Shay. It's not long before Marley is drawn into their orbit, chosen by one brother but longed for by another.

Things change rapidly, and it's not long before she is a young wife and mother. But as the boys' own mother slowly starts to disappear from their lives, Marley steps up, taking charge of the family and helping with the business, even becoming somewhat of a surrogate mother to Shay. And at the same time, she becomes privvy to a set of secrets that could shake not only the Josephs, but the entire town of Mercury.

Years later, when the church attic is found to be home to a gruesome discovery, all of the Josephs get drawn into the web that exposes old wounds and threatens to destroy the entire family. Each must decide whether their relationships, the business, and the family itself are worth fighting for, and what the future holds.

While this is definitely a slow-burn story, I was hooked from the very start. Amy Jo Burns created layered characters that were so much more complex than I initially believed, and I really enjoyed her storytelling ability. There was a richness to this story that definitely will keep it in my mind for some time.

Book Review: "Last Call at the Local" by Sarah Grunder Ruiz

I've never been to Ireland, but it's definitely on my travel bucket list, and I tend to love reading books set there. But that's not the only reason I loved Sarah Grunder Ruiz's newest book, Last Call at the Local. I've definitely been a fan of her first two books, Love, Lists, and Fancy Ships and Luck and Last Resorts, so I had high hopes for this one—and it definitely delivered.

Much to the disappointment of her parents, Raine dropped out of medical school after 2+ years and headed to Europe to work as a traveling musician. The busking life gives Raine a freedom she's never had before, and she truly loves performing (although she doesn't have the courage to perform any of her original music). But at times, her ADHD gets the best of her, and when she spends the day in the Irish city of Cobh, she makes a crucial mistake that leaves her with very little money and unable to perform.

She can't believe that her only option is to call her parents and ask for the money to fly home to Boston. The thought of having to return home and face her parents' disapproval has her on the verge of depression, but she knows she has no choice. She takes refuge in a pub, The Local, where she she figures she'll spend her last few dollars on a pint of Guinness and prepare herself. And then she finds herself flirting with handsome, tattooed Jack, who seems to be a regular at the pub.

Raine can't help but enjoy talking to Jack, even though her mind keeps wandering back to the mess she's in. But when he asks what she thinks of the pub, she is a little too honest. And then she finds out he owns the pub with his brother. But Jack isn't insulted by her comments, he's inspired—and he offers her a job as an entertainment coordinator, so she can help turn her vision for the pub into reality.

Ever since he inherited the pub from his father, Jack has wanted to make it different than the one he grew up in. However, he struggles with OCD, including intrusive thoughts which often paralyze him, so making progress has been difficult. But if Raine can stick around, maybe she can make change happen. And it doesn't hurt that he's really attracted to her.

Can both Jack and Raine keep control of their minds in order to turn The Local into the pub of their dreams? And will their hearts behave? This book is charming, funny, and emotional, and it really captures the struggles of living with ADHD and OCD. If you've read Ruiz's previous books, you'll see some familiar characters, but this could easily be read as a stand-alone.

Monday, January 1, 2024

The Best Books I Read in 2023...

Happy New Year! Here's wishing all of you a happy and healthy 2024, full of joy, laughter, and lots of great books.

This past year was a tough one for me. As some of you may know, over the summer I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Luckily it was caught early and we're enthusiastic that it won't recur, but I did have surgery in late October to remove part of one kidney. All this to say, this wasn't a typical year for me where reading was concerned. I didn't do a great job of recording (or reviewing) what I read, so I don't have an exact count of how many books I did read in 2023—I'd say it's around 200, but we'll never know. LOL

This year I put together a list of my 20 favorites with an additional 10 books which were too good not to mention.

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

The Top 20

1. Tom Lake by Ann Patchett: One of my favorite authors at the top of her game. This is such a gorgeously told story of family, love, memory, motherhood, and recognizing that happiness can come from a path other than the one you dreamed of. It's a quiet but utterly beautiful book.

2. Shark Heart by Emily Habeck: Lewis and Wren fall in love and get married. Not long after, Lewis learns he has a rare mutation which will turn him (rapidly) into a great white shark. As crazy as this sounds, this book is an unforgettable, powerfully emotional look at love, loss, and creating a meaningful life.

3. The Seven Year Slip by Ashley Poston: The author of one of my top three favorite books of 2022 makes the top three again! If you’re not a fan of magical realism and weird time loop-ish storylines, you may not enjoy this. But this left me a puddle of emotions.

4. Yours Truly by Abby Jimenez: Another home run from Jimenez, who deftly meshes romance, quirky characters, and more serious topics (this one deals with social anxiety) into a book that made me smile and cry, sometimes simultaneously.

5. Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane: A tense (and intense), sometimes sad, and tremendously thought-provoking book set in Boston in the summer of 1974, in the midst of the forced desegregation of schools. This one will make one heck of a movie.

6. Search by Michelle Huneven: This is a quietly compelling and dramatic story of a church searching for its new minister. (Plus recipes!!) It’s gorgeously written, a fantastic study of human dynamics, and I found the conversations about theology and philosophy to be fascinating and never heavy-handed.

7. In Memoriam by Alice Winn: Two young men, close friends at an English boarding school at the start of World War I, deal with their attraction to one another and the horrors of war, as Henry, who is part German, feels the need to enlist, but wants Sidney to stay safe. This feels like a more emotional E.M. Forster classic.

8. The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters: A four-year-old Mi’kmaq girl goes missing from the blueberry fields of Maine, sparking a mystery that will haunt the survivors, unravel a family, and remain unsolved for nearly 50 years. It's such a beautiful book and unbelievably, it's a debut.

9. Glitterland by Alexis Hall: How do you convince yourself that you’re worthy of love? Hall delivers a powerful story of love, heartbreak, and emotional turmoil, which had some incredible moments of beauty.

10. We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian: I feel like this book made my heart grow two sizes larger. It was full of self-discovery, romance, tension, and a good dash of history. I couldn’t get enough of these characters!!