Thursday, February 29, 2024

Book Review: "This Day Changes Everything" by Edward Underhill

Even though I grew up about an hour from NYC, I can’t tell you how often I used to imagine having a magical day there, surrounded by those I cared about. This sweet book definitely reawakened those feelings!

Abby’s high school band has been chosen to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. She cannot wait for the opportunity to spend even a short time in New York City, because it’s the setting of her most-favorite romance novel. She’s totally ready to tell her best friend Kat that not only is she (surprise!) gay, but she’s also (surprise!) in love with her. What better backdrop exists?

Leo’s high school band also will be marching in the parade. But unlike Abby, it’s the last thing Leo wants. His whole family is going to watch the parade, which means his whole conservative, Southern family is going to see him as a trans boy. Leo is angry that his parents refuse to soften the blow for their relatives, so he’s dreading the reaction this “big reveal” will get.

On the one free day of touring the city, both Abby and Leo get on the wrong train and find themselves lost and alone, together. When Leo accidentally causes Abby to lose a special gift she was planning to give Kat, he promises to make it up to her by helping her find souvenirs from every spot mentioned in her favorite book, so she can give those to Kat instead.

The more time they spend with one another, the more they realize they have in common. And little by little, they start to see each other in a different light.

I love books about chosen family, about finding the words to be your authentic self, and finding those who love you unconditionally. This is also a story about feeling lost—literally and psychologically—and trying to find what you need to feel seen and found.

Book Review: "Bored Gay Werewolf" by Tony Santorella

Like I could resist a book with this title? And when I saw it described as like “Scooby Doo with Grindr,” I couldn’t download it fast enough.

Brian is a waiter, prone to late-night drunken binges, furtive Grindr hookups, and mostly just avoiding the responsibilities of everyday life. He once had real promise, but he dropped out of college and now has minimal ambition. Oh, and he’s a werewolf, so once a month he needs to navigate his “transition” and his insatiable hunger. Which he’s not doing successfully.

One day a dude-bro named Tyler shows up at the restaurant, telling Brian that he empathizes with his struggles, because he, too, is a werewolf. But he has figured out the ways to conquer his lupine sensibilities, and as a life coach, he wants to share his knowledge with Brian.

While Brian appreciates the chance to finally be completely open with Tyler, he’s immensely dubious about his regimen of daily mantras, extreme exercise, and meditation. But it actually works, and while Brian feels better about himself, he’s become more of a jerk, which alienates his two closest friends and coworkers, Nik and Darby.

It turns out Tyler has a vision of creating “The Pack™️,” essentially a community of werewolves that’s part lifestyle experiment and part recruitment for strength in numbers. But little by little, Brian realizes that Tyler’s plans aren’t quite as selfless as they seem, and his vision for recruitment is pretty unhinged.

I thought this honestly was such a fun book, a story about chosen family, self-acceptance, and finding your own pack. Sure it’s silly and a bit outrageous, but I hope we’ll see more Brian in the future!

Book Review: "Nightwatching" by Tracy Sierra

Excuse me while my breathing gets back to normal! This was an intense, crazy thriller that didn’t really let up until it neared the end.

It’s the middle of a blizzard, and a woman is at home with her two young children. When her son awakens in the middle of the night, she gets him settled back into his bed. And then she hears a noise. Of course, it’s an old house and there’s a storm outside, so noises are inevitable. But as she stays hidden, she sees the face of a man appear at the top of the stairs.

“Reality can be more disorienting than dreams.”

She’s determined that she and her children will not be sitting ducks for this intruder. She wakes the kids and takes them into a secret crawl space, where she tries to calm them down and wait him out. But when she hears his voice, first trying to coax the children out of hiding, then threatening to destroy all of them, she realizes she knows who this man is, and what he wants she will never give him.

She tries to figure out a way to escape and get help, but can she leave her children alone in the house? And how far will she get in the blizzard?

I really wasn’t sure how this story would be resolved. I’ll admit I thought this could all be some sort of hallucination, or that there would be a twist I didn’t enjoy. But Tracy Sierra, in a tremendously self-assured debut, slowly lets things unfold and keeps you thinking.

Book Review: "The Connellys of County Down" by Tracey Lange

I don’t know what it means that I cannot get enough novels about dysfunctional families, but I was so glad to add this one to my list! I was a huge fan of Tracey Lange’s debut, We Are The Brennans.

Tara Connelly has just been released from prison after serving 18 months on a drug trafficking charge. She’s determined to get her life back together, but she knows her criminal history isn’t a draw for prospective employers. So she moves back into her childhood home with her two siblings and her young nephew.

Having to depend on her brother and sister is a challenge for Tara, as both have problems of their own. Her brother Eddie is still dealing with the effects of a brain injury he sustained years ago, and it’s kept him from advancing at work and enjoying life. And her older sister Geraldine, who was forced to raise her siblings after their mother’s death, tries to maintain the veneer of control in the house even as her own life is spiraling out of control.

As Tara tries to excel at a job she loves while keeping her nose clean, she also must deal with the added distraction of the cop who put her in prison, who keeps showing up in her life. She can’t figure out what he wants from her, and she’s deathly afraid of winding back up in prison. But when family secrets threaten to undo her and her siblings, they must finally trust one another—or they’ll all pay the price.

This is a very character-driven book, although the drama and the secrets make it even more compelling. I found this a really satisfying story, and I know I’ll keep reading whatever Lange writes. Thanks to Celadon Books for the complimentary copy!

Book Review: "Happily Never After" by Lynn Painter

The first time Sophie sets eyes on Max, he stands up at her wedding and objects to it going forward, sharing information about her fiancé’s infidelity. The crowd is shocked, the groom denies any wrongdoing—but Max tells Sophie the proof is on her fiancé’s phone. And then the wedding is called off.⁣

⁣ Sophie isn’t surprised by Max’s appearance at her wedding, perhaps because her best friend paid him to stop it. Max has a part-time gig as an objector—he is hired to stop weddings, usually by one of the intended or a close friend or relative, because they don't usually feel they can call it off themselves.⁣

⁣ Sophie thinks being an objector sounds like a pretty cool job, especially because she no longer believes in love. In her post-wedding drunkenness, she offers to help Max if he ever needs her. And although she is surprised when he resurfaces, her reluctance gives way to enthusiasm when he explains why they were hired to stop this particular wedding. (And then she got to put the bride in a headlock.)⁣

⁣ Of course, the more time they spend with one another, the more their chemistry intensifies. But even though they’re attracted to one another, there aren’t any romantic feelings attached, right? Yeah, sure, okay.⁣

⁣ Swoon. I love Lynn Painter’s books and this may be my new favorite. These characters are amazing and their banter rocks, plus the steam is utterly sizzling. The supporting characters are a hoot, too.

My thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Romance for the advance copy; the book publishes 3/12.⁣

Book Review: "Right on Cue" by Falon Ballard

Over the last few years, Falon Ballard has definitely become an auto-buy author for me. Her rom-coms have fantastic banter, terrifically memorable characters, and some eye-opening steam. And her latest book is no exception!

Emmy is the daughter of a legendary Hollywood couple. While her own acting career crashed and burned quite early, she’s found happiness as a screenwriter of romantic comedies, although a foray into more serious drama won her an Oscar.

She’s excited that her latest script will be directed by her best friend Liz. But when they’re unable to find an actress suitable to play the leading lady, Emmy is pressed into service. It’s her first acting job in more than 10 years and she’s nervously looking forward to it, especially to act opposite a close friend of hers.

When she arrives on location for the first run-through, she’s met with an unpleasant surprise: her leading man will now be played by Grayson West, one of the sexiest stars in Hollywood and his action films are blockbusters. While any actress should be delighted to have him as her costar, Emmy hates him, as she blames him for her horrible film debut.

As soon as they interact, sparks fly—but not in a good way—and it looks like this may spell disaster for the film. Although there’s no question they’re attracted to one another, is there a way they can get past the tension and save the movie—and maybe even turn film romance into reality?

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Book Review: "The Block Party" by Jamie Day

So. Much. Drama.

Those who live on an exclusive cul-de-sac on Alton Road definitely think they’re better than everyone else. The neighbors come together often, most notably for the annual block party over Memorial Day weekend.

While there’s always a scandal to be had at the block party, this year tops it all. Gunshots are fired. Someone is dead. But who died? And who is the murderer?

From those tense moments, the book takes us back one year. We watch secrets be hidden, suspicions grow, tensions heighten. There’s no shortage of possibilities as far as who might be hurt or angry enough to kill, and whom the victim is. You’re definitely kept guessing.

I do love the melodrama of neighbors behaving badly. At times it seemed like there were so many scandals and so many people in crisis that it was hard to keep track of it all. The book is narrated by Alex, organizer of the block party, and her daughter, Lettie. Neither are completely sympathetic characters.

I found the pacing strangely slow given the fact that so much was going on. (Two separate epilogues didn’t help.) But still, I couldn’t look away from these people and I needed to know how the story would be resolved.

Thanks so much to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the complimentary copy!

Book Review: "Piglet" by Lottie Hazell

I don’t think I’ve ever been hungrier than I was while reading this book. And I don’t mean it metaphorically—this book has some of the most gorgeously sumptuous descriptions of food and cooking that I’ve ever seen. This is definitely a book that needed recipes included!!

Unable to escape her childhood nickname, Piglet is excited about her life. She and her fiancé, Kit, have just bought a house and they’ll be married in 9 weeks. She loves her job as a cookbook editor, but what she loves more than anything is cooking elaborate meals, whether when she and Kit are entertaining or just for the two of them.

Two weeks before their wedding, Kit confesses that he has betrayed Piglet. She has no idea what to do. Should she forgive him and go on with the wedding? Should she cancel everything before things go much further? And as devastated and angry as she feels, why is she always so ravenous?

As the wedding approaches, Piglet seems ready to forgive and move on. After all, that seems to be what nearly everyone expects of her. But like a painstakingly created recipe, everything needs to be just right, and that’s the last thing Piglet feels to be true.

I loved the way this was written, especially the vivid ways Lottie Hazell describes things. But the story itself never really pulled me in—it kept me at arm’s length and never really gave details about certain things.

Book Review: "From the Start" by Katie Duggan

This was such a sexy, emotional romance, with so much more depth than I often find with this genre. And the coolest thing is that the author, Katie Duggan, works at my local bookstore, and when we recognized our shared love of certain romances, they told me they wrote a book. (My copy is even personalized!)

One of the things I loved about this book is that it’s a grumpy-sunshine romance but the genders are flipped. Nic (short for Nicoletta) is a psychologist with a chip on her shoulder. The last thing she’s expecting is to run into Josh, her childhood nemesis, on a train. She’s not seen him in 10 years (and she’s happy about that), so she cannot believe they live in the same Brooklyn neighborhood.

While Nic remembers that Josh made her childhood miserable, Josh remembers that she was his first crush. Yet after the furthest thing from a meet-cute, neither can get the other out of their system. And when Nic learns at a party that Josh is particularly skilled sexually (and she doesn't hear it from Josh), she realizes that she may need to make a deal with her own personal devil to get the satisfaction she craves.

Of course, when they agree for some no-strings-attached fun, they’re both convinced they can have sex without catching feelings. Hmm…how do you think that’ll work out for them?

I love banter in my romances, and this book has it, as well as some serious steam. But beyond that, the book deals with neurodiversity and body positivity, and the supporting characters were terrific, too. I’m so glad that feeding my book-buying craving put me in Katie’s path!

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Book Review: "The Women" by Kristin Hannah

So, maybe you’ve seen this book around once or twice? I’m definitely a fan of Kristin Hannah’s, but I need to be in a specific frame of mind for the emotional journeys she takes you on. I’m pleased to say, however, that this so utterly lived up to all the hype—it was simply fantastic.

“How did you know if you had the strength and courage for a thing like that? Especially as a woman, raised to be a lady, whose courage had been untested.”

Frances “Frankie” McGrath was raised a daughter of privilege, living on Coronado Island. She was working as a nurse, at least until she got married. But in 1966, at age 20, inspired by her older brother going to Vietnam, Frankie does the unheard of and enlists, becoming an Army nurse.

The book follows Frankie in country, through the harrowing injuries and deaths she saw, the wounded Vietnamese children, and the strong bonds she formed with both her fellow nurses and other soldiers. It also deals with the trauma Frankie dealt with upon her return, both from those against the war and her own family, all of whom would rather believe that there were no women in Vietnam.

This book is graphic and very emotional, but it so beautifully pays tribute to the oft-forgotten women who served in Vietnam, and those who gave their lives. It also examines the visible and hidden scars that soldiers face, whether in combat or not. I’m always grateful to those who have served and continue to serve our country, but reading The Women makes me want to say thank you over and over again.

Book Review: "One of Our Kind" by Nicola Yoon

If you’re looking for a book sure to get your book club or buddy reads group all riled up, here’s one for you. And if you’re looking for a book you can’t stop thinking about and wondering what the author trying to say, here’s one for you as well.

Jasmyn and her husband King have finally made it. They have enough money to move out of Los Angeles to Liberty, an all-Black utopia, where they don’t have to worry about the police, where they can raise their young son Kamau without fear he’ll meet a tragic end. Every single professional, every teacher, every business owner is Black.

A public defender, Jasmyn feels a little bit guilty about moving out of the city and into the grandeur of Liberty. But she’s still putting in the work every day to try and right as many wrongs as she can. And the murders of innocent Black men by police keep happening in the world outside Liberty, so her work is important and never done.

But why is it that in an all-Black neighborhood, very few people care about the fate of those less fortunate? Why do they close their eyes to what is going on outside the gates of their community? Jasmyn can’t understand what it is that is making the residents of Liberty so complacent, and why are those she felt a kinship with dropping their passion for social justice? Who's making this happen and why?

Part Get Out, part The Stepford Wives, this is a creepy yet powerful book. But the ending? Read it and let’s discuss.

My thanks to NetGalley and AA Knopf for the complimentary copy. The book publishes 6/11/2024.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Book Review: "Lucky Bounce" by Cait Nary

You didn’t think I’d go another month without a hockey romance, did you? I stumbled upon this book and fell head over heels into a puddle of emotions and steam.

As a P.E. teacher at a private school in Philadelphia, Zeke is used to dealing with children of wealthy, even famous parents or grandparents. But his composure is tested the day his favorite hockey player, Spencer McLeod—the guy whose name and number are on four jerseys Zeke owns—walks into school with his five-year-old daughter, Addie.

Spencer McLeod has a daughter? Who knew? Certainly not Zeke, who is only interested in Spencer’s hockey prowess, right? (Spoiler alert: that’s not all Zeke admires about Spencer.)

Something about Spencer’s shyness, his lack of confidence in the whole fathering-a-young-daughter thing, totally disarms Zeke. It’s not long before their dude/bro friendship is giving Zeke glimpses into the possibility of something he can’t believe possible, something romantic with Spencer. But both have their own challenges to deal with, too.

Zeke and Spencer have fantastic chemistry and an absolutely adorable connection. Sure, the book might have benefited from being narrated from Spencer’s POV, too, but I still found myself smiling, blushing from the steam, and maybe shedding a tear. And that’s about all I need from a romance!

Book Review: "Social Engagement" by Avery Carpenter Forrey

I’m definitely a fan of books that provide social commentary and examine the foibles of their characters. Social Engagement is fascinating but vague at times, like someone is recounting a story but leaving tiny pieces out.

“We all carry this weight: the constantly refreshing feed and the photo memories feature remind us of our rearview even when we want to look forward.”

When the book begins, Callie is sitting in the honeymoon suite of a fancy hotel, still in her wedding dress, eating a pizza. She got married just a few hours earlier and her marriage has already imploded. But what happened?

The book looks back at the year leading up to Callie’s wedding, her obsession with social media, measuring herself against the feeds of others, and chronicling the celebrations of friends. Callie moves in with her childhood best friend Virginia, sharing Virginia’s wealthy parents’ NYC apartment. Callie starts dating Whit, a handsome finance bro, but the reappearance of Virginia’s cousin Ollie, whom Callie secretly dated in college, creates a great deal of upheaval.

This is a character-driven book but there’s certainly plenty of drama, with secrets and hidden resentments about to boil over. Callie isn’t a particularly likable character, but I couldn’t look away from her story. I do wish the ending was a little more definitive, but I definitely found this a fascinating read.

Book Review: "The Excitements" by CJ Wray

This book was such a fun romp, with some incredibly memorable and endearing characters!

Josephine and Penny Williamson are two sisters in their late 90s. They’re two of Britain’s most revered female veterans of World War II, having served their country as members of the Women’s Royal Navy and the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. But while they’d have every right to rest on their laurels at this point in their lives, both sisters are still hungry for adventure, for the “excitements” that make everything more interesting.

Archie, their beloved great-nephew, is truly devoted to Josephine and Penny. He’s always been fascinated by the stories they’ve told him over the years of their involvement in the war, and he’s so proud of every accolade they receive. And when they’re chosen to receive the Légion d’honneur for their part in the liberation of France, he’s the one to arrange and accompany their trip to Paris.

But while Archie’s great-aunts appear to be slowing down a bit, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Their return to Paris reawakens memories of the actual things they were up to during and after the war, things that might be hard to believe. And while there are secrets and regrets to deal with, Penny definitely has some plans up her sleeve for one last heist.

All too often older characters are portrayed as curmudgeonly or only capable of doling out advice, so these ass-kicking, Morse code-using nonagenarians were absolutely a hoot. The narrative shifts between past and present, and is funny, moving, and just so entertaining.

Book Review: "10 Things That Never Happened" by Alexis Hall

Ever read a romance and the weakest part of the story is the romance itself? Asking for a friend.⁣

⁣ Sam is the manager of a bed-and-bath store, Splashes & Snuggles. The store is struggling, thanks in large part to his motley crew of employees, who accidentally damage stock and alienate customers. But Sam is too nice of a guy to get rid of anyone, especially just before Christmas.⁣

⁣ The store’s owner, Jonathan—whom another employee refers to as “His Royal Dickishness”—summons Sam to his office to talk about the store’s performance. Sam figures this trip won’t be a good one, and just hopes he won’t lose his job or be forced to fire some of his employees.⁣

⁣ Shortly after Sam arrives, he sustains a concussion in an accident at the store where he meets Jonathan. Jonathan feels guilty and when he discovers that Sam has amnesia, he brings Sam to his home so he can take care of him until he recovers. And while Sam was just pretending to have amnesia to make Jonathan feel bad, now he needs to continue doing so.⁣

⁣ Of course, the more time the two spend together getting to really know one another, the more their adversarial relationship turns into something warmer…maybe even a little hot. But what will happen when the truth about Sam’s amnesia is revealed? Can love built on a lie actually survive?⁣

⁣ I loved the supporting characters in this book so much. I just felt like the actual romance was a little too quick and it didn’t seem believable to me. Sam and Jonathan never quite had the connection I was hoping for. But that isn’t going to stop me from reading Alexis Hall’s next book!⁣

Many thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Casablanca for providing a complimentary copy of the book!

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Book Review: "Family Family" by Laurie Frankel

“There are infinity different kinds of families. And every member of every one has a different story to tell about it. So the fact that a few stories about adoption are the only ones that ever get told seems like a problem to me.”⁣

⁣ India’s dream was always to be a successful Broadway actress. Thanks to hard work, perseverance, and pretty impressive talent, she achieved her dream, finding success on the stage and on television, which led to the lead role in a movie.⁣

⁣ The movie is about adoption, and as the adoptive mother of fraternal twins, India is excited that this story will be told. But it’s not long before people criticize the film—and India—for what they believe the message of the film is. She’s frustrated by public reaction, so she decides to set the record straight. But she winds up making everything worse—and then some.⁣

⁣ The fact is, there’s much more to India’s life than most people know. As all of her own choices are called into question, others in her life decide to take control of the situation. And so the wild ride begins.⁣

⁣ Laurie Frankel is truly an artist. Her books are so rich in emotion, character development, and their treatment of issues related to love, family, and parenthood. I thought this was incredible, and utterly thought-provoking.⁣

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Book Review: "Ready or Not" by Cara Bastone

Is it sweet and emotional in here or is it just me? Well, if you love rom-coms that make you smile, swoon, and maybe even tear up, give Ready or Not a try!

Eve is rarely an impulsive person. But her one-night fling with a handsome bartender is exactly what she needed. Although the last thing she expected was to find out a few weeks later that she is actually expecting. As in, a baby.

With her siblings living in Michigan (and they don’t seem to get her anyway) and her best friend Willa unable to provide the emotional support Eve was hoping for, a savior emerges: Shep, Willa’s older brother. The three grew up together and he’s currently living with Willa and her husband as he deals with his own issues.

As Eve tries to figure everything out—telling the baby’s father, continuing to work, starting to realize how much a baby costs—Shep is there by her side. It’s really what she needs, considering that Ethan (the baby’s father) is vacillating between wanting to be involved and running away. And maybe it’s just the pregnancy hormones, but why does she suddenly want to jump Shep’s bones?

There were so many moments in this book that made me grin and had me feeling emotional (sometimes simultaneously). It really was utterly charming, fun, even a bit steamy, and just so good!

Book Review: "Almost Surely Dead" by Amina Akhtar

Well, I was having an unexpectedly good run of thrillers for a while, so I knew it was bound to end at some point. And even though some friends had great things to say about this book, I felt like it started out really strong but then changed into something completely different that I didn't enjoy.

⁣ ⁣ Dunia was a pharmacist in New York City. Her life was relatively ordinary, although her relationship with her fiancé recently ended, but despite the fact that he broke up with her, he won’t seem to leave her alone. And then one night everything changes, when someone tries to murder her.⁣

⁣ The attempt on her life shakes Dunia to her core. Who was the man that tried to kill her, and why? When another attempt on her life occurs, and then another, no one—not even the police—can figure out who is responsible. And then, Dunia goes missing. Is she hiding, or did the person behind the murder attempts finally succeed?⁣

⁣ The book is told from multiple perspectives and timelines—Dunia’s childhood, the attempts on her life, and snippets of a true crime podcast investigating her disappearance. You find yourself wondering what the truth really is, and who was responsible.⁣

⁣ I found this to be an interesting and intense story, but the multiple perspectives didn’t really work for me. And suffice it to say, the book takes a strange turn that I wasn’t expecting at all, and honestly, if I had known about it, I might not have picked it up.⁣ ⁣

Book Review: "Good Material" by Dolly Alderton

Andy is a stand-up comedian whose career isn’t going anywhere. But that’s the least of his worries: he’s utterly devastated that Jen, his girlfriend of nearly four years, has dumped him. And he didn’t see it coming; it happened out of the blue.⁣

⁣ “‘Break-ups can be a good thing,’” Jane says. “‘They can teach us about who we really are.’”⁣

⁣ “‘Yeah, maybe, like break-up number one or two,’” I sigh. “‘But break-ups have depreciating gains. I’m thirty-five now. I know who I am. I am already sick of myself.’”⁣

⁣ Break-up stories are fairly common in fiction, but it’s very rare to get one written from the man’s point-of-view. Andy needs to start living for himself rather than what was. That’s the only way to move forward. But what if you don’t want to move forward? What if you were happy the way things were?⁣

⁣ Having Andy as the narrator makes you wonder why he’d even want to stay with Jen, given all the things about her that drove him crazy. But then you get a glimpse of Jen’s POV, and you realize there’s two sides to every story. This was thought-provoking, funny, emotional, and hopeful.

Book Review: "Five Years from Now" by Paige Toon

It’s already an established fact that I’m a complete sap; needless to say, I loved this book so much! It was everything I expected and yet it surprised me at certain points as well.

When their parents fall in love, Nell and Van suddenly find themselves thrown together constantly. They’re both 10-year-old only children, unused to sharing their parent’s attention or anything else. But it’s not long before they become inseparable best friends, much like siblings—until tragedy strikes and Van moves far, far away.

Five years pass before they see one another again. Distance has eroded their bond a bit, but it’s been replaced by something else—an attraction that goes far beyond sibling-like feelings. They realize they’re meant to be together, but once again, life intervenes and they are separated.

It seems like they are reunited for one reason or another every five years. Each time they see each other, they realize the intensity of their feelings for each other. But as their lives and circumstances change, they must decide if their love is worth risking and changing everything, or if they're better off apart.

This was a fantastic story, romantic, emotional, thought-provoking, and a bit steamy. I’ve wanted to read one of Paige Toon’s books for a while; now that I have, I know I’ll be back for more!

Book Review: "Fourteen Days" by The Authors Guild

Shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the residents of a rundown apartment building on NYC’s Lower East Side begin gathering on the rooftop terrace for fresh air. They participate in the cheering for the health care workers, which occurs each evening at 7:00 pm.

Little by little, they start to linger on the roof after the cheering subsides. At first they keep to themselves, reading, playing with their phones, pondering the pandemic, but then they start to tell each other stories—stories that happened to them, stories passed down from their families, even fables or ghost stories. All can’t be true, but the shared time proves therapeutic.

The narrator is the building’s female superintendent, a virtual stranger to the tenants, as she took the job and moved in just before the lockdown began. Armed with her predecessor’s “bible,” a binder profiling each tenant and the nickname he bestowed upon them, she takes it upon herself to record and transcribe the stories they are told. And she has stories of her own as well.

As soon as I heard about this book, I wanted to read it. Each chapter contains multiple stories, and each story is written by another author, everyone from Margaret Atwood, John Grisham, Angie Cruz, to Diana Gabaldon, Erica Jong, and Tess Gerritsen. (Interestingly enough, the stories don't identify the authors; you won't know who wrote which chapter until the end. Unless you cheat.)

Sadly, the concept didn’t work as well as I had hoped—essentially, it’s a group of short stories, some of which are excellent, some of which are not, and some of which have too much detail to actually be a story someone would tell. (And don’t get me started on the ending.)

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Book Review: "Gwen & Art Are Not in Love" by Lex Croucher

I really enjoyed the concept of this book and thought it was really sweet. A great YA romance for February!

Gwendoline, the Princess of England, has been essentially engaged to Arthur, a descendant of King Arthur, since shortly after she was born, to ensure an alliance between her father’s kingdom and Arthur’s father. From a young age, Gwen and Arthur have disliked each other intensely, and each has done their best to harm and humiliate the other.

But now, Arthur, who has a bit of a reputation for being a hard-drinking ne’er-do-well, is sent to Camelot for the summer to mend fences with his intended. And in less than 24 hours, Gwen has caught Arthur in a compromising position with a young man from the palace, and Arthur has found Gwen’s diary, in which she reveals romantic thoughts for Lady Bridget LeClair, the kingdom’s only female knight. With the need to keep both of their true selves secret, the two make a pact to marry anyway.

As forces outside the kingdom threaten to destroy Camelot, Gwen and Arthur try to convince everyone they’ve finally fallen for one another. But of course, Gwen can’t take her eyes off Bridget, and Arthur has taken an interest in Gabriel, Gwen’s brother and the reluctant heir to the throne.

The book’s tagline is, “The path to true love never did run straight.” This is a well-written and moving book about finding yourself, being true to your identity, and giving into your heart. It was a little long, and I could have done without a lot of the detail about the schemes to take power away from the King, but overall, I enjoyed it.

Book Review: "Always Only You" by Chloe Liese

It’s been several years since I first discovered her books, but I am utterly obsessed with Chloe Liese. Her Bergman Brothers series is so fantastic—full of love, serious steam, banter, family, and they each feature a character living with physical, emotional, or neurodiverse issues. Yet they never condescend or create an unfair power dynamic.

In Book 2 of the series (I also read Book 5, and I’m not apologizing for reading that one out of order), Ren is a successful pro hockey player. He’s also absolutely gorgeous, almost always smiling, willing to take being a role model seriously, and he is fiercely devoted to his family.

While Frankie, social media coordinator for Ren’s team, definitely appreciates his physical attributes, as a self-proclaimed grump, she can’t understand how someone can be so sunshiny all the time. She takes her job very seriously, and dating a player is certainly off-limits, but how can she be immune to Ren’s charms?

As their friendship starts to take on a more flirtatious tone, both would love to turn it into something more. But as someone on the autism spectrum who also deals with the pain of rheumatoid arthritis, Frankie is afraid to let her guard down and be honest with her feelings, because she knows that her problems will ultimately doom a relationship.

Liese has such a knack for creating complex and appealing characters that you root for, plus her descriptions make me want to see what they’d look like in real life! I loved this book so much, and cannot wait to read Book 3. It almost makes me want to have grown up with six siblings!! (Almost.)

Book Review: "Welcome Home, Stranger" by Kate Christensen

Bleak and emotional, but beautifully written, Welcome Home, Stranger is a story about the scars we bear from our family, the resentments and misunderstandings we never voice, and the feeling that our lives are headed in directions we never wanted or expected.

“There are two ways to look at your family. The first way, the so-called normal way, is that you owe them everything just because you’re related. But I believe that you owe them nothing even though you’re related. It’s not obligatory, it’s voluntary.”

Rachel is an award-winning environmental journalist who is more comfortable with research and science than interaction. When her estranged mother dies, she returns home to Maine for the first time in a number of years, she’s hit with a wall of unpleasant memories and the resentment of her sister Celeste, who cared for their mother in her last days.

Both sisters must come to terms with the loss of a woman who viewed her daughters as competition for her and pitted them against one another. Rachel is also dealing with the inevitable loss of her job, reuniting with an old boyfriend, and a health crisis for her ex-husband. Meanwhile, Celeste also wants more out of the life she’s feeling stifled in.

For a relatively short book, the pacing was a little slow. There’s so much crisis and angst in this book and very little to truly be joyful about, so it was difficult to read at times. But ultimately, I think the message the book conveyed was that there is always hope.