Sunday, June 30, 2024

Book Review: "The Rom-Commers" by Katherine Center

I love when one of your auto-buy authors knocks it out of the park with their latest book. This was just so good, and it couldn’t have been more up my alley.

“I had a theory that we gravitate toward the stories we need in life. Whatever we’re longing for—adventure, excitement, emotion, connection—we turn to stories to help us find it.”

Emma has dreamed of being a screenwriter for as long as she can remember. But with her father needing constant medical care and supervision, she put her dreams aside and she constantly makes sure he's safe. She's sacrificed her dreams so her younger sister can pursue hers.

When she gets the chance of a lifetime—to rewrite a rom-com script with her idol, screenwriting legend Charlie Yates—she’s reluctant to leave her dad, but her family convinces her it’s her turn now. But when she arrives in LA, she discovers that Charlie not only wasn’t aware she was hired, but he adamantly refuses a rewrite, especially with an unknown like Emma.

With some shrewd negotiation, she stays in LA and Charlie hires her. But not only does she need to convince him to rewrite his horrible rom-com, she needs to convince him that love exists. And how better to illustrate that than by growing closer and closer?

I love Katherine Center’s books so much, and this is definitely a new favorite. It’s fun, funny, emotional, and romantic.

Book Review: "Skater Boy" by Anthony Nerada

With all apologies to Avril Lavigne:

“Wes was a boy
And Tris was a boy
Can I make it any more obvious?
Wes was a punk
And Tris did ballet
What more can I say?”

This was a moving coming-of-age story. It illustrates how different it is growing up with social media, but accepting yourself can be just as hard as it was in the Dark Ages when I grew up.

Wes, aka “Big Mac,” would rather be on his skateboard than in school. His grades are tanking, he skips class a lot, and his teachers don’t expect anything from him—and they tell him that. He’s also a bit of a bully, and he and his best friends often cause trouble.

But Wes’ attitude and actions are a mask to cover up his fears and anxieties. He knows that he is gay but he also worries what being open about his sexuality could mean to his relationships with his mother, her fiancé, and his friends. It’s hard to be told he needs to find a girl or listen to homophobic jokes, but he’s trapped.

At a performance of “The Nutcracker” he gets dragged to by his mother, he sees Tristan, the dancer playing the title character. Wes is immediately drawn to him, but can’t admit that to anyone. As they start to hang out together, Wes is living a double life of sorts. His need to hide his true self will hurt the chance of a relationship with Tristan, but how will being honest affect his friendships and relationship with his mother.

This was a sweet book and it definitely resonated with me. I hope it gets into the hands of those who need to hear its messages.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Book Review: "Bury Your Gays" by Chuck Tingle

Please clap. I have read two books outside my comfort zone this week.

I am a gigantic coward, which is why I generally steer clear of horror as a genre. (I’m still scarred from a prank my college roommates played on me related to the book “IT.”) But when I saw a few friends raving about this book, I figured I’d give it a chance. The fact is, this was more creepy and disturbing than all-out frightening, so I may be ok.

Misha has been a horror screenwriter for years, always hoping he’ll hit it big. And he finally does, in the form of an Oscar nomination, even though he jokes that it’s in a category they don’t televise. But despite this success, the studio bosses want him to kill the gay characters in his long-time streaming series—or don’t make them fall in love. This should get them even bigger ratings.

The demand is clear: kill them or be in breach of his contract. Misha cares more about the characters, so he’s willing to sacrifice his career. But suddenly he realizes he and his friends are being stalked—by monsters he created onscreen. Can he survive this onslaught? He’s going to need to face up to some secrets first.

This was really compelling, both as a story and a commentary on queer representation in the media. It’s a great way to convey this message.

Many thanks to Tor Books and NetGalley for the advance copy! The book publishes 7/9.

Book Review: "Humor Me" by Cat Shook

This was a fun and charming read I devoured fairly quickly.

Presley is an assistant at a late-night talk show. She enjoys her job although she doesn’t make much money; getting the opportunity to work with her friend (and crush) Adam is more than worth it. Plus, she’s recently been given the responsibility of scouting out comics for a slot on the show. She’s always loved stand-up, and now she gets to go to comedy shows as part of her job.

Presley is still dealing with unresolved grief over her mother’s death. While her mother was a serious alcoholic, Presley still remembers some of the fun they had. But anytime someone talks about her mother, it’s like a punch to the gut.

One day she runs into Susan, a childhood friend of her mother’s. Susan’s husband helped get Presley an internship at the network, which led to her job. But now, he’s been accused of sexual harassment, which leaves Susan vulnerable, and she latches on to Presley. The last thing Presley would have imagined was striking up a friendship with someone like Susan, but surprisingly they seem to click.

This is a story about friendship, love, dating, and life in New York City, as well as how difficult it is to recover from loss. It also so accurately captures how first jobs can be fun even though you get paid next to nothing, and how they give you the chance to build your community.

Cat Shook has a real talent for character development and creating compelling personal dynamics. This book is funny, steamy, and a little emotional.

Many thanks to Celadon Books and NetGalley for the advance copy! The book publishes 7/9.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Book Review: "A Happier Life" by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Whenever I read a book by Kristy Woodson Harvey, I know two things to be certain. First, I’ll feel warm and fuzzy and a little emotional because her books provoke all of those feelings. And second, I’ll want to go wherever the book is set. (The cover looks pretty enticing, doesn’t it?)

Keaton’s life and career have just imploded, and she’s gone to stay with her parents. But her mother and uncle have a job for her: travel to Beaufort, NC and get their childhood home ready for sale. Keaton didn’t even know that such a house existed, much less that her mother and uncle haven’t set foot in the house since their parents were killed in 1976.

When Keaton arrives in Beaufort, she’s amazed that the house is in a state of suspension: not a thing has changed since 1976. It’s an overwhelming task to go through all of her grandparents’ things, especially when she knows so little about them, but with the help of a group of women who knew the couple, she starts making progress. She also finds journals written by both her grandparents, which gives her some insight into their lives and love.

It seems like the biggest question Keaton and others have is what happened to Townsend and Rebecca Saint James that night in 1976? As she tries uncovering the mystery, she finds herself drawn to her next-door neighbor and his young son.

The story alternates between Keaton’s narration in the present and excerpts from Rebecca and Townsend’s lives. The more Keaton digs in, the more she realizes that as strong-willed as Rebecca was, she might have faced a challenge even she couldn’t conquer.

I loved everything about this book. The main characters and the supporting ones were all so wonderful, and I fell in love with Beaufort just like Keaton did. Harvey has such a way of drawing you into her books and filling you full of drama, friendship, love, and smiles.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Book Review: "A Curse of Scales and Flame" by Max Walker

It’s been a while since I’ve read a fantasy (and even longer since I’ve read an M/M one), but when a guy I thirst follow on Instagram (whatever) raved about this, I thought I’d give it a try. I was totally hooked!

There is a curse all over the world that seems to be killing dragons or, more specifically, humans who turn into dragons. No one understands who is responsible or how it can be reversed.

Damien is the oldest son in a family of dragons. He’s had to watch, powerless, as his mother died, and now his youngest brother is sick. Will the curse get each of them, one by one?

At his best friend’s magic store, Damien meets Robby, a friendly and somewhat klutzy guy. Damien rescues Robby from vampires twice, and then they find out that Robby is being hunted. Damien and his family want to protect Robby, and when they discover that somehow he has a link to those involved in the curse, they all want to find answers.

Of course, it’s not long before Damien and Robby’s intense attraction to one another brings them together in some very steamy ways. Can Damien protect Robby and find out how to reverse the curse before it’s too late for his brother? Can the two ever have a chance at happiness together?

I really enjoyed this and was so impressed with Max Walters’ creativity, his world-building, and the fascinating characters he created. This was an emotional, sexy, and completely entertaining, and I’ll be reading the second book in the series for sure!!

Book Review: "The Lookback Window" by Kyle Dillon Hertz

“The longer time passes, the less evidence exists. The more my memories warp. I knew all this was true. I knew the effects of what happened to me grew with time, but my recollection faded.”

Dylan was 15 years old when he met Vincent on the internet. Vincent wasn’t significantly older than Dylan but he seemed more worldly, and Dylan felt so wonderful being wanted by someone. But for three years, Vincent held Dylan captive as a victim of sex trafficking, keeping him drugged, taking pictures of him that he distributed, and letting others have sex with him.

Now, he is an adult, still dealing with all that happened to him, but he’s trying to move on. He’s engaged, and he hopes to have a good life with his fiancé, Moans, although he isn’t sure he’s capable of truly being happy.

And then a new law is passed. The Child Victims Act extends the statute of limitations for child victims of sexual assault, which used to be only five years after the child turned 18. The Act provided Dylan with a “lookback window,” a one-year period in which Dylan can decide whether to bring a civil suit against his abusers. But what does he want? Money won’t help erase what happened, and can there even be an adequate figure?

Considering what to do reawakens a great deal of anxiety and trauma in Dylan, which he tries to assuage with drugs and sex. But again, he endures, only to realize he owes it to himself and others like him to face his accusers.

This was tremendously powerful and moving. As a victim of sexual assault, I was hesitant to read this, but I’m so glad I did. It is a difficult but important book which brings male sexual assault victims to light. While at times this is bleak, it also is a beacon of hope.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Book Review: "Business Casual" by B.K. Borison

I’ve not really been wild about the last few books I’ve read, but luckily the slump didn’t last too long. All I needed was a return trip to Inglewild, and some time with the folks at Lovelight Farms.

Nova has always been fiercely independent and is used to getting things her way. But as she plans to open her own tattoo studio in Inglewild, she’s feeling the pressure to have everything perfect.

Charlie, whose half-sister Stella runs Lovelight Farms, is a hard-working businessman in NYC dealing with his pompous, power-hungry father, but he’s a frequent visitor in Inglewild. He loves joking around and flirting with Nova, although she mostly doesn’t take him seriously. He likes his job and likes living in NYC, but he's also really lonely.

Charlie is shocked when Nova flirts back with him, and she proposes they sleep together just once, to get it out of their systems. (Does that ever work?) With Charlie spending a month running the farm, it’s much harder for both of them to ignore the chemistry and the growing feelings between them. In the end, though, Charlie will head back to NYC, and everything can go back to normal.

I really love this series and the community B.K. Borison has created here. This is a fantastic story, romantic and seriously steamy, but full of complex emotions and the ways we make ourselves small because we don’t think we’re worthy of happiness. While this is the fourth (and apparently final) book in the series, each can be read as a standalone, but hopefully you'll fall in love with these characters, too. (B.K., please do a book with Dane and Matty at some point!)

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for the advance copy! The book will publish 7/16.

Book Review: "Some Strange Music Draws Me In" by Griffin Hansbury

“For some of us, there comes a moment when we realize that the object of our desire lies outside our known world, beyond our towns and families. Out there, we understand, there is another way to want, to have, to be. Sometimes, even when we do not venture out to find it, when we try to want only what we are given, the object comes to us. And the world, without our consent, breaks open and expands.”

It’s the summer of 1984 in the small town of Swaffham, Massachusetts. Thirteen-year-old Mel (short for Melanie) will start high school in the fall, so she plans to spend the summer with her best friend Jules, riding their bikes around town, avoiding their parents, and getting into mischief.

One day she sees Sylvia, a strong woman with bravado, who reminds her of Joan Jett. She is utterly transfixed by Sylvia, strange feelings for Mel. Then she learns that Sylvia is a trans woman—a choice not particularly popular in Swaffham. But Mel is drawn to Sylvia, who takes her under her wing, which causes trouble with her mother and Jules, among others.

In 2019, Mel is now Max, a trans man whose teaching career is in jeopardy because he still thinks of things with more traditional labels. He returns to Swaffham to deal with his depression and clean out his late mother’s house, but being home triggers many memories and traumas.

This is a powerful and moving book that definitely may trigger some people. It shifts back and forth between the 1980s and 2019, and looks at the personal dynamics of a teenager struggling with their sexual and gender identity and dealing with how different they are from their friends. It also looks at how, in the present, there are some who struggle with a person who is confident in their own gender if it doesn’t fit their own views of the world, family or no, and it provides perspective on how societal thinking shifts and changes.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Book Review: "A Good Life" by Virginie Grimaldi (translated by Hildegard Serle)

Emma and Agathe are sisters who haven’t seen each other in five years. Growing up, Emma, as the older sister, was always Agathe’s protector and defender. Five years younger, Agathe was prone to tantrums and panic attacks, and yet always looked to her sister for comfort and security.

Their childhood was tumultuous and marked by tragedy, but they spent every summer with their grandparents in the Basque Country. Following the death of their beloved grandmother, the sisters agree to spend a week together at her home, the site of so many memories. While their estrangement and the pent-up hurts and resentments make the reunion challenging, they still are full of love for one another.

The book alternates narration between the sisters, and shifts through time, from their earliest memories to the present, with many stops in between. This is how we understand the sisters’ relationship and what led to their estrangement, as well as if there’s any chance to find their way back to each other.

This is a very slow-burn, character-driven novel. There are some lovely and poignant moments, but I struggled with the book’s pacing. At times there were so many different things happening it was difficult to keep track, but I don’t know if that's because it was translated or just the way it was written.

Book Review: "First Dates and Birthday Cakes" by Isabel Murray

This was super sweet, fun, and a bit steamy. Just what I needed after a few heavier books!

It’s Ben’s 40th birthday. He’s in the midst of a midlife crisis, because his life at 40 isn’t quite what he expected. He’s told everyone he doesn’t want any fuss for his birthday, and amazingly, everyone listened to him. But now he’s all alone.

In an effort to get out of the house and shake himself out of his melancholy, Ben decides to go ice skating. He used to be a pretty great skater—when he was 10–so it should be just like riding a bike, right? Wrong.

As soon as he steps on the ice, he’s on his back. After a while, he’s fallen so much, his bruises have bruises. But then he’s rescued by a handsome, tall man who is an excellent skater. Jakub, who teaches at the rink, helps Ben recapture the joy he had when he used to skate—when he isn’t tripping on the ice.

It turns out Jake isn’t just being kind. He’s attracted to Ben (the feeling is mutual), and when he finds out it’s his birthday, they plan to have dinner together, and Jake promises a birthday kiss. Will this meet-cute lead somewhere real?

I enjoyed the banter between Ben and Jake, as well as some of the other characters. It was a quick but sweet read.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Book Review: "Sandwich" by Catherine Newman

In case you’re wondering, this book is not about sandwiches (although the characters do eat a bunch of them). Am I craving a sandwich now? Yes. Yes I am.

There’s something about a family vacation. Rocky’s family has been going to Cape Cod every summer for two decades, and now that her kids are grown, she’s looking forward to spending time with them. They stay in the same rental cottage every year, and they all have so many memories—laughs, triumphs, tears, tragedies—through the years.

Rocky and her husband, Neil, are part of the sandwich generation, halfway between their adult children and their aging parents. They truly love each other, but lately their relationship has been experiencing some friction, in part because of Rocky’s menopause-related mood swings, and partly because of Neil’s ability to wall himself off from emotional or stressful situations.

When a secret is revealed to Rocky, it triggers memories of a particularly sad time in her life, memories which she has borne alone. That is part of the tension she feels toward Neil, but if she didn’t share, how could he have known?

This is a quiet, character-driven book that is so full of funny and emotional moments. It draws so much of its power from not only the beach trips, the conversations, the random meals, but also the glimpses of how the passage of time affects each of us. I really thought this was beautifully written.

“This is how it is to love somebody. You tell them the truth. You lie a little. And sometimes you don’t say anything at all.”

Book Review: "Four Squares" by Bobby Finger

What an absolutely fantastic, moving, hopeful book this was. Easily one of my favorites of the year.

“One of the toughest things about any friendship is remembering that the mere act of listening is often not only enough but also the totality of what the other person wants. Sometimes there is no follow-up question, no complementary personal anecdote, no soothing cliché that will do more than a silent nod or caress on the hand or pat on the knee.”

Bobby Finger’s new book begins in 1992 in NYC. It’s Artie’s 30th birthday and he and his two best friends, Adam and Kim, are going to celebrate. They’re still in the midst of losing friends to AIDS, which makes them cling tighter to one another. That night, at their favorite bar, Julius’, Artie meets Abe, a closeted bisexual lawyer who will be the love of his life.

Thirty years later, Artie has a successful writing career (mostly as a ghostwriter), and a relationship with Halle, Abe’s daughter. It’s a quiet life, and once Halle moves across the country, it’s a lonely one, but Artie is determined to thrive. And when a freak accident leads to his becoming a member of GALS, a center for queer seniors, he opens his life to a new circle of friends, realizing that the length of a friendship isn’t what matters.

The book shifts back and forth between the 1990s and 2022-23. It’s sometimes sad, sometimes funny, and just absolutely beautiful. It’s the story of friendship, love, chosen family, fear, and hope, as well as the power of connection. I’ll be thinking about this for a long time.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Book Review: "Swan Song" by Elin Hilderbrand

I’ve never been to Nantucket (sounds like the start of a limerick, doesn’t it?), but reading Elin Hilderbrand’s books over the last several years, I feel like I’ve visited multiple times. And Swan Song is reportedly Hilderbrand’s last Nantucket book, so I may have to go for real!

Bull and Leslee Richardson arrive in Nantucket in mid-June. They've moved from place to place, all over the world. For an island like Nantucket, where everyone knows everyone (unless they’re tourists), the Richardsons are like an exotic species that everyone wants to find out more about. Interest increases when word gets out that they’ve paid $22 million for an exclusive house.

Leslee is desperate to fit in, so she throws elaborate parties, ingratiates herself with anyone important to know on Nantucket, and she is a flatterer and a flirt. Shortly after their arrival, the Richardsons are the talk of the island and they can have whatever they desire, from exclusive restaurant reservations to membership in a prestigious club.

But somewhere between June and August, something happens to make the residents turn on the couple. And then one night, when out on their yacht, their house burns down and their “personal concierge,” Coco, goes missing.

What’s the real story behind the Richardsons’ fall from grace? Who set the fire? What happened to Coco? There are lots of mysteries to be solved amidst the rumors and gossip. This book seems overstuffed with characters and events at first, but it’s amazing how Hilderbrand pulls it all together. I’m sad there will be no more Nantucket books, but I’ll be waiting for whatever comes next!

Monday, June 17, 2024

Book Review: "Nearlywed" by Nicolas DiDomizio

This book was so much fun and very sweet. I’m molting! (IYKYK)

For as long as he can remember, Ray dreamed of a fairytale wedding and happily ever after. Even when he realized he was gay and his dream bride turned into a dream husband, he’s held tight to that vision. He thought he found it once, but he realized he was more interested in getting married than being married.

Several years later, Ray is an online columnist with a zest for oversharing, and he’s madly in love with his fiancé, Kip, a doctor 10 years his senior, who is much more circumspect about sharing his life on social media. Ray has convinced Kip they should have a large wedding, and they’ll also be partaking in an “earlymoon,” a pre-honeymoon tradition that has become famous at a resort in Ray’s Connecticut hometown.

But instead of relaxing and focusing on their wedding at the end of the summer, it’s not long before they realize they have less in common than they thought. And after a series of miscommunications and arguments, they start to wonder if loving each other is enough to close the gaps between them.

This book has some great banter and some fun supporting characters, but it’s definitely thought-provoking, too. They say opposites attract, but can opposites be happy together? I’ve definitely struggled at times whether I’m more like Ray or more like Kip.

I’ve been a fan of Nicolas DiDomizio’s previous books, so I knew I’d enjoy this, too. A perfect read for Pride month!

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Book Review: "My Mother and Other Wild Animals: An Essay" by Andrew Sean Greer

I’m all about irony, so on Father’s Day, when I’m missing my dad, I decided to read this essay by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Andrew Sean Greer, about his mother.

“Not just in youth do we need new vistas, or new ways of looking at an old one: a tilted view, to baffle and amuse.”

As he plans to drive home to San Francisco from a month-long writer’s residency in Wichita, Kansas, Andrew gets a surprise from his mother: she wants to fly out to meet him and they can drive back together. His mother, a chemist, has always been a serious person, not prone to flights of fancy.

Andrew plans the perfect road trip home, designed to amuse his mostly unflappable mother. They travel through kitschy tourist attractions, and if there’s a unique place to stay, he books a reservation there. They stay in a wigwam-themed resort, a haunted Wild West hotel, and many others.

While Andrew has always thought of his mother as a serious person, she has made some waves in her own life—telling him that she is a lesbian shortly after he came out as a teenager, and ending her marriage to live her true life.

This was a moving essay, full of emotion, humor, and highlight-worthy sentences. I’m glad to have been a secret passenger on this road trip!

Book Review: "Sapphire Dawn" by C. Travis Rice

Thanks so much to Get Red PR Books and 1001 DarkNights/Blue Box Press for including me on the tour for this book!

While I’ve not read many books by Christopher Rice, I’ve really enjoyed this series, which he’s written under the name C. Travis Rice. These books are steamy, romantic, and emotional, and Rice does an exceptional job making you long to be where the books are set.

“Because I don’t live in a world where a man as amazing as you could be invisible.”

Donnie is a take-charge kind of guy. He’s not ashamed to have been a porn star, or owner of a porn studio, but he has never believed himself worthy of true love. When he agrees to help his best friend Logan plan his wedding, he wants to do the best job he can. What he’s not counting on is falling for the wedding planner.

Richard has created the perfect wedding for so many people, yet his own life is in shambles. His husband has been unfaithful and they’re in the midst of a divorce. When he meets Donnie, he can’t deny their attraction to one another. But Richard believes in monogamy and Donnie doesn’t do relationships. So they have to put their desire aside in order to create Logan’s perfect wedding. But of course, desire won’t be denied…

While this is the fourth book in the series, this can be read as a standalone. But you’ll want to read the rest of the series!!

Book Review: "Summer Romance" by Annabel Monaghan

Boy, did I love this book! I loved Nora Goes Off Script so much, but this book blew me away, and had me crying happy tears as I finished it.

Ali has been a mess since her mother died two years ago. On the first anniversary of that loss, Ali’s husband Pete told her he didn’t want to be married anymore, and a year later he’s ready to file for divorce. She’s a professional organizer, but why can’t she make sense of her own life?

For the first time in two years, Ali decides to wear something other than sweats, and she finally takes off her wedding ring. And wouldn’t you know it, at the dog park that day, she has a messy meet-cute with a handsome guy who’s visiting his family.

Ethan is the first person to actually see Ali for who she is—brave, resourceful, and beautiful—and not who he wants her to be. The last thing she needs is to complicate her life further, but between mediation with Pete and raising their three children, she needs something for herself. Why not have a casual summer romance?

“I am starting to understand the lightness that comes from focusing so hard on a single thing. Without all the distractions, it’s almost as if you could fly.”

I loved everything about this book—the characters, the banter, the way it so beautifully captured grief, as well as the need to find yourself and find hope again. This was fantastic!!

Book Review: "A Talent for Murder" by Peter Swanson

“Getting away with murder doesn’t make it special.”

Martha is a librarian in Maine, living a fairly solitary existence. She’s resigned herself to never getting married, but then she met Alan, a traveling salesman, and shockingly, they fell in love and got married.

Alan’s job has him on the road a lot, going to various conventions. While Martha is fine with that, and Alan makes her happy, sometimes she feels like she barely knows him. One day, she finds a blood stain on a shirt he wore during a trip, and he can’t really explain what happened. She starts to become more suspicious of Alan, and after doing some research, she discovers that five women have been killed in five different cities while Alan has been in each.

Is her husband a murderer? Martha doesn’t want to go to the police or confront Alan, so she calls Lily, her old friend from college, to see what she thinks. Lily offers to do some digging into the murders and Alan’s possible involvement. But what Lily discovers is far beyond what either suspect.

I’m a big Peter Swanson fan, and really loved The Kind Worth Killing and The Kind Worth Saving. It was great to have Lily and Henry appear in another book (although I wanted more Henry). You don’t need to have read the first two books to enjoy this one, but you should!!

I loved the twists in this book, and I just love the way Swanson writes. I’ll be patiently waiting for his next book!!

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Book Review: "Margo's Got Money Troubles" by Rufi Thorpe

I hate being an outlier, especially on a book I’ve really been anticipating, but this just didn’t grab me, although I appreciated its message.

Margo is a student at a junior college, working as a waitress to make ends meet. She really doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life, but her English professor, Mark, thinks she’s tremendously intelligent and can do almost anything.

It’s not long before Margo and Mark start sleeping together, despite the fact that he’s married with children of his own. But after Mark ends the affair, Margo discovers she is pregnant. Although everyone—Mark, her mother, her friends—tell her that she should have an abortion, that having a baby will ruin her life, she decides to give birth.

When her son Bodhi is born, she’s 20 years old, and she’s quickly at the end of her rope. Her mother won’t help, and she can’t find anyone to watch the baby, so she can’t work. When her estranged father Jinx, a former pro wrestler, needs a place to live, he moves in and helps take care of the baby.

Margo still needs money, however. Her father tells her about OnlyFans, and while she can’t quite imagine filming herself, the money she could make is a powerful enticement. Little by little, she comes out of her shell, and the experiment becomes a smashing success.

There are definitely some funny moments in the book, including the baby shower (IYKYK), but there’s a lot of poignancy as well. The gimmick in which the narration shifted between first and third person threw me off a lot. But lots of people have loved this, so give it a try!

Book Review: "Free Fall" by Kathryn Nolan

I was yesterday years old when I discovered that there’s a bodyguard romance sub-genre. I mean, I read Katherine Center's The Bodyguard, but who knew it was an actual sub-genre? If there are other books like this one, my devotion to hockey romance might be in jeopardy!

When Luke Beaumont’s enormously wealthy father, whom he hadn’t spoken to in five years, dies, he is shocked to learn that he’s now the heir to a massive real estate development company. Luke doesn’t get why his father would leave him the company, when he was grooming his brother Preston to take over.

Luke would like to get as far away from the family business as he can, and continue working as a water safety and surfing instructor. Of course, his father manipulated things so he’d lose his trust fund if he tried to shirk his responsibilities. Another thing that Luke inherited is a need for a full-time bodyguard, especially because his father had been getting death threats.

Elijah, his bodyguard, is a strict rule-follower, and he doesn’t like that Luke won’t listen to him. Elijah is also seriously sexy, which isn’t lost on Luke. They feel a very strong connection, but Elijah doesn’t want to jeopardize his imminent promotion—plus if he lets Luke distract him, it could prove dangerous.

Just as the death threats are heating up, so is the fire between them. When Luke is kidnapped, Elijah will do anything to find Luke, not just because it’s his job, but because it’s the man he loves.

“When I stayed close, I kept Luke from danger. When I stayed close, Luke was the danger.”

This was STEAMY, emotional, romantic, and suspenseful. Couldn’t get enough!!

Book Review: "The Great Cool Ranch Dorito in the Sky" by Josh Galarza

How could I resist reading a book with a title like this, even though I’m a Doritos purist? As lighthearted as the title is, however, this book packs a real emotional punch.

Life can be challenging when you’re a teenager, but for Brett, things are even harder. His adoptive mother has cancer, so he’s living with his best friend, Reed. The only things that make him feel better are drawing comics and eating. He eats a lot, so of course, he finds himself upset with how he looks, which leads to bulimia.

Brett doesn’t really think there’s a problem with binging and purging all the time. And when some of his journal entries are leaked online by someone he trusted, he hits rock bottom. But then he starts to realize that he has a problem and needs help, and he discovers that he’s not as alone as he thinks.

This is a tough book to read. You really feel Brett’s sadness and trauma, and it’s fairly graphic in describing his eating disorder. However, this book is so important, because there are so few books out there that address eating disorders in teenage boys.

As someone who struggled with my weight all through high school (and beyond), this definitely hit close to home for me. But while the book is a bit heavy, it’s also hopeful. It’s a story about asking for help and realizing you’re not alone. It’s also a story about love, of friends and chosen family, but also loving yourself.

Thanks to NetGalley and Henry Holt Books for Young Readers for the advance copy. The book will publish 7/23.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Book Review: "All Friends Are Necessary" by Tomas Moniz

“But now, I understood that finding your family and your friends often happens despite anything you choose to do. You have no real control. And maybe that’s for the best. You can prepare and devise and court and romance all you want, and sometimes that works. But trauma can lead to family. Accidents can create friendships.”

This gorgeously written, character-driven book is about the family we choose and the family we’re born into. It’s about resilience and recovery and finding your own way. And it’s a beautiful tribute to the power of belonging, of love, of being seen.

Efren (aka Chino) is a biology teacher in Seattle, preparing for his wife to have a baby. But when tragedy strikes, he moves back to the Bay Area, where he ekes out a simple existence, working temp jobs, hanging with his college best friends, and longing for connection and companionship.

Chino needs to find his way out of his grieving, anger, and guilt. He moves about 90 minutes away from the Bay Area, still trying to find himself, and he dates both men and women in an effort to find the person who feels most right. And while he finds a home and dreams of an opportunity, he eventually heads back to the Bay to be with his friends.

The book spans between 2018 and 2023, watching the group of friends deal with changes in their lives, their relationships, even the pandemic. And in the end, they realize that life is real, it is hard, and it is uncertain, but it’s worth all of it.

“Perhaps Genevieve is right. All your pain and all your joy. All the ridiculous memories and regrets and mistakes: Why would you want to leave all those memories of family and friends and broken hearts and birth and death behind?”

Monday, June 10, 2024

Book Review: "The Hollywood Assistant" by May Cobb

Holy twists and turns, Batman! May Cobb’s upcoming thriller definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. While not everything was a surprise, there was a lot that kept me guessing.

Since the end of her last relationship, Cassidy has been struggling emotionally and professionally. An aspiring novelist, she can’t seem to find the right story to hook a publisher. So her best friend Lexie convinces her to move to Los Angeles, and she lines up a job for Cassidy, as the personal assistant to a famous couple, Nate and Marisol Sterling.

Cassidy quickly realizes the job is a dream come true. She does a lot of shopping, runs errands, and organizes Marisol’s stuff, but there are a lot of perks, including being gifted a large amount of clothes that Marisol doesn’t need. And when Nate offers her the opportunity read a script and share her opinions, she gets to do that fairly often.

With Lexie shooting a film in Prague, Cassidy is pretty lonely, so she enjoys the easy camaraderie she feels with the Sterlings. They are a tempestuous couple, often fighting and then making up, which is awkward to watch, especially the more Cassidy feels a connection to Nate.

And then things start to go off the rails for the Sterlings, and Cassidy finds herself entangled in the mess. Amidst the chaos, she learns that things aren’t what they seemed. But is Cassidy, for that matter?

This definitely reads like a movie, and it is twisty and melodramatic. It’s fun when you don’t know whom to trust or how things are going to unfold. Thanks to Berkley and NetGalley for the advance copy. The book will publish 7/9.

Book Review: "You Should Be So Lucky" by Cat Sebastian

Cat Sebastian’s last book, We Could Be So Good, was one of my favorites of 2023. I love how she built a slow-burn romance between two men despite the fears and possible repercussions of the 1950s. In her new book, she does something similar with equally beautiful results.

Eddie is a young baseball player on the rise in 1960. He was ambushed with news of a trade to the pitiful New York Robins just after a game, and he made some comments to reporters about his new team that he probably shouldn’t have. Now he’s being ostracized by his teammates, he’s afraid to talk to reporters, he’s in the midst of a horrible batting slump, and he's living in a hotel because he's so sure he'll get traded again.

Mark is a newspaper reporter who is barely hanging on following the sudden death of his partner, a relationship unknown to nearly everyone. He is not a sports reporter, but the publisher assigns him to write a series of articles on Eddie which hopefully will endear him to the fans. The last thing Eddie wants to do is talk to another reporter, but he feels a connection to Mark fairly quickly, and trusts the man won’t make him look bad.

As Eddie tries to find his swing again, in Mark, he finds a friend and confidante, and recognizes that Mark is as attracted to him as he is to Mark. However, there’s no way Eddie can be an out baseball player (especially in 1960), and Mark is determined he doesn’t want to be someone else’s secret lover again. He tries to discourage Eddie’s feelings but at the same time, wants him as well.

“Mark always had to be careful, and careful means dishonest; careful means making sure that there’s always a lie at hand that he can reach for and use to paper over the truth.”

This was such a fantastically moving story, full of emotion, hope, fear, and far more acceptance than I would’ve imagined. I loved the supporting characters as much as Mark and Eddie, and was so happy with the way Sebastian let the story unfold. Can’t wait for her next one!!

Book Review: "You Had Me at Happy Hour" by Timothy Janovsky

My second book in a week featuring a bartender/mixologist…this is the best way to experience cocktails without a hangover!

Julien is a certified sommelier working in a bar/restaurant owned by his aunt and uncle. He dreams of becoming a master sommelier, which will help him write his ticket out of small-town Bethlehem, PA.

In an effort to attract more business to the restaurant, Julien’s aunt and uncle decide to hire Greg, a tremendously handsome mixologist who had gained some notoriety on TikTok. They believe with Greg’s cocktail-making skills and Julien’s expertise about wine, a huge flow of customers should be imminent.

But after Greg and Julien’s initial meeting fizzles awkwardly and their subsequent interactions go awry, business is flowing…away from the restaurant. So the two are tasked with creating new happy hours at the restaurant which can feature fun cocktails and excellent wine. That means they have to overcome whatever issues they have with one another and work together. Or else.

Of course, the awkwardness hides the strong mutual attraction between the two at first, but it’s not long before their feelings for each other intensify. But with Julien’s OCD and Greg’s anxiety and ED issues, the road to casual sex isn’t as smooth as it should be. And as their relationship heads towards love, both panic in their own ways.

I’ve read all of Timothy Janovsky’s books and this may be my favorite. I loved how he balanced the banter and the incredible steam with the serious emotional issues both Julien and Greg were dealing with. It turned what could have been a typical M/M rom-com into something more complex, and I loved it.

Thanks so much to NetGalley and Afterglow Books by Harlequin for the advance copy. The book will publish 7/23.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Book Review: "Blood in the Cut" by Alejandro Nodarse

If you are a vegan or vegetarian, or if detailed descriptions of butchering might make you feel squeamish, you’ll probably want to skip this book. You could also skim those scenes as I did, but there are more than a few.

Iggy Guerra is released from a Florida prison and returns home to chaos. His mother has died, his father is healing his grief through alcohol and mysterious activities late at night, and the family butcher shop, La Carnicería Guerra, is in financial trouble. Iggy’s father doesn’t want him around, but he promised his mother he’d try to be patient with his father, so he’s doing the best he can.

It’s not long before Iggy discovers there are threats from all sides. There’s a new high-end restaurant/butcher shop scheduled to open just down the block, his father is in debt to a dangerous big-game hunter in the Everglades, and there’s an animal rights vigilante looking to make people pay for their wrongdoings.

The last thing Iggy wants is to go back to prison, but he keeps finding himself in situations that test his patience, his hunger for revenge, and his need to protect the family business. Orin, the big-game hunter, wants Iggy to take over the business deal he had with his father, a deal that is not only illegal and unethical, but immensely dangerous. But what will refusing Orin lead to?

This is a raw, tense, brooding book, with moments of surprising emotion among the violence and suspense. It definitely has glimpses of S.A. Cosby’s books in the ways it looks at how flawed people are forced into decisions they don’t want, but might be compelled to make.

Blood in the Cut is Alejandro Nodarse’s debut, and I definitely look forward to seeing what he does next. The pacing is a bit uneven, but I found Iggy to be a fascinating character I couldn’t help rooting for.

Book Review: "The Last Dance" by J. Mackenzie

What a lovely book this was! Having read lots of romances, I kept waiting for things to take a melodramatic turn. I’m grateful to J. Mackenzie for letting the characters and their story shine on its own.

Achilles has been a professional ballet dancer for a number of years, performing all over the world. He’s excited to return to NYC for the first time in 10 years to star in Romeo and Juliet, and inherently, he knows this will be his last show.

The last time Achilles was in NYC, he was a glorious dancer but a nightmare otherwise, driven by his ego and feeling like everything was owed to him. He drank and did drugs, and treated everyone horribly. It’s taken him 10 years and a lot of therapy to be able to reflect on his journey and those he hurt.

He’s utterly shocked when he realizes that Patroclus is the stage manager of the show. Patroclus was the person Achilles hurt the most, and seeing him again throws Achilles for a loop. But while he’s been thinking of how horrible he was to people and how much he hurt them, it doesn’t appear Patroclus has been suffering. He’s doing what he always wanted to, and seems to have his life together.

How difficult will it be to work with Patroclus and be consumed by guilt and regret? Can they be friends, or perhaps have a second chance at happiness? At the same time, Achilles must figure out what’s next for him if this really is his last show. What will his life be without dancing, the one thing he’s done since he was a child?

I really enjoyed this romantic, sexy, sweet book, full of glimpses into the world of ballet. Achilles and Patroclus had terrific chemistry and I loved the way their relationship developed, as well as Achilles’ friendship with his dance partner. (Interestingly enough, while the MCs have names from mythology, everyone else’s names are normal.) I’d love a second book within this world!

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Book Review: "Triple Sec" by TJ Alexander

I’ve said many times how much I love books that take place in the culinary world or in restaurants. After reading TJ Alexander’s latest, we can add books about bartenders and cocktails to my list, which is ironic, because I don’t drink!

Mel is a bartender at one of NYC’s trendiest places. She’s excellent behind the bar, and even better at knowing what her customers need and want, sometimes even before they do. And while she’s seen her share of encounters ignite and fizzle out at the bar, she hasn’t thought about her own love life since her divorce.

All that changes when Bebe walks in. She’s shrewd, sexy, and seems to be interested in Mel—but it turns out she’s also happily married to her partner, Kade. However, since Bebe and Kade have an open marriage, she asks Mel out on a date. Once Mel gets over her initial trepidations, she’s all in for some no-strings-attached fun.

Of course, it’s not long before both start to catch feelings beyond the casual mood they agreed upon. But instead of ending things, everyone is fine with things getting more serious. And then Mel realizes that she and Kade are also attracted to one another, despite the fact that Mel always thought they hated her. Suddenly, two’s company—and three is even better!

Meanwhile, Mel finds the courage to enter a major cocktail competition, which if she wins, she could get the seed money to open her own place, where her own drinks could be on the menu. And while navigating polyamory is daunting at first, having Bebe and Kade by her side makes all the difference.

I honestly haven’t read many books which feature polyamory, and I found the chemistry Mel had with both Bebe and Kade was fascinating, as were the issues that cropped up for her. This is a very steamy, fun, and romantic read, which could totally be read over cocktails!

I’m a huge fan of TJ Alexander; you can’t go wrong picking up any of their books!

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Book Review: "To the Moon and Back" by N.R. Walker

I don’t think this book could have been any sweeter or more heartwarming!! I couldn’t stop smiling and swooning, and I might’ve shed a happy tear or two.

When Gideon agreed to adopt his sister’s baby, fatherhood changed his life, and he was quickly devoted to Benson. But Gideon’s boyfriend didn’t want any part of raising a child, so he walked out when Benson was six weeks old.

Utterly exhausted and needing to go back to work in the office, Gideon decides to hire a nanny. Toby has returned to Sydney after three years of working and studying abroad, and he has a degree in child development. When he immediately bonds with Benson, Gideon knows Toby is the right one for the job.

Toby loves working with little kids, and Benson is absolutely adorable. It doesn’t hurt that Gideon is sexy in a Tom-Selleck-as-Magnum way. Although Gideon has a little trouble letting go at first, within a few days, he realizes he’d be lost without Toby.

As they fall into a routine, both Gideon and Toby realize they’re attracted to one another. Toby doesn’t want to jeopardize his job, and Gideon doesn’t know if he’s ready for another man. But as sparks ignite, they throw caution to the wind and head to the bedroom. Little by little, they realize they both want more, but what would that mean?

This is my second N.R. Walker book, and I just love the way she infuses her stories with emotion, humor, romance, and lots of heat. I could’ve read another 100-200 pages about Toby, Gideon, and Benson, and I know I’ll be back for another Walker book not too long from now!

Monday, June 3, 2024

Book Review: "The Rest of the Story" by Tal Bauer

I need my monthly hockey romance fix, what can I say?

But The Rest of the Story is truly different than the other hockey romances I’ve read. It’s an incredible love story and although it takes a long while to get to the steam it is HOTTTT! Beyond that, however, this book hit me square in the feels, and it’s a much heavier, emotional book than I expected—but so amazing!!

“He was as close to perfect as I’d ever seen, so close that it burned to be around him. He was like staring at the sun.”

Morgan has been playing hockey for a while. He’s a good player, and has won a Stanley Cup, but now that he’s almost 30, he’s fodder for a trade. Even though he knows this, the last thing he’s expecting is to be traded to the Rocky Mountain Outlaws, a team so awful it makes bad teams look like stars. Morgan vows to spend one year there and then get the hell out of town.

When he arrives, he quickly realizes just how toxic things are, and no one can do anything about it. But Morgan does, and his acts of rebellion help the broken players heal and ignite a turnaround. Morgan isn’t interested in being the leader, but his teammates give him no choice.

Shea catches Morgan’s eye the second he arrives. But Morgan doesn’t do relationships or commitment, so despite their mutual attraction, he can’t give Shea what he wants: true love. (Well, he can, and he wants to, but he doesn’t think he’s worthy of Shea.)

There’s lots of hockey in this hockey romance, as Morgan and Shea work together to rebuild the team. But there’s lots of trauma here too, trauma that manifests itself in many ways. (There are more than a few trigger warnings here.) Can Morgan and Shea find happy ever after…and maybe a championship?

Tal Bauer slays me again.

Book Review: "Veridian Sterling Fakes It" by Jennifer Gooch Hummer

In her upcoming book (which is an Amazon First Reads pick this month), Jennifer Gooch Hummer takes us on a fun romp through the art world, where it’s often hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t.

Veridian Sterling is a recent graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and a talented artist. She’s ready for a show in a prestigious New York gallery (or even a not-so-prestigious one), but no one is interested in her work. It’s hard watching others you feel are less talented getting the breaks you think you deserve.

She is able to land a job as assistant to a high-maintenance gallery owner, who doesn’t seem to be the most ethical of people. And when Veri overhears that there is a lost Van Gogh painting for which another art dealer will pay a hefty finder’s fee, she figures she can get into the game.

Yet in her secret schemes with the dealer—who believes she has real artistic talent—she gets in way over her head. It doesn’t help that the dealer’s chauffeur is immensely handsome and seems to like her. Before she knows it, she’s being pushed into a scheme where the payoff can be high, but so are the risks. Can she keep faking until she gets what she wants?

I really enjoyed this book. It was a very quick read and yet I was fascinated by the supporting characters, many of whom are much more complex than you think. I definitely would like to see more of Myra, Major Cohen, Charles, Tate, and Veri’s mom—I know there are some fascinating stories there!!

I’ve been a fan of Jennifer’s since loving her first book, Girl Unmoored. I’m grateful to her and Lake Union for the advance copy of this; it really was an enjoyable ride!! The book publishes 7/1.

Book Review: "Another First Chance" by Robbie Couch

“Death isn’t the end but a conclusion to a single chapter within the infinite story of us—a cosmic transfer when our essence merges with the skies above. In death, we return to stardust, forever woven into the celestial tapestry of a universe that cannot be anything but immortal.”

River’s best friend Dylan died in a car accident a year ago, when he was texting and driving. River has been full of grief, not to mention guilt, since it was his text that Dylan was responding to. Every day, River passes a billboard with Dylan’s face on it, reminding people not to text and drive, which River hates.

Since Dylan’s death, River has been a loner. No one really understands how he feels, except Mavis, Dylan’s girlfriend, who used to be River’s best friend, but she hasn’t spoken to him since the accident.

When River makes some “improvements” (otherwise known as vandalism) to Dylan’s billboard, he gets blackmailed into participating in a research study called The Affinity Trials, which is geared toward teenagers who are struggling socially. River is thrown together for a week with 19 other students, including Mavis, which makes for a difficult time.

During the Trials, River finally starts coming to terms with his grief and guilt. At the same time, several of the students, including River, are experiencing some weird things. What are the Trials really for. What’s real and what isn’t?

The book is narrated by River in the present and Dylan on the day he died. Although the book gets a little technical at times, I thought it was really moving, and as someone who lost one of his best friends 2-1/2 years ago, some of the emotions felt very real. I can always count on Robbie Couch to hit me in the feels!!