Monday, March 20, 2023

There's a hoping in my heart that says I'd brave the dark: FIVE SURVIVE.

Five SurviveFive Survive by Holly Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Red Kenny and her friends are headed on a spring break trip in a borrowed RV. It's Red; her best friend Maddy; Maddy's older brother Oliver; friend and classmate Simon; Red's secret crush Arthur; and Oliver's girlfriend Renata. On their way, the group gets lost and their RV breaks down in the dark woods with no cell service. Soon they realize they've been trapped there on purpose by someone who wants one of them dead. They have until dawn to escape: six friends, five will survive.

This is one of those rare books I enjoyed more than I thought I would--it's no classic, but it's a fun page-turner of a thriller. It's quite the locked room story, taking place entirely in the RV. There are so many secrets and lies, with tension building as the tale goes on. It's bloody and dark and keeps you guessing as you attempt to work out why everyone is trapped and who could be responsible. Oliver is such a classic bad guy that it's easy to point the finger at him, but there's a surprising amount of suspects. Everything winds up being a bit predictable but I still found this to be an enjoyable and suspenseful quick read. 3.75 stars, rounded up to 4 here.

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Thursday, March 16, 2023

But it's gonna be a long ride: THE FINAL GAMBIT.

The Final Gambit (The Inheritance Games, #3)The Final Gambit by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third book in Barnes' Inheritance Games trilogy finds Avery Grimes so close to hitting her one-year mark of inheriting the multi-billion-dollar Hawthorne family fortune. But, as always, nothing is ever easy, and trouble literally shows up at her door.

I really love these books and the tough, plucky Avery. As with the first two books, there are a ton of characters and family dynamics to keep track of--I had to keep reminding myself who gave birth to whom, etc. But I think Barnes is brilliant to write such complex stories and still make the characters come across as so unique and human. There are truly puzzles within puzzles in these books (weird discs, secret tunnels, codes--and that's just a few--and if I was in Avery's position, I would be screwed, because I do not have the brain for such situations! Luckily, Avery is not me, and I love reading as she and the Hawthorne boys tackle all the trickery handed down from the late Tobias Hawthorne, plus a new adversary in this story. There are tons of dark secrets and power struggles. We see Grayson struggling while Avery and Jameson are going strong. Barnes completely brings us into the world of Avery and the Hawthorne brothers. Things seemed to end a little quickly after all we've been through, but it seems like a fitting end nonetheless. 4+ stars.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The better to dream of you: THE RENAISSANCE OF GWEN HATHAWAY.

The Renaissance of Gwen HathawayThe Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway by Ashley Schumacher
My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

It's been nearly one year since Madeline's mom died. She grew up with her parents on the renaissance faire circuit, being homeschooled and helping her parents with their faire booth. Now it's just her and her dad and Maddie finds herself scared she'll forget things about those she loves, so she keeps a journal, marking down "noticings" of everything that happens. Then she meets Arthur, the son of the owners of her latest faire. Arthur seems determined to break through Maddie's walls and become her friend, inviting her to become the Princess of the faire. Maddie doesn't want to get attached to anyone ever again, but Arthur makes it pretty difficult.

This is such a sweet book that delves into the insecurities of teenage life and the difficulties of grief and loss. Maddie (nicknamed "Gwen" by Arthur) is a lovely character recovering from the loss of her mother. She is a darling introvert and the book does an excellent job of portraying her awkwardness and her body issues. It's so wonderful to see a book that discusses a character who is awkward, overweight, funny, and kind. I really loved Maddie. And Arthur is a genuine and kind character as well, being raised by two dads (!) in a castle. There are a ton of fun ren faire references. Maddie and Arthur's romance is a slow, gentle one. This is not a steamy book, but it's a touching one. Their family and friends are witty and cute. I was a bit frustrated with some of the misunderstandings (Maddie thinking Arthur liked another girl, for instance). Overall, this is a very sweet YA story, though. 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Wednesday Books in return for an unbiased review. Look for it on 3/14/2023!!

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Tuesday, March 07, 2023

The weak spot in the armor: WHAT HAVE WE DONE.

What Have We DoneWhat Have We Done by Alex Finlay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As kids, Nico, Benny, Jenna, and Donnie bonded at Savior House, a group home for kids. Their time there was full of trauma, as kids disappeared regularly, and they were bullied by the owner's son. However, they've all gone on to lead "regular" lives--with several of them even becoming famous. But soon they realize that someone is coming after them and has succeeded in killing Ben, a judge. As attempts are made on the others, the survivors must reunite and try to figure out why they are being targeted, even if it means returning to the horrors of Savior House.

I have come to really love Alex Finlay's books and while this one was a little different from the others I've read, it did share one trait: it was a total page turner. You have to suspend a little disbelief to fully enjoy WHAT HAVE WE DONE--it reminded me a little bit of a hellbent Rio Youers thriller at times. But it's a fun, crazy read and offers a great mystery.

DONE opens up with the Savior House kids committing a terrible deed as teens--jumping to their present-day lives, we see how that act (and their time at the home) has formed them into adults. We also can't help but wonder if the recent killing is related to what they've done. Not all of them are the most lovable characters, but each is interesting in their own way. We learn about Benny, a distinguished lawyer and judge, through his friends' memories. Nico is a producer for a reality show about coal miners (yup). Jenna has an interesting past and is concentrating on motherhood. And Donnie is a washed up rock star. While they might not all be close now, we see the power of their childhood friendship and how strong kids can be. The book covers some serious topics, including a range of abuse.

There's a lot going on in DONE and sometimes it seems like a little bit much. The short chapters always kept me reading, but the multiple POV and flashbacks to the group home could be overwhelming. Still, this was an exciting read that kept me guessing until the very end. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Minotaur Books in return for an unbiased review. Look for WHAT HAVE WE DONE on 03/07/2023!

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Monday, March 06, 2023

In a motel with a bouquet in the ice pail: OFF THE MAP.

Off the Map (Beck Sisters, #3)Off the Map by Trish Doller
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Carla spends most of her time traveling the world--something her dad taught her at a young age. Eamon works in IT and can only dream of a life like Carla leads; he feels obligated to be the dutiful son for his mother since his younger brother already struck off for a life of wanderlust. Eamon is tasked to pick up Carla when she arrives in Dublin to attend the marriage of her best friend to his brother and the two feel an instant spark. Can the pair reconcile their different lives?

This was a really quick read that started off with a major insta-attraction: Eamon and Carla fall for each other basically the moment they see each other in a Dublin bar. Because of this, I sometimes felt as if there wasn't a ton of character development or buildup in their relationship. Still, we learned that Carla is wary of getting attached to anyone or anything due to her mom leaving when she was a child. Her father taught her to avoid emotion by traveling and only enforced that fear by encouraging her to take off and travel when he was diagnosed with dementia. Eamon, meanwhile, feels forced to be the stable son thanks to his brother, despite his desire for more. He lives and even dates safely. Sadly, we did not learn much more in-depth about Eamon, and I really liked his character. We only hear things from Carla's perspective.

Like the first two books in this series (don't worry, though, this one can be read on its own without any issue), it can be sad at times, especially when focusing on Carla's dad's illness. Her father was a dynamic character, along with his second wife. The book focuses a ton on traveling, of course, and off-roading--you will learn a lot about these topics! There's an appearance by a very cute cat to break things up!

Overall, I liked this one about as much as THE FLOAT PLAN but not as much as THE SUITE SPOT, which I really loved. I think I like the books with the stable characters staying in one spot more versus the traveling ones, which probably says a lot about my own personality! Still, this is a sweet, cute book and it's a fast read, even if I wished there was a little more to it at times. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin's Griffin and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. Look for it on 03/07/2023!

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Friday, March 03, 2023

There's still a lot of life left in this town: EARLY MORNING RISER.

Early Morning RiserEarly Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Jane falls immediately for Duncan, she doesn't realize that he's slept with a good swath of women in their small town of Boyne City (and surrounding areas). Dating Duncan means encountering his exes everywhere, along with his beautiful ex-wife Aggie and her new husband Gary. After all, Duncan still mows their lawn. It also means that his coworker Jimmy could burst into his apartment at any moment. Then a terrible tragedy occurs and Jane's life becomes permanently entwined with Duncan's and Jimmy's and therefore Aggie's and even eccentric Gary's too. Who knew love involved quite so many people?

RISER is quite a quirky novel and a different sort of read for me, but I'm glad a reading challenge inspired me to pick it up, because it was really quite delightful. It's filled with a cast of memorable small town characters, such as Jane's mandolin-playing best friend, Freida, and Gary, who has a list of things that offend him a mile long, such as linoleum in a kitchen. In a less skilled author's hands, these folks would come across as trite and irritating, but I was laughing out loud in places. Each of these characters jumped off the page as their own unique person.

The story belongs to Jane, giving us glimpses of her life through the years. There are amazing moments of wit, heartbreak, love, and deep insight into her small town life. Heiny captures the suffocating nature of living in a small town perfectly (Aggie knows Jane and Duncan are dating again before Jane is even sure) and the beautiful (the town rallies around its own). It's sad at times, but often hopeful and beautiful too. I loved sweet Jimmy and how well the book showed the world through his lens.

There's no big plot twists in RISER, unless you count the sweeping ups and downs of life. It touches on the big and small moments we encounter in our world. It's relatable in so many ways, covering love, loss, and motherhood, among others. A lovely read. 4+ stars.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Must be something in the water or that I'm my mother's daughter: LOVELY GIRLS.

Lovely GirlsLovely Girls by Margot Hunt
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Kate Turner and her daughter Alex are attempting to start fresh in Florida after the death of Kate's husband (Alex's father). Moving from Buffalo is supposed to give them both a new start. Kate quickly makes friends with a trio of local moms, but their daughters dislike Alex immediately. When Alex displaces one of the girls from the lead spot on the tennis team, tensions rise, and Kate realizes that her daughter is a victim of bullying.

LOVELY GIRLS is a quick read that captures your interest from the start. I'm not sure it covers any new ground, but it certainly keeps you reading. It opens up with a dead body and then we hear the story from Kate's point of view and Alex's video diary.

The mean girls in GIRLS are way mean. Wow. And their moms are just as bad. Be prepared for some immense bullying and intensity. GIRLS takes everything to the extreme to the point that you are very afraid of everything and about what will happen to Kate and Alex. (And scared to send your children to high school, in my case.) As the action unfolds, we learn more about Kate's complicated relationship with her late husband--as well as how Alex related to her father. The book gives us an in-depth look at how women raise their daughters, as well as how kids treat each other--and how parents affect that treatment.

GIRLS gets crazy at the end (okay maybe it's crazy for a while) but it's an addictive train wreck kind of insanity. 3.5+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from Thomas&Mercer and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. Look for LOVELY GIRLS on 03/01/2023!

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