Thursday, June 08, 2023

I can see you light a match: EVERYBODY KNOWS.

Everybody KnowsEverybody Knows by Jordan Harper
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Mae Pruett is a publicist for a LA PR firm--her job isn't to celebrate good news, but keep bad news from getting out for her famous, wealthy, and powerful clients. When her boss, Dan, tells Mae he wants to bring her in on an exciting and secretive side project, she's intrigued. But then Dan is murdered shortly before a meeting. As Mae tries to figure out what happened, she gets entangled in the web of what she calls "The Beast," a group of lawyers, security firms, and PR folks who protect the rich and famous. Can she face The Beast and come out alive?

I read this book based solely on the recommendation of Michael Connelly, whose advice I usually love. And, honestly, this is a well-written and fascinating story, but it confused the absolute heck out of me half the time. I will freely admit it: I was not smart enough for this book. Figuring out who was after who in the labyrinth of The Beast took almost too much energy than I wanted to use when reading for pleasure. That doesn't make this book terrible in any way--it just means it wasn't the best fit for me!

EVERYBODY focuses on the selling of secrets and keeping secrets and the conglomerate of the Beast. There are very few likable characters in this story, filled with Hollywood moguls sleeping with young girls and the abuse and murder of homeless people. My favorite part was Mae's relationship with Chris, a former police offer whom she teams up with to tackle The Beast. Chris seems a bit more human than everyone else, even with his background of brutality and current use of brute force.

This book is complicated and often very gruesome. It is a dark story that features a greater and deeper message about society and its obsession with power. It's certainly intriguing, but I was disappointed by its vague and unfulfilling ending. 3.5 stars.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2023

At times I feel myself smiling: CHARM CITY ROCKS.

Charm City RocksCharm City Rocks by Matthew Norman
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Billy Perkins is known for being a happy guy. He teaches piano lessons in his apartment above Charm City Rocks, an independent record store. And he has his son teenage son, Caleb, whom he shares amicably with his ex-wife, Robyn. It's Caleb who orchestrates a meeting with Margot Hammer, Billy's long-time celebrity crush and drummer of the defunct band, Burnt Flowers. Burnt Flowers crashed and burned spectacularly in public fashion, and Margot's been dubbed a recluse ever since. Neither Billy nor Margot have any intention of meeting let alone becoming a couple, but when they become Internet-famous, they realize they may actually like each other (for real). Can this surprise couple last though?

Okay, CHARM CITY ROCKS is completely and thoroughly charming. It may even rock. This sweet and funny book is an ode to the power of music in our lives, the city of Baltimore, and to finding love and happiness again when you're 40+. I fell head over heels for Billy and Margot (and Caleb) and the entire cast of characters of this adorable romance.

It's so refreshing to read a romance with characters beyond their 20s, who have age-appropriate problems, even if one of them happens to be a rock-star! Billy and Margot were relatable characters, and the supporting cast was funny and rounded out the book perfectly. Norman weaves in music superbly, and if you love it in any form, you'll gravitate to this story. Also, if you've ever lived in Baltimore or know the city at all, CHARM captures the city's spirit so well. Beyond love, this is a tale of family, finding yourself again, and being brave. It truly had me smiling goofily as I read it -- cannot recommend enough! 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. Look for CHARM CITY ROCKS on 06/06/2023!

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Thursday, May 25, 2023

I've been needing something good: THINGS WE NEVER GOT OVER.

Things We Never Got Over (Knockemout, #1)Things We Never Got Over by Lucy Score
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Naomi is shocked by the reception she receives when she walks into a diner in Knockemout, Virginia, until she realizes that everyone there believes she's her troubled twin sister, Tina. Shortly after, Tina disappears with Naomi's car and all her cash. She leaves behind only one thing: her daughter, Waylay, age 11, whom Naomi had no idea existed. Broke and stuck in a small town where everyone hates her, Naomi has to figure out how to take care of herself and Waylay. Enter Knox: he's loved in Knockemout, but has a bad boy reputation for a reason. Still Knox can't help but feel drawn to Naomi and Waylay--with a plan to help them out so his calm life can go back to normal.

I picked up this book during a tough time when I needed a distraction from life. Sure, it's a little cheesy and silly, but I really enjoyed it. It is the perfect escape read, and I'm a total sucker for books with kids involved (Waylay is awesome). OVER offers good characters, such as Knox's brother and grandmother, and Naomi's best friend, and a humorous small town setting. Everyone is in everyone's business, and I appreciated the appearance of gay and bisexual characters (who went beyond the token throw-in). It's quite easy to fall for Naomi and Knox--while they have their hang-ups (wouldn't be a romance without them, right?), they are sweet characters and easy to root for. I also empathized with a lot of Naomi's personality traits.

While there's plenty of sexiness and lust in OVER, there's a lot of truth and love hidden here too. There's a bit of a mystery as we try to track down Tina. It has a great message about loving even when you could get hurt, looking after your own, and the power of family and found family. It tosses in some great parenting gems and covers serious issues like domestic abuse. A really enjoyable read! 4 stars.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2023

But your want-me-back eyes, get-me-back smile: HAPPY PLACE.

Happy PlaceHappy Place by Emily Henry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Harriet is headed back to her favorite place in the world, a Maine cottage belonging to her college friend Sabrina. She's spent over a decade returning to this beloved place with her college pals. But now she's back at the cottage with her fiance, Wyn. Sounds great, right? The only problem... Wyn and Harriet broke up six months ago--and haven't told their best friends yet.

I have loved many Emily Henry books and while I liked pieces of this one, it was not my favorite. Sacrilege, I know! I did not care for present-day Wyn or Harriet much at all. Honestly I did not like most of the characters. It seemed like Henry dropped in our token lesbians, Cleo and Kimmie, who were the only sane ones. How did these people last so long as friends? All they did was drink, fight, and not communicate with one another. Basically all the issues in the book could have been avoided if they just talked! And Harriet--all she did was whine, whine, whine. I wanted to shake some sense into her.

Our story is told in present-day sections and then flips to the past, as Harriet and Wyn meet and fall in love. I enjoyed those pieces and always felt annoyed when we came back to the bickering present. Sure, there were sexy moments and the lingering wanting between Harriet and Wyn was beautifully tense at times, but mostly they were frustrating.

I wanted Kimmie and Cleo to leave the rest of these folks in the dust and head back to their lovely farm. Still, there were sections of the book I liked, so 2.5 stars, rounded to 3 here.

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Friday, May 19, 2023

Love finds itself right where it longs to be: THE LAST REMAINS

The Last Remains (Ruth Galloway, #15)The Last Remains by Elly Griffiths
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The 15th--and supposedly final book--in Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series is basically perfect in every way. I say it in every review of these books, but I find these characters completely beloved, with their own unique expressions and personalities. (I can just picture DCI Nelson exclaiming, "Jesus wept!") We've grown along with Ruth, Nelson, their daughter Kate, Nelson's team, Ruth's druid friend Cathbad, and so many more near and dear characters.

"She feels that she has been fighting things - Covid, the university, her own feelings - for too long."

Things come full circle in REMAINS, with mentions of cases from previous books, along with historical sites Nelson and Ruth have visited (read: been trapped at and/or found someone murdered at) before. It seems like one giant Easter egg for readers, and it's wonderful. We find Ruth at a crossroads, with her university department being shut down. A body is found in a nearby cafe, and when she's called in to excavate, the bones are recent, so she and Nelson must work together once again. The young woman's remains are identified as Emily Pickering, who disappeared in 2002. And we soon learn she knew Cathbad, who is still reeling from having Covid.

The mystery of Emily's murder--and how she was walled up in a cafe--keeps you guessing. It pulls in Cathbad and his partner Judy. Reading about these familiar and loved characters makes me feel so happy and content. And, of course, I love Nelson and Ruth and their attempts to figure out their own complicated relationship. REMAINS is nuanced and detailed--dark at times, but humorous at others (oh Nelson). Its ending was just perfect, and I cried at the end (and again when I read Griffiths note about her dear late cat, Gus). I adore this series and cannot recommend it enough!

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Wednesday, May 17, 2023

I am small and the world is big: WATCHING FROM THE DARK.

Watching from the Dark (DCI Jonah Sheens, #2)Watching from the Dark by Gytha Lodge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Aidan Poole logs onto Skype to chat with his girlfriend Zoe, he witnesses a horrible incident--Zoe being attacked just out of frame. Terrified that she's dead, Aidan tries to reach her without success. But, for some reason, Aidan is reluctant to reach out directly to the police. When DCI Jonah Sheens finally gets Zoe's case, he discovers the dead body of the vibrant young artist. Zoe was beloved by her group of friends. So why was she killed--and why didn't Aidan want to contact the police?

This was a good one! Told in a back and forth storyline, jumping between the present-day investigation of Zoe's murder and the past, starting with Zoe meeting Aidan at a wedding and falling for him, WATCHING FROM THE DARK is an exciting thriller! I loved that it kept me guessing with its full slate of suspects (Zoe has a lot of friends and acquaintances). I am a total sucker for British police novels--if there's a DCI or DI, I'm totally in. I've read the first book in the series but cannot really remember it, but I quite enjoyed seeing DCI Jonah Sheens and his team again.

Lodge does an excellent job delving into the nuances of all the characters--both Sheens' team and all those suspected in Zoe's murder. We learn a lot about Zoe via the past excerpts, so our victim comes alive, creating empathy and pushing forward the desire to solve the crime. I also loved the concept of someone both witnessing a crime via Zoom and also being a suspect for said murder. Overall, this is a quick-moving mystery filled with a slate of mysterious suspects. 4 stars.

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Monday, May 15, 2023


The Invisible Husband of Frick IslandThe Invisible Husband of Frick Island by Colleen Oakley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anders has big dreams of being a famous journalist. Instead, he's tasked to cover a boring Cake Walk in the tiny town of Frick Island, which has only 91 residents. While visiting, he starts to think there is more to Frick Island than meets the eye, as the little island--so resistant to change--will soon be lost to climate change. Drawn to Frick Island, Anders returns over and over, especially captivated by one resident, Piper Parrish. He soon learns that Piper lost her husband Tom in a boat accident. Devastated by the loss, Piper continues to act as if Tom is still with her, talking to him and eating lunch with him at the local diner. Even more wild? The whole town is pretending he is still alive to placate her. Fascinated by the situation, Anders starts a podcast about Frick Island and Piper, but cannot seem to tell Piper or the town as it gains a life of its own.

INVISIBLE was quite hyped around the book community. It was a bit slow to warm up, but was good once it did. I never fully liked Piper, but adored sweet awkward Anders. Still, I found myself frustrated that he would not come clean about Piper being the subject of his podcast. (The island, conveniently, does not receive reliable Internet for most of the novel.)

Oakley's writing is lovely and the characters of this little island pop before your eyes. The cast is full of charming and quirky folks. Still, this is a story of grief and it's often quite sad. The end result is a thoughtful and beautiful tale.

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