Monday, February 26, 2024

I'm captured and the sky is burning red: THE SAFE PLACE.

The Safe PlaceThe Safe Place by Anna Downes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Everything that glitters is not gold!

Emily Proudman's life is falling apart when she receives an amazing offer... she's lost her job and her agent when her former boss, Scott, asks her to come stay at his home in France as a housekeeper and as a caregiver to his ailing daughter. Emily jumps at the chance to escape London, her failing acting career, and her empty bank account. But is this job too good to be true?

This is a quick read and quite the page-turner. It's not a read that will stay with me, but it was a fun one. It's crazy and a little wild and unbelievable but if you like bizarre family secrets and remote, creepy locations (exotic French house!), you'll enjoy it. Downes does a good job of building suspense and tension, with eerie events happening at Scott and Nina's house and Emily's doubts building every day. 3 stars.

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Friday, February 23, 2024

You sent my head to spinning, just like a Tilt-A-whirl: EVEN IF IT BREAKS YOUR HEART.

Even If It Breaks Your HeartEven If It Breaks Your Heart by Erin Hahn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Look it's Erin Hahn, just breaking my heart and putting it back together like it's nothing...

Erin Hahn calls this her "sad rodeo" book, and that was definitely true, but it was also a gorgeous love story and a beautiful story about recovering from grief and loss.

Case and Walker grew up best friends, thick as thieves, and working the rodeo circuit together, riding bulls. But all that changed when Walker's chronic illness caught up with him and he died at age 17. Now Case feels adrift in the world without his best friend. Walker leaves behind a list of things he wanted to do--along with items like jumping naked in a pool and winning the buckle on the national rodeo circuit, Case spies "befriend Winnie Sutton." Case never paid much attention to Winnie, who works at his dad's ranch, but knowing that she meant something to Walker changes things.

This book almost made me like horses, which is a huge feat, as I've been scared of them since childhood. But the ranch vibe is lovely, as is Winnie's absolute reverence for the animals with which she works. Winnie's been raising her younger siblings since her Mom split when she was a kid and her Dad checked out. At this point, she can only practice with other people's horses, but she dreams of competitively barrel racing. And dammit, she's good. I fell hard for Winnie, who has the weight of the world on her shoulders, yet remains optimistic and strong for her family. She has no desire to open her heart or depend on anyone and that includes rich, clueless Case.

I love Erin Hahn's writing and she captured Case and Winnie so well. As they slowly open up to each other and start to trust again... it's impossible not to get caught up in their love. There's nothing instant or half baked in this book. The character development is strong, as we watch Winnie struggle to balance family with her own desires and Case attempt to open up after losing his best friend--and figure out what it is he wants to do with his future. If you've ever lost someone you loved and grew up with young, this book will hit hard.

BREAKS perfectly balances dealing with grief with romance. And it expertly mixes in some fun, with the rodeo pieces (and some awesome 90s country references). This is a beautiful and touching story with wonderful characters. 4.5+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Wednesday Books in return for an unbiased review.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Like I was loving you out in the wild: THE WOMEN.

The WomenThe Women by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting and eye-opening read that won't be easily forgotten...

Nursing student Frankie McGrath lives a fairly sheltered life in Southern California with her brother and her conservative parents. But when her older brother enlists in Vietnam, Frankie decides to follow him. She enlists in the Army--the only organization that will ship her to Vietnam right after basic training. Once there, she realizes immediately she's over her head.

Too young to know the Vietnam War personally, my knowledge comes from my parents' stories and the history books. I found THE WOMEN to be incredibly thoughtful and very insightful, filled with lots of knowledge and facts about a huge historical event that I clearly need to learn even more about. The information comes through the narrative, versus preaching or long lists of facts, and we learn about the War via the eyes of Frankie, her fellow nurses, and the men she encounters as she administers on base. What she encounters as she (and the others) save countless lives and watch so many more die before them is staggering. Hannah does an amazing job of portraying the horrors of war, while also giving it a personal touch. Frankie makes friends in Vietnam, forms attachments, and even falls in love. I found the part of the story where she served to be the most compelling--it's raw and real, with realistic details. It becomes incredibly clear how the events of Vietnam would affect those who serve, after what they see and must overcome.

When Frankie returned home, I felt the book floundered a bit. It dragged a little and felt long. Now, I won't deny that the environment that she and many of her fellow soldiers returned to was traumatic and that Hannah portrays how unwelcome and ashamed they feel extraordinarily well. Leaving home a hero, returning hated--Frankie and her fellow nurses (as well as so many soldiers) struggle to return to regular life. The problem is that Frankie, honestly, is not always the most likable character. I wasn't expecting a perfect character but Frankie was difficult to like and her decisions were very frustrating -- and that really had nothing to do with her particular emotional situation from the war, but her overall sheltered world and personality. She's not the best to the people around her. Once she was home, the plot dragged on without a lot of action or forward movement. The lessons taught and emotions elicited were excellent, however. I was horrified that female nurses were told they weren't heroes and even that women never went to Vietnam at all or that anyone who served came home to a country that hated them and couldn't separate the soldiers from the wear. THE WOMEN does a great job illustrating how the U.S. changed over twenty years of war--and who in the U.S. suffered during that transition. I just wish Frankie had a better storyline and personality to hold her own with the power of the wartime backdrop. Still, I enjoyed this book and all it had to offer. 4 stars.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2024

That's me in the story and the story is real: INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT SPACE.

Interesting Facts about SpaceInteresting Facts about Space by Emily R. Austin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A rather strange but surprisingly touching read!

So I won't lie, I found parts of this book to be really weird and a little cringey, but some of that became wrapped up in our main character, Enid, a well-written neurodivergent soul, who struggles with a variety of phobias and some issues caused by being born deaf in one ear. Enid copes by focusing on space facts and listening to true crime podcasts. She's a serial dater (and is a lesbian, which makes this book wonderfully queer) who has never had a serious relationship.

We find Enid struggling to develop a relationship with her half sisters, whom she's never really known, as her father abandoned her and her mom when she was just a kid. As a result, she grew up dealing with her mom's depression and mood swings. Enid slowly realizes that some of her fears (such as being terrified of bald men) might relate to her difficult childhood. She starts to think someone is breaking into her apartment. This all sounds serious, but much of this book is witty and quirky. It's told in very short snippets from Enid's point of view, with flashbacks going all the way back to her childhood.

Some of these snippets are definitely odd (Enid had a YouTube channel as a kid, for instance, and she recorded some weird stuff). But overall, as we get to know Enid and watch her trying to form bonds with her half sisters, struggle to be a good daughter to her mom, attempt to actually form a real relationship with a woman named Polly (whom she meets in quite an interesting way), and maintain her closest friendship with her co-worker Vin... well, she grows on you! There are some very touching moments, some bizarre ones, some sweet ones. You have to really give this book a chance and truly experience it--it's hard to describe. It's different and character-driven, and I think it's worth a read.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Atria Books in return for an unbiased review.

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Friday, February 02, 2024

Up around the moon and back again: WHO TO BELIEVE.

Who to BelieveWho to Believe by Edwin Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow -- what an amazing ride filled with murder and mayhem!

In a small town in Massachusetts, every resident pretty much knows everyone else's business. There's Damian, a documentary filmmaker and his wife Alice. Georgia, mom to Chloe and the town's beloved minister, struggling with her divorce from Richard, who is now dating Farley, the local therapist. (And Farley has a front row seat to everyone's thoughts!) Everyone is watched over by the police chief, Max. As for Max, he is busy trying to solve the recent murder of Laurel--where the main suspect is her restaurateur husband, Simon.

This dark, dynamic story is told from the POV of many of these main characters, one-by-one. What could be a repetitive device (hearing about the same event from each person, for example) turns out to be a suspenseful one, as we get new tidbits of information here and there, slowly revealing the story. Everyone has their own secrets and confessions and there's an interesting choice to reveal a killer up front. (But do not despair, there are plenty of killers and death to go around here!)

Our story revolves around a party held for Alice's 40th birthday, followed shortly by another death. It dips back a few days before via flashbacks. This is a wild ride as so many characters are dark and evil! So much drama, so many secrets, so much sneaking around in a small town! While there are plenty of messed up folks to go around here, I found some to love, especially spunky teenage Chloe and Alice's adorable dog, Harper. The book gets a little wild by the end, maybe requiring a bit too much suspension of disbelief, but overall I really enjoyed this dark web of lies and twisted narratives. If you want a dark, complex, well-written mystery that will keep you guessing, this one is for you!

I received a copy of this book from Kensington Books and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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Sunday, January 28, 2024

I wanna be at least almost close to worth your love: FIRST LIE WINS.

First Lie WinsFirst Lie Wins by Ashley Elston
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Very rarely does a popular book live up to the hype, but this was a really good one!

Evie and Ryan seem like a great couple. He's a handsome, wealthy guy whom she lucked out meeting when her car got an unexpected flat tire. On the surface, Evie looks like a nice girl trying to land a great guy. But beyond that, we learn that Evie doesn't actually exist--Ryan just happens to be her latest mark in a long line of jobs. However, her mysterious boss, Mr. Smith, has just changed the rules, and things are about to get crazy, fast.

It's best to go into LIES as blind as you can, because this is a wonderful cat and mouse story filled with people playing games with other people. Secrets, twists, and--you guessed it--lies abound! Sure, you have to suspend a little disbelief here and there, but it's worth it, like watching a really fun popcorn action flick. Reading about everyone trying to get the upper hand over everyone else is exciting and suspenseful, as it's pretty much impossible to figure out what will come next!

I loved that this book was different from most of the thrillers I read and that I couldn't work out the story. A thriller that surprises me is a fun, worthy read. 4.5 stars.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Seven wonders, city streets: THE GETAWAY LIST.

The Getaway ListThe Getaway List by Emma Lord
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really love Emma Lord.

Her books are so effusive and original. THE GETAWAY LIST is an enjoyable ode to New York City, growing up, and finding yourself. When Riley graduates from high school, she thought she'd have a plan, but she has none. Her mom expects her to stay home over the summer, work at her coffee shop, and go to community college, but when Riley has the chance to visit New York City for the weekend, her visit suddenly turns into... staying. New York City feels like home, like herself, like Riley can finally breathe again. Lord makes us feel like a part of NYC with Riley, bringing the city to life as Riley slowly discovers pieces of herself that she lost while molding herself into the version of Riley that pleased her overbearing mom.

New York also has Tom, Riley's childhood best friend, who moved to the city four years ago. The two expected to see each other often, but when that didn't happen, they developed "The Getaway List," a bucket list of sorts, filled with ideas to keep them connected. Once together, they start knocking items off the list--take a class together, do a run together for the delivery service where Tom works, etc. Riley loves everything about New York, including the fun new group of friends she meets, but she is a bit confused by the new feelings she has for Tom. Falling in love with NYC is one thing; falling in love with Tom is certainly another.

While this is certainly a YA book filled with teen angst and drama, Riley and Tom are mature, and this is such an effervescent and intriguing story. Riley and Tom bonded as children over a time traveling book series, which is woven throughout the book; it's so nerdy and cute, just like them. Like many of Lord's books, this is a romantic story, but also a tale of friendship at its core. She writes about friendship so beautifully, and it's wonderful reading about Riley and Tom's journey.

THE GETAWAY LIST has a bouncy set of ancillary characters who boost the story, from Tom and Riley's other childhood friend, Jesse, who is trying to make it with his band; to Mariella, Tom's cheerful, brilliant tech genius /artistic friend; and Luca, whom Tom and Riley meet at a writing class. This group's new friendship is sweet and touching too. As for Tom and Riley, they do not have overwhelming chemistry, but a deep, calm relationship. Their friendship is the basis for anything more and watching them grow is special in its own way. They are also funny, nerdy, and growing up.

As with any book by Lord, this story is unique, humorous, and entertaining. LIST delves into mother/child relationships, friendships, coming-of-age, and romance with its own special insight. 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Wednesday Books in return for an unbiased review.

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