Tuesday, November 28, 2023

I'll find my way back home and light up every tree: IT'S A FABULOUS LIFE.

It's a Fabulous LifeIt's a Fabulous Life by Kelly Farmer
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Kelly Farmer brings us a very progressive and cute It's a Wonderful Life, the lite version. Bailey George cannot wait to escape her hometown and vacation in New York City. It means she finally will not be responsible for Lanford Falls' annual Winter Wonderfest. But, of course, the new person in charge has a medical emergency, and Bailey winds up on the hook, yet again. The only bright spot is that her old high school crush, Maria Hatcher, is back in town, and she agrees to help Bailey out.

LIFE glosses over a lot of the more depressing aspects of the original while keeping somewhat to its framework. If you're a huge fan of the Jimmy Stewart classic, you'll love seeing what stays in this story and how the parallels are made. There's the romance between Bailey (who runs her family's real estate business and battles town nemesis Felicity Potter) and Maria, who works at the local library. Bailey's desire to leave Lanford Falls and her disgruntlement with the Wonderfest leads to the arrival of the Angels, a trio of drag queens, and her own personal queen, Clara, who are determined to help her find her Christmas spirit again.

Nothing has quite the same gravitas as the film, but, hey, we're reading a holiday romance. Bailey's reason for a lack of spirit--and her eventual "tada" moment--feel a bit forced. As with the original, you do wonder why she has to give up all her dreams in the name of friends and family.

But, this is a really cute read overall. I loved seeing what quotes and pieces came across from the movie. The small town charm of Lanford Falls really shone through, and while Bailey irked me sometimes, Maria was such a sweet character. She and Bailey each had adorable dogs who were literary stars in their own right. The book is packed with queer characters--always a winning combo for me. There are some really funny inside jokes and great messages sprinkled throughout. As Christmas romances go, I liked this one. 3.5 stars.

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

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Tuesday, November 21, 2023

With a heart of gold and arms to fall into: IRIS KELLY DOESN'T DATE.

Iris Kelly Doesn't Date (Bright Falls, #3)Iris Kelly Doesn't Date by Ashley Herring Blake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not much makes me happier than an Ashley Herring Blake book, whether it's one of her lovely YA reads, or a gorgeous romance from the Bright Falls series. This is the the third (and final) book from Bright Falls, though each book stands alone. This time we get Iris' story--tough, independent Iris, who is scared to find real love after being hurt, so she focuses on one-night stands and being the fun, flirty Iris that everyone loves. Meanwhile, Stevie suffers from anxiety disorder and spent six years dating her close friend Adri because she was too scared to be on her own. Now that Stevie and Adri are broken up, Stevie knows she has to get out and meet someone. She and Iris endure a disastrous one-night stand. They never expect to see each other again, until Iris turns up at auditions for Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Adri and starring Stevie. Imagine Iris' shock when Stevie's friends think the two are dating...

This is a totally adorable and charming fake dating tale! It weaves in all our favorite Bright Falls characters (but again, stands alone) while introducing Stevie and her friends, including the rather uptight Adri, Stevie's watchful non-binary friend Ren, and their friend (and Adri's new gf) Vanessa. What I love about the Bright Falls series is the pure abundance of queerness everywhere. How nice to read a story that could be me and my friends: our jokes, our bars, our lives. Herring Blake captures it all so perfectly.

I adored Stevie. I'm a sucker for a character with anxiety (my friend!) and of course, I loved Iris, even if I wanted to shake her and tell her to stop being so stubborn! There are some great literary references tossed in and lots of fun with the MUCH ADO plot. While Stevie and Iris may not have as much banter as some, they have fabulous chemistry, and this is a really sexy, enjoyable read. It gives us some great messages about friendship and learning to overcome fears and being strong on your own. I loved all the queer rep and references to theater and books. Another winner from AHB! 4.5 stars.

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Sunday, November 19, 2023

Ode to the girls who don't marry well: VLADIMIR.

VladimirVladimir by Julia May Jonas
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sometimes I think a book is just too intelligent for me, and VLADIMIR is one of those. This book might have made more sense if discussed in a group, or dissected in class, but when I read it alone, I just wanted it to be over. I did not find our unnamed protagonist, a professor in her fifties, to be either likable nor nuanced. Her husband, John, heads the English department at their small college, but is swept up in scandal. He's been accused of sleeping with several of his students. Our professor finds herself unnaturally focused on a new, younger professor Vladimir. She shares, ad nauseum, her inappropriate thoughts about him, while focusing on all the things she hates about herself. She also hates John, and their marriage, and it seems, many of her students, Vladimir's wife, eating properly, and much more.

VLADIMIR seems like it's saying a lot of smart things about society, academia, feminism, and more. I think a lot of it went over my head. I didn't enjoy the plot and while it has some sort of crazy twist, it felt forced and unbelievable. This one was not my cup of tea. 2.5 stars.

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Thursday, November 16, 2023

It's just a teenage dream: THE QUEEN OF JUNK ISLAND.

The Queen of Junk IslandThe Queen of Junk Island by Alexandra Mae Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This YA book has much promise and covers so many important topics, but was a bit of a slog for me, thanks to a slightly unlikeable main character and some weird elements that made me uncomfortable. After something terrible happens to her at school, sixteen-year-old Dell and her mom go to stay at the family cabin, which they learn was being used as a dumping ground by their last tenant. Dell's mom asks Ivy, the daughter of her (the mom's) boyfriend to stay with them as well, much to Dell's consternation. Ivy appears confident and outgoing and gets along with Dell's mom--all the things Dell is not.

Set in the 2000s era in rural Ontario, the author outwardly admits QUEEN offers outdated thoughts on bisexuality, but I won't lie, they are still really horrible to read sometimes. Dell is struggling with finding herself and dealing with her sexuality, but she's also just really hateful at points--mean to her mom, mean to Ivy, cruel about other's sexuality, and just a harsh character. She's been through a lot, but she makes herself very hard to like. There's a plotline involving Ivy and Dell that almost crosses the line into icky, even if they aren't related, and again... my main emotion here was uncomfortable!

Add in a bunch of other tangential stories... buried secrets about Dell's family, more stuff about her mom's boyfriend and family, dealing with the literal junk by the lake house: there was a lot going on with this book. It could have benefited from narrowing down some of its focus. My favorite character was Dell's oft-abused but incredibly self-aware BFF, Paul. I'd read a book about Paul! I really appreciated QUEEN's points about identity (once it circled around and stopped bashing bisexuality), parental relationships, and love, but overall, this was a strange read. 3 stars.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2023

You're always my destination: HOOK SHOT.

Hook Shot (Hoops, #3)Hook Shot by Kennedy Ryan
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Kenan is dealing with a messy divorce, an ex-wife out for revenge, and a teenage daughter who wants nothing more than her parents to get back together. Lotus is busy with her fashion career, but comes up short when emotional and sexual trauma from her childhood affect her present-day relationships. Still, she can't help but be drawn to Kenan, a handsome and kind basketball player. As for Kenan, he's head over heels for Lotus, even if she's 11 years his junior.

I'm a fan of Kennedy Ryan's Hoops series (this is the third and final book), because I adore basketball. This book is related to the others (Kenan plays hoops with August; Lotus is Iris' cousin, and Banner is Kenan's agent), but can easily be read as a standalone. I will say that when you read the books closer together, they do feel a bit more formulaic. But overall, I enjoyed this one. As I said, I loved the basketball angle, with Kenan as the player, and seeing glimpses of his teammate August, who we know from other books. There's a good tie back to Lotus and Iris' childhood and New Orleans roots, too.

As with all the other books from this series, Kenan is a really, really good guy, but a bit possessive. This is the straight-up formula for Hoops. Please be aware the book covers sensitive topics like child sexual abuse and there's a trigger warning for suicide. The story felt just a tad bit long for me--it could have been shortened just a little. But it's sexy and fun, with great banter and strong chemistry between Lotus and Kenan. It tackles a serious topics while still giving us a flirty read. 3.5 stars.

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

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Sunday, November 12, 2023

Because love's a one way street, and you will always have my heart: SIGNAL FIRES.

Signal FiresSignal Fires by Dani Shapiro
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

SIGNAL FIRES is a lovely, haunting book that explores how small and big decisions affect families. The night before he's set to leave his family's beloved home on Division Street, Dr. Ben Wilf encounters his young ten-year-old neighbor, Waldo Shenkman, a sweet, intelligent kid who loves constellations. Although Waldo does not remember, the pair has met before, and the two will meet again, over and over. SIGNAL is the sweeping story of Division Street and the secrets it holds, of the Wilf family, of Waldo, of love and loss, and all that comes in between. It's beautifully written, with a touch of magic and a pinch of hope. I loved this book. 4.5 stars.

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Thursday, October 26, 2023

Why do you see right through me: TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and TomorrowTomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I know I cannot add anything that hasn't already been said about this book, which seemed to blow up on release. I was so intrigued to see what the fuss was all about. It's an amazingly well-written story about some often very unlikable characters. When Sam Mazur, a Harvard student, gets off a Subway car, he sees a long lost acquaintance, Sadie Green, and feels compelled to call her name. Sadie, who goes to nearby MIT, almost ignores him, but then she turns, and the rest is history. The two, with the help of Sam's roommate Mazur, soon create a legendary video game that catapults them into fame, a lifelong business association, and a very tight personal connection.

TOMORROW is told through series of chapters grouped in titled sections and while it moves chronologically through Sam and Sadie's life, with each of them contributing their thoughts via third person point of view, it often veers back into the past, so we learn their history together. It's a complicated tale, spanning a large swath of their lives and relationship (strictly platonic, they are quick to point out). With the two making video games, the book makes sweeping and intelligent points about the similarities of video games and real life (and the differences), what creating a virtual world can mean--and how it can affect those who live in the real world, and how video games may be the same or different from other forms of art.

I won't lie, it's a "smarter" book than I often read, and I'm sure many of the points sailed right over my head. The writing is beautiful, and the characters are often unlikable because they are freaking real people with flaws and tics and issues, standing out brilliantly on the page in full dimension, versus cookie character people half created to fill out the story. A few things that happen feel violent and raw because I came to care for everyone so deeply--always my sign of a truly good book. And while there is romance in this story, I love the theme and idea that the main characters aren't in love and are tied together by forces almost bigger than romantic love.

Overall, this is a different book. I can see how it wouldn't be for everyone. I don't really play video or computer games, and there is truly a lot of gaming talk in this story. But it's a really fascinating character exploration, too, and I'm really grateful for my #backlistbooks23 challenge for getting me to pick it up. 4.5 stars.

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