Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Expiration DatesExpiration Dates by Rebecca Serle
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Love...with a limit

Ever since she was a kid, Daphne has received notes with a name and a time period... they correlate to her relationships and how long they will last. Her first youthful romance lasted a week. One in Paris lasted three days. And the one with Hugo, who eventually became her best friend, lasted three months. When you know how long your relationship has, you only put in so much effort. Daphne finds herself not forming any attachments. Then she receives "the note"--one with a name but no date. It simply says Jake, and Daphne realizes this means he must be the one. He seems nearly perfect; but as their relationship progresses, and Daphne knows she has more information than Jake, she starts to question if this truly is forever.

This is a slightly weird book, though I always like the hook in Serle's books. The notes angle is fun. It's hard to get into the story, as the POV flips between present-day with Daphne and Jake and then randomly jumps back to all of Daphne's time-limited relationships. While we learn more about Daphne and her past this way, this slows the book's momentum and interest in Daphne's current life. It takes a surprising and unexpected turn partway through, and I'm not sure if I liked it. She was an interesting character, but no one I felt particularly attached to. Same with Hugo, who features prominently. I think I felt the most for Jake.

DATES explores the ideas of finding the right person and believing in yourself. It's more serious than a typical romance, with several sad subplots. I wish I was more invested in the characters, but I still enjoyed it. 3.5 stars.

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Monday, April 15, 2024

Lonely makes a heart ruthless: CITY IN RUINS.

City in RuinsCity in Ruins by Don Winslow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fitting end (and goodbye) to a wonderful series and author

I love this series because it introduced me to Don Winslow and his amazing books. Seems fitting that CITY IN RUINS is supposed to be Winslow's last book. I am grateful that I still have a lot of his backlist to catch up on.

RUINS is third in the Danny Ryan trilogy. This is one time where you really have to read the first two books for the third to make sense. Everything comes full circle and the sheer amount of names and story continuity will be too confusing without the first two. Plus, they are excellent.

By now, Danny is in Las Vegas, overseeing his growing empire, and facing a Government investigation into the gambling industry. Worried about how this will affect his Vegas legacy, Danny acts on a variety of fronts, including buying a hotel on the Vegas strip right out from a competitor. This sets off a chain of events that darken back to Danny's brutal and violent days in the Irish mob.

This wasn't my favorite of the three books; it seemed to lack some of the depth and emotional complexity of the others, but it's still quite good. Danny's Vegas journey brings him across many of his (former) Irish mob counterparts--meaning we see and hear from many familiar faces from the earlier books. There's a decent side plot involving a missing mobster from an earlier book (which I didn't care too much about).

The best part, as always, is Danny. He's such a rich character with so many sides. Ryan does a strong job of portraying his struggle to stay on the right side, away from his violent past, while wanting to stay on top of the gambling world. It's Danny's personality, his inner thoughts, and the Greek tragedy parallels in this series that keep me coming back. This is a nuanced, detailed, and fitting end to a wonderful series. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

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

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Thursday, April 11, 2024

The years go by like days: BYE, BABY.

Bye, BabyBye, Baby by Carola Lovering
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Went in expecting more thrills...

Lovering's latest is billed as a thriller, but I'd deem this more women's fiction, as it focuses mainly on a friendship between two women. Billie and Cassie became fast friends in childhood, forming a tight bond that lasted into adulthood. But lately they've drifted apart, especially with Cassie's marriage--one that propelled her into a wealthier part of society. She's now a mom, too, and a fairly well-known influencer. Billie can't help but feel resentful of Cassie and her seemingly perfect life, most of which she only knows about via Instagram stories. However, Billie upends this perfection when she "accidentally" steals Cassie's baby daughter during a party, terrifying Cassie.

BYE, BABY is a close examination of friendship and delves into a lot of issues: classism, Alzheimer's, social media, and more. A lot to cover, it seems, and yet I kept waiting for more to happen, wondering when that huge reveal or twist would happen. While the book does (slowly) build up to the story of what truly bonded Cassie and Billie in their teen years, there are no huge surprises here. Instead, we learn why each woman is the way they are. Billie, at first not particularly likable, grows more sympathetic as you learn about her childhood, while perfect Cassie becomes less likable as you see her ongoing quest for wealth and social media followers. She lives her entire life online, Billie seems to be saying, yet she cannot even take care of her daughter? Doesn't she deserve this? The book would be more interesting if it really delved deep into this topic, or any one of its many topics, but it stays surface level, lightly covering Cassie and Billie's toxic friendship and never going much deeper. It ended, and I still found myself wanting and waiting for more.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and St. Martin's Press in return for an unbiased review.

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Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Can I handle the seasons of my life: I PROMISE IT WON'T ALWAYS HURT LIKE THIS.

I Promise It Won't Always Hurt Like This: 18 Assurances on GriefI Promise It Won't Always Hurt Like This: 18 Assurances on Grief by Clare Mackintosh

It doesn't feel right to rate Clare Mackintosh's non-fiction book about grief, as much of it focuses on the death of her young son, but this is a poignant read and very helpful. Mackintosh wrote it after a tweet about the anniversary of the death of her five-month-old son, Alex, went viral. The book is part memoir/part self-help, with 18 chapters that walk through dealing with grief--with the ultimate promise that we can all make progress with grief, on our own time, at our own pace. She uses stories from her own life, especially losing Alex, as examples. The result is a sad story, but also a hopeful one, and I think many who have been through a loss would find this helpful; I did.

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

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Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Looks like I'm taking the hard way home: HERE WE GO AGAIN.

Here We Go AgainHere We Go Again by Alison Cochrun
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was magical. Leave it to Alison Cochrun to make a book about a dying man insanely romantic.

HERE WE GO AGAIN is a perfect story about queer (found) families and finding love when you need it most. Teachers Logan and Rosemary take their beloved beloved gay high school teacher, Joe, on one last cross country trip. Logan and Rosemary are former childhood best friends turned enemies but must unite to help Joe, who is dying from cancer.

The story hits first loves and enemies to lovers wonderfully, with a perfect simmering burn between Rosemary and Logan. We have Logan, who is well-known on the lesbian circuit for "liking" and then leaving girls. For Logan, whose mom left in her childhood, she fears forming any strong attachments. Rosemary is a wonderful and renowned teacher who has perfected hiding her anxiety from others. All the characters pop off the page--none more than Joe, an amazing gay teaching icon who has provided guidance and care for so many students, but holds a special place in his heart for his "girls," both of whom needed a little extra care coming out in their small town. Joe helped motherless Logan find herself and mentored Rosemary's writing.

Once he convinced the two to join him on the trip from Washington (state) to Maine, we get a story filled with humor and sadness, hi-jinx and pain. Along with Joe's lovable pup, the trio sets forth across the country, encountering national monuments and flat tires alike. There is a bathtub scene that will make you swoon and a drag show moment that will make you cheer. The build up between Rosemary and Logan is amazing, but it's just as good watching the two of them learning from (and about) Joe.

This story touches so beautifully on anxiety, ADHD, found family, and the importance of teachers and gay adults in younger lives. There are some moments that made me laugh out loud and others that made me cry. I fell head over heels for these characters. AGAIN is crazy emotional for a variety of reasons yet funny and heartfelt without being schmaltzy. I cannot recommend this lovely book enough.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Atria Books in return for an unbiased review. Look for HERE WE GO AGAIN on 04/02/2024!!

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Friday, March 29, 2024

You can be soft, honey, you can be strong: GIRLS WITH BAD REPUTATIONS.

Girls with Bad Reputations (The Lillys Book 2)Girls with Bad Reputations by Xio Axelrod
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I received GIRLS WITH BAD REPUTATIONS as an ARC, didn't realize it was part of a series, read the first book, didn't love it (it was fine), and went into this one with low expectations. I did wind up liking the second book a bit more than the first, but it wasn't an all-time favorite.

In book two, we find the Lillys preparing to go on tour, gaining more popularity with every stop. While book one focuses on Toni, the second features Kayla, the group's drummer. Growing up under the watchful eye of her controlling mother, who demanded nothing short of perfection, music and drumming were Kayla's escape. On tour, she forms a fast friendship with their bus driver, Ty, who is escaping life in his own way. But the Lillys' fame threatens to upend both Kayla and Ty's lives.

Two issues here. One: instant love. Kayla and Ty fall head over heels after interacting about twice over two weeks. Please, form a deeper, more realistic connection before vowing your deep, undying love to one another.

Second: These two have their heads in the sand, or the clouds, or both, to the most frustrating degree. Who joins a band expecting to stay hidden and not noticed by the press? Oh I'm in this band, and I want to be successful but oh, no, I am getting famous, and this is a huge problem because my parents will know I'm in a band? Are we twelve, trying to skip school? Ridiculous. And Ty, while I liked him much more, makes some insane choices where he refuses to face reality and could have improved his quality of life YEARS earlier.

Luckily, issue number one mostly vanishes as the book progresses. Kayla and Ty are cute after a while, I will grudgingly admit. Two little bookworms, quiet and reserved; they definitely are made for each other. Ty has an adorable relationship with his Pop Pop, who has raised him (and seems to be magically wealthy...). And, truly, their ability to avoid reality means they are made for one another.

There's just so much going on here. Continuing drama with Candi, a former Lilly band-mate from book one. So many details about the music industry, touring/being on the road, and more. Sometimes it all just feels... too much. The emphasis on a rock band fronted by diverse women is awesome, though.

Overall, I liked each member of the Lillys enough to get drawn into the story. I just wish everything was a bit more plausible, with more time spent on character motivations and less on minute details.

I received a copy of this book from Negalley and Sourcebooks Casablanca in return for an unbiased review.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Now the quietest noise I'm told, is the sound of letting go: NORTHWOODS.

NorthwoodsNorthwoods by Amy Pease
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An oft depressing but intriguing debut novel!

Eli North was an investigative officer in the elite U.S. Forestry Service, but everything changed after his time in Afghanistan. He returns home to the small Midwestern town of Shaky Lake to see his marriage crumble and the only job he can keep is the one offered by his Mom at the local sheriff's department. Just alcohol brings Eli solace and comfort. When he finds the body of a boy in a boat, the trauma only deepens Eli's pain, even as he works to find the murderer and locate a missing teenage girl, whose disappearance they believe is related.

NORTHWOODS is sad, emotional story that focuses just as much on how war affects those who make it home and its far ranging effects on their family and friends as it does on Ben's murder and Caitlin's disappearance. Eli is a very complex individual, where you find yourself simultaneously sympathetic and frustrated with him. How is it possible for one man to make so many bad decisions or consume so much alcohol? Yet what he's endured is unimaginable, and Pease does a wonderful job of showing how much he's been through. His relationship with his mother Marge, the town's Sheriff, is especially well-done.

This is a character-driven story, which doesn't move quickly, so do not expect a fast-moving thriller. The investigation takes a backseat to character exploration and then wraps up quickly (while leaving a few loose ends, it seemed) at the end of the book. I saw a few plot pieces coming a mile away and needed a few details to back everything up. There's so much happening and sometimes I wish the story focused on one area more in-depth.

Still, I listened to part of this on audiobook and was so moved that I found myself in tears at parts of the story, so that bumps my rating up. What it lacks in investigative detail, it makes up for in emotional depth. This is a very intense and timely look at opiate addiction, as well as the effects of violence and war, which will tear at your heartstrings.

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