Thursday, December 31, 2020

Sometimes the days go by like years: THE SWITCH.

The SwitchThe Switch by Beth O'Leary
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

A touching look at love and loss

Leena Cotton's way to deal with life is losing herself in her work. But when she's forced to take a two-month sabbatical, her usual focal point is gone. So Leena comes up with a plan: she'll escape to her grandmother Eileen's house, a beautiful little cottage in the lovely, quiet village of Hamleigh, and Eileen will come and stay in Leena's flat in London. To Leena, this sounds perfect; her grandmother, after all, though nearly eighty, is newly single and looking for another chance at love. Where better to find it than in bustling London? But switching places isn't as easy as it seems. In Hamleigh, Leena learns her grandmother's shoes are hard to fill, having to plan a local festival and deal with nosy neighbors. Meanwhile, in London, Eileen has to get up-to-speed with online dating and the hustle and bustle of a busy city. But, all may not be lost for the Cotton women.

Oh this book. It's just absolutely lovely. I wasn't sure if the idea of a "swapping places" book would come across as silly or trite, but in O'Leary's deft hands, it's perfect. She gives us a beautiful story about healing after grief (Leena's sabbatical comes because she blows a presentation as she's dealing with the grief of losing her sister; Eileen, obviously, has lost her granddaughter). But it's also funny, sweet, and romantic. The sadness is woven in with hope and beauty. It's one of those rare books that can make you both cry and laugh.

Eileen and Leena--what can I say about these characters? They are so real! I identified, of course, with workaholic Leena, and you just want to go into the book and save her (though she doesn't need it) as she struggles with her sister's death, feeling abandoned by her own grieving mother after the loss, and getting her life back on track. And Eileen? She's a total trip. Finally free to find love again, she's a wonderful and spunky woman that you cannot help but root for. The supporting cast is absolutely excellent--Leena's friends and flatmates, combined with the townspeople of Hamleigh, make for some of the most memorable supporting cast I can remember in quite some time. They all fit together perfectly in the story.

Overall, I defy you not to fall for this tale. Eileen's quest for love. Leena's quest to find herself again. O'Leary gives us a beautiful gift in THE SWITCH. One of my favorite reads of the year. 4.5+ stars.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Everybody wonders what it would be like to love you: BEACH READ.

Beach ReadBeach Read by Emily Henry
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Heartfelt and beautiful romance

Author January Andrews is 29, miserable, broke, single, and semi-homeless. She's had her entire life view shattered. Now she's arriving at her late father's secret lakeside home. The one he just happened to share, secretly, with a second woman that wasn't her mother. There she finds herself living next door to her college rival--now a successful author--Augustus Everett. But soon the two discover they're both struggling with writer's block and strike a deal: Augustus will write something cheery and happy (January's style) and she'll attempt something serious (his style). To assist in this endeavor, they'll take each other on field trips: for instance, she'll bring him to theaters showing old romantic comedies, and he'll take her to interview cult members. And, under no circumstances, will they fall in love.

"Here’s the thing about writing Happily Ever Afters: it helps if you believe in them. Here’s the thing about me: I did until the day of my father’s funeral."

I adored this romance, which isn't a fun and easy love story, but instead a tale of two broken people trying to find their way again in the world. The book focuses almost solely on January and "Gus," as she knows him from college, and oh these characters are just so amazing, popping from the pages as you get to know them. There are great wonderful side characters as well, particularly Gus' aunt.

The banter in this book is unbelievable, as January and Gus first continue their college rivalry and then slowly get to know each other. In fact, I challenge you to find another romance with such wonderful gradual sexy chemistry. And January is simply hilarious and wonderful and inspiring despite the fact that's grieving--not just the loss of her father, but the loss of the idea of him, the person she'd known and idealized.

Overall, this is just an amazing book. Sad yet humorous and sexy and romantic. I can't recommend it enough. 4.5+ stars.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Monday, December 28, 2020

I'm wondering where the lions are: WATCH HER.

Watch Her (Hester Thursby Mystery #3)Watch Her by Edwin Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent slow-burn mystery

In the third book in the Hester Thursby series, Hester and her friend, Detective Angela White are attending a gala for Prescott University when they are told that someone has broken into the university owners' fancy mansion overlooking Jamaica Pond. Angela agrees to drop by out of courtesy, but once there, they are not sure that Jennifer Matson is telling the truth about what happened that evening. Then Prescott's general manager, Maxine, asks Hester to investigate some missing alumni, calling on Hester's renowned research skills. As Hester starts digging into the for-profit university, she unearths a tragedy that has long shadowed Jennifer and the family, financial issues, and more. But when one of the missing students she was looking into turns up dead, things turn dark, quickly.

I love Hill's Hester Thursby series. They are such intelligent and well-thought out mysteries. This wasn't my favorite of the group, but it was still incredibly well done and enjoyable. The topic of for-profit universities seemed timely and was quite interesting. Maxine made some awful choices, but I didn't envy her job running Prescott University, either.

Overall, the Matsons were a pretty terrible family shrouded in secrets and lies. Hill does an excellent job depicting this wealthy family and all the deception they've built up around them. Money certainly can't buy happiness. This is a slow build mystery, with a slightly different feel, and you have to give yourself time to acclimate to the characters and rhythm of the story. If you do, you'll be rewarded with an intriguing tale. It may not be non-stop action, but Hill writes an excellent tale of a twisted family. It's one that will keep you guessing until the end.

I also recommend reading the first two books, as there's some progress in Morgan and Hester's relationship here (and honestly, not enough Kate), but the book does stand-alone. You'll be missing two great reads, though, if you skip the first two.

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Monday, December 21, 2020

Cause this lonely room's a prison: THE WIFE UPSTAIRS.

The Wife UpstairsThe Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A page-turning re-look at a classic

Jane is a dog-walker in the glamorous Thornfield Estates subdivision. Until she meets Eddie Rochester. Widowed, Eddie is Thornfield's most talked about resident. His wife, Bertha "Bea" Rochester--founder of the Southern Manor line of furniture and accessories--died in a boating accident with her best friend, though Bea's body was never found. As Jane gets to know Eddie, she can't help but fall for him: he's rich, handsome, and protective. He can offer her a life of security and love that she's never had. But she's also fascinated by the tale of Bea, who built herself up from nothing through her company. Can she ever compare to Bea--and win Eddie's heart? And what really happened the night Bea and Blanche died?

"...and later, I'd look back at that moment and wonder if I somehow knew what was going to happen. If everything in my life had been leading me to that one spot, to that one house. To him."

I read this book solely because it's billed as a loose retelling of Jane Eyre, which is one of my absolute favorite books. Loose is definitely the right word for it, but this also a gloriously fun read with some exciting twists and turns.

The Wife Upstairs is a page-turner that kept me frantically reading. Yes, parts of it are somewhat predictable, but Eddie is a fascinating rogue and Jane a mysterious lead. Who is telling the truth, what happened in the past, and what on earth is going on now--you'll find yourself swirled up in all these questions as you flip the pages.

Overall, this a foreboding and enjoyable thriller, with plenty to entertain its readers. 3.5 stars.

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

You can't break a heart that wasn't even yours to break: PLAIN BAD HEROINES.

Plain Bad HeroinesPlain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A completely fascinating tale... that fizzles out at the end

Plain Bad Heroines was one of my most anticipated reads of the year. I am a sucker for a lesbian tale. Add in a Gothic New England boarding school for girls? Sold.

The story centers around two time periods. The first, 1902, at the Brookhants School for Girls, run by Libbie Brookhants. A book by a young writer, Mary MacLane has come out--one that's incredibly scandalous for the times. Two Brookhants girls, Flo and Clara, are obsessed with it and establish The Plain Bad Heroine Society. The two are in love, meeting in secret--until they are attacked by yellow jackets at their hiding spot, a copy of the book found with them. A few years later the school closes, but not until after more scandal and death. Now, our second period, over a hundred years later, where Merritt Emmons, a young writer, publishes a book about Flo and Clara's story. It inspires a horror film starring Harper Harper, a famous lesbian actress. Harper will be playing Flo and B-list actress Audrey Wells, Clara. Filming on-site at the abandoned Brookhants site, the three women converge. But soon, weird things start happening, and the curse of Brookhants seems back to haunt the set--and our three modern-day heroines.

This book is absolutely enthralling at times. I flew through these 619 pages, that's for sure. My notes state "very lesbian," which is, of course, a major plus for me. Believe me, we don't get a lot of books starring ourselves. And you know, where we are killed off by swarms of yellow jackets. I honestly found both storylines compelling. It's hard not to fall a bit in love with Harper Harper, the charismatic celebrity (out!) lesbian. And 1902 isn't just about Clara and Flo, but Libbie Brookhants and her life trying to run a cursed school in the early 1900s. Honestly, the pages really flew by most of the time. Though, there are certainly moments where I felt some of the story could have been cut.

And yes, the narrative style is different, though it really adds to the uniqueness of the book. It's basically told by an omnipresent narrator, talking directly to the reader. There are footnotes, often humorous ones, and the end result is something you don't often find. For the most part, I felt like Danforth pulled it off, too. I do think Libbie was a little more fully developed than Merritt, Harper, and Audrey, but that also may have been because that trio could come across as a bit spoiled at times.

Probably my two biggest issues with this book (regretfully): for a Gothic horror novel, it's not really that scary. There are a few creepy and eerie moments, especially in the beginning, but it never really builds up to that terrifying moment that you're expecting. And, somewhat related, the ending. We read and stick with our various tales for the entire time and then... poof! Everything just fizzles out. I was so bummed. The ending was such a disappointment after all I'd read and kept this from being a full-fledged 4 or 4.5-star read. I couldn't believe it after what we'd been through. It was like even the author was tired.

So, overall, this is an original and fascinating read. I'm certainly still advising you to read it (especially if you're queer or enjoy reading queer fiction). Just be prepared that the ending may not have that big scary moment you're expecting. 3.5 stars.

A big thanks to HarperCollins and William Morrow for my copy!

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Sunday, December 13, 2020

J, A to Z Challenge: JUST ONE LOOK.

Just One LookJust One Look by Harlan Coben
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A truly twisty mystery

This is the tenth book in my #atozchallenge! I'm challenging myself to read a book from my shelves that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Let's clear those shelves and delve into that backlist!

When Grace Lawson picks up a set of photos from the store, she finds a strange photo in the envelope. It shows a group of four people she doesn't know. But one, she does: her husband, long before she knew him. When she shows him that evening, he leaves their home mysteriously. Soon a crazy series of events kicks off, and while Grace doesn't realize it, there are people who would do anything--even kill--to keep that photo from seeing the light of day.

This was my first Harlan Coben read--I have a bunch of Coben books I've collected sitting on my shelves, so it seemed like a great choice for my challenge. This was the supreme page turner. I had no idea where this book was going most of the time! It's filled with twists and turns, and it kept me guessing! There are a few real "coincidences," but they didn't diminish my enjoyment of the story at all. This was one of those plain 'ol good mysteries. I hadn't realized it was set in the mid-1990s (the development of film should have been a dead giveaway, ha), but it stood the test of time. There are creepy bad guys who fight the good guys. Sometimes you just need a tale of good versus evil with lots of twists to take your mind off of things.

Overall, an enjoyable and puzzling read. 3.5 stars. I'll definitely need to read more of the Coben books on my shelves.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

You can read more about the #atozchallenge here.

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 10, 2020

We could do some damage somewhere else instead: LITTLE CRUELTIES.

Little CrueltiesLittle Cruelties by Liz Nugent
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

William, Brian, and Luke Drumm--three boys each born a year apart. William becomes a successful movie producer. Luke, a famous singer. And Brian, the steady middle brother, watches over careers, money, and their mother. But none of the brothers are as successful and happy as they appear--scarred by their traumatic childhood and their constant attempts to gain the attention of their mother. Now, the brothers are gathered together again: but only two are alive.

"All three of the Drumm brothers were at the funeral. But only one of them was in the coffin."

I made a lot of mistakes with this book. First, I thought I loved Liz Nugent, but then I realized I had her confused with another writer, and that I've never read any of her books. Next, I thought this would be more of a true, suspenseful mystery. It is not.

I feel bad, but this book was not for me. It started out slowly and just never got better. The plot drags on and on. While it is somewhat a mystery about a dead brother (which Drumm has died?), it's mostly a character-driven tale about three awful brothers. Because these three men are terrible and despicable, and I found it nearly impossible to become interested in them or their stories.

The book is told in chunks--from the perspective of each brother. Within their parts, their stories go back and forth in time. It's hard to keep track of the passing of time, especially as the book progresses.

This novel could provide in-depth perspective on mental illness and the impact our parents can have on our lives, but so much of that nuance gets lost in our characters and their abject hatefulness. There is little redemption to be had here. I had twinges of sympathies for the brothers, but, at times, I wasn't sure I would care if they were dead. They are truly evil sometimes.

Overall, this book just didn't work for me. I wasn't interested in the characters, and I wanted this to be a different type of story. Many others found this much more captivating and enjoyed the character driven style, so it may work better for you. 2 stars.

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

I, A to Z Challenge: IN FIVE YEARS.

In Five YearsIn Five Years by Rebecca Serle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the ninth book in my #atozchallenge! I'm challenging myself to read a book from my shelves that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Let's clear those shelves and delve into that backlist!

Dannie Kohan is a lawyer with a five-year plan. Her life is all calculated. She's just had the job interview she's been planning for, she's engaged: everything is on track. But when she falls asleep, she's transported for one hour into a different life, the same night five years in the future (2025). In that life, she has a different ring on her finger in a different apartment--and with a different guy by her side. When she wakes up, she can't shake that it wasn't just a dream. She tries to forget that hour, until she meets that same man, four and a half years later. What does it mean?

This book is best gone into blind, but I will say that I really enjoyed this one. It's a fast read with excellent characters--I quite liked Dannie, who is nuanced and flawed, but real. The premise is interesting, as is the fact that that one hour basically changes Dannie's whole life. This novel is sad, at times, truly touching, and completely captivating. I definitely recommend it. 4 stars.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

You can read more about the #atozchallenge here.

View all my reviews

Sunday, December 06, 2020

H, A to Z Challenge: HAUNT ME.

Haunt MeHaunt Me by Liz Kessler
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

This is the eighth book in my #atozchallenge! I'm challenging myself to read a book from my shelves that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Let's clear those shelves and delve into that backlist!

Teenage Erin's family moves after a difficult time. Erin surprisingly feels solace in her new room--where she soon realizes she isn't alone. It's occupied by the spirit of Joe, the teenage boy who lived in the room before her. At the local school, Joe's brother Olly is struggling with being left behind. Until he meets a girl--different from anyone he's ever dated before. Now, Erin finds herself torn between two brothers. One living, one caught between two worlds. How can she choose?

It's probably my fault for choosing a book with such a plot, but this one is pretty silly. To say it's cheesy and schmaltzy is putting it mildly. I kept thinking about if you could read a book like this without having to abandon all realism... I'm not sure. But, Erin accepts the fact that there is a ghost in her room without any issue at all. Which, um, okay? Even better, she falls in insta-love with this ghost.

There's very little character development here. We get light background on Erin and what seems like even less on Joe (in fact, it seems like his personality switches halfway through). So we're supposed to believe they are two flawed teens, and Olly is a happy go-lucky guy, without much evidence at all. There's insta-love everywhere you look. A preposterous plot. And no one is willing to use Google, apparently.

Still, it's a teen read, so I can see how they might enjoy some of this craziness. It's a fast read, and I won't lie, I was caught up in the story at times. And the ending really was pretty perfect. Still, as much as I hate to do it, as I've read some of Kessler's other books and loved them, I think this was a 2.5-star read for me.

You can read more about the #atozchallenge here.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Friday, December 04, 2020

Still reading!

November and December are *busy*! I'm tired! But I'm reading and reviews are coming--don't give up on me! :D

Monday, November 23, 2020

My heart is like paper: WRITTEN IN THE STARS.

Written in the StarsWritten in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Astrologist Elle Jones is looking for love. Even if she doesn't exactly have a successful track record of finding it. She and her best friend, Margot, are the pair behind the incredibly popular Twitter account, Oh My Stars. And they are just about to join with OTP, the coolest dating app ever, thereby realizing their professional dreams. OTP was created by Brendon, who is nerdy, sweet, and about to be their boss. So when he offers to set Elle up with his sister, Darcy, she agrees. But the date is a disaster. Darcy is the opposite of Elle: buttoned up, analytical, and completely against astrology. Still, neither can deny they felt a bit of a spark before their date went awry. And Darcy is sick of being set up on terrible dates by her brother. So when he asks how it went, she lies. And then, she begs Elle to play along, to say they are dating. Each agrees to a few conditions of a dating pact. Surely nothing can go wrong, right?

"What if? Wasn't that the million-dollar question, the spark of hope that kept her coming back for more time and time--and time--again?"

Bellefleur states that she set out to write a "quirky, queer rom com," and I have to say, I'm here for it. It's not often we get our own romantic comedies, with true blue queer characters, with their own problems and characterization and their gayness just being a part of who they are.

This is an incredibly witty, sexy, and sappy read. Yes, it was a bit drawn out and repetitive at times. Okay, we understand that Elle is the flitty one who needs family approval and Darcy is the hurt one unwilling to commit. That point was emphasized perhaps a bit too much. I get stressed out when books have a lot of misunderstandings, so one based on a fake dating relationship took a lot of my strength.

But, it makes up for it with some wonderful characters. I adored Elle, who is so sweet and funny and just "her." And, of course, I identified 110% with uptight, wary workaholic Darcy who was scared of falling in love again. Then there's Margot, Elle's best friend, who was the secret star of the show. I tell you, everyone needs a wise best friend like Margot!

In this end, this book is downright adorable, laugh out loud funny, and full of chemistry. A few pieces might have hit their point one (or two) too many times, but I still really enjoyed it. 3.5 stars, rounded to 4 here.

I received a copy of this novel from HarperCollins Publishers and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Chase all the ghosts from your head: ONE TO WATCH.

One to WatchOne to Watch by Kate Stayman-London
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fun and addictive reality romance

With more than half a million Instagram followers and a popular blog, Bea Schumacher has a great life. But she doesn't have love--she's still pining after her best friend, who broke her heart. Bea also loves the reality romance juggernaut, Main Squeeze, where men vie for the affections of a beautiful women. When Bea's critique of Main Squeeze goes viral--why doesn't the show feature any diversity of size in its cast--the show comes to her. They want Bea to be the next star. Bea agrees, but she's adamant: she won't fall in love. This is just for her career. But once on set, Bea realizes this might not be as easy as she thinks.

"Life isn’t often a fairy tale, even on a show that aims to create one.”

I've never seen "The Bachelor" (Main Squeeze's equivalent) before in my life, but I found this book fascinating. (Probably more enjoyable than the actual show, ha.) It's frothy and entertaining but also tackles serious topics like body issues and racism. Once on the show, Bea meets a host of men: some truly awful, some quite lovely. It's quite the ride to watch her have her choice of eligible and handsome men.

I found Bea a little frustrating in her absolute unwillingness to open up, leading her to wallow in self-pity and a complete inability to even consider love. But, she had her reasons. The body positivity in the book was excellent and frequent. Bea is fearful of opening up and revealing herself and her body after being hurt. But she's also a successful and strong businesswoman (and now a celebrity!). The book draws you in to the episodes of Main Squeeze--it's honestly quite addictive. It sprinkles in excepts from Twitter, chats, publications, and more to tell the story--a very effective format. And there's true humor, romance, and heartbreak involved as well.

Overall, this was probably 3.75 stars for me--bumping up due to its strong coverage of serious and important topics. Oh and for Bea's stepdad! I loved him so much. Worth a read, for sure.

I received a copy of this book from LibraryThing and Random House / The Dial Press in return for an unbiased review.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Friday, October 30, 2020

To help me not to wonder how I ended up like this: GIRLS OF BRACKENHILL.

Girls of BrackenhillGirls of Brackenhill by Kate Moretti
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spooky, eerie & captivating thriller

As a kid, Hannah spent several summers at Brackenhill, her aunt and uncle's beautiful mansion in the Catskills. Joined by her older sister, Julia, they enjoyed a peaceful time away from their troubled mother and her boyfriend. But that final summer, Hannah made the journey home alone after Julia disappeared. Now, seventeen years later, Hannah is back at Brackenhill, accompanied by her calm and steady fiance Huck, to deal with the aftermath of her Aunt Fae's death. Her uncle Stuart is quite ill and Hannah must handle the necessary affairs. But once at Brackenhill, long buried memories flood to the surface, along with some undiscovered family secrets.

"She'd escaped Brackenhill once. She could do it again."

I read this completely captivating thriller in one breathless day. It's such a wonderfully eerie and ghostly mystery that excellently captures the spooky atmosphere of Brackenhill. I'm all for a read with a creepy castle, ghostly happenings, and a history of missing girls. Told in a then (Hannah and Julia's summers at Brackenhill) and now format, Moretti sucks you in from the beginning, making the reader feel as if they are a part of the haunted happenings at Brackenhill.

"The Ghost Girls of Brackenhill are an urban legend."

The result is a twisted and dark story--a true Gothic ghost tale. I figured out a few pieces, but still found this impossible to put down. Moretti excels at weaving in the devastation of family secrets and small town mystery. As Hannah unravels the mystery of her family history and her sister's disappearance, we do as well, and you'll share her sense of dread and the overall foreboding that sweeps across the pages.

I wished the ending offered a bit more resolution, but this is an excellent, haunting, and spooky supernatural read. You'll be madly flipping the pages (with the lights on)! 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer in return for an unbiased review.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Stubbornness and pride: WHEN THE GAME WAS OURS.

When the Game Was OursWhen the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a huge NBA basketball fan, with a special love of the game from the 80s--00s. I also really love journalist Jackie MacMullan, so when I received this book through a bookswap, I was quite excited. Obviously it probably appeals to a particular set of people, but if you love NBA basketball and detailed retellings of events that already occurred, then this book is for you. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson recount events to MacMullan, starting from childhood and going through their multiple NBA championships (and a bit beyond). The focus is on their similarities--and the fact that they rose up in basketball at the same time, became fierce rivals, but also friends.

I'll confess that the bulk of the Magic and Bird rivalry was just a little ahead of my time. I fell hard for the NBA with the Chicago Bulls and MJ (both parents being from the Chicago suburbs), so, of course, I knew Bird and Magic, and saw them play a bit, but I missed most of their true heyday.

Still, I found this book absolutely fascinating. I learned so much I didn't know--especially about Magic and the racism he faced, about Magic and Kareem, and about Larry's background. It was intensely detailed. I loved how similar the two were in some ways--both so basketball-minded--yet so different in their personalities (Magic so open and brash, Larry so private and shy).

I also loved how much the late David Stern appeared in this book. I hadn't realized the depth of how much David came up with Bird and Magic in the league--combining their success with his amazing acumen to build the league into what it is today. MacMullan and Magic's discussion of Magic's HIV diagnosis is amazing (and heartbreaking) and the way Stern reacted is honestly visionary.

Overall, if you don't like basketball, you probably wouldn't gravitate to this book, yet it's so informative and factual, that if you love learning new things, I would still recommend it. It's not a fast read--I usually read one or two chapters a night after finishing whatever fiction read I was reading that evening--but it made up for it in how compelling and factual it was. Certainly worth a read and a huge find for any basketball fan. 4+ stars.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Monday, October 26, 2020

When the world knocked me to my knees: INVISIBLE GIRL.

Invisible GirlInvisible Girl by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dark, creepy read full of surprises

Owen Pick, a teacher in his thirties, has never had a relationship with a women. He's barely even had a successful date. He's teased by the young female students at the college where he works. He lives in a flat owned by his elderly aunt and recently has found solace on incel forums. Across the street from Owen lives the Fours family. They, frankly, find Owen creepy, especially mom Cate and her teenage daughter. Dad, Roan, a child psychologist, is too busy with work to care that much, while their teenage son is basically the only one Cate doesn't need to worry about. And then there's Saffyre Maddox. Now seventeen, Saffyre, was once a patient of Roan's. She misses their connection and seeks to maintain it by following him. Then, one night, Saffyre disappears, and it seems like Owen was the last person to see her. What truly happened to Saffyre?

After a bit of a slump with thrillers, I'm on a roll (though what's with ambiguous endings lately?). This was a creepy and ominous read! There is a lot going on here--Saffyre and her childhood issues; Owen and his many problems with women; and the complete dysfunction of the Fours family--but Jewell does a good job weaving them all together. The result is a tense and dark novel that keeps you guessing the entire time.

"I have a dark past, and I have dark thoughts." ~Saffyre

This is an engaging read, with Saffyre, Cate, and Owen turning into dynamic and unique voices. It's also ominous, with the overriding sense that something bad is going to happen. Secrets are the name of the game here, and Jewell turns the sexual predator theme on its head a bit. There's also plenty of revenge and strong women, which is great.

I wasn't a fan of the ending, which leaves things up in the end, but this is still a twisty ride with interesting characters and a different plot. 4 stars.

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Friday, October 23, 2020

G, A to Z Challenge: George and Lizzie.

George and LizzieGeorge and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the seventh book in my #atozchallenge! I'm challenging myself to read a book from my shelves that starts with each letter of the alphabet.

In high school, Lizzie made a choice--one she soon regrets--participating in something called the Great Game. The event alters the course of her life forever, along with a passionate relationship that ends in college. These moments, plus the influence of Lizzie's psychologist parents, who offer her little support as a kid, turn her into a melancholy and unfulfilled adult. Her husband, George, however, comes from a happy childhood with loving parents. He adores his family and they him. He also worships Lizzie, giving the two an unbalanced marriage. Can George and Lizzie survive an union on such unequal ground?

I'll confess that this book was not what I was expecting--I thought it was going to be a cheerful love story and a pick-me-up. It is a love story, though, all the same. George loves Lizzie. Lizzie, though, is lost in a love from the past. I'm not going to lie: Lizzie is a very frustrating character and a hard one for whom to care. She doesn't appreciate George, nor, really, much of her life. Now, she was truly saddled with terrible parents, so you have to grant her that. Her fixation on her past relationship makes you want to shake her, though.

"And because for years and years the voices in her head never let Lizzie forget that the Great Game had been a stupid idea right from the beginning and that she'd been an idiot for participating in it, her past was always there, a living thing. It shaped her present and future."

And of, of course, there is the Great Game--the event from high school which alters Lizzie's future. We can understand why Lizzie is Lizzie, but we can't always forgive her for her Lizzie type ways. Also, please note, there are a lot of football references in this book. A lot. I like football, but I'm not sure everyone who picks up a book like this will feel the same.

The story of George and Lizzie is told in very short vignettes (each with a title) that slowly move forward in time and alternate with Lizzie's past, mainly focusing on the Great Game, which so defined her life. This format takes much getting used to. There is no linear story here, but tiny bits and pieces of narrative from George and Lizzie. I almost abandoned the book when I first started--I couldn't get in the groove (and honestly, it's depressing). When I reluctantly returned to it a few days later, more prepared for the format, I could read it more easily.

In the end, I can't say I enjoyed this story. If I rated it purely on "like" factor, it would probably be a two-star read. Incorporating in Lizzie's life experiences and how a few things slowly grew on me, I'm giving this three stars, but only barely. (Also, I have real issues with how many kids from Lizzie's high school football team went on to the NFL. Maybe it's possible, but it seems insane.) 3 stars, but only eked out when they brought the chains out on the field to measure (too much?).

You can read more about the #atozchallenge here.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Monday, October 19, 2020

I'll look around for another try and fade away: DEAR CHILD.

Dear ChildDear Child by Romy Hausmann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lena Beck disappeared fourteen years ago--a carefree student who simply vanished without a trace. Since then, her father, Matthias, and her mother have waited for any news about their daughter's whereabouts. Then, they receive a call: a woman has been found after an accident. She's in the hospital and a young girl, Hannah, presumably her daughter, is with her. From Hannah, we learn that Lena and Hannah were living in a cabin, basically unknown and cutoff from the outside world.

"He creates day and night. Like God."

This book was quite the ride! I couldn't put this one down. It was eerily reminiscent of Wendy Walker's Don't Look For Me, which I just read, and of course, Room, as everyone has mentioned. It's utterly captivating; I read it over the course of about 24 hours. The story is told from the perspective of Hannah, who has her own unique voice (that's putting it mildly); the woman known as Lena; and Matthias. Together, they tell us a creepy and often heartbreaking tale, going back in time to the cabin, as well as present day in the hospital.

I won't go too in-depth, because it's best to go in to this one blind. I will say that it's easy to get caught up in the characters, particularly Lena, and Hannah, in a sort of spellbinding way. I was mesmerized by their stories and totally enjoyed that I didn't guess the outcome. I thought this was going to be a 4.5-star read, but the ending wound up being a little crazy. It came on suddenly and just seemed a bit jarring.

Still, if you're looking for an eerie and compelling read--told by some original and haunting voices--you'll enjoy DEAR CHILD. 4 stars.

I received a free ARC of Dear Child by Romy Hausmann from Macmillan in exchange for an honest review.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Do you think it's one big accident: IN A HOLIDAZE.

In a HolidazeIn a Holidaze by Christina Lauren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A joyful and flirty holiday romance

Maelyn Jones spends every Christmas at her favorite place in the world: a cabin owned by her parents' friends in Utah. She joins her (divorced) parents, younger brother Miles, and two other families for a magical Christmas experience--cookie baking, snow creature making contests, holiday scavenger hunts, and more. She's been sleeping in the basement in the "kid bunk beds" with Miles and family friends Theo and Andrew for years, despite the fact that they are adults now. But this year, it's all ruined: their friends are selling the cabin and Mae is humiliated after an embarrassing encounter with Theo. As her family drives away from the cabin one last time, she makes a desperate plea for happiness. Then she sees a car headed straight toward theirs, and it all goes black. When she awakes, she's back on a plane headed to Utah, headed to the same holiday trip. As various disasters return Mae to the plane over and over, she realizes she's in a time loop--she needs to break free, and figure out to find true love and happiness, once and for all.

"So I ask the universe, simply: Can you show me what will make me happy?"

I know I must have read this synopsis when I requested this book, but I didn't reread it before starting, because hello, CLo, enough said. So I was slightly surprised by the Groundhog Day-esque story to this one, but I went with the flow. Luckily Mae is funny and charming enough to make just about anything fly, even a crazy time loop plot where you're not exactly sure how or why she's in it or quite what she's supposed to do to get out of it.

"'I think it's possible I'm in the past, repeating the same holiday, and I'm the only one who knows it.'"

It took a little while for the romance to heat up here, but once it did, the book was off and running. And boom! It's a sweet read, but flirty and romantic too. I loved Mae and her crush--they crackled and simmered. Honestly, the time loop piece was secondary to their joyful love. Seeing Mae come into her own made everything else less important, including Mae's reliving of her holiday. (And I enjoyed how she took to it so quickly--don't eat that, you're going to need this, tell me a secret so I can prove this to you next time--you go girl, embrace the loop!).

So, yes, while this book is a little crazy, it's also sweet and happy, too. It's a perfect Christmas read for a snowy day (or a fall day when you feel like the world is falling apart). 4 stars.

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

F, A to Z Challenge: FOLLOW ME BACK.

Follow Me Back (Follow Me Back, #1)Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the sixth book in my #atozchallenge! I'm challenging myself to read a book from my shelves that starts with each letter of the alphabet.

Tessa Hart spends most (okay all) of her days in her bedroom. After an incident that causes her intense anxiety and agoraphobia, her one outlet and escape is the online world of pop star Eric Thorn. She can lose herself in his music, as well as the digital chatter of Twitter. For Eric, though, online is a scary place, where he fears his fans' obsessive behavior. He's even more scared in real life, especially after one of his fellow stars is murdered by a crazed fan. But online media is key to his success, according to his PR team. So Eric decides to ruin his image via a trolling Twitter account--of his own making. But his plan derails quickly and he finds himself involved in his deepest and most meaningful relationship to date, albeit a virtual one. But when he and his Twitter friend agree to meet, everything goes wrong.

This is one of those books that you know will probably be incredibly silly and cheesy, and it was definitely both of those things. But I still read it in one day, because, well, sometimes you just need silly and cheesy in your life. I was all for something related to Twitter that didn't involve politics and the world ending.

Honestly, Follow Me Back was quite addictive and easy-to-read, even if I wanted to shake Tessa and Eric sometimes for their bad decisions. Some early honesty would have avoided a lot of angst. It's told via the point-of-view of both characters, along with excerpts from police interrogations. Through the police pieces, we know something bad has happened--then we back up to the events that lead up to it. The book delves into the pressures of stardom, along with anxiety, assault, and mental illness. It's a little all over the place, at times--perhaps trying to throw us off course, but I appreciated that it did try to cover Tessa's issues respectfully. There's Eric and Tessa's relationship, as well as a bit of a mystery element.

Overall, this was just an escapist novel for me, and it did its job fairly well. My only problem was that it ended with a cliffhanger ending, so while I did move this book off my shelf, I am going to have to track down book #2 to see how it all ends. Darn it! Still, 3 stars for a fun and crazy ride.

You can read more about the #atozchallenge here.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Friday, October 09, 2020

But I keep hoping someday, that you'll see the light: THE BOOK OF TWO WAYS.

The Book of Two WaysThe Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting premise whose story is somewhat lost in the (many) details

When Dawn Edelstein survives a horrifying plane crash, it causes her to rethink her life and her marriage. She sees two paths she could have taken: her current one, married to her scientist husband, Brian, and mother to their daughter, Meret. In this life, she is a death doula, helping her clients at the end of their lives. She and Brian are also struggling, dealing with the unhappiness and infidelity in their marriage. In the other path, she's back in Egypt, picking up on a life she could have led, if her mother had not fallen ill when she was in graduate school: working as an Egyptologist and uncovering artifacts with Wyatt, an archaeologist, and the first love of her life. As the two paths unfold, Dawn's various choices and long-buried secrets do as well.

"For someone who makes a living through death, I haven't given a lot of thought to my own."

I love Jodi Picoult and her books, and I count many of them among my favorites. I was intrigued by this story, but overall, this book wasn't for me. I always appreciate when an author does their research for a book, but there was so very much Egypt (from Dawn) and various scientific concepts (via Brian) in this book. Some will really enjoy this and if these were topics I was more interested in, I probably would have too. But I read this book while was I was working endless days, and I just wanted to lose myself in a story and not read pages upon pages about ancient Egypt or so much scientific theory about multiverses. It was a lot.

When the novel focused on the characters, I was more in. Dawn is an intriguing protagonist--she's not always going to make choices that the rest of us might agree with. She takes a long hard long at her life--her regrets, her past love, her marriage, and more. I don't want to give too much away, but the various paths concept is an interesting one, for sure. I enjoyed both of them--especially Dawn's work as a death doula in her Boston life and then her relationship with Wyatt (who seemed very enigmatic--I could see why she was drawn to him) in Egypt.

No matter what, Picoult does what she does best--give us a fascinating look at love, marriage, and loss. She makes us think and question what we might do in Dawn's position. There are some twists and surprises thrown in along the way. I skimmed some of the Egypt stuff (I'm sorry!) and might have forgiven it all together, except then she gave me an up-in-the-air ending. After all that reading and reading! Sigh. No resolution endings seem to be a theme lately. And not one I'm a fan of, either. So, with that, a 3-star read for me. But I'll read Picoult's next book eagerly, as always.

I received a copy of this book from Random House/Ballantine and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 07, 2020


Emergency ContactEmergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This is the fifth book in my #atozchallenge! I'm challenging myself to read a book from my shelves that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Let's clear those shelves and delve into that backlist!

Penny Lee is heading to college in Austin, Texas to finally start her life. She's leaving behind her needy Mom, her annoying boyfriend, and everything else. She wants to become a writer and now, she thinks, is when her life will truly begin. For Sam, his life in Austin is at a standstill. He's broken up with his girlfriend and is living above the coffee shop where he works. He has a mattress on the floor, a dying laptop, and a dream of becoming a movie director. When Sam and Penny meet, it's not glamorous or romantic. They know each other, vaguely, via Penny's roommate, Jude. But they soon are texting each other--a lot. Sharing everything about their lives, all the time. But can the two maintain this intimate friendship if they meet again in real life?

I absolutely loved this book. There was just something about it that spoke to me, and I was lost in Sam and Penny's world from practically the first page. I had to laugh, because I read some other reviews that maligned Penny, calling her an unlikable character. However, I felt like Penny was ME--I empathized with her character so much, and found so many good lines in the books that I could relate with. (What that says about me, we won't go into, ha.)

This was such a funny, sweet, and real story. I didn't find Sam and Penny's relationship to be insta-love whatsoever as they bonded over text. As anyone who has met someone and shared things online knows, it can become something so deep and private--offering something about yourself with someone you don't see. I loved the wit and sarcasm in their texts. These are my kind of people--funny, wounded, and just so them.

There's definitely seriousness to this book, and the theme of family runs across the entire novel. Sam and Jude are oddly related in a way I won't unpack here. Sam and Penny both have complicated and difficult relationships with their mothers. Penny's mom is a character unto herself. And we see friendship presented in various ways, including Penny's relationship with Jude, and Jude's best friend, Mallory. I loved all the characters, who are each so individualistic.

Overall, this was just a great book for me. It's funny yet dark at times and the humor was right up my alley. I fell hard for the characters, so everything hit me right in the gut. I can see how it might not be for everyone, but I think it's definitely worth a read. I'm glad my challenge made me finally pick this one up. 4.5 stars.

You can read more about the #atozchallenge here.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Monday, October 05, 2020

Came running back to you, time after time: TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH.

To Tell You the TruthTo Tell You the Truth by Gilly Macmillan
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A twisty thriller with a disappointing ending

Lucy Harper is a famous writer, known for her crime fiction stories featuring her beloved character, Eliza. Her work has made her wealthy, something that particularly pleases her husband, Dan, a once aspiring writer who now "manages" Lucy's career and money. Lucy and Dan's life and marriage look perfect from the outside, but they are anything but. Then Dan suddenly goes missing. His disappearance reminds Lucy of another time someone vanished from her life: her younger brother, Teddy, who was lost in the woods very near the house Lucy and Dan now live in. Soon Lucy finds herself reminded more and more of her past, which seems to be quickly and dangerously colliding with her present.

"After all, what kind of person creates a character who walks right out of their books and into their life? He would think I'd lost my mind."

I absolutely adore Gilly Macmillan and her books, but this was not one of my all-time favorites. It's still good, though, and twisty, and I will admit that I didn't guess the (rather bizarre) outcome. However, the ending leaves much to be desired and does not wrap everything up, which left me frustrated. (And seemed to kick off a trend in my recent thrillers, where things end with plot pieces left hanging--I'm not okay with this.)

Lucy is an unreliable narrator extraordinaire--ever since she was small, she's had a best friend named Eliza. Why yes, Eliza happens to be the name of her fictional character, as well. Lucy talks to her imaginary friend, who seems to have untold power over her. If this sounds weird and creepy, it is, and Macmillan does a good job with the eerie oddity of it all and allowing us to wonder if we can trust anything that Lucy--or Eliza--say. Knowing who and what to believe is certainly a central theme here.

Dan, meanwhile, is absolutely despicable, and I was not too sad when he disappeared, honestly. The story alternates between present-day, with Lucy's point of view, and the past, around the time Teddy disappeared. It's certainly compelling. All in all, I would have probably rated this 4-stars if there had been a better ending, versus one that felt rushed and forced, without tying up all the loose ends. This is still a good, atmospheric thriller, with plenty of twists. 3.5 stars. And if you want to read more from Macmillan, I highly recommend The Perfect Girl or her Jim Clemo series--all books that I adore.

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 03, 2020

One can only dream of a love so rare: THE HAPPY EVER AFTER PLAYLIST.

The Happy Ever After PlaylistThe Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Amazingly sexy and sweet romance

Sloan Monroe's fiance, Brandon, died two years ago, and Sloan is still hurting, a lot. Then one day she finds an adorable dog on the road--literally--and takes him home. His owner never answers her texts, and the dog, Tucker, seems to help Sloan move on. Then suddenly Tucker's owner shows up, via text, and he wants Tucker back. But Sloan's strong enough now that she's not giving up Tucker. As she starts texting with Tucker's owner, Jason, she realizes he really cares about his dog. Then Sloan also recognizes that Jason is a good guy. A really good, handsome guy. This is confirmed once they meet in person. But Jason's a musician with stardom just around the corner. Sloan needs someone here, whom she can count on. Can she really handle someone else who might leave her, again?

"I didn't cook anymore. Everyone knew that. I didn't do a lot of things anymore."

I absolutely adored this book. It was just what I needed at the time I picked it up. Jimenez gives us such a happy and sexy romance with two characters with awesome chemistry. There's the best blend of small mix-ups and humor, and you cannot help but root for Sloan and Jason from the very beginning (especially if you've read The Friend Zone). Knowing that Sloan is completely broken from Brandon's death while Jason is confident and embarking on a new career, it's completely understandable that Sloan can't risk losing herself again. Watching her find happiness--even knowing it could be gone again in a second--is beautiful, and both of these characters are so real, so true.

"I'd been lonely and attached to someone invisible for two years. I wouldn't do it again. I couldn't do it again."

While this book is emotional, it's also very sweet, and, wow, sexy at times. Jason is just a darn good guy, seemingly too good to be true, and I found myself willing him and Sloan together, desperately wanting her to get a second chance at happiness. Throw in the adorable Tucker and there's basically nothing not to love about this book. Great characters, great romance, great humor--it's all there. I loved it from beginning to end. 4.5 stars.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Friday, October 02, 2020

There's a sort of beacon where there used to be a dull roar: DON'T LOOK FOR ME.

Don't Look for MeDon't Look for Me by Wendy Walker
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

One of my favorite thrillers this year

Five years ago, Molly and John Clarke's youngest daughter died. It changed their family forever, devastating Molly and John. Molly blames herself. Their son, Evan, is now at boarding school and eldest daughter Nicole, 21, has a fractured relationship with her mom. Then Molly disappears coming back from visiting Evan. Everyone says she left on purpose, backed up by the note they find. The police call it a "walk away." Molly's car was abandoned by a gas station, the note discovered at a nearby hotel. But what really happened to Molly? Nicole is convinced her mother wouldn't just walk away from them, no matter how bad things had become.

"This was her fault and now she had to make it right. She had to find her mother."

Oh my gosh. I read this book in one breathless day, despite working for 12 hours. It's an utterly and completely spellbinding thriller. I read the last half in one sitting, desperate to know what became of Molly. Walker gives us a twisty thriller that is filled with surprises. It's dramatic, beyond readable, and heartbreaking at times. Told from Molly and Nicole's point of views, it's amazing. I love a book that can shock me, and this is that book.

I'm not going to offer much more, as it's best to go into this one blind. Just know that, hands down, it's one of the best thrillers I've read this year. 4.5+ stars. Pick up this book!

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

You can't believe a word she says: A GOOD GIRL'S GUIDE TO MURDER.

A Good Girl's Guide to MurderA Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pippa (Pip) decides to write her senior capstone project on the missing persons case of Andie Bell. Everyone in the town of Fairview believes popular Andie was murdered by her boyfriend Sal Singh, who then killed himself. The story still haunts the town five years later--including Sal's family and his younger brother, Ravi. Pip knew Sal, though, and he was always so kind to her. As she starts digging into the case, with Ravi's help, hoping to cast some doubt on the investigation, Pip starts discovering evidence that could exonerate Sal--and a lot of dark secrets that people in Fairview do not want dug up.

"'Because I don’t think your brother did it—and I’m going to try to prove it.'"

This is a dark and twisty thriller with an improbable but immediately likable protagonist. While I found it a bit unlikely that this high schooler could become such an excellent detective, I soon put my doubts aside. Pip is tough and determined and while some of the plot bordered on implausible, I was there for it, because I quickly fell for her, and for Ravi, Sal's younger brother.

“'It’s not just that he’s gone. It’s that…well, we’re not allowed to grieve for him, because of what happened.'"

Forming a partnership, the two dig deep into Andie's case, interviewing friends, family, and turning their town on its side. The result is an incredibly twisty and dark story-its sad, but sweet too. I loved the pluckiness of Pip; her friendship with Ravi; and the way the clues slowly unfolded, allowing us to see the horrible secrets and lies that led to what truly happened to Andie.

All in all, this is a quick read, full of twists and turns, and featuring a strong protagonist. 4 stars.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Monday, September 28, 2020

D, A to Z Challenge: DEAR RACHEL MADDOW.

Dear Rachel MaddowDear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This is the fourth book in my #atozchallenge! I'm challenging myself to read a book from my shelves that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Let's clear those shelves and delve into that backlist!

Brynn Harper doesn't have many constants in her life. But Rachel Maddow is one. After writing an email to Rachel for a school project--and getting a response back--Brynn continues writing emails to Rachel but never sending them. She chronicles her life in high school, stuck in the basement as part of the kids in remedial classes; her brother Nick's death; breaking up with her first girlfriend; and how hard things are at home with her mother and stepfather. And soon, she's telling Rachel about how unfair things are at school, when one of the honors kids tries to steamroll his way to being the student representative for the school board, without giving a voice to all types of kids at the school. Brynn knows this issue would fire up Rachel, but is it worth sticking out her neck and getting involved?

I absolutely loved this book and its heroine, Brynn. It's told all in letters (emails)--"epistolary YA written to a real person," as Kisner says in her acknowledgements. I balked for a second, but I quickly loved the format, because Brynn's unique and witty voice shines through via her letters to Rachel. We get the occasional email from someone else to help convey plot and sometimes comments on her letters from her increasingly exasperated, rueful, and impressed English teacher, Mr. Grimm.

Brynn's in remedial classes after some terrible things have happened, especially her brother Nick's death. His loss is a central theme to the book, and her grief is so startling and realistic. I truly loved this girl with my whole heart.

The lesbian and bisexual rep in this book is strong (so wonderful), as is the fact that it touts powerful women (from Rachel Maddow to Brynn and her posse). It's amazing to read a YA novel that covers politics and females fighting for their shot. Nothing is glossed over here--there aren't pretty endings tied up in bows--but you have to root for Brynn, and you have to be impressed with her willingness to stand up for herself. Especially because it seems like the world is stacked against this kid, a lot.

If you're a Rachel Maddow fan, you'll especially love the novel (obviously) as it calls out little quirks and inside jokes from her show. But you don't have to enjoy Rachel to love this book. I think it would be nearly impossible not to love it, honestly, between spunky Brynn and the fact that it's so easy to get caught up in the plot, the school politics, and the characters. There's a lot of depth and heart to this novel, and I highly recommend it, to teens and adults alike. 4.5 stars.

You can read more about the #atozchallenge here.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Friday, September 25, 2020

They’re rollin' in the dough, we’re fightin' for scraps: WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING.

When No One is WatchingWhen No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A terrifying and intense psychological thriller

Sydney Green grew up in Brooklyn and now she's back in her mom's home after a failed relationship. But her Gifford Place neighborhood seems to be changing daily--houses selling, new neighbors moving in, familiar stores closing. To try to help deal with the change, Sydney begins researching a walking tour: one that will truly showcase the real history of her neighborhood. In doing so, she winds up with an unlikely assistant, her bumbling new neighbor Theo. But the more Sydney and Theo delve into the neighborhood's past, the more horrifying things they uncover. And the push for gentrification around them seems to have even more sinister undertones than anyone could have expected.

"The landscape of my life is unrecognizable; Gifford Place doesn't feel like home."

Wow, an insane and wild ride happens when you pick up this book! Told in alternating perspectives from Sydney and Theo, peppered with posts from Gifford Place's "Our Hood" app, this is a tense and utterly spellbinding thriller unlike anything I've ever read before.

This is an incredibly timely book--covering racism in a straightforward and upfront format. Some of the characters are downright despicable, and Cole does not shy away from showing how utterly racist and hateful people can be. Yes, today, in America. The book is, honestly, eye-opening, no matter how informed you think you may be. It delves into the history of Brooklyn and how black property owners were pushed out, and I found it to be very informative (and heart breaking). Just as bleak is how it clearly shows the institutional racism in place today. Slavery may be gone in its original form, but its legacy still exists, and there are still so many ways to keep black people down, to hold them back.

While illustrating this, Cole gives us a completely terrifying thriller that borders on horror. It's suspenseful and horrifying, filled with paranoia and conspiracy theories. I was completely caught up in Sydney and Theo's world--and honestly the entire neighborhood of Gifford Place. This book takes a wild turn near the end and the crazy plot is, well, crazy, but at this point, with everything we've learned and realized, you begin to think that it's almost entirely plausible things could go down the way they do.

No matter what, the result is a truly spellbinding and illuminating read. It's not often a book teaches and yet terrifies, educates and still captivates. I definitely recommend this one. 4+ stars.

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

C, A to Z Challenge: COTTAGE BY THE SEA.

Cottage by the SeaCottage by the Sea by Debbie Macomber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the third book in my #atozchallenge! I'm challenging myself to read a book from my shelves that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Let's clear those shelves and delve into that backlist!

After a horrible tragedy alters her life forever, Annie Marlow picks up and moves to Oceanside, a beach town in the Pacific Northwest. It's where her family vacationed once a year--a place that contains her happiest memories. Staying in the same cottage her family once rented, Annie tries to heal. She meets Keaton, a large and often silent man, who helps Annie fix up her cottage; Mellie, her abrasive and reclusive landlord; and Britt, a troubled teenager. Annie feels like she belongs in this town, but when she's offered the chance of a lifetime for her career, she must make a decision with life-altering consequences.

"All he could say was that deep down in a part of him that he couldn't explain, he believed Annie Marlow needed to be in Oceanside. It was where she was meant to be."

Well, this was a lovely little romance that took me by surprise, but in a good way. It's sweet and touching, and I found myself completely enamored by the characters, especially Annie and Keaton. Oh who am I kidding? And Mellie and Keaton's best friend Preston and Britt and her mother and... you get the picture.

I chose this book because I miss the beach terribly, and Macomber did a great job of portraying this little seaside town and its fiercely protective townspeople. Could I see most of the plot coming a mile away? Sure. Did I care? Not at all. There's lots of depth here, between Annie's grief; Keaton's stoicism, which can be attributed to his own difficult past; Britt and her family, who are struggling in their own way; and Mellie, who has traveled her own troubled road. But there's plenty of heartwarming moments, and I won't lie, I might have shed a tear or two along the way.

Overall, this is a book about love, family (wherever you may find it) and healing. It's a quick read, but a very sweet one. 4 stars.

You can read more about the #atozchallenge here.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Monday, September 21, 2020

The birds in the morning don't sing anymore: LITTLE DISASTERS.

Little DisastersLittle Disasters by Sarah Vaughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A compelling and emotional thriller about motherhood

Liz and Jess have been friends since they met in a prenatal group over ten years ago. So Liz, a doctor in a pediatrics hospital ward, is of course anxious when Jess brings her youngest daughter, baby Betsey, in with a head injury. But the worry turns to further concern when Betsey's injury appears suspicious and Jess's explanations of how it occurred are insufficient. The incident in the ward sets off a series of events that will change the two women's friendship--and lives--forever.

"A voice singsongs in her head, like a child desperate for attention--You're a bad, bad mother--and she tries to shove it away."

Vaughan gives us an excellent read here--powerful, sad, and real, covering a variety of serious topics that are not always discussed. Child abuse, postpartum depression, martial strife: it's all here, in a heartbreaking novel that is, surprisingly, a compelling thriller that keeps you guessing until the last page. Little Disasters is captivating, offering us front row seats into family tragedy and strife. Secrets are uncovered as the pages turn--not only for Jess and her husband, Ed--but also for Liz, as we learn more about her past and her own troubled mother, who had a dark history as well.

Vaughan expertly weaves the past and present together, giving us a taunt and compelling narrative, part mystery, part insight into relationships and motherhood. This wasn't always easy to read, given the difficult subjects, yet I found myself desperately wanting to know what happened to Betsey and what would become of the two women. Overall, this is a well-done thriller and enjoyable in its original plot and emotional realism. 4 stars.

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 20, 2020

B, A to Z Challenge: BEHIND HER EYES.

Behind Her EyesBehind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

This is the second book in my #atozchallenge! I'm challenging myself to read a book from my shelves that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Let's clear those shelves and delve into that backlist!

Louise has a pretty boring life. A single mom and part-time secretary, most of her life revolves around her young son. But then one night she meets a man in a bar and feels an instant attraction. Though it stops with a kiss, she feels excited by the prospect of finally having met someone. So imagine Louise's surprise when, the next morning, she sees the man again. At work. He's her new boss. And he's also very married, to a beautiful younger wife, Adele. Soon, Louise accidentally runs into Adele and the two form a friendship. Louise knows it's wrong, but she feels drawn to Adele as well. She appears lonely. Plus, the more Louise learns about Adele, the more she feels something is off: Adele seems afraid and almost controlled by David. Before she knows it, Louise is spending time with Adele and David, unable to tell the other about what she's doing. She's also realizing that there's something very wrong with this marriage. But how wrong, Louise has no idea.

"You can never know everything about a person. You'd go mad trying to."

Well, this was a spellbinding thriller. It's a wild ride that keeps you guessing the entire time, wondering who is twisting whose mind and what on earth is going on between David, Adele, and even Louise. Is David an abusive husband controlling his wife? Is Adele a cowed and crazy housewife? What happened between David and Adele when they were young and Adele's parents died? Is Louise complicit in their games? I felt befuddled and mesmerized as I madly flipped the pages, trying to figure out what on earth was going on.

"The more I fall for David, the more fascinated I become with Adele. It's a vicious circle."

I knew I didn't really like any of these people, but I didn't care, as I had to know what was going to happen next. Trying to put together the pieces in this psychological puzzle is nearly impossible; it seems like everyone is playing mind games with everyone else. It's told in a Now and Then format, with perspectives from Adele and Louise. But who can we trust? Does anyone tell the truth in this book? I won't spoil it for you, but I can say that the short chapters and flip in time periods make for a captivating read.

Some of the plot is strange and again, the characters are not particularly likeable (Louise, come on, let's make better choices), but the book makes up for it in psychological thrills and twists. Behind Her Eyes has been on my shelf for a while, as I'd heard about its surprises and big ending. I'm glad I used this challenge to pick it up. It was a different read and a crazy one. 3.75 stars, rounded to 4 here.

You can read more about the #atozchallenge here.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews