Monday, March 30, 2020

I remember the time when I came so close to you: MUSIC FROM ANOTHER WORLD.

This completely amazing book tells the story of two teen pen pals in 1977, one of whom, Tammy, is a closeted lesbian. Tammy and Sharon, who lives in San Francisco, are matched through the California Pen Pal Project. Each attend strict religious schools, where the idea of being lesbian is an utter and complete sin. The story is told entirely through their letters, Sharon's diary entries, and Tammy's diary, which takes the form of letters to gay rights activist Harvey Milk. The two have their religious teachings to guide them, but Sharon is dealing with learning that her brother, Peter, is gay, and Tammy, of course, is working out her feelings about her sexuality. Through their letters, the two find a friendship and honesty they have no where else, especially as the anti-gay movement in America becomes stronger and stronger.

This story is powerful and beautiful. I can’t think of a better book for these difficult days. I completely fell in love with Tammy and Sharon and their complicated, real lives. It took me a moment to adjust to the format of the book, which, as mentioned is told entirely in epistolary form. Once I did, I was off and running and never looked back.

"I've never fit. Not at school. Not at church. Not anywhere, really." ~Sharon

This is historical YA fiction at its absolute best--Talley's story is heartbreaking and touching. Reading about Tammy and Sharon, you realize that we've come a long way in terms of gay rights, yet it hurts knowing so many kids still feel as lost and scared as Tammy when coming out. The book has a terrifying relevance in these divided times. (For instance, Tammy's religious zealot aunt and her powerful anti-gay church--plop them in 2020 and we're off and running.)

"I'm getting out of this place, Harvey. Even if I only manage to do it in my head." ~Tammy

Watching Tammy and Sharon's friendship form over their letters is amazing; somehow Talley conveys so much through that format. These two come to life before our very eyes, and we become completely invested in these two vulnerable yet utterly strong and amazing young women. Their story is hopeful and heartbreaking and touches on religion and gay rights in such powerful ways. I found it to be timely, complex, and incredibly wonderful. We need more books like this in the world, and Tammy and Sharon will stay with me for quite some time.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Inkyard Press in return for an unbiased review. This amazing book is available 3/31!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

It's the world in front of me: SUCH A FUN AGE.

Such a Fun AgeSuch a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Emira Tucker is a somewhat aimless twenty-five-year-old. While all her other friends have steady jobs, she's still on her parents' health insurance. Her main gig is working as a babysitter for Alix Chamberlain and her two young daughters. When Alix asks Emira to take two-year-old Briar to the grocery store one night, a security guard confronts Emira, accusing the black woman of kidnapping the young toddler. A group of shoppers gathers, someone films the incident, and Emira is angry and embarrassed. Alix feels like she has to make the incident right. Through the video, someone from Alix's past turns up, propelling Alix and Emira on a crazy collision course that will make them question each other and everything they know.

This was a fascinating book that was completely easy-to-read. Reid is a great writer, and I flew through this novel. It's a little difficult to review, but it's an incredibly thought-provoking book that focuses on so much: relationships, racial dynamics, social class, parenting, and more.

Reid's characters come to life before your eyes. I fell quickly for Emira, who seems to be floundering in her life. Everyone claims to know what is best for Emira, but once we get to know her, I found her to be an interesting character, who actually knows much more than anyone gives her credit for. Her love for Briar comes across loud and clear, too. Reid also does such a good job capturing Briar, an unique kid, and it's easy to see why Emira loves her so much.

This book is deep, even if the story flies by quickly. There's so much to unpack, especially with Alix, who thinks she so progressive, yet, well, isn't. Her obsession with Emira is completely baffling and once the second character comes in, post grocery store incident, we are constantly thrown back between Alix and them. Who do we trust? Why are these two vying for Emira? What I loved about this novel is that usually, one character ultimately proves to be good and another evil. That may not necessarily be the case here. As mentioned, there's so much nuance in Reid's writing.

I flew through this book, and I found myself completely caught up in Emira, Alix, and even Briar's world. I may not have entirely grasped everything I should have, but I found it moving, timely, and beautifully written. Honestly, I would have loved to see more of Emira's life (and Briar's). This is a different sort of novel, but I found it worth a read. Reid is a wonderful writer, and I'm excited to see what she comes up with next. 4.5 stars.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

This could be the year for the real thing: THE HONEY DON'T LIST.

The Honey-Don't ListThe Honey-Don't List by Christina Lauren

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Carey Douglas is looking forward to a much-needed vacation. She's spent nearly ten years serving as an assistant--and much more--to Melissa Tripp, one half of Melissa and Rusty Tripp. The Tripps are co-owners of the store Comb+Honey and best known for their home renovation TV shows and books. They have a new solo show, Home Sweet Home, about to launch on Netflix, accompanied by a book about their happy marriage. The only issue: Melissa and Rusty can't stand each other. So instead of giving their assistants--Carey and Rusty's assistant/engineer, James--a break while they go on book tour, the couple's behavior requires they be babysat so their mutual self-hatred does not go viral. Suddenly Carey and James find themselves stuck together on a tour bus, watching over two very irritable and often hateful people. James needs the engineering contacts and a job where everything is on the up-and-up--something his last couldn't offer. Carey requires health insurance and believes Melissa needs her more than anyone else. And who knows, the more time James and Carey spend together, the more they might wind up finding some good in all this mess.

"You wouldn't know from scrolling through their idyllic Instagram feed that Melly and Rusty aren't quite as sweet on each other anymore. Looking back, I'm not really sure when they decided their marriage mattered less than their brand."

This was a fun and engaging Christina Lauren read. I'd rank Carey and James as one of their good couples, though not perhaps in the great category. They are cute, however, with plenty of chemistry and lots of sexy banter.

"Your only job for the next ten days is to keep the Tripps from falling apart."

I enjoyed the HGTV feel of this book and the Tripps had a "Chip and Joanna Gaines" feel, if the Gaines went off the rails, or we were able to see their dark side. Things get a little repetitive in the middle, as the Tripps fight and Carey and James struggle with the "oh but we need our jobs" piece, but overall the book is humorous, tender, and fun. Sure, Carey and James are desperately thrown together and you have NO IDEA what will happen, right? It's all good; it's why I love a good romance. Their journey is enjoyable and the side characters--mainly the Tripps--are, well, a trip. Let me tell you, Melissa (Melly) is downright scary at times.

We also get the story told from both Carey and James' point of view, which I like, plus some police report excerpts (oh yeah) and parts of blogger and tabloid pieces. Our fabulous duo does a great job at putting us in the middle of the Tripps' scandal, and one of my favorite things about this one was that not only did we get to enjoy Carey and James' romance, but we felt like we were a part of the trainwreck sensation that was Melly and Rusty.

Overall, this is a fun read with a sexy romance and enjoyable characters. 3.75 stars, rounded to 4 stars here.

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

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Saturday, March 21, 2020

You know the world won't stop, and actions speak louder: THE LUCKY ONE.

The Lucky OneThe Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Alice Fine's life is defined by the fact that as a young child, she was kidnapped from her backyard. But her father, a policeman, defied the odds and found Alice within hours. However, the crime terrified her parents, who moved to Chicago to try to forget about the past. Still the kidnapping haunts Alice, who spends her time on a website called the Doe Pages, devoted to finding the missing--dead or alive. As she's scrolling through one day, Alice sees a familiar face: that of her kidnapper, so many years ago. Before she knows it, Alice and some others from the Doe Pages are working to find the man before he can hurt another. During their search, they meet Merrily, a woman searching for the same man for entirely different reasons. And Alice begins to dig deeper, she will uncover secrets that have long meant to be buried.

This was my first book by Lori Rader-Day and overall, I enjoyed it. I will read more by her, I'm sure. I did find the book a little choppy and hard to follow. There was just something that slowed it down for me. I also could never quite figure out why Merrily was so invested in finding Rick, Alice's missing person. I was never fully invested in the characters, including Alice or Merrily.

Still, there are a lot of mysteries to solve here and much to keep the reader guessing. The book is intricately plotted, with lots of twists. It's often captivating and certainly interesting. 3.75 stars, rounded to 4 here.

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Thursday, March 19, 2020

You look like a tragedy that just hasn't happened yet: A GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD.

A Good NeighborhoodA Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Oak Knoll is a close-knit multiracial neighborhood in North Carolina where everyone looks out for one another. Valerie Alston-Holt, a professor and single mother, has raised her biracial son, Xavier, there since he was small. Their calm life changes, however, when the Whitman family moves in next door. First they raze the current house and build a "Mcmansion," whose very existence threatens the health of Valerie's beloved historic oak tree. Brad Whitman is a local celebrity, known for his charisma and commercials for his company, Whitman HVAC. His wife, Julia, has long escaped her trailer park days and is now raising her daughters Julia and Lily in a privilege she once dreamed of. But soon the Alston-Holts and Whitmans find them themselves fighting over the oak tree's well-being and then, the budding romance between Julia and Xavier.

"An upscale new house in a simple old neighborhood. A girl on a chaise beside a swimming pool, who wants to be left alone. We begin our story here, in the minutes before the small event that will change everything."

This book took my heart and spit it right out again. Oh my goodness. It's a different, beautiful, and absolutely heartbreaking read. We're told from the very beginning--by our omniscient third person narrator--that something bad is going to happen. And yet, I lived in denial that this was true. I devoured this book in two halves. It's utterly engrossing, and the characters just pop off the pages. The teens, especially. Oh Juniper and Xavier. I will not easily forget either of you.

A Good Neighborhood tackles a host of timely topics, and it handles all of them deftly. Race, religion, sexism, feminism--none of these are exempt in the pages of this novel. We see whiteness as a symbolism for purity, and we watch as Juniper struggles with the set of values being pushed upon her by her mother and stepfather, including a "purity vow" to remain both a virgin and loyal to her future husband. And then there's Xavier, a talented musician, who has been raised by his strong mother after his father's death. She wants so much for her son to do anything, but yet lives in fear because he is biracial. Juniper, Xavier, and Valerie were such powerful characters.

I do not want to give much of the plot away, but I can tell you that this book is heartbreaking and beautiful. It will get you to think about racism and sexism. The strong themes of good versus evil are presented in such a unique and compelling manner. Adding the third-person piece just gives an extra piece to the story. This book is incredibly well-written and will stay with you for quite some time. 4.5 stars.

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

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

I wish I could start this whole thing over again: BEHIND EVERY LIE.

Behind Every LieBehind Every Lie by Christina McDonald

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Eva Hansen wakes up in the hospital, burned and battered after being struck by lightening, she learns a horrible fact: her mother, Kat, is dead. Even worse, the police tell her Kat was murdered. It quickly appears Eva is their number one suspect, having been found unconscious down the street from her mother's home. After the lightening strike, Eva can't remember what happened, but some clues from her mother's home lead her to London, her mother's former home, where she works to unravel both Kat's past and her own. But it quickly becomes apparent that someone doesn't want Eva uncovering her mother's secrets. And the more Eva begins to remember the events of that evening, the more danger she is in.

"Memories could be come distorted, twisted to suit the teller, or ignored and forgotten, pushed away. I should know. I'd been doing it for years."

This was my first book by Christina McDonald, but I'll definitely be tracking down her first book now as well. This was a spellbinding thriller, which I found quite difficult to put down. It's told in the alternating perspectives of Eva, in present-day, and her mom, Kat, in the past. The format works quite effectively and somehow gives the book a frenetic, frantic pacing and feel.

It's hard to know if Eva is telling us the truth, as she's been struck by lightning (!) and alludes to previous problems, too. Kat quickly emerges as a mysterious and dynamic character, too. As their stories unfold and start to converge, I was quite fascinated and intrigued, and the pages just flew by. I guessed quite a bit, but it didn't diminish my enjoyment at all, and I enjoyed all the twists and turns. (There's much more than Kat and Eva, but I don't want to spoil anything!)

Overall, I'm glad I followed all the #bookstagram hype and picked this one up. It was a quick, intense read. Different and engaging! 4 stars.

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Monday, March 16, 2020

I don't miss the good old days: LITTLE WONDERS.

Little Wonders: A NovelLittle Wonders: A Novel by Kate Rorick

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Quinn Barrett's mantra is about being perfect. But that all crumbles when she's caught on camera at the Little Wonders Preschool Halloween parade screaming at her young son, Hamilton, and destroying his (you guessed it) perfectly-created spaceship costume. As president of the Little Wonders board, a perfect mom, and a designer, Quinn supposedly has it all together. But when fellow Little Wonders mom Daisy McGulch captures her meltdown on her phone and it goes viral, Quinn's perfect life is over. As for Daisy, she's terrified that Quinn (and the other Little Wonders parents) will find out she's responsible for the video. She's having a hard enough time fitting in the posh New England town and Little Wonders world. Daisy, with her tattoos, blue hair, and love of cosplay, isn't exactly like the other moms. But then Daisy and Quinn find themselves thrust together--and soon--maybe even friends. What will happen if Quinn finds out what Daisy did?

"In dark moments, when Quinn Barrett looked back and analyzed what caused the destruction of her entire life, she should have known it would happen at the Little Wonders Preschool Happy Halloween Costume Parade (and Dance Party)"

This book started off incredibly slow for me. Though, in its defense, I was reading it while sick with the flu and not exactly in the reading mood (or in the mood for anything, really). It took me a long time to warm to Quinn and Daisy--they just weren't the type of characters you (well, me) immediately take to. And, really, I'm a tough sell on these "mom" type books. I know these horrible type of parents exist--and these snotty schools--but some of these people and their actions just seemed so over-the-top.

I'm glad I kept reading, though, because eventually Daisy and Quinn grew into full-fledged characters, even if some of the other parents remained crazy caricatures and stereotypes. Daisy is sweet and funny, with her love of pop culture, and Quinn is relatable, with her flaws and desire for perfection. The book captures a lot of the difficult elements of parenting; what parent hasn't felt alone and out of their depth at points?

There are some really humorous moments, and I liked Daisy and Quinn's friendship a lot. Some of the events seemed a bit transparent, but Daisy and Quinn's eventual growth and my need to root for them turned this into a 3.5-star read.

I received a copy of this book from William Morrow and LibraryThing in return for an honest review. It is available as of 3/17/2020.

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Friday, March 13, 2020

I'm a little more broken open, but a little more free: THE OPERATOR.

The OperatorThe Operator by Gretchen Berg

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Vivian Dalton is a switchboard operator in the small town of Wooster, Ohio. She knows the people of her town quite well--thanks in no small part to the eavesdropping she and the other women do while working at Bell. Usually it's pretty harmless, but that all changes one December night when Vivian listens in on a call between Betty Miller--a rich woman whom she despises--and someone else, whom she doesn't recognize. Their conversation reveals a shocking secret that affects Vivian personally and, if true, will change her life forever. Vivian is horrified, and she starts to investigate. In doing so, she begins to unearth even more secrets and lies.

"That was the thing about small towns. Everyone knew everyone else's business."

I don't often pick up historical fiction, but I won this book, and it sounded interesting. It certainly was. This is a fascinating look at small town relationships and the power of secrets and family. Vivian is quite a character; married to her husband, Edward, for fifteen years, with a daughter Charlotte, who is a sophomore in high school. Her life is small and mainly confined to Wooster. Vivian resents her siblings who finished high school, something she couldn't do as she had to help her family when money grew tight.

The book starts off a little slow, as I'm never a huge fan when we're told there's a huge secret (what Vivian overhears) but it isn't revealed. Once we finally find out what it was, things pick up. Vivian takes on more power, showing a tough and determined side, especially for what was expected of women in 1950s. The book does a good job of illustrating the limitations, but also strengths, of women in the time period. Berg also includes excerpts from Vivian's childhood and growing in the 1930s. I enjoyed seeing how different things were and watching Vivian overcome so much. Her daughter, Charlotte, was a great character, too. There are also a lot of side stories, too, involving a host of small town Wooster characters and even a bank robbery.

Overall, while this took a while to warm up, it was an intriguing look at lies and secrets and how they affected the Dalton family. It's easy to get invested in Vivian and Charlotte (her husband, Edward, seemed like a pretty one-dimensional character, though). It does a strong job of portraying women and all they endure. The book is witty and heartfelt as well. 3.75 stars, rounded to four here.

I won a copy of this book from William Morrow.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

And you know you lie best when you lie to you: THE SEA OF LOST GIRLS.

The Sea of Lost GirlsThe Sea of Lost Girls by Carol Goodman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tessa has started her life over at Haywood, an elite boarding school in coastal Maine. She teaches English there and is married to a well-respected fellow professor, Harmon. Her seventeen-year-old son, Rudy, while troubled in the past, seems to be doing well. This is much in part to his girlfriend, Lila Zeller, a smart and focused teen. But then Tessa gets an early morning text from Rudy, asking her to pick him up. He and Lila had a fight, and Tessa finds him wet and shivering. Later that morning they receive the devastating news that Lila's dead body was found on the beach, not far from where Tessa picked Rudy up. Soon there are whispers of murder surrounding Lila's death, and both Tessa's husband and son find themselves under investigation. And the more she delves into Haywood's past, the more she realizes she isn't the only one keeping secrets.

"When we landed here in this pretty harbor town with its sailboats and white clapboard houses I'd thought we'd come to a place where we'd always be safe. But Rudy has always had a nose for darkness."

I love Carol Goodman's books, and I'm always into a good boarding school book, so picking up this one was a no-brainer. She doesn't disappoint. This is a quick, captivating story that keeps you guessing the entire time. While Tessa isn't always the most likeable character, I was certainly invested in her story.

Goodman deftly weaves two storylines together--the present, featuring Tessa's family and Lila's death and the past, which revolves around the titular lost girls, whom tie back to Haywood in its earlier days. We also learn more about Tessa's past and her long-hidden secrets, many of which also link into Haywood itself. Somehow all of this works together. It's a mysterious, sometimes dark story, and one that keeps you wondering. I changed my mind several times about who could have harmed Lila. I love a book that keeps me on my toes. I also enjoyed the story of the lost girls and the school's eerie stories.

Goodman is a master storyteller, and this book flies by. She brings in links such as "The Crucible," which the Haywood students are performing, and ties to the #metoo movement. They all augment this strong story about the power of lies and hidden secrets. The parallels between the past and present are expertly woven together. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Edelweiss and William Morrow in return for an honest review.

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Friday, March 06, 2020

You can find me where I've been waiting: MY DARK VANESSA.

My Dark VanessaMy Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At fifteen, the very bright Vanessa Wye earns a scholarship position to boarding school. It's the year 2000. There she meets Jacob Strane, her English teacher, who is forty-two-years-old. Soon the two are involved in a powerful relationship--and one that quickly turns sexual. Seventeen years later, Vanessa is working as a concierge at a hotel, just another in a series of dead-end jobs. She hasn't had any real serious relationships. And now, Jacob Strane, has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, Taylor Birch. Taylor tracks down Vanessa, wanting her to share her story, too. But Vanessa doesn't feel she was abused by Strane. In fact, her entire life is framed by her love story with Strane. As Taylor Birch's story gains traction in the press, Vanessa must confront her past and what it means to her.

"'I'm going to ruin you.' He says it with obvious torment, a glimpse into how much he's thought about it, wrestled with it."

This I was absolutely captivated by Vanessa's story. She tells her tale in two parts: her adolescence, as she meets Jacob Strane at school and they begin their relationship; and then the present, as Taylor Birch's story hits the press and Vanessa must deal with the fact that her love for Jacob Strane is being portrayed as abuse and assault.

"It's strange to know that whenever I remember myself at fifteen, I'll think of this."

For a book with such dark subject matter, it's really beautiful. Russell is a wonderful writer, and this story unfolds almost lyrically. It's so well-done and completely mesmerizing. The sections featuring young Vanessa capture that early adolescent yearning and longing so perfectly--that deep desire to feel needed and wanted. To Vanessa, this is a love story, a romantic tale of a man needing and loving her. She blocks out and overlooks the parts of the story that don't fit. Understanding that some victims don't see abuse as abuse is key to the story, and Russell portrays the dynamic between Strane and Vanessa so well.

"'It's just my luck,' he said, 'that when I finally find my soul mate, she's fifteen years old.'"

As a result, we get a very thoughtful look at abuse, rape, and assault. And, yes, the sections of older Vanessa's story touch across the #metoo movement, as Taylor Birch and others want so desperately for Vanessa to join their side, to share her story. For them or for Vanessa, it's hard to say. This book is so dark, yet so insightful. Vanessa's inner struggle--basically she's having to re-look at the entire foundation upon which her life is built--is one of the most profoundly written and moving journeys I've seen in literature in quite some time. It's not easy to read about, certainly, and it's not always easy to understand her actions, of course. The story can make you uncomfortable; it can feel problematic. But it's an important read, and it's so beautifully and poetically written. I highly recommend it (taking into account the obvious trigger warnings, of course). 4.5+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from William Morrow in return for an honest review; it is available on 3/10/2020.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2020

This is a life of extremes: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

You Are Not AloneYou Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A few seconds change Shay Miller's life forever. It's almost ironic, as Shay, 31, and a market researcher, is obsessed with data. She's been keeping data books since age eleven, listing statistics and facts the way other girls write in diaries. Shay's recently lost her job, and her roommate and best friend, Sean, spends more time with his girlfriend than her. She feels hopeless and isolated. Then everything changes, and Shay finds herself swept up in the glamorous world of the Moore sisters, Cassandra and Jane. They have a way of making Shay feel different. They also seem to be everywhere, shaping Shay's life in strange ways.

I've learned by now when I pick up a book by the Hendricks-Pekkanen duo that I need to just suspend disbelief for a bit and go with it. If I can do that and enjoy the ride, then the book is a fun little escape mechanism. When looked at via this prism, You Are Not Alone was very successful.

The book is told from different points of view that often stray into various time periods, and it took me a while to keep all the characters straight. Cassandra and Jane have a host of friends, and I had to bookmark the page that introduced them all so I could remember who was who for a while. There seem to be unreliable narrators galore for a while--can we trust Shay? The sisters? Their friends?

I don't want to get too much into the plot and give anything away. It's a crazy story and again, not really probable (I hope). However, it's highly addictive, and I found the book to be compulsively readable. I also really grew to like Shay, even if I was suspicious about her.

There are some great twists and turns in this thriller, which I really enjoyed. I liked how this one kept me guessing, even if there was an eye roll or two in there too. It was definitely wild! 4 stars.

I received a copy of this book via a Goodreads Giveaway.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2020

She starts to dream and then she stops herself: THE JETSETTERS.

The JetsettersThe Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Charlotte Perkins is 71, and her best friend has just died. Long single, she longs to be touched and loved again, so she writes an essay (a rather racy one at that) to the "Become a Jetsetter" contest to win a trip for her entire family (and to perhaps meet someone). Charlotte is shocked and elated when she actually wins, earning the the chance to take her three children to Athens, Greece and on a nine-day cruise to Barcelona, Spain. Lee, a struggling actress who has just returned home on a "break" from acting (and from her famous ex-boyfriend) figures she has nothing better to do. Cord, her son, a wealthy New Yorker, isn't thrilled about being trapped on a ship while he struggles with his sobriety. And Regan, an exhausted mother of two daughters, can't believe it when her irritating husband Matt joins the group. This will be a particularly fun trip since Lee and Regan haven't spoken in ten years. Trapped on this adventure together, secrets come out and the Perkins family suddenly learns more than they ever wanted to know about each one another.

It took me a while to process this one. I really enjoy Amanda Eyre Ward's writing, and I have such a soft spot for her book, The Same Sky, which is one of my absolute favorite novels. This book is very different from that one, and it took me some time to warm to the pacing and the characters. Charlotte turned me off in the beginning, and I was just slow to get into the book. We learn that the Perkins kids had a rough childhood, but one that also bonded them together. Yet when the book opens, none of them are particularly close to each other--or their mother.

"This day, and the two more excruciating days that followed--days of sand and beer-scented misery--would be the last time Lee went on vacation with her mother and siblings. Until thirty-two years later, when they became jetsetters."

The book presents the story from not only Charlotte's point of view, but that of each of her wayward children. None of the kids are easy to like at first, but Ward's prose makes them come to life before our eyes. They are fallible, for sure, and it's hard not to feel a bit sorry for everyone. I for one am not sure I could handle being trapped on a cruise ship with a group of unhappy family members.

"Oh. Charlotte's children. To her great sadness and bewilderment, Charlotte's three adult children were lost to her, and perhaps to themselves."

The novel does an excellent job at portraying all the difficult relationships in the book, giving us an in-depth portrait of a complicated family. While the story is told solely over the span of their trip, we learn all about Charlotte's life--much of it hidden away from her children--and the lives of her three kids, even bits and pieces of their childhood and backstories. No one has had an easy go of it, for sure. How much do parents, and their actions, affect their kids, the book asks. How do families in general influence the people we become. They have so much power: both to help and to hurt.

It's funny, this wasn't always a story I enjoyed, even though there are humorous and touching moments, but I recognized its powerful parts too. Overall, I would rate this at 3.75 stars, rounded up to 4 stars here. It's worth a read.

I received a copy of this book from Random House - Ballantine and Netgalley in return for an honest review. It is out today, 3/3/2020!

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