Friday, August 28, 2020

I go to my heart on my knees: MUSICAL CHAIRS.

Musical ChairsMusical Chairs by Amy Poeppel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A charming and delightful look at family and friendship

Bridget and Will are the best of friends--and nothing more--despite what everyone thinks. For over thirty years, they've been the two long-standing members of the Forsyth Trio. The third founding member, Gavin, went on to great success and stardom, leaving Bridget and Will to fill the position with a rotating crew of musicians. Before starting up the trio again, Bridget plans on spending the summer at her country house in Connecticut near her father, the famous musician Edward Stratton. But things go awry quickly. Her boyfriend breaks it off with her; her twenty-something twins surprise her by returning to the house for the summer, bringing their chaos with them; and the older Edward announces he's getting married. Will and Bridget decide to relaunch the Forsyth Trio at the wedding, but it all hinges on getting Gavin to return--someone they've both been avoiding for quite some time.

This is a charming and funny story. If it sounds all over the place, it's only because it's a reflection on Bridget's life, which is a total mess at the beginning of our tale. Each character in Poeppel's heartfelt tome is wonderful: real and true, standing out on the page as their own person. I fell easily for poor Bridget, hapless Will, the twins, and our host of side characters, ranging from Bridget's very New York-ish sister to Gwen to uppity Edward and his assistant to the local Connecticut townfolk who swarm to try to keep Bridget--and her cottage--from falling apart.

There's a lot of focus on music here--with Bridget, Will, and Edward all musicians, and it makes for a different and lovely book. While plenty of serious things happen, overall this is a sweet and funny story. I found myself smiling and laughing often while reading. There are some downright laugh out loud scenes. Bridget's inability to master technology, coupled with the helplessness of her twins, allow for some wonderful moments. But what really shines through is how much everyone here loves each other--Bridget and her kids, the whole Stratton family, and Will, who is truly part of the clan. How nice to read a book where, even if everyone might fight a day, their compassion and caring for each other shines through.

And, of course, I have a soft spot for any book featuring twins, so I enjoyed a prominent storyline featuring them.

Overall, this is delightful book that offered a wonderful distraction to the woes of the world. It's a funny and kind look at family and friendship, and it simply made me happy. 4+ stars.

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

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Monday, August 24, 2020

I don't belong to anyone: PLAYING NICE.

Playing NicePlaying Nice by J.P. Delaney
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Fast-paced thriller that plays on your emotions

Pete Riley, his wife Maddie, and young son Theo have their lives upended one day when two strangers show up on their doorstep. One claims to be Theo's biological father, Miles Lambert. He tells Pete that Theo and another baby, David--whom the Lamberts have been raising--were switched at the hospital and sent home with the unsuspecting families. Suddenly Pete and Maddie have been raising "the wrong" child for the past two years. The families form a friendship based on their shock, agreeing not to upend the children's lives. But as the Lamberts prepare to the sue hospital, questions are raised, and soon Pete and Maddie start to wonder how much they can trust Miles and his wife, Lucy. What are they hiding--and how far will they go to get Theo back?

"'I'm sorry to have to tell you that Theo isn't your son. He's mine.'"

Delaney's latest is a fast and compulsive read. Told in alternating perspectives from Maddie and Pete, with some flashes to the past, the book is stressful and makes you think. What would I do in this situation? And what a terrible situation to be in. With both boys being two-years-old, they are already comfortable in their family lives. At first, each family is determined not to switch the children back. But it soon becomes clear that Theo is progressing better than David, who requires more specialized care. Is that what's affecting Miles out-sized affection for his newfound son? His constant, unannounced appearances on Pete and Maddie's doorstep? Meanwhile, Maddie feels wracked with guilt at leaving David behind. The emotions and decisions are clearly complicated.

I myself was fascinated that Delaney brought up a "baby switch" case in Charlottesville, VA at the hospital where I was born, though far earlier. If I had known about this case, I must have forgotten; I would have been in my mid-teens and probably not caring about such things at the time. Anyway, it was intriguing to hear a local reference, and it totally pushed me down the rabbit hole of researching that case (which is completely tragic).

It's hard to truly like any of these characters, even Maddie and Pete, who are initially sympathetic. Let's not even get started on Miles, who truly plays the villain well. But I appreciated that the characters and their feelings are complicated and well-portrayed here. While much of the story is character-driven, it's also a mystery, unraveling what happened when the boys were switched, and it's quite interesting.

The plot in this one moves quickly, escalating fast. I predicted the ending, but it didn't do much to diminish my enjoyment of the book. If you're looking for a different and fast-paced thriller, which also gets you thinking about emotional family dilemmas, definitely recommend. 3.5 stars.

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

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Thursday, August 20, 2020

And even I'm getting tired of useless desires: THE WIFE WHO KNEW TOO MUCH.

The Wife Who Knew Too MuchThe Wife Who Knew Too Much by Michele Campbell
My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Wild thriller that keeps you on your toes!

Tabby Girard hasn't seen Connor Ford for thirteen years, since he broke her heart as a teen. Back then he was the handsome rich kid whom she fell in love with while working at his country club. But she wasn't good enough for the Ford family, especially Connor's grandmother. Tabby quickly learns Connor is richer than ever now. He's married to Nina Levitt, a wealthy and famous woman twenty years his senior. He married for money, not love, he tells Tabby, and he's miserable. He portrays Nina as a controlling and jealous wife. But if he cheats on Nina and leaves her, their prenup dictates that Connor receives nothing. Then Nina is found dead in the pool at Windswept, her Southampton mansion, where she had just thrown her annual fourth of July party. It seems like Tabby and Connor can finally be together. But Tabby quickly grows suspicious. Was Nina's death really a suicide? And if not, does that mean she's in love with a murderer?

"I'm writing this to raise an alarm in the event of my untimely death. This is hard to admit, even to myself, let alone to the world. My husband is planning to kill me. For obvious reasons. He's in love with someone else. And he wants my money."

It's funny, the writing in this book felt simple and stilted at times. However, I cannot deny that this is a thrilling read. It's fast-paced, and I flew through the pages. Campbell kept me guessing--something that isn't always easy to do--and offered some excellent twists. Kudos to her there. Alternating perspectives between Connor and Tabby works well, as does throwing in some flashbacks from Nina. It all adds up to a very suspenseful, slightly crazy, and quite enjoyable thriller.

Best written book? No. Wild and crazy ride with lots of surprises? Yes. (And also, make better life choices, Tabby.) 3.75 stars.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2020

This is a lonely town I'll never let you down: HOT DOG GIRL.

Hot Dog GirlHot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A funny, sweet, and surprisingly touching romance

Elouise Parker (known as Lou) wants to have an amazing summer before her senior year of high school. She's ready to work at Magic Castle, her beloved amusement park, with all her friends. But then Lou is assigned as the giant hot dog at Magic Castle--again. Her crush, Nick, works at Magic Castle too (as a diving pirate), but he's dating the girl who plays the Princess. (Seriously.) And Lou's best friend, Seeley, doesn't seem too thrilled about trying to help set up Lou and Nick. Even worse, it turns out this is Lou's last summer--ever--at Magic Castle, which is closing for good after the summer ends. Is there any way Lou can salvage her summer--and find a way to make Nick fall for her?

"But still, there are so many things I have planned for these last few months before we're sucked up in the frenzy of senior year, and playing the hot dog isn't one of them."

It took me a little while to get into this book, but once I did, I really enjoyed it. Lou's mom left when Lou was a kid and Magic Castle means the world to Lou--it's where her parents shared memories and then Lou later on. Its closing devastates her and she's shocked that the owner has no desire to save it. Coupled with her hopeless crush on Nick, Lou is a pool of self-pity in the beginning of the book and, truly, a bit of a downer. (Although, seriously, I wouldn't want to wear a giant hot dog costume at a roasting hot theme park either, so she has me there.)

But once you get into the rhythm of Lou, this is a fun and really lovely book. There's great queer representation, between Lou's lesbian best friend, Seeley and Lou herself, who is bi. Seeley has recently broken up with her girlfriend, so Lou is also determined to set her up (sometimes with disastrous consequences). Setting a book at an amusement park is great. I love theme parks and while this was just a small town place, it was an enjoyable and fun location to read about, especially when it involved a group of teens.

Dugan captures teens really well, too. Lou, Seeley, Nick, his girlfriend--they all jump off the page. They seem real, and I enjoy that they seemed like actual teens. Not disaffected teens, not rich boarding school teens trying to hide a body, but honest teens whom you would actually meet and be friends with.

There were pages where I found myself laughing out loud. As a bi person, I loved having characters I could empathize with and relate to--this book is sweet and heartwarming. Lou's journey (and Seeley's) is great and makes for an excellent read.

Overall, this is a lovely, touching and also humorous read about love, friendship, and teens growing up. 4 stars.

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Friday, August 14, 2020

Now it's time to quit our island: CAMINO WINDS.

Camino WindsCamino Winds by John Grisham
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Engaging mystery where good battles evil

In John Grisham's second book featuring Camino Island, Bruce Cable's Bay Books--and the entire island--is preparing for the first direct hit by a hurricane in a long time. Hurricane Leo heads straight for the island. Bruce and a small band of friends ignore the mandatory evacuation order and hunker down to ride out the storm. In the aftermath, the island is destroyed in many places. And Nelson Kerr, one of Bruce's author friends, is found dead. But his injuries appear to be worse than the storm: it looks like he may have been murdered. The police are overwhelmed by the storm, so Bruce starts investigating. Was Nelson's death died to his latest novel? Bruce's snooping will lead him down a shocking road filled with danger.

It takes a disaster to make you appreciate the basics.

This was a typical Grisham quick read. It builds on the first book, but focuses mainly on Bruce. We see little of Mercer, a main character in book one, which was unfortunate. But Bruce is a blustery star, who can easily dominate both in his life and a novel. He has a huge group of friends, literary and "normal" alike. One is Nelson Kerr, a former lawyer with a big firm in San Francisco. He ratted out a client, a defense contractor who was illegally selling high-tech military stuff to the "bad guys." Nelson settled his case and fled to the island after a divorce. He's been working on another book and we learn quickly that his work may have gotten him killed.

It's easy to feel the storm and its tension through Grisham's picturesque writing. Leo hits quickly and the devastation that follows is bad. The post-hurricane feeling on a nearly abandoned Camino Island seems oddly aligned to the pandemic--at least when I read this in May--or it's easy to read that sense into everything I read.

Still, despite the hurricane and the murder and other various killings, this is actually a fun read. Grisham gives us an engaging mystery, and I love his "good versus evil" formula. It always works so well for him and this is one of his breezier presentations. While there isn't much depth, it's a fast read with interesting characters and a snappy mystery. 3.5 stars.

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Thursday, August 13, 2020

I'm learning to like myself: THE SUMMER GIRLS.

The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)The Summer Girls by Mary Alice Monroe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Breezy summer vacation read

Marietta Muir--known to her granddaughters as Mamaw--is turning eighty. Her one wish is that those granddaughters, Dora, Carson, and Harper, return to her home, Sea Breeze, in Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina for (unbeknownst to the girls) one last summer.

"Three granddaughters, three necklaces, three months... she thought to herself. This was the plan."

Each granddaughter is struggling in their own way, and no one is really prepared to spend the summer with Mamaw, besides Carson. Carson is broke, her career in shambles. Dora's marriage is falling apart. And Harper is struggling to distance herself from her controlling mother. Three sisters--each with the same father--find themselves together once again.

I had intended to read this book on a Florida beach vacation, which was canceled due to the pandemic. It made me miss the beach, with its lush descriptions of the South Carolina Low Country. Harper finds solace in the beach and a dolphin friend (yes, you read that right). The book is silly and cheesy, and exactly what I would have wanted to read while on my trip. I especially liked Carson and will eventually pick up the next in the series (each book is told from the perspective of a different sister). 3+ stars.

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Monday, August 10, 2020

Then we both hid inside each other's arms: MORE THAN MAYBE.

More Than MaybeMore Than Maybe by Erin Hahn
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

A superb teen romance that will make you smile

Luke Greenly has a famous dad (former punk rock icon Charlie Greenly), a popular and outgoing twin brother who has sorta stolen his best friend (they're going out now), and immense musical talent. But Luke prefers his music more private. He writes songs instead of singing them. Just try telling that to his family. He also has a longtime crush on music blogger Vada Carsewell. Vada loves music too. She lives and breathes it--working at the Loud Lizard, the club owned by her mom's boyfriend, Phil (a legend in his own right). She wants to be a music journalist. Vada just needs to get into the right music journalism program to do so; it would be a lot easier if her deadbeat dad would help out financially. But she's got it all figured out: learn from Phil, work on her blog, and manage Liberty Live, a summer concert series. Vada, too, has had a crush on Luke for ages. But when the two are unexpectedly thrust together, the results surprise them both.

"I met my other half three years ago, and as far as I know... she has no idea."

This was one of the best books I've read in ages and absolutely perfect for right now. It was one of those reads that just make you smile while flipping the pages. I adored Luke and Vada. I found it completely refreshing to pick up a romance where our couple liked each other from the beginning--even if they didn't know it--versus the "hate to love" trope.

Hahn has given us such a fun book. The sweetest characters. A book packed full of musical references. (She dropped in a Guster one, and I about died.) If you love music, you will get lost in this book. If you love well-written characters who are vulnerable and realistic and just pop off the pages, you will find yourself immersed in this book. There is nothing saccharine or silly about about More Than Maybe. Luke and Vada--as they get to know each other and fall deeper in love while sharing music links--are just so tender and cute. While Vada and Luke are falling in love, they are finding their way and themselves. The story is told from both of their POVs, letting us get to know both of them.

The supporting cast in Maybe is excellent, especially Phil, who doubles as a boyfriend for Vada's mom and a father figure for Vada. He's wonderful, and also joined by Cullen (Luke's twin) and good turns by both Luke and Vada's BFFs. Family is important here and they are not shortchanged.

Overall, I needed a book to make me happy, and More Than Maybe did not disappoint. An excellent romance, lots of fun music, and a great story with surprising depth. Absolutely loved this one. 4.5 stars.

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

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Thursday, August 06, 2020


Dark and twisty thriller with a surprising plot

I'm incredibly excited to be part of the blog tour for this twisty thriller by Adele Parks! LIES LIES LIES is out now!

On the surface, Simon and Daisy's marriage looks perfect. He's an architect, she's a teacher, and they are parents to their beloved daughter, Millie, brought into the world after many years of trying to have a child. But looking beyond the perfection, you see the strain. Simon drinks too much, embarrassing Daisy and even Millie, though she may be too young to truly realize it. Their friends typically look the other way, expressing sympathy but not offering much help. Until the night of a friend's party, where things get out of control, and their lives change forever.

"Millie was a miracle. Conceived without any medical intervention. A miracle. She saved us."

This was my first book by Adele Parks, and I found she sucked me into the story from the very beginning. For me, the plot was easily the star here. This was a twisty thriller that kept me guessing, often wondering which path it was going to lead us down next. While I had an inkling about one particular plot point, others took me by complete surprise, which was fun. I always love a mystery that keeps me on my toes and goes down completely unexpected paths.

"People with secrets rarely sleep soundly. Fact."

One strength of the book is the fact that it's told from both Daisy and Simon's perspectives. Neither are particularly sympathetic, but it's easy to get caught up in their worlds. Daisy comes across as a doormat, who cannot stand up to her alcoholic husband. And Simon, of course, a drunk who endangers his family on a regular basis. You want to shake some sense into both of them. But there's certainly a twisted web of lies and secrets behind the foundation of this couple. Nothing is as it seems, and as time goes on, you can start to at least understand some of their motivations.

Overall, I enjoyed this one. I welcomed a different plot, which had some surprises in store. The ending was a bit ambiguous, but overall still a solid read. 3.75 stars, rounded to 4 here.

I received a copy of this book from Harlequin/Mira and Netgalley in return for an honest review.

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