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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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