Friday, December 31, 2021

We got the life that we wanted: GOLDEN GIRL.

Golden GirlGolden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Author Vivian Howe, well-known on her beloved Nantucket, is out for a run when she's struck by a car and killed. Vivian goes to the Beyond, where she's assigned a Person, named Martha, who gives Vivi three "Nudges" to use over the course of the summer. She's allowed to watch her family until Labor Day, when she'll pass to the next step. Vivi can use those nudges to change the outcomes down on earth, as she watches over her children: daughter Willa, who is struggling after three miscarriages; daughter Carson, a wayward bartender; and her young son Leo, who is struggling with his relationship with his high school girlfriend.

In GOLDEN GIRL, Hilderbrand writes that she hopes her characters "feel real," and she always seems to have the magic touch, because they really do. My favorite thing about opening a Hilderbrand book is that you get completely lost in the story, no matter what. The supernatural element here is different from the typical Hilderbrand, but no matter what, her storytelling remains strong, and I felt lost in the world of Nantucket and Vivi's family, including her kids, her ex-husband, and his girlfriend.

This is a rather meta story, as Vivi is an author writing a book called GOLDEN GIRL as well. You learn about her past through her flashbacks, as well as about her family as she watches over them. It's so easy to get immersed in the story and get entangled in Willa, Carson, and Leo's lives. And, as with any of Hilderbrand's Nantucket novels, it makes you long for the beach.

Overall, I enjoyed this one. 4 stars.

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Thursday, December 30, 2021

I'm bound to be back by morning time: A SLOW FIRE BURNING.

A Slow Fire BurningA Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Daniel dies on his houseboat -- not long after his mother, an alcoholic, has died as well -- suspicions are high. They fall on three women: Laura, a troubled young woman who just had a one night stand with Daniel. Carla, his grief-stricken aunt. And then Miriam, his nosy neighbor who finds the body. All three women have their own reasons to keep secrets. How far would they go to protect them?

"Accidents do happen, and they especially happen to drunks, but mother and son, eight weeks apart? In fiction, that would never stand."

This was an interesting and well-woven read, but I found it rather predictable. I thought for sure it would turn out differently, but the twists were not all that surprising. Still, I enjoyed it and found it intricate enough to hold my interest. Most of the characters are fairly unlikable (that's often an understatement), but Laura has a fairly sad past and there's a pretty awesome spunky older woman, Irene, who is Angela's neighbor and she basically redeemed the story for me.

This book, while a mystery, has a decent amount of character-driven moments and it can truly be pretty sad and depressing. We start with Daniel's death and then sort of go in reverse, so you learn a lot about everyone's backstories, and none of them are particularly uplifting. The story touches on family, motherhood, and the idea of forgiveness. Overall, a solid 3-star read for me.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Put your dreams away for now: BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME.

Better Luck Next TimeBetter Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

In the 1930s, women seeking divorce--no-questions-asked--could come to Reno, Nevada. The only catch was they had to spend six weeks there to become residents. Enter the Flying Leap, a dude ranch for the wealthy that facilitates the divorces by giving them a lovely stay and helping take care of everything. Ward, age 24, spent a year in college before his family lost everything to the Great Depression. Now he's working at the Flying Leap. Handsome and helpful, he's quite adored by the women. Soon, his life will be upended again by the arrival of two of the latest guests: Nina, who is back for her third divorce, and Emily, who is struggling after leaving her cheating husband.

I adored Julia Claiborne Johnson's book BE FRANK WITH ME and was so excited to read this one. The books are very different, but she's such a good writer and brings you into the worlds she creates. LUCK is told in a conversational style by Ward, about the time period when he wasn't quite 25, though he's now quite an older man. It's not the kind of book you'd typically come across, but it's fascinating too. It's honestly refreshing to read such a unique book with such memorable characters. The plot is so interesting and while it certainly covers serious topics, it's also really funny and witty in places and could make me laugh out loud.

The characters could be totally frustrating at times, but also truly real. If you're looking for a read unlike most, I recommend this one. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Custom House and LibraryThing in return for an unbiased review.

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Sunday, December 26, 2021

She's still around but she is gone: THE DISAPPEARING ACT.

The Disappearing ActThe Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Mia Eliot is a London-based actress who is now in LA for pilot season. She's ready for her big break in Hollywood. At an audition she meets another fellow actress, Emily. After she agrees to help Emily out, things take a turn, and suddenly Emily is missing, with Mia the last person to have seen her. Mia thinks all is well when Emily shows up, but the person who shows up claiming to be her... isn't Emily. Why would someone claim to be Emily? Worried for her own mental health, Mia goes on a quest to find Emily and soon uncovers some very dangerous and worrisome answers.

This was a pretty decent page-turner. I had to get past the fact that Mia seemed somewhat obsessed with Emily: the whole situation was a bit contrived. It would have been a bit easy for her to be like, okay, this was weird, but the police are handling it. (It was also a little interesting to think what I would have done in a similar situation too, though.) If you can move past that, the book is full of twists, especially once it really gets in full swing. It has a lot of surprises and truly kept me guessing until the end.

Sadly, I didn't really love the resolution--I wish the ending had been a little different. Still, the presentation of the #MeToo theming and overall insights into acting are presented quite well. Mia is an interesting character, as well, her obsession not withstanding. 3.5 stars.

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Friday, December 24, 2021

And wonders of his love: IT HAPPENED ONE SUMMER.

It Happened One Summer (Bellinger Sisters, #1)It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a break-up, socialite Piper Bellinger holds a wild party that ends with her in jail. Fed up, her wealthy stepfather cuts her off and sends Piper and her sister Hannah to Washington state (aka purgatory) to run her late father's dive bar. Piper is appalled by the state of their accommodations (bunk beds!) and the hideous bar they need to fix up. But she's determined to show her stepfather that she can cut it. In Westport, she meets Brendan, a local sea captain, who shares her stepfather's idea that Piper stands no chance at survival in his town. Piper and Brendan are total opposites, but they certainly seem to share chemistry. Piper needs to focus if she's going to survive in Westport, but as she starts to learn about her family's past here, she begins to wonder if LA is where she really belongs... and if Brendan--and Westport--are truly that terrible.

"If she didn't have her social status, what did she have?"

This is a fun read, with Piper inspired by the character of Alexis in Schitt's Creek. I enjoyed imagining Piper as Alexis. While this may be a somewhat predictable story, it's also really funny, and very steamy and sexy. Piper is quite vapid at first, but offers us some surprising depth as she finds her way in Westport. She becomes an engaging character and her relationship with Brendan is one that's easy to get behind.

Overall, this story is just easy to like. It's nice to have an enjoyable story that makes you smile once in a while. This was my first book by Tessa Bailey, but I'll definitely be reading others. 4 stars.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2021

If I could go back in time, I would in a second: FLOAT PLAN.

Float Plan (Beck Sisters, #1)Float Plan by Trish Doller
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Ever since Anna lost her fiance, Ben, to suicide, she's been wandering around like a lost soul. But when a reminder pops up about the sailing trip they had planned, she decides to take it. She sets off in their sailboat to take the trip around the Caribbean that Ben had meticulously designed. But after one night, Anna realizes she can't do the trip alone (and survive). So she hires a professional to help her. Keane is also grieving, in his own way, and dealing with a life that hasn't turned out like he's planned. Together the two need to make it to Puerto Rico--and perhaps find a way to rediscover happiness.

"One of the things I’ve learned is that suicide doesn’t break a person’s heart just once."

This is a lovely book--it's also much sadder than I expected. If you've lost someone to suicide, it will hit you right in the gut. It deals with loss and grief very directly, but also in a very touching way. It's quite a "boaty" sailing book--there is a lot about sailing and boating and such terminology. Sometimes it's a bit much and the story seems to get lost in the details.

FLOAT PLAN is about finding your way back to your life after loss and even finding love after sadness. That part is quite well-done. As for Keane and Anna as a couple, I didn't particularly love them together. But this is a sensitive and well-written book, which pushes up the score. I'm not sure I really knew the characters fully (though I knew the sailing terms), but I really enjoyed the writing and the ideas presented. 3.5 stars.

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Monday, December 20, 2021

Headed back to where their hearts belong: THE BALLERINAS.

The BallerinasThe Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Delphine grew up in the world of ballet. Her mother was a famous dancer, and she followed in her footsteps. But she left her prestigious place in the Paris Opera Ballet, her mother's company, to become a choreographer in Russia. She left behind her two best friends, and fellow dancers, Lindsay and Margaux, and a dark secret. But now, fourteen years later, Delphine is coming back, to choreograph a ballet she hopes will change her career--and that of her former friends--for the better. But she soon realizes that things have changed for Lindsay and Margaux while she's been away. Picking up their friendship won't be as easy as she thought, and neither will keeping her long buried secret.

"You start out as whole and then you break."

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It took quite some time to get interesting, and I use that term loosely. There's a great deal of ballet talk and terminology in the beginning (in the whole book). The girls are bitter and prone to jealousy and in-fighting, and they are not any easier to like as they grow up. Our protagonist, Delphine, is incredibly hard to root for, as she comes across as self-centered and narcissistic.

The book is told in a back and forth non-linear format--switching from the girls in ballet school at one moment to present day to memories of Delphine's time in Russia. It's very hard to follow the timeline, to be honest. I also really hate the whole "we did something bad but haha we aren't going to tell you" trope, which the plot revolves around a great deal. It's so frustrating to have this held over our heads, especially when you don't really care that much about the characters. Just spit it out!

THE BALLERINAS seemed to veer around, suffering from a crisis of identity. Coming of age ballerina tale? Angry #MeToo vengeance tale? Twisty thriller? It was hard to keep up. This was not a thriller, no matter how it was billed, but more of a character-driven story. It does get more interesting as the book goes on, but the characters never become more likable and the plot could only provide so much intrigue.

Overall, this story didn't really work for me. But many other reviewers really enjoyed it, so hopefully you'll fall into that camp. 2.5/3 stars.

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

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Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Where the sky came apart with my guilt-stricken heart: FALSE WITNESS.

False WitnessFalse Witness by Karin Slaughter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Leigh Coulton has a normal life on the surface: job as an attorney, a well-adjusted daughter, a civil relationship with her ex-husband. But in Leigh's past is a terrible childhood, with a neglectful mother and lots of buried secrets. The only one who truly knows Leigh is her younger sister, Callie, a drug addict whom she rarely sees. When a case lands on her desk--a high-profile one that could make or break her career--Leigh realizes it's no coincidence why the accused man asked for her as his attorney. He knows about her past and the secrets she's worked so hard to remain hidden. And if she can't get this monster acquitted, he'll ruin everything she's tried so hard to forget and keep buried.

Wow, so Karin Slaughter's stand-alones are typically dark, but this one takes it to a whole new level. This book is brutal and horrifying. It's filled with descriptions of drug addiction, sexual assault, rape, and murder--if you cannot handle detailed depictions of these things, skip this one.

Still, at it's core, this is a love story about two sisters, so damaged by their past that they are barely hanging on, and it's really well-done. It's a rough read, but an intricate one, and Slaughter crafts Leigh and Callie so well that you become quite attached to them (even if I wanted to shake Leigh on multiple occasions for her bad decisions--ironic, since Callie is the supposed drug addict and screw up).

The "bad guy" in this book is so terrible, so hideous, it's almost hard to read at times. Slaughter has created a true beast. This book is not for the faint of heart in any way. You pretty much learn who he is from the beginning, and the book revolves around whether Leigh and Callie will be able to stop him and recover their lives. The point of view goes back and forth between Leigh and Callie and also skips between past and present. I'm not sure how it all works, but it does, and the result is a total page-turner. The pandemic factors in, but only tangentially.

This is a harsh read, but a completely suspenseful one. There's a lot about family under all the horror, and the entire book is quite well-written. If you don't mind a really (really) dark read, it's very good. 4+ stars.

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Monday, December 06, 2021

This was a town took care of its own: THE RURAL DIARIES.

The Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons Down on Mischief FarmThe Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons Down on Mischief Farm by Hilarie Burton Morgan
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

THE RURAL DIARIES is Hilarie Burton Morgan's story of meeting her partner, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and their moving to Rhinebeck, New York and growing their working farm and family together. I read it on a whim, as I follow Morgan on Instagram and am fascinated by her life. I've watched ONE TREE HILL a bit, but she's not a celebrity I know a lot about, so I wasn't looking for anything specific here.

As a result, I found this memoir absolutely delightful. Morgan is a wonderful writer, and this book is charming while being incredibly honest and real. She covers some very serious topics, such as infertility, miscarriage, marriage, and loss, while candidly talking about building up their farm into a working and usable place. She is a total badass with everything she does on that farm, by the way, from manual labor to home renovations to overcoming any obstacle thrown her way. You will finish this book filled with utter admiration for Morgan--I was completely envious of everything she could do.

As always, when I read a memoir, I look for similarities with its author. I had no idea she'd grown up in Virginia and enjoyed hearing about places in Northern Virginia that I recognized. I took delight in the fact she doesn't like the phone and seeks out kids, not adults, at parties because she's an introvert. Morgan has a way of writing about herself that's honest, but not in the typical self-centered celebrity fashion and I think that's why this memoir is so successful. She feels like a real person in THE RURAL DIARIES; a friend you could be chatting with over coffee, not an actor trying to get a few laughs.

"So folks, this is a love letter. To a town. To a farm. To a man."

THE RURAL DIARIES starts around the time Morgan first meets Jeffrey Dean Morgan and goes from there. It's interspersed with recipes and little anecdotes from her life spent on the farm. The format works well, and it's incredibly easy to read. You're left feeling that you've learned about a strong, humble, tough woman who has led an admirable life. Overall, I found this to be a really enjoyable read. 4.5 stars.

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Friday, December 03, 2021

I don't want to be one of those forlorn fools out on the street: BATH HAUS.

Bath HausBath Haus by P.J. Vernon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oliver has a past history of addiction and abuse. He has a safe life now with his partner, Nathan, who is a doctor. However, he jeopardizes that when he goes to a bathhouse when Nathan is out of town. While there, a man tries to kill him and then begins stalking Oliver and making his life miserable. Terrified of ruining everything, Oliver lies to Nathan about the incident and chaos ensues.

I'm definitely the outlier for this book, but I didn't love it as much as everyone else. I am always glad to see a gay protagonist, but never thrilled when they are cheating, lying, and generally up to no good. I was not as invested in the characters of BATH HAUS as I had hoped--I didn't care for anyone, even Oliver, that much. There are a lot of side plot lines: one with Oliver's ex, one with Nathan's friend, one with Nathan's parents--and they often seem distracting and as if there's too much going on at once.

As the book goes on, it goes get better and it definitely kept me guessing. It's tense and suspenseful, for sure. There's a limited pool of suspects, but you find yourself flipping from person to person and thinking it's each one for a few pages. Still, this just wasn't what I had expected or as good as I hoped. I am not a fan of books where the characters do not communicate, and wow, that certainly happened here.

Overall, this is quite a page-turner, but I couldn't find myself invested in the characters. Still, basically everyone else on the planet seemed to love it. 3 stars.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

I don't mind working without a net: RAZORBLADE TEARS.

Razorblade TearsRazorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

RAZORBLADE TEARS is the third book in my alphabetical author challenge (C). This story about a black father, a white father, and their murdered sons was riveting and heartbreaking.

Ike has been out of jail for fifteen years when his son Isiah is murdered, along with his husband, Derek. Ike never fully accepted that Isiah was gay and neither did Derek’s father, Buddy Lee. But as two ex-cons, Ike and Buddy Lee feel that they can seek justice for Isiah and Derek better than the cops. As they do, they set off a violent chain of events that may put themselves in danger as well.

This book is so good—well-written and not afraid to tackle hard topics such as racism and homophobia. It made me cry, and Ike and Buddy Lee felt like real people to me. It’s not for the faint of heart—it’s gory—but it’s also about love, family, and acceptance. This story is brutal but also hopeful, and I cannot recommend it enough!

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Monday, November 29, 2021

And there's one more boy, he's from my past: EVERYTHING WE DIDN'T SAY.

Everything We Didn't SayEverything We Didn't Say by Nicole Baart
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

At 33, Juniper arrives in her hometown of Jericho, Iowa--a place she vowed never to return--to help a friend with cancer. After Juniper's high school graduation, her family's close friends and neighbors, Cal and Beth Murphy, were murdered. Juniper's brother, Jonathan was the prime suspect, even though he was never charged. Jonathan still lives in Jericho--as does Juniper's teenage daughter, Willa, who has been raised by her mom and stepdad since birth. Juniper has no desire to get dragged back into the dark memories and rumors of Jericho. But when something happens to Jonathan, she finds herself reliving the summer Cal and Beth died. And as she does, she realizes that Jericho itself hasn't put the past behind.

"She was the runaway, the prodigal daughter who had split when the going got tough."

I really loved this book. Baart is such a wonderful and deft writer, and she draws you into Juniper's story immediately. She captures small town Iowa so perfectly--the gossip, the pettiness, the country setting. The characters are well-formed and realistic: reluctant Juniper, so careful and worried about reuniting with Willa. Jonathan, her younger brother, who has remained in Jericho despite the accusations. Her lovely mother and much older stepfather. The handsome and charming boy Juniper fell for one summer. The story comes together so easily; even if this a taunt and slow burning story, I flew through the pages, desperate to find out what was going to happen.

Baart tells our tale in two parts--present-day, as Juniper returns to Jericho, and the past, leading up to the day of the murders. I had a small inkling of some of what might have happened, but loved trying to work it all out. It's a very suspenseful read and the combination of character building and tension works quite well. The way the plot winds together, pulling in emotions, memories, personalities, family connections, and the inner workings of the town is quite masterful.

Overall, a winner for me. I really enjoyed the suspense along with the family drama. 4.5 stars.

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

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Friday, November 26, 2021

Like I'm the only one who knows your heart: WISH YOU WERE HERE.

Wish You Were HereWish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Diana O'Toole has her life perfectly planned out. Marriage, kids, a career in art history at Sotheby's. Key in her plan is her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident. She's sure he's going to propose during their upcoming trip to the Galápagos. But before they can go on the trip, COVID hits, and the world shuts down. Finn cannot leave New York: he's required to stay at the hospital. Not wanting their nonrefundable trip to go to waste, they decide Diana should go without him. Once there, she finds the entire island under quarantine and realizes she's stranded until everything reopens. Without her hotel reservation or even usual shopping open, Diana finds herself reexamining her life and all she has planned.

This is certainly a COVID themed book, which hits you hard, but it's very well-done. It's told from the perspective of Finn, as he struggles in his New York hospital, and Diana, as she finds herself stranded in the Galápagos. She occasionally writes him postcards and he sometimes writes her emails. It's a fast read, and very "Picoult"--all twisty and emotional, with our protagonist, Diana, questioning her life and her choices. Also meticulously researched--the Galápagos, Diana's art history career, and all the COVID aspects.

Overall, this one makes you think. I found it moving and timely and worth the read. 4 stars.

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

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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

She's nothing like the things you said: ALL THE FEELS

All the FeelsAll the Feels by Olivia Dade
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alex Woodroe plays Cupid on the popular show God of the Gates. But he hates what the showrunners have done with his character. When he gets into a bar fight--just the latest in a series of escapades--said showrunners hire someone to keep watch over him and his public behavior. One more misstep, after all, and Alex's career is basically over. Lauren Clegg is cousin to one of the showrunners, a former ER therapist whose experience in stressful situations makes her well-situated to deal with the impetuous Alex. However, the more time she spends with him, the more she realizes his behavior may be misunderstood--and have some actual reasons behind it. And the more Alex gets to know Lauren, who is often mocked for her short height and appearance, the more he can't help but feel something for her. As the two face scandals and a road trip together, they'll have to choose what is really important, for themselves and for one another.

"His new nanny looked like a bird."

This is a fun romance and a good companion to SPOILER ALERT. You can read them as stand-alones, but they are intertwined and FEELS runs somewhat concurrently in plot to ALERT. I didn't think this one was quite as good as ALERT, but still really enjoyed it. Full-time Alex could be a little grating and there was sometimes too much focus on Lauren's appearance--her height and constant references to looking like a bird, etc. But I enjoyed learning Alex's backstory, and Lauren was another strong, tough protagonist.

This is a very good and funny story, with excellent banter and overall focus on body positivity. It encompasses other important issues (ADHD, domestic abuse) too while still being a sweet romance. Alex can drive you a bit crazy (which is often the point) but he's still so humorous and kind, and Lauren is a good foil for him.

I felt Lauren and Alex fell in love a bit more quickly than our SPOILER ALERT duo. Each could be very black and white in the way they dealt with their issues. However, Alex's approach to calling out tropes ("there's only one bed!") was absolutely hilarious.

Overall, this is an amusing and delightful romance, even with its little quirks. Dade writes an excellent romance. 4 stars.

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

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Monday, November 22, 2021

Sometimes I don't know how we walked away: THE GRIMROSE GIRLS.

The Grimrose Girls (Grimrose Girls, #1)The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Grimrose Académie is an exclusive boarding school. There, Ella, Yuki, and Rory's best friend, Ariane dies before school even begins, and the police declare it a suicide. But the remaining trio are convinced that Ariane would never take her own life and set out to determine what happened to her. Then a new girl, Nani, arrives at the school as their roommate. Taking Ariane's place in her old bedroom, she discovers some of Ariane's left behind belongings. This sets off a series of events that will soon overwhelm the girls--and threaten their lives.

"The first day of school started with a funeral."

I have mixed feelings on this book. Some pieces of it frustrated me deeply, and I found them skim worthy and repetitive. It felt like a pale version of a typical "bad things happen a boarding school" read. It got off to a slow start, and I wasn't sure I felt like continuing.

But eventually it begins to work in a fairy tale angle. That piece is really fascinating and far more original. Tying deaths at Grimrose to ancient fairy tales and adding magic, the book picks up speed. There are still pieces that felt as if they could have been shortened, and sometimes the story is too melodramatic--even for teenage girls--but the fairy tale piece is really fun and interesting and carries the book. Honestly, in the beginning, I had a difficult time keeping Ella, Yuki, Rory and some of their other boarding school counterparts separate, though they do become more individualistic as the book goes on. Also, the representation is wonderfully diverse here, so kudos to Pohl for that.

Overall, this book is a slow mover at the beginning, with a decent bit of repetition, leaning too much on character description. But as it moves into its real plot twist and focus, it picks up speed and becomes quite intriguing. The fairy tale piece is original and exciting. I will give the next book a chance. 3 stars.

Also, please note a trigger warning for suicide, self-harm, anxiety, and OCD.

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

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Friday, November 19, 2021

It's paradise as long as I'm with you: THE CHRISTMAS WEDDING GUEST.

The Christmas Wedding Guest (Wishing Tree, #1)The Christmas Wedding Guest by Susan Mallery
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Reggie and Dena Somerville are sisters from the small town of Wishing Tree. Reggie, however, hasn't been back to visit since her broken engagement, which lasted all of two days, when her finance proposed on a Friday and broke it off on a Sunday. But since Reggie and Dena's parents are renewing their vows, she finds herself back in town, the scene of her humiliation. Dena doesn't have the best track record with love herself, so she's taken matters into own hands. She's gotten pregnant on her own; she's also a teacher at the local school and runs the B&B handed down by her grandmother. Once back in Wishing Tree, Reggie gets stuck working with Toby, her high school boyfriend, on a holiday charity project. Meanwhile, Dena finds herself drawn to the famous singer who has checked into her B&B. Can the Somerville sisters find it in their hearts to love again?

This is a very sweet and charming holiday romance. The town of Wishing Tree exudes a lovely festive air, a cross between Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls and a Hallmark set, and I couldn't help but find myself rooting for our couples. Sure, Toby frustrated me sometimes (he's a single dad with some particular quirks), but these characters were personable, flawed, and strong. Perhaps the most lovable was Reggie's dog Belle, who was a force to be reckoned with, followed by Toby's sweet young son.

The story is repetitive at times and seemed a bit uneven--I couldn't tell if the author was going for cute or erotic at points, and it was a bit jarring--but overall this was a fun and merry read. I would have liked an epilogue, but I am hoping that since this is the beginning of a series that maybe we will see some of these characters again. I would definitely read the next book. 3.5 stars, rounded to 4 here.

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

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Wednesday, November 17, 2021

I've learned to live half alive: THE COLLECTIVE

The CollectiveThe Collective by Alison Gaylin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Camille Gardner lost her daughter five years ago and is still angry and grieving. After a public incident, she joins a Facebook group for grieving mothers. From there, Camille is drawn into the dark web and a collective of women who seek revenge on those who killed their children. Unsure if this group is real or not, Camille finds herself pulled into the group, unsure if its members are survivors or murderers. And finding out the truth may lead to her own demise.

This was such a dark thriller--it pulled me in immediately. It's twisted and a little crazy in its plot, but it's so mesmerizing and keeps you guessing the entire time. Camille's grief and anger seeps through the pages, and the themes of loss and motherhood are prominent throughout the story. It's such a tense tale, as you keep reading and wondering, along with Camille, about the collective and its intentions. The book makes you question yourself and how far would you go to protect or avenge your family.

Overall, this is a twisty and dark thriller with an original and emotional plot. 4+ stars.

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

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Monday, November 15, 2021

We're walkin' into the fields: BLUSH.

BlushBlush by Jamie Brenner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

BLUSH tells the story of three generations of women who discover that the trashy novels of the Jackie Collins/Judith Krantz era might hold the key to saving their family’s winery. Jamie Brenner’s BLUSH is the second book in my ABC author challenge [B].

This is a sweeping novel that gives a lot (!) of details about wine and vineyards. The Hollander family owns their Long Island winery—belonging to matriarch Vivian and her husband, Leonard. Leonard, who is quite firm in his ideas about gender roles, would not let their daughter Leah take over, so she runs a cheese shop in New York City. Leah’s daughter Sadie is struggling in college with her thesis.

When they all converge at the vineyard, they discover Leonard is thinking of selling. He refuses to accept any of Leah or Vivian’s ideas to help save it. But when Sadie finds Vivian’s trashy old novels from her book club days, the three women come together. It’s fun to hear about the old novels (you’ll enjoy this book if you like Krantz or Collins) and watch the women triumph over Leonard, who, honestly can be sort of awful. The themes of marriage, sexism, and family run strong and make this an interesting read, even if the characters sometimes frustrate you to no end. 3 stars.

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Saturday, November 13, 2021

And reconnect me to the beauty that I'm missing: THE CHRISTMAS ESCAPE.

The Christmas EscapeThe Christmas Escape by Sarah Morgan
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Christy Sullivan and her best friend Alix have spent Christmas together since they were children. This year they are planning to go to Lapland, a snowy wonderland. The trip will include Christy's husband and their young daughter, Holly. But when Christy faces trouble with her marriage, she asks Alix to take Holly to Lapland without her. She'll be joined by their family friend, Zac--whom Alix has been avoiding ever since Christy's wedding. But as Alix, Zac, and Holly enjoy their time in Lapland, Alix realizes she may have made a mistake in avoiding him. Meanwhile, Christy starts to wonder if her friendship with Alix and marriage will survive the holidays.

I hate rating books low, but this just did not work for me. It was a sweet enough story and I liked the fun, snowy Arctic setting, but, oh, this book could have been so much shorter and enjoyable. The repetition is intense, to the point I found myself skimming sections. We are constantly bombarded by everyone's thoughts and issues. Did you know Alix has commitment issues? Oh you will. Christy struggles with perfection? The overwhelming focus on the characters' tropes and the rehashing and pontificating on thoughts and feelings was incredibly frustrating. It was very slow moving with far more telling than showing. I was not that invested in Alix and Zac's relationship.

There's a sweet storyline involving Christy's aunt, who lives at Lapland, which I enjoyed, and others have enjoyed the overall story more, so take my review with a grain of salt, but most of this book was just too repetitive and trite for me. 2.5 stars.

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

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Tuesday, November 09, 2021

I used the last of my faith when you shot me straight up to the sky: SLEEPLESS.

SleeplessSleepless by Romy Hausmann
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Nadja had a difficult childhood and spent time in prison after being convicted for a crime. But it's been years since her release and she's wanted nothing more than a normal life since: a quiet flat, a job, and maybe some friends. But when one of those few friends, Lauren--the wife of her boss--asks for help covering up a murder, Nadja cannot help but agree. Even if it means endangering all the peace she's worked for. The women quickly make a plan, but when it all starts to crumble, Nadja begins to question exactly what her role is in this plan.

I really enjoyed Hausmann's book DEAR CHILD, but this one didn't have quite the same flair. There are books with confusing timelines that you enjoy and then there are books with confusing timelines that simply muddle things and make it hard to enjoy the plot. This book was the latter for me. There are a lot of interconnected stories in varying timelines and points of view and, truly, it's a lot to follow.

This read seems rather slow and rather blah until the last bit, where it takes off and gets exciting. You sort of know where it's going, which makes it even harder to keep reading. The characters are not that engaging, making it hard to get attached. It's difficult to root for this gang--especially Lauren and her husband. The plot is crazy and rather violent, spinning toward preposterous. If you can suspend disbelief, you'll enjoy things a lot more.

Overall, this had hints of enjoyment, but wasn't my favorite. 2.5 stars.

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

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Monday, November 08, 2021

I will not leave this pulse alone: THE PUSH.

The PushThe Push by Ashley Audrain
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I realized I need a book project to keep me reading the books on my shelves… so I’m turning to the ABCs again. This time, it’s authors. The only rule is the book can start with either the author’s first or last name, and I’m trying to prioritize BOTM books to meet my goal of reading twelve this year. Let’s see how I do!

My first choice was THE PUSH by Ashley Audrain (two As and a BOTM!). This was a mesmerizing psychological thriller about a woman, Blythe, who has always feared motherhood, based on her own childhood. After giving birth to Violet, she becomes convinced there’s something wrong with her. Violet doesn't act like other kids. Her husband Fox says it's all in her head. When their second child, Sam, is born, Blythe has a wonderful connection with him--motherhood is finally everything she's wanted. But then it all changes in a devastating moment, and Blythe must face the awful truth she's been fearing.

THE PUSH offers a very honest and brutal look at motherhood. It definitely kept me flipping the pages! It starts off with a bang, then dragged a bit for me in the middle. It's certainly serious and sad, and, at times, a mystery as well. THE PUSH will keep you thinking long after you've turned that last page. 3.5 stars.

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Thursday, November 04, 2021

Time is leaving us behind: IN ANOTHER LIGHT.

In Another LightIn Another Light by A.J. Banner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Phoebe Glassman's life has been on hold for three years, ever since her husband Logan died in a car accident. Phoebe continues to work at the funeral home they co-owned, where she restores dead bodies. Then one day a deceased woman comes in who bares a startling resemblance to Phoebe. Her name is Pauline Steele, and she has a tattoo that Phoebe finds familiar: she once saw it on her late husband's phone. As she investigates further, Phoebe finds a photo of herself in Pauline's belongings, and her world stops. Who is this woman--what is her tie to Phoebe, and to Logan?

"She prefers to remain in limbo, to act as if she too, has died. She walks the earth, but she might as well be a phantom flitting through her life unnoticed, disturbing the air but barely registering her presence."

This excellent read is not quite what I expected--at times it's more emotional and character driven than pure thriller, but it does not matter: it's quite good. I tore through it, and I'm quickly realizing that I really enjoy A.J. Banner's books. They are reliable page turners and typically quite mesmerizing.

IN ANOTHER LIGHT kept me guessing from the beginning. Is Phoebe crazy from grief and simply obsessed with this lookalike woman? Or is there more to it--as she delves into Pauline's life, we truly wonder if we can trust Phoebe, yet you cannot help but root for this broken and grief struck woman. While she does not always make the best decisions, she's a fascinating character. The book balances touching moments with mysterious ones, and there are plenty of twists along the way. I appreciated Banner's deft touch and something different from the usual thriller. 4+ stars.

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

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Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Too tired to do just what I should: THE LAST HOUSE ON NEEDLESS STREET.

The Last House on Needless StreetThe Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ted is a depressed drunk who lives with his daughter, Lauren, and cat, Olivia. Years ago, a young girl disappeared at a nearby lake and Ted was blamed, but later exonerated by his alibi. Now Dee, the girl's sister is back in town, looking for justice for her little sister. But Ted and his family may still be hiding secrets--and Dee's return threatens to uncover them all.

"Today is the anniversary of Little Girl With Popsicle. It happened by the lake, eleven years ago--she was there, and then she wasn't. So it's already a bad day when I discover that there is a Murderer among us."

This is an incredibly wild read that is both mesmerizing and befuddling, as you never know exactly what is going on. You get Ted's point of view, as well as Dee's and even Olivia the cat's. I spent most of the book coming up with theories and feeling frustrated at times, because I was not sure what was happening! If you are someone who always wants to know what is happening, you may not enjoy this book.

It's definitely best to go in blind, as all the other reviews state, because the twists and turns will take you by surprise. And there are twists galore! When this ended, I realized I probably needed to read the book again, just to completely take in everything that happened. Did I fully enjoy HOUSE? Probably not. But I still feel it was worth the read. It was intricate and fascinating and at the end, when you take in the full depth of what you've read--well, it's pretty awe inspiring. Definitely read the author's note at the end, too. 4+ stars.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

But if she blinks or smiles, she'll give you away: HEARD IT IN A LOVE SONG.

Heard It in a Love SongHeard It in a Love Song by Tracey Garvis Graves
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Layla is recently divorced after a ten-year marriage to a man who never truly appreciated her and subjected her to constant financial and emotional stress. Once a lead singer in a rock band, Layla is now an elementary music teacher struggling to find her place in the world. One thing that brightens her day is her interactions with Josh, the father of one of her students. A single father, Josh was married to his high school sweetheart, Kimmy, for nearly twenty years. He too is trying to find his way now that he's single. Both wary about getting back into the dating grind, Layla and Josh decide to be "friends with potential." But with all their baggage, are they destined for heartbreak?

"And she wasn't lonely, not really. Layla had been lonely for years while she was married, and she'd take being alone over lonely any day."

I didn't dislike this book, but it wasn't the sweeping romance I was hoping for. This one redefined slow burner, as Josh and Layla sloowly made their way toward one another. Most of this is the format--told from both Layla and Josh's point of view, each chapter breaks off to delve into how that particular's character's marriage fell apart. So we may get a few moments of them in the present and then--boom--it quickly flashes back to Josh and Kimmy in high school or Layla and her ex-husband, Liam, meeting when Layla is singing in her band. Each piece is just a snippet, slowly parsed out per chapter and building up to the end of the marriage, so both the past and the present is a build-up. I admire the style, but wow... everything takes time. A lot of time! It made the story feel quite plodding at times.

And, I just couldn't quite find the spark between Layla and Josh. Individually, they were great people, and I liked and rooted for their characters to move on from their past relationships. Together, I just didn't feel that they had "it"--that special something that really makes you want a particular couple to succeed. I certainly desired for each to find themselves again, but I didn't necessarily need it to be with one another. I did, however, have great fondness for Norton, the older dog Josh adopts, and whom Layla often dog-sits. So there you go.

This isn't a bad book, and I know lots of people who enjoyed it. It received a 3-star rating from me, which is *not* a poor rating. It just wasn't what I was hoping for, and I had wanted more passion. But if you enjoy a character-driven read, especially one that really delves into the characters' pasts, you'll find a lot to love here. (Also the cover is simply gorgeous.)

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

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Monday, October 25, 2021

No ray of sunlight's ever lost: THE SANTA SUIT.

The Santa SuitThe Santa Suit by Mary Kay Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ivy Perkins buys a 106-year-old farmhouse, sight unseen, after a divorce. Known as Four Roses Farm, it was once home to Bob and Betty Rae Rose. Bob was famous as the town's Santa Claus, which Ivy learns when she discovers his lovely Santa suit tucked in a closet. In the pocket is a note from a young child, who simply wants her father to return home from the war. The note strikes a chord with Ivy, who finds herself wondering who the child was--and did she ever reunite with her father? Her investigation brings her in contact with the local townspeople, including Ezra, her realtor, neighbor, and handyman; a young woman named Phoebe; and a sweet town elder named Everett. Despite her reluctance to join in the town's many Christmas traditions, Ivy cannot help but be swept up in the small town and its spirit of Christmas.

"You mean, what's a nice, single, big-city girl like me doing in a hick town like Tarburton?"

This was an incredibly adorable, silly, cheesy book (more of a novella really). If you love Christmas movies, you'll find that this is basically a Hallmark Christmas movie in book form. And, as such, it's practically perfect: the snowy setting, a magical Santa suit, and a small town romance. What more could you ask for? Yes, you could pick at plot pieces and motives, but why? This is a quick read and a sweet one. Read in front of the fire with a cup of hot chocolate. 4+ stars.

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

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Saturday, October 23, 2021

The red thread that ties me to you: EIGHT PERFECT HOURS.

Eight Perfect HoursEight Perfect Hours by Lia Louis
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Noelle Butterby has recently broken up with her boyfriend of twelve years, Ed. Ed found Noelle pathetic for staying home to take care of her ill Mum and therefore being unwilling to travel to the States with him for a new job. But for Noelle, it's more than that. Her family obligations are both confining and all she has--leaving her unable to fulfill her own dreams, including opening her own flower shop. On her way to her university reunion--the first time she's been out in ages--Noelle finds herself trapped on a snowy roadway. With traffic stalled for hours, she meets Sam, the man in the car next to hers. They form a small friendship over the eight hours they're stuck, bonding while she charges her phone and they forage for food. In those few hours, Noelle is truly, actually happy. But the roadway is cleared and Sam drives off. Yet, somehow, after their snowy time together, the universe seems to continue to throw Sam and Noelle together. Each is dealing with their own relationship woes, but they feel drawn to one another. Are Sam and Noelle meant to be? And can Noelle find her own way while dealing with the weight of her family responsibility?

"Eight hours. Eight tiny hours is all they were. And already I miss them. Ridiculous. I am ridiculous."

I fell completely for this charming story. It's completely lovely, with such wonderful characters in Noelle and Sam, whom I found myself rooting for from the beginning. There are enough obstacles that I actually found myself wondering if they would wind up together, yet determined that they were meant to be. The book is so sweet yet has its serious moments as well, and it tackles mental health in a honest way, dealing with depression, agoraphobia, and post-partum issues quite well.

"And I feel--something. I don't know what exactly. Alive. Buzzy. Like my blood is rushing with stars, with electricity."

Both Sam and Noelle lost someone early in their lives, and some parts of this book will hit hard if you lost a loved one in your early twenties--their grief feels so real and raw (also a trigger warning for suicide). Their lives have been changed by these deaths, as well as hanging on to relationships that may not be the best for them. Watching them bond is so heartwarming. This is such a romantic read, with excellent pieces of chemistry and sexual tension--it's so well-done and builds quite excellently. This isn't insta-love, but a good slow burn that feels passionate and honest.

Overall, I really loved this one. The romance is excellent, and the message of finding your way together when it was meant to be is beautiful. 4.5 stars.

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

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Monday, October 18, 2021

Stuck in a tower in a forest: THE SPIRES.

The SpiresThe Spires by Kate Moretti
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Penelope Cox thinks she's put her college years behind her, when, twenty years later, her old friend Willa shows up unexpectedly on her doorstep. Willa Blaine needs help escaping her abusive husband. Penelope hasn't seen Willa since their gap year after college, when they and three other friends lived together in a converted church. Calling themselves "the Spires" they were a close-knit group, until hidden resentments and jealousies tipped over. Focused on their leader, Jack, things started to change when he brought home a girlfriend, Grace. Then tragedy struck and the group went their separate ways. Now, Willa seems the perfect guest, bringing order and happiness to the Cox household. But Penelope feels like her friend is putting her life off-balance and bringing up horrible memories: memories she'd rather leave long buried.

"Six months after they moved in, he brought home Grace and sent them all into a tailspin."

This is slow burn read--it's sluggish to start, but picks up as the story gets moving. Less thriller, more character-driven, THE SPIRES focuses on relationships more than mystery, though there is certainly plenty to figure out as the tale progresses.

The book skips back and forth between the group's gap year after college at The Church House and present day, when Penelope's friend Willa shows up without warning. The two haven't seen each other since they scattered after The Church House tragedy. We know something bad happened at The Church House, but it takes a while (basically the whole book) to get it all figured out. There is a lot of drama and angst as this all happens. None of the characters are particularly likeable, but there are plenty of motives and secrets tossed in along the way.

I didn't find THE SPIRES as thrilling as some of Moretti's other books. Still, it became more interesting and suspenseful as I read, and there are definitely some good twists. This is an especially good read for those who like a good psychological mystery. 3.5 stars.

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

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Monday, October 11, 2021

Something worth leaving behind: HER PERFECT LIFE.

Her Perfect LifeHer Perfect Life by Hank Phillippi Ryan
My rating: 3.5+ of 5 stars

A twisty and personal thriller

Lily Atwood is a famous television reporter known for being perfect. She has a gorgeous young daughter, Rowen, a lovely home, and multiple Emmys. But when Lily was young, her college-age sister, Cassie, just vanished. Then their grieving mother died, leaving Lily alone. Lily and her producer, Greer, have an anonymous source who has been feeding them tips that only increase Lily's popularity. But when the tips start getting personal, Lily begins to panic. Someone is ready to uncover her past and destroy all she holds dear--but why?

"At some point you have to stop looking, I told myself. But still. If she did something truly bad, how much did I want to know? How would that knowledge change my life? My career? Maybe it's better for me to pretend she never existed. But I know she did exist."

This is crazy page-turner with lots of wild plot twists. It certainly keeps you guessing. Lily has the "perfect" life and she and her producer are determined to keep it that way, so that Lily (and Greer) stay on top. It seemed a bit much that Lily's fans would drop her at the sign of one mistake, but I suppose we all understand cancel culture these days...

Neither Lily nor Greer seem particularly likable, with their desire to win at all costs, so I wasn't particularly attached to their characters. I did like Lily's young daughter Rowen. The format of the book, however, is very easy-to-read, with flashbacks to Cassie's life in college interspersed with Greer and Lily's present day narrative. Honestly, college-age Cassie may be the easiest character to root for! Ryan certainly weaves a compelling mystery.

There's a lot going on in LIFE... I can't go into all the threads due to spoilers, but there are a lot of various plot points and sometimes it all seemed like a bit much. The book ended a tad fast, too, considering all those different narratives.

Still, this is a gripping thriller that keeps you on your toes. It illustrates how life is not always perfect... but maybe it does not need to be? 3.5+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from the author's Super Reader club and Macmillan-Tor/Forge in return for an unbiased review.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2021

We all have sorrow: OUR MONTICELLO.

My MonticelloMy Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you buy one book in October, it should be this one. MY MONTICELLO is a collection of short stories and a novella that explore race, identity, and more. Beautifully written, nuanced, and insightful, they each make you think. My introverted self found myself wishing for a book club so I could discuss these stories with others.

The eponymous novella is set in Virginia, where I live, and features a group of townspeople who must flee to Monticello after racial attacks and climate change. I wish I could describe how unsettling and good it is, but you just need to read it. It’s already been optioned for Netflix, which is awesome.

I cannot stop thinking about this book, and I also cannot recommend it enough.

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway -- thank you to Goodreads and Henry Holt for my copy.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

You just had your plans and they didn't include me: HE GETS THAT FROM ME.

He Gets That From MeHe Gets That From Me by Jacqueline Friedland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maggie is a young mom who dreams of going to college. But her current life--toiling at a grocery store while her boyfriend works as a chef--can't support her dreams. When she sees an ad about becoming a surrogate, and sees how much it could pay, Maggie wonders if this could solve all her problems. Her boyfriend, Nick, is reluctant, but Maggie decides to go for it. She winds up being selected by a loving gay couple, Chip and Donovan, from New York. Maggie delivers their beautiful twin boys, and everyone is happy. But ten years later, she gets a call from the fertility clinic that will change her life.

This is a mesmerizing book that pulls you in from the beginning. It's extremely easy-to-read, and the story basically tells itself. I was immediately attached to Chip and Donovan and their family. The story is told from Donovan's POV and Maggie's. Through Donovan, we learn about their family, their pasts, and how much they love their boys. When they end up having DNA tests done on the twins, it upends things and forces Donovan, especially, to rethink so much of what he took for granted. I wanted to like Maggie more than I did; she didn't come across as a consistent character, which was frustrating for me.

DNA stories are certainly the fad the right now. My biggest issue with this book, was, paradoxically, the part I also liked the most, and that was the inclusion of Donovan and Chip's story. As best I can tell, Friedland is a straight woman, and, as a member of the LGBTQIA community, I'm not sure I felt fully comfortable with her including a gay couple in her story. We have enough problems with our families being accepted without them being told in such a "Lifetime movie" fashion--especially by someone who isn't part of our community. This story could have been told just as easily without including a gay couple. It's probably something that wouldn't occur to most readers, but it just rubbed me the wrong way.

Otherwise, this book does make you think and it makes some good points about the meaning of family. It's a fast read, but I just felt a little off overall when I finished it. 3 stars.

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

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Saturday, September 25, 2021

We're all trying to get to heaven, but not today: NEVER SAW YOU COMING.

Never Saw You ComingNever Saw You Coming by Erin Hahn
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

An insightful look at love and religion

Meg Hennessey grew up finding comfort in her faith. But her conservative parents also kept her sheltered based on their interpretation of the rules of the church. But at age eighteen, Meg learns her entire life was a lie. Instead of going to work at a church camp for a year, she heads to Marquette, Michigan to learn more about the family she never knew she had. There, she meets Micah Allen. Micah's dad is a former pastor who is now in prison. Micah adored and believed in his father, who let the church, his congregation, and his family down famously--the press still hounds Micah years later. With his father's probation hearing coming up, his mother wants him to forgive him, but Micah isn't sure he can. Meg and Micah meet and find themselves drawn to each other. But each struggle with what they've been taught about love, along with the pasts they may need to leave behind to move forward.

"Because the uncomfortable truth is, while the church loves sinners in their pews, they don't want them in front of a crowd. It's the difference between acceptance and tolerance, and it might catch on. God forbid."

This is a really lovely and moving story. While it includes a lot of religious themes and discussion, it never felt like too much--religion and forgiveness informs the story, rather than detracts from it. Meg is a side character in Hahn's excellent book, MORE THAN MAYBE, and we see glimpses of Vada and Luke from that tale (which is really fun). It's wonderful to see Meg fully explored here--Hahn writes her sections in a snappy and smart way, capturing Meg perfectly. She's so sweet, yet smart and tough. Her entire life has been upended, and Meg truly must rethink her whole faith and foundation. I think a weaker person would crumple at such a situation. Watching her grow is really fun; you cannot help but root for her.

And Micah is a great character, too. He too, has had his faith tested, as his father destroyed his church and Micah's belief in the church. Micah and Meg's romance is cute, honest, and real. Hahn's book explores how shamed these two feel by falling in love and how the church has conditioned them to feel that love, happiness, and romance can be wrong and even sinful. It tackles the pain of loving a Jesus/God who then censures you for loving. It's so adept at this and skilled at portraying their struggles. How can the love of these two sweet, earnest kids be wrong? And as they explore why bad things happen--especially as they believe so fully--the book makes you think and examine deeply. It deftly exposes the church's focus on female purity only, while often ignoring the males. Honestly, whether you're religious or not, this is a must-read, especially in these times, when so much of the control of a women's body seems not be our own.

Overall, I loved this book. It offers a charming romance, along with a timely look at religion and how it can affect young people as they make their way in the world. The side characters are excellent (I'm looking at you, Duke, and Cash the dog!). Hahn's writing is as excellent as ever. 4.5 stars. Please note the author's own note for a trigger warning for self-harm and suicide.

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

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Friday, September 24, 2021

I set out runnin' but I take my time: WE ARE INEVITABLE.

We Are InevitableWe Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

"Fact: Dinosaurs still exist. Here's what they look like. A father and son in a failing used bookstore, spending long, aimless days consuming words no one around here buys anymore."

Life has left Aaron behind. He still lives in his hometown, running his family's bookstore with his dad, Ira. Running is probably overly enthusiastic--the bookstore is failing. And family is a stretch, too--both his brother and his mom are no longer helping. He thinks maybe his luck has changed for the better, though, when he meets Hannah, a beautiful musician. Could she be what he needs to turn his life around?

This book was not what I expected at all, but it's an engaging story that I consumed in two sittings. It's an ode to bookstores and book lovers, sprinkled with a lot of book related references. It also incorporates music into the story. It's truly very sweet and captivating. The characters are well-written, though Aaron frustrated me to no end in the beginning, as life has given him the inability to trust and he was unwilling to accept help or friendship from anyone!

If you're not able to embrace quirky tales (or many references to dinosaurs), this book won't be for you. It's not really a romance, even though it's sort of pitched that way, but more a tale of family and how the bookstore can bring people together. It touches on serious topics, such as the power of addiction. Still, I enjoyed it overall and the characters are still with me several months after reading it. 3.5+ stars.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Love is like a stove, it burns you when it's hot: THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED.

The Night She DisappearedThe Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

An intricate, twisty, page-turner of a thriller

Tallulah and her boyfriend, Zach, go out on a date, leaving their young son Noah behind with her mom, Kim. Kim waits up for Tallulah, but she never comes back. As Kim tries to find out what happened to her daughter, whom she knows would never leave Noah behind, she learns she was last seen at a party at house in the woods, called the Dark Place.

Two years later, Sophie moves to a boarding school where her boyfriend, Shaun, has just started to work as head teacher. As she explores the woods, she sees a note reading "Dig Here." A writer, Sophie starts investigating. Her sleuthing will take her into the world of the Dark Place and Tallulah's disappearance.

"With a racing heart and a sickening swirl in the pit of her stomach, she calls the police and she files a missing persons case."

This is an excellent thriller, hands-down. I read the second half in one sitting, because I was completely and totally sucked in. This is a mystery, but it has a ton of character to it--because the characters, ha, are real and vibrant people, with their own quirks, issues, and struggles that add an an extra element to the story. Tallulah, especially, is a nuanced character, a young mother struggling to find her place in the world, with her boyfriend, her friendships, and as a parent and student.

NIGHT is quite twisty--this read will keep you guessing. It's well-written, extremely dark (be prepared), and just well-done overall. It balances thrilling and characterization perfectly. I often hate when a "regular" character decides to be a sleuth, but Sophie, as a crime writer, was fine in the role. I loved Tallulah (extremely great, because she's missing, so Jewell gets us attached to a character who is gone and whose POV is told through the past). The book is complex, giving us insight into motherhood, relationships, friendship and more.

Overall, this was a winner for me. 4.5 stars.

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

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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

After what you put me through: ROCK PAPER SCISSORS.

Rock Paper ScissorsRock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent twisty thriller

Adam and Amelia Wright win a weekend away to Scotland--and this romantic getaway might be the only thing to save their rocky marriage. Screenwriter Adam spends most of his time working, much to the frustration of Amelia. Adam also suffers from prosopagnosia, or face-blindness, and sometimes Amelia wonders if he'd even recognize his own wife in a crowd. They know this weekend could make a huge difference in their marriage, but what they don't know: they didn't win this trip. And someone really doesn't want them to save their marriage.

"We both know this weekend away is a last chance to fix things. Or at least to try. He hasn't forgotten that."

This was a really fun thriller, honestly! Just one of those creepy and mysterious reads that kept me guessing most of the entire time. It's told from the point of view of both Adam and Amelia and interspersed with Amelia's letters that she writes to Adam each year on their anniversary (but does not let him read). We also have a third point of view, from a mysterious other character. How does everyone fit together? Enjoy trying to figure it out!

"My husband doesn't cheat on me with other women, or men, he has love affairs with their words."

Everyone is keeping secrets in this mystery, leading to a wild ride. The setting is amazing, a cold, dark, and snowy atmospheric Scotland that serves as another character in our twisty thriller. Every thing seems ominous and foreboding, as Adam and Amelia traverse the snowy countryside and mysterious house they are staying in.

Overall, this is a great and thrilling mystery, which keeps you guessing. It's a surprising page-turner, that also delves into the themes of marriage and writing. 4+ stars.

I received a free ARC of this book from Macmillan in exchange for an honest review.

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