Saturday, February 27, 2021

Q, A to Z Challenge: QUEENS OF GEEK.

Queens of GeekQueens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Simple yet sweet look into fandom and friendship

Charlie, Taylor, and Jamie are extremely close friends. They come to SupaCon as one last blast before they all head to college--and to celebrate Charlie, a famous video blogger and actress. Charlie's struggling to get over her very public breakup with her former co-star, Reese Ryan. Taylor is dealing with how the Con flames her anxiety and that she has feelings for her best friend: Jamie. Plus, she wants to enter a contest at the Con to meet her favorite actress from her favorite fandom, but knows her fears would never allow it. And Jamie just wants to make Taylor happy. Can the three survive SupaCon?

This is the seventeenth 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!

This was a cute book--easy to read with sweet characters. It's written very simply and honestly it's often trite in its writing and plot. Expect some undeveloped characters, some insta-love, and problems that resolve themselves before they even fully develop. It's a shame, because QUEENS covers some incredibly important topics--Asperger's, autism, anxiety, bisexuality--and covers them fairly well--but often quickly, without a lot of depth.

The book is a true ode to geeks (I say this with the highest praise) and con/fandom lovers. However, not really being a fan of these fandoms, it was hard to truly get into those parts. I loved how much comfort Taylor took in her fandom, but it wasn't something I could be into, if that made sense.

Mostly, I loved the spot-on passages describing social anxiety and the diverse cast. This was an easy YA read, but one lacking true depth; still, it satisfied the "Q" requirement for my A to Z reading challenge. 3 stars, mostly for the bi rep.

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Thursday, February 25, 2021

But I guess no one ever taught me how to stay: THE DISTANT DEAD.

The Distant DeadThe Distant Dead by Heather Young
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dark and well-written tale of sadness and forgiveness

Adam Merkel left his job as a professor in Reno to come to Lovelock, a small town, to teach math at their middle school. He was mostly mocked by his students, except for one, Sal Prentiss. After the death of his mother, Sal lives outside of town with his two uncles. Mostly friendless, he bonds with Mr. Merkel over math, chess, and more. So when Sal finds Mr. Merkel's body on his way to schoool--burned so that it's nearly unrecognizable--it turns his small world upside down. It upsets Nora Wheaton as well. A colleague of Adam's at the school, she thought she recognized a kindred spirit in him. Both seemed trapped in Lovelock: Nora had to return to care for her father. After Adam's death, Nora starts looking into his past to see what led to his horrible undoing. But so much of what she finds keeps leading back to the boy who befriended him--and found his body. As she tries to befriend the wary Sal, it opens up old wounds of her own.

I really loved Heather Young's book The Lost Girls, and The Distant Dead didn't disappoint either. She excels at creating excellent atmospheric novels with well-drawn characters. The Distant Dead perfectly captures small town life: how nearly everyone knows almost everything about everyone, but rarely interferes. How a small town can feel so stifling and claustrophobic. How the secrets and lies pile up until a man finds himself burned to death.

Young also covers the timely topics of drugs and addiction, which run as a thread across the book. Opiates don't seem like a tired trope here, though, but something that is eating up the town and ruining people's lives. It's no secret that I'm a sucker for a book with a good kid character, and I pretty much fell for Sal immediately. He's a great kid: real, vulnerable yet tough, and smart. He was an excellent narrator, with his portions telling what led up to Adam's death and Nora and Jake (a local EMT/firefighter) telling us what happened after. The book is surprisingly tense, with Young's beautifully written words jumping off every page. She's such a lyrical writer, weaving an amazing tale of sadness and redemption.

This isn't a fast read or a page-turning thriller. But it's a well-written book, with characters you won't soon forget. There's a lovely, albeit sad and dark, story here. Definitely worth a read. 4+ stars.

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Monday, February 22, 2021

BLOG TOUR: HONEY GIRL by Morgan Rogers, out 2/23!!

So excited to be part of the Blog Tour for this beautiful, charming, must-read lesbian romance! I cannot stop talking about HONEY GIRL, which I adored! This amazing LGBTIQA novel releases tomorrow, 2/23.

Honey GirlHoney Girl by Morgan Rogers
My rating: 4.5+ of 5 stars

For most of her life, Grace Porter has done everything right. She's followed her father's (aka the Colonel) orders, living life according to the rigid "Porter way." Now she's twenty-eight, with a newly acquired PhD in astronomy. On a girl's trip to Vegas, Grace strays from her workaholic, straitlaced ways, gets drunk and marries a girl she's just met. Upon returning home, Grace feels burned out and less fulfilled about finally attaining her degree than expected. So she leaves home (and her father's expectations) to spend time in New York with a wife she doesn't remember and certainly doesn't know. In New York with Yuki, Grace feels something real for her new wife. But acknowledging her feelings for Yuki will also mean confronting what made her flee home in the first place.

"I got married last night, Grace thinks. To a girl with rosebuds on her cheeks. To a girl whose name I don't even know. I should be screaming."

I loved this book so much I could cry. (I did cry.) Oh Grace, my sweet, emotional girl, and oh this book. This beautiful book. Do not go into HONEY GIRL thinking it is a gimmicky read because of the Vegas marriage premise. It's a real, heart-wrenching book that will rip and tear at your soul. But don't worry, this is a good thing. Because this is a ridiculously romantic and adorable story, as well as a nuanced coming-of-age/finding yourself (hey, it can happen at twenty-eight) story.

"Have you ever gone to bed thinking of someone you only knew for a night? Have you ever stared up at the sky and wondered where it was you saw yourself, all those years ago? Which star it was you followed here?"

Rogers writes with a lyrical beauty. She gives us Grace and Yuki, two sweet, lovely, flawed, real characters whom I adored. As for Grace, I wanted nothing but good for her. I identified so much with an anxious workaholic crippled by the expectations of her parents. ("Being angry at his unattainable expectations is so much easier than accepting that the only ones I have to meet are my own." -- I think I may need to have this bronzed, as it sums up my life.) Grace struggles with the pressures placed on her by her ex-military father, by intense racism that makes it difficult to succeed in a field where she's extremely qualified, and with mental health/anxiety issues. Rogers handles all of these excellently, covering them so well in her story, along with Grace and Yuri's burgeoning relationship. It seems like it should be too much for one book, but everything fits perfectly together.

Honestly, no review of mine can do this book justice. I love the characters of Grace and Yuri and the supporting cast is excellent (and the book is diverse). It's hilarious and funny yet deftly and kindly covers mental health issues. It also takes an insightful look at racism--especially in academia--and how difficult it makes life for Grace. There's romance, friendship, family, and so much more. I loved it all, and I highly highly recommend HONEY GIRL. I cannot wait to read what Morgan Rogers writes next. 4.5+ stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Park Row Books for my copy in return for an unbiased review.

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Friday, February 19, 2021

Stand closer to the fire: THE COUSINS.

The CousinsThe Cousins by Karen M. McManus
My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Easy-to-read twisty teen thriller

Cousins Milly, Aubrey and Jonah Story barely know each other, and they don't know their grandmother, Mildred, at all. Wealthy Mildred disinherited their parents before the cousins were even born. But now Mildred has requested the cousins' presence at her seaside resort. All the parents want their children to go, hopeful that being inherited again is back on the table. But when the three arrive on the island, it's pretty apparent that Mildred isn't keen on meeting her grandchildren. It's also clear that there are a lot of secrets and lies swirling around the Story family and history.

This is a quick read and an easy thriller, if that makes sense. It's a fun story with some good twists and several crazy surprises. There's not a lot of character development or in-depth plotting, but the tale kept me guessing and engaged. I'm always a sucker for inheritance stories and giant houses filled with secrets perched on islands.

Overall, this is fast read and a twisty thriller. It would be a great starter mystery for teens. 3.75 stars.

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Monday, February 15, 2021

Feels like the glass might break: DO NO HARM.

Do No HarmDo No Harm by Christina McDonald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dark look into how far a mother would go to save her child

After a tough childhood, where she was orphaned and spent time in foster care, Emma finally has the life she's always wanted. A successful doctor, she has a loving husband, Nate, and a young son, Josh. But that all stands to change when Josh, who is only five, is diagnosed with leukemia. Even with her hospital insurance, Josh's potential life-saving treatment will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Determined to save Josh no matter what, Emma makes the decision to sell opioids. Her choice puts her directly against Nate, a local police officer, who is investigating the death of a potential drug dealer. Emma will do anything to save Josh--does that include murder?

"I felt like I'd been dropped down a rabbit hole with the wolf sitting right outside. And the wolf was my husband."

This is a brutal dark read that pulls you into Emma and Nate's dilemma immediately. Personally, I found it hard to read about Josh's illness. I have a difficult time with books about kids being sick. But, McDonald is an excellent writer, and she does a wonderful job portraying stricken parents, pushed to the brink, who would do anything for their child. For Emma, it's turning to selling drugs. For Nate, it's working constantly to solve his current case, which means a promotion that could brings additional money for their family. The story is told from each of their perspectives, ratcheting up the tension with each chapter.

Emma, it seems, really has no limits on what she would do for Josh. McDonald makes the reader question: how far would you go to save your child? The book also offers a nuanced perspective on the opioid crisis, versus the usual "drugs bad" stance we get in many novels, which I appreciated. The entire novel makes you think and question standard perspectives in so many ways. It turns good versus evil and right versus wrong on its heels. And it offers a dark and insightful look into drug addiction and chronic pain and how families support each other (or don't).

Overall, this isn't an easy read, but it's a well-written and compelling one. It's timely, with an excellent perspective on the drug problems facing Americans and leaves the reader questioning much about right versus wrong. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Gallery Books and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. It is available on 2/16/2021.

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Friday, February 12, 2021

I always did like running I never did know why: LOLA ON FIRE

Lola on FireLola on Fire by Rio Youers
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

A dark, fast-paced thriller

Brody Ellis has lost his job: desperate for cash to pay rent and to help take care of his younger sister, he robs a gas station. On his way out, he bumps into a woman. It's only once he's home that the realizes he's lost his wallet. He's waiting for the cops to arrest him when he receives a call. A woman named Blair Mayo, the one whom he ran into, has the wallet. She'll return it if he'll do something in return: steal her late mother's diamonds from her father's hateful new wife. But when Brody executes Blair's plan, he finds something else: a murdered woman and a security camera watching his every move. After he flees, slipping in blood, Blair tells him someone has already taken care of the footage. The woman's husband, the notorious mobster Jimmy Latzo. But he wants his own special revenge on Brody (and his sister, Molly, by default). The two flee, with the mob hot on their tail, and get caught up in a tangled web that involves Jimmy, Blair, and a woman named Lola Bear who came up against Jimmy years ago.

This book was amazing: completely raw, emotional, and brutal. Reading it felt like watching a "shoot 'em up" movie (one with a little heart, though). It's gory and dark, so if you're not able to handle some blood and violence, this read isn't for you. However, I found it nearly impossible to put down. I was completely invested in Brody, Molly, and Lola. This book weaves a tangled web, and I was there for every little spin.

It was honestly great to read a book where there's a pretty clear delineation between "good versus bad." Still, the story is certainly complex, filled with deep emotions and complex familial tensions, but you always know who to root for. It takes your mind off things (aka real life) for a bit.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. I love violent movies, where the good guys are good and the bad guys really bad. It was fun seeing that translated into a book. I also loved the rawness of this book and the underlying tenderness that accompanied it. It's a fast, dark read. 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and William Morrow / Custom House in return for an unbiased review. It releases in the U.S. on 2/16/2021.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2021

P, A to Z Challenge: PARTY OF TWO.

Party of Two (The Wedding Date, #5)Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An absolutely charming romance with lots of cake!

This is the sixteenth 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 Olivia Monroe randomly chats with a handsome stranger at a hotel bar, she has no idea that they will wind up making a lasting connection. After her chance encounter, she learns that man was no other than Max Powell, a hotshot junior senator from California, where Olivia has just moved to start her own law firm. Olivia is focused on her firm--and she has no desire to date someone well-known--but when she and Max meet again, and he then sends her a cake, she can't help but be charmed. She finds she really likes Max, but not the scrutiny that comes with dating a high-profile figure. Olivia knows she and Max have something special, but is it worth all the other stuff?

This was my first book by Jasmine Guillory, but it will certainly not be my last. I found PARTY to be completely charming. I had no idea it was the fifth book in a series, and I'll definitely be going back and catching up on the previous books. That being said, this one seems to stand-alone.

PARTY is one of those romance books that just sweeps you off your feet from the beginning. It's incredibly fun and sexy and made me smile while reading it. Oh how I needed a book that made me smile. Olivia is smart and easy to identify with: I have a soft spot for skeptical workaholics. She also loves cake, and there are so many references to baked goods in this book. I was truly in heaven! (And hungry.) Max is handsome and a bit too perfect, but, yes, you learn, he too has flaws. And honestly, I was quite protective of my Olivia, so I only wanted the best for her anyway.

So sure, maybe this is a little predictable, but who cares, because it's so fun, and it made me laugh and tear up. Our couple is adorable, and the supporting cast is excellent (and, as far as I can tell, links to other books). I liked the references to politics and adored any and all mention of sweets. The book also touches on racism and the issues plaguing working women, so it's not just fluff. Overall, I loved basically every moment, and I can't wait to read the copy of THE WEDDING DATE I immediately bought upon finishing this book. 4.5 stars.

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Saturday, February 06, 2021


Our Own Private UniverseOur Own Private Universe by Robin Talley
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A great book for gay teens finding their way

This is the fifteenth 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!

Aki Simon is ready to start living her life. At fifteen, she believes she's bisexual, but she's only dated boys, and only her best friend, Lori, knows about her feelings. So when Aki and Lori go on a church trip to Mexico, Aki vows to stop sitting around and start living. This becomes possible when she meets Christa, another student on the trip. Christa, older and more worldly, clearly seems to like Aki as much as Aki likes her. But how does Aki--whose father is a pastor and along on this trip--experiment with Christa on this trip? How does she figure out if she likes, or even loves, Christa? And if she does, how does she tell her religious parents?

I've read several books by Robin Talley and really loved them all. This one was a little young for me, but I think it would be an excellent read for the teen age group. It covers a range of vital and big themes for teens: bisexuality, coming out, safe sex, parental expectations, religion and being gay, etc. There's a moment when Aki is trying to track down dental dams, and she's researching how to use them. I'm honestly not sure I've ever seen that in a book, and it's so important and honestly, really cool. I would have loved to find a book like this when I was a teen trying to figure out a lot of various things.

Unfortunately, a lot of the plot of UNIVERSE is based on the premise of one character lying to another, which I really do not care for. It gets off to a slow start. And there is a lot of teen drama, with Lori and other kids on the trip at the center. Maybe it wouldn't seem so melodramatic for teens, who live in that world, but it's a bit much and gets repetitive.

Still, I love how important this book is, covering coming out and featuring such a diverse cast of characters. It's serious yet romantic. I would certainly recommend it for teens grappling with their sexuality, those coming out, or those wanting to support their queer friends or kids. 3.5 stars. (Also, if you are older and queer (or even if you're not), read Robin Talley's PULP. It's amazing.)

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Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Tears of joy might stain my face: EXIT

ExitExit by Belinda Bauer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic, twisty thriller with a heart

Felix Pink enters a home with one goal: to kindly keep a dying man company. But when he flees fifteen minutes later--more quickly than his seventy-five years usually allow--he's on the run from the police. Because Felix has made a mistake, and now his quiet life will never be the same.

"The [words] he needed finally dropped slowly from his numb lips. 'We killed the wrong man.'"

Oh my gosh, this book was amazing. Absolutely excellent. It has a different premise, keeps you guessing, and the characters are beyond superb. Bauer utterly captures Felix, with whom I fell completely in love. Yes, seventy-five-year-old widowed Felix is my new literary love. She also does an excellent job with Calvin, the young policeman who must investigate Felix Pink. These two men--along with the supporting cast--jump off the pages of this thriller. I was completely enthralled.

Even better, somehow this tale is witty despite it revolving around death. Felix has a superb sense of humor and the entire book is just infused with wit and a feeling of tenderness. It's also incredibly shocking, with a couple of plot twists that made me gasp. It's twisty and a total page turner. Rare do you get a mystery that is sweet yet exciting. But EXIT is just that.

Overall, this book is a total winner. Funny and heartwarming coupled with an excellent, intricate mystery plot that keeps you surprised at each turn. Highly recommend this one! 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Grove Atlantic and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. It is available in the U.S. on 2/2/2021.

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Monday, February 01, 2021

Only one of us was meant to escape: BAD HABITS.

Bad HabitsBad Habits by Amy Gentry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Claire "Mac" Woods is now a well-respected professor in academia--making her the person she's always dreamed of becoming. But ten years ago, she was just Mac. A poor student at university: part of The Project, with her best friend Gwen Whitney. When Gwen moved to Mac's hometown, her life changed. Through the lens of Gwen's wealthy life, Mac saw another future for herself than one with an addict mom; a sick sister; and a deadbeat dad. But while part of The Project, Gwen and Mac are sucked into the power dynamics of a married professor couple, with disastrous consequences. Meeting by accident a decade later, the two are hashing things out--but will uncovering long buried secrets do anyone any good?

This was a well-done and suspenseful book, but it took me a while to get into it for some reason. Mostly by design, the characters are incredibly unlikable and nearly impossible to feel any attachment for. Even Mac, our supposed protagonist, has her irritating and questionable moments. I think of this book as dark and twisted people doing dark and twisted things. But, there's some delight in that, sometimes, right? Because Gentry gives us really twisted people and what happens can be really dark.

If you're someone who came up in academia, this book will really hit home, as most of our characters' motivations center around getting ahead in that world. Mac envies Gwen and her "easy" life more than anything. And the two professors? Well, I'm not sure I can even *explain* them without giving away any spoilers. Let's just say it's a cutthroat world out there.

There are certainly some twists here--more at the end, where things pick up. There's an "event" that we know happened, and we don't really find out what transpired until near the book's conclusions. At times this is suspenseful; at others, frustrating. Is the power grab that's happening really worth it all? Only our characters can truly say, I suppose.

Overall, this a dark and sometimes slow-moving novel, but it has its share of surprises. It will be especially intriguing if you love academia-themed novels and power-grabbing characters. 3 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in return for an unbiased review. It is available 2/2/2021.

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