Thursday, April 29, 2021

Like a whisper inside me each and every day: THE ROOMMATE.

The RoommateThe Roommate by Rosie Danan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fun, sexy romance

Clara Wheaton comes from a wealthy family--the well-to-do Wheatons are infamous for many things, but socialite Clara has made a life around pleasing her parents and doing everything just right. But she's breaking out of the mold for the first time: heading across the country to move in (as a roommate) with her longtime childhood crush, Everett. But when Everett picks Clara up at the airport, he breaks the news that he's leaving to tour with his band, and she'll be living with a stranger, Josh. Josh seems friendly enough, but uppity Clara has no intentions of sharing a place with someone she doesn't know. When she researches him on the Internet, she makes a startling discovery about his profession. Clara realizes any association with Josh may turn her into another Wheaton scandal. But the more she gets to know him, she realizes Josh is more than his job. And he has a lot to say about women and sexuality and the power of women deserving better sex.

"Somewhere in her bloodline, a Wheaton had crossed Fate, cursing his descendants to pay the price. That was the only explanation for why, the one and only time Clara had taken a leap of faith, she'd landed with a spectacular belly flop."

THE ROOMMATE was one of those books that seemed to be everywhere for a while. I think if it hadn't been quite so hyped, I would have enjoyed it more. I liked it, but did not love it. Josh and Clara are a good couple, but didn't have that irresistible chemistry and witty banter that takes a romance to the next level.

Clara was too worried about the impression she made on everyone--Josh, her family, strangers, etc. I get that she came from a well-known family, but the fact that she dodged her mom's phone calls for weeks because she was too afraid to tell her she wasn't living with Everett was a bit much. But I could relate to a lot of Clara, and I appreciated her growth process. Josh was an interesting character and certainly not typical of what you see in a lot of romances. Neither seemed fully developed to me, though, and perhaps that's why it was hard to fully root for them.

Still, this is a cute and sexy book. It's a fast read and I enjoyed its push for female sexual empowerment. I'll definitely pick up the next book in the series. 3 stars.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Other days, it feels like madness: SLINGSHOT.

SlingshotSlingshot by Mercedes Helnwein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An honest and emotional YA read

Grace Welles is fifteen, trapped at a third-rate boarding school in Florida, and pretty much resigned to a lonely and miserable life. Her father has another (real) family in California, sneaking away to occasionally remember that Grace and her beautiful, flighty mother exist. Grace has no friends. But one day she helps a fellow student, Wade, who is being attacked by a group of popular boys. The two form a strange friendship that eventually blossoms into more. Suddenly, life has meaning. But with this meaning, comes feelings, and the realization that there may be more to Wade than his kind and cool exterior.

I've been sitting on this review, because I honestly cannot tell if this book was amazing or terrible. I know, I know--how is that possible? Helnwein has written something very different here, in many ways: a raw, awkward story that often makes you cringe and want to look away. She spares no detail (or language) when covering Gracie's forays into friendship, drinking, and sex. You forget she's fifteen/sixteen, which is probably what makes it so hard, at times. Yes, she's alone at boarding school, but still? Is this what happens at boarding school? Perhaps that's my problem with all boarding school tales. (At least no one gets murdered.) It's a paradox. Grace falls in love with her biology teacher, which seems sweetly realistic. But when he rejects her, she curses him, destroys his property, and more--is this truly allowed, even at a third rate school? Every thing is excused as "needing the tuition money." Not so realistic.

If you're able to overlook the terrifying behavior of these young students (perhaps made all the more frightening to me, as the mother of young daughters, one of whom is actually named Grace), there are some poignant moments here. Helnwein really does capture the beauty and absolute fear of falling in love for the first time, and Grace and Wade's relationship is pretty magical. The self-centeredness of adolescence--how the world revolves around nothing else. Much of Grace's coming of age is realizing that a great big world exists beyond her. But it's tender and sweet watching her fall. There are some cute friendships too.

At many times, this is a funny and heartbreaking book. There are a lot of serious topics hidden between the craziness. Gracie and Wade are truly lovely characters, and I cared for both of them deeply. I think I was just thrown by some of the characters acting/speaking older than their age and the fact that the book truly tells it how it is, right in your face. It takes a bit of an adjustment. I'm not sure this book is for everyone, but there's a tenderness and beauty to it, and I think many teens would enjoy it. 3 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and St. Martin's Press / Wednesday Books in return for an unbiased review. Look for Slingshot on 4/27/2021!

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Monday, April 19, 2021

M, A to Z Challenge: MORE THAN WORDS.

More Than WordsMore Than Words by Jill Santopolo
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This is the thirteenth 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!

Nina Gregory has always been a loyal daughter. After her mother's death, she was raised by her father, the owner of the Gregory Hotels, a renowned chain in New York City. She knows she will take over the family business someday. And her father has always taught her that family (and reputation) come before everything. But when Nina's father dies, she finds herself adrift. Not even her boyfriend, Tim, whom she's been raised with since childhood (his parents work with her father) can provide comfort. When Nina finds out something about her father that causes her to question everything, she finds herself turning to her boss, mayoral candidate Rafael. Nina's always been cautious and proper. But now, she's not so sure what to believe.

"Not only was she going to lose her father, she was going to lose the life she'd imagined for herself. The future she'd expected would be hers."

This was a good read about love, loss, and politics. I think parts of it might have annoyed me more, but I read it at a good time. Nina honestly came across as self-centered at moments, but she was certainly going through a lot, trying to find herself in the wake of her father's death. With her family legacy, she was under a lot of pressure. The book did a good job of capturing grief and loss. I also really liked Rafael--he was a character I could root for. The story seemed to meander a little and could be heartbreaking, but it was a book centered around death, after all.

Overall, I enjoyed this one. It's sad, but hopeful too. A good read if you go in with the right mindset. 3.5 stars.

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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Don't be afraid of the fire: THE WEDDING PARTY.

The Wedding Party (The Wedding Date, #3)The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A hate to love romance that's heavy on the hate

Maddie and Theo are both close with Alexa. Maddie's her best friend and Theo is her best work bud. But they hate each other, ever since a terrible interaction that left them both offended. But when the two meet again at Theo's birthday party, they somehow wind up kissing and feel an undeniable spark. And with Alexa getting married--and Maddie and Theo the two main members of her bridal party--they are stuck together for awhile. So they agree to hook up (and hook up only) for the duration of the wedding preparations. No falling in love allowed. Right?

So this was a cute and fun entry in the series, per usual, but I did not care for Maddie and Theo as much as some of the other couples. There was not as strong as a supporting cast, either, though Alexa had some good moments. I think I cared for Maddie and Theo as individuals, ironically, but together, they just didn't get me as romantically invested. For one thing, Maddie and Theo were mean to each other! Really mean. This was haters to lovers with a lot of hate, like cringe-worthy hate, at times, and I didn't find that funny or sexy. So between the copious amounts of mean, plus secret romance hidden from your *best friend*--I was a little tense. I needed more happy go lucky romance!

Overall, this was a light and fluffy romance, but I had a hard time always rooting for the couple, and sometimes Maddie and Theo just didn't seem right for each other. I was mostly smiling by the end, but I didn't always enjoy the ride. 3 stars.

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Thursday, April 15, 2021

That place where you can't remember: EVERY WAKING HOUR.

Every Waking Hour (Ellery Hathaway, #4)Every Waking Hour by Joanna Schaffhausen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another thrilling entry in the Ellery & Reed series

Ellery Hathaway is trying to have a normal life. She's attempting to become a police detective in Boston. She's even trying to have a relationship with Reed Markham. But then Chloe Lockhart, a twelve-year-old girl, goes missing, and the case threatens everything Ellery has tried to build. Ellery has many scars--physical and emotional--from her own kidnapping. Is sending a former kidnapped child out to find another the right thing to do? Every moment that Chloe is missing reminds Ellery of her past--and how much she wants, needs, to find Chloe.

I just love the Ellery and Reed series so very much. Book number four is yet another excellent entry. There are two parallel case running, and both keep your attention. I love the tension between Reed and Ellery and how well so many present-day cases can tie back to Ellery's past. She's damaged, yes, but so strong. This is a compelling read, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you reading. And, the epilogue, oh my gosh! What a cliffhanger!

I cannot recommend this entire series enough! 4 stars, and I cannot wait for book #5.

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

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Will the words be there or will they fail me: THE GOOD SISTER.

The Good SisterThe Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

A predictable yet oddly thrilling read

Fern and Rose are extremely close sisters and incredibly dependent on one other. Rose has always been the responsible one and Fern, with her sensory-processing issues, the one people look at a bit oddly. Their mother was abusive, scarring Rose, who saw through to her true nature. Fern, who always looks to the good side of people, remembers her more fondly. But Rose has always protected her sister, especially since, as children, Fern did something horrible. Rose has faithfully kept her sister's secret, even though both girls wonder if it made Fern a terrible person. Now Rose and her husband are having trouble conceiving. Fern realizes she could finally do something for Rose: give her a child. However, Rose worries that Fern could make some disastrous choices if pregnant, just as she did so many years ago.

"Most people think of me as Fern's protector. But the truth is, in her own funny way, she's always been mine."

This is an excellent book in terms of the page-turner element. I was madly flipping the pages. It is especially remarkable because the story was actually fairly predictable. I kept waiting for some big twist, but I felt the plot was pretty well telegraphed from the beginning.

What kept me spellbound was the characters, particularly Fern. There was just something about her--you couldn't help but become attached. The cast here is small: the sisters, Rose's husband, Fern's acquaintance Wally, but they are quite well-drawn. Hepworth does a fantastic job with the two sisters, both depicting their childhood and then their current state, as Fern becomes determined to do something for Rose, her long-time protector, and Rose struggles with what Fern's choice means.

It's best to go into this one blind. To me, the story felt pretty straightforward and nothing really surprising happened, but it was still well-written and exciting. Yes, I would have loved a great twist or two to push this thriller from good into great territory. I still think it's worth a read, though, especially if you don't read a ton of mysteries and are more likely to be surprised. The relationship and dynamic between Fern and Rose is really worth a read by itself. 3 stars.

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

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Friday, April 09, 2021

L, A to Z Challenge: LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS.

Love, Hate & Other FiltersLove, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

A lovely teen read that delves into deep topics

This is the twelfth 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!

Maya Aziz feels like she lives two lives. In one, she's the dutiful daughter to her Indian Muslim parents: attending college near home, marrying a suitable Muslim boy, and becoming a lawyer. In the other, she goes to school in New York City to become a filmmaker and falls in love with whomever she wants--maybe even Phil, the boy she's loved forever. And in Maya's real world, horrible things happen, often hate crime motivated, that can turn her world upside down.

This is such a beautiful book, and I completely fell in love with Maya and her voice. As the child of the only Indian Muslim family in her small suburban Chicago town, she's always felt different. She dreams of making films, not conforming the way her parents desire. But she also wants to please them. And she's scared, as she deals with all the terrible bigotry and Islamophobia that her family faces.

Ahmed writes so lyrically, weaving her story about Maya finding her way in the world, while still painting a stark and timely picture of racism. It's a bit of a love story, yes, but also one of discovering yourself and finding strength in yourself and the people around you. Maya and Phil's relationship is sweet, and it's so easy to root for her on all levels.

I found this to be a profound read. In many ways, it's simply about a teenager trying to stand up for herself, but it also speaks deeply about Islamophobia. It's often sad, but it's quite hopeful too. I found myself tearing up a bit while reading. Definitely worth a read. 4.5 stars.

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I've been tossed around enough: GOOD COMPANY.

Good CompanyGood Company by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well-written albeit slow going look at marriage and motherhood

Flora Mancini has been happily married for twenty years. But that foundation crumbles when she finds her husband's wedding ring--the one he claimed he lost when their daughter was five--in the back of a drawer. Now she wonders what exactly Julian has kept hidden from her all these years. Is their whole marriage, their whole life, based on a lie?

This is such a hard book to review, because I loved Sweeney's THE NEST so very much. And GOOD COMPANY, while a nice book, is just not THE NEST. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad book, it just did not move me as much as THE NEST.

GOOD COMPANY offers a thoughtful look into marriage and relationships. It's one of those interesting novels where it feels like not much happens, yet it truly covers the span of an entire relationship--a whole marriage. But there is a lot of ruminating, a lot of speculation, and a lot of angst. It's a very New York sort of book, even if Flora and Julian move to Los Angeles when their daughter, Ruby, is young.

This book is well-written, of course. Sweeney is a wonderful writer. It switches between time periods (the present, and going back in Flora and Julian's relationship) and various points of view, which include Flora, Julian, Ruby, and Flora's best friend, famous actress Margot Ledder. I probably felt the most for Ruby--it's hard to really sympathize much for the adults here. And this is a very "theater" book, with Flora, Julian, and Margot all being in the business. If that's not your thing (it's not mine), it's a little harder to feel engaged in some of the story.

Overall, this is an interesting read, but it can be slow going at times and hard to feel engaged with all the characters. If you like introspective, character-driven reads or you're a theater geek, GOOD COMPANY may be for you. 3 stars.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2021

The price you pay for love: YOU LOVE ME.

You Love Me (You, #3)You Love Me by Caroline Kepnes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A creepy but long-winded entry in the YOU series

Joe Goldberg has resolved to be a good guy. No more obsessions, no more killing to get what he wants. He's moving to the Pacific Northwest, he's going to work in a library (he has some experience with books, after all), and he's reformed. It's at the library where he meets her. Mary Kay DiMarco. A librarian. Beautiful, older. She's also a mother. She's busy and distracted. But Joe knows true love will prevail, because he's doing things the right way. With his undying love and friendship, Mary Kay will have no choice but to fall for him.

"And of course you couldn't help it. After all, you love me."

I was incredibly excited to hear there would be a third "Joe" book, because I can still remember reading the first, YOU. I was alone on a mini-vacation and spent the entire thing creeped out, feeling watched, thanks to how good Kepnes is at writing Joe and his obsessiveness. The good thing about YOU LOVE ME is that she still captures Joe's voice perfectly. He's just... Joe. Obsessed. Weird. Witty. Over the top.

(Stop reading if you don't want to know what happened in the first two books.)

In YOU LOVE ME, Joe is fleeing Love--not the concept, but the actual person, from book two. After his encounters with her, he's ready to be on the straight and narrow. He realizes he has no more chances, no more "get out of jail free" cards. Starting over in the Pacific Northwest is it.

So, while Joe is still his usual creepy self, he's slightly diminished. We don't get full-on stalk/kill Joe, and it's a little disappointing. I'm not going to lie: I want Joe to triumph over others. I like when Joe wins. And, sadly, I found myself not wanting to go back and pick this book up after I started it. I was so bummed! It was long, meandering, and all the twists seemed either odd and too convenient or just really strange. It dragged on, lacking the ominous tension of YOU.

I still rooted for Joe, of course. That's the talent Kepnes brings, making us cheer on the bad guy. But there was less "Joe versus evil" than "Joe versus annoying" in this read. Of course we wanted Joe to win--his foes were downright irritating.

Overall, this book still captures Joe's voice really well, but the actual story seems lacking. It's long and couldn't keep my full interest. Now, if there's a book four, will I still read it? Sure. 2.5 stars, rounded to 3 here, because there's always something about Joe.

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

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Monday, April 05, 2021

The world has stood against us, made us mean to fight for you: MOTHER MAY I.

Mother May IMother May I by Joshilyn Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A riveting and addictive thriller about the power of motherhood

Bree Cabbat wakes up in the middle night, convinced a witch was peering into her bedroom window. Surely it was just a dream, she thinks, trying to get over the bad feeling the dream leaves behind. But the next day she sees the witch again--a haggard old woman--at the private school her daughters attend. Minutes later, Bree's infant son, Robert, vanishes, stolen from his car seat while she watches her oldest daughter rehearse. There's a note left behind, and Bree is told she cannot go to the police or fail to the follow instructions whatsoever. A woman contacts Bree, and Bree learns the old woman is a mother herself. She has a task for Bree; Bree agrees to do it, for she would do anything to get her son back. But completing that request sets off a series of events that Bree could have never foreseen, unleashing buried secrets and disastrous consequences. And in the end, it comes down to this: how far will two mothers go to protect their children?

"I felt more than I thought, Something bad is coming for us."

Wow, MOTHER MAY I was an excellent thriller! I was sucked in from the beginning, and this riveting page-turner never let me go. It was surprisingly captivating and so suspenseful--Bree's son Robert is taken nearly immediately, and the rest of the book revolves around her frantically trying to get him back. As she does, she learns more about the woman who stole him. The relationship the two form over the phone is fascinating. Bree is one tough cookie, as is her friend from college, Marshall, a PI at her husband's law firm.

"If you ever want to see your baby again, GO HOME"

Bree was once a poor kid, raised by a fearful mother in rural Georgia, but she's now a wealthy wife and mother, having married an attorney with family money and connections. She's worked hard to push off her mom's fears and wariness and feels like that her picture perfect life has proved her right. But with Robert's kidnapping, she starts to wonder if her mom was justified all along. The novel deftly explores the theme of class. It offers some wonderful messages on the power of motherhood--no matter how wealthy you may be. It certainly makes you think: what would you do in Bree's situation? And the old woman's?

Perhaps not everything in this tale is plausible, but I could have cared less. I was here for all of it! It was incredibly suspenseful and twisty, with information oozing out and surprising you at every turn. I truly couldn't put it down. This is definitely a winning thriller in my book! 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley (via Scene of the Crime) and William Morrow/Custom House in return for an unbiased review. It releases on 4/6/2021.

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