Monday, May 31, 2021

These days have made a change in me: TROUBLE GIRLS.

Trouble GirlsTrouble Girls by Julia Lynn Rubin
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

A queer Thelma & Louise that doesn't live up to its potential

High school best friends Trixie and Lux are headed for a much-needed weekend getaway. Trixie needs to forget about her depressing waitress job, where all the men are "hogs" and her sick mom, and Lux needs to escape her overbearing dad. But a horrific night of violence changes everything and Trixie and Lux find themselves fugitives, running away from their tiny West Virginia town and everything they've ever known. Before they know it, they are wanted by the police, their faces splashed across social media. The girls are scared and horrified--on an unplanned road trip where the only thing they can count on is each other.

The premise of this book sounded amazing -- a queer "Thelma & Louise." Unfortunately, it all fell apart for me. Rather than being a #MeToo rallying cry, this was a depressing and stressful read, featuring two teens who make a bunch of stupid and ill-fated decisions.

I definitely understand the overall idea for TROUBLE GIRLS and even why Trixie and Lux run, afraid that no one will believe their story. But the choices they make along the way--spending their money on junk, not trusting each other, stealing and lying... and everything else. It's maddening. They do not act like two smart girls on the run, but two idiots who do not believe in one another. Trixie's infatuation with Lux clouds everything, and Lux comes across as this adored princess with no real personality of her own.

We're (eventually) told a bit of Trixie's backstory, including why we have to read the word "hog" in what feels like every other darn sentence, but the character development here is severely lacking. Trixie has a sick mom and a dark secret. Lux... likes makeup and her camera? I think this story would have would worked so much more if we knew how and why these two teens ticked. Why, exactly, was Trixie so in love with Lux? How exactly did Lux feel back? There's a weird switch that turns at some point in the book, and it made no sense to me. If you're going to give me a queer story, give me queer characters who truly feel for one another and whose love is based in reality.

Trixie and Lux's story is supposed to have a #MeToo angle to it, and it does, in some ways, but this was not a #MeToo anthem to me. It's two girls running away, trying to figure out maps on the back roads, and making poor decisions as they flee what they've done. While, again, I understand why they run, the story I wanted to read was Trixie and Lux returning to Blue Bottle and fighting along side the Intersectional Feminist Union and the other women they supposedly "rally" with a few misplaced social media posts. It was these women and Judy, Trixie's co-worker back home, whose life I wanted to know about--I would have enjoyed that book much more!

Overall, this book can tug at your heart strings, but also frustrate you to no end. There was much to its overall premise, but most of it did not work for me. 2.5 stars (Trigger warning: sexual assault, rape)

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin's Press / Wednesday Books and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. Look for TROUBLE GIRLS on 6/1/2021!

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Friday, May 28, 2021

W, A to Z Challenge: WHAT COULD BE SAVED.

What Could Be SavedWhat Could Be Saved by Liese O'Halloran Schwarz
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

A lyrical and fascinating look at the pull of family

This is the twenty-third 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!

Much of Laura Preston's life has been defined by the disappearance of her brother, Philip, when they were children. The family lived in Bangkok in the 1970s for her father's work. While there, Philip went to judo class--and never returned. His loss tore their family apart. When a stranger contacts Laura, claiming to have information about Philip, she defies her older sister's wishes and flies to Thailand to see if this is indeed true. Laura knows that this is what their mom, Genevieve, now suffering from dementia, would want.

This was a fascinating, atmospheric book that pulled me in immediately. It's beautifully, lyrically written. The story is told in the present day, with Laura's perspective as a somewhat struggling painter in Washington, DC and then flashing back to Bangkok in the 1970s, with Genevieve's story and even Philip's. It's utterly compelling, weaving both a mystery yet also a character-driven tale.

Schwarz offers such unique and well-done characters. Not just the Preston family, but also their servants in Bangkok, including Noi, who accompanies the family back to America. There's Robert Preston, the family patriarch, who has a mysterious career, and his boss, who pulls Genevieve into his orbit. There's Genevieve, who tries to mimic the life her children might have in the United States--and then basically abandons the role of mother once Philip disappears. Bea, who tries to be a strong big sister for Laura. And Laura, who struggles as the youngest and sometimes forgotten child in the wake of her brother's disappearance.

Each Preston--and those in their orbit--is well-written and flawed. They seem real and true. Schwarz's writing is thoughtful and excellent and everyone comes to life as you read. Her descriptions of Bangkok and Thailand are excellent as well.

I was totally immersed in this tale, wondering what had happened to Philip; in many ways, this is a heartbreaking tale. It's a beautiful look at family and what it means. Schwarz's story makes you think and allows you insight into the Preston family's world. It's illuminating and lovely. Certainly worth the read. 4.5 stars.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2021


Ramona the PestRamona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read RAMONA THE PEST with my eight-year-old daughters. We had such fun with this one, and wow, the story really holds up over time. They were totally into it, laughing and engaged throughout the entire book. The actual physical copy we read was mine, given to me by my Dad in 1987, and I loved that I could share it with them now.

Ramona--what can I say? A timeless character. The girls adored her, and I fell in love with her all over again. Cleary has such an amazing knack for writing children and capturing their true essence. Reading it again as a parent I was truly blown away by how well she could write from a child's perspective. Grace and Zoe loved Ramona's antics, and we are already on to the next book.

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Pip Bartlett's Guide to Sea Monsters (Pip Bartlett, #3)Pip Bartlett's Guide to Sea Monsters by Jackson Pearce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the third entry in the Pip Bartlett series. My eight-year-old daughters loved the entire series and spunky Pip! This book was just as loved as the previous two. Despite all those pesky sea monsters, it made us all want to be at the beach with Pip and Tomas--and maybe even Callie and the triplets! The girls absolutely loved all the amazing magical creatures Maggie and Jackson come up with, especially the spinnerseals!

This series is so wonderful for kids with imaginations and who love animals. It always inspires my girls to come up with their own magical creatures. I love how Pip works to solve her own problems, keeps a positive attitude and open mind, and is always a friend to everyone. These are excellent books!

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Monday, May 24, 2021

Be of good heart evermore: HANG THE MOON

Hang the Moon: A NovelHang the Moon: A Novel by Alexandria Bellefleur
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A hopeful and winning romance

This companion to WRITTEN IN THE STARS focuses on Darcy's brother Brendon, creator of the dating app OTP and a hopeless romantic. Brendon feels stressed out when the latest research numbers show that perhaps not everyone using dating apps believes as deeply in true love as he does. This includes, Annie, Darcy's best friend and Brendon's long ago crush. Annie arrives in Seattle to surprise Darcy, who just happens to be on a little getaway with her girlfriend, Elle. So Brendon steps up, delivering the keys to Darcy's place and... a series of dates designed to show Annie romance still exists. As for Annie, well she doesn't protest too much. After all, despite swearing off love, she discovers that Darcy's brother has grown up into a pretty handsome and funny guy. She's enjoying their time together. But she's only in Seattle for a few weeks, so Brendon has his work cut out for him.

"You couldn't be disappointed when someone stopped caring if you never expected them to in the first place."

I really enjoyed WRITTEN IN THE STARS and Darcy and Elle's story, so I was excited to read the next book in the series. I liked Brendon's tale, but not quite as much as Darcy and Elle's, mostly because I'm from the LGBTQIA community, and it was so refreshing to have a f/f story in Darcy and Elle. Still, Brendon is such a cutie, and his unyielding faith in love is pretty sweet.

Annie is a good addition to the group--she shows up a bit in book one. She is, of course, the complete opposite of Brendon: completely apathetic about love. But when she arrives in Seattle for a two-week vacation, with some life-changing news for Darcy, and her best friend isn't there, she can't help but enjoy her time with Brendon. Brendon resolves to use his favorite romantic films as a blueprint to woo Annie, but it turns into a comedy of errors, with nothing really turning out the way he planned.

"'Let's say that I needed to prove to someone that romance isn't dead.'"

Many of their interactions are humorous and the banter witty and funny, though I felt the "optimist" versus "pessimist," "will she stay or will she go" storyline was rehashed a bit much, as the plot gets hung up and stagnates for a bit until things pick up again. But, Brendon's sweet personality and Annie's willingness to give new things a try carry the book, along with its overall humor. It's nice to get some appearances from Darcy and Elle, though it severely lacks enough Margo (thank goodness she's the focus of book three).

Overall, this is a cute romance featuring winning leads. It's repetitive in places, but also flirty and fun. 3.5 stars, rounded up here.

I received a copy of this book from Avon / Harper Voyager and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. Look for HANG THE MOON on 5/25/2021!

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Friday, May 21, 2021

In your spiral down from grace: MADAM.

MadamMadam by Phoebe Wynne
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

A gothic boarding school tale that falls flat

Rose Christie is nervous but excited when she's hired on as the new Head of Classics at Caldonbrae Hall, a boarding school for girls in Scotland. A renowned establishment for 150 years, Caldonbrae is a far step above Rose's current teaching gig and will offer a chance to help her mother, who is struggling with MS. Rose is the first external hire in over a decade, making her an immediate outsider, along with her youthful age. She quickly feels over her head at Caldonbrae, where the teachers and students alike seem to lord over her. But soon Rose realizes that everyone seems to be on to a secret, except her. Why did the last Classics teacher, Jane, leave so suddenly? As Rose learns more about Caldonbrae, she quickly realizes it is nothing like she expected.

"One way or another someone was going to get eaten alive here, Rose realized. She'd be damned if it was her."

I'm a sucker for boarding school stories, but this one did not live up to the promised hype for me. It grew on me a small bit by the end, but when I say this is a slow burning tale, I mean SLOW. I was incredibly tempted to "DNF" this book, but stuck with it, skimming or fast reading portions of it. The big twist, so to speak, doesn't come until halfway through (55% in fact). At that point, we have sat through lots of classics lessons and pontificating about Caldonbrae and gotten to know a lot of girls at the school.

Although, "getting to know" is probably generous, as there's a lack of character development throughout most of MADAM. There are a variety of girls at Caldonbrae thrust upon us, but I found it nearly impossible to keep many of them straight. (It doesn't help that the UK version of schooling is hard to follow, with thirds, fourths, and more tossed about, but rarely ages. Woe to us idiotic Americans!)

We know little about Rose, are offered a scarce backstory, and pieces about her father that are supposed to form her personality seem tossed in haphazardly. Instead she drove me crazy with her dithering and inability to make decisions. Most of the time I just wanted to shake her. She was in an impossible situation, perhaps, but she seemed unable to grasp anything for much of the book, or realize the seriousness of her circumstances.

I think MADAM was going for ominous and creepy--everything building up to its explosive ending (which is hinted at in the beginning pages), but it falls short. Instead, it seems more annoying and perplexing. When the twist is revealed, it's an interesting one, yes, but I couldn't help but question it, wonder how such a thing could be sustainable. MADAM just couldn't keep up the eerie tone it was trying for.

There's definite storytelling potential here, and I did find myself somewhat attached to a few of the girls by the end, when things pick up slightly. MADAM tries to align the classics (think tales of Medea and Antigone and such) with its boarding school girls, but often the tacked on tales of these mythical and classical women feel like unnecessary, added on pieces. It reaches too high, trying for a feminist angle, but falls short, with a fast ending that cannot possibly live up to all those classical, high-reaching aims.

"...she wondered how an establishment that promised to educate 'girls of the world' could somehow make its women feel so small."

Overall, there's a lot going on in MADAM, but it just didn't gel for me. I couldn't root for Rose for most of the novel, and the classic pieces inserted into the plot didn't work. There were sparks I enjoyed, but overall, this wasn't a favorite. 2.5 stars.

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

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Thursday, May 20, 2021

BLOG TOUR!! And once in a while, you feel close enough to touch: PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION.

People We Meet on VacationPeople We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So excited to be part of the Blog Tour for this wonderful intense and emotional romance!!

Poppy has her dream job, working at one of the top travel magazines. She has a nice apartment and a good friend in New York. But she's not happy. She knows clearly when she last was: two years ago, on a trip with Alex Nilsen. Poppy and Alex have been best friends since college. This despite the fact that they are very different and spend most of the year apart. She works in New York City. He teaches in their small hometown. But every summer, they reunite for one amazing week-long vacation. Until two years ago, when they ruined everything and stopped speaking. Poppy knows she needs to get back to that happiness she shared with Alex. So she plans one more trip. She has one week to repair her friendship with Alex and to make everything right. No big deal, right?

"On vacation, you can be anyone you want. Like a good book or an incredible outfit, being on vacation transports you into another version of yourself."

Like most people, I adored Emily Henry's book BEACH READ and was quite excited to read PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION. She's back with another unique romance. I'm not sure I enjoyed this one quite as much as BEACH READ, but I still loved it. This book is intense and emotional yet hilarious at times. A section on Poppy helping Alex rework his Tinder profile had me actually laughing out loud.

"I know right away when when I was last truly happy. Two years ago, in Croatia, with Alex Nilsen. But there's no finding my way back to that, because we haven't spoken since."

VACATION has a small cast of characters, which means the spotlight is focused on Alex and Poppy throughout. It's incredibly easy to get swept up in their story. I flew through this book in a day (on vacation, ironically). It goes back and forth in time, with some chapters revolving around "this summer," which tells us about Poppy's trip and her attempt to save her friendship with Alex. Past chapters look at other summers and their other trips. We know something happened on their Croatia vacation, but don't find out until we get to that chapter. That melodrama was a bit much for the actual "big" reveal, but that was my only major issue with the book.

This is a slow burn, with Poppy and Alex's story unfurling in bits and pieces, thanks to the back-in time-format. However, it was incredibly effortless to become lost in the plot and become part of this book. Henry is an amazing storyteller, and I felt like I was a piece of Alex and Poppy's journey and their trips. I was invested in their friendship from the start. Henry's romances are different, but the lust, passion, and intensity just ooze from the pages nonetheless.

Overall, this is a different and intense story. Our main characters are complete opposites, and it's fun being a part of their journey. 4 stars.

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

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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

BLOG TOUR!! Beat down broken up and bruised: LOCAL WOMAN MISSING.

Local Woman MissingLocal Woman Missing by Mary Kubica
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm so excited to be a part of the blog tour for this dark, frantic page-turner of a thriller

First Shelby Tebow goes missing. A new mom, Shelby's husband is quickly suspected in her disappearance. Then Meredith Dickey and her young daughter, Delilah--who live just blocks from Shelby--vanish. The rest of the neighborhood, including couple Bea and Kate, are terrified. Are the cases related? An investigation is launched, with few results. Then, eleven years later, Delilah is found, bringing back memories of all the incidents, especially for her father Josh and brother Leo. Everyone wants answers, but Delilah is too traumatized to provide them. Besides, the secrets unearthed with Delilah's return may be too much for everyone.

"I don't know how old I am. I don't know how long they've been keeping me here."

This was a captivating page-turner that I read in three breathless sittings. It's undeniably compelling and sucks you in from the beginning. It starts with Delilah's point of view, shocking and terrifying, and sort of never lets you go. Her voice and story are hard to forget. Among other narrators, we hear from Meredith, eleven years ago, and then Kate and Leo in the present. Working out how the various families and characters are interconnected is part of the challenge and honestly, I was truly shocked at various points in the story. How exactly these missing women and Delilah are tied together is incredibly dark and twisty.

I was completely into this book for most of the story and thought I was looking at 4.5+ star read. It started to dissolve a bit at the end, as things (including some characters) went a little crazy. Still, some of the twists were truly awesome and breathtaking. I think--in that way--this is one of Kubica's best in a while.

Overall, this is an addictive thriller filled with some truly shocking plot twists. It keeps you guessing the entire time, and its complex and layered plot is different and exciting. 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from Harlequin / Park Row in return for an unbiased review. It's out as of 5/18/2021!

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Monday, May 17, 2021

Wanna get back to the simple things with you: THE SOULMATE EQUATION.

The Soulmate EquationThe Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

A witty & wonderful romance!!

Jess Davis is a single mom who loves crunching numbers almost as much as she loves her daughter Juno and her grandparents. They are her entire world and honestly, she doesn't have a lot of desire to step back into the dating world. It's just so much work. Then Jess and her best friend, Fizzy, hear about GenticAlly, a new dating site that predicts love through your DNA. Matchmaking through genetics and numbers? Jess could get behind that. But it's not until she's had a particularly bad, lonely day that she agrees to send in a sample. Suddenly she finds out she's matched with GeneticAlly's founder, Dr. River Pena at an unheard sky-high percentage of 98% compatibility. However, Jess is immediately skeptical because she knows River. And he's a pompous jerk. But River and GeneticAlly have a proposition for Jess. Go out with River, get to know him, and they'll pay her for her time. For struggling Jess, this is something she has to consider. As the two go to dinner and do press for GeneticAlly, Jess starts to see a different side of River--one that makes her wonder if there's something to this DNA matching idea after all.

"Her life, which essentially existed in a four-block radius, was exceedingly manageable as it was."

Oh this book was so good!! I love Christina Lauren's books, and I was already intrigued by the idea of a DNA matchmaking book. Well, THE SOULMATE EQUATION did not disappoint! It's sweet and funny and interesting--I loved it!

SOULMATE has wonderful banter--that patented CLo banter--between River and Jess, but also Jess and Fizzy. Jess is a statistician and Fizzy a romance writer and they spend many of their days in a coffee shop, "working." Their friendship is next level good and freaking hilarious. Honestly, it's one of the best parts of the book. So is Jess' relationship with her grandparents, who basically raised her after her mom, who struggled with addiction, left. And then there's Juno, the cute precocious kid, who shows up asking funny questions and making you chuckle. The cast of characters is top notch, for sure. I loved how well Jess' family was woven into the story.

As for River and Jess, their chemistry is superb. They start off on the wrong foot, with River coming across as a jerk, but it's not anything too terrible, which is good, because I can't handle the "hate to love" scenarios when the "hate" seems impossible for anyone to actually overcome. Instead, River is a nuanced character with his own backstory and personality. He's consumed by the science of relationships but too busy being a genius doctor workaholic to have one. And sweet Jess, you can't help but root for her: the tired mom who lacks the energy to even try to date anymore. There's lots of science and numbers, but nothing crazy for us non-mathematicians, and honestly, the genetics aspect is pretty fascinating. (Is this really possible, world?) I saw a bit of the big twist plot point coming, but it in no way diminished my enjoyment of the story.

Overall, this was a great read. Funny, witty, and heartfelt. Great couple with awesome chemistry. Wonderful cast of characters (Fizzy needs her own book!). The entire book made me smile--definitely recommend! 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Gallery Books and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. Look for it on 5/18/2021!

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Friday, May 14, 2021

I hope the world is kinder than it seems to be right now: THAT SUMMER.

That SummerThat Summer by Jennifer Weiner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A touching and insightful look into the power of the past

On the surface, Daisy Shoemaker has the perfect life: a doting lawyer husband, a loving daughter, and her own cooking business. But underneath, she's full of doubts. Her husband is distant, her teenage daughter resentful, and her business--just something to keep her "occupied." Daisy's been receiving emails lately, meant for another woman named Diana, Daisy's given name. This Diana, a business consultant, seems glamorous and wealthy. When Diana invites Daisy to lunch, she impulsively says yes. But as the two form a friendship, Daisy starts to wonder if their connection was purely accidental. What exactly does Diana want from Daisy?

"For the last six months, Daisy had been receiving emails that she realized were intended not for her, but for the other Diana."

This is not a light and airy beach read, but a serious book that focuses in on the recent #MeToo topic. Much of the book doesn't even take place on the promised Cape setting. Does that mean it's not worth a read? Not at all. Weiner's constructed a compelling and heartfelt tale, with characters that pull you into the story. It feels a little reminiscent of some other #MeToo stories I've read recently, but I was still glued to the pages, wondering what had happened in Diana's past and how things would turn out for everyone.

There's a bit of a mystery here, but it's not too hard to figure out how everything pieces together. The real focus is the characters. We have Daisy, insecure and struggling in her marriage to Hal, a wealthy and arrogant man more than a decade older than her. It's clear Hal takes Daisy for granted--and that may be letting him off easy. Their daughter, Beatrice, was a favorite of mine: an original teen, with her own unique way of living her life. Beatrice's scenes stood out; she's a character I won't soon easily forget. We also have Daisy's brother, Danny, and his husband Jesse. And then there's the "other" Diana, who worms her way into Daisy's life. Can we trust her? Diana was a memorable character to me as well, along with someone close to her. (I don't want to say much more for spoilers.)

The book is told mainly from Daisy, Diana, and Beatrice's perspectives. It goes back and forth in time. It's a little confusing in the beginning, getting the timeline straight and how all the characters relate. Once I got that down, it was a fast read. Some of it may be a little predictable, but it's in turns sad, heartwarming, and funny. I loved Beatrice, as mentioned, and the dynamic between Daisy and Diana was well-written. Weiner does a good job of exploring how class and privilege relate to sexual assault (a definite trigger warning for rape in this story) and the repercussions of rape across individuals, families, and friends. She focuses, too, on the importance of accepting those you love for who they are, no strings attached.

Overall, I'm quite glad I picked this one up. Despite some of the vague familiarity to other #MeToo books, for the most part, it felt refreshing and interesting. It certainly held my attention and brought to light the important topic of rape and its aftermath. The characters here are well-drawn, and I'll always have a place in my heart for dear Beatrice. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Atria Books and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. THAT SUMMER releases on 5/11/2021!!

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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

All bound up in your shackles and chains: THE PLOT

The PlotThe Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A suspenseful read about the ownership of stories

Jacob Finch Bonner, the once promising author of the debut novel The Invention of Wonder, is now a struggling writer teaching at Ripley College in Vermont. At Ripley, basically anyone can attend to receive a MFA. This includes Evan Parker, a pompous jerk who declares he doesn't need Jake--or anyone's--help to make his novel a success. But when Evan actually deigns to share his plot with Jake, Jake can't help but agree. He waits for Evan's inevitable success, but it never comes. When he learns that Evan has died--without having published his book--Jake feels that his story must be told. So Jake writes it, and he is soon basking in the success he was so sure Evan would have. He's rich, famous, and touring the country on a book tour. But then he receives the first email: "You are a thief." Jake feels everything he has about to slip away. As the threats increase, Jake begins to dig into Evan's past. What he finds is horrifying--he may not be the only one who stole this story--and the consequences could be deadly.

"All Jacob Finch Bonnner had ever wanted to be was a writer."

THE PLOT starts off slowly, but then takes off, becoming a compulsively readable thriller. It's incredibly ominous and creepy and peppered with reading and writer references. If you love to read, or write, there's a whole meta layer to this book. (Not to mention, we get pieces of Jake's "stolen" novel within our novel as well.) Slowly everything untangles: Jacob's plot, Evan's life, and more.

"Evan Parker had been entirely correct: the worst writer on the planet could not mess up a plot like this."

The book builds on, year by year, as Jacob moves from his struggling writer days to a successful and famous novelist. I had an inkling of some of what happened, but enjoyed reading to see if I was right. Jake isn't exactly a sympathetic character, but he's fascinating, and the book certainly makes you think.

It's best to go into THE PLOT blind, so I don't want to reveal too much. But I stayed up late to finish it, because it's quite captivating--and different. I certainly recommend it. 4 stars.

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Monday, May 10, 2021

Take me down into your paradise: COOL FOR THE SUMMER.

Cool for the SummerCool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

A simply wonderful book about finding yourself and love

Larissa "Lara" Bogdan has had a crush on one person for her entirety of high school: Chase Harding, the handsome, beloved football quarterback. But it's not until she comes back from a summer at the Outer Banks that he seems to take real notice of Lara. Like, flirting, asking her out notice. Now, she suddenly has everything she's ever wanted. But Lara can't seem to shake her memories of that Outer Banks summer and the girl she spent it with: Jasmine. Those memories come back in full force when Jasmine unexpectedly shows up at Lara's school on the first day and sees Chase flirting with Lara. Lara finally has Chase now. So why can't she stop thinking about Jasmine?

"How do you tell people who've listened to you babble about your crush on a guy for a thousand years that whoops, you spent the summer fooling around with a girl?"

Oh goodness, this was a great book. I'm so jealous there are so many wonderful YA LGTBQIA books out there now, which I would have devoured as a teen, yet incredibly happy too. I absolutely loved Lara as a character. She's sweet and bookish (addicted to romances) and in that stage where she's finding herself and coming out. It's hard not to relate to that. Adler's characters pop onto the pages--Lara, her mother, Jasmine, and Lara's cast of funny, overbearing, and loving friends. And even Chase, who is truly a good guy. (I appreciated that it wasn't "bad guy" versus "good girl" but two good kids, with their own personalities and flaws, whom Lara had to choose from.)

The book is told in a then and now format, starting out with Lara in high school and then flashing back to her summer in the Outer Banks with Jasmine. As someone who has spent some time in the Outer Banks, I loved the beachy setting, and the book just felt fun, summery, and exciting. You could feel the thrill of Lara and Jasmine falling for each other. It's so rare that we get this in our literature, and it brought back memories of my own first love and that fun, scared, happy feeling, along with all that uncertainly of realizing you were feeling these things for another girl. Adler captures it all so perfectly.

"If I somehow got Jasmine back--if I even wanted her back--what would it mean losing when everyone else found out the truth?"

The premise for this book is fascinating and lovely. Lara suddenly has everything she wants: she has pined after Chase for THREE YEARS. She comes back from vacation with a tan, a new haircut, and a newfound confidence (which no one knows the source of) and he suddenly takes notice of her. She should be in heaven--her friends certainly think so. Faced with having to make all these monumental life decisions, to realize whom she loves, and what she is--it's a lot. The book does such an excellent job of portraying bisexuality and the journey of figuring out who who you are. It's very well done, but also funny and witty. All the characters seem real and, for the most part, true to their age.

Overall, I loved this one. It portrays the queer community very well and does an excellent job capturing teens. The story is fun, sweet, and captivating. I feel like it would speak well to teens and adults who remember that spark of falling in love. I have to go read everything else by Adler now... 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin's Press / Wednesdays Books and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. Look for COOL FOR THE SUMMER on 5/11/2021!

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Friday, May 07, 2021

V, A to Z Challenge: VALLEY OF THE DOLLS.

Valley of the DollsValley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A classic that doesn't stand the test of time

This is the twenty-second 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 classic novel had been sitting on my shelves for a while, so I decided to tackle it as a part of my challenge. I still have mixed feelings about it, even writing this review a month or so later. Honestly, this book is really depressing. The beginning was interesting, and I thought I would find it very engaging, but eventually the women became reduced to annoying drug addicts whose lives revolved around their looks and men. I wasn't sure what the message was, but it wasn't one I cared for.

VALLEY OF THE DOLLS centers on three women: Anne, a young woman from a tiny town who escapes and comes to New York City; Jennifer, a beautiful woman who parlays that beauty into an acting career; and Neely, a young woman with a lovely voice who dreams of an acting and singing career. Anne finds work at a talent agency, working for Henry Bellamy, which is how she meets Jennifer. Neely is her young neighbor. At first, all three women are poor and dreaming of a better life. Over the course of the book, their fortunes change, but they do not necessarily become happier.

I was sort of horrified if this was what life was like for the rich and famous in the 40s to the 60s. So much drinking, drugs, and partying. There was such intense focus on looks--if this book was supposed to be advanced for the era, it's certainly not now! The men came across terribly, but the women were not much better. Even if they were using their bodies for power, everything just felt icky. Anne is supposed to be the model of an independent woman, as she has her own money, but she's not... I wanted to like her, but it was hard.

Overall, while I certainly found parts of this book fascinating, I cannot say I always enjoyed it. It definitely provides great historical insight into a particular era, though. I'm glad I read it--it's always interesting to see what was a classic and why at certain times. But did I like the characters and plot? Not really. 2 stars for plot, rounded to 3 stars for historical significance. (Oh and major trigger warning for the use of the "f" word in relation to queer people. Part of the times, I realize, but it became very disconcerting after a while for me.)

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Monday, May 03, 2021

I just can't fight this anymore: THE NEWCOMER.

The NewcomerThe Newcomer by Mary Kay Andrews
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fairly cute but rather unbelievable romance/mystery

When Letty Carnahan finds her sister Tanya dead, she knows she has to flee. Tanya warned her about this--if anything happened to her, Letty was to take Tanya's four-year-old daughter, Maya, and run. Letty has no idea where to go, but Tanya's left behind one clue: a magazine article with a motel circled. She and Maya arrive at the Murmuring Surf, a little motel in Florida, exhausted. Letty is convinced that Tanya's ex--Maya's father--a rich businessman is after them. But at "the Surf," the owner, Ava DeCurtis, takes a liking to Maya (and Letty). Despite the No Vacancy sign, she lets Letty and Maya stay in a tiny efficiency. But the rest of the hotel regulars regard Letty and Maya--the newcomers--with suspicion, as does Ava's son, local cop Joe DeCurtis. Joe is pretty convinced Letty is a fugitive and maybe even a murderer. As Letty tries to settle in and heal with Maya, she attempts to unravel exactly what happened to Tanya: and the more she finds out, the more it leads back to the Surf.

"Nobody could be trusted. Not after everything that had happened."

This is a cute, serviceable mystery-romance combo, albeit a slightly preposterous and unbelievable one. Letty flees Tanya's murder scene successfully, a wanted criminal, recognized by no one except Joe, an upstanding, rule-abiding cop who doesn't turn her in. And when the FBI enters the tale, their actions seem highly unreasonable, but... I guess we are supposed to believe anything in the name of love?

As for this love, it's complete insta-love and honestly, at times, a little cringe-worthy. Joe falls for Letty basically on sight and is rather pushy in trying to convince her to be in a relationship. (Hey this is crazy, we just met, I'm not turning you in, let's move in together... umm ok?) It was all a bit much.

Now, the old folks staying at the motel were a total trip. I could completely buy their crazy. And I loved Ava, who was a sweet, overly-trusting, but tough and brave mom, who just wanted to take care of everyone. (I didn't believe that Maya, who had endured great trauma, just sweetly sat and colored for hours each day while Letty worked--I'd like to meet that four-year-old!) The motel setting was spot on, and I desperately wanted to be at the beach while reading the entire book.

Overall, this one held my attention and I couldn't help but root for Letty (and Maya), but it probably won't stick with me. Joe often rubbed me the wrong way and some of the plot points had me rolling my eyes. Still, a cute summery read. 3 stars.

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin's Press and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. Look for THE NEWCOMER on 5/04/2021!

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Saturday, May 01, 2021

X, A to Z Challenge: XENI.

Xeni (Loose Ends #2)Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This is the twenty-fourth 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!

Xeni Everly-Wilkins is devastated when her beloved Aunt Sable passes away. The two were less close than she wanted, thanks to Sable's ongoing feud with her sisters (including Xeni's mom), but Xeni loved her nonetheless. Xeni heads to New York to help clean out her aunt's house and learn what she may have inherited. But when Xeni arrives at the lawyer's office, she finds out her inheritance comes with a big catch: she must marry to claim Sable's (sizable) estate. And Sable had someone in mind: local chef Mason McInroy, a handsome Scottish man who just happened to play the bagpipes at Sable's funeral. Mason stands to inherit from this scheme too; he and Sable were close. Xeni and Mason each have their own reasons to say yes to Sable's insane scheme, but neither has any plans to fall in love. Right?

"'In order for either of you to claim any of this, Ms. Everly asked that you to be married. To each other.'"

OK, I have no idea where this book came from, but it was the one "X" book on my shelves. It's a total trip with a ton of crazy story threads going on, but honestly, I enjoyed it! Even with the family drama, the arranged marriage, the mentions of witchcraft, the instalove, the sexy times, and more!

So, yes, the plot for this book is a bit outlandish. You have to roll with it--Xeni and Mason meet at the lawyer's, find out they have to marry quickly to inherit money, and... just get married. A lot of sexual scenes soon ensue--if you do not enjoy sexy times in your books, I would not recommend picking up this one. I was not prepared for, umm, all the detail, but I appreciated how open the author was with bisexuality and sexuality in general.

The instalove (instalust?) between Xeni and Mason is a bit hard to take at first, but truly, they are rather adorable and pretty easy to root for. Mason is just as cute and sweet as can be, and poor Xeni, she's going through a lot. Even though there is not a ton of character development here (why does Xeni believe in witchcraft, for instance?), you can't help but want Mason and Xeni to overcome their obstacles and make this absolutely ridiculous marriage work. Especially if they can spite their sometimes rather awful families. (Sidenote: Xeni's family clearly has a lot of issues, and it bothered me that we never got to see if they were truly resolved.)

Overall, I'm not sure if I would have gravitated immediately toward this book without my #AtoZChallenge, but it turned out to be a pretty fun read. It was silly, but rather beguiling and certainly steamy! It was a good change of pace. 3.5 stars.

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