Wednesday, June 30, 2021

From someone with a strong heart: ARE WE THERE YET.

Are We There Yet?Are We There Yet? by Kathleen West
My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

A heartfelt look at parenting and growing up

Alice Sullivan is an interior designer and mom whose nearly perfect life goes off the rails when her son Teddy gets in trouble bullying at school. The same day she learns her daughter Adrian is having trouble keeping up in second grade. Soon Alice learns Teddy is caught up in a social media battle with another kid and she's rapidly being subjected to the judgement of the other moms. This includes her good friend, Meredith, whose daughter Sadie may be more involved than Meredith realizes. Then, Alice finds herself reeling further when her mom, Evelyn, reveals a long-held secret. Alice needs to stop caring what other people think--and starting focusing on her family. Fast.

This book was one of those happy surprises, where it was even better than I expected. It was real and captivating, highlighting how difficult it is to be both a parent and kid in the digital age. The story is expertly told from a variety of perspectives--Alice, Meredith, Teddy, Evelyn, and Sadie.

West does such a great job of portraying the interconnected people, both kids and parents, in her tale. All are mostly trying their best but often failing while some are judging others. Yet it seems like their world falls apart anyway. Everyone's story was told in such a unique voice, and I could not help but feel so sorry for these kids trying to survive in a digital age, and their parents attempting to maintain some type of control.

Overall, this is excellent book--very timely, realistic, and both heartbreaking and hopeful. 4.25 stars.

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Monday, June 28, 2021

Face to face I come right up to the truth: SKYE FALLING.

Skye FallingSkye Falling by Mia McKenzie
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Unique look at the complexities of family and race

Skye travels for a living--nearly a nomad at forty--touching down in her hometown of Philadelphia only occasionally and staying at her friend's bed and breakfast. It's on one of those visits home that a twelve-year-old girl approaches Skye and tells her that she's her "egg." Years ago, Skye donated eggs to a friend for money, and now Vicky is here as a result. Skye soon realizes that Vicky's aunt Faye is the woman she tried to pick up in a record store the other day. And, she's starting to come to the understanding that being responsible, even tangentially, for another human means she might have to finally grow up herself.

This book was lovely and took me by surprise: in all the good ways. I loved Skye--her anti-social ways, her awkwardness, and her cynicism. She's a true mess, with a mom and dad who left her hurting and afraid to love or trust--but McKenzie captures Skye's voice so perfectly that it's hard to resist her. This is an honest and emotional book, written in a way of addressing the reader directly. It's different at times and might take some getting used to, but I loved the whole thing.

The story here is so interesting and might sound off-putting: Vicky discovers Faye, who donated her eggs years ago to Vicky's mom. Skye has a crush on Vicky's aunt. In the background, Skye is floundering--she's a great businesswoman but she has a terrible relationship with her brother and her mother, who is ill. She also has tumultuous and dramatic friendships.

The city of Philly is a character in itself here too--it stands vibrant and buoyant in McKenzie's hands, as she pens an ode to the city and its black community. There are excellent and timely discussions of race, including a strong side plot featuring Vicky and Faye's neighbor. But best of all is the existence of Skye, Faye, and Vicky themselves--strong black women finding their way in the world. They completely grow on you as you read this outstanding book.

Overall, this is an excellent read. It's funny, heartfelt, and completely engaging. This authentic cast of characters will steal your heart.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group in return for an unbiased review. 4.5 stars.

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Saturday, June 26, 2021

Cause I'll be there when you can finally make it home: THE BOYFRIEND MATERIAL.

Boyfriend Material (Boyfriend Material, #1)Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Charming fake dating romance

Luc O'Donnell's never met his father. But he's lived in his shadow his whole life. His rock star dad has made Luc famous by proxy. With his dad making a comeback, both of them are in the public eye again--and the tabloids. So when Luc's latest escapade at a club goes public and threatens his job, he has to find a way to show everyone that he's changed. Enter Oliver Blackwood. The barrister is as normal and non-threatening as they come. The two have nothing in common, beyond being gay, but agree to be fake boyfriends to help Luc keep his job and Oliver save face at a family event. But as the pair get to know each other, they come to realize that there's something comforting about dating--even fake dating. And that falling for someone, even when it's fake, can take on something special.

"I was a cagey, grumpy, paranoid mess who would find a way to ruin even the most basic human interaction." ~Luc

This book was a little slow to take off for me, but it was a very cute story, and I really liked both Luc and Oliver. Despite Luc having a few issues dealing with his rock star dad, he's quite an engaging character--very flawed and honest. Plus, I felt quite an attachment to straight-laced Oliver, as I am, of course, that person. At its core, this is a story of two hurt people learning to love. We have Luc, burned by past loves, and Oliver, uptight and trying to deal with the hurt his family has pushed upon him. The book deals deftly with acceptance (or lack thereof)--both of others and yourself.

BOYFRIEND MATERIAL shines with its supporting cast--a whole host of humorous folks, including Luc's coworkers (including one so daft, he's almost impossible to believe), Luc's mom and her friend, whom I adored, and Luc's friends, who were a diverse and supportive bunch. I laughed a lot during this story and cried a bit too. Oliver and Luc's journey is sweet and silly and heartbreaking.

It's also a bit long, with a storyline with Luc's sick dad thrown in that seems unnecessary and too much. There's also a bit of latent homophobia--Luc's job is threatened because he's gay, Oliver's family's prejudice--that's never really addressed. While this was a romance, I would have liked to see those issues taken care of or acknowledged, instead of glossed over/ignored.

Still, overall, this is a fun read and a cute story. Luc and Oliver are sweet characters, and their character arc/journey is enjoyable. 3.5 stars.

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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Before the world took me astray: HOSTAGE.

HostageHostage by Clare Mackintosh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You'll never want to fly again! ;)

Mina is a flight attendant scheduled for the inaugural non-stop flight from London to Sydney. There is much press and fanfare for the big flight, but Mina is mostly relieved it gets her a few days away from Adam, her estranged husband. The two have been torn apart by his cheating and the difficulties of parenting their young daughter. However, once the plane takes off, Mina receives a note telling her that she must make a terrifying decision, one that forces her to choose between her job and her family.

"Everyone wants a piece of Flight 79. Everyone wants to make history."

Whew, what a tense and stressful thriller! It had a slow start to building up all the drama--it is a lie that it all takes place on a plane, as we get some backstory to Mina and Adam's relationship before Mina steps on said fateful plane. For me, that part dragged a bit. Once she's on the plane, things pick up and it's a fairly twisty and taut journey.

The book flips between Mina and Adam's perspectives, along with some of the plane's passengers. It's a little hard to keep everyone straight, though it's clear from the passenger's narration that something is not right with this flight. Mackintosh, as always, is great at building up the uneasiness. Adam is not the most sympathetic of characters, and I wanted to yell and scream at him during many of his chapters. Their poor child--what parents she has!

It's a unique idea here, and for the most part, it's executed well. Mackintosh gives us a lot to think about, between Mina's situation and some of her other plot points. The story is stressful and intense, leaving you to wonder what on earth will happen next (and perhaps question any desire to take a plane ever again). The ending, too, is excellent. 4 stars.

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

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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

I swim through someone else's pain: WHAT'S DONE IN DARKNESS.

What's Done in Darkness: A NovelWhat's Done in Darkness: A Novel by Laura McHugh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent dark and foreboding mystery

Sarabeth is seventeen when she's held captive for nearly a week and then dumped along the side of the road, bound and blindfolded. She doesn't know who took her, or where. The police doubt her story and her parents do not even report her missing from their rural Arkansas farm . Sarabeth had argued with her religious parents, who insisted she follow their strict rules and marry someone of their choosing. As she returns home and finds her family appalled by her kidnapping, she realizes something good may come from the abduction: she can escape life on the farm for good. Five years later, she's now known as Sara when investigator Nick Farrow asks her to help with the missing persons case of another girl--one incredibly similar to Sara's. Reluctantly, Sara returns home, where she must face her darkest fears (and her family) to assist in bringing this girl home.

"Sarabeth had come to think of her time on the farm as a sentence that she had to serve, one with an end date. Now it seemed like she'd have to plan an escape."

I adore Laura McHugh's writing at this point. She's an excellent writer, and this is a great mystery in her deft hands. The religious, almost cult-like aspect of Sarabeth's family seems extremely timely in this era. We see how they narrow her options, forcing her to choose between her family and her own life. Religion and darkness are major themes in this book, with darkness playing not just in the title but across the entire novel. McHugh weaves it in and out of her story--Sara being afraid of the dark, darkness and shadows lurking at every turn. And it's a dark book to read too, even if it has its light moments. Still there's hope here as well.

I loved how Sara was a complicated heroine, with a complex past and many scars. She reminded me of Joanna Schaffhausen's Ellery Hathaway in that sense--a troubled soul who must overcome her own darkness to try to save others. Her interactions with Nick were an excellent respite, and I certainly could see myself reading about these two again.

"A piece of me was still there in Arkansas, but I was gone. No one in my new life knew who I was, what had happened to me, and I wanted to keep it that way."

The book is atmospheric, sucking us into both the deep religious aspect of the Ozarks and the Arkansas countryside. The Arkansas hills seem to play their own role in the book--another character so to speak. This one kept me guessing and even as I worked out some pieces, there were plenty of twists and turns. It's a fairly quick read, but an excellent one. Certainly recommend to mystery fans and those who enjoy a character-driven read.

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

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Saturday, June 19, 2021

You got a heart like mine: LIFE'S TOO SHORT.

Life's Too Short (The Friend Zone, #3)Life's Too Short by Abby Jimenez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A touching and heartfelt romance

Vanessa is a famous travel blogger/YouTuber. She spends her life as she wants, seizing the moment. She lost her mom and sister to a genetic disease and--not knowing if she will wind up like them--doesn't want to waste a moment of her life. But when her troubled half sister leaves Vanessa custody of her infant daughter, Grace, Vanessa finds herself stuck at home. She's forced to deal with her sister and her father and confront her illness. But she also meets Adrian, her handsome next-door neighbor. A lawyer, Adrian turns up on her doorstep, and suddenly he and Vanessa become inseparable. He's helping care for Grace as they share take-out dinners and their life stories. Vanessa knows she cannot get close to Adrian, but she's finding it really hard not to.

I loved the first two books in this loosely tied series. This was probably my least favorite of the three, but I still enjoyed it. Jimenez writes excellent slow burn romances, and this one was no exception. Plus, it offers excellent escapism while delving into serious subjects, which I always love about her work.

Adrian was my favorite here--dependable, sweet Adrian. Both characters have a lot baggage in this book, so be prepared. Beyond her genetic illness woes, there's a lot going on with Vanessa's family. Some of the way the book deals with mental illness is excellent; sometimes, I'm not so sure. And Adrian has his own issues with his family as well. As for Vanessa, her attitude and approach toward her potential genetic illness was a little hard for me to handle. It's one of those things where you just want to take the character and try to shake some sense into them. Yes, Jimenez provides some backstory and reasoning for Vanessa's attitude, but... this was the one part of the book that was hard for me to swallow. (And it was, um, key to the plot.)

If I overlooked that piece, Vanessa and Adrian were cute together. There's lots of the patented Jimenez banter, romance, and cuteness. Someone needs to learn to trust again, someone needs to come out of their shell. But, because it's Jimenez, it's done in this adorable, funny way tinged with a heartfelt touch. And this time there's a baby! (Who is amazingly portable and never causes any trouble--wish my kids were like that, ha.) The book can be heartbreaking at times. I honestly adored Adrian, his outlook on the world, and how supportive he was of Vanessa. We could all use an Adrian to take care of us.

If you like romances, you'll enjoy this one. It's cute and sweet, without being sickeningly so, and there are lots of moments that make you laugh. It's also serious in places, covering illness and family. It's not the best of the series, but it's worth a read. Just be prepared for some frustration with some of the characters! 3.5 stars, rounded up.

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Thursday, June 17, 2021

The light in your eyes is hypnotizing: THE MAIDENS.

The MaidensThe Maidens by Alex Michaelides
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A lackluster and dull thriller

Mariana Andros is a group therapist and Cambridge University graduate. She is mourning her late husband, Sebastian, when their niece, Zoe, calls, upset because a friend at Cambridge has been murdered. Mariana and Sebastian raised Zoe as a surrogate daughter, so Mariana heads to Cambridge and St. Christopher's College to be there for her. There, Mariana feels she can help her friend and fellow therapist, Julian Ashcroft, in looking into the murder. Mariana is convinced that Greek tragedy professor Edward Fosca is responsible. He is followed around by a group of female students, deemed The Maidens, who seem obsessed with Fosca and his teachings. When another girl, a Maiden, is found dead, Mariana vows she will do anything to stop him.

"Death was no stranger to Mariana; it had been her traveling companion since she was a child--keeping close behind her, hovering just over her shoulder. She sometimes felt she had been cursed, as if by some malevolent goddess in a Greek myth, to lose everyone she ever loved."

Unpopular opinion time... this book did not work for me. I did not find it engaging nor interesting. I had to force myself to keep reading, as I did not care for any of the characters, including Mariana and Zoe. Mariana is fixated on Edward Fosca from the beginning and seems convinced she should insert herself in a rather serious murder investigation despite not seeming one bit qualified. I'm not sure how her group therapist qualifications lend her any credentials and she lies constantly, much to the annoyance (justified) and detriment of the police. There are basically no sympathetic characters, and there seems to be no reason to care about the murdered women, as we're given no background on them. Some characters (e.g., Julian) seem inserted for no reason whatsoever.

There is a lot of Greek mythology tucked into the story and perhaps I was just over it, as I've read several books revolving around Greek myths lately. It was a lot, though, and sometimes did not seem relevant to our story.

This thriller is certainly atmospheric, with Cambridge playing a strong role in the setting. You definitely feel a part of the academic setting, and I learned a lot about the university while reading. It's dark and somewhat foreboding, but since I was not fully invested in the story, I could only feel so tense. There are some twists, but the big twist came too late and seemed too preposterous to be truly exciting. The author throws in so many red herrings that you find yourself almost rolling your eyes.

Still, this is a very popular thriller for many readers, so chances are it may work for you. For me, it just didn't hold my interest or seem all that, well, thrilling. 2 stars.

I received a free ARC of The Maidens by Alex Michaelides from Macmillan in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The setting sun will pause for no one: HAIRPIN BRIDGE.

Hairpin BridgeHairpin Bridge by Taylor Adams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A harrowing, page-turner of a thriller

Lena Nguyen arrives in Montana to figure out what happened to her twin sister, Cambry. Three months ago, Cambry supposedly committed suicide on Hairpin Bridge, but Lena simply cannot believe it's true. Now she's at the bridge, driving her sister's abandoned car, to find out what really happened. She's meeting Corporal Raymond Raycevic, the highway patrolman who found the body, at the scene itself. He seems apologetic and straightforward. Still, Lena remains suspicious. Records show Raycevic pulled Cambry over for speeding just a hour before her death. And what about the sixteen attempted 911 calls she made in the dead zone? Or the fact that Raycevic's name appears in the final text Lena ever received from Cambry? Despite the fact the sisters were basically estranged, Lena needs to know what happened to Cambry. But the more she digs, the more Lena's own survival may be in jeopardy out there on Hairpin Bridge.

"I have to know. What happened to you, Cambry?"

I actually read Adams' NO EXIT not that long ago and that book totally stressed me out. This one did the same, though thankfully a kid wasn't full and center. Goodness, he excels at writing at tense, action-packed books. This thriller certainly keeps you guessing--I was never exactly sure what was real or what was truly happening or had happened.

HAIRPIN BRIDGE, crazily enough, mostly takes place on a bridge (who knew?), but it alternates between the past and present. It's told in snippets, with Lena and Raycevic's perspectives in the here and now, and then pieces of Lena's blog, as well as what seems to be Cambry's past flashbacks, but could be Lena's own interpretation of what happened. This part was the hardest for me, as that was incredibly confusing. The idea is to keep you off-balance and prevent you from knowing what was really happening, but sometimes I felt a bit too confused.

This thriller feels more like a movie than a book at times, with its dramatic tension and constant "what on earth can happen next" feel. Lena comes across like an action hero in moments, and I often wondered what else Adams could throw at us. (Oh, he could come up with more insanity, don't worry.) The result is a book that's dark, action-packed, and sometimes completely horrifying. It's incredibly dramatic, but wow, does it keep you turning the pages. I know I finished this one in less than 24 hours. I absolutely had to find out what happened to Cambry, Lena, and Raycevic.

As I felt with NO EXIT, I'm not sure I really enjoyed this book. It's more that I survived it. I admire its structure, and it's great having a page-turner to fly through. I would have liked being a little less confused, but there were some great, terrifying twists here. If you don't mind a graphic and dark thriller, I recommend this one. 3.75/4 stars.

I received a copy of this book from William Morrow / Custom House and Netgalley and the Scene of the Crime Early Read program in return for an unbiased review.

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Friday, June 11, 2021

I never wanted to say goodbye: THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME.

The Last Thing He Told MeThe Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A riveting mystery about a missing man

Hannah and Owen have not been married very long before he disappears without a trace. He leaves behind a brief note stating, "Protect her." Hannah knows the note refers to Owen's sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey lost her mother as a child, and Owen is all she has. Meanwhile, the company Owen works for is caught up in a swirl of scandal, while the FBI and U.S. Marshals show up on Hannah's doorstep. The more Hannah investigates, the more she realizes that Owen must have been hiding secrets about his past. And those secrets may be putting her and Bailey in grave danger.

"Owen's note is short. One line, its own puzzle. Protect her."

This was an excellent page-turner: a wonderful character-driven mystery that sucked me in from the very beginning. It keeps you wondering and guessing from the start. Why did Owen disappear? Is he a good guy or a bad one? We discover things as Hannah does, and the book is so engrossing. She and Bailey unravel Owen's past, becoming detectives themselves, and we get snippets from the past they do.

It's fascinating trying to piece everything together. I was frantically flipping the pages, and I read this one in only a couple of settings. The language is flowery but absorbing. In addition to the key disappearance, Dave reflects on Hannah's relationships with both Owen and Bailey. If you want to get lost in a good mystery for a couple of days (or hours), I highly recommend this one.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2021

And when I woke up this morning had a fire in my brain: THE LOVE CURSE OF MELODY MCINTYRE.

The Love Curse of Melody McIntyreThe Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sweet and diverse YA theater romance

Melody McIntyre loves theater with all her heart. She puts everything she has into her role as stage manager for her high school's productions. But when Mel's love life affects her latest show, she realizes that maybe her romances and the success of the shows go hand in hand. After all, it's pretty well known that their theater is cursed. So Mel swears off love for their current spring production of Les Miserables. Then she meets Odile Rose, a rising actor, who has a role in their spring show. Odile seems as invested in the show in Mel, and she's also kind and funny. Mel can't fall in love, but what if she has no choice?

"Our theater's cursed. That's the rumor, anyway. Strange things have been happening here for years. Unexplainable things."

This book wins the award for one of the most stressful openings ever, as Mel's love life falls apart during an actual show. I was sweating bullets on her behalf. It's a very theater-oriented book and if you like drama or Les Mis, you will adore reading it. Robin Talley writes in her very sweet author's note that she took inspiration for the plot from her wife, who is involved in the theater--totally adorable.

"All right. So be it. If I fall in love, the musical's doomed."

As with nearly any Talley YA read, LOVE CURSE is filled with wonderful diverse representation, cute high school kids, and a sweet love story. There's some high school drama, of course. Here there's much ado about a curse--sometimes too much for this adult--but I could completely see my theater friends in high school being completely into something like this in high school.

As for Melody and Odile, I adored them. Mel put theater first above all and Odile felt pressured as her acting career took off. I would have liked a little more buildup to their love story, but their romance was really touching. I love how Talley always makes it okay to be queer, especially for teens, in her books and works through coming of age and/or coming out in approachable and realistic ways.

Overall this is a cute theater-themed read filled with diverse characters and a touching love story. 3.75 stars, rounded up.

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Monday, June 07, 2021

There's only one place they call me one of their own: ONE TWO THREE.

One Two ThreeOne Two Three by Laurie Frankel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A touching read about family and resilience

Nothing new ever happens in the town of Bourne. Everyone knows everyone. So when the moving trucks arrive, it causes a stir. Bourne is a town known for one thing: seventeen years ago, their water turned green. Many of their citizens of died, others have cancer and other illnesses, and others gave birth to children with birth defects. You'll never find a town more accommodating to wheelchairs. But it has one doctor (also the priest) and one therapist (Nora Mitchell). Bourne houses Nora's triplets, beloved by all: Mab, the "normal" one, who is expected to go to college and escape this place; Monday, who runs the town library from their home and prefers yellow everything (food, clothes, and more); and Mirabel, the smartest of them all, confined to her wheelchair, dependent on her sisters and mom for so much and on a computer to act as her Voice. Nora has been fighting for justice since the water turned green. When the newcomers come to town, the past roars up, involving the Mitchell triplets and bringing to light decades old secrets. How hard will Mab, Monday, and Mirabel fight for their town?

This is such an original book from the author of THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS. It sneaks up on you with its quiet and touching story. Frankel weaves an emotional tale that makes you think. It's utterly fascinating, this devastated town and its broken people. So many of its citizens are sick or have lost someone they love. Yet there is a lot of hope in Bourne, especially as the story is told through young Mab, Monday, and Mirabel's eyes. They've only known their mom's sadness and bitterness, never having met their father, yet each has their own (often quirky) way of looking at life.

Frankel alternates viewpoints from each triplet, naming her chapters One (Mab), Two (Monday), and Three (Mirabel) and repeating from there. It takes a moment to get into the groove of each triplets' voice, but once you do, it's easy to get attached to them. Mab feels the weight of the world on her shoulders, sweet Monday takes everything literally, and Mirabel must remain cheerful, despite all her medical issues. Their mom holds a variety of jobs, including town therapist and working at the local bar, and maintains a decades long lawsuit and grievance. It's hard to know what the triplets' life might be like without Nora's anger and bitterness.

Still, ONE TWO THREE highlights the power of sisterhood and family. You'd think a book about a broken town would be depressing and a slugfest, but it's anything but. In many ways, I found this to be almost a mystery, as the sisters work together to figure out about the newcomers in their town and how they relate to the years of devastation wrecked upon Bourne. The result is utterly compelling, with years of intertwined secrets making for a fascinating read.

Still, at the core, this is a story about teenage girls and how they relate to the world. It's sweet, heartbreaking, and extremely well-written. There are a few points where I wish the plot sped up a bit, but overall, this is a touching and lovely story about a family and their small town.

I received a copy of this book from Henry Holt & Company and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. Look for ONE TWO THREE on 6/8/2021!

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Saturday, June 05, 2021

And I yearn for a hand on my forehead: BETTER TOGETHER.

Better TogetherBetter Together by Christine Riccio
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A cute albeit long read about family and finding yourself

Jamie and Siri wind up at the same Re-Discover Yourself Retreat at Colorado because their lives are both slowly crumbling. Jamie is an aspiring comic in LA, but she can't seem to make it through her set without throwing up. She's been kicked out of her apartment and is back at home, stuck living under her famous father's oppressive thumb. As for Siri, ballet is her entire life. But when she suffers a career-ending injury, everything she's planned for falls apart. Jamie and Siri also happen to be sisters. They've grown up entirely apart: Jamie lives with their dad in LA and Siri with their mom in New Jersey. When they reunite at the retreat, they decide to switch places and seek revenge on their estranged parents. With the help of a little magic (yes, actual magic), Jamie shows up in New Jersey, looking just like Siri and Siri arrives in LA, looking like Jamie. Before they know it, Siri's hanging out with (and falling for) Jamie's best friend Dawn. And independent Jamie might be making an actual attachment with Zarar, their instructor from camp. But can Jamie and Siri set out to do what they planned--right their childhood wrongs?

"The day everything fell apart three months ago, I tripped into this anger ditch, and I can't seem to find my way out." -Siri

I stumbled across this book because it was billed as The Parent Trap meets Freaky Friday and well, sign me up. To me, there's not a ton of The Parent Trap here, as the goal isn't to reunite Siri and Jamie's parents, but rather seek some sort of vengeance on them, as they basically split the kids up when they were six and four and then each parent abandoned one of the siblings. Jamie and Siri never saw each other again, and Siri's mom told her Jamie was imaginary. So, um, yeah she has some baggage. The parents come across as pretty hideous here, to tell you the truth! (Reexamining The Parent Trap as an adult and parent is quite eye-opening!)

Also, reading some of the other reviews for this book, apparently there is some sort of rating controversy and issue with the author? I had no clue about any of this. I have no idea who Christine Riccio is. I am one of those people who dislikes videos of all kinds. News article is only a video? Won't watch. I don't even really like Instagram reels let alone Youtube. I don't even love that my car has a backup camera. So whatever drama surrounds this book totally escapes me. If you don't like a book about magic, I guess don't read a book about magic? I thought this was pretty cute. Anyway, just a disclaimer, I guess, that my review has nothing to do with any of whatever that drama is.

You need to go into BETTER TOGETHER prepared to suspend a little disbelief if you want to fully enjoy it. There is magic involved--a happy haunted trail at the retreat that leads to the sisters looking like each other. Jamie and Siri already look really similar, so it didn't seem like maybe they needed that? (You don't in the The Parent Trap, this purist says!) Then there is their terrible parents. It's sort of hard to believe people that awful exist.

But if you accept the magic and the awful parents, this is a cute book. Is it weird? Sure. But it was definitely better than I expected after reading all the hater reviews. I liked Jamie and Siri. They were flawed (pretty expected after those parents) but funny. There's some great bisexual representation and while the book is about family, forgiveness, and reuniting, there's some sweet side romantic plots, too. Siri and Dawn were pretty adorable. And Zarar, their canoe instructor who winds up in New York, is just a cutie. Siri and Dawn each have a grandparent living near/with them who offers some great comedic relief, as well.

The story is told from Jamie and Siri's perspectives and sometimes it takes a moment to remember which sister is speaking, though the chapters are labeled. As the book progresses, you get more used to which sister is which. Siri has a very annoying quirk where she says things like "intercoursing" instead of the f-word, which grew old quickly. The book was long--there definitely could have been some cutting down.

Still, this was a cute read and I enjoyed Siri and Jamie's story and watching each of them come into their own. I have Riccio's first book on my shelf, and I'll definitely pick it up at some point. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Wednesday Books and Netgalley, along with Goodreads, in return for an unbiased review. Look for BETTER TOGETHER on 06/01/2021!

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Thursday, June 03, 2021

Y, A to Z Challenge: YOUNG JANE YOUNG.

Young Jane YoungYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An emotional, character-driven tale

This is the twenty-fifth 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!

YOUNG JANE YOUNG weaves together the story of five women--Rachel Grossman, who worries about her college-aged daughter, Aviva and her future. Jane Young, who lives in Maine with her daughter, Ruby. Ruby Young, who has led a quiet life with her mom, until now. Embeth Levin, the wife of a famous congressman. And Aviva Grossman, who became Internet famous after a terrible scandal. These five women are bound together by this scandal and the man at its center.

This was an interesting read, told from the perspective of each of our female protagonists. Zevin is excellent at portraying different voices, from young Ruby to the older Rachel and Embeth, and I really enjoyed how strong of a storyteller she was. Some of the women's stories were told in unique formats, such as all email or a "choose your own adventure" style. It was different, took a little getting used to, but overall worked for this book.

This is less of an action packed tale than a character-driven one, focused on how Aviva's actions affect everyone going forward. It has a political bent, but centers more around emotion, relationships, and family. It does a good job portraying the double standards applied to women--in politics, in marriage, and more. My favorite character was probably Ruby, but I thought Zevin did a good job of bringing each woman to life and showing their complex feelings and flaws.

I would have liked more of an ending to this story, especially finding out what was next for Ruby and Rachel. But this was an interesting and different read, and I'm glad I picked it up. As always, as I get nearly to the end of the alphabet, I'm glad my challenge has gotten me to choose some books I might not have otherwise.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2021

City streets and subway cars pumping life through my veins: ONE LAST STOP.

One Last StopOne Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A dazzling, heartfelt queer romance

August Landry moves to New York City, just another stop among many in her quest to prove that she's fine being alone. Everything she owns fits in five boxes, and she sleeps on an inflatable mattress. She belongs nowhere and needs no one. But NYC feels different to August: her diverse group of roommates, who adopt her immediately; her job at an all-night pancake diner; and the subway. Because the subway brings Jane: beautiful, enigmatic, leather jacket-clad Jane. Then August realizes something; Jane is always on the subway because she has to be. She's trapped and displaced in time from the 1970s. It seems as if August--and her new band of friends--may be the only one to save her. Can August believe in something, someone, enough to free Jane?

"Truth is, when you spend your whole life alone, it's incredibly appealing to move somewhere big enough to get lost in, where being alone looks like a choice."

I've put off writing this review because it's hard to see how I can do McQuiston's beautiful romance any justice. This book is such a romantic, sexy, and heartwarming read. August is an excellent character. She's spent most of her life in her uncle's shadow, working with her mother to try to solve his missing person's case. August eventually declared herself done--done searching, done with mysteries. But then this beautiful woman appears on the subway, and she offers the biggest mystery of all to August. Why is Jane stuck on the subway and how can August help?

"And she can't believe Jane had the nerve, the audacity, to become the one thing August can't resist: a mystery."

McQuiston gives us the most amazing, diverse queer novel one could ever wish for. August is bi and Jane basically every lesbian's dream. It's impossible not to fall in love with this gorgeous Asian subway vision. Even better, through Jane and other events, it's a tribute to those who came before our generation. Jane was a (incredibly sexy) activist / riot girl in the 1970s, yet is shocked that you can typically be openly gay on the subway now. She comes to everyone's defense there. She's amazing. As for August's roommates, they are beautiful and diverse, including trans and gay characters, with the lovely Myla taking care of the group. There are several drag queens given legitimate, true storylines. To say how meaningful this is to the queer community--it's hard to even explain. All of these characters--roommates Myla, her boyfriend, Niko, and Wes; neighbor Isaiah; coworkers Lucie and Winfield--are real and treated with care. They are funny, flawed, and create the most amazing found family ever.

"Jane doesn't age. She's magnetic and charming and gorgeous. She... kind of lives underground."

As for August and Jane, this is a romance for the ages. This book is swoony and sexy. It will make you laugh; it will make you cry. McQuiston has written a lesbian character for us lesbians to ogle for years to come, and a romance to stack all other romances against. It's funny and heartwarming. There's magic and mystery. There's pancakes. It's a beautiful ode to New York City, the subway, and falling in love. There's seriously nothing not to love.

So yes, I loved this book. I love McQuiston's way with words--the humor, the romance, the way she allows the queer community to have meaningful love stories in our world. This book is flowing with passion, with beauty, and magic. 4.5+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin's Griffin and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. It is available as of 06/01/2021!

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