Wednesday, September 29, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 25, 2021

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

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

An insightful look at love and religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Friday, September 24, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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

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

An intricate, twisty, page-turner of a thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

After what you put me through: ROCK PAPER SCISSORS.

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

An excellent twisty thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Monday, September 13, 2021

But I'm bound to wonder all about you: THE HERON'S CRY.

The Heron's Cry (Two Rivers #2)The Heron's Cry by Ann Cleeves

An excellent, complex character-driven mystery

Detective Matthew Venn is called out to a farm/artist retreat where Dr. Nigel Yeo has been killed. He's found dead in his own daughter's glassblower studio, stabbed with a shard of one of her vases. Dr. Yeo seems like a nice man: adored by his daughter and a public servant, working to help bring understanding between the public trusts. When a second body is found--killed in a similar way--Matthew realizes that he must dig deep into the secrets and lies of his community to find a killer.

I adore this series and the fact that Detective Matthew Venn, our lead, is a gay man. As with all of Cleeves' books, this is an excellent, solid mystery, with an interesting plot and a team whom you can easily become invested in. Each of her characters is well-written, strong, and original. It's so refreshing, honestly, to read a tale without a crazy unreliable narrator but instead one that simply relies on a strong story and excellent characters. There is a slate of people who could be potential suspects, and we also get backstories for our various detectives: Matthew, Ross, and Jen. Everyone is entwined in this small town (and honestly, if I were them, I'd be a bit worried how many people seem to die there! Cabot Cove, anyone?).

This book kept me guessing the entire time, which I love. I was constantly second guessing myself and wondering who killed whom. It was filled with twists, but nothing wild or unbelievable. This is easily becoming one of my new favorite series. 4+ stars.

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Friday, September 10, 2021

It's love that leaves and breaks: THE FAMILY PLOT.

The Family PlotThe Family Plot by Megan Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dahlia Lighthouse and her siblings were all named after various people murdered by serial killers. Her parents are obsessed by true crime, and the children were raised in an isolated island home known as the "Murder Mansion" to the locals. Each sibling left when they received their inheritance, except for Dahlia's twin brother, Andy, who disappeared when they were sixteen. Dahlia's been gone from home for seven years when she reluctantly returns after her father's death. Once home, the family receives some terrible news; someone is already buried in their father's plot: Andy, his skull split with an ax. As Dahlia tries to work through her grief over Andy and attempt to figure out what happened to him, she begins to realize that it may trace back to her island home and her family.

"I have to find out what happened to Andy. Then I have to leave this place for good."

This is a dark thriller that will appeal to true crime fans. The Lighthouse family embodies true crime--home schooled, the kids write reports on various serial killer victims and they perform rituals related to their deaths. The obsession with death and murder runs deep, and it's certainly unsettling at first. Dahlia's mother lost her own parents in a gruesome way, and it's definitely apparent that this family isn't quite right.

The first half of this book was really fascinating for me. Weird yes, but oddly interesting as you get to know this messed up family and all their dark secrets. Dahlia seems like a sister grieving the loss of her twin brother, and you find yourself wanting to know what happened to him. There's certainly a limited pool of suspects (small island) but the book keeps you guessing.

The second half did not seem as strong as the first. The weirdness factor ratchets up to almost unbelievable. Dahlia's older siblings are annoying and too much. The limited pool of subjects becomes almost cloying, suddenly making things seem too obvious as the plot thickens and become a bit too bizarre. Things get incredibly grim at times.

Still, while this is a strange read, overall it's a page-turner and something kept me reading. It's like a trainwreck from which you cannot look away. Collins definitely includes some good points about the bonds of family and people's obsession with crime and murder. 3.5 stars.

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Don't you know I'm not your ghost anymore: THE CHARM OFFENSIVE.

The Charm OffensiveThe Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

A delightful reality show romantic comedy

Dev Deshpande works on the set of Ever After, a reality dating show he's loved since he was a kid. He truly believes in the show's premise of happily ever after, even as his own six-year-relationship with Ryan, a co-worker, ends. Then the show casts Charles Winshaw, a handsome millionaire tech genius as their next prince. Charlie has only agreed to come on the show to fix his awkward image, which has made it impossible for him to get another job in tech. He's terrible in front of the cameras and even worse with the women he's supposed to woo. Dev is assigned as his handler, a last ditch attempt to save Ever After. As he works to get Charlie to open up, the two connect, and realize that their chemistry is far better than anything Charlie has with his potential love interests. But Ever After demands a fairy tale ending--what does that mean for Charlie and Dev?

"And maybe then Dev will forget that in his own life, happily ever afters are never guaranteed."

This is a truly lovely book, with a great romance filled with crackling tension combined with excellent points about mental illness and being loved unconditionally (or not, as the case may be). I fell head over heels in love with both Charlie and Dev--they are wonderful characters, whom you grow attached to easily.

Dev truly believes in the romance of the show when no one else does--including his ex, Ryan, and Charlie. Yet sweet Dev does not feel worthy of the love he so fervently believes in and can only offer up what he terms "Fun Dev," a light, easygoing version of his personality that does not reflect his true self. Meanwhile Charlie struggles with OCD and anxiety. He has never been in a serious relationship or given himself a true chance to explore whom he likes. The two feel so real and are so well-written: they just fly off the pages. I don't watch the Bachelor and other type shows, but if you do, I'm sure you'll love this book. Even if you don't though, there's so much to enjoy in the dynamics of the story and the examination of the pros and cons of reality shows--a look at how they treat women, racism, sexuality, and more.

"Then again, it turns out Charles Winshaw is no one's definition of a Prince Charming, no matter how much he might look the part."

Cochrun writes and describes anxiety so well and truly mental illness as a whole. It's treated seriously and given the respect it deserves. There is so much great representation in this book, include ace. And while it covers serious issues, at heart, this is a romance, and oh, it's so cute! There's so much steamy, sexual tension between Charlie and Dev. So many hot scenes, so much love and wondering and flirting... they are adorable together! This book made me smile and laugh and cry; it's so wonderful written and just bursting with goodness.

I do think Charlie probably could have gotten a new job in tech without going on a reality show, but oh well. Overall, this is such an excellent read. It's a wonderful blend of serious and fun and flirty and a great exploration into love and what happily ever after really means.

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews