Wednesday, October 27, 2021

But if she blinks or smiles, she'll give you away: HEARD IT IN A LOVE SONG.

Heard It in a Love SongHeard It in a Love Song by Tracey Garvis Graves
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Layla is recently divorced after a ten-year marriage to a man who never truly appreciated her and subjected her to constant financial and emotional stress. Once a lead singer in a rock band, Layla is now an elementary music teacher struggling to find her place in the world. One thing that brightens her day is her interactions with Josh, the father of one of her students. A single father, Josh was married to his high school sweetheart, Kimmy, for nearly twenty years. He too is trying to find his way now that he's single. Both wary about getting back into the dating grind, Layla and Josh decide to be "friends with potential." But with all their baggage, are they destined for heartbreak?

"And she wasn't lonely, not really. Layla had been lonely for years while she was married, and she'd take being alone over lonely any day."

I didn't dislike this book, but it wasn't the sweeping romance I was hoping for. This one redefined slow burner, as Josh and Layla sloowly made their way toward one another. Most of this is the format--told from both Layla and Josh's point of view, each chapter breaks off to delve into how that particular's character's marriage fell apart. So we may get a few moments of them in the present and then--boom--it quickly flashes back to Josh and Kimmy in high school or Layla and her ex-husband, Liam, meeting when Layla is singing in her band. Each piece is just a snippet, slowly parsed out per chapter and building up to the end of the marriage, so both the past and the present is a build-up. I admire the style, but wow... everything takes time. A lot of time! It made the story feel quite plodding at times.

And, I just couldn't quite find the spark between Layla and Josh. Individually, they were great people, and I liked and rooted for their characters to move on from their past relationships. Together, I just didn't feel that they had "it"--that special something that really makes you want a particular couple to succeed. I certainly desired for each to find themselves again, but I didn't necessarily need it to be with one another. I did, however, have great fondness for Norton, the older dog Josh adopts, and whom Layla often dog-sits. So there you go.

This isn't a bad book, and I know lots of people who enjoyed it. It received a 3-star rating from me, which is *not* a poor rating. It just wasn't what I was hoping for, and I had wanted more passion. But if you enjoy a character-driven read, especially one that really delves into the characters' pasts, you'll find a lot to love here. (Also the cover is simply gorgeous.)

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

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Monday, October 25, 2021

No ray of sunlight's ever lost: THE SANTA SUIT.

The Santa SuitThe Santa Suit by Mary Kay Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ivy Perkins buys a 106-year-old farmhouse, sight unseen, after a divorce. Known as Four Roses Farm, it was once home to Bob and Betty Rae Rose. Bob was famous as the town's Santa Claus, which Ivy learns when she discovers his lovely Santa suit tucked in a closet. In the pocket is a note from a young child, who simply wants her father to return home from the war. The note strikes a chord with Ivy, who finds herself wondering who the child was--and did she ever reunite with her father? Her investigation brings her in contact with the local townspeople, including Ezra, her realtor, neighbor, and handyman; a young woman named Phoebe; and a sweet town elder named Everett. Despite her reluctance to join in the town's many Christmas traditions, Ivy cannot help but be swept up in the small town and its spirit of Christmas.

"You mean, what's a nice, single, big-city girl like me doing in a hick town like Tarburton?"

This was an incredibly adorable, silly, cheesy book (more of a novella really). If you love Christmas movies, you'll find that this is basically a Hallmark Christmas movie in book form. And, as such, it's practically perfect: the snowy setting, a magical Santa suit, and a small town romance. What more could you ask for? Yes, you could pick at plot pieces and motives, but why? This is a quick read and a sweet one. Read in front of the fire with a cup of hot chocolate. 4+ stars.

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

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Saturday, October 23, 2021

The red thread that ties me to you: EIGHT PERFECT HOURS.

Eight Perfect HoursEight Perfect Hours by Lia Louis
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Noelle Butterby has recently broken up with her boyfriend of twelve years, Ed. Ed found Noelle pathetic for staying home to take care of her ill Mum and therefore being unwilling to travel to the States with him for a new job. But for Noelle, it's more than that. Her family obligations are both confining and all she has--leaving her unable to fulfill her own dreams, including opening her own flower shop. On her way to her university reunion--the first time she's been out in ages--Noelle finds herself trapped on a snowy roadway. With traffic stalled for hours, she meets Sam, the man in the car next to hers. They form a small friendship over the eight hours they're stuck, bonding while she charges her phone and they forage for food. In those few hours, Noelle is truly, actually happy. But the roadway is cleared and Sam drives off. Yet, somehow, after their snowy time together, the universe seems to continue to throw Sam and Noelle together. Each is dealing with their own relationship woes, but they feel drawn to one another. Are Sam and Noelle meant to be? And can Noelle find her own way while dealing with the weight of her family responsibility?

"Eight hours. Eight tiny hours is all they were. And already I miss them. Ridiculous. I am ridiculous."

I fell completely for this charming story. It's completely lovely, with such wonderful characters in Noelle and Sam, whom I found myself rooting for from the beginning. There are enough obstacles that I actually found myself wondering if they would wind up together, yet determined that they were meant to be. The book is so sweet yet has its serious moments as well, and it tackles mental health in a honest way, dealing with depression, agoraphobia, and post-partum issues quite well.

"And I feel--something. I don't know what exactly. Alive. Buzzy. Like my blood is rushing with stars, with electricity."

Both Sam and Noelle lost someone early in their lives, and some parts of this book will hit hard if you lost a loved one in your early twenties--their grief feels so real and raw (also a trigger warning for suicide). Their lives have been changed by these deaths, as well as hanging on to relationships that may not be the best for them. Watching them bond is so heartwarming. This is such a romantic read, with excellent pieces of chemistry and sexual tension--it's so well-done and builds quite excellently. This isn't insta-love, but a good slow burn that feels passionate and honest.

Overall, I really loved this one. The romance is excellent, and the message of finding your way together when it was meant to be is beautiful. 4.5 stars.

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

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Monday, October 18, 2021

Stuck in a tower in a forest: THE SPIRES.

The SpiresThe Spires by Kate Moretti
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Penelope Cox thinks she's put her college years behind her, when, twenty years later, her old friend Willa shows up unexpectedly on her doorstep. Willa Blaine needs help escaping her abusive husband. Penelope hasn't seen Willa since their gap year after college, when they and three other friends lived together in a converted church. Calling themselves "the Spires" they were a close-knit group, until hidden resentments and jealousies tipped over. Focused on their leader, Jack, things started to change when he brought home a girlfriend, Grace. Then tragedy struck and the group went their separate ways. Now, Willa seems the perfect guest, bringing order and happiness to the Cox household. But Penelope feels like her friend is putting her life off-balance and bringing up horrible memories: memories she'd rather leave long buried.

"Six months after they moved in, he brought home Grace and sent them all into a tailspin."

This is slow burn read--it's sluggish to start, but picks up as the story gets moving. Less thriller, more character-driven, THE SPIRES focuses on relationships more than mystery, though there is certainly plenty to figure out as the tale progresses.

The book skips back and forth between the group's gap year after college at The Church House and present day, when Penelope's friend Willa shows up without warning. The two haven't seen each other since they scattered after The Church House tragedy. We know something bad happened at The Church House, but it takes a while (basically the whole book) to get it all figured out. There is a lot of drama and angst as this all happens. None of the characters are particularly likeable, but there are plenty of motives and secrets tossed in along the way.

I didn't find THE SPIRES as thrilling as some of Moretti's other books. Still, it became more interesting and suspenseful as I read, and there are definitely some good twists. This is an especially good read for those who like a good psychological mystery. 3.5 stars.

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

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Monday, October 11, 2021

Something worth leaving behind: HER PERFECT LIFE.

Her Perfect LifeHer Perfect Life by Hank Phillippi Ryan
My rating: 3.5+ of 5 stars

A twisty and personal thriller

Lily Atwood is a famous television reporter known for being perfect. She has a gorgeous young daughter, Rowen, a lovely home, and multiple Emmys. But when Lily was young, her college-age sister, Cassie, just vanished. Then their grieving mother died, leaving Lily alone. Lily and her producer, Greer, have an anonymous source who has been feeding them tips that only increase Lily's popularity. But when the tips start getting personal, Lily begins to panic. Someone is ready to uncover her past and destroy all she holds dear--but why?

"At some point you have to stop looking, I told myself. But still. If she did something truly bad, how much did I want to know? How would that knowledge change my life? My career? Maybe it's better for me to pretend she never existed. But I know she did exist."

This is crazy page-turner with lots of wild plot twists. It certainly keeps you guessing. Lily has the "perfect" life and she and her producer are determined to keep it that way, so that Lily (and Greer) stay on top. It seemed a bit much that Lily's fans would drop her at the sign of one mistake, but I suppose we all understand cancel culture these days...

Neither Lily nor Greer seem particularly likable, with their desire to win at all costs, so I wasn't particularly attached to their characters. I did like Lily's young daughter Rowen. The format of the book, however, is very easy-to-read, with flashbacks to Cassie's life in college interspersed with Greer and Lily's present day narrative. Honestly, college-age Cassie may be the easiest character to root for! Ryan certainly weaves a compelling mystery.

There's a lot going on in LIFE... I can't go into all the threads due to spoilers, but there are a lot of various plot points and sometimes it all seemed like a bit much. The book ended a tad fast, too, considering all those different narratives.

Still, this is a gripping thriller that keeps you on your toes. It illustrates how life is not always perfect... but maybe it does not need to be? 3.5+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from the author's Super Reader club and Macmillan-Tor/Forge in return for an unbiased review.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2021

We all have sorrow: OUR MONTICELLO.

My MonticelloMy Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you buy one book in October, it should be this one. MY MONTICELLO is a collection of short stories and a novella that explore race, identity, and more. Beautifully written, nuanced, and insightful, they each make you think. My introverted self found myself wishing for a book club so I could discuss these stories with others.

The eponymous novella is set in Virginia, where I live, and features a group of townspeople who must flee to Monticello after racial attacks and climate change. I wish I could describe how unsettling and good it is, but you just need to read it. It’s already been optioned for Netflix, which is awesome.

I cannot stop thinking about this book, and I also cannot recommend it enough.

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway -- thank you to Goodreads and Henry Holt for my copy.

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