Monday, November 29, 2021

And there's one more boy, he's from my past: EVERYTHING WE DIDN'T SAY.

Everything We Didn't SayEverything We Didn't Say by Nicole Baart
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

At 33, Juniper arrives in her hometown of Jericho, Iowa--a place she vowed never to return--to help a friend with cancer. After Juniper's high school graduation, her family's close friends and neighbors, Cal and Beth Murphy, were murdered. Juniper's brother, Jonathan was the prime suspect, even though he was never charged. Jonathan still lives in Jericho--as does Juniper's teenage daughter, Willa, who has been raised by her mom and stepdad since birth. Juniper has no desire to get dragged back into the dark memories and rumors of Jericho. But when something happens to Jonathan, she finds herself reliving the summer Cal and Beth died. And as she does, she realizes that Jericho itself hasn't put the past behind.

"She was the runaway, the prodigal daughter who had split when the going got tough."

I really loved this book. Baart is such a wonderful and deft writer, and she draws you into Juniper's story immediately. She captures small town Iowa so perfectly--the gossip, the pettiness, the country setting. The characters are well-formed and realistic: reluctant Juniper, so careful and worried about reuniting with Willa. Jonathan, her younger brother, who has remained in Jericho despite the accusations. Her lovely mother and much older stepfather. The handsome and charming boy Juniper fell for one summer. The story comes together so easily; even if this a taunt and slow burning story, I flew through the pages, desperate to find out what was going to happen.

Baart tells our tale in two parts--present-day, as Juniper returns to Jericho, and the past, leading up to the day of the murders. I had a small inkling of some of what might have happened, but loved trying to work it all out. It's a very suspenseful read and the combination of character building and tension works quite well. The way the plot winds together, pulling in emotions, memories, personalities, family connections, and the inner workings of the town is quite masterful.

Overall, a winner for me. I really enjoyed the suspense along with the family drama. 4.5 stars.

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

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Friday, November 26, 2021

Like I'm the only one who knows your heart: WISH YOU WERE HERE.

Wish You Were HereWish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Diana O'Toole has her life perfectly planned out. Marriage, kids, a career in art history at Sotheby's. Key in her plan is her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident. She's sure he's going to propose during their upcoming trip to the Galápagos. But before they can go on the trip, COVID hits, and the world shuts down. Finn cannot leave New York: he's required to stay at the hospital. Not wanting their nonrefundable trip to go to waste, they decide Diana should go without him. Once there, she finds the entire island under quarantine and realizes she's stranded until everything reopens. Without her hotel reservation or even usual shopping open, Diana finds herself reexamining her life and all she has planned.

This is certainly a COVID themed book, which hits you hard, but it's very well-done. It's told from the perspective of Finn, as he struggles in his New York hospital, and Diana, as she finds herself stranded in the Galápagos. She occasionally writes him postcards and he sometimes writes her emails. It's a fast read, and very "Picoult"--all twisty and emotional, with our protagonist, Diana, questioning her life and her choices. Also meticulously researched--the Galápagos, Diana's art history career, and all the COVID aspects.

Overall, this one makes you think. I found it moving and timely and worth the read. 4 stars.

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

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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

She's nothing like the things you said: ALL THE FEELS

All the FeelsAll the Feels by Olivia Dade
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alex Woodroe plays Cupid on the popular show God of the Gates. But he hates what the showrunners have done with his character. When he gets into a bar fight--just the latest in a series of escapades--said showrunners hire someone to keep watch over him and his public behavior. One more misstep, after all, and Alex's career is basically over. Lauren Clegg is cousin to one of the showrunners, a former ER therapist whose experience in stressful situations makes her well-situated to deal with the impetuous Alex. However, the more time she spends with him, the more she realizes his behavior may be misunderstood--and have some actual reasons behind it. And the more Alex gets to know Lauren, who is often mocked for her short height and appearance, the more he can't help but feel something for her. As the two face scandals and a road trip together, they'll have to choose what is really important, for themselves and for one another.

"His new nanny looked like a bird."

This is a fun romance and a good companion to SPOILER ALERT. You can read them as stand-alones, but they are intertwined and FEELS runs somewhat concurrently in plot to ALERT. I didn't think this one was quite as good as ALERT, but still really enjoyed it. Full-time Alex could be a little grating and there was sometimes too much focus on Lauren's appearance--her height and constant references to looking like a bird, etc. But I enjoyed learning Alex's backstory, and Lauren was another strong, tough protagonist.

This is a very good and funny story, with excellent banter and overall focus on body positivity. It encompasses other important issues (ADHD, domestic abuse) too while still being a sweet romance. Alex can drive you a bit crazy (which is often the point) but he's still so humorous and kind, and Lauren is a good foil for him.

I felt Lauren and Alex fell in love a bit more quickly than our SPOILER ALERT duo. Each could be very black and white in the way they dealt with their issues. However, Alex's approach to calling out tropes ("there's only one bed!") was absolutely hilarious.

Overall, this is an amusing and delightful romance, even with its little quirks. Dade writes an excellent romance. 4 stars.

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

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Monday, November 22, 2021

Sometimes I don't know how we walked away: THE GRIMROSE GIRLS.

The Grimrose Girls (Grimrose Girls, #1)The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Grimrose Académie is an exclusive boarding school. There, Ella, Yuki, and Rory's best friend, Ariane dies before school even begins, and the police declare it a suicide. But the remaining trio are convinced that Ariane would never take her own life and set out to determine what happened to her. Then a new girl, Nani, arrives at the school as their roommate. Taking Ariane's place in her old bedroom, she discovers some of Ariane's left behind belongings. This sets off a series of events that will soon overwhelm the girls--and threaten their lives.

"The first day of school started with a funeral."

I have mixed feelings on this book. Some pieces of it frustrated me deeply, and I found them skim worthy and repetitive. It felt like a pale version of a typical "bad things happen a boarding school" read. It got off to a slow start, and I wasn't sure I felt like continuing.

But eventually it begins to work in a fairy tale angle. That piece is really fascinating and far more original. Tying deaths at Grimrose to ancient fairy tales and adding magic, the book picks up speed. There are still pieces that felt as if they could have been shortened, and sometimes the story is too melodramatic--even for teenage girls--but the fairy tale piece is really fun and interesting and carries the book. Honestly, in the beginning, I had a difficult time keeping Ella, Yuki, Rory and some of their other boarding school counterparts separate, though they do become more individualistic as the book goes on. Also, the representation is wonderfully diverse here, so kudos to Pohl for that.

Overall, this book is a slow mover at the beginning, with a decent bit of repetition, leaning too much on character description. But as it moves into its real plot twist and focus, it picks up speed and becomes quite intriguing. The fairy tale piece is original and exciting. I will give the next book a chance. 3 stars.

Also, please note a trigger warning for suicide, self-harm, anxiety, and OCD.

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

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Friday, November 19, 2021

It's paradise as long as I'm with you: THE CHRISTMAS WEDDING GUEST.

The Christmas Wedding Guest (Wishing Tree, #1)The Christmas Wedding Guest by Susan Mallery
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Reggie and Dena Somerville are sisters from the small town of Wishing Tree. Reggie, however, hasn't been back to visit since her broken engagement, which lasted all of two days, when her finance proposed on a Friday and broke it off on a Sunday. But since Reggie and Dena's parents are renewing their vows, she finds herself back in town, the scene of her humiliation. Dena doesn't have the best track record with love herself, so she's taken matters into own hands. She's gotten pregnant on her own; she's also a teacher at the local school and runs the B&B handed down by her grandmother. Once back in Wishing Tree, Reggie gets stuck working with Toby, her high school boyfriend, on a holiday charity project. Meanwhile, Dena finds herself drawn to the famous singer who has checked into her B&B. Can the Somerville sisters find it in their hearts to love again?

This is a very sweet and charming holiday romance. The town of Wishing Tree exudes a lovely festive air, a cross between Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls and a Hallmark set, and I couldn't help but find myself rooting for our couples. Sure, Toby frustrated me sometimes (he's a single dad with some particular quirks), but these characters were personable, flawed, and strong. Perhaps the most lovable was Reggie's dog Belle, who was a force to be reckoned with, followed by Toby's sweet young son.

The story is repetitive at times and seemed a bit uneven--I couldn't tell if the author was going for cute or erotic at points, and it was a bit jarring--but overall this was a fun and merry read. I would have liked an epilogue, but I am hoping that since this is the beginning of a series that maybe we will see some of these characters again. I would definitely read the next book. 3.5 stars, rounded to 4 here.

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

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Wednesday, November 17, 2021

I've learned to live half alive: THE COLLECTIVE

The CollectiveThe Collective by Alison Gaylin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Camille Gardner lost her daughter five years ago and is still angry and grieving. After a public incident, she joins a Facebook group for grieving mothers. From there, Camille is drawn into the dark web and a collective of women who seek revenge on those who killed their children. Unsure if this group is real or not, Camille finds herself pulled into the group, unsure if its members are survivors or murderers. And finding out the truth may lead to her own demise.

This was such a dark thriller--it pulled me in immediately. It's twisted and a little crazy in its plot, but it's so mesmerizing and keeps you guessing the entire time. Camille's grief and anger seeps through the pages, and the themes of loss and motherhood are prominent throughout the story. It's such a tense tale, as you keep reading and wondering, along with Camille, about the collective and its intentions. The book makes you question yourself and how far would you go to protect or avenge your family.

Overall, this is a twisty and dark thriller with an original and emotional plot. 4+ stars.

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

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Monday, November 15, 2021

We're walkin' into the fields: BLUSH.

BlushBlush by Jamie Brenner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

BLUSH tells the story of three generations of women who discover that the trashy novels of the Jackie Collins/Judith Krantz era might hold the key to saving their family’s winery. Jamie Brenner’s BLUSH is the second book in my ABC author challenge [B].

This is a sweeping novel that gives a lot (!) of details about wine and vineyards. The Hollander family owns their Long Island winery—belonging to matriarch Vivian and her husband, Leonard. Leonard, who is quite firm in his ideas about gender roles, would not let their daughter Leah take over, so she runs a cheese shop in New York City. Leah’s daughter Sadie is struggling in college with her thesis.

When they all converge at the vineyard, they discover Leonard is thinking of selling. He refuses to accept any of Leah or Vivian’s ideas to help save it. But when Sadie finds Vivian’s trashy old novels from her book club days, the three women come together. It’s fun to hear about the old novels (you’ll enjoy this book if you like Krantz or Collins) and watch the women triumph over Leonard, who, honestly can be sort of awful. The themes of marriage, sexism, and family run strong and make this an interesting read, even if the characters sometimes frustrate you to no end. 3 stars.

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Saturday, November 13, 2021

And reconnect me to the beauty that I'm missing: THE CHRISTMAS ESCAPE.

The Christmas EscapeThe Christmas Escape by Sarah Morgan
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Christy Sullivan and her best friend Alix have spent Christmas together since they were children. This year they are planning to go to Lapland, a snowy wonderland. The trip will include Christy's husband and their young daughter, Holly. But when Christy faces trouble with her marriage, she asks Alix to take Holly to Lapland without her. She'll be joined by their family friend, Zac--whom Alix has been avoiding ever since Christy's wedding. But as Alix, Zac, and Holly enjoy their time in Lapland, Alix realizes she may have made a mistake in avoiding him. Meanwhile, Christy starts to wonder if her friendship with Alix and marriage will survive the holidays.

I hate rating books low, but this just did not work for me. It was a sweet enough story and I liked the fun, snowy Arctic setting, but, oh, this book could have been so much shorter and enjoyable. The repetition is intense, to the point I found myself skimming sections. We are constantly bombarded by everyone's thoughts and issues. Did you know Alix has commitment issues? Oh you will. Christy struggles with perfection? The overwhelming focus on the characters' tropes and the rehashing and pontificating on thoughts and feelings was incredibly frustrating. It was very slow moving with far more telling than showing. I was not that invested in Alix and Zac's relationship.

There's a sweet storyline involving Christy's aunt, who lives at Lapland, which I enjoyed, and others have enjoyed the overall story more, so take my review with a grain of salt, but most of this book was just too repetitive and trite for me. 2.5 stars.

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

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Tuesday, November 09, 2021

I used the last of my faith when you shot me straight up to the sky: SLEEPLESS.

SleeplessSleepless by Romy Hausmann
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Nadja had a difficult childhood and spent time in prison after being convicted for a crime. But it's been years since her release and she's wanted nothing more than a normal life since: a quiet flat, a job, and maybe some friends. But when one of those few friends, Lauren--the wife of her boss--asks for help covering up a murder, Nadja cannot help but agree. Even if it means endangering all the peace she's worked for. The women quickly make a plan, but when it all starts to crumble, Nadja begins to question exactly what her role is in this plan.

I really enjoyed Hausmann's book DEAR CHILD, but this one didn't have quite the same flair. There are books with confusing timelines that you enjoy and then there are books with confusing timelines that simply muddle things and make it hard to enjoy the plot. This book was the latter for me. There are a lot of interconnected stories in varying timelines and points of view and, truly, it's a lot to follow.

This read seems rather slow and rather blah until the last bit, where it takes off and gets exciting. You sort of know where it's going, which makes it even harder to keep reading. The characters are not that engaging, making it hard to get attached. It's difficult to root for this gang--especially Lauren and her husband. The plot is crazy and rather violent, spinning toward preposterous. If you can suspend disbelief, you'll enjoy things a lot more.

Overall, this had hints of enjoyment, but wasn't my favorite. 2.5 stars.

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

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Monday, November 08, 2021

I will not leave this pulse alone: THE PUSH.

The PushThe Push by Ashley Audrain
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I realized I need a book project to keep me reading the books on my shelves… so I’m turning to the ABCs again. This time, it’s authors. The only rule is the book can start with either the author’s first or last name, and I’m trying to prioritize BOTM books to meet my goal of reading twelve this year. Let’s see how I do!

My first choice was THE PUSH by Ashley Audrain (two As and a BOTM!). This was a mesmerizing psychological thriller about a woman, Blythe, who has always feared motherhood, based on her own childhood. After giving birth to Violet, she becomes convinced there’s something wrong with her. Violet doesn't act like other kids. Her husband Fox says it's all in her head. When their second child, Sam, is born, Blythe has a wonderful connection with him--motherhood is finally everything she's wanted. But then it all changes in a devastating moment, and Blythe must face the awful truth she's been fearing.

THE PUSH offers a very honest and brutal look at motherhood. It definitely kept me flipping the pages! It starts off with a bang, then dragged a bit for me in the middle. It's certainly serious and sad, and, at times, a mystery as well. THE PUSH will keep you thinking long after you've turned that last page. 3.5 stars.

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Thursday, November 04, 2021

Time is leaving us behind: IN ANOTHER LIGHT.

In Another LightIn Another Light by A.J. Banner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Phoebe Glassman's life has been on hold for three years, ever since her husband Logan died in a car accident. Phoebe continues to work at the funeral home they co-owned, where she restores dead bodies. Then one day a deceased woman comes in who bares a startling resemblance to Phoebe. Her name is Pauline Steele, and she has a tattoo that Phoebe finds familiar: she once saw it on her late husband's phone. As she investigates further, Phoebe finds a photo of herself in Pauline's belongings, and her world stops. Who is this woman--what is her tie to Phoebe, and to Logan?

"She prefers to remain in limbo, to act as if she too, has died. She walks the earth, but she might as well be a phantom flitting through her life unnoticed, disturbing the air but barely registering her presence."

This excellent read is not quite what I expected--at times it's more emotional and character driven than pure thriller, but it does not matter: it's quite good. I tore through it, and I'm quickly realizing that I really enjoy A.J. Banner's books. They are reliable page turners and typically quite mesmerizing.

IN ANOTHER LIGHT kept me guessing from the beginning. Is Phoebe crazy from grief and simply obsessed with this lookalike woman? Or is there more to it--as she delves into Pauline's life, we truly wonder if we can trust Phoebe, yet you cannot help but root for this broken and grief struck woman. While she does not always make the best decisions, she's a fascinating character. The book balances touching moments with mysterious ones, and there are plenty of twists along the way. I appreciated Banner's deft touch and something different from the usual thriller. 4+ stars.

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

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Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Too tired to do just what I should: THE LAST HOUSE ON NEEDLESS STREET.

The Last House on Needless StreetThe Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ted is a depressed drunk who lives with his daughter, Lauren, and cat, Olivia. Years ago, a young girl disappeared at a nearby lake and Ted was blamed, but later exonerated by his alibi. Now Dee, the girl's sister is back in town, looking for justice for her little sister. But Ted and his family may still be hiding secrets--and Dee's return threatens to uncover them all.

"Today is the anniversary of Little Girl With Popsicle. It happened by the lake, eleven years ago--she was there, and then she wasn't. So it's already a bad day when I discover that there is a Murderer among us."

This is an incredibly wild read that is both mesmerizing and befuddling, as you never know exactly what is going on. You get Ted's point of view, as well as Dee's and even Olivia the cat's. I spent most of the book coming up with theories and feeling frustrated at times, because I was not sure what was happening! If you are someone who always wants to know what is happening, you may not enjoy this book.

It's definitely best to go in blind, as all the other reviews state, because the twists and turns will take you by surprise. And there are twists galore! When this ended, I realized I probably needed to read the book again, just to completely take in everything that happened. Did I fully enjoy HOUSE? Probably not. But I still feel it was worth the read. It was intricate and fascinating and at the end, when you take in the full depth of what you've read--well, it's pretty awe inspiring. Definitely read the author's note at the end, too. 4+ stars.

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