Friday, December 31, 2021

We got the life that we wanted: GOLDEN GIRL.

Golden GirlGolden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Author Vivian Howe, well-known on her beloved Nantucket, is out for a run when she's struck by a car and killed. Vivian goes to the Beyond, where she's assigned a Person, named Martha, who gives Vivi three "Nudges" to use over the course of the summer. She's allowed to watch her family until Labor Day, when she'll pass to the next step. Vivi can use those nudges to change the outcomes down on earth, as she watches over her children: daughter Willa, who is struggling after three miscarriages; daughter Carson, a wayward bartender; and her young son Leo, who is struggling with his relationship with his high school girlfriend.

In GOLDEN GIRL, Hilderbrand writes that she hopes her characters "feel real," and she always seems to have the magic touch, because they really do. My favorite thing about opening a Hilderbrand book is that you get completely lost in the story, no matter what. The supernatural element here is different from the typical Hilderbrand, but no matter what, her storytelling remains strong, and I felt lost in the world of Nantucket and Vivi's family, including her kids, her ex-husband, and his girlfriend.

This is a rather meta story, as Vivi is an author writing a book called GOLDEN GIRL as well. You learn about her past through her flashbacks, as well as about her family as she watches over them. It's so easy to get immersed in the story and get entangled in Willa, Carson, and Leo's lives. And, as with any of Hilderbrand's Nantucket novels, it makes you long for the beach.

Overall, I enjoyed this one. 4 stars.

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Thursday, December 30, 2021

I'm bound to be back by morning time: A SLOW FIRE BURNING.

A Slow Fire BurningA Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Daniel dies on his houseboat -- not long after his mother, an alcoholic, has died as well -- suspicions are high. They fall on three women: Laura, a troubled young woman who just had a one night stand with Daniel. Carla, his grief-stricken aunt. And then Miriam, his nosy neighbor who finds the body. All three women have their own reasons to keep secrets. How far would they go to protect them?

"Accidents do happen, and they especially happen to drunks, but mother and son, eight weeks apart? In fiction, that would never stand."

This was an interesting and well-woven read, but I found it rather predictable. I thought for sure it would turn out differently, but the twists were not all that surprising. Still, I enjoyed it and found it intricate enough to hold my interest. Most of the characters are fairly unlikable (that's often an understatement), but Laura has a fairly sad past and there's a pretty awesome spunky older woman, Irene, who is Angela's neighbor and she basically redeemed the story for me.

This book, while a mystery, has a decent amount of character-driven moments and it can truly be pretty sad and depressing. We start with Daniel's death and then sort of go in reverse, so you learn a lot about everyone's backstories, and none of them are particularly uplifting. The story touches on family, motherhood, and the idea of forgiveness. Overall, a solid 3-star read for me.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Put your dreams away for now: BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME.

Better Luck Next TimeBetter Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

In the 1930s, women seeking divorce--no-questions-asked--could come to Reno, Nevada. The only catch was they had to spend six weeks there to become residents. Enter the Flying Leap, a dude ranch for the wealthy that facilitates the divorces by giving them a lovely stay and helping take care of everything. Ward, age 24, spent a year in college before his family lost everything to the Great Depression. Now he's working at the Flying Leap. Handsome and helpful, he's quite adored by the women. Soon, his life will be upended again by the arrival of two of the latest guests: Nina, who is back for her third divorce, and Emily, who is struggling after leaving her cheating husband.

I adored Julia Claiborne Johnson's book BE FRANK WITH ME and was so excited to read this one. The books are very different, but she's such a good writer and brings you into the worlds she creates. LUCK is told in a conversational style by Ward, about the time period when he wasn't quite 25, though he's now quite an older man. It's not the kind of book you'd typically come across, but it's fascinating too. It's honestly refreshing to read such a unique book with such memorable characters. The plot is so interesting and while it certainly covers serious topics, it's also really funny and witty in places and could make me laugh out loud.

The characters could be totally frustrating at times, but also truly real. If you're looking for a read unlike most, I recommend this one. 3.5 stars.

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

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Sunday, December 26, 2021

She's still around but she is gone: THE DISAPPEARING ACT.

The Disappearing ActThe Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Mia Eliot is a London-based actress who is now in LA for pilot season. She's ready for her big break in Hollywood. At an audition she meets another fellow actress, Emily. After she agrees to help Emily out, things take a turn, and suddenly Emily is missing, with Mia the last person to have seen her. Mia thinks all is well when Emily shows up, but the person who shows up claiming to be her... isn't Emily. Why would someone claim to be Emily? Worried for her own mental health, Mia goes on a quest to find Emily and soon uncovers some very dangerous and worrisome answers.

This was a pretty decent page-turner. I had to get past the fact that Mia seemed somewhat obsessed with Emily: the whole situation was a bit contrived. It would have been a bit easy for her to be like, okay, this was weird, but the police are handling it. (It was also a little interesting to think what I would have done in a similar situation too, though.) If you can move past that, the book is full of twists, especially once it really gets in full swing. It has a lot of surprises and truly kept me guessing until the end.

Sadly, I didn't really love the resolution--I wish the ending had been a little different. Still, the presentation of the #MeToo theming and overall insights into acting are presented quite well. Mia is an interesting character, as well, her obsession not withstanding. 3.5 stars.

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Friday, December 24, 2021

And wonders of his love: IT HAPPENED ONE SUMMER.

It Happened One Summer (Bellinger Sisters, #1)It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a break-up, socialite Piper Bellinger holds a wild party that ends with her in jail. Fed up, her wealthy stepfather cuts her off and sends Piper and her sister Hannah to Washington state (aka purgatory) to run her late father's dive bar. Piper is appalled by the state of their accommodations (bunk beds!) and the hideous bar they need to fix up. But she's determined to show her stepfather that she can cut it. In Westport, she meets Brendan, a local sea captain, who shares her stepfather's idea that Piper stands no chance at survival in his town. Piper and Brendan are total opposites, but they certainly seem to share chemistry. Piper needs to focus if she's going to survive in Westport, but as she starts to learn about her family's past here, she begins to wonder if LA is where she really belongs... and if Brendan--and Westport--are truly that terrible.

"If she didn't have her social status, what did she have?"

This is a fun read, with Piper inspired by the character of Alexis in Schitt's Creek. I enjoyed imagining Piper as Alexis. While this may be a somewhat predictable story, it's also really funny, and very steamy and sexy. Piper is quite vapid at first, but offers us some surprising depth as she finds her way in Westport. She becomes an engaging character and her relationship with Brendan is one that's easy to get behind.

Overall, this story is just easy to like. It's nice to have an enjoyable story that makes you smile once in a while. This was my first book by Tessa Bailey, but I'll definitely be reading others. 4 stars.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2021

If I could go back in time, I would in a second: FLOAT PLAN.

Float Plan (Beck Sisters, #1)Float Plan by Trish Doller
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Ever since Anna lost her fiance, Ben, to suicide, she's been wandering around like a lost soul. But when a reminder pops up about the sailing trip they had planned, she decides to take it. She sets off in their sailboat to take the trip around the Caribbean that Ben had meticulously designed. But after one night, Anna realizes she can't do the trip alone (and survive). So she hires a professional to help her. Keane is also grieving, in his own way, and dealing with a life that hasn't turned out like he's planned. Together the two need to make it to Puerto Rico--and perhaps find a way to rediscover happiness.

"One of the things I’ve learned is that suicide doesn’t break a person’s heart just once."

This is a lovely book--it's also much sadder than I expected. If you've lost someone to suicide, it will hit you right in the gut. It deals with loss and grief very directly, but also in a very touching way. It's quite a "boaty" sailing book--there is a lot about sailing and boating and such terminology. Sometimes it's a bit much and the story seems to get lost in the details.

FLOAT PLAN is about finding your way back to your life after loss and even finding love after sadness. That part is quite well-done. As for Keane and Anna as a couple, I didn't particularly love them together. But this is a sensitive and well-written book, which pushes up the score. I'm not sure I really knew the characters fully (though I knew the sailing terms), but I really enjoyed the writing and the ideas presented. 3.5 stars.

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Monday, December 20, 2021

Headed back to where their hearts belong: THE BALLERINAS.

The BallerinasThe Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Delphine grew up in the world of ballet. Her mother was a famous dancer, and she followed in her footsteps. But she left her prestigious place in the Paris Opera Ballet, her mother's company, to become a choreographer in Russia. She left behind her two best friends, and fellow dancers, Lindsay and Margaux, and a dark secret. But now, fourteen years later, Delphine is coming back, to choreograph a ballet she hopes will change her career--and that of her former friends--for the better. But she soon realizes that things have changed for Lindsay and Margaux while she's been away. Picking up their friendship won't be as easy as she thought, and neither will keeping her long buried secret.

"You start out as whole and then you break."

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It took quite some time to get interesting, and I use that term loosely. There's a great deal of ballet talk and terminology in the beginning (in the whole book). The girls are bitter and prone to jealousy and in-fighting, and they are not any easier to like as they grow up. Our protagonist, Delphine, is incredibly hard to root for, as she comes across as self-centered and narcissistic.

The book is told in a back and forth non-linear format--switching from the girls in ballet school at one moment to present day to memories of Delphine's time in Russia. It's very hard to follow the timeline, to be honest. I also really hate the whole "we did something bad but haha we aren't going to tell you" trope, which the plot revolves around a great deal. It's so frustrating to have this held over our heads, especially when you don't really care that much about the characters. Just spit it out!

THE BALLERINAS seemed to veer around, suffering from a crisis of identity. Coming of age ballerina tale? Angry #MeToo vengeance tale? Twisty thriller? It was hard to keep up. This was not a thriller, no matter how it was billed, but more of a character-driven story. It does get more interesting as the book goes on, but the characters never become more likable and the plot could only provide so much intrigue.

Overall, this story didn't really work for me. But many other reviewers really enjoyed it, so hopefully you'll fall into that camp. 2.5/3 stars.

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

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Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Where the sky came apart with my guilt-stricken heart: FALSE WITNESS.

False WitnessFalse Witness by Karin Slaughter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Leigh Coulton has a normal life on the surface: job as an attorney, a well-adjusted daughter, a civil relationship with her ex-husband. But in Leigh's past is a terrible childhood, with a neglectful mother and lots of buried secrets. The only one who truly knows Leigh is her younger sister, Callie, a drug addict whom she rarely sees. When a case lands on her desk--a high-profile one that could make or break her career--Leigh realizes it's no coincidence why the accused man asked for her as his attorney. He knows about her past and the secrets she's worked so hard to remain hidden. And if she can't get this monster acquitted, he'll ruin everything she's tried so hard to forget and keep buried.

Wow, so Karin Slaughter's stand-alones are typically dark, but this one takes it to a whole new level. This book is brutal and horrifying. It's filled with descriptions of drug addiction, sexual assault, rape, and murder--if you cannot handle detailed depictions of these things, skip this one.

Still, at it's core, this is a love story about two sisters, so damaged by their past that they are barely hanging on, and it's really well-done. It's a rough read, but an intricate one, and Slaughter crafts Leigh and Callie so well that you become quite attached to them (even if I wanted to shake Leigh on multiple occasions for her bad decisions--ironic, since Callie is the supposed drug addict and screw up).

The "bad guy" in this book is so terrible, so hideous, it's almost hard to read at times. Slaughter has created a true beast. This book is not for the faint of heart in any way. You pretty much learn who he is from the beginning, and the book revolves around whether Leigh and Callie will be able to stop him and recover their lives. The point of view goes back and forth between Leigh and Callie and also skips between past and present. I'm not sure how it all works, but it does, and the result is a total page-turner. The pandemic factors in, but only tangentially.

This is a harsh read, but a completely suspenseful one. There's a lot about family under all the horror, and the entire book is quite well-written. If you don't mind a really (really) dark read, it's very good. 4+ stars.

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Monday, December 06, 2021

This was a town took care of its own: THE RURAL DIARIES.

The Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons Down on Mischief FarmThe Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons Down on Mischief Farm by Hilarie Burton Morgan
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

THE RURAL DIARIES is Hilarie Burton Morgan's story of meeting her partner, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and their moving to Rhinebeck, New York and growing their working farm and family together. I read it on a whim, as I follow Morgan on Instagram and am fascinated by her life. I've watched ONE TREE HILL a bit, but she's not a celebrity I know a lot about, so I wasn't looking for anything specific here.

As a result, I found this memoir absolutely delightful. Morgan is a wonderful writer, and this book is charming while being incredibly honest and real. She covers some very serious topics, such as infertility, miscarriage, marriage, and loss, while candidly talking about building up their farm into a working and usable place. She is a total badass with everything she does on that farm, by the way, from manual labor to home renovations to overcoming any obstacle thrown her way. You will finish this book filled with utter admiration for Morgan--I was completely envious of everything she could do.

As always, when I read a memoir, I look for similarities with its author. I had no idea she'd grown up in Virginia and enjoyed hearing about places in Northern Virginia that I recognized. I took delight in the fact she doesn't like the phone and seeks out kids, not adults, at parties because she's an introvert. Morgan has a way of writing about herself that's honest, but not in the typical self-centered celebrity fashion and I think that's why this memoir is so successful. She feels like a real person in THE RURAL DIARIES; a friend you could be chatting with over coffee, not an actor trying to get a few laughs.

"So folks, this is a love letter. To a town. To a farm. To a man."

THE RURAL DIARIES starts around the time Morgan first meets Jeffrey Dean Morgan and goes from there. It's interspersed with recipes and little anecdotes from her life spent on the farm. The format works well, and it's incredibly easy to read. You're left feeling that you've learned about a strong, humble, tough woman who has led an admirable life. Overall, I found this to be a really enjoyable read. 4.5 stars.

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Friday, December 03, 2021

I don't want to be one of those forlorn fools out on the street: BATH HAUS.

Bath HausBath Haus by P.J. Vernon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oliver has a past history of addiction and abuse. He has a safe life now with his partner, Nathan, who is a doctor. However, he jeopardizes that when he goes to a bathhouse when Nathan is out of town. While there, a man tries to kill him and then begins stalking Oliver and making his life miserable. Terrified of ruining everything, Oliver lies to Nathan about the incident and chaos ensues.

I'm definitely the outlier for this book, but I didn't love it as much as everyone else. I am always glad to see a gay protagonist, but never thrilled when they are cheating, lying, and generally up to no good. I was not as invested in the characters of BATH HAUS as I had hoped--I didn't care for anyone, even Oliver, that much. There are a lot of side plot lines: one with Oliver's ex, one with Nathan's friend, one with Nathan's parents--and they often seem distracting and as if there's too much going on at once.

As the book goes on, it goes get better and it definitely kept me guessing. It's tense and suspenseful, for sure. There's a limited pool of suspects, but you find yourself flipping from person to person and thinking it's each one for a few pages. Still, this just wasn't what I had expected or as good as I hoped. I am not a fan of books where the characters do not communicate, and wow, that certainly happened here.

Overall, this is quite a page-turner, but I couldn't find myself invested in the characters. Still, basically everyone else on the planet seemed to love it. 3 stars.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

I don't mind working without a net: RAZORBLADE TEARS.

Razorblade TearsRazorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

RAZORBLADE TEARS is the third book in my alphabetical author challenge (C). This story about a black father, a white father, and their murdered sons was riveting and heartbreaking.

Ike has been out of jail for fifteen years when his son Isiah is murdered, along with his husband, Derek. Ike never fully accepted that Isiah was gay and neither did Derek’s father, Buddy Lee. But as two ex-cons, Ike and Buddy Lee feel that they can seek justice for Isiah and Derek better than the cops. As they do, they set off a violent chain of events that may put themselves in danger as well.

This book is so good—well-written and not afraid to tackle hard topics such as racism and homophobia. It made me cry, and Ike and Buddy Lee felt like real people to me. It’s not for the faint of heart—it’s gory—but it’s also about love, family, and acceptance. This story is brutal but also hopeful, and I cannot recommend it enough!

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