Saturday, December 31, 2022

Best of... My favorite books read in 2022!

I read 130 books this year (please note these are just books read in 2022, not necessarily published in 2022). I narrowed down my favorites by genre and have summarized them all below. You can find full reviews on my Goodreads page. Here's to a great reading year in 2023!!

When You Get the Chance - Millie Price has never known her mom. But when she decides to go to arts college against his wishes, she starts searching for her. With the help of some angsty entries from her Dad's Livejournal, circa 2003, she narrows her search down to three women: Beth, Farrah, and Steph. While tracking them down, she gets an internship that she has to share with Oliver, her high school nemesis. Witty, romantic, and delightful! Millie is utterly bewitching--an amazing character that you cannot help but love.I loved this "enemies to more" romance--it was cute, filled with humor and great banter and serious moments.This is a delightful book--such a beautiful ode to family and theater. 

This Golden State - Poppy does not know her parents' real names, or why they have been on the run her entire life. She just knows something really bad would happen if they got caught.When they move to CA, things seem different. She mails in a DNA test, not realizing the true consequences of her actions--and grows close to a classmate. Totally mesmerizing read!! The family dynamic is complicated and complex, but interwoven so delicately. Weisenberg also makes some timely and intriguing points about our digital footprint and how DNA can link people together. Such a riveting read.  

Home Field Advantage - In Atherton TX, football is life. So when their late quarterback is replaced by a girl (who knew Jack Walsh was really Jaclyn Walsh?!!), the team and the cheerleaders are ready to revolt. Even worse, Jack is actually better than Robbie--Atherton is poised to finally win! This makes it hard for Amber McCloud, whose dreams (and college scholarships) are tied up in being cheer captain next year. Such a fun and sweet read while still covering serious topics such as coming out and homophobia. This book made me smile goofily even while it dealt with important subjects. And it gave us a great queer romance!!  

This Wicked Fate - second book in a great duology. Briseis has grown up a lot since learning how her family, descendants of Medea, are tasked with guarding the Absyrtus Heart--a plant that just happens to be incredibly deadly. A wonderful, queer mythical fantasy adventure that will completely sweep you off your feet! Bri is one of my absolute favorite heroines in YA literature. The writing is gorgeous, Bri is smart, funny, and bi (!), and while the books are amazing fantasy reads they also cover serious topics in a wonderful way. Stunning series.  

The Lesbiana's Guide to Catholic School - Yamilet Flores and her younger brother, Cesar, are headed to a new very white, very wealthy Catholic school where they will be a handful of the Mexican kids. But Yami is glad to leave behind her ex-best friend who outed her and made her life miserable. Her new goals are to keep Cesar out of trouble and to appear straight. A really powerful and moving story led by Yami's unique voice. Not afraid to get into heavy topics, but it also makes a point that these subjects are ones that gay teens are dealing with every single day of their lives. 

 6 Times We Almost Kissed - Penny and Tate have always been in each other's lives, thanks to their best friend moms. But Penny's mom, Lottie, checked out once Penny's father died. And Anna, Tate's mom, has battled cancer and is now facing another illness. Now Lottie is giving part of her liver to Anna and the families are moving in together. All well and good, except Penny and Tate seem to nearly kiss in intense situations.A gorgeous yet oft-heartbreaking examination of grief, trauma, mental health, healthcare, friendship, parenting, and more. Every character in this story flies up from the page, thanks to Sharpe's vivid writing. Beautiful story of two girls trying to find their way in the world--and to find love. [2023 release]  


The Overnight Guest -  Years ago, at this isolated Iowa farmhouse true crime writer Wylie is renting, a horrible crime happened--two parents were murdered and a young girl disappeared. Wylie is trapped there in a storm and finds a small child nearly frozen in the snow. Dark and twisty thriller--and a total page-turner!! Eerie, ominous, and creepy! 

Last Seen Alive - Ellery Hathaway met Reed Markham years ago as a teen when he pulled open a closet, freeing her from a serial killer, Francis Coben. Now Coben will only reveal his remaining victims if Reed brings Ellery to visit him in prison. A bittersweet, dark, and terrifying tale with a twisty plot.


The Secrets We Share - Sisters Natalie and Glenn appear quite different on the surface. But they share a secret--twenty years ago, their abusive father's body was found in the woods behind their home. Well-plotted mystery that keeps you guessing! 

 The Locked Room - book 14 finds Ruth dealing with the pandemic and finding a strange photo in her mother's belongings. Excellent read with a surprising and twisty modern mystery plus great appearances from favorite characters. Very atmospheric!  

Every Last Fear - Matt’s brother, Danny, is in jail for murdering his high school girlfriend and then several years later, tragedy befalls the rest of his family while vacationing in Mexico. Filled with lots of twists and surprises, this is a total page-turner!

Long Gone - book 2 featuring Detective Annalisa Vega, whose life is in tatters after making a decision that tore her family apart. When a fellow cop turns up murdered, Anna figures she has little to lose in investigating. Dark, excellent, and thought-provoking with a strong character-driven plot. 

The Last Party - excellent police procedural. DC Morgan must unravel how famous singer Rhys Morgan's body washed up on shore during a New Year's Day swim. Very character-driven and secrets abound! Tons of twists, with lots of nuance and depth.  
City On Fire - an insanely mesmerizing and excellent read about warring mob families (Irish and Italian) who lose it over a tale as old as time: a girl.  You get totally lost in the characters, and it feels as if you're in Rhode Island with these families, whose total loyalty to family is all they know.  
Part of Your World - Alexis Montgomery is an ER doctor with the weight of the world on her shoulders. She's part of the Montgomery family of world-renowned surgeons, with a huge family legacy to uphold. When Alexis' car breaks down in the tiny town of Wakan, she meets Daniel, a handsome younger carpenter. The story has some serious undertones and does a great job of exploring the dichotomy between what you want in life and the obligations of work and family. It's also such a funny, sweet, and romantic read. It has everything you could want in a romance. Chemistry, banter, humor, a raccoon encounter, farm animals, embarrassing advice about sexting... it all gels perfectly. I was laughing and crying and rooting for Daniel and Alexis the entire time.
Book Lovers - Nora is a cutthroat literary agent who reluctantly agrees to spend the summer in Sunshine Falls, North Carolina at the request of her adored little sister, Libby. Libby dreams Nora will have a rom-com transformation there, but Nora just keeps running into Charlie, an annoying guy she knows from NY. Such a fun one--witty bitter and a romance I could believe in! Plays on writing and literary tropes so well, has great side characters, and is just sweet and sexy! 
Kiss Her Once for Me - Ellie has lost her job and agrees to a fake romance with a friend--only to realize she shared a beautiful, romantic Christmas Eve with his sister a year ago! A lovely, touching, funny holiday story with fake romance and lesbians! Also covers anxiety in a thoughtful way, plus weaves in art and comics so well.     
The Key to My Heart - a sad and quiet tale at times about a woman finding herself after losing her husband. Still features fun banter and romantic prospects (two, in fact!). Our heroine, Natalie, is flawed and relatable. Serious but enjoyable and funny read. Louis has a great voice that brings her characters easily to life.  
Like a House on Fire - Married for over a decade, Merit feels exhausted by life. She goes back to work and finds inspiration in her boss, Jane. An utterly mesmerizing, character-driven novel about motherhood, marriage, and finding yourself. Lovely, with sweet, tough, and gorgeous characters and not afraid to truly explore all aspects of being a mom. 
Lessons in Chemistry - Elizabeth Zott is a chemist in the 60s, when very few respect female scientists. She meets Calvin at the lab, and their ensuing romance is one for the ages. Through a wild and crazy turn of events, Elizabeth also winds up the chef on the TV show Supper At Six, where she inspires women with her scientific approach to cooking. The characters in this book truly sparkle and rooting for Elizabeth is so easy. Also features one of my favorite literary dogs of all time, Six-Thirty. 
I'm Glad My Mom Died - Powerful and moving memoir from child actor McCurdy. Subject matter can be brutal--but McCurdy is a wonderful writer with a brilliant voice. Highlights that she is a brave survivor.
Out of the Clear Blue Sky - Lillie isn't looking forward to her only child heading off to college, but it's made even worse by her husband, Brad, suddenly leaving her for another woman. She finds herself hellbent on revenge, but at what cost?  An emotional read, but funny! A touching and enjoyable read that delves into relationships and motherhood.
Flying Solo - Laurie returns home to clear out her great-aunt's belongings and is drawn to a wooden duck. A quirky and different read that explores the nature of relationships and family in a nuanced way. The tale of the duck is crazy and wild, but also fun and sweet. Really emotional and good read. 

Friday, December 30, 2022

All my troubles have gone away here in your arms: MISTAKES WERE MADE.

Mistakes Were MadeMistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cassie is trying to escape being alone on Family Weekend by grabbing a drink at an off-campus bar. Erin Bennett is attempting something similar. Neither expected an amazing one-night stand, but, hey, these things happen, right? No harm, no foul, until Cassie's close friend Parker drags her to meet her mom--in town for Family Weekend--and oh yeah, it's Erin. Cassie doesn't want to hurt Parker; Erin certainly doesn't want to damage the tentative relationship she is building with her daughter since her divorce. But neither Cassie nor Erin can deny their chemistry.

This is quite a read--it starts off with a bang and never looks back. There's no slow-burn here: be prepared for plenty of sexy times when it comes to Cassie and Erin. Sometimes it almost feels too much; I would have liked to see a little more character development with these two instead of another stolen moment, but there's no denying this is a hot and heavy read!

The premise is definitely a little weird, and it takes some time to adjust. You cannot help but imagining your own life in this situation--and ICK. Cassie and Erin are a good couple, though, so that helps. The sneaking around and poor decision-making makes it more difficult, but I suppose we wouldn't have the book without it, eh? Erin is grappling with a fairly recent divorce from Parker's father, while Cassie has trouble with commitment. It's fairly easy to frame their decisions based on their overall personality types.

At first, this book feels a little slow (besides the sex) and a little repetitive (a lot of back and forth from both characters about hurting Parker, without actually doing anything about it), but it picks up and becomes more fun. I appreciate that this is lesbian novel with a different, unique premise, interesting characters, and steamy scenes. It's refreshing and much needed in our canon and for those reasons alone, my 3.75 stars are rounded up to 4.

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

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Thursday, December 29, 2022

But I think its very dangerous if we do not take what's ours: THE VICIOUS CIRCLE.

The Vicious CircleThe Vicious Circle by Katherine St. John
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Sveta is quite surprised when her uncle Paul passes away and leaves his Mexican villa Xanadu to her instead of his wife, Kali. It's been a while since Sveta and Paul were in touch, and Paul was a wealthy self-help guru known for his famous videos and teachings. Sveta accompanies Paul's lawyer to Xanadu, where she finds Kali and a group of Paul's faithful followers. At first, she finds the group inspirational, but soon she starts to see a dark side to their teachings. Trapped in the jungle with no escape, Sveta starts to question why she inherited Xanadu--and what lengths those around her will go to stop her.

Ugh, this book just didn't work for me. It featured an overdone cult plot that brought nothing new: a tale of a current cult mixed with the tale of an old cult. Sveta inherits this exotic place from her uncle and is fascinated by it at first, but soon realizes it's a scary cult led by his creepy wife. By now she's trapped in the jungle with no way out--shocking. No real surprises occur, and I kept waiting for something, anything to happen other than for Sveta to sneak around and get spooked by the folks at Xanadu. The lush setting is exotic, sure, but that's about all this book has going for it. There's a weird side plot involving Sveta and whether she's sticking with her boyfriend that adds nothing. Honestly, everything in CIRCLE just seemed over the top and weird. Still, many others enjoyed it, so hopefully you'll like it more than me! 2.5 stars.

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

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Tuesday, December 27, 2022

How I'll hate going out in the storm: NINE LIARS.

Nine Liars (Truly Devious, #5)Nine Liars by Maureen Johnson
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Stevie Bell's senior year at Ellingham Academy could be going better. Everyone else is talking about college applications and the future and Stevie just isn't feeling it... Her boyfriend, David, is abroad studying in London. She has no new case to solve. Excitement returns when David invites Stevie and the crew to join him in England, and, while there, his friend Izzy tells them about a cold case from the mid 1990s. A group of nine friends from Cambridge went to relax at a country house and played a game of hide-and-seek in the rain; in the morning, two were found murdered in the woodshed. Izzy's aunt was one of the survivors, and she's sure things did not happen as claimed (burglary gone wrong). Can Stevie solve the case in the little time she has overseas?

I'll admit this was not my favorite Stevie Bell book, which is painful to admit, because I adore Stevie and her process. This one just felt *slow*--maybe because I had just binged THE BOX IN THE WOODS, which was so good! But, wow, did it take a long time for things to happen in LIARS! The first half of the book is Stevie feeling sorry for herself about college and David (so much opining about David in this one--this is not the Stevie I thought I knew!) and trying to get to London. Then the group has to see a million London sights to satisfy the "study abroad" part of the Ellingham requirement, which is all well and good, but wow, are those tourist sights described in detail. Get on with the murder!

The proper English country house murder mystery, when we get to it, is quite enjoyable, of course. We hear from the players back in the 1990s via flashbacks and then get to meet a variety of the survivors. There's plenty here to keep us guessing, but a lot of tension as Stevie navigates relationships with her friends, too. I am still Team Nate For Life.

Overall, this is a bit slower and more angsty than other Stevie books, but the mystery is solid, and of course, I'll still continue reading about Stevie forever, because I love her. 3.5+ stars.

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

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Friday, December 23, 2022

I used to think that we were forever ever: NEVER EVER GETTING BACK TOGETHER.

Never Ever Getting Back TogetherNever Ever Getting Back Together by Sophie Gonzales
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maya and Skye are going on the reality show Second-Chance Romance for various reasons. The show centers on Jordy--a "royal" by a few degrees thanks to his sister marrying a prince--who is going to reunite with his exes on television. Maya is hurting since she and Jordy dated; he went to Canada and cheated on her with Skye. Skye, a worldly traveler who is typically cautious with her own heart, had no idea about Maya, but still feels pain from her own breakup with Jordy.

This was a strange one. I always want to get behind any sort of LGBTQIAP+ story, for sure. This is billed as a teen/YA story, but it focuses on a bunch of girls on a reality show trying to win back their ex--all of which seemed a little old for YA, even if these girls were fairly young. There's already the ick factor of a bunch of women trying to win back a vapid guy who clearly has a bunch of exes and who doesn't seem like a particularly good person.

I wanted to root for Skye and Maya to get together, of course--who doesn't love the idea of the women falling for each other on the show instead of the featured cad? Sadly, there isn't a lot of character development in how the two develop their relationship. At first, they hate each other due to misunderstandings. Then they are together due to proximity. Then, viola, a relationship? Maya is tough to empathize with due to her focused hatred on Jordy and desire for revenge; I liked Skye a bit more. Jordy came across as almost too much of a 1-D villain. There wasn't a lot to work with here. The other girls competing had their moments, but it was hard to tell them apart sometimes. There was so much drama about Jordy that I found myself rolling my eyes.

I am a huge sap, so I liked the ending, which is why my rating is bumped up a little. Still, I wished I had seen more growth in Maya throughout the story.

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

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Wednesday, December 21, 2022

What makes me think I could start clean slated: THE PERSONAL ASSISTANT.

The Personal AssistantThe Personal Assistant by Kimberly Belle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alex becomes a popular influencer by posting inspirational messages and photos of her twin daughters and husband. At first, it's just for fun, but soon, as her followers grow, it becomes a full-time job. She hires a personal assistant, AC, to help her manage the posts and everything that comes with maintaining a social media presence. When Alex hits a coveted follower count, she's thrilled, but things change overnight when she posts something controversial and her followers turn against her fast. She needs AC's help, but she's nowhere to be found. Alex isn't even sure she made the post and the more she digs into things, she can't help but wonder who AC is and if she's responsible for Alex's crumbling life.

This is an exciting, page-turner of a tale. Will it stick with me forever? Probably not. But it's captivating while reading thanks to its format, which is told from Alex, AC, and Alex's husbands POVs. The whole story keeps you on your toes--talk about the dangers of social media! We see how Alex is on top of the world one day and the subject of complete scorn the next. Her followers turn against her, sweeping her teenage daughters and husband up in their hatred. A body turns up and things get interesting quickly!

I loved the then & now format, with the snippets from Alex, AC, and Patrick, Alex's husband. The book has great insight into the power of social media and family. The ending was a little wild, but I enjoyed being kept guessing!

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

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Monday, December 19, 2022

See how much you may receive: THE KEY TO MY HEART.

The Key to My HeartThe Key to My Heart by Lia Louis
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Natalie Fincher has spent the last two and a half years in a daze. And for perfectly good reason--she unexpectedly lost her husband, leaving her in a pool of grief. She remains behind in their fixer-upper cottage, her career in shambles, and her sister and friends constantly encouraging her to "get out there." Her one bit of joy comes with occasionally playing piano music at a London tube station and getting coffee nearby after. But when someone begins to leave sheet music at the station--music that seems so connected to her late husband--Natalie cannot help but feel hopeful for the first time in ages. Is this music a message from Russ?

I loved this book so much I finished it with only one eye thanks to an unfortunate incident with my dog and a garage door-frame. I am becoming quite the fan of Lia Louis and her lovely books. This was a sadder and quieter tale than I expected. It's a book about grief and getting over (or perhaps through) a loss. Still, it is also a romance with fun banter and hope. Louis writes romantic and friendly chatter so well.

In HEART we actually have two romantic prospects for Natalie--Joe, a man she meets at a grief music support class, and Tom, who is the son of Shauna, who runs the coffee shop where Natalie hangs out. Honestly, it stressed me out a little wondering who might win her heart--if at all--because I had a clear favorite.

Natalie is not a perfect heroine and that's quite nice and refreshing. She's learning to get out in the world again and she misses her husband. She's frustrated with her friends sometimes for pushing too hard, yet recognizes that maybe she may need that push. HEART handles grief very honestly and realistically. I enjoyed Natalie's kind, fashionable sister, and the wonderful strong character of Shauna, who is a tough cookie, even if she couldn't always acknowledge it. She has her own well-deserved subplot.

Overall, this is a sometimes serious but quite enjoyable read. While it touches on sad subject matter, it's often very funny. Louis writes with a such a great voice that she truly brings these characters to life. 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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Monday, November 28, 2022

With a love that has no chance to grow: BLEEDING HEART YARD.

Bleeding Heart Yard (Harbinder Kaur #3)Bleeding Heart Yard by Elly Griffiths
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Detective Inspector Harbinder Kaur is now living in London--and away from her family. She has a promotion and is leading her own team. Her first big case involves the murder of a MP, Garfield Rice. When Harbinder arrives at the scene, she discovers one of her own team already there: DS Cassie Fitzgerald. Cassie and Garfield were at their school reunion, joining back up with a group of friends with whom they share a close past friendship... and secrets. Now Harbinder must figure out if Garfield's death is tied to those friends, or his political leanings.

I'm so glad Harbinder Kaur is in my life. Elly Griffiths tells all of her stories with such ease, and I love getting to know her characters. This is the third Harbinder book and while it certainly can stand-alone, I recommend reading the first two as well: both because they are excellent and because you can pick up on some nuances of her character. Plus, I just love Griffiths for writing a lesbian Sikh lead character.

I will admit, I was a little slow to follow the beginning of YARD due to its early emphasis on English schooling and politics. That's just my own ignorance. Everything made sense in time. There are a lot of characters introduced quickly (all of Cassie's friends at the reunion), but you soon learn who's who. The story is told not just from Harbinder's POV but Cassie and others, which adds an extra level of intrigue.

Griffiths gives us an interesting and timely tale filled with apt political aspects. I absolutely adore Harbinder (and her dry wit and sarcasm). Garfield's murder is a fascinating case that keeps you guessing. 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley / Scene of the Crime and Mariner Books in return for an unbiased review.

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Sunday, November 20, 2022

And she don't care when you're down: THE WIDOW.

The WidowThe Widow by Kaira Rouda
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jody Asher defines her life by her husband, Martin, a well-known congressman. She loves the status that comes with his position. Jody is throwing a wedding for their daughter and it's about to be the event of the year. But everything changes when scandal hits Martin--there's a rumor he's sleeping with a young intern and has dirty political ties to other countries. Then Martin dies and Jody truly stands to lose everything.

Ugh, I hate when I do not care for a book, but I just did not like this one! I almost DNF'd this one, but I kept hoping it would improve. And it did pick up a bit near the end, but things never truly gelled for me. THE WIDOW featured stilted writing, despicable characters, and--worst of all--nothing happened for the first half of the book! It's called THE WIDOW, but nothing happens to Martin until the halfway point (despite it appearing in the book summary and title). I just kept waiting and waiting for something exciting to happen!

Jody is billed as a psychopath character, but THE WIDOW did not take it far enough for me. If you are going to go that path, own it! The plot jumps around, trying to play spy thriller, lobbyist saga, and then tossing in their daughter and her wedding occasionally. Even better, somehow everyone went to school together! Martin, Jody, the Vice President, his wife went to college together, and then magically, Martin and their daughter's father went to high school together. Oh, the coincidences abound! It was way too much to believe.

There was a decent enough wild twist here at the end, but it couldn't redeem this story. There are boring "tips for congressional spouses" thrown in between every chapter that I eventually started to skim. Overall, I wish I had skimmed the whole thing. 2 stars.

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

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Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Don't you come knocking on my door: THE LAST PARTY

The Last Party (DC Morgan #1)The Last Party by Clare Mackintosh
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The locals of Cwm Coed have an annual New Year's Day swim in the freezing Mirror Lake each year. But they'll never forget this swim... when the body of Rhys Lloyd washes up on shore. Once a local, Rhys left town for fame and fortune as a singer and only recently returned to start a fancy lakeside community known as The Shore on the "English" side of Mirror Lake. Suddenly DC Ffion Morgan of the North Wales Police has a dead body on her hands, a New Year's Eve party full of suspects, and an unwanted partner in DC Leo Brady from the Cheshire Constabulary.

"Out of the mist floats a man. Face down, and quite unmistakably dead."

I am a sucker for a good police procedural, but this one took it up a notch, as I didn't guess all the twists, which is so (so) rare. I also really liked the character of DC Morgan, and I'm so thrilled that she'll be back for another book. The narration alternates between the present-day investigation of Leo and Ffion and then chapters from the wealthy English personnel staying at The Shore. Their story is told backward, for the most part, starting with the The Shore's New Year's Eve party and heading back in time. We learn that just about everyone had a good reason to want Rhys Lloyd dead.

The setting of PARTY is wonderfully atmospheric, set right on the lake, and playing up the tensions of the locals from Wales versus the outsiders (seen as rich, snobby English folk). Even better is the fact that Rhys used to be one of "them" from Cwm Coed but now appears aligned with The Shore and all it stands for, including tearing apart landmarks passed down from his father, a member of the Cwm Coed community.

I loved the police procedural aspect of this book, as there is a true investigation going on to discover exactly what happened to Rhys, but there are also character-driven stories everywhere. Many of the characters are despicable, but as secrets unravel and dark pasts are told, you learn why many are the way they are. I loved the nuances and depth to so many in this mystery. Even better, plenty of twists and surprises exist to keep you on your toes.

Mackintosh is a wonderful writer, and it was great to have THE LAST PARTY to remind me of that. I look forward to the next book in this series. 4.5 stars.

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

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Tuesday, November 01, 2022

I have been to the movies, I've seen how it ends: THE PRISONER.

The PrisonerThe Prisoner by B.A. Paris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Orphaned in her teens, Amelie journeys from Paris to London on her own. She forms a friendship with a woman named Carolyn, who gives Amelie a job and helps her learn to survive. Amelie eventually meets Ned Hawthorpe through Carolyn's friends, who work at his magazine. The two marry, but before Amelie knows it, they are kidnapped and held for ransom. Who has taken them--and will they ever escape?

The first half to three quarters of this thriller flew by like gangbusters. I was fascinated to know why Amelie was kidnapped and what was going on. The book is told from Amelie in captivity and also explains the past in snippets. We learn how Amelie came to London and how she wound up married to the wealthy Ned.

Honestly, I read a lot of bad reviews for this one before I picked it up, and they actually helped me, because while this is in no way the world's best thriller, it wasn't as bad as some had made it out to be, ha. Sometimes it's the books that get the glowing reviews that turn out to be disappointments to me! Now, yes, the plot is going to be a bit ridiculous here. It's B.A. Paris after all. And what dropped this a star or so for me, after the book started off so well, was the ending, which sort of turned things off course. It was odd and dragged things down. It also seemed to leave some loose ends.

Overall, this is a page-turner of a thriller that will probably be easy to forget in short time. It's a quick and crazy read. Please note a trigger warning for sexual assault.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and St. Martin's Press in return for an unbiased review. Look for THE PRISONER on 11/1/2022!

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Monday, October 31, 2022

I could spend every single day afraid of losing your love: KISS HER ONCE FOR ME.

Kiss Her Once for MeKiss Her Once for Me by Alison Cochrun
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Ellie Oliver lost her dream job in animation and now works at a coffee shop, just passing the mindless days and going home to her closet-sized apartment. She keeps flashing back to the magical Christmas Eve a year ago, when she met an amazing woman on a snowy morning and fell in love over the course of the day, but lost her. Then the coffee store's landlord comes up with a shocking proposition: he needs to get married to earn his inheritance, and she needs money. They'll have a (short) marriage of convenience, which includes spending the holidays at his family's winter cabin. But when Andrew and Ellie arrive to meet the fam, she cannot believe that his sister Jacqueline is actually "Jack," the woman she fell in love with last Christmas Eve. Now Ellie has to decide between keeping up the ruse with Andrew for financial security or risking everything for love.

KISS HER ONCE FOR ME is so charming! Christmas! Fake romance! Lesbians! It felt a little more serious than CHARM OFFENSIVE despite the holiday theme, but it's still such a great story. Cochrun said she was inspired by the movie "While You Were Sleeping," which is one of my absolute favorite films, and I could totally see it. (We even have a Jack!)

Much like CHARM, KISS covers anxiety in such a thoughtful way. Ellie is an anxious soul, afraid to to trust or take chances. Her fear of failure hit me in the gut. As for Jack, after you read this, no real lesbian may ever match up again. She's a lesbian ideal, a flannel-laden, pastry baking hottie. Andrew's family is a trip too, especially his grandmas, who are totally amusing (and very "While You Were Sleeping)."

I loved how the theme of art and web comics ran across the book (Ellie wrote a web comic about her day with Jack, and we learn about their encounter through excerpts from it). It's pretty hard not to enjoy a book about love, snow, and finding yourself. It has serious parts, but embraces its tropes, such as dating a friend's brother and the good 'ol fake fiance. It also really made me want to visit Portland!

Overall, this is such a lovely, touching, and fun read. Hallmark, Lifetime, please come and make this into a holiday movie! 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Atria Books in return for an unbiased review. Look for KISS HER ONCE FOR ME on 11/1/2o22!!

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Monday, October 17, 2022

I've been kind and I've been ruthless: FIRST BORN.

First Born: A NovelFirst Born: A Novel by Will Dean
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Molly is a very quiet and shy person who lives her life based on routine and structure. She's the exact opposite of her outgoing identical twin sister, Katie. Molly has always relied on Katie, but her sister recently moved to New York City from London. Then Molly receives the worst news: Katie has died, a possible murder. She has to overcome her fears and travel to New York City to try to figure out exactly what happened to her sister.

FIRST BORN is a twisty thriller that offers a ton of surprises, but I confess that I just didn't love it all that much. I kept reading to find out what happened, so the book captured my attention, but I did not find the characters very engaging or likeable. There was not much character development here, and the writing style was rather weird. It's a wild plot, for sure; so if you can suspend disbelief and just go for it, you'll enjoy this one. Barely 3 stars for me.

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 10, 2022

But I've been searching high and low and all around this town: THIS WICKED FATE.

This Wicked FateThis Wicked Fate by Kalynn Bayron
My rating: 4.5+ of 5 stars

Briseis has grown up a lot. (Spoilers if you haven't read book #1). She's learned how her family, descendants of Medea, daughter of Hecate, niece of Circe, wife of Jason, is tasked with guarding the Absyrtus Heart--a plant that just happens to be incredibly deadly. Pieces have been separated over hundreds of generations. Jason's line has always wanted the heart and has been hunting it and Bri's family. Her family has been trying to get the pieces of the heart back and destroy them all. But the stakes are even higher now: if they do not get them all back within 28 days, Bri's mom will be lost forever.

What follows is a wonderful, queer mythical fantasy adventure that will completely sweep you off your feet! Bri is one of my absolute favorite heroines in YA literature. She is smart, funny, and real (and bi), and her focus on family is just lovely. Bayron's writing is just gorgeous: the descriptions of gardens and plants are so beautiful, not to mention all the mythology. She brings to life the world of Medea and all these mythical places and gods and goddesses. I felt as if we truly got to know Circe more.

These books are wonderful in that they are fun fantasy reads but also cover serious topics; as Bayron states: generational burden, grief, and healing. It covers the bonds of family and also friendship.

Overall, I love this series, and I found this book to be absolutely stunning! 4.5+ stars.

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Thursday, October 06, 2022

When you said you don't need me anymore: IN THE TRAP.

In The Trap (Hazel & Maeve: The Campus Mysteries #1)In The Trap by Jessica Cranberry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hazel is a quiet college student who mostly minds her own business (while watching the world happen around her) until she gets to know her roommate, Maeve, better. One evening as they pass through the Trap, an outdoor space at their university, the two are harassed by some drunk male classmates. When one of them ends up dead, Hazel is a potential suspect, and she and Maeve try to solve the case before the police can trace either girl to the dead guy. Set just when internet diaries were becoming popular, the two delve into the campus' supposedly anonymous site. Can Hazel and Maeve figure out what happened--before anything else happens to them?

The time setting (college campus around when I attended) lured me in here. The writing wasn't always the best-- it was rather simplistic--and the mystery was a little easy to work out due to the limited cast, but I am hooked enough to want to read book #2. I definitely hoped for more of a lesbian storyline here (as I think Hazel did too) but maybe there will be more in the second book. It was nice to read a book set when I went to college, though, and I appreciated the author's focus on assault and the overall treatment of women.

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

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Tuesday, October 04, 2022

But I'm wide awake and afraid to fight: MAD HONEY.

Mad HoneyMad Honey by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Olivia McAfee never expected to return to her New Hampshire hometown with her son Asher, to live in her parents' farmhouse, and to take up beekeeping after the death of her father. But after a dark turn in her marriage, here she is. And she and Asher have made a nice, quiet life with one another. Asher is happy, playing hockey on the high school team and dating Lily Campanello, who is new to town. Then one day Olivia receives a call that Lily is dead and Asher is being questioned by the police, and suddenly their idyllic existence is threatened.

This was an excellent and thought-provoking read by Picoult and her co-author, Jennifer Finney Boylan. I don't want to give much away, so I'll keep my review short. The story alternates between Lily and Olivia's point of views, with Lily's going backward in time, chronicling her relationship with Asher. It's a neat plot device, but a little confusing sometimes. MAD HONEY focuses on the fierce and tumultuous relationships between teens and between mothers and sons. It delves into domestic violence and gender identity in deep and explorative ways. It also features a very Picoult-like trial (featuring a reoccurring character you may recognize from a few of her other books). It was sad, but lovely and mesmerizing. 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. Look for MAD HONEY on October 4th!

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Monday, October 03, 2022

Everything I'd do if I could leave this place and never look back: ENOLA HOLMES AND THE ELEGANT ESCAPADE.

Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade (Enola Holmes, #8)Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade by Nancy Springer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to my wife Kate for this guest review! :)

Nancy Springer has once again given us a peek into the clever mind of Enola Holmes, the younger, eager, and (more?) talented sister of the notable Sherlock Holmes. Her adventures in Elegant Escapade continue to highlight her precocious nature and ingenious insight into solving mysteries.

Seeking to visit her best friend, Lady Cecily, Enola finds Cecily confined to her rooms by her father, Sir Eustace. Enola assists Cecily with her grande escape - only to have Lady Cecily slip away and go on the run alone!

With Sherlock’s help, Enola begins to unravel the sordid details of Sir Eustace’s past and figure out ways to use the information to finally free Lady Cecily.

As always, Springer does a magnificent job highlighting Enola’s incredible investigative skills and finding ways to show that her keen problem solving skills match (if not exceed) her brother’s. A fun, fast, read from beginning to end.

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

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Saturday, September 24, 2022

Hoping you don't even know I'm gone: THE LOCKED ROOM.

The Locked Room (Ruth Galloway Mysteries, #14)The Locked Room by Elly Griffiths
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The pandemic comes to Norfolk, finding Ruth sorting through her late mother's things. She is surprised to find a photo of her cottage--from quite some time ago. Why would her mother have a picture of Ruth's place long before she lived there? As the pandemic forces Ruth and her daughter Kate to shelter at home in said cottage, they befriend a new neighbor, Zoe, a nurse working at a nearby hospital. But soon Nelson needs Ruth's help in investigating an ancient murder-suicide and before they know it, a more modern one.

A Ruth Galloway book is perfection, as always. I was dreaming of more Ruth and Nelson drama (updates, progress?), but this was an excellent read with a surprising and twisty modern mystery that kept me guessing! There were the usual appearances from the superb supporting cast, but Cathbad and Judy really had a main role in this one--Griffiths' characters are truly friends, and at points, this book had me in tears as I care for everyone so deeply. I also very much love Nelson and his sarcasm, which provides the perfect antidote of humor.

ROOM gives us a chance to explore more about Ruth's family and her past friendships, which was different and interesting. Nelson is still grappling with the future and potential retirement, and we get to see his wonderful and diverse team at work helping him solve cases.

Overall, this is a great, atmospheric mystery featuring a beloved group of characters that blends the pandemic well into the setting. Please note a trigger warning for mentions of suicide. 4.5 stars.

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

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Thursday, September 08, 2022

Strung out on a feeling, my hands are tied: BURN DOWN, RISE UP.

Burn Down, Rise UpBurn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

As more teens disappear from the Bronx, sixteen-year-old Raquel tries not to let it get to her. But when the most recent disappearance hits close to home (the cousin of her friend Charlize), she starts to wonder what is really going on. Things get even worse when a mysterious illness befalls her mom, putting her in the hospital in a contained ward. Raquel and Charlize work together to find out what's going on and soon discover that everything may be linked to a horrifying urban legend called the Echo Game, where people disappear under the subway. Quickly, Raquel isn't sure if they'll be able to save anyone--including themselves.

I seem to be an outlier but this one just didn't work for me. There were potential glimmers of real brilliance, but simplistic writing and lots of plot holes marred it all. Now I'm sure some of it is that I do not read a lot of fantasy and horror, but this book was just strange. I actually liked the idea of the plot (weird game luring people into a strange underworld, basically), but the writing was just basic and the story had so many plot holes, even if it was a horror tale. You can tell a good fantasy story without leaving gaps in the plot or failing to wrap up loose ends. The Echo/train challenge could have been really great--especially because the way it was linked to the history of Bronx was well-done--but overall, it was mostly just confusing and fizzled out at the end.

I really liked Raquel's friendship with Aaron, another schoolmate, but there's no real backstory to her sapphic friendship with Charlize, which was such a bummer. So much wasted potential there. The book's strength is its exploration of the history of the Bronx and its examination of the racism the area has faced and continues to face. Unfortunately, the overall story was fairly uneven and just didn't work for me. Others enjoyed it and hopefully you will too. 2.5 stars.

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

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Sunday, August 28, 2022

You will find me gone, to carry on the lonely fight: THE FAMILY REMAINS.

The Family Remains (The Family Upstairs, #2)The Family Remains by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

THE FAMILY REMAINS picks up where THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS left off, but you need not have read the first book to understand the second (though I think it would help). A pile of bones are found by the side of Thames, leading Detective Samuel Owusu to chase down leads connected to a thirty-year-old cold case. Meanwhile, Henry Lamb is determined to track down Phin, a person from his past, and heads to Chicago to do just that.

This book was fine, but it certainly was not a sequel I needed. Remembering all the family dynamics of the Lamb family and their connections is difficult. None of the characters are particularly likeable, except maybe Samuel, but the poor guy always seems a step behind in his investigation. There's a side plot with a woman named Rachel that is unnecessary, especially since a lot of that ground was covered in the first book.

Still, the book picks up a bit with Henry in Chicago, enough to keep me reading and interested. To me, this was more a character-based novel than a true mystery, but there were some interesting twists and turns. 3 stars.

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Thursday, August 25, 2022

Yours was the kiss that counted: BOOK LOVERS.

Book LoversBook Lovers by Emily Henry
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Nora Stephens is a cutthroat literary agent who reluctantly agrees to spend the summer in Sunshine Falls, North Carolina at the request of her adored little sister, Libby. Libby has this dream that Nora will have some sort of rom-com small town transformation in Sunshine Falls, but the main male Nora keeps running into is Charlie Lastra. Unfortunately she already knows Charlie from New York and they've met, repeatedly. None of those meetings have been cute or romantic. But as the two keep running into each other over and over, they start wondering if maybe they don't hate each other after all.

I needed this book after reading a few disappointing books by some favorite authors. This was just what I craved: witty banter and a romance I could believe in. A really simple way of saying it: this book is really good. It plays on writing and literary tropes so well. With both Charlie and Nora being in the publishing business, this is truly a book for book lovers. (Imagine that?) It's filled with hilarious banter that made me laugh constantly - the sexiness between Charlie and Nora is amazing.

But this is also a sweet book in a lovely small town setting. There are so many good side characters and quirky small town folks. Nora's desire to take care of her sister was almost too much for me at times (she's a grown woman!), but I understand why she was so protective of her.

Overall, this is a gorgeous, sexy, sweet romance! 4.5 stars.

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

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Tuesday, August 23, 2022

There's a fire that's just waiting for fuel: PLEASE JOIN US.

Please Join UsPlease Join Us by Catherine McKenzie
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Nicole is an overworked and exhausted lawyer who is intrigued when she received an invitation to an exclusive organization for women called Panthera Leo. It couldn't come at a better time as things are falling apart for Nicole at work, where she's in danger of losing her coveted partnership. She and her husband, Dan, are also at risk of being kicked out of their New York apartment. She goes on a Panthera Leo retreat and meets the other women in her Pride, which include successful businesswomen, an actress, and a congresswomen. Once home, the Pride helps Nicole find a new place and regain her footing at work. But soon she realizes everything comes at a price--and Panthera Leo has a dark side.

Well, this was an interesting read for sure. At times, it was uneven and dragged. But when it was exciting, it was a total page-turner and very eventful!! PLEASE JOIN US is filled with twists and surprises; just when you think you have things figured out, it takes a turn and goes off another way. The "then" and "now" timeline makes for a frenetic and dramatic format. While fun and perhaps slightly unbelievable, PLEASE JOIN US is an intriguing (albeit slightly stressful) read. It really touches on how angry and tired women can feel in a society that favors men, especially in the workplace (a few things hit home for sure). If you're ready to suspend a little disbelief and get lost in a wild story, this one is for you. 3.5 stars.

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

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Friday, August 19, 2022

But you fell asleep and your dreaming brought the nightmares: STAY AWAKE.

Stay AwakeStay Awake by Megan Goldin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Liv wakes up in a taxi, she has no idea where she is or how she got there. As she arrives at her apartment, she realizes strangers are living there. She finds a bloody knife in her pocket and writing scribbled all over her hands with phrases like, "STAY AWAKE." Confused and afraid in New York City, she sees reports of a murder on the news with the same phrase, "STAY AWAKE" written at the scene. Liv starts to fear that she was somehow involved, but how can she figure out what happened when she forgets everything when she falls asleep?

"The last thing I remember before opening my eyes was working at my sun-drenched desk by the office window until I was startled by the sudden ring of my desk phone... Everything after that is a blank, until now."

This is a really exciting read that moves at a fairly breakneck pace so that you feel as if you too are not sleeping and racing around in New York high on multiple caffeine drinks. Liz forgets the last two years of her life every time she falls asleep. The forgotten memory piece can get a little old (as Liz wakes up yet again and makes the same discovery over and over) and Liz can drive you a bit wild with her poor decisions. But this is a really fast-paced and thrilling book filled with fun twists. It's necessary to keep with the then and now timeline, which can get a bit confusing from time to time.

I loved the police in STAY AWAKE--Halliday and detective Lavelle. I think Halliday was probably my favorite character, a cop trying to get a place on the detective squad with Lavelle. I would truly love to see those two in another book. Halliday's portions gave the book a police procedural sort of feel, which is always a plus for me.

There's a ton of false lines and red herrings in AWAKE and it will certainly keep you flipping the pages. It covers timely topics such as female stalking being ignored by the police, which was a nice serious aspect to a slightly bizarre plot. 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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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Cold city like the eyes in the subway station: LONG GONE.

Long Gone (Detective Annalisa Vega, #2)Long Gone by Joanna Schaffhausen
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Detective Annalisa Vega's life is in tatters after making a decision that tore her family apart. Without their support and with most of her fellow officers turned against her, Anna is basically on her own. So when a fellow cop, Leo Hammond, turns up murdered, Anna figures she has little to lose in investigating his murder. She quickly learns Leo had a recent altercation with wealthy Moe Bocks, whom he had long suspected in the murder of a young woman in a cold case. When Anna learns Moe is dating her (kinda, former) sister-in-law, she hones in on him in the way only Anna can, putting both her life and career in jeopardy.

Well, this was just as dark, excellent, and thought-provoking as all of Schaffhausen's books. I love her writing so much, and I'm now really loving the Annalisa Vega series (this is book #2), even if she frustrates me sometimes with her impulsive behavior. She also makes a lot of decisions that stress me out and, because I'm attached to her, make me worry about her! That's good writing, as I care about the character.

I highly recommend reading the first book in the series, because it's good, though this book does stand-alone. I won't go into much detail about what Anna did in book one, other than to say that her personal life with her once close-knit Chicago family is pretty much in shambles. She's partnered with her ex-husband Nick, a man who cheated on her while they were wed, but has her back now. When they find Leo Hammond dead, his new and much younger wife claims she saw a "frogman" in a wet-suit before he was killed. Is Kayla telling the truth or did she kill her husband for the insurance money? Why would anyone be running around the cold streets of Chicago in a diving suit?

"She'd blown up her whole life last year and Nick was the only one left standing in the ashes."

What follows is an excellent mystery coupled with a strong character-driven story. Anna becomes intensely fixated on the cold case related to Moe Bocks, who is suspected of strangling a young woman many years ago. All of this ties together with Leo and three fellow cops, Tom, Paulie, and Frankie. As Anna delves into Leo's death, she realizes these four cops may not be on the up-and-up, which certainly isn't going to get her any more love from the police department.

Schaffhausen offers us complicated and realistic characters, as always, starting with Anna, then Nick, and even our quartet of cops. She embraces the Chicago setting (there's a line about the Bulls and Michael Jordan going to the Wizards that is so Windy city and on point...) and brings it to life perfectly (this from someone with both parents from these Chicago suburbs).

If you love a strong and dark mystery populated with excellent characters, you'll love LONG GONE. 4.5 stars.

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

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Thursday, August 04, 2022

To ride the wind and dance in a hurricane: MEANT TO BE

Meant to BeMeant to Be by Emily Giffin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Joe Kingsley III is the eldest son of the beloved Kingsley family, adored for their politics and military heroics. But he struggles holding up the honor of the Kingsley name. Meanwhile Cate grew up poor in a single-parent home. Modeling was her way out. When Joe and Cate meet, they feel a connection instantly. But can their relationship survive the intense spotlight that comes with it?

This was a surprisingly captivating read! It wasn't always the best written, perhaps, but I found myself always wanting to pick it up and find out what was going on with Joe and Cate. They were both intriguing characters.

MEANT TO BE uses the "what if" of JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy as its foundation. You can see parallels as you read, but the characters do stand on their own. Joe is struggling with the burdens that come with being from a famous family, while Cate is a model from the wrong side of the tracks. The tale moves quickly as chapters alternate between Joe and Cate's point of view. Their love story is actually quite sweet at times and it's truly fascinating in a sort of soap opera, dramatic way. The book also touches on important topics such as domestic violence.

Overall, this is a touching, emotional romantic story that draws you in immediately. 4 stars.

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

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Tuesday, August 02, 2022

All my heart my soul my wishes: THANK YOU FOR LISTENING.

Thank You for ListeningThank You for Listening by Julia Whelan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sewanee Chester is a well-known, award-winning audiobook narrator. But in "another life," Sewanee was an actress. An accident changed things and while she's content enough with her new life, she often feels something is missing. Even more, her best friend, Adaku has the life Sewanee has always wanted and is on her way to stardom. Sewanee is also concerned about her beloved grandmother, Blah, whom she's losing to dementia. Sewanee no longer narrates romance books--she doesn't believe in the happily ever after story, after all--but when she's offered the chance to do a web series with renowned romance narrator Brock McNight, she agrees. As Sewanee and Brock begin to work together, they grow close over text. Can Sewanee let down her walls and let Brock in?

Oh goodness, this was really delightful! LISTENING is such a fun and charming book. Brock and Sewanee are both damaged but lovable characters, and Sewanee is dealing with how her accident affected not only her acting career but also her trust levels. Watching her figure out her life and grapple with not only what she wants but what she feels she deserves is a truly worthwhile and enjoyable journey.

Whelan brings so much knowledge about romance and audiobooks (of course). What I loved is the amazing witty and sexy banter in the book, often in email and texts between our characters. It lovingly embraces its tropes and is such a lovely and engaging romance. It's impossible not to root for our pair. There's also some fun and interesting side characters, including Sewanee's grandmother, her mother and her mom's boyfriend (Stu-such a cutie!). There were pieces of this book that made me laugh out loud.

Overall, this is such a fun and romantic read. It was just a tiny bit too long for me, but otherwise, it was a wonderful romance. 4+ stars.

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Saturday, July 30, 2022

Since you wrote me off with a call: SOMETHING WILDER

Something WilderSomething Wilder by Christina Lauren
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As the daughter of famous treasure hunter Duke Wilder, Lily has no patience for it. But with her father dead and bills to pay, she has to use his name (and maps) to lead treasure hunting tours for tourists. Imagine her surprise when her first love, Leo Grady, shows up with a group of friends for a tour. She hasn't seen Leo since he disappeared on her years ago. But when Leo and his friends' tour goes wildly awry, Leo and Lily have to work together just to stay alive.

So this book was not what I was expecting. Think very weird treasure hunt with death and injuries, with some sex and romance thrown in on the side. I never could quite connect with Lily and Leo like I have with many other CLo couples. The camping/treasure hunt gone amok side plot was a lot. It definitely seemed to overshadow Leo and Lily's story. And while I get that the treasure hunting was supposed to be sort of fun and silly, sometimes it was... not.

That's not to say that WILDER is necessarily bad, and I'm sure this book will appeal to a lot of people. It just wasn't my favorite of the Christina Lauren books and was a bit odd. 3 stars.

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

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Wednesday, July 27, 2022

My heart is on wings: LONG STORY SHORT.

Long Story ShortLong Story Short by Serena Kaylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beatrice Quinn is shocked when she gets into Oxford, but not as surprised as her parents! They didn't even know that their intelligent, shy daughter who loves routines (she eats the same meals on the same day every week) applied and they cannot imagine sending their sixteen-year-old overseas. So they strike a deal: if Beatrice goes to theater camp and completes a series of tasks (make a friend, accept an invitation, get hugged by three people), they'll agree that she's experienced teenage life and is ready for Oxford.

This is rather charming YA story about coming of age and finding yourself. Beatrice is absolutely adorable and a wonderful, feisty, intelligent, heroine that I could get completely behind! I was a little wary about this story because I'm not a huge fan of books where we need to take the plain intelligent girl and transform her into a beautiful person who no longer focuses on the intelligence that she cared about before. Luckily, STORY does not seem to want to change Bea too much, though it hovers on a little too much for me at times.

Bea completely lucks out in meeting Mia, her roommate, who takes her under her wing and has no problem that her shy and awkward roommate is at camp with a checklist. She embraces it completely, as does Mia's friend, Nolan, who is a total sweetie. Like much of STORY, there's a lot of good luck and a bit too much cheeriness, because, let's face it, kids can be cruel. And don't worry, there's plenty of teenage bullying for poor Beatrice, but it's isolated to a couple of kids. Still, I loved the friendship between Mia, Nolan, and Bea, and they are so cute.

Bea's love interest, Nik, offers a great love/hate relationship and they give us palpable (YA appropriate) chemistry. Things drag a small bit as Bea wonders maybe one or two too many times about his intentions and her place in the world. Overall, though, it's a sweet romance and a lovely story. The themes of finding yourself, friendship, and first love are presented in a unique and fun way. And, seriously, Bea is pretty amazing for surviving theater camp--I honestly thought her parents were monsters for that touch.

Overall, this is a fun, touching, and poignant YA rom-com. 4+ stars.

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

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Monday, July 25, 2022

I don't even care if you're here when I wake up: THE SUMMER PLACE.

The Summer PlaceThe Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner

A twisted soap opera that begins when twenty-two-year old Ruby announces she's getting married, shocking her stepmom, Sarah. THE SUMMER PLACE is set during the pandemic and Ruby and Gabe have been living with Sarah and her husband Eli during COVID times. Ruby's step-grandmother, Ronnie, is thrilled to host the wedding at her beach house in Cape Cod... mainly because she's planning to sell it after, something none of the rest of the family knows yet. Also in the mix is Sarah's twin brother, Sam, reeling from the death of his wife and struggling to raise his stepson, Connor.

Whew... this is a wild ride! When I say soap opera, I mean it! There is cheating galore, a ton of misunderstandings, arguments, and so much more! You need to be prepared for drama at every turn and to swallow a bunch of coincidences that bombard this family constantly. There are some really weird family dynamics at play here, everyone.

Honestly, I do not mind a soapy read in the least. Heck, I watched DAYS and PASSIONS in my lifetime! My problem with this one is that it lacked Weiner's usual lyrical and emotive writing. Each chapter was told from a different POV and it felt like a beginner's novel. "First we did this and then I felt that and then this happened and ..." There was none of the passion and beauty I usually see in her work. I kept reading because I needed to find out what was happening with this trainwreck of a family, but I wasn't drawn to the characters or their lives due to the lackluster writing. Sam was my favorite, but even he made some... interesting ... choices.

Still, Weiner gives us a lot of insight into motherhood, marriage, love, loss, and the place of women at various points in society. I had hoped for more here, but it squeezed out a 3-star rating for me (probably with a little favoritism thrown in, because I'm such a Jennifer Weiner fan).

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

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Thursday, July 21, 2022

You’re wondering now how long it’ll take before I start missing you: I'LL BE YOU.

I'll Be YouI'll Be You by Janelle Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As children, identical twin sisters Sam and Elli were child actors who spent nearly all their time together. Sam loved acting and spending nearly every moment with her sister. But Elli was a reluctant actress and longed for more space and privacy. After acting, Elli dedicated herself to being the perfect wife and dreamed of being the perfect mother as well. Sam never recovered from losing acting, bouncing from one job to the next, struggling with addiction. She's shocked when her parents call her, telling her that Elli has disappeared to a strange spa, leaving her newly adopted young daughter, Charlotte, with their parents. Sam goes to help her parents with Charlotte and tries to figure out what's happened with Elli. As she pieces things together, she wonders if Elli has joined a cult and if her decisions will threaten them all.

This was sort of a strange book. Please note that a 3-star rating doesn't mean I did not like it; I just didn't love it. I admit I had hoped for more based on the author's previous book, and I found this to be less of a mystery and more a character-driven story, though there are certainly twists and plot pieces to figure out as the story moves along.

The focus here is basically entirely on Sam and Elli. The book is told from both their perspectives, and I felt myself drawn more to Sam, despite all her issues (she has many, including addiction to various substances and the ability to abandon and betray all who love her). Yet Elli seems more brittle and when the book shifts to her point of view, it seems almost jarring.

YOU is filled with thoughts on twins, sisterhood, and reflections on self. It's a very thoughtful and reflective tale, even with the central theme of Elli's whereabouts at its core. There are a few surprises thrown in, but if you go into this one expecting more of an exploration of sisters and their relationship, you'll enjoy it more. 3 stars.

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

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Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Been a long time gone: THINGS WE DO IN THE DARK.

Things We Do in the DarkThings We Do in the Dark by Jennifer Hillier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paris Peralta wakes up in her bathroom, covered in blood, holding her husband's straight razor--with said famous husband dead in the bathtub next to her. She knows it doesn't look good, and it isn't long before she's arrested for his murder. But what worries Paris most is the media attention this brings; it was Jimmy who was famous, after all, not her. Now Paris' face is splashed across the news everywhere, and she knows it won't be long before someone recognizes her, and the life she's worked so hard to build crashes around her... Twenty-five years earlier, Ruby Reyes was convicted of murdering her lover in Canada. Ruby knows exactly who Paris really is, and now that she's being released from prison, she's going to let everyone know.

"Paris should have known it would end like this, because there's no such thing as a happily ever after when you run away from one life to start a whole new one."

Oh, DARK was quite good! It was easy to get lost in this thriller, which is exactly what I look for in a good mystery. The book was twisty and, ironically, often dark and full of surprises. Even better, it's still enjoyable if you guess a few plot points; I tore through it in less than two days.

The story covers two time periods--going back in time to Ruby Reyes and her life and then present-day, as Paris deals with the murder charge facing her and what it means for her current life (and her past). Hillier weaves together these two eras quite well and introduces an excellent, diverse supporting cast. She touches on some deep and interesting topics, including motherhood, abuse (trigger warning for domestic and sexual assault), and the meaning of friendship. Paris is a nuanced and well-drawn character, and while there is plenty here to keep any mystery fan intrigued, there's also multi-faceted characters and emotional development. The ending wrapped up a little easily for me, but this was still a good read.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. It kept me guessing, but I was also invested in the characters. 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. (I also chose an early release copy on BOTM, because sometimes, there's just something about a hardcover!)

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Monday, July 18, 2022

I'm just asking if you feel the way I'm feeling: THE GODPARENT TRAP.

The Godparent TrapThe Godparent Trap by Rachel Van Dyken
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Colby is a free-spirited blogger, who travels the world and writes about the various food and experiences she tries. Rip is a straight-laced accountant and brother of Colby's best friend, Monica. Colby and Rip are united by only two things--their love of Monica and her husband, Brooks, and their children and their mutual hatred of each other, which has only increased since a disastrous date last year. But that all changes when Monica and Brooks are in an accident and Colby and Rip realize they were named co-guardians of their two young children. Suddenly they find themselves living together in Monica and Brooks' house, struggling to raise two broken-hearted kids while grieving themselves. Rip is appalled at Colby's lack of order and routine while Colby cannot believe he wants to put kids on the same tight schedule he abides by. But as time passes, the two realize they have to unite for pure survival.

"Everything about her bothered me, mainly because she was this force of nature that refused to follow any rules but her own. Rules kept people safe."

This book feels like Life As You Know It with Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel's roles reversed. Luckily I find that movie really cute in a very cheesy (and sad) way. Rip is the straight-laced one here, who is traumatized by the past death of his parents and raising his little sister and cannot handle a world where spontaneity (and the possibility of getting hurt) exists. Colby is the free spirit who loves traveling, not planning, and not being tied down to anything. She's also hurt by the fact that she tried to kiss Rip on their one awful date. We hear a lot about this terrible date, but it's still sometimes hard to buy Colby and Rip as a couple--there isn't a ton of character development and it does occasionally feel like they've been tossed together to magically like one another now. The tropes are also heavy with this one between uptight Rip and free loving Colby.

I won't lie, there's definitely some sad parts in this book. The loss of Monica and Brooks is hard, especially reading from a parent perspective. You have to sort of compartmentalize that piece, because romance is a little tough to focus on when you know two kids have lost their parents and Rip lost his sister.

Still, this is a cute story. There are some really funny moments (often involving a geriatric cat, Stu) and the kids are very adorable. Rip and Colby grew on me, and I did find myself rooting for them as time went on. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Forever (Grand Central Publishing) and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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