Monday, January 31, 2022

What in heavens name have you done: LAST SEEN ALIVE.

Last Seen Alive (Ellery Hathaway, #5)Last Seen Alive by Joanna Schaffhausen
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Ellery Hathaway met Reed Markham years ago as a teen when he pulled open a closet, freeing her from a serial killer. She was Francis Coben's only survivor. Now Ellery and Reed have an intense history. And Coben, who is in prison, wants Ellery back. He'll reveal the location of his remaining victims only if Reed brings Ellery to visit. What follows is a bittersweet and terrifying tale as Ellery must once again face her demons.

"The monster was still out there breathing the same air. No wonder there was a huge crowd at her door. Of course, everyone wanted a picture. The story wasn't finished."

I loved every single thing about this book (even all the murderous killing bits). I adore Ellery and Reed, and this was a perfect addition to the series. This is the fifth book in the series. You can catch up easily if you haven't read the first four books, but I highly recommend reading them, because they are excellent.

This is a dark and emotional read. Coben is on death row, and with some women--potential victims--still missing, his only power remains in knowing their location. He holds this over Ellery and Reed's heads, forcing Ellery to reconcile her desire to stay away from her tormentor and hold on to her shreds of privacy versus her need to find these women. Schaffhausen does such an excellent job at portraying how awful Coben is. We always knew how terrible he made Ellery's existence, but we see now how horrific he is--gaining both more details about his past and the present.

"You cannot call up the devil and ask him to dance."

Also in the present, more women go missing, in a similar fashion to Coben's previous victims. With Coben in prison, it cannot be him, so Reed, Ellery, and Ellery's partner Dorie investigate. Also on the scene is a reporter, Kate, and a movie producer, Ben, who want to film Coben in prison. All of this combines for a fascinating story that weaves in Coben and a new murderer. There's excellent descriptions of Chicago as Ellery returns home, for the first time, to help investigate Coben. And I love her dynamic with Dorie.

The book makes some excellent points about society's obsession with true crime and what it does to the real victims. It explores Reed and Ellery's relationship from a variety of angles and gives us a lot of insight into how Ellery became who is she is. She's such a strong, brave character, and it's a pleasure to read about her. Combining her strength with such a twisty and dark plot makes for a wonderful read. 4.5 stars.

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

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Friday, January 28, 2022

And he must do something that I didn't do: LAST COUPLE STANDING

Last Couple StandingLast Couple Standing by Matthew Norman
My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Jessica and Mitch Butler have been married for fifteen years. But when the other three couples of their "Core Four"--a group of best friends from college, all of whom happen to be paired off and married--get divorced, they feel forced to reexamine their marriage. Deciding that the Core Four marriages broke apart due to sex (not having it, having it with other people while married, etc.), Jessica and Mitch embark on a marriage experiment. They set up rules, discuss conditions, and even help each other out with dating site profiles. But as lines get blurred and feelings burn hot, they start to wonder if they've made a terrible mistake.

"Everything that went so thoroughly wrong that spring can be traced back to The Divorces."

Sometimes a book comes along at the exact right time, and I think STANDING was that for me. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed this book nearly as much a decade ago, but I really liked it at this point in my life. It captures marriage with young kids spot on and does so in a mostly humorous way, though it certainly has its poignant (and cringe-worthy) spots.

Norman examines marriage through a funny but truthful prism, as Jessica and Mitch struggle with marriage: if their friends are all splitting, surely they must be next. Mitch watches his once married best friends, several of whom are also dads, out and about in the dating world again. Jess sees the same with her female pals, as they despair over the fact that the men can easily nab younger women but they are relegated to older men. The book may rely on cliches a bit too often (and I hated the constant references to "the Wives" and "the Husbands") but I have to admit... a lot of those cliches are true.

There are also some excellent teen storylines thrown in, between a patient of Jessica's (she's a therapist, of course) and one of Mitch's high school English students who also happens to be his next door neighbor. This kid, Luke, was truly one of my favorite characters. I was also a fan of the Baltimore/Maryland settings, as I recognized a lot of places.

Overall, I can see how this book might come across as a little banal to some, but if you're married and slogging through life with kids, you'll find a lot to laugh at and love here. This is a funny yet touching tale. 3.75 stars.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

There's a wolf at the door: THE OVERNIGHT GUEST.

The Overnight GuestThe Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Wylie Clark is a true crime writer escaping her ex-husband and son by working in Burden, Iowa. Years ago, at this isolated farmhouse she's renting, a horrible crime happened--two parents were murdered and a young girl disappeared. Wylie finds herself trapped in the farmhouse in a snowstorm, working on her book, when she finds a small child nearly frozen in the snow in her backyard. As she tries to figure out where the child came from, she quickly realizes neither she nor the child are safe--and that she's not as isolated and alone in the farmhouse as she thought.

I loved this dark and twisty thriller--it was a total page-turner. It's told from three different perspectives that intertwine perfectly. We have present day Wylie, a writer escaping her present by researching the past. We have the 2000s timeline that gives us the story of the farmhouse murder Wylie is researching. And we have an undated story told by a daughter and her mother.

So much of Wylie's story takes place in the snow and ice, creating an eerie and ominous setting. The snow feels oppressive and dark, mirroring how Wylie feels. The theme of darkness, in fact, threads superbly through the entire book.

"It isn't the dark you should be afraid of, the girl thought, it's the monsters who step into the light that you need to fear."

I don't want to give away too much about this one, but the story is excellent--full of twists and plenty that kept me guessing. It touches on family and friendship while offering a dark, creepy, and intricately plotted tale. 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Harlequin Trade Publishing / Park Row in return for an unbiased review.

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Monday, January 24, 2022

I've been lost in yesterday: SOMEBODY'S HOME.

Somebody's HomeSomebody's Home by Kaira Rouda
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Julie Jones finally musters the courage to leave her wealthy but inattentive husband, Roger. She and her daughter Jess move across town to a new house in a different part of Oceanside. The old owners, Doug and Sandi, have moved out. However, they have left someone behind, their eldest son, Tom. Tom lives in the guesthouse and he hates his father and stepmother with a passion. For Doug, the feeling is mutual. Tom is supposed to vacate the guesthouse by the end of the weekend, but he has other plans. Ones that will change the lives of all involved by the time the weekend is over.

"Somebody's home, and he isn't supposed to be there."

This book starts off creepy, letting us know that someone has invaded a home and shouldn't be there. But then it flashes back several days later, leading up to the days before the event and truly goes sort of off course. The premise is interesting--a man refuses to leave his childhood home--but the story heads off in so many directions: Julie's marriage; a scandal with Jess and her friends; a scandal with Roger; a scandal with Doug, a pastor (sense a thread here)...

Each character tells their story from their point of view and it's a bit boring and repetitive at times. There is certainly an impending sense of doom at times and some good twists, but more needed to happen. Every person repeats their feelings over and over, instead of progressing the story forward. Worse, many are hateful, and it's hard to care about them or their motivations.

Overall, this one has its creepy at moments and some story threads are interesting, but it didn't work very well for me as a thriller. 2.5 stars.

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

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Friday, January 21, 2022

Don't take for granted the love this life gives you: MESSAGE IN THE SAND.

Message in the SandMessage in the Sand by Hannah McKinnon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wendell Combs knows loss more than most. Both his parents are gone, along with his little brother. Wendell still lives in his hometown and he's found comfort in White Pines, the large estate of Alan Lancaster, his wife, and their two daughters, Julia and Pippa. There he can seek peace in the land and the animals. But all that changes when tragedy strikes. Suddenly, Wendell, Julia, and Pippa find their lives upended.

"It was true what others said about him: that Wendell preferred the company of animals to people."

This book was sadder than I expected for a Hannah McKinnon story, but it was excellent. I love McKinnon's work, and this was a very heartfelt read that delved into loss and the meaning of family.

I fell for Wendell immediately--I am a sucker for a loner who prefers animals to people! (I wonder why, ahem...) Throw in two kids (teenage Julia and six-year-old Pippa) and this was pretty much guaranteed to be a winner for me. The cast is also filled with other interesting female characters, including Candace, the girls' prickly aunt, whom they've never met; Roberta, an ex judge with strong ties to Wendell; and Ginny, Wendell's ex-girlfriend who has returned to town to help her parents with their real estate agency.

So, is the plot a little predictable at times? Sure. Do we care? Not at all. A few times the book veered toward overdone or a tad too schmaltzy for me, but otherwise I found it to be a sweet and touching tale. Julia was a tough and wonderful character and, as mentioned, I loved Wendell immediately. He is faced with the systematic destruction of White Pines, the place that saved him, in the novel, and watching him overcome that, as well as seeing Julia and Pippa become stronger--it's beautiful. I loved SAND's message about finding family in the most unexpected places. 4+ stars.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

'Cause there is so much wrong going on outside: NOT A HAPPY FAMILY.

Not a Happy FamilyNot a Happy Family by Shari Lapena
My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

NOT A HAPPY FAMILY is the twelfth book in my author challenge. Fred and Shelia Merton live in a fancy house in a wealthy neighborhood. They have three children, Dan, Catherine, and Jenna, whom they have spent most of their life emotionally abusing and neglecting. As such, the kids hate them. After a disastrous Easter family dinner, Fred and Sheila are murdered. If they had to be honest, the kids are a bit relieved: they will now inherit millions and their hateful parents are gone. But their meddling aunt is convinced one of them murdered her brother and she's out to prove it.

"Something awful has happened here."

FAMILY is a compelling, quick read. Told from multiple POV across our many characters, it's snappy and intriguing. Despite my instant dislike of Fred and Sheila--and, honestly, their children too--I wanted to know what happened. The kids turn on each other nearly at once, as predicted by the family's housekeeper and former nanny. The book is packed with unlikable characters, but in this case, it's almost where the joy of the novel comes from. Which terrible person committed this heinous act? They are all almost competing for the award of "worst person."

Lapena tosses in some good twists and turns and family secrets to keep us surprised. There are certainly some dark secrets buried here. I was not a fan of the ending and felt like it left too many things unresolved, knocking my rating down to a 3.75. Still, this a quick and enjoyable thriller and worth a read.

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Monday, January 17, 2022

But I ain't looking back on the seeds I've sown: THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET.

The Last House on the StreetThe Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kayla Carter and her husband are so excited to be building their dream house in the neighborhood of Shadow Ridge Estates in Round Hill, North Carolina. But then tragedy strikes and he dies while working on the house. Then Kayla is confronted by a mysterious woman who warns her against moving into the property with her young daughter. Kayla finds the property creepy, honestly, between her husband's accident and the trees that seem to swarm the house. Soon she meets her new neighbor, Ellie, whose family has a history with the property that dates back years. Is Kayla's property really bad news--and does Ellie know why?

This is a mesmerizing story told from dual points of view: Kayla, in 2010 and Ellie, in the 1960s. It delves deeply in the South's horrible history of racism and does so in the most personal way, through our cast of diverse and fascinating characters. In the 1960s, Ellie decides to becomes involved with SCOPE, an organization devoted to helping black individuals register to vote. Everyone is against this--even, at first, the minister running SCOPE in the Round Hill area. Ellie's parents are appalled, convinced harm will befall their daughter, as well as what her involvement may mean for their family's reputation. Her brother, Buddy, worries about her safety as well. Her best friend, Brenda, refuses contact, and her boyfriend, Reed, ends their relationship.

But Ellie is strong and determined; she joins SCOPE, making new friends and falling in love with a black man named Win. Ellie's story is absolutely captivating, as Chamberlain makes clear the absolute prejudices and challenges facing black people in the 1960s. There's a lot of history and much of this story is heartbreaking and will anger you, as many of these tales from the 1960s can.

As for Kayla's story, it's not quite as engrossing as Ellie's, though it does provide the link between the two time periods. For Kayla, she's on a quest to discover if her property is haunted or if she's just suffering from bad luck. We learn how her life intersects with Ellie, which is interesting in itself.

Overall, this is such a touching tale--you become so attached to the characters and absolutely appalled at some of the events that unfold. Chamberlain does a great job at highlighting the utter injustices of racism through the prism of a story, as well as painting a sad history of a particular piece of property. HOUSE is part mystery and part historical/character driven fiction. It will certainly stick with you. 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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Thursday, January 13, 2022

It was worth it just to learn some sleight of hand: RECKLESS GIRLS.

Reckless GirlsReckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Lux McAllister followed her boyfriend Nico to Hawaii after losing her mom to cancer. She was drawn to his adventurous ways and his love of his boat, The Susannah. She winds up stuck in a dead end job as they save up money to get the boat ready to sail. When two college best friends, Amma and Brittany, offer Lux and Nico a large sum of money to sail them to a remote island, they jump at the chance. This is what they've been waiting for. Meroe Island has a strange, mysterious history, when a group of soldiers were shipwrecked and their story ended in cannibalism and murder. When they arrive on the Island, they find another boat anchored there, housing an apparently wealthy and gorgeous couple, Eliza and Jake. The group gets along well on the exotic island, until the arrival of a solitary stranger changes everything.

This is a twisty "locked island" thriller that takes a little time to get going as we are introduced to Lux and her past, along with how she met Nico. Things get more exciting when they finally set sail and hit the island. Meroe is a very atmospheric place--beautiful and ominous. The story is interspersed with past memories and blog posts of other's experiences with the island (none of them exactly pleasant).

GIRLS is a dark tale that slowly introduces us to our characters--there's Lux, who is recovering from her mother's death and trying to seize the day like Nico. Nico, meanwhile, seems not to have a care in the world, which is especially easy since he has family money. Then there's Amma and Brittany--two best friends who may or may not be keeping secrets from one another. The couple they meet, Jake and Eliza, are gorgeous and lavish the group with food and wine, but are also potentially hiding things from their newfound friends.

I enjoyed most of the twists in this one and its dark plot. It takes some time to get into it, and the characters are certainly hard to like. But the setting is great, between the boat and the island. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin's Press and Goodreads via a giveaway.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

From your tower you say you see the way to go: WHEN YOU GET THE CHANCE.

When You Get the Chance: A NovelWhen You Get the Chance: A Novel by Emma Lord
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Millie Price has never known her mom. She left Millie with her dad when Millie was a baby. Millie has never really felt a gap, since she's had the support of her introverted dad and her aunt, Heather. But when Millie decides she wants to go to a super-competitive arts college for her last semester of high school--against her dad's wishes--it inspires her to search for her mom. 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 down Steph, she stumbles into an internship possibility that pits her against her arch-nemesis from high school, Oliver. He tends to bring out the "Millie Moods," the periods of intense emotion that she can't help but wonder come from her mother. As Millie fights with Oliver and tries to find her mom, it feels like life may be getting out of control.

This book was an awesome way to start the year! I LOVED this sweet, charming cross of Mamma Mia and Definitely Maybe.

Amanda Seyfried walked so Millie Price could run.

CHANCE is witty, romantic, and delightful. Millie is utterly bewitching--an amazing character that you cannot help but love. She needs people to like her, a desire that often rules her life, along with her strong moods. She has a deep and lasting best friend in Teddy, the boy across the hall. The theme of friendship runs strong in this book, and Teddy and Millie's friendship is wonderful, formed on geocaching, food, and loyalty. It's so nice to have a strong friend relationship along with a romance.

As Millie searches for her mom, she meets Steph, who works at a talent agency, where she battles with Oliver, her enemy from high school. Oliver, a straitlaced stage manager, is the opposite of Millie and they have a history of fighting and battling over school performances. I loved this "enemies to more" romance--it was witty and cute, filled with humor and great banter and serious moments. I was grinning dumbly at half the things they said.

The best thing about this book is that it's so much more than Millie and Oliver's romance--there's the quest to find Millie's mom, Millie forming relationships with a variety of the mom contenders and related side characters, her friendship with Teddy, Millie's gay aunt (who is awesome), and more. There's wonderful 90 musical references, odes to theater and musical theater, and Livejournal mentions (oh the time I spent on LJ)!

This is a delightful book--such a beautiful ode to family and theater. I loved it! 4.5 stars.

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

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Monday, January 10, 2022

I could see it from miles away: AT THE END OF EVERYTHING.

At the End of EverythingAt the End of Everything by Marieke Nijkamp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Hope Juvenile Treatment Center is not a place of hope. It's where troubled teens are sent when few other options exist. Then one day the guards start acting strange--and then they don't return. When some of the teens leave the facility, they find a group of armed soldiers. They tell them there is a respiratory plague spreading throughout the country and no one is allowed to leave their homes. The group realizes this means they've been abandoned to try to survive a plague at Hope.

This was my 150th book of the year, and it was a terrifying plague thriller that hit way too close to home right now! Honestly, it was almost too hard to read about a respiratory plague at the moment, especially with COVID ramping up again!

I think this is my favorite Nijkamp book so far. It grew on me--I really started to care for the teens left behind at Hope, and this book really makes you think. Because, let's be honest--the Government abandoning a group of wayward teens to survive the plague doesn't sound too farfetched right now, does it? The book involves things like total lockdowns and ration cards and while it's billed as apocalyptic, it does not sound like a world too far from our own.

The representation in EVERYTHING is excellent, with a cast of queer and non-binary characters. You do not get to know the teens too well, but well enough to form attachments to several of them. As with any group in a dangerous situation, some move to the forefront and others blend in. The moral questions abound--both on a larger scale (why were they left there)--but also within the facility. How will they govern themselves? What do they do with their dead? What is the right and wrong way to obtain food and supplies? It really brings up some interesting ideas on morality and what these kids should be allowed to do after being abandoned.

Overall, this book was hard to read, but it brings up interesting and thoughtful questions. It takes you into the teen's world and offers a sad but hopeful story. 4 stars.

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

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Friday, January 07, 2022

Then the lonely can't pretend: THE REPLACEMENT WIFE.

The Replacement WifeThe Replacement Wife by Darby Kane
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Elisa Wright is a busy mom who also happens to think her brother-in-law is a murderer. One of Josh's past wives is dead and his fiancee is missing. And now he's dating someone new, without showing much grief. As Elisa starts to investigate Josh's past, she uncovers some terrifying information about him and the family. She also befriends his current girlfriend, who gives off mixed messages about how she feels about Josh. Meanwhile, events start to happen that have Elisa wondering about her own sanity--and her husband seems to be questioning her as well.

The premise of this book was interesting, but it just did not work well for me. Most of the plot was Elisa entertaining Josh and his girlfriend, then an argument with them or her husband, rinse and repeat. Or pick up her kid, some angst, and an argument. It felt slow and repetitive and the tension and intrigue that should exist did not. There were no huge surprises or twists there. In addition, the characters were so whiny and just irritating.

The ending was kind of fun and all in all, the book kept me just curious enough to keep reading. 3 stars.

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

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Wednesday, January 05, 2022

As if I belonged to you: MY DARLING HUSBAND.

My Darling HusbandMy Darling Husband by Kimberly Belle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jade Lasky thinks she has a perfect life--a beautiful home, a wonderful and handsome chef husband, Cam, who owns a chain of successful restaurants, and two lovely children. But all that changes when a masked man springs on her and the children in their garage. He terrorizes them and demands a large amount of ransom from Cam. As Cam rushes to gather the money, Jade tries to decipher clues about this man and begins to wonder if their lifestyle is really as good as Cam was telling her.

I quite enjoyed this riveting page turner; it's quite impossible to put down, honestly. The story is told from Jade's POV as the invasion unfolds, interspersed with an interview from the Cam after it happens and a few snippets from the "bad guy's" perspective. It's an amazingly effective format, propelling the story forward in an action-packed format. Why on earth is that man torturing this family? Is it random or personal? The family's young children are involved, as Jade feels she must do anything to protect them.

As a reader, you can't help but wonder what would you would do in this horrible situation. It's a dark and twisty read, with secrets popping up around every corner. While it's very much a thriller, there's also a lot of emotion and family trauma involved as well. Definitely an excellent page-turner. 4 stars.

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

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Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Best Of... Favorite Books Read in 2021!

Trying a simplified "best of" edition this year... let's see how this goes! I've broken my favorite books read into genres. As always, a reminder that these are the favorite books I read in 2021, thought they might not have necessarily been published in 2021. If you'd like to read more in-depth reviews of any of the books featured here, you can find them on my Goodreads site

Happy reading!  


*EXIT — a funny and heartwarming tale coupled with an excellent, intricate mystery that keeps you surprised. Protagonist Felix Pink is a delight. 

*LOLA ON FIRE — a dark, fast paced thriller that feels like an action movie. It’s raw and violent with a layer of underlying tenderness.

*THE POSTSCRIPT MURDERS — a wonderful and witty mystery filled with bookish references; the second in the series featuring the excellent DS Harbinder Kaur. (A crime series with a lesbian lead—I love it!) 

*MOTHER MAY I — a riveting and addictive thriller about the power of motherhood. So suspenseful and twisty—an excellent page turner! 

*WHITE NIGHTS — second in the Shetland Island series and an atmospheric mystery that will keep you guessing. I love Detective Jimmy Perez. 

*THE NIGHT HAWKS — number 13 in the Dr. Ruth Galloway series, but still as captivating as ever. It’s a lovely book with beloved characters and a strong, creepy story. 

 *GONE FOR GOOD — a cold case intersects with a new murder in the first entry of the Annalisa Vega series. Well-written, great protagonist, wonderful intertwining of Vega’s personal life with the investigation, and keeps you guessing. 

*THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED — an intricate and twisty page turner about a missing young woman. Very dark but features such a great balance of thrills and characterization—complex and intricate and so well-done. 


 FICTION & NON FICTION (And yes, non-fiction is used lightly here as there is only one. But it was great!)

 *THE KINDEST LIE -- a beautifully written book that deftly examines the issues of racism and class in America. Set in 2008, its characterization is great and it's often sad, often touching, and always well-done.

*HONEY GIRL -- one of my favorite books ever, this is a beautiful, charming, must-read lesbian romance. I loved the main character Grace beyond words. It's hilarious and funny yet deftly covers mental health issues and racism.

*WHAT COULD BE SAVED -- a lyrical and fascinating look at the pull of family. Much of this book is set in Bangkok and the entire story is immersive and illuminating.

*SKYE FALLING -- a unique look at the complexities of family and race. It's funny, heartfelt, and completely engaging, with an authentic cast of characters.

*THE GUNCLE -- a beautiful, funny, and sweet story of finding hope after loss, when "Gay Uncle Patrick" takes in his brother's kids for the summer after his sister-in-law's death. This sad yet hopeful and witty book is made up of a million little wonderful moments you will treasure.

*SHE DRIVES ME CRAZY -- Maybe should have gone in my romances section, but who cares, it's SO GOOD! Friends to enemies + fake dating done in the best fashion ever. Queer romance, basketball, humor, and tenderness.

*MY MONTICELLO -- beautifully written, nuanced, and insightful collection of short stories and a novella that explore race, identity, and more.

*RAZORBLADE TEARS -- riveting and heartbreaking story about a black father, a white father, and their murdered sons. Brutal and not afraid to tackle hard topics.

*EVERYTHING WE DIDN'T SAY -- suspenseful family drama that perfectly captures small town Iowa. Taut and slow burning with nuanced characters.

*THE RURAL DIARIES -- delightful and honest memoir detailing Hilarie Burton Morgan and her family settling in Rhinebeck, NY. 



 *THE SOULMATE EQUATION -- a witty and wonderful romance about a number crunching single mom, Jess, who matches with the creator of a new dating site that predicts love through your DNA. Features a great couple with awesome chemistry, excellent banter, and made me smile constantly.

*ONE LAST STOP -- a dazzling, heartfelt queer romance filled with diverse characters. August and Jane are a romance for the ages. This book is swoony and sexy. A gorgeous story flowing with passion, with beauty, and with magic.

*THE CHARM OFFENSIVE -- a delightful romcom set in the reality show realm. This is a truly lovely book, with a great romance filled with crackling tension. It combines excellent points about mental illness and being loved unconditionally. I loved its blend of serious and fun and flirty.

*EIGHT PERFECT HOURS -- Charming, passionate, slow-burn romance about two people finding their way back together after being stuck in the snow. Great chemistry, excellent coverage of mental health, and so heartwarming.

*SPOILER ALERT -- Funny, sexy, and sweet read centered around fan fiction and body positivity. So charming with amazing banter but also some moving emotional moments. 



*CONCRETE ROSE -- A striking prequel to THUG that deftly shows how institutionalized racism has affected Maverick's world. It touches on friendship, family, belonging, and more. Spellbinding and so well-done.

*COOL FOR THE SUMMER -- a wonderful book about finding yourself and love. Adler's characters pop onto the pages. Portrays the queer community very well and does an excellent job capturing teens and the spark of falling in love. Fun, sweet, and captivating.

*THIS POISON HEART -- captivating YA fantasy. Briseis knows she has a rare gift--with just a touch, she can grow plants. Filled with strong women, including Briseis (who is bi) and her two moms. Part mystery, part myth, and all page-turner.

*HAZEL BLY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA -- an absolutely stunning read that viscerally captures grief and loss. Everything in this book is amazing--the whimsical myth of the Rose Maid; the diversity of the characters; and the total acceptance of Hazel's parents being gay and bi. It made me cry, but left me hopeful too.

*THE DEAD AND THE DARK -- mesmerizing look at the supernatural and the pull of family. Gould’s book (a debut!) is original and spellbinding and filled with LGBTQIA rep. Part horror story, part exploration of the meaning and depths of darkness, and part look at family dynamics. A ghost story and a sapphic love interest--what more do you need?

*NEVER SAW YOU COMING -- an insightful look at love and religion. A really lovely and moving story. While it includes a lot of religious themes and discussion, religion and forgiveness informs the story, rather than detracts from it. This lovely book offers a charming romance, along with a timely look at religion and how it can affect young people as they make their way in the world.

*FROM LITTLE TOKYO, WITH LOVE -- wonderful exploration of belonging and family. It's impossible not to root for Rika. Features real characters, covers serious topics while remaining funny and romantic, and will sweep you off your feet with its beautiful story.

Monday, January 03, 2022

If you've got a gambler's heart: THE MAID.

The MaidThe Maid by Nita Prose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Molly Gray has always been a bit different. She has trouble interpreting the social clues of others. For the first twenty-five years of her life, Molly had her Gran to help her navigate life. But Molly's Gran recently passed away, leaving Molly alone. Molly works as a maid at the Regency Grand Hotel, a job she adores: the order, the routine, the cleanliness. Molly lives for order and the joy in restoring hotel rooms to the perfection they require. Her routine is upended the day she finds one of the hotel's most famous guests, wealthy Charles Black, dead in his room. Molly's strange way of interacting with the world soon has the police convinced she was involved. It will take a group of friends--friends Molly never realized she had--to get her out of this mess and help Molly determine who really was responsible for Mr. Black's death.

This is one of those books that was slightly over-hyped for me, but I still really enjoyed it. The characters are excellent, especially Molly and Mr. Preston, the doorman at the hotel who looks out for her. Molly's way of looking at the world is different, yes, but she's also smart and charming. The book does a great job of highlighting that being different is not necessarily wrong--and, in fact, it might just be better.

While Molly's quirks are certainly part of the story, it's truly a murder mystery at heart, as we try to figure out who killed Mr. Black. His younger second wife? His ungrateful children? Other hotel guests or workers? As we filter information through Molly's eyes, there is much to uncover about the true goings on at the Regency Grand Hotel. Sometimes this was a bit saccharine for me, but overall a charming read and an intriguing story. 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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Saturday, January 01, 2022

All this time I lived inside a memory: IF THIS GETS OUT.

If This Gets OutIf This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The boy-band Saturday is huge and beloved by their fans. But behind their carefully crafted image is four real boys (Ruben, Zach, Angel, and Jon), who are starting to resent all the handling and smoothing that goes into what makes Saturday tick. Eighteen-year-old Ruben is gay, but unable to come out under Saturday's management. Angel is starting to crack under the strain as well, increasing his partying ways. On Saturday's European tour Ruben and Zack grow closer than ever, sharing a moment that makes each of them question their friendship and Zack to wonder about his sexuality. They also realize that if they want this moment to turn into a romance, there's no way Saturday's management will ever allow it. How can Ruben and Zack ever live their own lives and be in the band?

I loved parts of this book and found other parts to be eh. I took me a while to get into this story and honestly to get to know the boys and to be able to tell them apart. The story felt very YA and juvenile and it seemed like you needed to be a boy band fanatic and care about what boy bands do to get into the story. While I sympathized with the band parts of the story, I could take or leave a lot of it. I didn't care for the drug use, the partying, or even all the discussion of the treatment of celebrities.

What I did love was Zack and Ruben's friendship and relationship and the book's exploration of bisexuality (via Zack), closeting in the music industry, and just its delicate look at a budding relationship between two boys. In that case, this was a sweet story of two people falling in love, with the added element of having to hide it. I would have liked to get to know Zack and Ruben's characters more (the whole band, really, but especially Zack and Ruben)--we learn a bit about Ruben's controlling mother and Zack's own mom, but I never felt like I truly knew them and what got them to this place.

This was an interesting story, and I enjoyed Zack and Ruben, even if I wished there had been more character development. I can see this being a big hit with YA music lovers. 3.5 stars.

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