Wednesday, March 30, 2022

As her dreams fade to black: THE HEIGHTS.

The HeightsThe Heights by Louise Candlish
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ellen Saint is visiting a client in a high rise building when she spots a man across the rooftops. She's convinced he's Kieran Watts, the man she holds responsible for killing her son. Ellen is horrified to see Kieran again, as his presence brings back awful memories. But she's even more shocked, because Kieran Watts should be dead--after all, Ellen killed him.

"Kieran Watts has been dead for over two years when I see him standing on the roof of a building in Shad Thames."

This book was slightly weird and not what I expected, though not all in bad ways. However, it was a little long and dragged in places. It's very sad and sort of painful to read. Ellen is a very hard to like narrator, despite the fact that she's grieving. She's filled with so much anger and vitriol that it's incredibly hard to stomach. Her focus on Kieran and his role in her son's life is borderline too much.

"It can't be Kieran Watts, I tell myself. And if anyone can be sure of that it is me. Because I'm the one who killed him."

Ellen's story is one of revenge, but she's quite the unreliable narrator. It's told as a book within a book--as her memoir--and peppered with bits of news articles. You do find yourself questioning what you would do in Ellen's position. And there's certainly a bit of a mystery to unravel about what happened when Ellen's son died and how Kieran supposedly died and then returned. The intrigue is the best part, but Ellen's anger drags the book down. Overall, 3 stars from me.

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

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Monday, March 28, 2022

Fate skips a beat and it scares you to death: SUITE SPOT.

The Suite Spot (Beck Sisters, #2)The Suite Spot by Trish Doller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rachel Beck's careful life crashes when she loses her job as a night manager at a luxury hotel in Miami Beach. She's fired thanks to a wrongful accusation from a wealthy guest who actually assaulted her. Blackballed in the local hotel industry, Rachel follows a lead from a friend for a management position at a brewery hotel in Lake Erie at a place called Kelleys Island. Despite the owner's slightly gruff manner, Rachel decides to move herself and her daughter to the island, looking forward to the chance to run a hotel and brewery. But when she arrives, she finds the hotel... isn't built yet. Mason, its owner, begs her to stay, offering her carte blanche in the creation and design of the place. As the two work together, she realizes Mason has his own troubled past, but that working together on Kelleys Island might just be the second chance they both need.

"A career I spent nearly ten years building, gone in an instant because the Blackwells of the world always get their way."

This book was such a fun and pleasant surprise! I'll admit that I didn't really love the first book in the series, FLOAT PLAN, which featured Rachel's sister, Anna. It was a little too slow and sad for me. I wouldn't have really guessed that PLAN and SUITE SPOT were written by the same author, honestly, if they weren't linked by Anna and Rachel. SPOT does have a sad side, due to what we learn about Mason's past, but it's also sweet and romantic and funny.

The setting for this one is fun--a small island with a group of island folk that we get to know. Rachel is an interesting character; she's tough and motivated, but she has a soft side too. Her daughter, Maisie, is adorable, and it's enjoyable getting to know both of them. And Mason, is of course, a grumpy guy with secrets, but he does not come across as a cliche or trope, but a man with depth. He was easy to like, and I loved the chemistry between Mason and Rachel. I didn't like that there was only a hand wave to Rachel being plus size--not sure why that was introduced and then only briefly mentioned once or twice.

This book made me laugh and cry. It's really witty (there's an amazing appearance by a cat). I loved the themes of family and believing yourself that ran through it. This is a great read--sweet and inspiring. 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, March 24, 2022

Life's about changing nothing ever stays the same: DAUGHTER.

DaughterDaughter by Kate McLaughlin

Scarlet leads a pretty average teenage life, except for her very overprotective mother. Her mom has always watched Scarlet's every move and kept her from engaging in a lot of activities. When FBI Agent Logan shows up on their doorstep, it all starts to make sense. He reveals her mother was once married to notorious serial killer Jeffrey Robert Lake, known for killing and burying many women at his family's lake house. And Scarlet? She's his daughter. Now Lake is dying, and he will only reveal the names and locations of more victims to one person--his daughter. Scarlet is suddenly faced with a horrible decision, as well as the burden of learning about her troubled past.

"Her father's crimes will haunt her for the rest of her life. God help her. I don't reckon she'll ever get a moment's peace."

This is a captivating story that I breezed through in one day. If you like shows like Criminal Minds, this is the perfect book for you. Does it simplify a lot of things? No doubt. Is it completely entertaining? Yes.

Just imagining what it would be like to learn Scarlet's news is pretty insane, and McLaughlin, as always, does a wonderful job of capturing Scarlet's teen voice. She's an engaging narrator and it's quite easy to get sucked into her world. The book also features articles and new pieces about Scarlet's father (and mother) back in the day, so we learn about Lake's evil side and all his horrific crimes and are led to wonder--what sort of role did Scarlet's mother play in his crimes?

There are certainly some simplified pieces to this story. Scarlet and her mom deal with the same FBI Agent as she did nearly twenty years ago, even stay with his family at their home, and, of course, Scarlet develops a crush on his son. One has to question the wisdom of sending a teen in to meet with an infamous serial killer... but, hey, it's mesmerizing in the story. The book also does a great job of illustrating how society focuses on killers and not the real victims.

Overall, this is a quick read, even though it covers a lot of serious topics. Its narrator is excellent, and I would have loved this book as a teen. (I quite enjoyed it now!)

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

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Monday, March 21, 2022

I know why we had to say goodbye like the back of my hand: HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER.

Hook, Line, and Sinker (Bellinger Sisters, #2)Hook, Line, and Sinker by Tessa Bailey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hannah Bellinger is back in Westport, Washington, thanks to her brilliant idea to have her boss, Sergei, film his latest project there. She's had a crush on the director for ages and a desire to move up the ranks from assistant to music producer as well. Giving her romantic advice is Fox Thornton, Hannah's friend and Westport King crab fisherman. Fox is well-known in Westport for being a ladies man, but secretly he's been in love with Hannah since they met. As for Hannah, even though she's been pining after Sergei, the more time she spends with Fox, the more she falls for him. They both care about each other, but each has their own hang ups. Can Hannah and Fox get past them to find long-lasting love?

"What was that like? To be the star in the movie of your life?"

"He had never been jealous over a girl in his life. Except for this one."

This is a fairly cute story, but I never found myself wanting to pick it up, because it's fairly repetitious. We hear over and over about how Fox is a player, but cannot commit and people only think of him one way. He's the only one standing in his own way. Hannah, meanwhile, is stuck on the idea that she's the supporting player in her own life, not the leading lady. As they fight their own issues, they are constantly jumping to conclusions about the other, or immediately misunderstanding an action the other person took. Ugh! The plot, therefore, cannot move forward because we are constantly rehashing emotions or going over the same thing over and over.

It's sad, because when the story moves, it's quite enjoyable. When Fox or Hannah have breakthroughs or act like reasonable people, I like them a lot. They are cute together, amusing, and a powerful force. And there are certainly a lot of sexy times in the book, for sure. There's also a really cute and fun epilogue that offers some great insight into Hannah and her sister, Piper, from the first book.

Overall, this book is romantic and funny, but also slow-moving and often frustrating. 3 stars.

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

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Friday, March 18, 2022

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end: THE GIRLS I'VE BEEN.

The Girls I've BeenThe Girls I've Been by Tess Sharpe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

THE GIRLS I'VE BEEN is the nineteenth book in my author challenge.

Nora grew up the daughter of a con-artist. Her mom used her as an accomplice to pull off her many cons. But when her mom fell for her latest mark and married him, Nora used her only escape hatch, her half-sister, and fled her poisonous old life. She's spent five years living with her sister and leading a "normal" life. This includes a former boyfriend and now best friend, Wes, and her new girlfriend, Iris. Both Wes and Iris are with Nora one morning at the bank, depositing money they've raised together for charity. But everything goes horribly wrong in an instant when someone pulls a gun, and they realize they're in the middle of a robbery.

"And the third thing I think is We're all gonna die because I waited for bacon donuts."

This was a fast read, divided into four parts, mostly all taking place during the robbery. It's very compelling. The story is told in Nora's voice, as she details the bank robbery and then reflects upon her past and the girls she's "been"--aka the girls she was forced to be during each con her mom forced upon her. We learn about how Nora became who she is and realize her past is complicated and often tragic. How will Nora's past affect this robbery?

This book is exciting in that it depicts a high pressure bank robbery, but is also complex, delving back into Nora's dark past. Please note that it covers topics such as sexual assault, rape, and abuse. It also looks at friendship, though, and Nora's relationships with Wes and Iris are really excellent and wonderfully portrayed. It's nice to see a teen book so respectfully portray bisexuality. I love the idea of found family and it's a strong central theme here.

This book can be brutal, but it's also touching and insightful. I really enjoyed learning more about Nora's past (although it could be sad). This story is twisty and compelling. 4+ stars.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The strains of silence have grown so strong: THE GOLDEN COUPLE.

The Golden CoupleThe Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Marissa and Matthew Bishop are known as the Golden Couple--they seem to have it all. And perhaps they do, until Marissa is unfaithful. In an attempt to save their marriage, they seek out therapist Avery Chambers. Avery is known for her unusual methods--ten sessions, each with a different name and purpose, that can get her clients back on track after almost anything. This despite the fact that Avery lost her license a while ago. But Marissa and Matthew are desperate, and when they seek out Avery, they set off a series of events that will change everyone's lives.

"I'm also no longer a therapist; I lost my license five months ago."

This was an interesting thriller. It started off a little slow, probably because I wasn't completely invested in the characters. But, overall, it kept me turning the pages--curious to see what would happen to next. There's a lot of plot packed in to this novel--Marissa and Matthew's marital issues, Avery having lost her license, a side plot with Avery and a drug company, Marissa's beef with her assistant, and more. Sometimes it seems like too much, but overall, the authors do a good job of weaving everything together.

The book is filled with red herrings and crazy twists that keep you guessing. Overall, it's pretty fun if you just sort of roll with it. It was not exactly what I expected going in, and honestly, that was okay--I liked these story choices better! Avery also had a rescue dog named Romeo, who was easily my favorite character!

Overall this is a fairly compelling if not somewhat far fetched thriller. It delves deep into marital secrets and weaves together a lot of crazy plot points. 3.5 stars, rounded up.

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

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Monday, March 14, 2022

I'll leave the luggage of all your lies behind: THIS GOLDEN STATE.

This Golden StateThis Golden State by Marit Weisenberg
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Poppy Winslow's family has five rules:

1. No one can know your real name.
2. Don’t stay in one place too long.
3. If you sense anything is wrong, go immediately to the meeting spot.
4. Keeping our family together is everything.
5. We wish we could tell you who we are, but we can’t. Please—do not ask.

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. It means constantly changing schools, never making friends, and not getting a cell phone or even access to the Internet. When her parents take Poppy and her little sister to California, things seem different. The house they stay in has meaning to her family. She mails in a DNA test, not fully realizing the consequences of her actions. As Poppy grows close to a classmate, she also starts to uncover some truths about her parents. Combined with the results of her DNA test, everything unravels all the hard work her family has done to stay hidden all these years--and reveals some shocking truths about the past.

"If I could pinpoint the moment things changed, it was as simple as this: a high school library in Illinois, cozy, me working at a table with my science-fair group."

Oh this book was such a fun surprise! I could not put it down; it was mesmerizing. I found myself completely caught up in Poppy and her family's story. Who on earth were her parents? What did they do? Why would they force their children to go through such lengths to protect their identities? Why would their kids--especially Poppy, nearly eighteen--go along with it? The book is part mystery (unveiling all those answers) plus part character-driven coming of age tale as Poppy grows up, learning about herself. She's spent her entire life putting her family first, but is that really the best thing for her?

I loved learning more about her parents' backstory and also delving into Poppy's relationship with Harry, the boy she meets in math class and starts to fall for. The family dynamic in STATE 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.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It's different, with fascinating family dynamics and a really riveting plot. 4.5 stars.

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

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Friday, March 11, 2022

Cause I can't breathe when I'm with you: FULL FLIGHT.

Full FlightFull Flight by Ashley Schumacher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Enfield is a small town in Texas whose world revolves around football season. With football comes Marching Band. For Anna James, that means contest season and having to learn a new piece on her saxophone. She's paired with mellophone player Weston Ryan for a duet. Her tiny town has big thoughts on Weston, none of them good. But as the two work together to learn the piece, Anna sees past the rumors to the real Weston, and she likes him, a lot. Anna's parents don't, however, and when they find out she's spending time with him, they are not happy.

This is often a lovely and well-written book, though other times it had me questioning decisions and plot points. It's a little slow and the cover and description literally scream that something tragic is going to happen, so I felt extremely tentative, knowing that everything was working up to something apparently awful and sad. It seems slow, at times, too, as Weston and Anna spend time thinking and re-thinking things, and then it rushes the ending.

I liked Weston and Anna as people. What I did not like was the extremes they were sent to, especially as kids. Weston, you see, cannot love Anna because his parents are divorced, and therefore, since his parents once loved one another and then broke up, all is doomed, and he cannot ever love. Anna, meanwhile, seems to fall into insta-love with Weston (which is reciprocated, but remember, HE NEVER CAN LOVE EVER), but her strict parents hate him for no real reason (apparently your parents divorcing and being sent to another high school for a year is a sin like no other in Enfield), so she is banned from seeing him. But, then, magically, it's all okay, and we love Weston. Extremes! And, then, also magically, Weston seems fine loving Anna. Anna, thankfully, seems fairly steady through all of this or I would have thrown my book out the window. (Fine, I get that's an extreme too.)

There are a ton of references to marching band, band music, band things, things that happen on the band bus, band contests, and more. If you were in band, you would probably rate this book a bit higher just by default. (I was not in band.)

That's not to say I didn't like a lot of FLIGHT. There are plenty of lovely romantic moments and good moments and funny moments. I just don't like books that set out to make me sad, but I didn't realize that's what this book was before I won the Goodreads giveaway. It's interesting, but also tragic, and things just swing from one extreme to the other too often for me. A lot of people seemed to enjoy it, though. 3 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Wednesday Books via a Goodreads giveaway.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2022

I see you everywhere I go and everywhere I go: LATE TO THE PARTY.

Late to the PartyLate to the Party by Kelly Quindlen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Codi knows she's never had the "typical" teen experience. At seventeen, she spends most of her time watching movies and hanging out with her best friends, Maritza and JaKory. So when they suggest crashing a party, she refuses. She's happy in her little world. However, when they need someone to come get them at said party, Codi stumbles across one of the popular kids, Ricky, kissing another boy in the shadows. In return for keeping his secret, Ricky and Codi form an unlikely friendship--one she keeps from her other friends. She finds herself in a world of parties and new experiences, and she meets a really great girl, Lydia. It's all well and good, but what will happen when JaKory and Maritza find out?

I enjoyed this book a lot. I found myself smiling while reading it; Quindlen perfectly captures all that awkwardness and hope of falling in love as a teen. There's plenty of teen and YA melodrama, yet it's just so classic in its portrayal of the teen experience of being in love and wanting to enjoy what you think is the quintessential teen life.

I really liked Codi; she was a wonderful and engaging character. JaKory and Maritza? Eh. Ricky was excellent, and the book is filled with a diverse and representative cast--so refreshing. Watching Codi come out of her shell and the beauty of her and Lydia finding each other was just lovely. This is a coming of age story, but also a great look into queer relationships and friendships in general. It's about finding yourself and then learning to like that self. A really touching read. 4+ stars.

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Friday, March 04, 2022

Made with pretty lies and broken dreams: THE NIGHT SHIFT.

The Night ShiftThe Night Shift by Alex Finlay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

New Year's Eve, 1999. At the Blockbuster in Linden, New Jersey, four teenage girls and their manager are brutally attacked. Only one girl survives, Ella. The police rapidly hone in on a suspect, who escapes and is never seen again. Fifteen years later in Linden, it seems to happen again. Four teenage girls at a Linden ice cream store are attacked. Again, there is only survivor. As Linden struggles to recover from this new tragedy, Ella--now a therapist--is requested at the scene to counsel the new survivor, Jessica ("Jesse"). But as Ella gets to knows Jesse, she's drawn into a dark web of lies and deceit.

I've never read an Alex Finlay book before, and this one was a really pleasant surprise! I read each half over two days thanks to the short, quick chapters. It spans two time periods: 1999, when the first killings happened and then nearly present-day, when the ice cream store murders happen. These killings are linked by Ella, the earliest lone survivor, who now becomes a counselor to Jesse, the girl who survives the ice cream store killings. We also hear from FBI Agent Sarah Keller, called in to investigate the 1999 Blockbuster case, and from Chris, a young man who has ties to both time periods.

Honestly, this book captivated me. The multiple points of view helped it fly by and while I had some suspicions about who might be responsible, the book kept me guessing. There are lots of twists. Both the then and now storylines are interesting, especially since you have some teen drama thrown in, and Ella looking back on what was happening in 1999. Having multiple characters tie between the two time periods (Linden is a small town) really helped make everything work. Honestly, this would have been a 5-star read for, except the ending was a little abrupt and made me sad. Still, I really loved this fast-paced and intriguing thriller. 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, March 02, 2022

I can't hide what I am, guess it's plain to see: THE VERIFIERS.

The VerifiersThe Verifiers by Jane Pek
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Claudia Lin secretly works for Veracity, a dating detective agency for those who use matchmaking sites. Claudia is the youngest of three siblings, and her brother and sister resent her for receiving the majority of her mother's attention. Her mom, meanwhile, just wishes Claudia would settle down with a nice Chinese boy (this may be difficult, since Claudia is gay). Claudia loves mysteries and books (she wrote her thesis on Jane Austen), so when a Veracity client goes missing, she starts to investigate. Before she knows it, Claudia is swept up in a web of lies and trouble.

"Sometimes I fear I may be out of joint with my time."

This is an interesting and complex novel, part mystery and part character driven family tale. I don't know if it will be for everyone, but I enjoyed it. At times, it offers a nearly textbook-like exploration of the matchmaking industry and data exploitation, going very in-depth into these topics. If you don't like your books to be on the cerebral side, it may feel like a bit much. But this is also a really enjoyable, witty, and sarcastic read with an awesome protagonist--a lesbian, Chinese character who loves mysteries and reading and is smart, spunky, and yet reserved. She made me laugh and I found myself totally rooting for her. My only complaint is that I wanted a bit more happening for Claudia in the romance department!

THE VERIFIERS is packed with New York descriptions, setting you right smack down in the middle of the city as Claudia rides her bike all about. We also watch her navigate her difficult family. This family thread is often a sad undercurrent, as I found them to be difficult to like at times. She makes frequent references to various mysteries, usually classics, and to her beloved Inspector Yuan, a favorite series she grew up with. There's also lots of nods toward literature, many of those classics as well. These meta nods will be a big hit with many readers.

The mystery here is a bit hard to follow at times, as it threads itself into the world of matchmaking and data analytics. But it's interesting and intriguing, and Claudia is a great character to follow. Overall, I enjoyed this detailed, diverse, and witty mystery. 4 stars.

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