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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Monday, July 11, 2022

I'm the shadow on the ground: REPUTATION.

ReputationReputation by Sarah Vaughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Emma, a former teacher, is now a Member of Parliament (MP). As such, her life has changed greatly-- she's now divorced and her relationship with her teenage daughter, Flora, is strained. Emma often finds herself in the spotlight as she campaigns hard for women's issues. She's also subjected to endless threats and online bullying. Flora, too, is being bullied at school--a secret she keeps from her mother. As Emma works to get a new law passed to protect women and girls from the effects of revenge porn, she and Flora find their lives uncomfortably intertwining. And then--a horrible incident occurs, and Emma finds a man dead in her home. The focus increases on her considerably, and she find herself fighting for her reputation and perhaps even her life.

This is another smartly written thriller from Vaughan. It's a bit of a slow-mover, but it certainly gets you thinking. It skips around in time a lot, which made it harder to immediately get into the narrative, along with the fact that I'm not as familiar with the Parliament political system as I'd like. But it's fairly easy to catch up. Vaughan covers the familiar topic of cyber bullying, but with a twist, as Emma is campaigning for stricter laws against it, while Flora is enmeshed in various scandals at school.

REPUTATION does an excellent job in highlighting all the various ways women (and girls) face violence in their daily lives as well as what female public figures must endure. Honestly, Emma could be a bit tedious at times and some plot pieces seemed a little repetitive, but overall, this was a pretty interesting read. There are no huge twists, but Vaughan certainly throws in some good surprises. The insight into female violence and cyber bullying was well-done, and Vaughan writes excellent courtroom drama. The themes of family, motherhood, and (of course) reputation are strong. 3.75 stars, rounded up to 4 here.

I received a copy of this book from Atria/Emily Bestler Books in return for an unbiased review.

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Monday, July 04, 2022

You're not easy to love: ISLAND TIME.

Island Time: A NovelIsland Time: A Novel by Georgia Clark
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Kelly and Lee families couldn't be more different. But their daughters are married, so they are vacationing together on a remote tropical island off the coast of Queensland for a few days. Then a volcano eruption completely derails everyone's plans, stranding the families on the island for six weeks with two employees. While there, everyone is forced to do some intense reckoning about their lives, loves, and futures.

Oh I wanted to like this book--I always try to champion LGBTQIA books--but I just couldn't get into this one. It felt so LONG. Like, so long you guys. I kept thinking I'd read most of it, and then I'd see I wasn't even 25% done. It felt like so much of this book could have been shortened or benefited from a deep edit.

There are a lot of people in ISLAND TIME and truly, none of them seem that nice or interesting. The Kelly family consists of Julia and Gene (parents) and their daughters Amelia and Matty. The daughters come across as spoiled brats. We rehash their problems over and over. As for the Lees, we have parents Randall and Ludmilla and their daughter Parker (married to Matty). There are also two island employees, including Liss (also queer). I wanted to feel an affinity for more people with so many queer characters (I didn't mind Liss too much), but everyone came across as self-centered or annoying. There's a large natural disaster, people elsewhere have died, the natural life and vegetation of this island is in peril, but wow, these folks seem to care less. Also, somehow there is power and enough food for six weeks (copious, fancy food), which just didn't make things seem realistic at all.

Everyone has issues in ISLAND--so many issues. Personal issues. Work issues. Romantic issues. So many issues. They rehash these issues over and over. And then again. Often you might want characters to fix their issues because you care for them, but in this book, I often felt like I didn't care if they resolved them or not, because they just irritated me.

ISLAND does discuss the indigenous people of Australia in depth. I feel like I learned a lot there, as well as about some of the animals and plant life of the country. That, I appreciated.

Overall, this book just didn't work for me. I'm glad there were queer characters, but their relationships felt stilted or full of insta-love, and mostly, everything was just long and drawn out. 2.5 stars.

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

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Friday, July 01, 2022

But I never learned nothing from playing it safe: THE LIES I TELL.

The Lies I TellThe Lies I Tell by Julie Clark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kat Roberts has waited ten years for the woman who destroyed her life to show up again. And now, Meg Williams is back in California. Kat knows Meg is the consummate con artist, adapting herself into whatever personality necessary to pull off her elaborate schemes. But somehow Meg and Kat become sort-of friends, and as she gets to know her nemesis better, she starts to wonder more about Meg's true intentions all along.

Wow, this thriller sucked me in from the start! Clark weaves an irresistible story, backed by two strong and complicated women. You need to suspend a little bit of disbelief to truly enjoy this one (some of these cons, really, people didn't catch on?) but otherwise, this is a fast-paced and totally engaging read. It's told from both Meg and Kat's perspectives and takes place in both the present-day and ten years ago.

The book flies by and while it has its share of twist and turns, it also delves into such themes as misogyny, assault, family, and friendship. We learn more about Kat and Meg with each page, and its their character development that truly drives this story. Add in a suspenseful plot and boom, a great read! 4+ stars.

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

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