Review: HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING by Denise Williams

Review:  HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING by Denise WilliamsHow to Fail at Flirting by Denise Williams
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on December 1, 2020
Genres: Romance, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Fail at Flirting by Denise Williams is exactly the kind of read I have been craving this year. It’s that perfect blend of rom-com fun and weightier, more dramatic moments that makes for such a satisfying multi-layered read.

How to Fail at Flirting follows Naya Turner, an education professor at a local university who finds her job in jeopardy because of possible budget cuts.  Since she left an abusive relationship, Naya has 100% thrown herself into her work, so she is devastated to hear her job may be in trouble.  In need of a distraction, Naya lets her friends convince her she needs to get out into the world of dating again.  Naya’s looking for a no-strings hookup but instead, she meets Jake, a man that she really just clicks with. Everything about him seems perfect, that is until she finds out what he does for a living and that it could directly impact her own career in a negative way. Can Naya and Jake find a way to overcome their conflict or is their relationship doomed before it ever gets started?

I really loved and admired Naya so much.  She’s smart, sassy, passionate about her teaching career, and she’s also brave and resilient.  After learning about her horrible experiences at the hands of an abusive ex, I was rooting so hard for her to find true happiness.  I wanted her to go to that bar, have a blast completing every item on the hilarious list of dating dares her friends had given her, and then find a wonderful man who appreciates her for the strong woman she is.

I also adored Jake, the man Naya meets at the bar.  Jake is handsome, eloquent, kind, and he has a great sense of humor.  He has also recently gotten out of a bad relationship, so he’s a little reluctant about putting himself out there in the dating pool as well, that is until he meets Naya and can’t deny his attraction to her.  I loved watching their relationship slowly develop and was heartbroken as soon as I realized there was a real possibility that his job might prevent them from finding happiness together.

The twist with Jake’s job possibly threatening Naya’s job made what was already a compelling read truly unputdownable.  I just had to know if Jake and Naya were going to get a happy ending.  If you enjoy stories that feature loveable characters with undeniable chemistry whose happy ending is threatened by unforeseen circumstances, How to Fail at Flirting is a must-read.

four-stars

About Denise Williams

Denise Williams wrote her first book in the 2nd grade. I Hate You and its sequel, I Still Hate You, featured a tough, funny heroine, a quirky hero, witty banter, and a dragon. Minus the dragons, these are still the books she likes to write. After penning those early works, she finished second grade and eventually earned a PhD.

A diversity trainer and co-creator of a women’s empowerment group, she is dedicated to developing flawed, multidimensional characters who struggle with those issues impacting real women. After growing up a military brat around the world and across the country, Denise now lives in Iowa with her husband, son, and two ornery shih-tzus who think they own the house.

Denise was a 2019 Romance Writers of America ® Golden Heart Finalist and How to Fail at Flirting is her debut novel.

Review: ADMISSION by Julie Buxbaum

Review:  ADMISSION by Julie BuxbaumAdmission by Julie Buxbaum
four-stars
Published by Delacorte Press on December 1, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
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Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julie Buxbaum’s new novel Admission is a timely and relevant read that takes an inside look at a college admissions scandal.  The novel contains clear parallels to the recent admissions scandal involving actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin as it explores what happens when those who are rich and privileged enough to already have the deck stacked in their favor decide that still isn’t enough.

Admission opens with a bang and never looks back.  The protagonist of the story, Chloe Wynn Berringer, awakens to the sound of the doorbell ringing and watches helplessly as her world unravels around her. Her mom, a famous celebrity, is led away in handcuffs, and as Chloe soon learns while watching the news, her mother has gotten caught up in a college admissions scandal while trying to bribe Chloe’s way into her college of choice.  The story then progresses, very effectively using dual timelines, “now” and “then”, to follow Chloe and her family as they deal with the fallout from the scandal and to show what happened to lead to the moment where the FBI came knocking.

I have to admit that my feelings for her and for her family were very ambivalent.  Like the general public, I was furious to learn the lengths these rich, entitled folks would go to in order to take what they wanted, even if it meant taking an admissions slot that should have gone to a more-deserving student.  To Buxbaum’s credit though, she brings Chloe and her family to life in such a way that I wanted to learn more about them and understand their motivations and wanted to know if they had any understanding or remorse for how their actions impacted other families.  In the same regard, Chloe’s journey fascinated me because she really is just an all-around average person – average intelligence, average grades, average school activities, etc. There is nothing stand-out about her aside from that her family has money, so there’s no way she should have had her pick of colleges.  Although Chloe comes across as dense and naïve, I found it hard to believe that she was completely blindsided by what her parents had done and believed she had legitimately earned a spot at her college of choice. It soon became clear though that the novel is about more than just the actual admissions scandal; it’s also about Chloe’s exploration of whether she knowingly or unknowingly played any role in her parents’ scheme. As ambivalent as I felt about Chloe, I did really enjoy watching her grow as she tried to make sense of and learn from the experience rather than just play the victim.

My favorite characters in the novel though are actually Chloe’s best friend, Shola, and Chloe’s younger sister, Isla.  I adored both of these brilliant and driven young women and that they were up close and personal examples for Chloe of how truly unfair the admissions scandal is for hard-working students who have their spots stolen by rich people.  Shola is an incredibly gifted student who works hard everyday and her dream is to get into Harvard, but she needs a lot of financial aid in order for it to happen.  Shola faces the real fear that she will be rejected in favor of a privileged student who doesn’t need aid.  And then poor Isla. Like Shola, Isla is brilliant and a hard worker whose dream is to attend Yale and based on her grades, test scores, and overall amazing transcript, she should be able to get in pretty much anywhere on her own merits.  But is her name now tainted because of what her parents did for Chloe?  Where I had minimal sympathy for Chloe, these two young ladies had all of my sympathy and they were the two I found myself hardcore rooting for as I was reading.

If you’re in the mood for a compulsively readable family drama with a “ripped from the headlines” vibe, look no further than Julie Buxbaum’s new novel, Admission.  You won’t be able to put it down!

four-stars

About Julie Buxbaum

Julie Buxbaum is the New York Times best selling author of Tell Me Three Things, her young adult debut, What to Say Next, Hope and Other Punchlines, and Admission. She’s also the author of two critically acclaimed novels for adults: The Opposite of Love and After You. Her work has been translated into twenty-five languages. Julie’s writing has appeared in various publications, including The New York Times. She is a former lawyer and graduate of Harvard Law School and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two children, and more books than is reasonable.

Review: CHASING LUCKY by Jenn Bennett

Review:  CHASING LUCKY by Jenn BennettChasing Lucky by Jenn Bennett
Also by this author: Starry Eyes, Serious Moonlight
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on November 10, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chasing Lucky has everything I’ve come to love and expect from a Jenn Bennett novel. It has an engaging story with a wonderful romance, moving family moments, and most importantly, it is filled with unforgettable and ultra-relatable characters.

There’s a lot to love about this story, and main characters Josie Saint-Martin and Lucky Karras are at the top of my list.  Josie and her mom moved away from their New England hometown several years ago and have only now returned to help out in Josie’s grandmother’s book shop while she is out of the country.  Josie is not excited about being home and only views this as a temporary pitstop. Josie is a budding photographer and plans to save up enough money to move across the country to L.A. where her famous photographer dad is.  Josie is torn because she doesn’t want to break her mother’s heart and leave her alone, but she is also determined to follow her dreams.  That is, until she crosses paths with Lucky, resident bad boy and also Josie’s former best friend from when she lived there before.  After an initial awkward reacquaintance because Lucky isn’t at all like Josie remembered him to be, Josie and Lucky renew their friendship.  It is this developing relationship and its many possibilities that really drew me into the story and I especially wanted to know what had happened to Lucky to change him so much in the years that Josie was away.

In addition to these two characters and their journeys, I also really loved the New England small town setting.  Lucky’s family business is a shipyard of sorts and there are lots of scenes set on or near boats and the ocean and Bennett describes these scenes so vividly that I felt like I was there.  I also adored the Saint-Martin family’s book shop, which is just so quaint.

Chasing Lucky hooked me from the opening scene and captivated me until the very end because I was so invested in Josie and Lucky, both individually and as a pair. I needed happy endings for them both and I also needed a happy ending for Josie’s mom, who in a very intriguing side plot, has some things from her past that come back to haunt her as soon as she returns home. If you’re a Jenn Bennett fan and/or a fan of small-town romances and bad boys who may not really be bad boys after all, be sure to check out Chasing Lucky.

four-half-stars

About Jenn Bennett

Jenn Bennett is an award-winning author of young adult contemporary romance books, including: Alex, Approximately; The Anatomical Shape of a Heart; and Starry Eyes. She also writes romance and urban fantasy for adults (the Roaring Twenties and Arcadia Bell series). Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award, garnered two Reviewers’ Choice awards and a Seal of Excellence from RT Book Reviews, and been included on Publishers Weekly Best Books annual list. She lives near Atlanta with one husband and two dogs.

Review: THE BOY TOY by Nicola Marsh

Review:  THE BOY TOY by Nicola MarshThe Boy Toy by Nicola Marsh
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on November 17, 2020
Genres: Romance, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With a name like The Boy Toy, I went into Nicola Marsh’s new novel expecting a sexy romance featuring a woman with a young lover.  While I’m excited to report that the romance is, in fact, steamy and yes the story does feature a relationship between an older woman and a younger man, The Boy Toy is so much more than just a sexy read. And it’s that “so much more” that really made this read such a winner for me.

The Boy Toy follows Samira, an Indian-American physical therapist, and Rory, a gorgeous stunt man who lives in Melbourne, Australia, Samira’s hometown. The two of them have a chance encounter while Samira has returned to her hometown for a brief visit to help her cousin with her new business.  Sparks fly from the moment they meet, but all either Rory or Samira are really looking for is a one-night stand. After a night of sizzling sex, however, it becomes all too clear that a one-night stand simply isn’t enough.  Both are hesitant when it comes to relationships though. Samira is still reeling from the fall-out of a short-lived arranged marriage to an Indian man who ended up cheating on her, while Rory feels vulnerable because he has been battling a life-long stutter that often leaves him feeling like a disappointment to those around him, particularly his father.  In reading the author’s note, I learned that she too has a stutter and so she has done a wonderful job authentically capturing how having a stutter can impact your life.

I really loved Samira and Rory together so much.  They have so much chemistry and I just loved the way they played off each other.  I was immediately rooting for them to have a happy ending, particularly as soon as Samira’s mother and aunties started in all over again with their determination to find Samira a suitable husband, and by suitable, they mean Indian, which Rory is not.  I loved the strength Samira displays throughout the story as she stands her ground and firmly tells them she will chose for herself this time.  That’s not to say they listen, but she makes herself very clear time and time again.  I also adored Rory. He’s such a sweetheart and I was an especially big fan of the scenes where he visits the center where he got help for his stutter as a kid.  There are a couple of scenes between him and a little boy with a stutter that will just melt your heart. I also loved that he wanted to give back to this center because it had given him so much.

In addition to cheering on Rory and Samira as they navigate the terrain of a multi-cultural relationship, I also loved the family interactions in the book and all the secondary characters that we meet along the way.  Samira’s close relationship with her cousin Pia was one of my favorites in the book, and I also adored Samra’s mother, Kushi, even when she was being pushy about Samira’s love life.  And don’t even get me started on Kushi’s cooking skills.  The descriptions of Indian food sprinkled throughout her scenes had me so hungry the entire time I was reading!  Samira’s aunties were not quite as delightful and loveable as Kushi, but they still added a nice dramatic element to the story.  Rory brings his fair share of family drama to the table as well in the form of a very strained relationship with his father. Family friend, Manish, who is Kushi’s choice to be Samira’s next husband, is also a great character. I really enjoyed his friendship with Samira.  The scenes with family provide some lovely heartfelt moments as well as some more dramatic moments to balance with the steamy scenes between Samira and Rory.

If you’re looking for a fun and sexy read that features an older woman and a younger man, the challenges of a multi-cultural relationship, and also a fair share of family drama, look no further than The Boy Toy. It’s sure to please!

 

four-stars

About Nicola Marsh

USA TODAY bestselling and award-winning Australian author Nicola Marsh writes feel-good fiction…with a twist.

She has published 70 books and sold over 8 million copies worldwide.

She currently writes contemporary romance for Penguin Random House Berkley USA, domestic suspense novels for Hachette UK’s Bookouture, and rural romance for Harper Collins Australia’s Mira imprint.

She’s a Waldenbooks, Bookscan, Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble bestseller, a 2013 RBY and National Readers’ Choice Award winner, and a multiple finalist for awards including the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, Booksellers’ Best, Golden Quill, Laurel Wreath, More than Magic and has won several CataRomance Reviewers’ Choice Awards.

She loves chatting on social media!

Review: THE RAVENS by Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige

Review:  THE RAVENS by Kass Morgan and Danielle PaigeThe Ravens by Kass Morgan, Danielle Paige
four-stars
Series: The Ravens #1
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on November 3, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ravens by Kass Morgan and Danielle Page is the exciting first installment in their YA fantasy series of the same name.  I’m always drawn to books that are set in schools, so this one being set on a college campus really appealed to me.  The Ravens does not disappoint either.  It’s a dark and atmospheric, fast-paced read that is perfect for spooky season, but at the same time, it’s a wonderful story about sisterhood and sacrifice.  I really enjoyed it.

Kappa Rho Nu sorority is the envy of all at Westerly College.  Filled with glamorous and powerful women, it is easily the most elite and exclusive sorority on campus, issuing the fewest invitations to join during the sorority rush week.  Vivi Deveraux, a new student at Westerly, is shocked but thrilled when she receives an invitation to join.  She is even more shocked when she learns why – Kappa Rho Nu is not just a sorority; it’s also a coven of witches.  Only witches are allowed to join, which comes as a huge surprise to Vivi, as she had no idea she even was a witch.  Scarlett Winters, next in line to be President of the Kappas, is the first sister Vivi meets during rush week and they unfortunately get off on the wrong foot. Things get even more awkward for Vivi when Scarlett gets assigned to be her mentor and help her learn how to harness her magic.  When a dark secret from the Kappa’s past rears its ugly head and threatens not just their reputation on campus, but also their actual lives, can Vivi and Scarlett put aside their differences and neutralize the threat?

Vivi was probably my favorite character, mainly because she has that underdog vibe from the moment she gets on Scarlett’s bad side. I always have a soft spot for those underdogs.  I also found her to be a very sympathetic character in that she has come to Westerly looking for a fresh start.  She and her mom have spent most of Vivi’s life moving from place to place around the country, never putting down roots anywhere long enough for Vivi to make any friends. As soon as I heard her backstory I was really rooting for Vivi to find her squad.  I also found Vivi to be an interesting character in that her mother is completely opposed to her attending Westerly, swearing that it’s too dangerous for her there.  That, coupled with the fact that Vivi’s mom obviously never told her she’s a witch, made Vivi an all the more compelling character. There’s a mystery there and I really wanted to get to the bottom of it.

I do have to confess that I didn’t like Scarlett quite as much as I liked Vivi, probably just because she was so cold to Vivi when she first arrived at Kappa.  She grew on me though as I learned more about her. She’s a legacy and is trying to live up to the reputation of both her older sister and her mother, both of whom were Kappa presidents.  She’s under a lot of pressure because of that and she’s also trying to live down something that happened in her past, which makes her an interesting character to keep an eye on.

Filled with twists and turns as the Kappa sisters confront the danger that threatens to destroy them, The Ravens is a riveting read that will keep you turning the pages late into the night.

four-stars

About Danielle Paige

Danielle Paige is the New York Times bestselling author of the Dorothy Must Die series and Stealing Snow, as well as an upcoming Fairy Godmother origin story series, and the graphic novel Mera: Tidebreaker for DC. In addition to writing young adult books, she works in the television industry, where she received a Writers Guild of America Award and was nominated for several Daytime Emmys. She is a graduate of Columbia University. Danielle lives in New York City.

About Kass Morgan

Kass Morgan is the New York Times bestselling author of The 100, which was the inspiration for the hit CW show of the same name, and Light Years. An editor of middle grade and young adult fiction at a larger publisher, Kass received a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree from Oxford University. She lives in New York City.

Review: KINGDOM OF THE WICKED by Kerri Maniscalco

Review:  KINGDOM OF THE WICKED by Kerri ManiscalcoKingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco
Also by this author: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1), Hunting Prince Dracula
four-stars
Series: Kingdom of the Wicked #1
Published by Jimmy Patterson on October 27, 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal
Pages: 448
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was a big fan of Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of her latest novel, Kingdom of the Wicked, especially once I heard it was about witches and demons.  I started reading it last week and let me tell you, it’s the perfect dark and twisted read for spooky season.

Kingdom of the Wicked follows Emilia a young witch who lives with her family, including her twin sister Vittoria, in Sicily.  The witches in Sicily live in secret to avoid persecution, so it is quite shocking when witches start turning up dead, brutally murdered. Who’s responsible?  Is it the new witch hunting group that has suddenly cropped up or is something supernatural afoot?  When Emilia’s twin becomes a victim, Emilia, who was normally the more cautious of the two, throws all caution to the wind and vows revenge.

At its heart, I’d say Kingdom of the Wicked is a story of revenge.  Emilia is willing to do absolutely anything to bring her sister’s killers to justice and is tunnel visioned on that quest, even when it quite literally takes her to Hell, or to the Princes of Hell, I should say.  And it is when she magically binds herself to Wrath, one of the Princes of Hell, that everything changes…

The chemistry between Emilia and Wrath is off the charts.  They both really knew how to push each other’s buttons and I couldn’t get enough of their banter and bickering.  Wrath is dark, dangerous, and sexy, and it becomes clear as the story progresses that he develops feelings for Emilia that go beyond just the magic of the bond. He has a soft spot for her, whether he likes it or not.  Emilia finds herself experiencing similar feelings.  Neither should trust the other but can they fight the intoxicating lure of their attraction?  I was a huge fan of Charmed way back when and these two seriously gave me Phoebe and Cole vibes!

Aside from the amazing chemistry between Emilia and Wrath, and the compelling mystery as to who has been killing witches, I also fell in love with the worldbuilding, especially 19th century Sicily.  I’m a sucker for a story set in Italy, particularly if there’s food involved, and Emilia’s family owns a restaurant. Emilia loves to cook so the story is filled with vivid descriptions of delicious Italian recipes.  I also loved how atmospheric the story was.  It’s dark and eerie every time someone goes out because of the tension of knowing there’s a killer among them.  I also thought Maniscalco did a brilliant job with the witchy folklore. I absolutely loved the details of Emilia’s family history and how they ultimately became tied to the devil himself.  And speak of the devil, her descriptions of the Princes of Hell are truly brilliant.  This is one of those books where, as I was reading, I could easily imagine it as a film.

I don’t want to give anything away regarding Emilia’s quest for revenge and how her entanglement with Wrath factors in, but I will say some unexpected twists and turns at the end have me very eager to get my hands on the next book.

If dark and twisty reads filled with witches and demons are your things, you’ll want to visit the Kingdom of the Wicked. You won’t be disappointed!

four-stars

About Kerri Maniscalco

Kerri Maniscalco grew up in a semi-haunted house outside NYC where her fascination with gothic settings began. In her spare time she reads everything she can get her hands on, cooks all kinds of food with her family and friends, and drinks entirely too much tea while discussing life’s finer points with her cats.

Her first novel in this series, Stalking Jack the Ripper, debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. It incorporates her love of forensic science and unsolved history.

October Reviews: CRAZY STUPID BROMANCE, LOVE YOUR LIFE, & SNAPPED

 

So my birthday was last week and I celebrated by reading three of my most anticipated romance reads of the year.  I had saved them all for last week in hopes that I would be in for a real treat, and I’m happy to say I was not disappointed.  🙂

 

October Reviews:  CRAZY STUPID BROMANCE, LOVE YOUR LIFE, & SNAPPEDCrazy Stupid Bromance (Bromance Book Club, #3) Goodreads

Author: Lyssa Kay Adams

Publication Date: October 27, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

Crazy Stupid Bromance is the third installment in Lyssa Kay Adams’ Bromance Book Club series and what a delightful installment it is!  This time we follow Alexis and Noah, who are both friends with the members of the book club.

We met Alexis Carlisle in an earlier book when she came forward as a victim of sexual harassment at the hands of a famous celebrity chef.  Since she came forward, Alexis and her cat café “Toe Beans” have become a magnet for other victims who want to share their stories in a safe place.  Crazy Stupid Bromance opens with Alexis being approached by a young woman.  Alexis assumes she is another victim wanting to share her story and is thus shocked when the woman tells her that they are actually sisters and that their father is dying and needs a kidney.  Stunned and uncertain about how to proceed, Alexis turns to her friend and confidante Noah for guidance.

Noah Logan has a checkered past as a hacker.  He’s now on the up-and-up and works in cybersecurity.  He does still have one big secret though – he’s completely head over heels for Alexis. There’s just one problem…Alexis is also the best friend he has ever had.  If he tries to take the next step and it backfires, he loses both his best friend and the love of his life.  Cue Mack and the rest of the guys from The Bromance Book Club.  Can they help Noah figure out how to move his relationship with Alexis from friends to lovers?

You guys!  I am loving this series so much.  Crazy Stupid Bromance is every bit as entertaining as the first two books in the series are.  I breezed through it in a day and was just so drawn in by both the dramatic story of Alexis and her newfound family as I was by the heartfelt and sometimes comical journey to coupledom of Noah and Alexis.  They have so much chemistry and I just loved their shared nerdiness as they worked Doctor Who Lego sets together, etc.  And of course, I can’t leave out Mack and Company either. They are hilarious as always, especially the Russian, who is always such a scene stealer. (The fourth book is going to be about the Russian and I seriously cannot wait!).  The Russian had a little competition this time though when it came to stealing scenes as Alexis’ cat, Beefcake, gave him a run for his money in that department.

If quirky and hilarious with a side of family drama sounds like your thing, you really need to check this series out!  4.5 STARS

 

 

October Reviews:  CRAZY STUPID BROMANCE, LOVE YOUR LIFE, & SNAPPEDLove Your Life Goodreads

Author: Sophie Kinsella

Publication Date: October 27, 2020

Publisher:  The Dial Press

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

Sophie Kinsella’s new rom-com Love Your Life follows Ava, a young woman who has very strong opinions when it comes to love and romance.  Ava is not a fan of dating apps and the power of the almighty algorithms.  A romantic at heart, she believes that the path to love can only be found out in the real world, not behind a computer screen.  She is therefore beyond thrilled when she meets the man of her dreams while she’s in Italy at a writing retreat.  The philosophy behind the retreat is that nothing should get in the way of writing, especially nothing personal.  Therefore, the participants go by fake names and reveal nothing personal about themselves to the rest of the group.  Ava and Mr. Perfect can’t resist each other and end up spending nearly the entire retreat together, skipping classes, cliff diving, and yes, having passionate sex.  The romance is everything Ava could want it to be, and when, at the end of the retreat, she learns that Mr. Perfect’s name is Matt and he lives in London not far from where she lives, life couldn’t be better.  Or could it?

Once the real world encroaches on her fantasy, things with Matt aren’t nearly as perfect as Ava thought they were. What appeared to be perfect compatibility in Italy suddenly appears to be the exact opposite.  Ava and Matt don’t have the same taste in food, art, music, décor, and even in mattresses. She meets his parents and they’re awful to her and constantly throw the name of Matt’s ex in her face.  Ava puts on a brave face and tries to pretend that everything is still picture perfect, but deep down, she starts to wonder if she and Matt have anything at all in common. Ava wants her Italian fantasy romance back, but since that’s not possible, she knows she and Matt need to figure out if they have a path forward.

Love Your Life has a lot of things going for it. It was of course very entertaining to watch Ava and Matt try to navigate the awkwardness of their relationship and I was also a huge fan of Ava’s crazy rescue beagle, Harold who was an adorable scene stealer, and of each of their quirky friend groups.  Their hilarious banter and comical antics had me chuckling to myself every time they appeared in scenes.  I also found both Ava and Matt quite likeable, although I do have to admit that Ava could be a little frustrating.  I loved her big heart and especially her need to rescue things, be it animals, old furniture, discarded houseplants, etc.  She was such a lovely and colorful character, but at the same time, that huge heart and her desire to always look on the bright side of things made her seem almost ridiculous at times when she was trying to pretend to everyone (and to herself) that her relationship with Matt was perfect.  Thankfully Ava finally does open her eyes and eventually shows some growth as the story progresses.  If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the story nearly as much.

Even with my initial frustration with Ava, I still found Love Your Life to be a charming and fun romance, sure to please all you romantics out there.  3.5 STARS

 

 

October Reviews:  CRAZY STUPID BROMANCE, LOVE YOUR LIFE, & SNAPPEDSnapped (Playbook, #4) Goodreads

Author: Alexa Martin

Publication Date: October 20, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

Snapped is the fourth book in Alexa Martin’s Playbook series.  I actually haven’t read the first three books in the series, but I’m thrilled to say I was able to jump right in without any issues.  The series follows the Denver Mustangs football team and their significant others and the focus in Snapped is starting quarterback Quinton Howard, Jr., and Mustangs PR rep Elliott (Elle) Reid.

Snapped opens with a bang. It’s the season opener and as Quinton takes the field, he covers the league logo on his jersey with black tape and then proceeds to take a knee as the national anthem is played.  The owner of the Mustangs is outraged by Quinton’s actions and sends Elliott Reid to get to the bottom of it and find a way to make Quinton stop what he’s doing. Quinton explains his reasons for protesting to Elliott. It’s all about racial injustice with two specific focuses:  1) He wants to lend his support to Black Lives Matter, and 2) He wants to call out the football league for mistreating and neglecting retired players of color.  He then tells her he wants to start a charitable foundation and Elle decides that’s her ‘in’ and vows to help Quinton get that up and running.

I absolutely adored Quinton’s character.  He’s intelligent and sensitive and just so passionate about this cause.  It’s impossible not to root for him and I just loved listening to him speak his truth.  I really liked Elle too, although I did find her to be somewhat naïve at times.  Elle is bi-racial but was raised almost entirely by her white parent.  She says that she was raised in an environment that taught her not to see color.  What this has led to is Elle tending to explain away actions that are clearly racist as not racist.  As she and Quinton start to work together, he calls her out on this and starts to open her eyes to the truth about racial injustice and, in particular, how pervasive it really is.

I thought Snapped was a fantastic read overall and that the author struck a perfect balance between the romance and social justice storylines. I loved watching Quinton and Elle grow closer as they worked together and I especially loved how Quinton helped Elle grow as a person. I also adored the whole Mustangs family, especially the significant others. Such a fun group!

If you’re into romance, and especially if you’re into football, be sure to check out the Playbook series. I’m really looking forward to going back and reading the earlier books in the series.  4 STARS

 

 

 

 

Review: THE LOST LOVE SONG

Review:  THE LOST LOVE SONGThe Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke
three-half-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on October 13, 2020
Genres: Romance, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minnie Darke’s new novel The Lost Love Song is one of the most unique love stories I’ve read in a long time.  Rather than a character, the star of this story is actually a love song and the powerful yet subtle way it serves as a catalyst to bring people together all around the world.  The unnamed love song was composed in a hotel in Singapore by a piano prodigy named Diana Clare, who wrote it for her fiancé, Arie Johnson. Diana desperately wanted Arie to feel all the love for him that she had in her heart, and while she was never very good with words, her exquisite music has always perfectly conveyed what she’s feeling.

When Diana returns home from her concert tour, she plans to share her song with Arie and tell him that she’s finally ready to get married.  When she checks out of her hotel, however, she accidentally leaves the notebook behind. When tragedy strikes soon after, it appears that the beautiful song is lost.  Or is it? When the notebook finds its way into the hands of another musician, he falls in love with the song as soon as he plays it and thus begins the song’s journey as it captivates everyone who hears it.

We get to see the song work its magic on several couples throughout the story and I really loved how the song felt like it was actually a character in the story with the way it spoke to people and brought them together.  That was probably my favorite thing about the story honestly.  I was also quite captivated by Arie and Diana’s story, which is both romantic and tragic, and by Arie’s connection to a young woman named Evie who is staying in the apartment next to his.   This was a double-edged sword for me though because although I loved that I was so drawn to these three characters, I didn’t find any other characters nearly as compelling.  This made for a slightly uneven read as I found myself skimming through their parts so that I could get back to Arie, Diana, and Evie where I would then devour their chapters.

Even with that issue though, I still really enjoyed The Lost Love Song overall.  It’s a beautiful story that is full of grief and heartache, but also with love, hope, and second chances.  If you’re a romantic at heart, I think you’ll love this one.

three-half-stars

About Minnie Darke

Minnie Darke is the author of the bestselling novel Star-crossed, winner of the Margaret Scott People’s Choice Award, and which has now been published in over 30 countries. Her new novel, The Lost Love Song, is out now! She lives in Tasmania with her family.

Review: THE ONCE AND FUTURE WITCHES by Alix E. Harrow

Review:  THE ONCE AND FUTURE WITCHES by Alix E. HarrowThe Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
five-stars
Published by Orbit on October 13, 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Fiction, Paranormal
Pages: 528
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alix E. Harrow’s new novel The Once and Future Witches is at its heart a story about reclaiming one’s power, specifically power that men have historically denied and/or taken from women.  The story is set in 1893 in the town of New Salem and right in the heart of the women’s suffrage movement.  The Once and Future Witches is also a story about sisterhood, both in the sense of the sisterhood of women fighting to make their voices heard at the ballot box, and in the sense that the three protagonists are actually sisters and specifically sisters who have been raised to embrace magic even though magic and witches have been gone for a long time.  Although they have been separated for years, the sisters find themselves inexplicably drawn to the location of the latest suffragette rally and therefore back to each other.  When an unexplainable event also happens at the rally, the sisters take their reunion and this supernatural occurrence as a sign that magic is trying to return and that they should help it along and perhaps recruit some suffragettes to their cause, thereby combining the women’s movement and the witches’ movement into one major force to be reckoned with.

I honestly adored everything about this book!  I thought the overall theme of women reclaiming their power, whether through magic or through securing the right to vote for themselves, was wonderful and I thought using the women’s movement as well as witches and magic to symbolize that theme and bring it to life was brilliant since it highlights both the historical and modern society since as women, we are still having to fight for equality at almost every turn.  I also loved that Harrow truly brings this theme into the present by having a diverse cast that features both women of color as well as LGBTQ characters.

Speaking of the cast of characters, while I don’t want to give any details of the plot itself away, I do want to talk about the three sisters because they were all such incredible characters, just so well drawn and complex.  James Juniper is the first sister we meet. She’s the youngest and is a bit of a wild child. She’s incredibly brave and forthright and has no filter whatsoever. You just never know what’s going to come out of her mouth.  She also holds a major grudge against her two older sisters because they both ran away from home and left her behind to contend with an abusive father.  Then there’s Beatrice Belladonna, the oldest and most wary of the sisters. Beatrice is into books and not much else, although she does have an interest in magic. She works as a librarian and in her spare time has delved into the library’s collection of books from Old Salem, trying to find hidden or long-forgotten spells.  Lastly, there’s Agnes Amaranth, the middle sister.  She’s the most nurturing of the sisters, practically taking on the role of Juniper’s mom after their mom died.  The dynamic between Juniper, Beatrice, and Agnes is so complicated and I found myself completely invested, both in their adventures to bring back magic and witches, and most especially in their emotional journey to work through the pain of the past and get back to each other.

The overall themes of The Once and Future Witches are compelling and the characters are fabulous, but I can’t forget to mention the real stars of the show, Harrow’s masterful ability to weave together a beautiful, atmospheric, and intricate story and her gorgeous prose.  This book was an absolute dream to read from start to finish, and I especially loved her use of popular childhood nursery rhymes as a way to camouflage witchy spells.

If you’re into witchy reads and feminist themes, you definitely want to check out The Once and Future Witches. It’s the best of both worlds. Truly a magical read!

five-stars

About Alix E. Harrow

Alix E. Harrow has been a student and a teacher, a farm-worker and a cashier, an ice-cream-scooper and a 9-to-5 office-dweller. She’s lived in tents and cars, cramped city apartments and lonely cabins, and spent a summer in a really sweet ’79 VW Vanagon. She has library cards in at least five states.

Now she’s a full-time writer living in with her husband and two semi-feral kids in Kentucky. Her short fiction has appeared in Shimmer, Strange Horizons, Tor.com, Apex, and other venues, and The Ten Thousand Doors of January was her debut novel.

Reviews: MAGIC LESSONS and IN A HOLIDAZE

 

Today I’m sharing reviews of two of my most anticipated reads of 2020, Alice Hoffman’s latest installment in her Practical Magic series and the new holiday-themed novel from Christina Lauren, In a Holidaze.  If these two books are any indication of the caliber of reads we can expect in October, I think we’re all in for a real treat!

 

Reviews:  MAGIC LESSONS and IN A HOLIDAZEMagic Lessons Goodreads

Author: Alice Hoffman

Publication Date: October 6, 2020

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors so, as you can guess, her latest novel, Magic Lessons, is one of my most anticipated reads of 2020.  I’m thrilled to say, not only did Magic Lessons meet my high expectations, it far exceeded them. I haven’t had many 5 star reads this year, but Magic Lessons is definitely one of them.

Magic Lessons is Hoffman’s third venture into the world of her beloved Owens witches.  Where Hoffman’s second venture into this world, The Rules of Magic, gave us the backstory for the Owens sisters who grew up to be the aunts in Practical Magic, with Magic Lessons, Hoffman ventures back to the 1600s and the Salem Witch Trials, this time to give us the origin of the Owens bloodline as well as the events that led to the curse that has haunted their family for generations.

As always, what I love most about Hoffman’s novels is that her storytelling is truly exquisite.  I felt transported back in time as soon as I started reading and was immediately caught up in the life of Maria Owens, the matriarch of the Owens witches.  Hoffman does such a beautiful job creating an unforgettable character and crafting an origin story for her that flows seamlessly into the other two books in the series.  As an infant, Maria was abandoned by her own mother, left in a snowy field in the English countryside.  A woman named Hannah Owens, who is gifted in the “Unnamed Arts” finds Maria and raises her as her own.  She recognizes that Maria shares her gift and therefore teaches her everything she knows.  After Hannah’s death, Maria falls in love with a man and when he abandons her, she decides to follow him. This is how she ends up in Salem, right as the infamous witch hunts are getting underway, and this man’s betrayal of her is what ultimately leads to the Owens curse everyone who has read the other books is so familiar with.

Magic Lessons is a gorgeous and atmospheric read and I found myself completely invested in Maria’s journey, which is filled with both love and heartbreak, but also with hope, and of course with magic.  I especially loved watching all of the pieces fall into place, with little shout outs here and there to the magic we see in the books that come later in the Owens timeline.

If you’re looking for the perfect atmospheric read to kick off spooky season, look no further than Alice Hoffman’s Magic Lessons. It was everything I wanted for this series and more! 5 STARS

 

 

Reviews:  MAGIC LESSONS and IN A HOLIDAZEIn a Holidaze Goodreads

Author: Christina Lauren

Publication Date: October 6, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery Books

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

I don’t normally start my holiday reading this early in the year, but I’m more than happy to make the exception when it’s to read a new novel by Christina Lauren. Their latest collaboration, In a Holidaze,,  follows Mae Jones, a young woman who has found herself in a bit of a rut. She’s stuck in a job that’s going nowhere and is currently living with her parents.  Mae’s life spirals in an even more downward direction when, at her family’s traditional Christmas vacation at their best friends’ cabin in Utah, two terrible things happen:  1) she drunkenly kisses the brother of the guy she’s in love with, and 2) she learns their friends have decided to sell the cabin.

While Mae is mortified about kissing the wrong brother, she’s truly heartbroken about the cabin because it’s her absolute favorite place in the world and they’ve been coming there every Christmas for her entire life.  As they prepare to leave the cabin for what will be the last time, Mae makes one simple wish to the universe:  “Show me what will make me happy.”  The universe is more than happy to oblige Mae’s request, in its own special way, and Mae ends up somehow reliving this last week at the cabin over and over again because apparently the key to her happiness can only be found there.

I had so much fun reading this book!  I’ve always enjoyed the movie Groundhog Day so having that kind of déjà vu, time travel element in the story was such a treat for me.  I also really loved Mae and found her entire situation, and particularly her sadness about the potential loss of such a huge family tradition incredibly relatable.  I was in her corner every step of the way, hoping she would not only figure out what would make her truly happy but that she would also find a way to convince the family not to sell the cabin.

While I adored Mae, what really made the story such a special read for me was the family tradition and how it brought both family and friends together in such a wonderful way. I loved watching them spend the holidays together, especially all of their often hilarious holiday traditions.  They really did become one giant extended family over the years and it was just so heartwarming to read.

And it wouldn’t be a Christina Lauren book if there wasn’t a romance and I was totally on board with the romance in In a Holidaze.  Mae’s chemistry with the brother she really is attracted to is undeniable, and he’s adorable, so I really wanted her to figure out a way as she keeps reliving this week to make it work out between them.

If a mashup of the film Groundhog Day and your favorite Hallmark Christmas movie sounds good to you, I highly recommend Christina Lauren’s In a Holidaze.  It’s the perfect read to get you into the holiday spirit! 4 STARS