Review: CODE NAME HÉLÈNE by Ariel Lawhon

Review:  CODE NAME HÉLÈNE by Ariel LawhonCode Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon
Also by this author: I Was Anastasia
four-stars
Published by Doubleday Books on March 31, 2020
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 464
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the things I love about reading historical fiction is that I often learn of important historical figures that were previously unknown to me.  Such is the case with Ariel Lawhon’s latest novel Code Name Hélène.  Set in Europe during World War II, Code Name Hélène follows the adventures of Nancy Wake, an Australian-born socialite who is living in Paris when World War II breaks out.  When we first meet Nancy, she is working hard, trying to be taken seriously as a journalist in a man’s world.  When the war breaks out, however, Nancy finds her true calling as a spy and ultimately becomes one of the leaders of the French Resistance.

I had never heard of Nancy Wake and was fascinated to learn what a huge part she played during the war.  I was also a big fan of the way the author delivers Nancy’s story to us, using several interweaving timelines, one for each of the code names Nancy acquired through her work for the Resistance.  We get to see Nancy in action as an oblivious mistress, Lucienne Carlier, as she smuggles documents and people across borders to safety.  When the Nazis learn of Nancy and quickly become frustrated by her uncanny ability to evade capture, they nickname her ‘The White Mouse” and put a steep price on her head. Knowing she is in imminent danger, Nancy flees France and begins training with the Special Operations Executive where she earns a new code name, Hélène, and is air dropped back into France with a new mission. As Madam Andre, this final mission is to do whatever it takes to arm the French Resistance and drive the Germans out of France.

I was completely riveted by Nancy’s journey from start to finish.  It is fraught with danger and suspense at every turn, and I just found myself more and more inspired by Nancy’s formidable presence and spirit.  She’s fearless, brash, resourceful, and has a take-no-prisoners attitude.  Working in what could only be described as a man’s world and wearing her signature Chanel red lipstick, Nancy ultimately commands respect from all of those around her, even those who initially refuse to accept the authority of a woman in a war zone. Heck, at one point, she even kills a Nazi with her bare hands!

As awe-inspiring as her career in espionage was, I also loved that the author chose to include a glimpse into Nancy’s personal life as well, most especially her relationship with Henri Fiocca, the love of her life.  Watching how the war impacted their relationship was almost as gripping as watching Nancy order men around as a Resistance fighter.

Code Name Hélène is an inspiring story of bravery, resilience, love, and sacrifice.  If historical fiction and strong women are your thing, this is a book you want to check out.

four-stars

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the critically acclaimed author of THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS, FLIGHT OF DREAMS, and I WAS ANASTASIA. Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, four sons, and black Lab—who is, thankfully, a girl.

Review: THE HONEY DON’T LIST by Christina Lauren

Review:  THE HONEY DON’T LIST by Christina LaurenThe Honey-Don't List by Christina Lauren
Also by this author: My Favorite Half-Night Stand
four-stars
Published by Gallery Books on March 24, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 320
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I admit that I was very late to jump on the Christina Lauren bandwagon, but ever since I read my first book by them, I’ve been hooked and their latest collaboration, The Honey Don’t List, has only made my love for their books continue to grow.

What a fun read this was!  Celebrity scandals have always fascinated me anyway, so I was drawn to this story as soon as I realized what it was about.  The fact that the story begins in a police station with the celebrity assistants being interviewed only served to whet my appetite all the more. Something dramatic and potentially scandalous has clearly happened and I was immediately flying through the pages wanting to know what had transpired.

Melly and Rusty Tripp are the celebrities in question.  Famous in the world of home décor and remodeling, Melly and Tripp have captured the hearts of their fans, not just because of their design talents but also because they have such a wonderful relationship.  They are America’s sweethearts and they’ve even written a book about their lives together and have a new Netflix series in the works. To cap off their success and promote their new book and show, the Tripps are going on a book tour together.  There’s just one problem: they actually despise each other.  Enter the real stars of The Honey Don’t List, the two personal assistants, Carey Douglas and James McCann, who have been tasked with the nearly impossible task of keeping the book tour from imploding by making sure Melly and Rusty don’t kill each other or otherwise expose that their marriage is basically a sham.

I adored both Carey and James from the start.  I was tremendously sympathetic to them both right away since my instinct would have been to resign.  Carey can’t resign though because 1) she desperately needs the health insurance, and 2) she has been with Melly since the beginning and feels obligated to be there for her. Even though she is high maintenance, Melly has been like a mom to Carey.  James is equally stuck in his position, primarily because his last job ended in disaster, with the firm he worked for wrapped up in some huge scandal.  James needs to rebuild his resume and a hugely successful organization like Melly and Rusty’s is just what he needs. I love a good underdog story and both of our protagonists are clearly cast in that role.

The book tour is of course a total train wreck with plenty of laugh out loud moments, which is exactly what I was hoping for from a Christina Lauren read.  What really had me captivated though was the growing relationship between Carey and James as they are forced to team up and try to save the day, so to speak.  Even though they initially don’t like each other very much, it’s clear they have off-the-charts chemistry.  I loved all of their moments together, whether they were scheming about how to do damage control with respect to Rusty and Melly or whether they were just truly opening up to one another and having meaningful conversations.  There are also plenty of flirty and sexy moments as the pair gets closer and closer, so yes, there’s lots of rom-com style goodness in The Honey Don’t List, also exactly what I’m looking and hoping for when I pick up a Christina Lauren book.

Hilarious and heartwarming, The Honey Don’t List is the perfect book to pick up if you’re looking to escape reality for a while. It’s sure to leave you with a smile on your face.

 

 

four-stars

About Christina Lauren

Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of long-time writing partners and best friends Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. The #1 international bestselling coauthor duo writes both Young Adult and Adult Fiction, and together has produced fourteen New York Times bestselling novels. They are published in over 30 languages, have received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, won both the Seal of Excellence and Book of the Year from RT Magazine, named Amazon and Audible Romance of the Year, a Lambda Literary Award finalist and been nominated for several Goodreads Choice Awards. They have been featured in publications such as Forbes, The Washington Post, Time, Entertainment Weekly, People, O Magazine and more. Their third YA novel, Autoboyography was released in 2017 to critical acclaim, followed by Roomies, Love and Other Words, Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, and the Publisher’s Weekly starred My Favorite Half-Night Stand, out in December.

Review: HARLEY IN THE SKY by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Review:  HARLEY IN THE SKY by Akemi Dawn BowmanHarley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Also by this author: Starfish
four-stars
Published by Ink Road on March 10, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, 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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Akemi Dawn Bowman is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.  She excels at creating characters and stories that are just so incredibly relatable.  I loved her first two books, Starfish and Summer Bird Blue, but I have to admit I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t connect as much to her latest novel, Harley in the Sky, since it is set in the world of the circus and focuses on a girl’s dream of becoming a trapeze artist.  My worry was completely unfounded though because at its heart, Harley in the Sky is a beautiful coming of age story about the search for identity and following one’s dreams.

The story follows Harley Milano, a young woman who has grown up in her parent’s Las Vegas-based circus.  Harley has dreamed of flying high as an aerialist for as long as she can remember and has even trained with her parents’ performers whenever possible.  When Harley turns 18, she approaches her parents to tell them she wants to train full-time and become one of their aerialists.  To her shock and dismay, her parents shut her down completely.  She is going to college, no ifs ands or buts about it.  Harley is crushed by her parent’s reaction and rebels by leaving home and joining a rival traveling circus.

Harley’s growth as a character is what really drew me into this story.  She is a flawed and very realistic character and one that many will relate to. She’s stubborn and headstrong, prone to make rash and emotional decisions, and she’s all too willing to hurt and betray others to follow her dream.  Her journey is a hard one for her as well though.  It’s filled with hard work, disappointment, and at first, a great deal of loneliness as she must come to terms with what she has done and gradually work her way to accepting responsibility for the hurt she has caused if she has any hope of reconciling with her family.

Her journey is not all hard times though in that she makes some great new friends in the traveling circus and even meets a sweet boy named Vas.  While there is a romantic element there, Vas’ role is so much more than that as Harley is able to talk to him and work through her feelings in a way that she hasn’t been able to with anyone else.

Harley in the Sky is also a story about identity.  In addition to the struggle she faces regarding her need for independence to pursue her dream, Harley is also struggling with who she is.  She comes from a multi-racial family and is equal parts Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and American.  In Harley’s mind, she is so little of each of them that she feels like none of them.

Harley in the Sky was an emotional read for me on a couple of different levels.  I found myself wrapped up, not only in Harley’s journey, but I was also caught up in Bowman’s gorgeous writing as she vividly captures the atmosphere of the circus and gave me several moments of nostalgia from my own childhood of watching those performers make magic and fly through the air.  If you’re into coming of age stories that are sure to take you back to your own journey to adulthood and independence, be sure to check out Harley in the Sky.

four-stars

About Akemi Dawn Bowman

Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster) and Summer Bird Blue (Fall 2018). She’s a proud Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix. She is represented by Penny Moore of Empire Literary.

Review: You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Review:  You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks & Sarah PekkanenYou Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen
Also by this author: The Wife Between Us
three-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on March 3, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 343
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Authors Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are a dynamic duo when it comes to writing dark and twisty psychological thrillers that keep readers on the edge of their seats, and their latest offering, You Are Not Alone, continues the trend.  You Are Not Alone is a dark and disturbing read that explores what happens when an emotionally vulnerable young woman finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The story follows Shay Miller, whose life is just overall in a disappointing place for her.  She is working a temp job with no prospects of a permanent position on the horizon, she has no real friends to speak of, and she is in love with her roommate Sean, who already has a long-time girlfriend.  Shay finds herself mostly isolated and therefore vulnerable. When Shay happens to be in a subway station and witnesses a young woman commit suicide, she becomes obsessed with learning more about the victim.  She knows her obsession is unhealthy, but she feels compelled nonetheless to find out what led her to take her own life.

I found myself incredibly sympathetic to Shay and the position she has found herself in.  She feels a connection to the suicide victim in part because she can so easily put herself in that woman’s place and can imagine feeling like there’s nothing worth living for. I can understand why she feels it’s so important to find out what exactly drove this woman to do what she did.  She’s thinking of herself and what could drive her to that same point.

The story, and Shay’s life, takes a drastically different turn when she decides to attend the memorial service for the suicide victim and meets Cassandra and Jane Moore, who are sisters and who were also both close to the deceased.  Shay is fascinated by the ultra-charismatic sisters and her obsession with the victim soon expands to include them as well, especially since they seem very eager to befriend her.  Shay is desperate for friends and begins to imagine herself taking the victim’s place in the sisters’ circle of friends. Seems to easy and too good to be true, right?

Good things start happening for Shay as she deepens her connection to the sisters…until suddenly, they don’t. Out of nowhere, Shay finds herself inexplicably caught up in the investigation into the death of the suicide victim as well as another crime.  The authors ratchet up the tension and suspense as Shay desperately tries to figure out what is going on and how she’s going to get herself out of the mess she has found herself in.  I had a few minor issues with pacing early on in the story, but once I got to this part of the book, I flew through the rest of the pages trying put together the pieces of this wild and crazy puzzle.

You Are Not Alone is a disturbing and complex tale of manipulation, danger, and revenge.  If you’re into dark, twisty, and suspenseful reads, this is one that needs to go on your must-read list.

three-half-stars

About Greer Hendricks

GREER HENDRICKS spent over two decades as an editor at Simon & Schuster. Prior to her tenure in publishing, she worked at Allure Magazine and obtained her Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children, The Wife Between Us is her first novel.

Follow Greer Hendricks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

About Sarah Pekkanen

Internationally bestselling author Sarah Pekkanen’s newest book is THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS. She is also the co-author of the upcoming THE WIFE BETWEEN US (out in January 2018).

Her prior novels are: THINGS YOU WON’T SAY, CATCHING AIR, THE BEST OF US, THE OPPOSITE OF ME, SKIPPING A BEAT, and THESE GIRLS.

Sarah’s linked free short estories, published by Simon&Schuster exclusively for ereaders, are titled “All is Bright,” and “Love, Accidentally.”

Sarah is the mother of three young boys, which explains why she writes part of her novels at Chuck E. Cheese. Sarah penned her first book, Miscellaneous Tales and Poems, at the age of 10. When publishers failed to jump upon this literary masterpiece (hey, all the poems rhymed!) Sarah followed up by sending them a sternly-worded letter on Raggedy Ann stationery. Sarah still has that letter, and carries it to New York every time she has meetings with her publisher, as a reminder that dreams do come true.

Her website is www.sarahpekkanen.com and please find her on Facebook Instagram and Twitter @sarahpekkanen!

Review: UNDERCOVER BROMANCE by Lyssa Kay Adams

Review:  UNDERCOVER BROMANCE by Lyssa Kay AdamsUndercover Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams
Also by this author: The Bromance Book Club
four-half-stars
Series: Bromance Book Club #2
Published by BERKLEY on March 10, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 320
Also in this series: The Bromance Book Club
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyssa Kay Adams’ hilarious and heartwarming novel The Bromance Book Club was one of my favorite reads of 2019.  I was beyond excited to hear she was actually writing an entire series of Bromance books and that the second book in the series, Undercover Bromance, was to focus on one of my favorite characters from the first book, Braden Mack, the sexy and charming nightclub owner who also happens to be the founder of the Bromance Book Club.  Needless to say, my anticipation for Undercover Bromance was high. I’m thrilled to share with you that not only did Undercover Bromance live up to my expectations, I actually loved this book even more than the first book in the series.

I really enjoyed getting to know more about Mack and seeing what makes him tick.  Mack was the charming ringleader in the first book so I was very interested in getting a deeper look into his life and especially his reasons for deciding to create this book club.  I was especially curious to learn about this since he is the only one who isn’t married and his fellow book club members love to place bets on how quickly he will dump his current girlfriend.  (For anyone unfamiliar with the first book, the Bromance Book Club is a book club for men where they read romance novels in hopes of better understanding women, thereby hopefully improving their relationships with their wives).  I don’t want to give anything away about what I learned so I’ll just say that it made me love Mack even more than I already did.

In addition to Mack, the story also focuses on another character who appeared in the first novel, Liv Papandreas, a talented pastry chef who, as this novel opens, gets fired from her dream job at an elite restaurant when she witnesses her boss sexually harassing another female employee.  I was a little nervous going into the story because of Liv; she wasn’t my favorite character in the first book and I worried that a story that focuses on her would put me off.  Thankfully I was dead wrong about that and the author made me fall in love with Liv as well as I got to know her better.  Liv is fierce, feisty, and she’s determined to take down this sexual predator.   She knows she can’t do it alone and reluctantly turns to Mack, who knows her boss, for assistance.

Mack and Liv teaming up to bring down this jerk is epic.  Liv doesn’t like Mack, which drives Mack insane because everyone likes Mack.  I loved watching their relationship develop from trading witty insults back and forth to finally starting to open up to one another.  Their chemistry is off the charts and it was just so much fun watching them interact as they got to know each other better and honestly as they realized some truths about themselves as well.

Where Lyssa Kay Adams truly excels in this book though is the wonderful balance she strikes between the very serious topic of sexual harassment and the trademark humor we have come to expect with the members of the Bromance Book Club.  Those guys are always there to keep things from getting too heavy and I lost track of how many times I laughed so hard I cried as they traded middle fingers, cashed in bets about Mack’s love life, and pummeled the Russian with fart jokes.   I swear this series needs to be made into a rom-com film or a sitcom because it is truly hilarious!  Adams has also gifted us with two more fabulous secondary characters in this book that I hope we haven’t seen the last of – Rosie, who is Liv’s landlord and a long-time, outspoken feminist, and Hop, a grumpy old fellow who clearly has it bad for Rosie but could really use some assistance from the Bromance Book Club.  I don’t want to give away anything about them, but they truly stole every scene they were in and I adored them both.

I guess it’s pretty obvious that I highly recommend Undercover Bromance to anyone who enjoyed the first book in this series.  It’s charming, heartwarming, and hilarious, with a lovable cast of characters.  And if you haven’t started this series yet, what are you waiting for?

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Braden Mack thinks reading romance novels makes him an expert in love, but he’ll soon discover that real life is better than fiction. 

Liv Papandreas has a dream job as a sous chef at Nashville’s hottest restaurant. Too bad the celebrity chef owner is less than charming behind kitchen doors. After she catches him harassing a young hostess, she confronts him and gets fired. Liv vows revenge, but she’ll need assistance to take on the powerful chef.

Unfortunately, that means turning to Braden Mack. When Liv’s blackballed from the restaurant scene, the charismatic nightclub entrepreneur offers to help expose her ex-boss, but she is suspicious of his motives. He’ll need to call in reinforcements: the Bromance Book Club.

Inspired by the romantic suspense novel they’re reading, the book club assists Liv in setting up a sting operation to take down the chef. But they’re just as eager to help Mack figure out the way to Liv’s heart… even though she’s determined to squelch the sparks between them before she gets burned.

four-half-stars

About Lyssa Kay Adams

Lyssa Kay Adams is the pen name of an award-winning journalist who gave up the world of telling true stories to pen emotional romances. She’s also a diehard Detroit Tigers fan who will occasionally cheer for the Red Sox because her husband is from Boston.

Lyssa lives in Michigan with her family and an anxiety-ridden Maltese who steals food and buries it around the house and who will undoubtedly be a character in a future book.

Things Lyssa loves: Baseball pants, mashed potatoes, and that little clicking sound that scissors make on the cutting table at fabric stores.

Things she doesn’t love: Mean people, melting ice cream cones, and finding food in her underwear drawer.

Keep up with Lyssa on Twitter at @LyssaKayAdams. Please note: She mostly tweets about baseball pants and mashed potatoes.

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read List

 

Today I have a new batch of reviews to share and this time it’s a very eclectic mix of February and March releases that I’ve enjoyed reading recently.  This selection of books fed my love of historical fiction, as well as my enjoyment of thrillers and contemporary reads.  I hope you’ll enjoy them as well.

 

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read ListThe Two Lives of Lydia Bird Goodreads

Author: Josie Silver

Publication Date: March 3, 2020

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

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

 

I read Josie Silver’s One Day in December a couple of months ago and absolutely fell in love with it, so much so that I immediately requested her newest novel, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird.  Just as with the case of One Day in DecemberThe Two Lives of Lydia Bird captured my heart as soon as I met the main character.

Lydia Bird has been in love with her fiance, Freddie, for over a decade.  She has adored Freddie with every fiber of her being since she was a teenager and so is utterly devastated when he is killed in a car accident on her 28th birthday.  Silver does an incredible job of making Lydia’s pain feel so real and my heart broke more and more for her with every page.  Lydia is truly in despair and can barely function without Freddie.  Her doctor finally prescribes her some sleeping pills in hopes of getting Lydia to rest, and what Lydia discovers when she takes the pills is that not only does she dream deeply, but her dreams are filled with Freddie, of a whole alternate life where she can experience what her life would be like if Freddie hadn’t died. Her dream life quickly becomes her preferred place to be since she still has Freddie there.

Throughout the novel, we watch Lydia try to navigate her life in both worlds as she both clings to the what-ifs of a life with Freddie, but also tries to consider the possibilities of what her real life will be like without Freddie.  I loved the support system that Lydia has surrounding her throughout the story – her sister and her mom, both of whom she’s very close to, her wonderful coworkers, and perhaps most importantly, Jonah Jones, who is her oldest friend and who was also Freddie’s best friend.  Jonah understands her grief perhaps better than anyone else she knows and is there for her every step of the way.

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird is a moving story about love, loss, and about how individual the grieving process is.  It beautifully conveys the message that we all grieve in different ways and move through the process at our own pace.  At times, this is a truly heartbreaking story, but I was happy that it offered glimmers of hope throughout as well.  I did feel that the ending was a little awkward and would have preferred something different, but I still adored the book even with the ending as is.  4.5 STARS

 

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read ListRed Letter Days Goodreads

Author: Sarah-Jane Stratford

Publication Date: February 25, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

Sarah-Jane Stratford’s latest novel, Red Letter Days, is a riveting work of historical fiction that explores the McCarthy Era or “Red Scare”, a dark time in post World War II American history where fear and hysteria led to American citizens being persecuted as Communists, in many cases, without any evidence whatsoever.  Red Letter Days specifically focuses on how this Communist witchhunt impacted the Hollywood community and women, in particular.

Phoebe Adler, one of the story’s protagonists, is trying to make it as a television writer in a man’s world.  I loved Phoebe right from the start. She’s a New Yorker through and through. She’s smart, tough as nails, and she’s a talented writer who is passionate about her craft.  I got the vibe right away that if anyone could make it as a TV writer in the 50’s, it would be Phoebe.  Somehow, though, Phoebe finds herself on an ever-growing blacklist of Communist sympathizers and it costs her her job.  Devastated that she has lost everything and fearful of what else could befall her since so many have been arrested, Phoebe flees to London. It is in London where Phoebe meets the novel’s second protagonist, the formidable Hannah Wolfson.  I loved Hannah as well. Hannah, another American who has found herself living in exile in London, is brave, ambitious, and as a successful TV and film producer, she sees it as her mission to help blacklisted writers like Phoebe continue pursuing their passion by letting them write for her under assumed names.  Phoebe and Hannah hit it off right away and become close, but both of them know they are living in dangerous times and that everything they’re working for could come crashing down around them as the witchhunt continues to spread and reach beyond the shores of America.

I thoroughly enjoyed Red Letter Days.  In addition to these two wonderful protagonists who were so easy to root for. They are both the epitome of strength, resilience, and even defiance, as they fought to resist the Red Scare and its ever growing hysteria.   I also loved the focus on the camaraderie and support of those in exile and especially the growing friendship between Hannah and Phoebe.  If you’re interested in learning about how McCarthyism and the Red Scare impacted the entertainment writers’ community, I’d highly recommend Red Letter Days.  Red Letter Days is both a well-researched work of historical fiction and an incredibly suspenseful read.  4 STARS

 

 

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read ListFollow Me Goodreads

Author: Kathleen Barber

Publication Date: February 25, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery Books

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

 

Kathleen Barber’s latest thriller, Follow Me, is a frightening look inside the dangers of oversharing on social media.  The story follows Audrey Miller, a semi-famous Instagram influencer, who is addicted to the spotlight and hungers for the adoration of her 1 million plus followers on the social media platform.  When she relocates from New York City to Washington D.C. for a new job, she chronicles the details of her new adventure for her followers.  What Audrey doesn’t realize, however, is that her life is about to take an absolutely terrifying turn because her move has brought her to much closer proximity to a male fan who is obsessed with her.

What made Follow Me so completely riveting for me is that in addition to seeing the story unfold from Audrey’s perspective, we are also given the perspective of the male fan.  It’s super creepy to watch his obsession with Audrey grow and to watch how he becomes less and less satisfied with just following her Instagram now that he’s close enough to physically follow her.  Nothing is ever enough to satisfy him though so he ultimately turns to the dark web to seek advice on how to make Audrey his once and for all.

Follow Me is a wild, dark, and suspenseful page turner that will have you wanting to delete all your social media accounts, smash your webcam, and never overshare ever again!  4 STARS

 

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read ListThe Girl in White Gloves Goodreads

Author: Kerri Maher

Publication Date: February 25, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

Kerri Maher’s latest novel, The Girl in White Gloves, is based on the life of Hollywood icon turned Princess, Grace Kelly.  The novel takes readers behind the curtain of Kelly’s seemingly fairy tale-like life to reveal that it really wasn’t much of a fairy tale at all.

The Girl in White Gloves gives us two timelines that fully explore Kelly’s life, one that follows her as she is pursuing her dream to be an actress and one that follows her after she has given up that life for the love of Prince Rainier.

I requested this book because I honestly didn’t know that much about Grace Kelly but I remember my grandmother being fascinated by her and so I wanted to learn more.  What I really loved about this book was how far into Grace Kelly’s head we got at every point during her life.  We get a glimpse as to what she must have been feeling and thinking as she navigates the two paths illuminated by the dual timelines.  We experience the confusion, the unexpected loneliness, the pressure of societal expectations, the constant disapproval  and disappointment of her father, and finally, Grace’s desperate need to find fulfillment in her life and the risks she is willing to take to get that fulfillment.

The Girl in White Gloves is a well-researched and truly captivating portrait of what a complex woman Grace Kelly was.  I went into it expecting to learn a little more about her and was impressed at how the thoroughly the author drew me in to Kelly’s life story.  It was a truly immersive experience.  4 STARS

Review: Of Curses and Kisses

Review:  Of Curses and KissesOf Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon
Also by this author: When Dimple Met Rishi
three-half-stars
Series: St. Rosetta's Academy #1
Published by Simon Pulse on February 18, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Retelling, Romance
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandhya Menon’s latest book, Of Curses and Kisses, is a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast and I really enjoyed Menon’s spin on the classic fairytale. I thought it was very original and I especially liked the fact that she set her story at an elite international boarding school.

When the story opens, Princess Jaya Rao and her younger sister, Isha, have just arrived at their new boarding school, which is nestled in the mountains of Colorado.  The sisters have relocated halfway around the world to escape some negative media attention that Isha found herself caught in the middle of.  Their parents are hoping the time away will lead the media to get bored and move on to another scandal.  Even though Jaya herself has done nothing wrong, she is completely devoted to her family and preserving the Rao reputation so she agrees to go and keep an eye on Isha. Jaya also has an ulterior motive. She knows that Grey Emerson attends the school and thinks this is the perfect opportunity to exact revenge on him.  There is bad blood between the Rao and Emerson families that can be traced back to a stolen ruby and a subsequent retaliatory curse and Jaya is certain that the Emersons are responsible for her family’s latest troubles.

Ironically, Grey Emerson is also at the school because of the curse.  His cold-hearted father believes so thoroughly in the curse that he has cut all ties with his doomed son and shipped him off to boarding school. And since the curse threatens to wipe out his family line and he’s currently the last male heir, Grey can’t help but be concerned.

As one expects when reading one of Menon’s novels, both of her main characters are quite likable.  I loved Jaya’s devotion to her family and how thoroughly she watched over her sister.  I also liked getting inside of her head once she actually meets Grey and realizes he may not be the monster she thinks he is.  I really felt for her as she becomes more and more conflicted about what she should do.  I also really liked Grey and just felt tremendous sympathy for him.  He has spent his whole life tortured by this awful curse and feeling unloved by his father.  Grey believes there’s a good chance he will die once he turns 18, so he keeps others at a distance so no one will end up devastated if he really does die.  As much as I enjoyed reading Jaya’s conflicted internal monologues, I thought Grey’s were excellent as well, especially once he starts getting to know Jaya and wants to be close to her in spite of the curse and the Rao vs. Emerson feud.  My favorite character though was actually Jaya’s sister, Isha.  Isha is a STEM girl (YES!) who just wants to live her life without feeling constricted by her family’s royal status.  Isha is a firecracker who stole the spotlight in every scene she was in, and I adored her. I wanted more of her and would totally be on board for reading a story that focused more on her.

While I really did enjoy Of Curses and Kisses, I won’t say that it’s my favorite Menon novel.  I liked the characters, but didn’t love them with quite the same intensity that I’ve loved some of Menon’s other protagonists like Dimple and Rishi or Sweetie and Ashish. I also thought the pacing was a little slow at times.  Overall though, I still thought it was a solid read and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, especially to anyone who enjoys Beauty and the Beast retellings.

three-half-stars

About Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon is the New York Times bestselling author of When Dimple Met Rishi, From Twinkle, With Love, and There’s Something About Sweetie. A full-time dog servant and part-time writer, she makes her home in the foggy mountains of Colorado.

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller Edition

 

It’s time for a new batch of mini reviews and this time it’s February ARCs, specifically three amazing thrillers that need to go on your must read list.  I don’t want to say much about these since with thrillers, it’s usually best to go in knowing as little as possible, but I do want to share a few highlights of what I loved about each book.

 

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller EditionA Good Girl's Guide to Murder Goodreads

Author: Holly Jackson

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Publisher:  Delacorte Press

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

 

Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is a YA murder mystery that follows Pip, who has been thinking about a local murder investigation from a few years earlier, the outcome of which has never set well with her.  The case in question involved local high school students, Andie Bell and Sal Singh.  Andie went missing and Sal, who was her boyfriend at the time, immediately becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance.  When Sal takes his own life, everyone assumes that he killed Andie and committed suicide and thus the case was closed. Pip doesn’t buy it. Sal was one of the sweetest people she has ever known and she refuses to believe for one second that he hurt Andie.  Pip therefore decides to use her senior project as an opportunity to re-examine the case and find the real killer and she enlists Sal’s younger brother, Ravi, to help her.

This was such a fun read for me. I loved watching Pip in action.  She’s a very sharp young lady and has a real knack for being able to sift through clues and put together the pieces of a five year old murder mystery.  There were plenty of twists and turns to keep me guessing as Pip followed the evidence and recorded her findings in her project journal. I also really loved that we were given the excerpts from Pip’s journal so that we could get inside of her head and follow her thought patterns as she sifted through what she found.  In addition to the thrill of feeling like I was right there with Pip as she investigated, there was also growing tension and suspense as Pip starts receiving anonymous threats warning her to back off or else.

While the case itself and Pip’s journey toward the truth is riveting, I also really enjoyed A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder because of the growing friendship between Pip and Ravi.  Ravi of course never believed his brother was capable of murder and has always wanted the opportunity to prove Sal’s innocence.  Instead of having that chance, however, Ravi, as the brother of an accused murderer, has pretty much been ostracized by the community. I loved that Pip reached out to him and gave him the opportunity to help clear his brother and get closure, and I especially loved that a true friendship between Pip and Ravi grew from them working on this project together.  I’m also excited that this book is the first in a series so I’m hoping we’ll get more of both Pip and Ravi in the next installment.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is one heck of a wild ride and I highly recommend it to fans of YA thrillers.   4.5 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller EditionThe Sun Down Motel Goodreads

Author: Simone St. James

Publication Date: February 18, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

I’m going to predict right now that Simone St. James’ latest novel The Sun Down Motel lands on my Best of 2020 list.  This book, hands down, blew me away, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to write anything here that will do it justice.  I devoured the book in less than 24 hours and it had me so hooked that I simply refused to put it down and do anything else until I knew how it ended.

The story follows two young women, Viv and Carly, 35 years apart, who both become entangled in the secrets that haunt an old run-down, roadside motel called the Sun Down Motel, located in the tiny town of Fell, New York.  In 1982, Viv Delaney was working as a night clerk at the motel when she unexpectedly went missing and was never heard from again.  In 2017, we meet Carly, who is actually Viv’s niece and who has left college and come to Fell, NY, trying to find the truth about what happened to her aunt. When Carly visits the Sun Down, while trying to retrace her aunt’s footsteps, she sees they are looking for a new night shift clerk, her aunt’s old shift. Carly can’t explain why but she feels compelled to take the job while she’s in town looking for leads on Viv.  And that’s when strange things start happening at the Sun Down Motel, like something out of The Twilight Zone.  The strange happenings at the Sun Down, as well as the mystery and secrets that surrounded them, absolutely enthralled me, as did the use of the dual timeline to show Viv investigating them in 1982 and then Carly experiencing and investigating the same things 35 years later in 2017. Would Carly find out what happened to Viv all those years ago…or would Carly disappear as well?

I don’t want to say anything else because both Carly and Viv’s journeys are best experienced with as few spoilers as possible going in. I will say though that this is absolutely one of the most suspenseful, atmospheric, mysterious, and haunting books I’ve read in a long time.  5 STARS

 

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller EditionThe Dark Corners of the Night (UNSUB, #3) Goodreads

Author: Meg Gardiner

Publication Date: February 18, 2020

Publisher:  Blackstone Publishing

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

 

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I’m a huge fan of the UNSUB series and that The Dark Corners of the Night is one of my most anticipated reads of 2020. I’m happy to report that my love for the series has only grown with this third book because author Meg Gardiner really knocked it out of the park.  While the cover of the book is super creepy, let me just say that the story itself is even creepier. My skin crawled as I read about the horrific adventures of the killer who has been dubbed “The Midnight Man.”

The Midnight Man sneaks into family homes in the Los Angeles, CA area under the cover of darkness.  He deliberately chooses families, and he murders the parents but leaves the children alive as witnesses to his unspeakable acts.  As the body count quickly starts to rise and local law enforcement officers realize they are dealing with a serial killer, they call in the FBI, which is where the protagonist of the UNSUB series, FBI behavioral analyst, Caitlyn Hendrix, enters the picture.

As with the first two novels in the series, it is absolutely riveting watching Caitlyn and her team carefully piece together a behavioral profile for this UNSUB and gradually work their way toward a list of possible suspects.  I love the sense of trust and camraderie that has developed between the members of the FBI team in these first three books, but I also liked the bit of tension that I saw here between the local law enforcement.  It was an uneasy alliance between the two groups even though they were both there trying to achieve the same goal: to catch a killer.

Caitlyn is always a big draw for me when I start a new UNSUB book, but she really drew me in even more than usual in this one, for a couple of reasons.  First, as she’s learning more and more about the profile of the Midnight Man, she starts to see something of herself in him. He reminds her of her past and it disturbs her so much that she has to fight to keep it from impacting her work.  Second, The Dark Corners of the Night also signals that we are finally starting to circle back around to an unresolved case that was left hanging at the end of the first book.  My one disappointment with the second book was that it wasn’t really touched on, so I was thrilled to see it revisited here with some teasers to advance the plot.

I think the books work fine as standalones but are absolutely outstanding as a series read in order, especially when it comes to watching for developments with that unsolved case that keeps dogging Caitlyn.  If you’re into thrillers and especially into shows like Criminal Minds that delve into the FBI world of analyzing criminal behavior, I highly recommend the UNSUB series.  5 STARS

Book Reviews: February Contemporary Releases

 

It’s time for another roundup of ARCs I’ve been reading.  This time I want to share a couple of adult contemporary novels I read recently and really enjoyed, The Antidote for Everything by Kimmery Martin and Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West.

 

Book Reviews: February Contemporary ReleasesThe Antidote For Everything Goodreads

Author: Kimmery Martin

Publication Date: February 18, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

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

The Antidote for Everything is a powerful and emotional read that explores the all too relevant and timely topic of LGBTQ discrimination.  Set in Charleston, SC, the story follows what happens when two doctors buck the system and fight for the rights of their transgender patients who have suddenly and unexpectedly been denied access to medical care at a local hospital.

Dr. Georgia Brown, the protagonist, is a respected urologist at the hospital in question.  She is on her way to a conference in Amsterdam when she hears the news about patients being turned away from her best friend and fellow doctor, Jonah Tsukada, who is also part of the LGBTQ community.  When Jonah refuses to comply with the administration’s new policy, he is fired and the hospital starts circulating vicious rumors about him.  When Jonah fills Georgia in on everything that has happened, she is equally distraught, both for her own patients and of course for her best friend, and vows to join the fight with him as soon as she returns home.

The doctors’ fight against discrimination made for a truly powerful and riveting read, but it honestly was the characters that made me love this book so much.  Georgia is smart, feisty, and fierce, and Jonah is just everything I’d want in a best friend. It killed me to think that someone would go out of his or her way to tank his career just because they didn’t approve of his or his patients’ sexual orientation.  The wit, the banter, and the unwavering support between Georgia and Jonah just captivated my heart.  Both characters are complicated, messy, and sometimes don’t make the best decisions, but for me, that was part of their charm and what made them feel so real.

In addition to the gripping drama and scandal that surrounded the hospital, there was also a romance on the side for Georgia that really balanced out the story for me.  Georgia has never been lucky in love, but when there is a medical emergency on her plane to Amsterdam and she’s the only doctor on board, a potential Mr. Right, whose name is Mark, falls right into her path.  Their chemistry had me smiling, even though the rest of the book had me equal parts sad, angry, and frustrated for Jonah, Georgia, and their patients.

With a discrimination story and subsequent scandal that felt like something that could appear in the headlines of any media outlet these days, The Antidote for Everything grabbed my attention from the opening scenes and held my interest to the very last page.  If you’re into medical dramas, stories about social justice, and stories about friendship and loyalty, give The Antidote for Everything a try. 4 STARS

 

 

Book Reviews: February Contemporary ReleasesMinor Dramas & Other Catastrophes Goodreads

Author: Kathleen West

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

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

Kathleen West’s debut novel Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes is an entertaining read that focuses on the cutthroat world of school politics and teachers who find themselves at the mercy of helicopter parents and social media trolls.

The story follows Isobel Johnson, an English teacher at a prestigious school who prides herself on challenging her students to open their minds and consider a variety of perspectives when reading literary classics.  When the school starts receiving complaints about what she’s teaching and an anonymous Facebook page starts attacking her reputation, Isobel learns the hard way that the parents wield all of the power and that her own colleagues won’t defend her. I adored Isobel so much! She’s such a well drawn character, and I really admired her strength. It would have been very easy to immediately give in to the parents’ demands, but Isobel is determined to stand her ground even if the consequence could be losing her job.

While Isobel had my heart, I also felt for Julia Abbott, an over-the-top theater mom who barges into the school while class is still in session to find out if her son was cast in the school play.  In a moment of excitement when she sees her son’s name on the cast list, Julia enthusiastically pumps her fist…and accidentally punches a student in the stomach.  The incident is caught on video and immediately goes viral. Chaos ensues and Julia finds herself quite the outcast. While Julia isn’t an especially likeable character, her situation is a sad one and I liked that the author ultimately made her a sympathetic character instead of just a crazy stereotype.

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes really struck a chord with me as I watched these two women fight to defend themselves and my emotions were all over the place.  There were moments that made me angry and frustrated, and there were also moments that made me laugh.  Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes is a delightful and engaging read as well as one that tackles some pretty serious issues that many teachers face. I highly recommend it and look forward to reading more from Kathleen West.  4 STARS

Review: FOUL IS FAIR by Hannah Capin

Review:  FOUL IS FAIR by Hannah CapinFoul Is Fair by Hannah Capin
three-half-stars
Series: Foul Is Fair #1
Published by Wednesday Books on February 18, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Meghan from St. Martin’s Press & Wednesday Books for inviting me to take part in their blog tour for Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin.  I’m excited to share my thoughts on this thrilling new novel.

* * * * *

“Something wicked this way comes…”

Hannah Capin’s latest novel, Foul is Fair, is a violent and disturbing tale of revenge.  It is deliciously entertaining in the darkest of ways.  While it reads like a mash-up of Mean Girls, Riverdale, and Pretty Little Liars, Foul is Fair, as you may have surmised from the title, is actually a modern retelling of the Shakespearean tragedy, Macbeth.

I’m a total Shakespeare nerd and the tragedies are my favorites, so Foul is Fair was a must-read for me.  As I was reading, I was just so impressed with the creative revenge plot the author devised to mirror the original Macbeth storyline.  Foul is Fair follows Elle, who as the novel opens, is planning a night out with her best friends to celebrate her sweet sixteen birthday.  The girls get all glammed up and attend a party at the local elite prep school.  The night turns tragic, however, when Elle is drugged and raped at the party.  Elle knows who did it, and she also remembers who just stood around and let it happen.  The name of the game for Elle is vengeance as she vows to take them all down.

With the help of her girls (or her coven as she calls them), Elle, the Lady Macbeth of Foul is Fair, changes her appearance so that she isn’t recognizable, changes her name to Jade, and finally, arranges to transfer to the prep school. Once there, she sets her plot for revenge into motion, with the first step being to seduce a boy named Mack (the Macbeth of Foul is Fair) into doing her bidding and ultimately taking the fall for anything she does in her quest for vengeance.

My favorite part of the novel is the revenge plot itself. I flew through the pages once Jade started taking her rapists down, one by one.  Her quest for revenge is more intense than anything I could have imagined, truly vicious!  Elle/Jade is a master manipulator and the mind games she and her coven play on these boys are brilliant. She practically has them drowning in their paranoia and turning on each other.  I found myself cheering the girls on in a show of solidarity but also sitting there shocked at myself for cheering such violence.  I love a read that can do that to me.

Foul is Fair works well as a Macbeth retelling, but it also felt wholly unique and unpredictable even with the numerous references and shout-outs to the original Shakespearean play peppered throughout the novel.  If you’re into Shakespearean tragedies, retellings, or even just revenge thrillers, Foul is Fair is a must-read for you too.

* * * * *

On a side note, I also want to thank the author for posting clear trigger warnings regarding the subject matter. I knew going in that, as a Macbeth retelling, Foul is Fair would be a dark revenge tale, but I was grateful for the warning that the primary thematic content “centers on sexual assault (not depicted), rape culture, and violence. Additionally, the book includes an abusive relationship, a suicide attempt, and a brief scene with transphobic bullying.”

For a more detailed description of sensitive content in Foul is Fair, please visit hannahcapin.com/foulisfair.

 

 

PURCHASE LINK:

Wednesday Books

 

SUMMARY:

Hannah Capin’s Foul is Fair is a bloody, thrilling revenge fantasy for the girls who have had enough. Golden boys beware: something wicked this way comes.

Jade and her friends Jenny, Mads, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of. Every party is theirs and the world is at their feet. Until the night of Jade’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Jade as their next target.

They picked the wrong girl.

Sworn to vengeance, Jade transfers to St. Andrew’s Prep. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. She’ll take their power, their lives, and their control of the prep school’s hierarchy. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly.

 

three-half-stars

About Hannah Capin

Hannah Capin is the author of Foul is Fair and The Dead Queens Club, a feminist retelling of the wives of Henry VIII. When she isn’t writing, she can be found singing, sailing, or pulling marathon gossip sessions with her girl squad. She lives in Tidewater, Virginia.