Review: BETTER THAN THE MOVIES by Lynn Painter

Review:  BETTER THAN THE MOVIES by Lynn PainterBetter Than the Movies by Lynn Painter
five-stars
on May 4, 2021
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 368
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.

 

 

 

 

 

Lynn Painter’s new novel Better Than the Movies follows Liz Buxbaum, high school student and hopeless romantic.  Liz is obsessed with romantic comedies and uses them partly as a coping mechanism to deal with the death of her mom, who was also a huge fan of rom-coms.  Liz daydreams about securing a happily ever after of her own and thinks the perfect opportunity for one has presented itself when Michael, her childhood crush, moves back to town.

I really loved Liz. Her extensive knowledge and love of romantic comedies was so endearing, as was her slightly misguided attempt to secure her own happy ending by fake dating her neighbor in an effort to get Michael’s attention. I also found Liz to be a very sympathetic character, as she is clearly struggling with the loss of her mom.  It’s clear they were very close and that Liz is feeling her absence tremendously.

Liz wasn’t perfect by any stretch though.  While trying to orchestrate that happy ending for herself, she all but ditches her best friend.  And while she’s struggling to cope with the loss of her mom, she pretty much pushes her stepmother Hannah, who is actually really cool, off to the periphery of her life and refuses to let her be a part of any of Liz’s senior year milestones.  These rocky, awkward moments just made Liz come across as all the more real and, for me, made her that much more likable and relatable.

My absolute favorite part of Better Than the Movies though was Liz’s relationship with her neighbor and arch nemesis, Wes Bennett.  When the novel opens, Liz and Wes are in the midst of an ongoing war over the parking space out in front of their homes.  They each resort to all sorts of dirty tricks to keep the other from getting the spot, which was just hilarious. It’s actually Liz promising Wes unlimited access to that parking space that makes him agree to help her get Michael to notice her.  Watching the relationship between Liz and Wes evolve was the aspect of the book that really had me smiling as I read.  No matter how much Liz professed to loathe Wes, it was all too clear the two of them had tremendous chemistry and that her actual happily ever after has quite possibly been living next door to her all along.

I don’t want to say anything else because you just really need to experience Wes and Liz’s immensely entertaining journey for yourself.  Not only is Lynn Painter’s new novel Better Than the Movies a delightful rom-com that features fake dating and the enemies-to-lovers trope, but it’s also filled with perfectly placed references to all of my favorite rom-com films.  I honestly don’t think a book has ever made me smile so much; I’m sure I was grinning from ear to ear pretty much the entire time I was reading.

five-stars

About Lynn Painter

Lynn Painter lives with her husband and pack of wild children in Nebraska, where she is a weekly contributor to the Omaha World-Herald and an avid fan of napping. When working on a new book, she can often be found sound asleep on her office floor. Some might say she should grow up and stop randomly dozing off like she’s a toddler, but Lynn considers it part of her writing “process.”

Review: PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir

Review:  PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy WeirProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Also by this author: Artemis
five-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on May 4, 2021
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 496
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.

 

 

 

 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir is a high stakes sci-fi thriller, which if you’re familiar with Weir’s writing, you know that means you’re probably in for a wild ride. And you would be correct!  I was hooked from the opening scene of this book and devoured it in less than a day.

Even though it’s science fiction, Project Hail Mary has a premise that is terrifyingly plausible. Something is inexplicably causing the Sun to dim, which, in turn, is triggering climate-related issues on Earth. If the situation on the Sun isn’t reversed, the Earth and all of its inhabitants are on the verge of mass extinction.  With all the talk in the news about climate change and how catastrophic it could be, I found myself super invested in this story since it explores exactly that. Knowing they are running out of time, the scientists and governments of the world pool their resources to attack this problem head on.  The solution they come up with is not ideal. Project Hail Mary, it turns out, is very aptly named because it is a last-ditch Hail Mary pass (for all you football fans out there) to try to save all of humanity.  And it’s also a suicide mission.

Weir grabbed my attention from the opening scene of Project Hail Mary.  Our protagonist, Ryland Grace, an 8th grade science teacher, wakes up aboard a spaceship with no memory of who he is and with only two dead bodies for company.  He has no idea why he is on this ship and no clue about what happened to the people with him. It’s unsettling to say the least, but being the science geek that he is, he starts to explore the ship and fiddling with things, which starts to gradually trigger the return of his memories.  Ryland is a smart guy and he’s also a pretty funny guy, so there’s a lot of humor mixed in with this otherwise unsettling storyline.  I loved when he finally has his ‘Oh yeah, I’m supposed to save the Earth or we’re all going to die. But oh yeah, I’m going to die anyway” moment.  It is surprising to me how he manages to take that fact in stride.  This made Ryland an extremely likable character.  Also, seriously, how can you not root for the 8th grade science teacher to save the world?! He’s the ultimate underdog.

I love when a dual timeline is used well and while I’m mainly used to seeing them in the historical fiction I read, Weir effectively employs a dual timeline in Project Hail Mary, one present and one past.  In the present day timeline, we follow Ryland Grace as he attempts to carry out his mission, while in the other timeline, we get a series of flashbacks as Ryland’s memory starts to return.  Those flashbacks show what led up to the moment when Ryland wakes up on a spaceship millions of miles from home.  I loved having the story unfold this way, especially as we piece together how in the world he actually ended up chosen for the mission in the first place since he’s such an unlikely candidate.

It’s pretty much impossible to say much else about this book without giving away major spoilers, but I did want to mention that there is a major plot twist that really took this story to a whole new level for me and made the story so special.  I can’t give you any details because it’s best to go in unspoiled, but you’ll know it when you get there and it will blow your mind in the best possible way!

If you’re looking for a suspenseful, action-packed read that makes science entertaining and celebrates the underdog, you’re definitely going to want to check out Project Hail Mary.  It’s exciting and terrifying, fascinating and wondrous, and all the while it’s downright fun.  As much as I loved both The Martian and Artemis, Project Hail Mary stole my science-loving heart and is my new favorite Andy Weir novel.

five-stars

About Andy Weir

ANDY WEIR built a career as a software engineer until the runaway success of his debut novel, THE MARTIAN, allowed him to pursue writing full-time. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects such as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He lives in California.

Reviews: Trust Me & Quiet in Her Bones

 

It’s Thursday, I’m Sharon, so you know what that means: Thriller Thursday! This week I am sharing my thoughts on Trust Me, by T.M. Logan and Quiet in Her Bones by Nalini Singh, a new author to me. I am happy to say I really liked both of these books.

 

Reviews: Trust Me & Quiet in Her BonesTrust Me Goodreads

Author: T.M. Logan

Publication Date: March 18, 2021

Publisher: Bonnier Books

I have been a fan of T.M. Logan since I read his first book Lies and his latest book Trust Me is everything I was hoping for. As with all of his books, T.M. Logan kept me guessing and when I thought I knew what was going on, he would twist things up and pull it in a new direction.

Ellen Devlin longs for a child of her own but has just come from an appointment with her fertility specialist with the news that she is not able to conceive. While on the train home a young woman named Kathryn and her 3-month-old baby, Mia, sits next to her. After striking up a conversation, Kathryn asks Ellen to hold Mia while she takes a phone call.  But as Kathryn walks to a quiet spot on the train to make the call, the train pulls into a station and Ellen is shocked to see her hurrying off the train. As the train leaves the station Ellen is about to alert security but then she finds a note in the baby’s bag, “Please protect Mia. Don’t trust the police. Don’t trust anyone”  Little does Ellen realize that her act of kindness is about to put her life in jeopardy.

I loved Ellen. She both pulled at my heart strings and also had me cheering her on. After she got off the train with Mia, she was planning on taking her to the police, but before she could get there, she and Mia were kidnapped. And when an opportunity arrived where Ellen herself could have escaped, she didn’t take it because she would not leave Mia behind. Instead, she fought and was able to get both herself and Mia to safety. She eventually did turn Mia over to the police, but that did not stop her from wanting to make sure Mia was safe. And as more information was revealed about who Kathryn was and what happened to her, Ellen knew that Mia was still in danger and wanted to do whatever she could to make sure she protected her. I loved the momma bear persona Ellen developed for Mia.  Ellen turned into one bad ass woman when she had to and did not back down when danger presented itself. And danger presented itself a few times, in terms of a couple of break-ins at her house and a few unsavory characters Ellen came in contact with.

I really cannot say much more because anything I say will spoil it.  But I will say this book was full of twists and turns that kept me guessing and also had me not trusting anyone besides Ellen. Every time I thought a character could be trusted, the next chapter would have me second guessing myself. And the whole time I was reading I was trying to figure out who wanted to hurt Mia and why?  Let me tell you, my mind was all over the place on the answer to those questions. I had a lot of conspiracy theories going around in my head lol. None of which were correct.

The closer I got to the end of the book I finally did figure out what was going on and who Mia needed protecting from. By the final few chapters, the tension picked up and I was on the edge of my seat and flying through the pages because I couldn’t wait to find out how it was all going to end.

4 Stars

 

Reviews: Trust Me & Quiet in Her BonesQuiet in Her Bones Goodreads

Author: Nalini Singh

Publication Date: February 23, 2021

Publisher: Berkley Books

I have never read anything by Nalini Singh, but from the eeriness of the book cover and the synopsis, I knew I had to read Quiet in Her Bones. And I am so glad I did, this book had me hooked from the beginning.

One night Nina Rai drove off in her car, along with a quarter of a million dollars and was never heard from again. Her son Aarav has been haunted by his mother’s disappearance ever since.  He knows she would never just leave him and he cannot forget the chilling scream he heard the night she disappeared.

Now 10 years later Nina’s remains and her car has been discovered hidden deep in the woods near her home. Aarav is now 26 and has temporarily moved back to his childhood home to recover from injuries he suffered in a car accident. After the police rule this a homicide, Aarav vows to find out who killed his mother and make them pay.  And it seems that most everyone in the exclusive cul-de-sac could have had a motive for killing Nina.

I liked how Nalini Singh made Nina come to life through Aarav’s memories and also from what he learned from neighbors. We get a good insight into her and she came alive on the pages even though she is dead. While Nina may have been a drunk, cheater and blackmailer, she was also a good friend and loving mother.

Aarav starts his own investigation by talking to his neighbors in the cul-de-sac. Someone must have heard or seen something that night. But the more he talks to his neighbors the more it becomes clear that they all have their own secrets and motives for killing Nina. I was all over the place on my feelings for these people. One minute I would like and trust them, and then something would be revealed to flip me over to not trusting them at all.  I also had suspicions about Aarav as his memories of that night came back to him in bits and pieces. I was praying that he didn’t have anything to do with his mother’s murder as that would have just destroyed him.

I loved Aarav’s relationship with his little sister. Aarav’s father remarried 3 years after his mother disappeared and he and his new wife have a daughter, Pari, who is now 7 years old. He may have had his flaws but when it came to his sister, Aarav made sure that she was happy and knew that he loved her. He would read to her, let her sneak some of the candy that he kept in his desk drawer. It was little things, but I loved watching the bond they had.

This was an even paced read, that slowly built up to the conclusion on what happened to Nina that night.  And while I never did figure anything out, I did think the reveal was a bit of a let down. I was looking for more of a “Holy Crap! Didn’t see that coming” ending. But I still thoroughly enjoyed my journey in this book.   4 stars

Reviews: THE WOMAN WITH THE BLUE STAR & THE LAST NIGHT IN LONDON

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on two powerful and compelling works of WWII historical fiction, one by Pam Jenoff and the other by Karen White.  This is my third time reading a novel from Jenoff and as with the first two, it was a very emotional experience for me.  This was my first time reading a novel from White, although I’ve been wanting to try her books for years now.

 

Reviews: THE WOMAN WITH THE BLUE STAR & THE LAST NIGHT IN LONDONThe Woman with the Blue Star Goodreads

Author: Pam Jenoff

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Publisher:  Park Row

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

Pam Jenoff’s latest novel, The Woman with the Blue Star, is a powerful and inspiring story of strength, resilience, love, and friendship set against the dangerous backdrop of Nazi-occupied Poland during WWII.  The story follows two young women, one Jewish and the other not, and the unlikely friendship they are able to forge in such a deadly environment.

Sadie Gault is an eighteen year old Jewish girl who has been living with her parents in the Krakow Ghetto.  When the Nazis arrive to liquidate the Ghetto, Sadie and her family, along with another family, manage to escape into the sewers beneath the city. Unbeknownst to Sadie, her father had made arrangements with a trusted friend who works in the sewers and this friend has created a shelter for them to seek refuge in until they can safely leave.  What they thought would be a few days stretches into weeks and months.  My heart just broke for Sadie and for everyone else with her, having to live in such squalid conditions and fearing for your life every minute of every day.  I also found them inspiring though because of the inner strength they all clearly possessed and their will to survive. I’m not sure I would have that kind of strength.

In contrast to Sadie, there is also Ella Stepanek. Ella comes from a wealthy Polish family and finds herself living in relative comfort and able to move about with relative ease, in part because of her stepmother who has allied herself with the Nazis who occupy their city.  She knows she has it good in comparison to others but doesn’t really know how good until one day while at the market, she sees a pair of eyes staring up at her from a sewer grate.  At first Ella cannot believe her own eyes but then realizes it’s a Jewish girl about her own age and that she must be hiding down there.  Ella, who has herself been desperate for friendship and is disgusted that her stepmother is collaborating with Nazis, vows to do whatever she can to protect Sadie from being discovered.

I loved the friendship that formed between Sadie and Ella.  It was so beautiful to see amidst so much horror and death, and I longed for them both to survive the war so they could continue their sister-like bond in times of peace.  I just really loved both girls so much and how they were each exactly what the other needed.  I also loved another unlikely friendship that formed in the book between Sadie and Saul, another Jewish boy who was also sheltering in the sewer.  His family is much more religious than hers and he shouldn’t really associate with Sadie, but in such close quarters with no one else to talk to, he and Sadie become close and it’s another beautiful relationship to contrast with the ugliness all around them.

I don’t want to go into any specifics about what ultimately happens to all of these characters, but I will say that I flew through this book in less than a day and I cried more than once, especially when I got to the author’s notes at the end and realized that while these specific characters were not real, there are real accounts of Jewish families living in sewers while trying desperately to escape the Nazis.  The Woman with the Blue Star really is a powerful and emotional testament to how strong the will to survive is. 5 STARS.

 

Reviews: THE WOMAN WITH THE BLUE STAR & THE LAST NIGHT IN LONDONThe Last Night in London Goodreads

Author: Karen White

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley

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

I’ve been wanting to try one of Karen White’s novels for a while now so when I saw that her newest novel, The Last Night in London, is primarily set in London during WWII, I thought that would be a great place to start, considering my love of WWII historical fiction. And it turns out I was right, as I found myself enveloped in an intricately-crafted story of family and friendship, romance and drama, suffering and resilience, all wrapped up in a web of long-buried secrets and deception set against the deadly backdrop of the Blitz.

I was sucked into White’s story from the opening pages of the prologue where we meet an unnamed woman running through the streets of London with bombs falling all around her.  She knocks on a door, hands over a suitcase which when opened reveals there is an infant within, and then she flees into the night.  Who is this woman, where is she running off to, and if that is her baby, why is she leaving it with someone else?  I was already on the edge of my seat wanting answers to all of these questions and more.  White’s story is a slow burn though so fair warning that lots of threads will need to be pulled together before those answers are revealed. The reveal is definitely worth the wait though so just enjoy the journey.

The story features a dual timeline, one set in present day London while the other is set during WWII London around the time of the Blitz.  The present day timeline follows American journalist Maddie Warner who is traveling to London to interview Precious Dubose, a former fashion model, who is about to turn 100 years old. Maddie, a distant relative of Precious’, is only there to interview Precious about WWII fashion and her time living in London around the war, but the more Maddie interacts with Precious, she gets the feeling Precious has something weighing her down and that she would like to share more with Maddie than just her thoughts on fashion.  The WWII timeline, coupled with some investigative work Maddie does on her own, slowly begins to unravel the long-held secrets Precious has been keeping for over 50 years.

Both timelines made for pretty compelling reads, but I was definitely drawn in more by the WWII timeline because I wanted answers to my questions from the prologue.  I also loved the various characters that were introduced in this timeline, including a young Precious and her roommate, Eva, who also has her fair share of secrets.  It was fascinating watching the two of them try to live, work, and love in wartime London, sometimes getting caught up in questionable activities with even more questionable people.  I was captivated by their adventures and was waiting to see how their stories culminated in that moving scene from the prologue.

I very much enjoyed my first foray into a Karen White novel and look forward to reading more from her.  4 STARS.

Reviews: WHEN THE STARS GO DARK & THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN CUBA

 

Happy Friday all!  I hope everyone has had a wonderful week.  The past couple of weeks I have finally found myself in the mood for some more dramatic reads that don’t fall in the romance category. So today I’m sharing an excellent mystery/thriller from Paula McLain.  I had never read anything by her before so I was excited to finally give her a try.  My second review is historical fiction from Chanel Cleeton.  This was my third Cleeton novel and she is fast becoming an auto-buy author for me.

Reviews: WHEN THE STARS GO DARK & THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN CUBAWhen the Stars Go Dark Goodreads

Author: Paula McLain

Publication Date: April 13, 2021

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

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

I can be hit or miss when it comes to reading mysteries.  If the story is so plot-driven that I can’t really connect to the main character, then I tend to be less invested in the outcome of the story.  That is absolutely not the case with Paula McLain’s new novel, When the Stars Go Dark, which is both a compelling mystery about a missing teen and an emotional journey of personal tragedy and healing for McLain’s protagonist, Anna Hart.  It was the perfect combination for me, and I couldn’t put this book down.

Anna Hart is a detective who specializes in missing persons cases. When we first meet Anna, she is returning home to Mendocino, California, the town where she grew up with her foster parents.  It’s clear from her emotional state that something tragic has happened and that she needs time to heal and regroup, but it’s also clear that she doesn’t have fond memories of her time in Mendocino and is only returning as a last resort because she feels she has nowhere else to go.  I was drawn to Anna right away and wanted to know what had happened to her, both recently and in her past, since it seems like she must have quite a backstory.

As much of a mystery as Anna herself is at first, the real mystery kicks off once she arrives in her hometown and learns that a teenage girl has gone missing and that foul play is suspected.  Even though she is meant to be using this time to recover from her own personal tragedy, Anna becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl.  She remembers a similar case with a missing girl in this town back when she lived there. That case ended in tragedy and left the town reeling, and she’s not about to let it happen again.  It’s revealed that some events from Anna’s own past have made her especially skilled in the area of figuring out exactly how some victims initially come into contact with predators.  Anna knows she has this unique skill set that can help local law enforcement find the girl and bring her home, so she forces her own pain to the background and focuses all her energy on the case.  I admired Anna’s strength and resilience here, especially considering how truly devastated she is at the beginning of the book.

I really enjoyed watching Anna work all angles of the case and especially liked the way the author starts to weave bits of Anna’s past into what’s going on in the present.  It’s an evenly paced story, with the tension and suspense building slowly as we get closer and closer to the truth about the missing girl as well as to the root of Anna’s personal pain.  Usually I love a mystery that has me on the edge of my seat, but the even pacing really worked for me here since it allowed me time to really get into Anna’s head more and get a sense of where she is emotionally along the way.

I don’t want to give away any details about the mystery itself or Anna’s tragedy, past or present, as I think those are best discovered as you’re reading the book, but I highly recommend When the Stars Go Dark to anyone who enjoys a well crafted mystery that is equally driven by character and plot. 4 STARS

 

Reviews: WHEN THE STARS GO DARK & THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN CUBAThe Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba Goodreads

Author: Chanel Cleeton

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley

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

Set in the late 1890s, Chanel Cleeton’s new novel, The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba gives her readers an inside look at the Spanish-American War and at the journalistic war between famous newspaper publishers, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.

What really brings Cleeton’s story to life are the three perspectives she uses to let the events of the story unfold through, 3 women who find themselves at the center of the action.  Grace Harrington is a young American socialite who wants to be the next Nellie Bly.  She marches into both Joseph Pulitzer’s office and William Randolph Hearst’s and demands they give her a chance to prove herself.  She is hired by one to spy on the other, while earning her living working undercover as a “stunt girl reporter.” It is through Grace’s eyes that we not only see how difficult it was for a woman to break into the field of journalism, but also how sensational or “yellow” journalism played a huge role in drawing America into Cuba’s war for independence.  Grace is a sympathetic character as she’s clever, talented, and very passionate about the kinds of stories she wants to write and of course because she’s an underdog in a man’s world.

The other two perspectives provide an intimate look at how badly Cubans were being hurt living under Spanish rule.  Eighteen year old Evangelina Cisneros dreams of a free Cuba, and even more so after she is wrongfully imprisoned because she turned down the romantic overtures of a high ranking Spanish officer. When William Hearst hears of her imprisonment and sees a photo of how beautiful she is, he plasters her photo on the front page of his newspaper and uses her as a rallying cry for the U.S. to get involved in the war.  What I found most interesting about Evangelina is that Hearst and his people portray her as this delicate flower in need of saving, but when it comes down to it, she writes her own escape plan, complete with diagrams, and has someone on the inside of the prison smuggle it to her would-be rescuers.  She’s much tougher and more resourceful than she is portrayed and in her own way is a force to be reckoned with, especially once she gets to New York and starts making speeches on behalf of those in Cuba she has left behind.

The third perspective is that of Marina Perez, and in some ways, I found her perspective the most interesting of all. Marina is a wife and mother, trying to safely raise her child against all odds in a reconcentration camp while her husband is off fighting for Cuba’s independence.  In addition to that, however, Marina is also trying to do whatever she can to advance the same cause.  She works as a laundry woman and because she has access to so many people, she has become a courier ferrying messages back and forth to help the Cuban revolutionaries.  I was captivated my Marina’s story, especially her passion and devotion to both her family and her country.  I also thought her relationship with her husband was beautifully portrayed, as they are both sacrificing so much and each just wants the other to come home safely.  It was very moving.

If you enjoy beautifully written, well-researched historical fiction that features unforgettable characters, look no further than Chanel Cleeton’s new novel, The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba.   4 STARS

Review: THE KINDRED SPIRITS SUPPER CLUB by Amy E. Reichert

Review:  THE KINDRED SPIRITS SUPPER CLUB by Amy E. ReichertThe Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. Reichert
five-stars
Published by BERKLEY on April 20, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's 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.

 

 

 

 

 

I was first drawn to Amy E. Reichert’s new novel, The Kindred Spirits Supper Club because the cover is so sweet, but let me tell you, the story inside is even sweeter and sure to leave you with a smile on your face.

Sabrina Monroe is a journalist. She loves to write and thought this would be the perfect job for her. There’s just one problem; Sabrina is an introvert and has anxiety, which makes it nearly impossible for her to call and interview people so she can actually get the information she needs to write her articles.  Her anxiety has cost her more than one job over the years and when we first meet Sabrina, she is jobless and living at her parent’s house in a small town in Wisconsin, trying to regroup.

Sabrina is, by far, one of the sweetest, most lovable main characters I think I’ve ever come across. I can’t even express how much I both adored Sabrina and related wholeheartedly to her introverted personality and her anxiety.  Even though she has lost her job and is stuck working as a duck tour guide driving amphibious vehicles all day and working for someone who actually used to bully Sabrina when they were in school together, Sabrina is still a walking ray of sunshine. She spreads kindness wherever she goes, whether it’s to the library where she leaves $5 bills inside of her favorite books for other readers to find and treat themselves or to the laundromat where she’ll leave stacks of quarters on machines so some lucky person can do a load of laundry on her. I was invested in her happiness within a few pages of watching her in action. I mean, seriously, how can you not root for someone who is so utterly kind?

I also very much liked Ray Jasper, a new local restaurant owner, who becomes instantly smitten with Sabrina as soon as he sees her in action at the local waterpark, picking up strangers’ dropped towels and rehanging them so they’ll be nice and dry when they return for them.  Like me, Ray is immediately struck by Sabrina’s kindness and he is determined to get to know her better.  What’s great about Ray is that he not only appreciates how kind Sabrina is, but he could actually give her a run for her money in the kindness department because he’s also a sweetheart.  I immediately wanted them to get together because they each deserved someone as sweet as they were, so they were a perfect match.

In addition to cheering on this adorable two-some, I also loved that this story has an element of magical realism in it.  The women in Sabrina’s family have a rare gift – they are able to see local spirits who passed away, leaving behind unfinished business.  Whether it’s to let a cheating spouse know they didn’t get away with the cheating or to help dispose of some adult toys the deceased doesn’t want their family to discover, Sabrina and her mom help these spirits to wrap up their unfinished business so that they can move on and rest in peace.  There’s one spirit they haven’t been able to help though, a young woman named Molly.  Molly died long ago as did the person she has unfinished business with, so she is stuck in a kind of limbo and hangs out with Sabrina.  The two of them have become practically like sisters over the years and Molly is as delightfully upbeat and kind as Sabrina is. Even though she can’t move on, Molly does everything she can to help other spirits move on and she’s also determined to play matchmaker for Sabrina and Ray, which leads to some funny moments.  Sometimes magical realism doesn’t work for me, but it’s honestly just perfect for this story since the story itself is pretty magical.

If you’re into charming small town romances with absolutely adorable characters, you’re going to want to check out The Kindred Spirits Supper Club.

five-stars

About Amy E. Reichert

Amy E. Reichert, author of THE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE, LUCK, LOVE & LEMON PIE, THE SIMPLICITY OF CIDER, and THE OPTIMIST’S GUIDE TO LETTING GO, loves to write stories that end well with characters you’d invite to dinner. A wife, mom, amateur chef, Fix-It Mistress, a volunteer baby snuggler, and cider enthusiast, she earned her MA in English Literature and serves on her library’s board of directors. She’s a member of Tall Poppy Writers.

Reviews: Every Last Fear & Every Vow You Break

 

Hello, it’s Sharon and I am back with Thriller Thursday. This week brings Alex Finlay’s Every Last Fear and Peter Swanson’s Every Vow You Break. I was intrigued by the synopsis of both of these books, and I am happy to say they did not disappoint.

 

Reviews: Every Last Fear & Every Vow You BreakEvery Last Fear Goodreads

Author: Alex Finlay

Publication Date: March 2, 2021

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Alex Finlay’s Every Last Fear is a suspenseful and heartbreaking story that follows the fate of the Pine Family.

Seven years ago, 18 year old Danny Pine was convicted of killing his girlfriend Charlotte and is currently serving a life sentence. He has recently been denied an appeal, even though a true crime documentary called “A Violent Nature” has shed doubt on his confession and guilt. And now 21 year old Matt Pine has been told that the rest of his family (his mother, father, 17 year old sister and 6 year old brother) have died from an apparent gas leak in their rental cottage while on vacation in Tulum, Mexico. The Mexican authorities have closed the case as accidental, but the FBI are not convinced it was an accident.

Matt Pine just pulled at my heart strings. With his brother in jail, it is up to Matt to go to Mexico to have the bodies of his family released and then plan the funeral. While in Mexico he is almost assaulted and then when he returns to his hometown he is met with a cold reception, thanks to how the documentary portrayed the community.  I felt so bad for Matt, I just wanted to reach into the book and hug him. And my tears were flowing when he said his final goodbye to his family during the funeral.

Another emotional part for me was when we were given chapters of the Pine’s in Mexico. The reason they were in Mexico was because Matt’s father was following up on some leads that could possibly prove Danny’s innocence. Just reading their thoughts and activities, knowing they are now dead made my heart ache for them. And then reading exactly what happened to them, it was like a punch in the gut.

The suspenseful part of the book centered around the investigation into what happen to the Pine family. FBI agent Sarah Keller is in charge of the investigation and I loved her. She was one tough cookie and would not stop until she uncovered the truth, not only about what happened to the Pine family, but also what happened the night Charlotte died. I also liked how caring and concerned Sarah was with Matt. She made sure she kept him up to date on the investigation, and she also made sure she checks on his welfare as well.

I also really liked Matt’s friends from college. When Matt returned to the dorms the morning after he got the news about his family, they were all waiting for him, and then they all flew to Nebraska for the funeral. It really warmed my heart to see them drop everything to be there for Matt. I was really glad Matt had that kind of love and support from his friends.

I really cannot say much about what was uncovered in the investigation because anything I say will just spoil it. But I can say that there were lots of twists and turns that took the investigation into a different direction than I thought it was going and I was on the edge of my seat as I was reading. When all was revealed at the end, I was literally sitting with my mouth open.  4 Stars

 

Reviews: Every Last Fear & Every Vow You BreakEvery Vow You Break Goodreads

Author: Peter Swanson

Publication Date: March 23, 2021

Publisher: William Morrow

Peter Swanson’s Every Vow You Break follows Abigail Baskin who is set to marry millionaire, Bruce Lamb.  At her bachelorette weekend in California, Abigail has a one night stand. When her fling shows up in New York just before her wedding, Abigail chalks it up to coincidence. But when he shows up on her honeymoon, Abigail knows her world is about to come crashing down. She just doesn’t know that her life could be in jeopardy as well.

This book starts off slow, but by the halfway mark when Abigail and Bruce are on their honeymoon, things picked up and I couldn’t wait to find out what was going on.

Bruce has planned the honeymoon on a secluded island in Maine called, Heart Pond. It is totally off the grid. There is no cell service, no internet and no TV.  I really liked this setting and as I was reading, I was picturing myself there swimming, hiking, reading, just all around relaxing. But unfortunately for Abigail, it was not all that romantic or relaxing. Not long after they arrived, Abigail noticed that aside from themselves and one other honeymooning couple, all the other guests were men. Well, this just set off my ‘The Stepford Wives’ radar and I was sure I knew where this story was going. Oh, how wrong I was. lol

After Abigail sees Jill, the only other woman on the island, in the woods one night in a bloody nightgown, she cannot make any of the men on the island, including her husband, Bruce, believe her. They tell her she could not have seen Jill because Jill and her husband left that morning. But Abigail knows what she saw and tries to find out on her own what happened to Jill. But as the men, including her husband, start to act strange, she does not know who she can trust. And it is becoming clear that whatever happened to Jill is going to happen to her unless she can find a way off the island. I really liked this part of Abigail. She did not just sit back and wait for what was coming; she formed a plan to get off the island, gathered her supplies and waited for the perfect time to execute her plan. And let me tell you, when she set her plan in motion she did not let any of the men get in her way. You go Abigail!

Aside from the slow start of the book, the other issue I had was that the characters were flat. While I liked Abigail’s tough persona on the island, I really would have liked to have known more about her, as well as her husband, Bruce. He was a very underdeveloped character. He actually came off to me as kind of juvenile, as did all of the men on the island.

Even with those couple of issues, once the action picked up on the island I was racing through the book because I needed to find out what was going on, why, and how it was going to end. The end did feel a bit quick to wrap up to me, but I did like the outcome.

3 ½ Stars

Review: HANA KHAN CARRIES ON by Uzma Jalaluddin

Review:  HANA KHAN CARRIES ON by Uzma JalaluddinHana Khan Carries on by Uzma Jalaluddin
four-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on April 13, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 368
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 requested Uzma Jalaluddin’s new novel, Hana Khan Carries On, as soon as I read the synopsis which describes it as inspired by the popular romantic film, You’ve Got Mail, but set in two competing halal restaurants.  The promise of romance, rivalry, and descriptions of delicious food was too irresistible to pass up.  I’m happy I did too because it did not disappoint!

The story follows Hana Khan, a 24 year old second generation Muslim woman who lives with her family in Toronto.  Hana helps out at her family’s halal restaurant, but her real passion lies in radio.  In addition to her waitressing gig, Hana has an internship at a local radio station and she also hosts her own podcast.  I really adored Hana from the moment we meet her. I loved how devoted she is to her family and how much she wants to help her mom with the family restaurant even though that’s not where her true interest lies.  I also loved that she wants a career in radio specifically because she wants to share stories about her fellow Muslims. Stories that shine a true light on her people rather than just retreading tired and  harmful stereotypes.  I also liked that while she had so many admirable qualities, Hana was definitely still a flawed and very realistic character.  She makes plenty of mistakes throughout the course of the story, but I loved that she was always learning from her missteps and growing as a person.  She was just a really easy character to like.

In addition to adoring Hana, I also liked that the story had plenty of drama in the form of a rival restaurant that opens up in their neighborhood.  Hana has a run-in with Aydin, the handsome, young owner of the new restaurant and finds herself unexpectedly attracted to him.  She knows she should hate him because of what he’s doing to her family, but the struggle to fight her attraction to him is real.  Hana finds this especially frustrating since she also has a possible relationship budding online with Stanley P., one of her podcast fans.  She and Stanley haven’t exchanged real names or met in person yet, but they talk every day and he is always super supportive of her as she shares her hopes and dreams with him, as well as her fears and frustrations.  How can she possibly be attracted to a jerk like Aydin when she has Stanley P.?  Except that Aydin isn’t exactly a jerk and Hana and Aydin have amazing chemistry.  I’m a sucker for a good enemies-to-lovers romance anyway, so I was absolutely eating up the initial tension between them as well as the changing dynamic between them as they got to know each other better.

There’s honestly so much to love about Hana Khan Carries On, but what I think I loved most was it’s a story about love and family and sacrifice and that it’s also a story that is infused with culture, religion, and community.  It’s a story that has fun and romantic moments, but it’s also a powerful story that explores timely and relevant social issues, including racism, prejudice, and stereotypes.  I have not yet read Uzma Jalaluddin’s first novel Ayesha At Last yet, but I loved Hana Khan Carries On so much that I immediately purchased the first one and can’t wait to dive into it.

four-half-stars

About Uzma Jalaluddin

Uzma Jalaluddin grew up in a diverse suburb of Toronto. Her favourite place in the world is the nearest bookstore or library, so it came as no surprise to anyone when she started writing her own stories, poems, plays and other creative writing from an early age. Her debut novel, AYESHA AT LAST (2018), is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in the Toronto Muslim community. The novel was a Goodreads Choice Award Finalist, was featured on The Today Show, and was a Cosmopolitan UK Book of the Year. AYESHA AT LAST has been optioned for film by Pascal Pictures. Her second novel, HANA KHAN CARRIES ON, will be published in April 2021. She writes a culture and parenting column for The Toronto Star, and has written for The Atlantic. Uzma lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and two sons, where she also teaches high school. She is probably dreaming up ideas for her next book right about now.

Review: THE INTIMACY EXPERIMENT by Rosie Danan

Review:  THE INTIMACY EXPERIMENT by Rosie DananThe Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan
Also by this author: The Roommate
four-half-stars
Series: The Roommate #2
Published by Berkley Books on April 6, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rosie Danan’s steamy debut The Roommate was one of my favorite romance reads of 2020.  The plot was original, the characters were unforgettable, and the sexy factor was off the charts.  This year Danan has gifted us with The Intimacy Experiment, a companion novel that features one of my favorite characters from The Roommate, former porn star turned businesswoman, Naomi Grant.  I knew I would love The Intimacy Experiment, but what I didn’t expect was that I would actually end up loving it even more than the first book!

Naomi and Clara, the protagonist from The Roommate, are co-CEOs of a successful website that educates its subscribers about sexual satisfaction. Naomi has also decided she would like to teach some classes on relationships and intimacy and is looking for a forum where she can make that happen.  As always, Naomi is smart, sassy, and determined to get what she wants, but she’s getting frustrated that she can’t get anyone to take her seriously.  That is until she meets Rabbi Ethan Cohen at a seminar.  Ethan has been trying to figure out a way to attract more younger members to his synagogue and when he hears Naomi’s passionate speech about what she wants to teach, he invites her to design a seminar series on Modern Intimacy.  At first Naomi wants no part of this proposal, but then she reconsiders.  It also doesn’t hurt that Rabbi Ethan is super sexy and Naomi is finding it hard to resist his charms.

There’s so much I enjoyed about this book but the chemistry between Naomi and Ethan was definitely a high point.  I loved watching Naomi and Ethan design the course together.  Even though they’re an unlikely pair, they just worked together so perfectly and the more they worked together, the more they became invested in each other. I loved the contrast between Naomi’s feisty independence and Ethan’s loyalty and devotion.  Ethan is like a Golden Retriever and I just adored him and wanted Naomi to stop fighting her attraction to him.

If you enjoy romance that is a slow burn, you’ll enjoy Naomi and Ethan’s journey because fighting their attraction to each other is definitely a big part of the story.  Also, where The Roommate is filled with sexy, steamy intimate scenes, this book features way fewer scenes of that variety.  As much as I enjoyed the romance of Clara and Josh in the first book, I actually preferred the slower pace and the deeper issues involved as Naomi and Ethan were both so conflicted as to whether or not it would be appropriate for them to be together.  I also liked that we got a little insight into the Jewish faith as Naomi, who is also Jewish, decides to take some courses to learn more about the faith she hasn’t practiced since she was a child.

One last thing I loved was the Intimacy seminar itself and the way Danan presents it.  It’s as if we’re attending all of the courses as well.  I loved watching Naomi teach, Ethan sitting in the audience lending his support, and also how enthusiastic the young attendees were as Naomi explores topics such as being honest with yourself and potential dates about what you’re looking for in a relationship, how to meet people in the first place, how to take a relationship to the next level, and how to survive a breakup.  I thought the seminar was brilliant and wished I could have taken a course like it back during my single days. It would have made dating life so much easier to navigate!

If you’re looking for an original, sexy romance I highly recommend The Intimacy Experiment.  The characters are immensely likable, the storyline is both fun and thought-provoking, and the ending will leave you with a smile on your face.  I loved every page of it and look forward to reading more from Rosie Danan.

four-half-stars

About Rosie Danan

Rosie Danan writes steamy, big-hearted books, articles, and tweets about the trials and triumphs of modern love.

The New York Times calls Rosie Danan’s debut novel, THE ROOMMATE “a book about people expanding into their best possible selves…warmly funny and gorgeously sexy.” The rom-com has been optioned for film, and a companion book THE INTIMACY EXPERIMENT is forthcoming April 6, 2021 in both the US and UK.

After participating in the writing mentorship program Pitch Wars as a 2018 mentee, she was thrilled to rejoin the organization as a 2019 and 2020 mentor.

When not writing, Rosie enjoys jogging slowly to fast music, petting other people’s dogs, and competing against herself in rounds of Chopped using the miscellaneous ingredients occupying her fridge.

As an American expat currently living in London, she’s developed an incurable fondness for electric kettles.

Reviews: The Future Is Yours & The Memory Theatre

 

Hey Everyone, it’s Sharon. Now you are probably wondering where is Thriller Thursday? Well, I decided to switch things up this time 🙂 This week I am reviewing Dan Frey’s science fiction book, The Future is Yours and Karin Tidbeck’s mystical fantasy book, The Memory Theatre. But don’t worry Thriller Thursday will be back next time. LOL

 

Reviews: The Future Is Yours & The Memory TheatreThe Future Is Yours Goodreads

Author: Dan Frey

Publication Date: February 9, 2021

Publisher: Del Rey Books

I am a sucker for time travel books. I have always been fascinated with the concept of time travel and the consequences it can have. So, when I read the synopsis of Dan Frey’s The Future Is Yours, I knew I had to read it. He puts a very unique spin on time travel, as it is not a person that is traveling through time, but rather information.  “If you had the chance to look one year into the future, would you?”

The book centers around best friends Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry and their start-up company called “The Future”.  Adhi created a computer that can connect to the internet a year in the future. You can see where you will be working, if you are still alive, who won the Super Bowl etc. If it is online, you will be able to access it. What starts out as an exciting adventure, however, soon turns to greed, jealousy, and possibly the end of the world as we know it.

The book is told through text messages, emails, blog posts and Congressional inquest transcripts. I really liked this unique way of having the story unfold. We would get chapters from the Congressional inquest which raised questions about different issues with the technology and then we would get corresponding chapters with text and e-mails that would give more info about what was going on and what these issues were. I don’t want to say too much about what issues were arising, but I will say that there were some problems with the beta testing and the future that was originally seen is changing and not for the better.

I also liked how the author used the difference in Ben and Adhi’s personalities as both a pro and a con as the story progressed. Ben is outgoing and loves the limelight. He is getting the investors onboard and also advertising The Future to the world. Adhi, on the other hand, is quiet and has some mental health struggles. He is happy to just stay in the background. When they were first starting out this worked well for them. They were able to balance each other out. But then the company starts taking off, and Ben is becoming more arrogant as the fame and fortune goes to his head, while Ahdi, who is questioning if the world is ready for this technology, starts to go MIA.  As I was watching their friendship unravel, I couldn’t help but hope that they would be able to overcome this rift and not only fix this technology before it destroys the world, but also their friendship.

The one issue I had with the story unfolding via text messages, e-mails, blog posts and transcripts, is I couldn’t really feel any connection to Ben and Ahdi. I also would have liked to have seen more of what the technology could do and how it was affecting the future.

But even with those issues, I still really enjoyed this book and couldn’t wait to find out how it was going to end. While I did figure one small thing out, I didn’t realize the scope of it until it was revealed. I also like how the Dan Frey left it open ended. Usually I like the books I read to have a conclusion, but sometimes a book needs to leave you thinking.  The Future Is Yours does just that.  4 stars

 

Reviews: The Future Is Yours & The Memory TheatreThe Memory Theater Goodreads

Author: Karin Tidbeck

Publication Date: February 16, 2021

Publisher: Pantheon Books

When I read the synopsis for Karin Tidbeck’s The Memory Theater I was very intrigued. This looked like it had the potential for a great fantasy book. Unfortunately, it was not quite what I was hoping for.

In a world parallel to ours exists a mystical realm known as the Gardens. The Gardens is ruled by Lords and Ladies and for them it is paradise, their days are filled with games of croquet, feasts, and dancing. But for their servants who serve them it is torture, that will eventually end in death. These servants are children that have been lured into this realm and their true names are stolen. They have a vague memory of life before the Garden but cannot remember who they are or where they lived. The only way to gain all their memory back and be free is if their master tells the servant their true name. When one of the Ladies, Augusta, is banished from the garden her servant, Thistle, escapes and sets out to find her and make her tell him his name so he can return home to his parents.

Thistle is joined on his quest to find Augusta by Dora. Dora was actually born from the earth in the Gardens. Her father is one of the Lords, but it was Thistle who was tasked with caring for her. I really liked the bond Thistle and Dora had. They were like brother and sister. They had each other’s backs and would do anything to keep the other safe, be it in the Gardens or on their travels to find Augusta.

And don’t even get me started on Augusta LOL. She was one mean character. Once she was banished from the Gardens, she started her own journey to find a way back in. She was determined to get back and did not think twice about killing anyone who got in her way. As I was reading, I really hoped that she was going to get what was coming to her.

Throughout the book we are introduced to a few unique characters that help Thistle and Dora on their journey. My favorite was The Memory Theater, who are a group of actors that travel between worlds and act out real life stories that have happened. And they don’t just act them out, they actually become the characters they are playing and feel the emotions of those characters.

This would have been a much more enjoyable read for me if we were given more worldbuilding, as well as character development. I like to visualize in my head what I am reading, and I just couldn’t do that with this book unfortunately. Even though I did struggle with that aspect, I did like the book and the ending had me turning the pages to see how it would all play out. And I will say I was happy with how the story ended.  3 stars