Review: WELL PLAYED by Jen DeLuca

Review:  WELL PLAYED by Jen DeLucaWell Played by Jen DeLuca
Also by this author: Well Met
four-stars
Series: Well Met #2
Published by BERKLEY on September 22, 2020
Genres: Romance, 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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jen DeLuca’s Renaissance Faire-themed romance Well Met was one of my favorite reads from last year, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series, Well Played. I was so excited to revisit the world of the Willow Creek Ren Faire and to see Simon and Emily, who are now engaged, and the rest of the Ren Faire gang again.  Well Played follows Emily’s best friend, Stacey, and since I adored Stacey in the first book, it was fun to get to know her better this time around.

Stacey is a character that I think many will find very relatable.  Stacey’s dreams of a fashion career in New York are put on hold indefinitely when her mother suffers a heart attack.  Instead of leaving Willow Creek as planned, Stacey moves into her parent’s garage apartment to help care for her mom and, years later, is still hesitant to leave her parents on their own.  At first Stacey was content with the arrangement, but now, especially in light of Emily and Simon’s engagement, she finds herself in a rut.  Stacey’s not sure what kind of change she’s looking for but vows that her life will be different by the time Ren Faire season rolls around next year.

To put her plan into motion, Stacey decides a good first step would be to reach out to her sexy summertime hookup, Dex MacLean, a Ren Faire musician.  The two of them begin exchanging increasingly intimate emails and texts over the next few months, and by the time Ren Faire season starts up again, Stacey is convinced she’s in love with Dex.  There’s just one catch — Dex hasn’t actually been the one writing to her…

Well Played is such an entertaining read.  I sat down with it this morning and devoured the entire novel in a couple of sittings.  The story is filled with plenty of emotional, dramatic, and yes, even romantic moments as Stacey navigates her way through this unexpected plot twist.  It’s not all drama though, as of course, the story is also filled with plenty of light-hearted, laugh out loud moments courtesy of the Ren Faire castmates.  I loved the mix of the dramatic and light-hearted moments, and I especially loved the mother-daughter relationship between Stacey and her mom.  There were some lovely heartfelt moments between those two.

If Ren Faires, romance, and a loveable cast of characters are your thing, you should definitely check out both Well Met and Well Played.

four-stars

About Jen DeLuca

Jen DeLuca was born and raised near Richmond, Virginia, but now lives in Central Florida with her husband and a houseful of rescue pets. She loves latte-flavored lattes, Hokies football, and the Oxford comma. Well Met is her first novel, inspired by her time volunteering as a pub wench with her local Renaissance Faire.

Reviews: ANXIOUS PEOPLE & ONE BY ONE

 

 

One of the things I’ve been very grateful for during this pandemic is that I’ve had no shortage of excellent review books to read.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on two more of those fantastic reads, both from two of my favorite authors.  This is my fourth book from each of them and they have yet to let me down.

 

Reviews:  ANXIOUS PEOPLE & ONE BY ONEAnxious People Goodreads

Author: Fredrik Backman

Publication Date: September 8, 2020

Publisher:  Atria Books

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

 

What I always enjoy about Fredrik Backman’s novels is that they are so unique.  Filled with quirky characters and thought-provoking life lessons presented in the most original and fresh ways, I always know I’m in for a treat when I pick up one of his books.  Backman’s latest novel, Anxious People, is no exception

I knew Anxious People was going to be a quirky delightful read from the opening paragraphs. “This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots.” I was chuckling to myself from the moment I read that line and couldn’t wait to see what kind of an adventure he was taking me on.  And let me tell you, it’s a wild ride.  On its surface, this is a story about a bank robbery that goes wrong which collides with an apartment viewing gone wrong, which ultimately becomes an almost absurdly comical hostage situation, which somehow ends with the bank robber/hostage taker disappearing right out from under the noses of the police officers assigned to the case.  The bulk of the story focuses on the police attempting to get statements from the hostages, which is presented alongside the story of the bank robber, including what led them to decide to rob a bank all the way up to the moment the robber disappears.

One of Backman’s greatest gifts as a writer is his ability to create well-drawn, complex, multi-layered characters.  Even though every witness the police interrogates starts out as just someone who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, by the end, each of them has a pretty fleshed-out story of their own within the overall story.  We get a glimpse of the inner demons each of them is battling and it just makes them all feel so real.  I also love the dynamic we are given with the two police officers assigned to the case. They are actually father and son, and there’s a lot going on there between the two of them.

Backman also has a gift for writing stories that engage all my emotions.  With Anxious People, I laughed my way through the police interrogations, especially when it seemed that the witnesses either were, in fact, idiots, or they were being deliberately difficult and evasive.  It truly must have been the most maddening investigation those poor police officers had ever experienced!  But then as the story developed and I got to know the various characters better and learned about their lives and struggles, including the bank robber, I found myself growing more and more attached to each of them and invested in their stories, to the point that I was in tears by the time I reached the end, which actually surprised me with how incredibly moving it was.

If you’re already a fan of Backman’s, I think you’ll love Anxious People. And if you’ve never tried his books before but enjoy stories that are equally funny and moving, and are filled with quirky well-drawn characters, Anxious People should be on your reading list.  4 STARS

 

Reviews:  ANXIOUS PEOPLE & ONE BY ONEOne by One Goodreads

Author: Ruth Ware

Publication Date: September 8, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery/Scout Press

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

 

Ruth Ware is one of my go-to authors when I’m in the mood for a suspenseful thriller and she did not disappoint with her latest novel, One By One.  The story is set in France in a rustic mountain ski chalet and follows a group of employees who are there for a company retreat.  Tragedy strikes when weather conditions unexpectedly deteriorate while this group is out skiing and one of their company’s founders goes missing.  Conditions continue to deteriorate and an avalanche hits, burying the ski chalet, turning what was a picture perfect setting into a potentially deadly one, especially when one by one, they start turning up dead.  It’s the ultimate locked-room mystery as the killer has to be one of them since they’re trapped in the chalet and cut off from the rest of the world.

I do have to admit that One By One started off a little slow for me in spite of the promise of an exciting suspenseful read. I got a little bogged down as the employees arrived at the chalet and we get an in-depth rundown of their company, which is called Snoop, and is the latest and greatest in music-based social media apps.  It’s designed to allow members to “spy” on what music other members are listening to. The premise is that if Beyonce, for example, is on Snoop, you can snoop what she’s listening to and listen to the same thing at the same time.  That’s the basic description but the book goes into a lot more detail that I felt wasn’t really necessary.  Once that was out of the way, thankfully the story picks up very quickly.

The dynamics between the group of employees, and even one former employee who was invited fascinated me.  One of the reasons they were having this retreat was to discuss an offer of a buyout they had received. It’s a buyout that could make them all very rich, but it becomes clear immediately that there are factions within the group. Some want the buyout, while others are adamantly against it.  I was busy watching these characters as the story progressed, trying to figure out who had the most motive to start offing their colleagues and trying to figure out what the motivation was anyway.  Was it the money? Or was it something more personal since, after all, there’s a former employee with them who may have an ax to grind?

Like an avalanche itself, One By One builds momentum quickly and becomes filled with tension and suspense as the story shifts into a full-on survival story.  Ware had me on the edge of my seat as I tried to figure out who the killer might be. Several times I thought I had it figured out, only to have my suspect end up being the next one to die.  And then of course, there’s the missing company founder. Is she dead?  If so, was it really an accident or is it somehow tied to the murders?

I don’t want to give anything away, so I’m going to stop now, but if you enjoy suspenseful thrillers, locked-door mysteries, and survival stories, give Ruth Ware’s One By One a try.  4 STARS

 

Reviews: September Book Releases That Should Be on Your Reading List

 

Happy September everyone!  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on some great books that you’re going to want to add to your reading list.  If you enjoy historical romance,  YA fantasy, and/or YA contemporary, you’re going to want to check these out.

 

Reviews:  September Book Releases That Should Be on Your Reading ListRecommended for You Goodreads

Author: Laura Silverman

Publication Date: September 1, 2020

Publisher:  Margaret K. McElderry Books

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

Laura Silverman’s new novel Recommended For You is an absolute delight.  I was in love with it from the moment I saw that adorable cover and my love only grew as I started reading.  The story is set at Once Upon, a popular Indie bookstore, over the holiday season and follows Shoshanna Greenberg, a Jewish teen and veteran bookseller at Once Upon.  When we meet Shoshanna, it becomes clear right away that she views the bookstore as her home away from home and her escape from the stress in her life.  It also becomes clear that Shoshanna is dealing with some pretty major stress:  1) there are money issues and her car is on its last legs, and 2) there is a tension between her mothers that she has never seen before and she’s worried they may split up.  There’s a light at the end of the tunnel with respect to her car when her boss announces a holiday contest – whoever sells the most books will receive a cash bonus.  Shoshanna is stoked because she knows she can outsell everyone…that is, until Once Upon’s newest employee, Jake Kaplan arrives on the scene and throws a kink into Shoshanna’s plans.  Shoshanna can’t stand Jake from the moment she meets him and the tension mounts the more they try to outsell each other.  Who will be the last bookseller standing?

I really adored both Shoshanna and Jake.  Shoshanna is a messy and flawed character who often acts without thinking.  Even with her flaws though, she’s still completely lovable because she has such a huge heart.  Nearly every impulsive thing she does is because she’s trying to help someone she cares about.  Even though she sometimes does more harm than good, her heart is always in the right place.  One of my favorite parts about Recommended For You was watching Shoshanna learn and grow as a person when she has to deal with the fallout from some of her more impulsive moves.  It’s a very personal journey for her.  Jake is also just an adorable character.  Even though Shoshanna wants to hate him because he’s not even a reader and he’s standing between her and that cash bonus, he still manages to eventually win her over.  Since Recommended For You is being advertised as a rom-com, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say there’s an enemies/rivals to friends/more than friends vibe going on between Shoshanna and Jake.  I think the coming of age aspect of the book takes center stage over the romantic vibes, but it’s definitely still there as the sparks and witty barbs fly between these two competitive booksellers.

Recommended For You is a fun and heartwarming read about love, friendship, and personal growth. Everything Shoshanna goes through kept me fully invested in her journey, and the adrenaline rush of the book competition kept me fully entertained and chuckling to myself as I was reading.  If you love coming of age stories with a side of romance and family drama, and of course Indie bookstores, Laura Silverman’s Recommended for You is the book you’re looking for.  4 STARS

 

Reviews:  September Book Releases That Should Be on Your Reading ListA Rogue of One's Own (A League of Extraordinary Women, #2) Goodreads

Author: Evie Dunmore

Publication Date: September 1, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

In the past I haven’t been much of a Historical Romance reader.  Last year I decided to give Evie Dunmore’s A League of Extraordinary Women series a try because I loved that it centered on the women’s suffrage movement.  I ended up pleasantly surprised by the first book and so was eager to get my hands on the latest offering from the series, A Rogue of One’s Own.  I’m thrilled to say that as much as I enjoyed the first book, this new book is even better!  It was just so much fun to visit again with this merry band of feminists and see what they’re up to.

This time the story focuses on Lucie, the leader of the group, and Lucie is on a mission.  She is trying to secure controlling interest in a major publishing company because to do so would make it all the easier for her group to push forward with their feminist agenda.  It’s unheard of for a woman to control a publishing house, but Lucie could give a flying fig for what’s heard of or unheard of.  There’s just one unexpected obstacle standing in her way…the handsome Lord Tristan Ballentine who has, unbeknownst to her, just purchased 50% ownership of the publishing company in question.  The situation is made all the more complicated by the fact that Lucie and Tristan have a history, specifically, Lucie has loathed Tristan since she was a child and he used to spend his summers at her home, making her life miserable at every turn.  How will she possibly manage to wrestle publishing control over a man who lives to torment her?  Yep, you guessed it; it’s an enemies to lovers story, my favorite!

As much as I enjoyed Annabelle in the first book, it’s Lucie that has really captured my heart. I just love her determination and grit and the fact that she’s doing everything she’s doing for the women’s movement in spite of the fact that her family has cast her off and refuses to have anything to do with her.  I love a scrappy underdog and Lucie fits the bill.  Tristan is a fantastic character as well.  I love that he’s a bit of a rogue, but that there’s also a lot more to him than first meets the eye.  He’s used to having ladies practically swoon at his feet, so it’s hilarious to watch him try to win Lucie over knowing that she can’t stand him.  The battle of wills between the two of them as they each try to secure what they want, all the while fighting their obvious attraction to one another, is so entertaining!

I will say that there was one moment in the story that gave me pause and it involved a tattoo of a naked dancer that was apparently inspired by a Hindu God. It was on the chest of a white man and while the tattoo itself serves a purpose later in the story, that particular choice of tattoo felt unnecessary and potentially offensive.  It didn’t ruin my overall enjoyment of the book, but since this is an honest review, I wanted to mention it.

I don’t want to give anything else away so I’m going to stop here and will just say that if you’re into fun, steamy stories with characters who are passionate and full of heart, you’ll want to check out A Rogue of One’s Own.  4 STARS

 

Reviews:  September Book Releases That Should Be on Your Reading ListFable (Fable, #1) Goodreads

Author: Adrienne Young

Publication Date: September 1, 2020

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

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

Fable, the first book in Adrienne Young’s YA fantasy duology of the same name, is my third read from this author and I swear her writing and storytelling just keeps getting better and better.  Seventeen-year-old Fable is the daughter of a powerful sea trader.  She hasn’t seen her father in four years, not since he abandoned her on a remote island after their ship sank during a terrible storm and her mother drowned.  Since being left on this island to fend for herself, Fable has worked as a dredger, locating gems at the bottom of the sea, and trading them for coin.  Her goal is simple:  to earn enough coin to purchase passage off the island so that she can then track down and confront her father.  Fable’s plans get turned upside down, however, when she runs into unexpected trouble and needs to get off the island sooner than planned.  She begs a young man named West, her primary buyer, to take her on as a passenger.  Even though no one from his crew wants her on board, West reluctantly agrees to help take her to where she thinks her father is.  Fable has no idea what kind of danger she’s getting herself into though, as nothing and no one, including West or her father, is what it seems.

Fable is such a fantastic character.  I love how strong and resilient she is, and how she refuses to take no for an answer.  Most thirteen-year-olds dumped on an island to fend for themselves would probably have died, so the fact that she survived and managed to secure some semblance of a living for herself says a lot about her character.  Fable also possesses a rare gift that was fascinating to read about.  Somehow she is able to actually hear gems when she’s near them.  It’s this gift that made her so successful as a dredger and it’s also something she needs to keep hidden.  If any of the other roguish traders out there knew she could do this, it would put a target on her back.  Aside from Fable, I also really enjoyed West and his crew.  There’s a bit of a ‘found family’ vibe there as they grow to slowly accept Fable’s presence among them.

Aside from great characters, I also thought the worldbuilding was fantastic.  I loved the descriptions of the sea, beautiful and serene one moment, dark and deadly the next.  Young paints an incredibly vivid and realistic portrait of this dangerous environment Fable’s father has thrust her into.  Not only is the sea itself dangerous, but practically everyone around her is a dangerous scoundrel as well.

Fable is a story that is beautifully written on every level. The characters are all so well-drawn and complex, and the story itself is fast-paced and action-packed.  I breezed through it in a day and immediately wanted to get my hands on the second book because this one ends with a major surprise and I just have to know what happens next.

If stories about the sea that feature scrappy resilient heroines, found families, and a hint of magic appeal to you, definitely check out Adrienne Young’s latest novel, Fable.  You won’t be disappointed.  4.5 STARS

Reviews: THE MOTHER CODE & WAYWARD WITCH

 

 

This past week has been busy with my son starting the new school year from home, with socially distanced soccer continuing to gear up, and with me trying to achieve a healthy work/home balance in the middle of all of that.  We’ve had a few hiccups along the way, but overall we’re doing well with our new normal.  I didn’t get much reading done this week, but I did manage to squeeze in a little science fiction and some YA fantasy with The Mother Code and Wayward Witch.

 

Reviews:  THE MOTHER CODE & WAYWARD WITCHThe Mother Code Goodreads

Author: Carole Stivers

Publication Date: August 25, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

Carole Stivers’ The Mother Code is a frightening cautionary tale about what can happen when government officials think they know more than scientific experts.  When the story opens, the U.S. government has deployed a lethal bioweapon without waiting for their team of experts to give final approval for its use.  As they quickly realize, there are serious flaws with the bioweapon and it should not have been deployed.  It begins to spread well beyond the area it was unleashed in and increasing numbers of people start dying, to the point that the government fears they may have just doomed the human race to extinction.

An elite team of scientists is handpicked to try to find a way to stop the bioweapon, or if it can’t be stopped, come up with Plan B, a way to ensure the survival of the human race.  Plan B is to create genetically engineered babies who can withstand the effects of the bioweapon and to have robots nurture and educate them that have been programmed with a computer code they’ve designed called the “Mother Code.”  Their frantic efforts to save mankind become an intense race against the clock that had me riveted the entire time I was reading.

I did struggle with the story a couple of times along the way, mainly because it’s more plot-driven than character-driven.  Since the characters took a backseat to the action of the story, I didn’t really connect with them all that much.  I really like to connect with the characters I’m reading about so this was kind of a bummer.  Also, this is science fiction that is very heavy on the science.  That’s not a bad thing and thankfully the author explains the bioweapon and its fatal flaw in a very accessible way, but it definitely slowed me down as I absorbed and made sense of what I was reading.

Finally, I have to admit that I almost decided against reading Carole Stivers’ The Mother Code.  Since I like to read to escape reality, reading a book about a manmade pandemic while we are actually going through a pandemic seemed counter-intuitive.  I’m glad I decided to go ahead and read it though because The Mother Code is both a riveting story of survival as well as a thought-provoking read about science and ethics.  3.5 STARS

 

Reviews:  THE MOTHER CODE & WAYWARD WITCHWayward Witch (Brooklyn Brujas, #3) Goodreads

Author: Zoraida Córdova

Publication Date: September 1, 2020

Publisher:  Sourcebooks Fire

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

Zoraida Córdova’s new novel Wayward Witch is the third installment in her Brooklyn Brujas series.  For those familiar with this magical series, this book follows Rose, the young Mortiz sister.  Events from the prior books have transformed Rose’s powers into something that is wholly unfamiliar to her. Add to that the return of her father after an unexplained seven year absence and it’s easy to see why Rose is feeling off kilter.  In the middle of an argument with her father, the two of them are kidnapped and dragged off to a fairy realm called Adas.  There she is told that the realm is in danger and she’s the only one who has the power to save it.  Since Rose doesn’t even know what her power is anymore, she’s not sure how that’s supposed to work, but when her captors lock her father in a tower, she decides she better figure it out.

What I have loved about every book in the Brooklyn Brujas series is the focus on family and that same focus is present throughout this book.  Rose is desperate to get back to her sisters and her mother, just as she is equally determined to confront her father about leaving them alone for so many years.  The family dynamics are very complicated in the Mortiz house but as always, the emotions feel so authentic.

I also loved following Rose on her adventure to save the fairy realm. Córdova’s worldbuilding is exquisite, filled with vivid details and infused with mythology as well as Latinx cultural references.  I especially loved the contrast between the healthy parts of the realm, which  are lush and vibrant, versus those parts that have been ravaged by a destructive and evil rot that threatens to consume them all.  Rose is charged with finding and destroying the source of this mysterious rot, and I was completely invested in her journey, both the physical journey and the psychological journey as she discovers who she is as a Bruja now that her powers have so drastically changed.

I believe Wayward Witch is the final installment in the Brooklyn Brujas series and if so, it’s a very satisfying conclusion to the series.  If you enjoy witchy stories that also focus on family and sisterhood, along the lines of Charmed, I definitely recommend this series.  4 STARS.

 

Review: YOU LUCKY DOG by Julia London

Review:  YOU LUCKY DOG by Julia LondonYou Lucky Dog by Julia London
four-stars
Published by Berkley Romance on August 25, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Chick Lit
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..

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Brittanie from Berkley for inviting me to take part in Berkley’s 2020 Romance blog tour.  Today I’m excited to share my thoughts with you on You Lucky Dog by Julia London.

*****

Julia London’s latest novel, You Lucky Dog, is the perfect choice if you’re looking for a light read filled with dogs, a little romance (including the sweetest meet-cute), and some hilarious dysfunctional family fun.  The story follows Carly and Max, who meet when their beloved basset hounds are accidentally swapped in an incident involving a pot-selling dog walker and an ill-timed encounter with the police.  Although their initial meeting is somewhat awkward because of the circumstances, two things become clear right away:  1) Their dogs, Baxter and Hazel, clearly adore each other, and 2) Carly and Max are attracted to one another as well.

The timing couldn’t be worse for either of them though. Carly is an up and coming publicist who is desperately trying to build her brand and grow her clientele, while Max is a professor of neurology at the local university who is working hard in hopes of achieving tenure this year.  Carly is also dealing with her dysfunctional divorced parents, while Max has his hands full helping his dad care for his brother, Jamie, who has autism.  Even with all of those obstacles in their path, however, after a couple of doggie play dates, Max and Carly can’t deny their attraction any longer and hope they can figure out a way to make things work even though it feels like the deck is stacked against them.

*****

I really loved both main characters in You Lucky Dog.  Carly definitely has her hands full with some pretty quirky and moody clients, but I admired her persistence and determination as she continued to push to make things happen for herself.  Max is literally the sweetest guy and in addition to loving the way he cares for his dog (and for Carly’s), I also adored the scenes with Max and his brother.  Max is such a good brother to Jamie and it just warmed my heart to watch the two of them together. I also, of course, adored Carly and Max together.  At first I was hesitant because it felt a little like insta-love but seriously how can you not bond while watching your adorable basset hounds frolic in the park together?  Scenes like that sold me on their growing chemistry pretty quickly and I was rooting for them to get together, in part because I wanted Baxter and Hazel to have their own happily ever after.

In addition to the cute factor, there’s also a healthy dose of family drama to balance out the reading experience.  Carly’s mother is having a sexual reawakening, which is downright hilarious at times until her awakening actually threatens Carly and Max’s relationship and lends an almost star-crossed lovers vibe to the story.  Don’t let that scare you off if you need a happy ending though. The story is meant to be a rom-com so you know what that means. 😊

If you’re into dogs, meet cutes, and romance, with a side of family drama to keep things interesting, You Lucky Dog is a perfect fit for you.

four-stars

About Julia London

Julia London is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of more than thirty romantic fiction novels. She is the author of the popular Cabot Sisters historical series, including The Trouble with Honor, The Devil Takes a Bride, and The Scoundrel and the Debutante. She is also the author of several contemporary romances, including Homecoming Ranch, Return to Homecoming Ranch and The Perfect Homecoming.

Julia is the recipient of the RT Bookclub Award for Best Historical Romance and a six-time finalist for the prestigious RITA award for excellence in romantic fiction.

She lives in Austin, Texas.

Review: HIDDEN by Laura Griffin

Review:  HIDDEN by Laura GriffinHidden by Laura Griffin
four-stars
Series: The Texas Murder Files #1
Published by Berkley Books on August 25, 2020
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Romance
Pages: 352
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 Brittanie from Berkley for inviting me to take part in Berkley’s 2020 Romance blog tour.  Today I’m excited to share my thoughts with you on Laura Griffin’s latest novel, Hidden.

Hidden is the first installment in Laura Griffin’s new crime thriller series, The Texas Murder Files.  Hidden draws the reader in from the very first page as we follow a jogger on a popular hike-and-bike trail.  As she is jogging, the woman seems nervous and fearful, to the point of paranoia.  When a man with a large knife accosts her, it becomes all too painfully clear that she had a reason to be so nervous.  Investigative journalist Bailey Rhoads is sent to investigate the murder, as is police detective Jacob Merritt.  Bailey approaches Jacob to see if he can give her some details on the case, but instead of being helpful, Jacob is gruff and close-lipped about the case.  When she doesn’t get any assistance from Jacob, Bailey decides to do some digging on her own.

Two things become clear as both Jacob and Bailey begin to investigate:  1) There is frustratingly little evidence to go on with respect to the murder. Even getting an ID on the victim is proving to be nearly impossible, and 2) Whether they want to admit it or not or even act on it, Bailey and Jacob are attracted to one another.

Hidden was a winner for me for several reasons, the main one being that the murder case itself is very compelling.  From that opening scene, I was hooked on finding out who this woman was and why she was killed in such an awful way.  I became all the more invested in the case when both Jacob and Bailey couldn’t find out anything about the victim. It was like she had gone completely off the grid.  As Jacob and Bailey slowly began to unravel the details of the case and the suspense began to build, I flew through the pages eager to get to the truth about what had happened, especially as it became clear the woman’s murder was a hit job and that the killer wasn’t finished.

I also really loved both of the main characters.  Bailey is a talented and tenacious journalist.  She’s determined to get her story and won’t let anyone, not even a sexy police detective, stand in her way.  Jacob is equally likeable, even though he initially comes off as somewhat gruff and standoffish.  He’s actually just very protective when it comes to his cases. He truly cares about finding justice for his victims and in the case of this victim, is downright ticked off when the FBI comes to take jurisdiction over the case.  I loved his passion and I also thought it was cute how hard he tried to fight his growing attraction to Bailey even though her stubbornness made him crazy. His head keeps telling him it’s a bad idea for a cop to get involved with the media, but his heart has other ideas.  The chemistry between Jacob and Bailey was great too. The way their relationship progressed felt very organic, not to mention both cute and sexy.

Hidden is a very satisfying and entertaining read.  If you enjoy romantic suspense and a riveting murder mystery, be sure to add this gem to your reading list.

four-stars

About Laura Griffin

Laura Griffin is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty-five books and novellas. Her books have been translated into fourteen languages. Laura is a two-time RITA® Award winner (for Scorched and Whisper of Warning) as well as the recipient of the Daphne du Maurier Award (for Untraceable). Her book Desperate Girls was named one of the Best Books of 2018 by Publishers Weekly. Laura lives in Austin, Texas, where she is working on her next novel.

Audiobook Review: THE SWITCH by Beth O’Leary

Audiobook Review:  THE SWITCH by Beth O’LearyThe Switch by Beth O'Leary, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Alison Steadman
four-stars
Published by Macmillan Audio on August 18, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction, Chick Lit, Romance
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beth O’Leary’s The Switch is a charming and heartwarming story that follows Leena, a young woman who lives and works in London.  When Leena suffers a panic attack at work one day and almost costs her company a huge client, it becomes apparent that she needs a break from her life.  When she confides to her grandmother Eileen about what happened, Eileen confesses that she’s not overly happy with her own life at the moment either.  She’s looking for love, but unfortunately, pickings are slim in rural Yorkshire.  On a whim, Eileen and Leena decide to swap places for a couple of months, the idea being that Leena can relax and revitalize in a charming, slower paced rural setting, while Eileen can kick up her heels and enjoy life in the big city, where there are of course many more opportunities to meet Mr. Right.

I enjoyed The Switch so much!  Both Leena and Eileen are such likeable characters and it was fun to watch them both settle into their new environments.  I thought it was so cute watching Eileen hang out with Leena’s young friends, who helped her set up social media dating profiles, and made sure her time in London was everything she hoped it would be.  I also loved watching Leena interact with her grandmother’s, mostly elderly, neighbors.  Everything about this aspect of the book was just so entertaining and I loved all the quirky characters both in London and in Yorkshire.

It wasn’t all fun and games though. The Switch also deals with some serious and emotional topics as well, such as grief, infidelity, and the hazards of online dating.  There’s an especially moving secondary plot that focuses on the death of Leena’s sister Carla and how the loss of Carla has impacted Leena and Eileen, and especially Leena’s mother, who is really struggling with her grief.

There’s also a little romance.  It’s somewhat secondary to the emotional journeys of both Eileen and Leena, but for those who love a little romance in their women’s fiction, it’s definitely there and will put a smile on your face.

I listened to the audiobook version of The Switch and thought the narration was wonderful.  Leena’s chapters are narrated by Daisy Edgar-Jones, while Eileen’s are narrated by Allison Steadman.  I thought both voices were perfectly suited to the characters they were narrating and that they both really brought these characters to life beautifully.  I also liked that I was able to comfortably listen to the audio at my usual 1.25x speed.

The Switch is a delightful story about love, family, and community.  If you enjoyed Beth O’Leary’s last novel, The Flatshare, I think you’ll love this one too.

four-stars

About Beth O’Leary

Beth studied English at university before going into children’s publishing. She lives as close to the countryside as she can get while still being within reach of London, and wrote her first novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from work.
You’ll usually find her curled up with a book, a cup of tea, and several woolly jumpers (whatever the weather).

Reviews: August Book Releases That Should Be on Your Reading List

I’ve been quiet on the blog for a few days because I found myself lost in some pretty amazing reads.  If these three novels are anything to go by, August is going to be a fabulous month for new releases.  I’m also a big mood reader and my mood was all over the place this week so there’s a little something here for everyone – a heartwarming contemporary, a suspenseful mystery/thriller, and a compelling work of historical fiction.

Reviews:  August Book Releases That Should Be on Your Reading ListVanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop Goodreads

Author: Roselle Lim

Publication Date: August 4, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

Roselle Lim’s new novel, Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop is a heartwarming story about love, family, second chances, and most importantly, about finding one’s self.  Vanessa Yu, the protagonist, is a fortune teller but wishes she wasn’t.  For most of her life, Vanessa has been unable to control her “gift,” blurting out fortunes at random and driving away friends and potential boyfriends.  Because the gift has been nothing but a curse her entire life, Vanessa longs to just be rid of it so she can live a normal life.  That doesn’t appear to be an option so when her aunt Evelyn, the only other family member who can tell fortunes, offers to train her, Vanessa jumps at the chance, especially once she realizes it means she’ll be traveling with Evelyn to Paris where Evelyn is opening up a new branch of her popular tea shop.

One of my absolute favorite parts about this book were the author’s lush descriptions of the sights, sounds, and especially the FOOD of Paris.  My mouth was watering with each turn of the page as I read about decadent French pastries and the like.  Vanessa is also a very likeable character, so it was easy to root for her.  I felt so much sympathy for her as she began to fear she would live her entire life alone if she didn’t get control over her abilities. I can’t even imagine that kind of pressure.

The story isn’t just about Vanessa though.  There’s also a fabulous subplot involving Aunt Evelyn. She’s actually leaving the Yu family permanently and relocating to Paris. When it becomes clear to Vanessa that Evelyn’s trip to Paris isn’t a temporary one, she is dying to know why, and since Evelyn isn’t talking, she enlists the wonderful Yu Aunties, who are more than willing to go undercover and find out what Evelyn is up to. I adored the closeness of the Yu family overall and those Yu Aunties are a hilarious addition to what is already an entertaining story.

I don’t want to say much more but I will say that I think this is a story that romance fans are going to love.  Love is in the air for several characters as Vanessa discovers that while she may hate fortune telling, she thoroughly enjoys playing matchmaker and bringing lovers together.  If you’re in the mood for a charming and romantic story that will tug at your heartstrings and leave a smile on your face, be sure to pick up a copy of Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop.  4 STARS

 

Reviews:  August Book Releases That Should Be on Your Reading ListThe Night Swim Goodreads

Author: Megan Goldin

Publication Date: August 4, 2020

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press

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

With her latest thriller, The Night Swim, Megan Goldin explores the connections between two criminal cases that took place in the same small town 25 years apart.  Rachel Krall, the protagonist of the novel, is a successful crime podcaster.  For the first two seasons of her podcast, “Guilty or Not Guilty, the Podcast that Puts You in the Jury Box”, Rachel looked back at cold cases with a fresh set of eyes.  Now that her show has become immensely popular, Rachel wants to up her game by going to court and sitting in on a live, ongoing trial to present and interpret the evidence to her listeners as it becomes available.  The trial she has chosen in set in a small town and the accused is the town’s golden boy, a talented swimmer who hopes to make the Olympic team someday.  He is accused of brutally raping a high school student who also happens to be the granddaughter of the sheriff.  Tensions are high and opinions are very divided as to whether or not the young man is guilty.

Things take an odd turn, however, when she starts receiving mysterious handwritten letters imploring her to take a look at an old case from 25 years ago.  The case was ruled a drowning because there were no witnesses aside from the victim’s nine-year-old sister who couldn’t really provide any information.  The incident received little press at the time, but the letter writer, who turns out to be the younger sister of the drowning victim, swears her sister’s death was not an accident.  Rachel is laser focused on the current case but the pleading tone of the letters get to her and so she starts to casually ask some of the townsfolk about what happened 25 years ago.  When it becomes clear that no one wants to talk to her about it, Rachel starts to dig deeper and soon discovers some disturbing connections between the old case and the new case.  Will Rachel discover the truth about both of the crimes and thus justice for the victims or will someone try to stop her from exposing long hidden secrets in this small town?

The Night Swim is a riveting mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. The podcast aspect of the novel was also very well done. As Rachel produces each episode, we then get to listen to it before returning to the courthouse to hear more.  I was completely invested in both mysteries and dying to learn the truth as the clues were slowly revealed.  Be forewarned that because this story does deal with rape, there are some violent and heartbreaking scenes as we get closer and closer to the truth.  I found myself near tears a couple of times as the truth came to light.

I enjoyed Megan Goldin’s last thriller, The Escape Room, but I have to say that with her latest effort, The Night Swim, she really knocks it out of the park.  4 STARS.

 

Reviews:  August Book Releases That Should Be on Your Reading ListThe Lions of Fifth Avenue Goodreads

Author: Fiona Davis

Publication Date: August 4, 2020

Publisher:  Dutton Books

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

I love historical fiction and I love New York City, so I’m always drawn to the novels of Fiona Davis because she sets each one in an iconic NYC location.  This time around, Davis has selected the beloved New York Public Library as her setting.

In 1913, Laura Lyons is living in the library with her two young children and her husband, who is the Superintendent of the library.  She aspires to be a journalist and enrolls at Columbia University’s Journalism School.  Her journalism classes take her to the doorstep of an all-women’s club called the Heterodoxy Club. While attending club meetings and listening to “radical” women discuss women’s issues like suffrage and birth control, Laura begins to question her own existence as little more than wife and mother.  There’s a whole world out there she wants to experience.  Her thoughts of taking an alternative path in life are cut short, however, when rare books start disappearing from the library and it’s thought to be an inside job, which places her husband squarely on the suspect list.

In 1993, we meet Sadie Donovan, who also works at the New York Public Library.  Everyone at the library knows Sadie loves her job and is passionate about books, so it’s a given that she’s the best choice to curate the library’s next big exhibit featuring rare books.  What everyone doesn’t know about Sadie is that she’s actually the granddaughter of Laura Lyons.  With her family’s muddled history regarding the library and missing books, Sadie figures the little said about that the better, especially when, to her shock and dismay, rare books she plans to use in her exhibit start to disappear from the library.  As only a small handful of people have keys to the rare books room, it’s considered an inside job and Sadie finds herself on the suspect list.  Sadie becomes determined to find out how the books are being stolen and who is responsible and also hopes deep down that she can somehow redeem the Lyon name and legacy with respect to the library.

What intrigued me the most about this story is that we learn early on in Sadie’s timeline that Laura Lyons, although now deceased, had become a famous feminist essayist at some point in her life. In addition to being eager to find out how the book thefts were being pulled off in each timeline, I was also even more eager to find out what had transpired in Laura’s life to transform her from wife and mother on the verge of tragedy to world renowned author.  I loved how the author wove these two timelines together to gradually reveal the answers to both questions.

It actually surprised me how emotional I found myself getting as I was reading this book. I actually gasped a few times when certain beloved rare books went missing and in one case, where a page was torn out of a beloved treasure.  If you are passionate about books, libraries, New York, and historical fiction, The Lions of Fifth Avenue is the perfect book for you.  4.5 STARS

Review: EIGHTY DAYS TO ELSEWHERE by K.C. Dyer

Review:  EIGHTY DAYS TO ELSEWHERE by K.C. DyerEighty Days to Elsewhere by K.C. Dyer
four-stars
Published by Berkley Books on August 11, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 480
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 Brittanie from Berkley for inviting me to take part in their 2020 Romance blog tours.  Today I’m excited to share my thoughts on K.C. Dyer’s new novel, Eighty Days to Elsewhere with you.

* * * * * *

K.C. Dyer’s new novel, Eighty Days to Elsewhere, is an entertaining romp around the globe that reads like a mash up of the Jules Verne classic, Around the World in 80 Days, The Amazing Race reality TV show, and Eat Pray Love.  The novel follows Ramona (Romy) Keene, a young woman who lives in New York City and works with her uncle in his bookstore in the Village.  Although Romy dreams of being a photographer and of traveling, she instead sticks close to home, the charming bookstore a safe haven from the world.  When an evil new landlord arrives on the scene, jacks up the rent on the bookstore, and threatens to evict them, Romy is desperate to do whatever it takes to save the bookstore.

She applies for a job at a company called ExLibris Expeditions, an unusual company whose mission it is to create custom adventures for clients based on scenes from their favorite books.  (How cool does that sound?!) The custom trips involve a great deal of research, including actually traveling to each destination being considered to figure out transportation, things to see and do, etc.  When Romy applies for the job, as part of her application process, she is tasked with doing the legwork on a custom trip that follows the route taken in Around the World in 80 Days.  There’s a catch, however, a few of them actually:  1) Romy is given significantly less than 80 days to complete her task because of the timeline the client has given ExLibris, 2) Romy is not allowed to travel via commercial airline since that mode of travel didn’t exist at the time of the novel, and 3) Romy is competing against another applicant who is also applying for the job.  Whoever successfully completes the trip first and by the stated deadline will win the job and a $10,000 bonus.

It’s best to watch the adventure portion of the book unfold for yourself, but I did want to share some highlights.

5 Reasons You’ll Want to Read Eighty Days to Elsewhere

  1. It’s a book of journeys. We follow Romy on her actual physical journey around the world, which is perfect for readers like me who love to travel but have been sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Romy’s trip takes us through London, Paris, Mumbai, Singapore, and so many other incredible destinations.  Even though Romy couldn’t stop at any destination for very long because of the contest, I still loved reading and learning a little something about each place she visited.  In addition to the physical journey, we also follow Romy on a psychological journey.  Romy has been grieving the loss of her parents and that grief has been holding her back from fully living her life.  This trip gives her the opportunity to really live, learn, and grow as a person.  The Romy who comes back to NYC after her journey is definitely not the same Romy who left.
  1. Romy’s misadventures.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I’m just going to say that Romy must seriously have the worst luck of anyone on the planet.  If something could go hilariously wrong at any of her destinations, it absolutely did.  It got to the point where I couldn’t wait for her to get to the next country just to see what went wrong next and how she was able to recover from it.  All I kept thinking the whole time I was reading these misadventure scenes was that this book would make a very entertaining movie or series.
  1. Serious topics are tackled as well. It’s not all fun and games on Romy’s trip.  The author also takes on some serious and thought-provoking topics as well, as part of Romy’s journey of growth.  Romy learns about the plight of Somali refugees, racism on a level she has never seen it before, her own privilege, and she even has an encounter with Greenpeace and whale hunters, just to name a few. These encounters make it a very eye-opening trip for Romy.
  1. Show stealers. Romy meets an adorably sassy Somali teen named Sumaya on her trip. When Romy meets her, Sumaya has lost both of her parents and is trying to make her way to find her aunt, who emigrated several years earlier.  Sumaya is a force of nature, determined that no one and nothing will stand in her way, and she also has a pretty mean stand-up routine, as she wants to be a comedian when she grows up. Sumaya not only steals the spotlight once she joins Romy on her travels, she will also steal your heart.
  1. Romance.  Speaking of getting your heart stolen, there is romance in the book as well.  Be forewarned that it’s a slow burn and definitely takes a backseat to Romy’s psychological journey, but it’s still really nice to watch Romy finally let her guard down and let someone in.  I’m not entirely sure what trope it falls under so I’m going to call it a mix of enemies to lovers and rivals to lovers.

Now I will confess that there were a few times along the way when I had to suspend disbelief.  Seriously, no one could have the kind of consistently bad luck Romy has.  Also, a few of the places in Around the World in Eighty Days are probably not places that Americans would be advised to travel to at this point in time.  That said, I finally just told myself that this is fiction and that I needed to stop nitpicking unlikely scenarios and just enjoy the ride.  Once I did that, I enjoyed Eighty Days to Elsewhere immensely and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for an entertaining adventure.

four-stars

About K.C. Dyer

kc dyer loves to travel. When she’s not on the road, she resides in the wilds of British Columbia, where she likes to walk in the woods and write books. Her most recent novel, published by Berkley Books, is arriving in 2020. A romantic comedy, EIGHTY DAYS TO ELSEWHERE is the madcap story of a young woman so desperate to save her family’s bookstore that she undertakes a race around the world, but ends up falling for her competition.

She is the author of FINDING FRASER, an international bestseller in romantic comedy, and published by Berkley Books. US Weekly called FINDING FRASER a “humorous but relateable self-discovery tale”, and Bustle named it a ‘Must-Read for OUTLANDER fans”.

For teens, kc’s most recent work is FACING FIRE, a sequel to the acclaimed novel, A WALK THROUGH A WINDOW, published by Doubleday/Random House. kc is represented by Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency.

kc has spoken before thousands of readers — both kids and adults — across Canada and the US, and in Europe and Asia. She is a director and long-time participant at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. She has been writer-in-residence at New Westminster Secondary School, and a featured presenter at the National Council of English Teachers in both Philadelphia, PA and Chicago, Ill; YouthWrite in Penticton, BC; Young Authors in Kamloops, BC; WORD Vancouver, Canadian Authors’ Association in Victoria, BC; Ontario Library Association Super-Conference in Toronto, ON; Simon Fraser University Southbank Writers in Surrey, BC; WriteOn Bowen and many others.

Review: THE BLACK KIDS by Christina Hammonds Reed

Review:  THE BLACK KIDS by Christina Hammonds ReedThe Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
four-stars
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on August 4, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed is a poignant coming of age story set in Los Angeles during the 1992 Rodney King Riots.  It follows Ashley Bennett, a wealthy black teen whose parents have raised her in such a way as to shelter her from the struggles, and particularly, the racism that faces the black community.  Ashley attends a mostly white private school and her childhood friends are all white.  The only black kids she knows are those who attend her school on scholarships, but they keep to themselves and she doesn’t interact with them.  When the novel opens, Ashley’s most pressing concerns are whether to go to school or ditch and hang out with her friends at the pool or beach.

Everything changes, however, when the police officers who were captured on video brutally beating Rodney King, a black man, are acquitted.  Rightfully so, the black community is outraged and so the L.A. riots began.  The beating, acquittal, and subsequent riots is such big news that there’s no way Ashley can be sheltered from it, and it soon becomes a revelation to her that makes her question everything about herself – her privileged life, her disconnect with the black community, and her entire sense of self.

Ashley’s inner monologue was what really made this story so powerful for me.  I just found myself so moved by all of the emotions going through her head as she truly has to re-evaluate everything she has ever known now that she is faced with this new harsher reality.  Ashley is also worried sick about her older sister, who abandoned that sheltered life and is out protesting for justice right in the middle of the riots.  My heart especially broke for Ashley when during an argument with one of her childhood friends, the friend lets the ‘n’ word fly.  Hearing that hate come out of her friend’s mouth for the first time makes her realize that perhaps it’s time to move on and find friends who understand what she is going through and what a mess her head is because of it.  Even though my heart broke for her at the loss of friendship, it also soared for her as she slowly starts to find her way, figure out who she is, and who the best kinds of friends are for her.

Ashley’s journey in The Black Kids is a hard one, but as hard as it was, I still loved watching her learn and grow, and discover a new sense of identity.  I also thought it was very powerful to watch the riots unfold through the eyes of a frightened and confused black teen.  I’m old enough that I remember watching the riots on TV, but Ashley’s perspective is an entirely different one and it really hit me hard as I was reading.  It also made me sad in the sense that it’s now almost 30 years since those riots and we still have so much more work to do when it comes to fighting racial injustice.  I’m glad to see more and more books like The Black Kids and hope they will inspire all of us to understand and to do better.

four-stars

About Christina Hammonds Reed

Christina Hammonds Reed holds an MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. A native of the Los Angeles area, her work has previously appeared in the Santa Monica Review and One Teen Story. The Black Kids is her first novel.