Thriller Thursday Reviews: A Familiar Stranger & The Prisoner

 

Hey everyone! Welcome to Sharon’s Thriller Thursday. I hope everyone is doing well and having a good week with lots of great reading. I’m doing good and have been reading some great books. Today I am happy to share my thoughts on A Familiar Stranger by A.J. Torre and The Prisoner by B.A. Paris.

 

Thriller Thursday Reviews: A Familiar Stranger & The PrisonerA Familiar Stranger Goodreads

Author: A.J. Torre

Publication Date: September 27, 2022

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

A.J. Torre’s A Familiar Stranger follows Lillian Smith, a wife and mother, who is an obituary writer for a local newspaper. Lillian leads a quiet and ordinary life. Then she meets David Laurent in a coffee shop, and feeling restless with her life, Lillian starts an affair with David. Lillian creates a new persona when she is with David, and as their affair intensifies, her lies start to catch up with her and Lillian’s two worlds spiral out of control. But Lillian is not the only one leading a double life and someone is going to die.

The first chapter of this book is titled “2 Months Before Death” and that just piqued my interest right away. As the story progresses it gets closer to “the death”. The whole time I was reading I was trying to figure out who had died and once we find out who was dead, I was trying to figure out who killed them. I loved how Torre presented the book this way because it just made my investigative brain flip into high gear.

The story is told mostly from Lillian’s POV. Lillian is a very complex character who has a very dark sense of humor. She has a Twitter account where she posts murder mysteries, based on past obituaries, to her followers. I also really liked her relationship with her best friend Sam. She could be herself with him. Sam knows all of Lillian’s secrets, and because of that, I was watching him with a very cautious eye.

Lillian’s husband Mike is also leading a double life. I did not like Mike at all. He was so controlling and condescending when it came to Lillian. He was also very arrogant. He thought he had everything in his life just as he thought it should be. So, it was nice when things started to crumble, and he realized he was not in as much control as he thought.

I wish there was more I could say about this book, but I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say, I thought going in that I was going to be reading a domestic thriller, with cheating spouses and lies upon lies, but this book was so much more than that. Yes we have the cheating spouses, but we also have the mystery of who is dead and then who killed said person.

A Familiar Stranger was full of twists and turns that made me stop a few times to get my head around what I had just read. When the person who died was revealed I was totally taken by surprise and the cat and mouse game that played out after had me on the edge of my seat. 4 stars

 

Thriller Thursday Reviews: A Familiar Stranger & The PrisonerThe Prisoner Goodreads

Author: B.A. Paris

Publication Date: November 1, 2022

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

B.A. Paris is an auto buy author for me. I fell in love with her books when I read her debut novel Behind Closed Doors a few years ago, so I was very excited when I saw she had a new book, The Prisoner, coming out. While this book was not up there with her other ones, I still enjoyed it and continue to look forward to her next book.

Amelie Lamont lost her mother when she was a small child, and she lost her father when she was seventeen. After the death of her dad, Amelie moved to London where she met her husband, billionaire Ned Hawthorne. Life was good at the beginning of their relationship, but then things take a turn for the worst. Ned is not who Amelie thought he was. Amelie is determined to stick it out though because it will be worth her while to do so.  But then one night Amelie and Ned are kidnapped, and she wakes up alone in a pitch-black room. Who has taken them and why? And why does Amelie feel safer in that dark room than she did with her husband?

This story is told through an alternating dual timeline. It starts out the night Amelie and Ned were kidnapped, and then jumps back to when Amelie was seventeen. I loved Amelie. She was a very strong and determined protagonist, which comes across in both timelines. When she was being held in the dark room, she never stopped trying to find a way out and when she was suddenly on her own at seventeen, she took control and made a life for herself.

The chapters with Amelie trapped in the pitch-dark room really gave me the creeps. I could not even imagine what that must have been like. From the panic Amelie felt when she woke up in that room to the way she navigated around the room, I think Paris did a great job of bringing those scenes to life. I love how Amelie used her other senses in the room. She got the layout of the room by feel and counted steps to figure out where the bathroom door was, as well as where the door her captors would enter was. She also would be very quiet when they came into the room to bring her meals and listened to where they would come and stand and used that advantage for her escape attempts.

I really loved everything about this book up to the ending.  I was not 100% sold on who kidnapped Amelie and Ned and why they did it. I had a couple of different scenarios that I thought would play out. But all in all, I thought The Prisoner was a solid read that kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat for most of the book.   3 ½ stars

Reviews: BETTER THAN FICTION & TWO WRONGS MAKE A RIGHT

 

Happy Monday!  I hope everyone who was celebrating Thanksgiving had a nice holiday.  Mine was good, although not especially productive.  I had intended to get caught up on all of my blog hopping and that just didn’t happen.  I did sleep for at least 9-10 hours every day of my holiday though so I’ll be well rested for playing catch up this week, haha.  Today I’m sharing reviews for two wonderful contemporary romances that I read over the long holiday weekend.  One is from an author I always enjoy, Alexa Martin, while the other is from a new-to-me author, Chloe Liese.

 

Reviews:  BETTER THAN FICTION & TWO WRONGS MAKE A RIGHTBetter than Fiction Goodreads

Author: Alexa Martin

Publication Date: November 8, 2022

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

As soon as I read it was set in a bookstore, I knew I couldn’t resist Alexa Martin’s new novel, Better Than Fiction.  What especially intrigued me about it is that based on the synopsis, the main character actually hates reading. I couldn’t wait to dive in and see if Martin could actually make me fall in love with a book hating protagonist!

Drew Young is a successful travel photographer who recently lost her beloved grandmother. Drew was practically raised by her grandmother. Although Drew spent countless hours in her grandmother’s bookstore, The Book Nook, while growing up, what she doesn’t anticipate is her grandmother leaving The Book Nook to her in her will. Drew herself isn’t a book lover at all and is in completely over her head trying to run the store, but she feels like she has to give it her all in order to honor her grandmother’s wishes, even if it means giving up on her own career dreams and settling in Colorado full time to run the store. She has no idea that The Book Nook and the meddling old ladies from the Dirty Birds book club are about to change her life in so many ways.

Thanks to the Dirty Birds, bestselling romance author Jasper Williams has a book signing event at the bookstore.  When he meets Drew and she confesses to him that she doesn’t like to read, Jasper makes it his mission to help her discover the joys of reading while he’s in town.  He makes a deal with her:  he needs a travel expert to give him an in-depth look at Denver because it’s the setting for his next book. If Drew plays tour guide, he’ll curate a list of books he thinks she’ll love and for every one she reads, he’ll reward her with a book-inspired adventure.

I really enjoyed everything about this story! I loved Drew and Jasper together, from those awkward opening moments between them to later on in the story as they grow closer and bond as they work to complete their deal.  There are so many fun and adorable moments between them as they visit local restaurants, admire the scenery, and even take an amazing whitewater rafting trip together.  I was rooting for Jasper to not only make Drew fall in love with reading, but to also fall in love with him as well.

I’m a big fan of books that have many layers to them, and Better than Fiction really fits the bill here.  Not only is there the blossoming relationship between Drew and Jasper, but there’s also a journey of grief here as Drew is still mourning the loss of her grandmother and trying to move forward. Add to that the hilarity of the Dirty Birds and their constant but well intentioned meddling, as well as some messy family drama because Drew’s father is jealous that she inherited the store, and you have a wonderful book that has something for everyone. 4 STARS

 

Reviews:  BETTER THAN FICTION & TWO WRONGS MAKE A RIGHTTwo Wrongs Make a Right Goodreads

Author: Chloe Liese

Publication Date: November 22, 2022

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 Chloe Liese’s novels for a while now so when I heard that her latest romance, Two Wrongs Make a Right, was inspired by one of my favorite plays, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, I knew I had to read it.

The story follows Bea Wilmot and Jamie Westenberg, two people who seemingly have nothing in common aside from a disastrous first meeting and a mutual disdain for one another. Bea thinks Jamie is cold and stuffy, while Jamie thinks Bea is a tornado of chaos.  They couldn’t be more different and neither of them can understand why their friends keep trying so hard to push them together.  When their friends take things a step too far and trick them into going on a date together, Bea and Jamie decide to abandon their dislike for one another in favor of seeking revenge on the meddling matchmakers in their lives. They hatch a plan to fake date and convince everyone that they’re madly in love with one another, which will then be followed by a dramatic breakup that will put an end to the matchmaking once and for all.  What they don’t anticipate is that their friends may have been right about them all along…

This story was so much fun! Whether they were trading witty barbs, plotting their revenge, or having more heartfelt moments as they got to know each other better, Jamie and Bea were absolutely adorable together.  They may be complete opposites, but they have incredible chemistry and those opposites play off of each other perfectly.

I also loved that both protagonists are neurodivergent.  Bea is on the autism spectrum, while Jamie experiences anxiety. The author did a wonderful job portraying both of these characters realistically, particularly as she demonstrated how autism and anxiety can impact someone’s day to day life, especially in social situations such as the party where Bea and Jamie met and had their “meet disaster.” I was so moved by one scene in the story where Bea finally tells Jamie she’s autistic and he tells her that he’s glad she told him because it helps him to see her better.  I already loved Jamie but that moment just really got to me and had me rooting for them to get together all the more.

As I mentioned, Two Wrongs Make a Right is inspired by Much Ado About Nothing.  I recognized and delighted in the similarities between the two stories, but I don’t think it will hamper your enjoyment of Liese’s book at all if you aren’t familiar with Shakespeare’s play.

Two Wrongs Make a Right is the perfect read for anyone who enjoys fake dating and opposite attract romances. 4 STARS

Reviews: THE DO-OVER and PRIDE AND PROTEST

 

Happy Monday and early Happy Thanksgiving wishes to all who will be celebrating this week!  I’ll have a couple more posts this week and then I’ll be taking the rest of the week to start preparing for the small meal we’ll have at my house, followed by traveling to my mom’s house this weekend for another celebration.  Today I’m sharing reviews for two great new books that hit shelves last week, one by one of my favorite authors, Lynn Painter, and the other by a new-to-me author, Nikki Payne, who I definitely want to read more from now. 🙂

 

Reviews:  THE DO-OVER and PRIDE AND PROTESTThe Do-Over Goodreads

Author: Lynn Painter

Publication Date: November 15, 2022

Publisher:  Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

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

 

Lynn Painter is quickly becoming one of my favorite romance authors.  I just love the lovable and relatable characters she creates and I’m an especially big fan of the laugh out loud humor that she infuses her stories with.  For those reasons, The Do-Over was already a must-read for me, but throw in the fact that it’s also a time loop story, and I couldn’t pick up my copy fast enough!

The story follows Emilie Hornby, a high school student who has just had the absolute worst Valentine’s Day ever. Between crashing her car into the truck of her aloof lab partner, Nick, and watching her boyfriend Josh cheat on her with another girl, Emilie is just done with this day and heads to her grandma’s house for a sympathetic ear, some ice cream to cheer her up, and a sleepover. Imagine her surprise and horror when she wakes up the next morning in her own bed and it’s Valentine’s Day all over again! After it happens a third time, Emilie starts trying to do little things here and there to break the cycle.

I really enjoyed Emilie’s character. She learns a lot of things about herself while she’s trying to figure out how to escape the time loop, particularly that she’s too much of a people pleaser and needs to learn to stand up for herself more.  I think that’s a lesson that a lot of us can relate to, myself included, so I was particularly invested in watching Emilie’s growth in this area.  I also loved that the lesson and the subsequent growth came in the form of a hilarious “Day of No Consequences” (or the DONC as Emilie dubs it) where Emilie sets out to please no one but herself and thus shenanigans ensue.

In addition to the DONC, one of the biggest highlights of the book for me was Emilie’s evolving relationship with her lab partner, Nick.  I loved watching how Emilie tries different tactics every day of the time loop to try to engage with him more and get him to open up to her.  They had wonderful chemistry, even when dealing with the aftermath of a car accident on repeat, and I loved that Nick, who is clearly so much better for Emilie than cheating Josh, plays a huge role in the DONC and in Emilie’s journey of personal growth.  Nick’s scenes with Emilie added a more in-depth and sometimes poignant element to an otherwise hilarious story and I was 100% there for it.

Hilarious and heartfelt, Lynn Painter’s The Do-Over is sure to please all of the rom-com fans out there.  4.5 STARS

 

Reviews:  THE DO-OVER and PRIDE AND PROTESTPride and Protest Goodreads

Author: Nikki Payne

Publication Date: November 15, 2022

Publisher: Berkley

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

 

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favorite romance novels, so I’m always eager to read modern retellings that offer a fresh take on this beloved classic. In Pride and Protest, Nikki Payne does just that.  Payne sets her story in a poor neighborhood in Washington, D.C. and her version of Lizzie Bennett, Liza B., lives in that neighborhood with her family.  Payne’s version of Mr. Darcy, Dorsey Fitzgerald, is the wealthy CEO of a property development company who is set on gentrifying the neighborhood and forcing out poor families.

I found myself immediately invested with both of the main characters.  Liza is a young woman who is a staunch advocate for her community and has no interest in playing nice with the man she sees as threatening the security of those she loves.  I loved her passion for her community and that she used her voice and her platform as a DJ to bring attention to their plight.  Going up against the big developers puts her in the underdog position and I’ll always cheer for the underdog.  I also loved Dorsey though because even though he and Liza butt heads right from the start, it’s clear that there’s way more to him than meets the eye and I immediately wanted to know more about him.

Just as with the original classic, the heart of Pride and Protest of course revolves around Liza and Dorsey getting past the hostilities and hurt feelings of their first encounter and realizing that they have more in common than they realized and that they could be exactly what the other needs. I always enjoy this kind of journey and Payne writes this one so well.  As much as I enjoyed the sparks when they first went head-to-head in the beginning, I enjoyed that journey from enemies to lovers even more.  It’s a slow burn for sure, but the payoff is worth it.

My favorite part of a retelling is the way an author is able to create a fresh new story, while at the same time paying proper homage to the original and Payne succeeds here as well.  Most of her characters parallel characters from the original, familiar enough that fans of Pride and Prejudice will recognize them, but they’re still well drawn and layered enough to stand on their own.  Liza’s mom, Bev, and her sister, Janae, were especially well done, and I enjoyed both characters immensely.

If you’re in the mood for a fresh take on a timeless classic, you’ll want to check out Pride and Protest! 4 STARS

Reviews: KISS HER ONCE FOR ME & A VERY MERRY BROMANCE

 

Happy Monday everyone! I hope you all had a lovely weekend.  I worked through most of mine, which was a bummer, but at the same time, we’re only two weeks away from our last big deadline of the year so the end is in sight!  Anyway, today I’m back to share my thoughts on two more holiday romances that have just hit bookshelves this month.

 

Reviews:  KISS HER ONCE FOR ME & A VERY MERRY BROMANCEKiss Her Once for Me Goodreads

Author: Alison Cochrun

Publication Date: November 1, 2022

Publisher:  Atria Books

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

 

I was looking for a fun holiday rom-com and when I read the synopsis for Alison Cochrun’s new novel, Kiss Her Once for Me, I immediately knew it was exactly what I was looking for. The story follows Ellie Oliver, a young woman who, a year ago, was on top of the world.  She had just moved to Portland, Oregon for her dream job and on Christmas Eve, she has the most magical meet-cute in a bookstore with a woman named Jack.  Ellie is convinced she’s in love, but things abruptly change the next morning, and Ellie and Jack part ways.

Things start to spiral and by the following Christmas, Ellie has lost her dream job and, desperate to make ends meet, is now working as a barista at a local coffee shop, hating her mean boss and just trying to get through each day.  When Andrew, the landlord of the coffee shop, proposes a wild plan – pose as his wife for a year in order to help him secure his recent inheritance in exchange for 10% of the inheritance — Ellie thinks he’s crazy but is just desperate enough to go along with it. Imagine Ellie’s shock when Andrew takes her to spend the holidays with his family and introduces her to his sister, Jack.  Yep, the same Jack from the magical meet-cute the previous year.  And guess what?  Those sparks are still there!

I’m such a sucker for a good second chance romance and for a great fake dating story, so this book felt tailor made for me. All the characters are so well drawn, complex and have these messy and very relatable issues that they’re dealing with.  I adored Ellie, Andrew, and Jack and found myself rooting for all three of them to somehow end up with happy endings. I also loved that even though there were three parties involved, it wasn’t really a love triangle. This story was more about Ellie having to make the hard choice between sticking it out in a fake relationship with Andrew for some much needed financial security, or following her heart’s desire and trying to make things work with Jack.

I also very much enjoyed the balance between hilarious and cute moments such as Jack trying to teach a terrified Ellie how to ski and other more intense moments such as when Ellie has to contend with her horrible, unsupportive mother and again when Ellie and Jack have to have some serious discussions about what happened between them a year ago.

All in all, I really enjoyed this one and would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a fun and festive holiday romance that also has a side of drama to spice things up a bit.  4 STARS

 

Reviews:  KISS HER ONCE FOR ME & A VERY MERRY BROMANCEA Very Merry Bromance (Bromance Book Club, #5) Goodreads

Author: Lyssa Kay Adams

Publication Date: November 1, 2022

Publisher: Berkley

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

 

The guys from the Bromance Book Club are back to add some holiday cheer to your romance reading in Lyssa Kay Adam’s latest installment of this fun series, A Very Merry Bromance!

I honestly don’t think I’m ever going to get tired of this series. It always delivers so much heart and humor, and I adore every character. The book club guys are of course the heart and soul of the series. They are in love with love and not only do they want to secure happily ever after for themselves, but they make it their mission to help their friends find love too. And this holiday season, they have their sights set on their pal, Colton.

Colton is a country music star and a hottie who could have women lined up to date him if he was interested. Colton, however, is only interested in one woman, an immigration attorney named Gretchen he thought he had a connection with but who ghosted him. With the help of his book club buddies, Colton is hoping he can convince Gretchen that they are perfect for each other.

This was such a fun read for me! It was exciting to finally have Colton in the spotlight. I also loved that he’s a Christmas loving ray of sunshine and that one of his obstacles with Gretchen, in addition to figuring out why she pushes him away, is finding out why she dislikes the holidays. I was a little lukewarm on Gretchen at first because she just seemed so stiff about everything but once we get her backstory and see what’s driving her, I fell in love with her and wanted to kick some people’s butts on her behalf.

I don’t want to spoil anything so I’m just going to say if you’re in the mood for a grumpy-sunshine (or should I say Grinchy-sunshine) romance that is filled with book club bros and their shenanigans, as well as Lyssa Kay Adams’ signature wit and humor, you can’t go wrong with A Very Merry Bromance4.5 STARS

Thriller Thursday Reviews: The Cabin in the Woods & The Hollows

 

It’s Thursday so that must mean another edition of Sharon’s Thriller Thursday.  This week I am reviewing Sarah Alderson’s newest release, The Cabin in the Woods and Mark Edwards’ not so new release, The Hollows. Both of these books are set in the woods but that is where any similarities end. I loved how both settings were similar, yet the books were so different. They were both great reads.

Thriller Thursday Reviews: The Cabin in the Woods & The HollowsThe Cabin in the Woods Goodreads

Author: Sarah Alderson

Publication Date: October 18, 2022

Publisher: Avon

When I read the synopsis for Sarah Alderson’s The Cabin in the Woods, I thought it was going to be a super creepy read, but instead it was more of a domestic thriller. And I am okay with that because this book had me glued to the pages and rooting for the protagonist the whole time.

When we first meet the protagonist, Rose, she is hiding in an isolated rundown cabin in the woods. We do not know who or what she is running from, but from the very first moment I could tell she was a strong character with a lot of fight in her.

There is not a lot I can really say about who or what Rose is running from, because it is best to go into this book blind.

The story is told from Rose’s POV in alternating timelines. In the present timeline, Rose is working hard to stay hidden and alive. Thanks to her grandfather’s teaching Rose has the knowledge and skills to rough it in a cabin that has no electricity or heat. She also knows how to stay alert for any intruders. I really liked this timeline as we get to see right off the bat how strong Rose is. We also get little snippets on what is going on. I also liked the atmosphere it was set in. It is the winter and I could just feel how cold it was for Rose with only a fireplace to keep warm. Alderson does a great job of vividly creating the cabin and surrounding woods so that I could actually picture what I was reading.

The second timeline starts when Rose was a child and continues up until the present and we learn what happened to make Rose run and hide. I had so much sympathy for Rose as we learned of her backstory and what happened to make her hide in the woods. She had a hard life growing up. Rose’s mother died of an overdose and her father is also addicted to drugs, so it was Rose who took care of her younger sister, Daisy. My heart broke for Rose reading about all she went through. I shed a few tears along the way and I was rooting for her 100% to come out of this safe.

I was all over the place with ideas on what I thought was going on and most of them were wrong. I really liked how Alderson kept me guessing throughout this book. She also did a great job of increasing the tension as the book neared the end. I was on the edge of my seat hoping that Rose was going to be okay.

If you are looking for a domestic thriller with a strong protagonist that you will be cheering on, then I recommend The Cabin in the Woods. 4 stars

 

Thriller Thursday Reviews: The Cabin in the Woods & The HollowsThe Hollows Goodreads

Author: Mark Edwards

Publication Date: July 8, 2021

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Mark Edwards’ The Hollows was released in July 2021 and I have had it on my kindle forever. I have had hit and misses with Mark Edwards’ books so I kept putting off reading it, but finally decided to give it a go and I am so glad I did. This was one creepy book and would make an awesome horror movie.

Tom is a struggling journalist who is desperate to reconnect with his fourteen year old daughter, Frankie. Tom decides to take Frankie on a vacation to Hollow Falls, a cabin resort in the deep woods of Penance, Maine. With no internet or cell service, Tom figures this would be a great opportunity for him and Frankie to spend quality time together. Unbeknownst to Tom though, Hollow Falls has a dark history. Twenty years ago two people were murdered there and while the police know who the murderer was, he was never caught. The resort was closed down and now has just been reopened. I know recipe for disaster, right?

I liked all the characters in this book. Tom is trying to walk that fine line between father and friend with Frankie. And Frankie is your typical teenager, “No cell service or internet? How am I going to survive?” There is also David and Connie, true crime podcasters, who are at Hollow Falls (along with their followers) for the twentieth anniversary of the murders. They were a bit of a quirky couple and added to Tom’s unease as they fill him in on the resort’s history.

My favorite part of this book was the creepy atmosphere. The deep woods setting and the strange and weird people that lived in Penance gave this a Friday the 13th vibe. Plus there are the sounds of wind chimes that can be heard but no one knows where they are coming from and strangers are lurking in the woods wearing goat, crow, and fox masks. Add all that together and I was getting goosebumps while I was reading.

As the book progresses, more and more strange things start to happen. A dead rabbit was found in front of David and Connie’s cabin, Frankie gets threatening messages on her phone, and her expensive water bottle goes missing, as does the blood pressure medication of another camper. Is the original killer back or is someone else trying to get the resort closed again?  Tom and Frankie need to decide if they should leave or stay and try to solve the mystery of Hollow Falls. But staying could costs them their lives.

By the end of this book I was on the edge of my seat and yelling at Tom to get the hell out of there. LOL!

I loved everything about this book. From the creepy dark setting to all the characters, Edwards’ does a great job of creating a mystery that kept me turning the pages and wishing that The Hollows was made into a movie. 4 stars

Romance Reviews: MARLOWE BANKS, REDESIGNED & A COSMIC KIND OF LOVE

 

Happy Monday everyone!  After taking a short blog break late last week to be there for my mom for her surgery and post-op recovery, I’m back today with reviews for a couple of romances I read in the hospital waiting room that really helped me to pass the time.  Both are from authors I read and enjoyed for the first time last year, so I was eager to get my hands on copies of their latest offerings. How fun are those vibrant covers?!

 

Romance Reviews:  MARLOWE BANKS, REDESIGNED & A COSMIC KIND OF LOVEMarlowe Banks, Redesigned Goodreads

Author: Jacqueline Firkins

Publication Date: October 25, 2022

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press/St. Martin’s Griffin

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

 

Marlowe Banks, Redesigned by Jacqueline Firkins follows Marlowe, a costume designer who works on Broadway and lives in New York City. When one of her costume designs is panned in a review, Marlowe’s self-esteem is sent on a downward spiral and she flees New York for L.A. to hide out for a while and lick her wounds.  When we meet Marlowe, she is working as a production assistant/errand runner for a popular TV show, sorting a bin full of socks, and very much over-qualified for the job.

Marlowe captured my attention and my heart right from that opening scene and I wanted to know more about why she was so quick to give up her old life, not to mention her boyfriend, and move 3,000 miles away.  Marlowe is a messy and flawed character, which of course makes her very relatable since we’re all a bit messy, and she’s also someone who needs to learn to stand up for herself and confront what is dragging her down rather than hiding from it, again something that makes her very easy to relate to.  There are a lot of layers to Marlowe and the more Firkins allowed me to start peeling back those layers, the more invested I became in seeing Marlowe bounce back from what she perceives as a huge failure on her part. I couldn’t wait to see what, or who, would be the catalyst that helps her bounce back and reclaim her life. And oh boy, what a catalyst it was!

Angus Gordon is not only the rising star on the TV show where Marlowe works, but he’s also a Scottish hottie who makes everyone swoon when he’s around.  Angus also has the reputation for being an arrogant bad boy, and when Marlowe accidentally crashes into him and spills coffee all over his shirt, she gets to experience firsthand why he has that reputation.  When a costume mishap requires Marlowe to actually step into a scene as Angus’ potential love interest, the death glare Marlowe and Angus give each other somehow convinces the producers that Marlowe should actually be written into the show, and things take an even more awkward turn.

Just as with Marlowe, it soon becomes clear that there’s a lot more to Angus than meets the eye.  He has created the bad boy persona as a way to shield himself from a lot of the pitfalls of fame and in many ways, he’s hiding just as much as Marlowe is.  I loved the way Firkins has their relationship develop.  Even though they start out as enemies, Angus ends up taking Marlowe under his wing and mentoring her to help her get comfortable on camera and working with him.  This leads to a budding friendship as they slowly get to learn more about each other, which then immediately had me rooting for them to become more than friends as it became clear that they were great together, each helping the other to grow.  I loved the journey for both of them.

Marlowe Banks, Redesigned is Jacqueline Firkins’ adult debut novel, and having been a fan of her YA novels, I was eager to get my hands on a copy.  It’s a fun and moving story and if you’re a fan of slow burn romances and stories about second chances and picking yourself back up after failure has knocked you down, I think you’re going to love it!  4 STARS

 

Romance Reviews:  MARLOWE BANKS, REDESIGNED & A COSMIC KIND OF LOVEA Cosmic Kind of Love Goodreads

Author: Samantha Young

Publication Date: October 18, 2022

Publisher: Berkley

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

 

Samantha Young’s Much Ado About You was one of my favorite romance reads from 2021, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of her latest novel, A Cosmic Kind of Love.  I was intrigued by the unique premise of an astronaut and an event planner falling for each other after secretly watching each other’s digital diary entries and couldn’t wait to see how Young would work her magic to bring this unlikely couple together.

The story follows Hallie Goodman, a successful event planner who is planning the wedding of Darcy, a New York socialite whose ex-boyfriend Chris happens to be an astronaut. While exchanging information about the wedding plans, Darcy accidentally forwards Hallie a folder full of personal videos that Chris had recorded for Darcy while he was on his last space mission.  Even though she knows it’s wrong, once Hallie starts watching them, she can’t stop.  She loves listening to his soothing voice as he describes what it’s like to be in space. He shows a vulnerable side of himself that Hallie finds herself very attracted to and she can’t stop thinking about him and rewatching the videos every chance she gets.  She decides to record a video of herself to send to him, and although disappointed when it bounces back as undeliverable, she decides she likes to record her own personal thoughts in this way and continues to send them even if they’re not really going anywhere.  Unbeknownst to Hallie, however, Chris is receiving them, and just as she was so drawn to his messages, he finds himself equally drawn to hers and begins trying to figure out how to meet her in person.  Darcy’s wedding of course is the perfect opportunity…

I loved these two characters so much!  They’re just so well drawn and complex, with layer upon layer that make them both seem so realistic.  Hallie is a bit of an underdog, dealing with verbal abuse from parents and an ex who belittles her as a “party girl” because her job is to plan events.  Her ex even goes so far as to tell her she isn’t good enough and that he’s embarrassed that she plans parties for a living.  Chris is dealing with issues of his own, still trying to adjust to life back on Earth and trying to decide what he wants to do next, all the while dealing with an overly demanding father who constantly berates him for not having a clear direction for his life yet.  It was impossible not to root for Hallie and Chris to find their way to each other, or at least to find their path forward and get away from the toxic relationships in their lives.

I also loved the premise of having the two of them meet in person for the first time while each already knew so much about the other because of those personal videos.  Secretly knowing so much about each other added a quiet tension to their in-person meeting that really elevated the scene for me to so much more than your typical meet-cute in a romcom.  The scenes where they each finally had to each confess they had watched the videos impacted me in the same way.  I loved that they were able to be so open with one another and that a relationship between them brought them the love and support they had both been missing in their lives.

A Cosmic Kind of Love is the perfect blend between heartwarming, swoony romance and intense family drama that will not only have you rooting for the main characters to get together but also cheering for them both to finally tell off their toxic family members.  4 STARS

Reviews: RUNAWAY GROOMSMAN, PARTNERS IN CRIME, & BUILT TO LAST

Hey everyone and Happy Monday!  I hope you all had a great weekend and got plenty of quality reading time in.  I did as I’m trying to catch up on the ARCs I got behind on thanks to my work deadlines.  I’m slowly but surely working my way through them but still have a ways to go.  Thankfully the novels I’m sharing my thoughts on today were all lovely reads, which makes playing catch up so much easier.  That said, I also wanted to give folks a head’s up that I might be even more sporadic with blog hopping this week than I usually am.  My mom is having surgery on Wednesday, so I’ll be traveling Tuesday night to be with her and I’m not sure how much I’ll be online until she’s back at home.  I have a couple of posts scheduled for later in the week but it will probably be the weekend before I really get back into the swing of things.

 

Reviews: RUNAWAY GROOMSMAN, PARTNERS IN CRIME, & BUILT TO LASTRunaway Groomsman Goodreads

Author:  Meghan Quinn

Publication Date: October 11, 2022

Publisher:  Montlake

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

 

Runaway Groomsman by Meghan Quinn follows Sawyer Castle, a Hollywood screenwriter who writes romance for a living.  While he knows what a good on-screen romance looks like, his own love life is a disaster, so much so that when the story opens, we meet him while he’s standing at the altar watching his ex-girlfriend marry his ex-best friend.  Not only did they have an affair behind his back, but they also had the nerve to ask him to be a groomsman at their wedding.  Struck by the ridiculousness of the whole situation, Sawyer abruptly tells off the bride and groom and runs out of the church.  Unfortunately for him, many media outlets were there to cover the big event and they all caught his escape act on camera.  Needing a place to hide out for a while, Sawyer decides to stay in the tiny town of Canoodle, California, not knowing his life is about to change forever.

Fallon Long owns and runs Canoodle Cove Cabins, family-owned business, that she took over from her dad, Sully, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.  When Sawyer checks in for a long-term stay, Fallon is struggling to make ends meet and is overwhelmed with the responsibilities of running the business, performing desperately needed renovations on the cabins and grounds, and with caring for her dad.  She is grateful to have the income that Sawyer’s stay will provide, but beyond that, she assumes he’s just another shallow, ego driven celebrity, as does her hilarious best friend, Jazlyn, who teases him and calls him Julia (a nod to Julia Roberts and her film Runaway Bride) for the entire book. That is, until he makes it his mission to prove both Fallon and Jazlyn wrong.

I can’t even express how much I adored Fallon and Sawyer together.  I loved their easy banter and their obvious attraction to one another, but I appreciated the slow burn nature of the story because Sawyer has his work cut out for him, trying to prove he’s not the crazy, jealous guy the media has portrayed him to be.  I thought it was so sweet how Sawyer would sneak around, secretly renovating small parts of the property to help Fallon out.  The renovations not only gave him a much needed sense of purpose, but he also just really enjoyed doing his part to alleviate some of Fallon’s worries so that she could focus on her dad.

As sweet as the blossoming romance between Fallon and Sawyer was, my absolute favorite part of this book was Sawyer’s relationship with Sully.  It was heartbreaking to watch Sully when he would have bad days because of the Alzheimer’s but the way Sawyer went out of his way to treat Sully with respect and dignity and gently help him through some of his worst moments was just so touching and heartwarming.

Runaway Groomsman was such a fantastic read for me!  It’s both heartwarming and hilarious, and it’s filled with a wonderful cast of characters that you will fall completely in love with.  4.5 STARS 

 

Reviews: RUNAWAY GROOMSMAN, PARTNERS IN CRIME, & BUILT TO LASTPartners in Crime Goodreads

Author: Alisha Rai

Publication Date: October 18, 2022

Publisher: Avon and Harper Voyage

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

 

Partners in Crime by Alisha Rai was such a fun read for me.  This was my first time reading romantic suspense and I quite enjoyed the blend of romance with a more action-packed, high adrenaline storyline.

The story follows Mira Chaudhary, a 35 year old accountant who is trying to break away from the dysfunctional antics of her family, and live life on her own terms. All Mira wants at this point in her life is to find a nice guy to settle down with, so she turns to an Indian matchmaking app in hopes of finding her perfect match.  In the midst of her dating adventures, Mira learns that her aunt has died and that she needs to meet with her aunt’s attorney to discuss her inheritance.  Imagine Mira’s surprise when she arrives at the attorney’s office, only to discover that the attorney is none other than Naveen Desai, Mira’s very sexy ex. Then, as if the situation isn’t awkward enough, Mira and Naveen are kidnapped from the parking lot.  Even after they escape, tensions escalate both because it becomes a race against the clock to figure out what the kidnappers want and where it is, and also because there’s definitely unresolved sexual tension between Mira and Naveen.

I was thoroughly entertained, both by the prospect of a second chance romance as it becomes more and more clear that Mira and Naveen have feelings for one another, and by the high stakes action-packed kidnapping storyline.  The kidnapping storyline is especially fun as Naveen and Mira are forced to work closely together and their adventure is filled with unexpected twists and turns, involving hackers, a stolen necklace, and seemingly endless secrets from Mira’s family’s past. I really liked both Mira and Naveen too. I admired the fact that Mira wanted to break away from her clearly screwed up family, and I also enjoyed the fact that Naveen wasn’t scared off by the troubles that obviously surrounded her family and instead, stuck by her side to help her get out of the mess her family has gotten her into. I don’t want to give anything else away about their adventures, but I’ll just say it’s a wild ride!

If you’re looking for a fun romance with an action-packed storyline that will keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat, be sure to check out Partners in Crime4 STARS

 

Reviews: RUNAWAY GROOMSMAN, PARTNERS IN CRIME, & BUILT TO LASTBuilt to Last Goodreads

Author: Erin Hahn

Publication Date: October 18, 2022

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin

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

 

I love second chance romances and I love home renovation shows, so I knew I had to read Erin Hahn’s new book Built to Last, which features both.  And what a delightful read it was!  The story follows Shelby Springfield and Cameron Riggs, two former child actors who also happen to be former childhood sweethearts.

Shelby, in particular, captured my heart right away.  We learn that, after some pretty bad experiences including a public meltdown, Shelby chose to leave show business altogether and move home to Michigan.  She has been working with her dad, who renovates and flips houses, and has found new purpose in her life restoring vintage furniture.  For the past ten years, she has been building a new life for herself and trying to prove to herself and to everyone else that she isn’t that messed up little girl anymore.  I really loved everything about Shelby, from her determination to move on from her past to her absolute passion when it comes to restoration.

The more I got to know Shelby, the more I wanted her to reunite with her childhood sweetheart, Cameron. Why?  Because he really is a sweetheart in every way. While Cameron stayed in show business, he changed his focus and now travels the world making documentaries.  No matter what Cameron has going on though, if Shelby calls him, Cameron comes running.  Their connection just runs that deep, even if Cameron is afraid to admit to himself just how strongly he still feels for Shelby.  But when the opportunity presents itself for Cameron to work with Shelby again, on a new reality TV home renovation show, neither Cameron nor Shelby feel they can say no, even if Shelby’s obnoxious ex, Lyle, is the showrunner.

Hahn does such a wonderful job weaving together the various threads of this story.  I loved watching Cameron and Shelby work together and grow closer in the present, while also getting quite a few glimpses into what they were like together as child actors.  I also thoroughly enjoyed watching them take on Lyle and his ridiculous shenanigans.  Lyle is the character you’ll love to hate, for sure.  In addition to Shelby’s relationship with Cameron though, I also absolutely adored her relationship with her Dad.  They were just so sweet together and I loved how he helped to get her back on her feet after her meltdown and that she was so determined to do this new show to try to pay her Dad back for all of his help and support.  This story just touched my heart on so many levels.

If you’re in the mood for a heartwarming second chance romance that also features plenty of entertaining scenes revolving around a reality TV show, as well as a lovely story about the importance of family, I highly recommend Built to Last4.5 STARS

Thriller Thursday Reviews: The Woman on the Bridge & Unforgivable

 

Sharon here with another addition of Thriller Thursday.  This week I am happy to share  my thoughts on a couple of psychological thrillers. Holly Seddon’s The Woman on the Bridge and Natalie Barelli’s Unforgivable. While these books were not scary or edge of my seat tension, they both did keep my anxiety level up.

 

Thriller Thursday Reviews: The Woman on the Bridge & UnforgivableThe Woman on the Bridge Goodreads

Author: Holly Seddon

Publication Date: July 7, 2022

Publisher: Orion

“A stranger in need – would you invite them into your home?” Between that first line in the synopsis and the book cover, I knew I had to read Holly Seddon’s latest book, The Woman on the Bridge. And I am so glad I did. Not only did this book keep me turning the pages, but it also increased my blood pressure. LOL!

Charlotte Wilderwood is driving through the dark countryside trying to figure out what to do after a fight with her oldest friend, Annie, when she approaches a bridge and sees a young woman in a wedding dress standing on top of the handrail. After talking the woman, whose name is Maggie, down and learning that she is fleeing an abusive relationship, Charlotte invites her to come back to her house until Maggie can figure out what to do. The two seem to have an instant bond and will do anything to protect each other.  But Maggie may not be the best friend that Charlotte so desperately needs, and her life is about to be turned upside down.

This book is told from the POVs of Charlotte and Maggie in alternating chapters. I really liked how Seddon created these two characters. They were both flawed, and I was constantly going back and forth on if I liked them or not. One chapter I would have sympathy for both of them, then Charlotte would get on my nerves for being so trusting and Maggie would do something that made me not like her.  I also really liked learning about their back stories. I cannot really say anything about that, but I will say the more I learned, the more I feared for Charlotte.

Holly Seddon does a great job of moving the story along.

The Woman on the Bridge was a fast paced read, that kept my anxiety up the whole time I was reading. I did figure a couple of things out and that just helped build the tension for me as I was waiting for things to happen. At the beginning of the book, I got a Strangers on a Train vibe, but then came the twists and turns that took it in another direction.

I really cannot say much about this book because I think anything I say will be a spoiler, but if you are looking for a psychological thriller that will keep your anxiety levels up and have you on the edge of your seat with a shocking ending, then I recommend The Woman on the Bridge4 stars

 

Thriller Thursday Reviews: The Woman on the Bridge & UnforgivableUnforgivable Goodreads

Author: Natalie Barelli

Publication Date: July 21, 2022

Publisher: Bookouture

I have read all of Natalie Barelli’s books and have enjoyed them all, some more than others, so I was excited to read her newest psychological thriller, Unforgivable.  And while this was not up there with some of her other books I have read, I still enjoyed it.

Laura and Bronwyn were friends as teenagers but had a falling out. Now years later, Laura is engaged to Bronwyn’s ex-husband, Jack. Sounds like the beginning of a soap opera right? In some ways it sort of is but with a psychological twist and two crazy and paranoid woman thrown in. Lol!

Bronwyn walked out on her husband Jack and their four-year-old daughter, Charlie, three years ago and never looked back. She is living a lavished life in Italy with a handsome and rich Italian. After Bronwyn left, Laura stepped in to help Jack out and babysit Charlie. Laura loves Charlie and being her stepmother is the best thing that ever happened. Laura also loves Jack and cannot wait for them to be married. But Laura’s happy life is about to change because Bronwyn has come back to town. Laura fears that Bronwyn wants her old life back and those fears look like they may be true. But when Laura tries to raise her concerns, no one will listen to her, and she is just coming off as Jealous. Why is Bronwyn really back?

I have to say I did not care much for either Laura or Bronwyn. They both came across as crazy and they both had dark secrets that also made them very unreliable characters. I did like the fact that I felt I could not trust either of them though, because to me that just added more mystery to the book.  I kept going back and forth on who I trusted. Bronwyn was so put together, but she had this conniving undertone about her. At times I was like, okay she is not so bad. But then some of the things she would do had me going “Oooh, Laura watch out for her. I don’t know what her end game is, but I can feel that it is not good.”

Laura started out as sane, but as the book progresses she starts to unravel and just becomes a mess.  Not only does Laura have to deal with Bronwyn, but she is also an art curator and the gallery she works at had a valuable piece of art stolen, so now she has that to worry about as well. Laura also makes some very stupid actions (yes stupid lol) that are coming back to bite her in the butt.

Natalie Barelli did a great job of creating a story that slowly ramped up the craziness. And even though I did not care much for the characters in Unforgivable, I was still glued to the pages and couldn’t wait to find out how things were going to play out. There were also some twists at the end that I did not see coming.    3 ½ stars

Holiday Reviews: ONE LAST GIFT & ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS

 

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend and that your week is off to a good start.  My birthday was this weekend so mine was pretty good even if I have reached the age where I’m kind of done with getting older, haha.  Anyway, today I’m back with the next round of my 2022 holiday ARCs that are already out in the world.  It still feels weird to be reading Christmas books while I’m also still reading spooky season books, but every store I went to this weekend is already starting to put out their Christmas merchandise right alongside the Halloween candy so I guess it tracks that the holiday books would start hitting shelves too.  Anyway, on to the books!

 

Holiday Reviews: ONE LAST GIFT & ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMASOne Last Gift Goodreads

Author: Emily Stone

Publication Date: October 11, 2022

Publisher:  Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine

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

 

One Last Gift by Emily Stone is a heart-wrenching yet ultimately uplifting story about love, loss, and how to move forward after the death of a loved one.  Stone’s last novel Always, in December was one of my favorite reads last year so One Last Gift was a highly anticipated read for me this year.

The story follows Cassie and Sam, who are both mourning the unexpected death of Tom, who was Cassie’s big brother and Sam’s best friend. Cassie and Tom were extremely close because their parents died when they were kids and they basically raised each other. Cassie is absolutely devastated by Tom’s death and doesn’t know how she’ll be able to go on without him in her life.  Sam is also devastated and overcome with guilt over his friend’s death, especially since the fatal accident took place on a trip Sam should have been on with him.

What makes their grief even worse is that Cassie and Sam can’t even turn to each other to mourn Tom’s death because their own relationship has been strained to the breaking point.  Years ago, Sam was Cassie’s first crush and in recent years, she thought they had come to care for each other as more than friends.  This leads her to make a move that Sam then awkwardly rejects, creating tension between them that they’ve never fully moved beyond.  Cassie is angry and embarrassed, so when she learns that Sam should have been on the trip with Tom, she holds him responsible and lashes out at him. This part of the story just broke my heart for both of them because it’s pretty clear that they have feelings for one another, so it just hurt to see Cassie freeze Sam out and I longed for them to reunite and for Sam to redeem himself in Cassie’s eyes.

While the loss of Tom makes for a heartbreaking read, his last gift to Cassie is what makes it such an uplifting one.  Tom had a long-standing tradition of creating a scavenger hunt for Cassie every Christmas.  She would have to solve and follow all his clues in order to find her gift from him.  It was great fun and Cassie looked forward to it every year.  Even though Tom dies just before Christmas, it turns out he had created this year’s scavenger hunt for Cassie before he left.  At first Cassie doesn’t want to do it, but once she finally feels like she’s ready, the hunt offers Cassie a way for her to have Tom in her life one more time and a way to finally process her loss and move forward, and to open her heart to the possibility of love where she least expects to find it.

One Last Gift is a beautiful and poignant story about love, loss and family that will have you reaching for the tissues along the way but that will ultimately leave you with a smile on your face.  4 STARS

 

 

Holiday Reviews: ONE LAST GIFT & ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMASAll I Want for Christmas Goodreads

Author: Maggie Knox

Publication Date: October 4, 2022

Publisher: Penguin Group – G.P. Putnam’s Sons

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

 

All I Want for Christmas by Maggie Knox follows Sadie Hunter, an up and coming country music singer who has come to Nashville to participate in the popular Starmaker singing competition and hopefully finally get her big break.  This is her second time coming to Nashville and Sadie has decided that if she doesn’t get her break with this contest, then it’s time to give up on her dream of singing professionally.  I really enjoyed Sadie’s character.  She’s a dreamer but she’s also a realist about her chances of winning.  I especially loved her relationship with her grandmother, who is Sadie’s biggest fan and cheerleader.  It was sweet to watch their interactions, and Gran’s unconditional support of Sadie’s dream.

I’m also always up for a good underdog story so I was immediately invested in having Sadie be successful in this endeavor, especially when it becomes clear that her primary competition comes in the form of Max Brody, who is nothing short of Nashville royalty and thus has contractually been guaranteed to make it through to the final round.  I found Max a little tougher to love at first, just because of his entitled status, but he grew on me pretty quickly, especially when we finally get to see him behind the scenes interacting with his adorable little dog, Patsy Canine.

There was a lot to love in this book, especially when Sadie and Max are forced to work together as a duet and it becomes clear that the two of them have pretty amazing chemistry, both on and off stage, so much so that the show’s producers decide it would be fabulous for ratings to have the two of them pretend to date.  I love a good fake dating story so I was totally on board for this ruse since I was hoping it would lead to more.  I really enjoyed watching Max and Sadie get to know each other better.  Most of my favorite scenes between them actually take place outside of Nashville. When Nashville gets to be too much for Max, he retreats to Banff, a snowy small town in Alberta, Canada.  Sadie follows him because they have to write a Christmas song together and are on a tight deadline, and it’s here in this magical little town that the sparks really fly between them.

While I enjoyed the story overall, there were some things that somewhat hampered my enjoyment, the number one thing being miscommunication. It seemed like almost every scene between Max and Sadie ended up with some miscommunication that could have easily been avoided.  There’s a huge moment in particular where Sadie decides to keep a secret from Max about her grandmother. It made no sense to me for her to keep the secret and it ended up sending her relationship with Max into a downward spiral because he assumed the worst.  And speaking of assuming the worst, Max is the king of seeing something, jumping to incorrect conclusions based on no evidence whatsoever and making an ass out of himself.  He does this on numerous occasions and it made me want to just slap him silly.  I’m all for creating a bit of drama and tension and a “will they or won’t they be able to get through this?” vibe, but I got pretty tired of it here.

Even with my frustration with the miscommunication, however, I still enjoyed this story overall.  If the premise of a reality singing competition being a catalyst for romance appeals to you, definitely check out All I Want for Christmas3 STARS

Holiday Reviews: ONCE UPON A DECEMBER & MEET ME UNDER THE MISTLETOE

 

Happy Friday everyone! I know it’s still spooky season, but for some reason, all of my holiday ARCs also published this month so today I’m sharing my thoughts on my first holiday reads of 2022.

 

Holiday Reviews:  ONCE UPON A DECEMBER & MEET ME UNDER THE MISTLETOEOnce Upon a December Goodreads

Author: Amy E. Reichert

Publication Date: October 4, 2022

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

 

Once Upon a December by Amy E. Reichert follows Astra Noel Snow, a young woman who is heartbroken after a nasty divorce and looking to make a fresh start.  As you can imagine from her name, Astra is all about holiday spirit and what she’s most looking forward to is her annual trip to the Milwaukee Christmas Market with her best friends.  She’s there to eat, drink and be merry with her squad and to flirt with Jack, the super cute baker who insists on saving her his best homemade kringle.  What Astra doesn’t know at the time is that she has met Jack before, and on more than one occasion…

Jack Clausen works at the Julemarked, a one-of-a-kind Christmas market. It’s one of a kind because it’s always Christmas there, even once Christmas has come and gone everywhere else.  The market exists in its own time and space, magically jumping from one December to the next every four weeks.  Once the market leaves a city, the city’s residents immediately forget that it existed and it’s a joyous surprise for them whenever it returns.  Jack has always loved living this magical existence, that is, until he develops feelings for Astra and becomes frustrated that he can only see her each time the Julemarked returns to Milwaukee and even then, she just doesn’t remember who he is.  When the magical market arrives this holiday season, Jack decides it’s time to figure out if there’s any way he and Astra can truly have any kind of future together.  If she knew the truth about the Julemarked, would she consider leaving her life and joining him there?  Or could he bring himself to leave behind the only life he has ever known to be with her?

Sometime magical realism doesn’t work for me, but Reichert always gets it exactly right.  I fell in love with the whole concept of the Julemarked and just loved the way Reichert brought it to life.  I could practically taste the delicious kringle and the hot cocoa.  The atmosphere reminded me of a Hallmark movie, as did all of the adorable dates between Astra and Jack, and as a huge Hallmark fan, that makes for a winning read for me.  I also adored all of the fun and quirky characters, from Astra and her best friends all the way through to Jack and all of the residents of the Julemarked, who were rooting just as hard as I was for Jack to find a way to be with Astra.

Once Upon a December is truly a magical and heartwarming holiday read.  I knew it would be after falling in love with Reichert’s last novel, The Kindred Spirits Supper Club, but she definitely exceeded my expectations with this new book.  If you’re looking for a read that captures the magic of the holidays and that is sure to leave you with a smile on your face, look no further than Once Upon a December4 STARS

 

 

Holiday Reviews:  ONCE UPON A DECEMBER & MEET ME UNDER THE MISTLETOEMeet Me Under the Mistletoe Goodreads

Author: Jenny Bayliss

Publication Date: September 27, 2022

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

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

 

Jenny Bayliss’ new holiday novel, Meet Me Under the Mistletoe, follows Elinor Novel, a bookshop owner, who heads to a castle in the English countryside for a wedding and a holiday reunion with her friends from boarding school.  Elinor is reluctant to attend because there’s someone she doesn’t want to see – a certain someone she had a one-night stand with who turned out to be married. Elinor did not know he was married, and he of course didn’t offer up that bit of information.  Her desire to see the rest of her friends wins out though and so she’s off to the country.

I really liked Elinor. Even though she went to boarding school and has a squad of rich friends that can afford to spend their holidays at fancy castles, Elinor feels that she has never really fit in with them because she only attended the school on scholarship.  Her parents are working class and even with her boarding school education, Elinor doesn’t have a fancy flashy career like the rest of her schoolmates do.  She has that underdog vibe that I always love so much. I found it very interesting to follow Elinor’s journey because reuniting with these friends takes her back to a place in her memory where she felt like she never quite fit in and was an imposter. Bayliss does a wonderful job of taking us through the full range of emotions Elinor experiences as she works out how she fits in with this group and what she wants out of life.  I also adored the scenes where Elinor reconnects with Isaac, her childhood nemesis, who has grown up and is clearly no longer interested in being Elinor’s enemy.  It was really sweet watching the two of them reconnect and reevaluate their relationship.

The story was sometimes hilarious, sometimes dramatic, but always entertaining.  I particularly enjoyed the wedding preparation scenes, the random shenanigans surrounding the friends reuniting, as well as the more tension filled moments between Elinor and the married one-night stand.  Most of my favorite scenes though actually took place between Elinor and Andrew, who she employs at her secondhand bookshop.  He lovingly mocks Elinor because she loves books so much that she never actually wants to sell any of the books she acquires.  They were just the most adorable book nerds!

The only downside to Meet Me Under the Mistletoe was that even though it’s meant to be a holiday read, there really isn’t that much holiday spirit in it.  Nearly two-thirds of the book doesn’t mention Christmas at all, which surprised and disappointed me a bit.  I honestly think I would have enjoyed the story so much more without the promise of a holiday element since that promise set up an expectation that wasn’t really met for me.  It’s still a good solid read though. 3 STARS