Review: THE RAVENS by Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige

Review:  THE RAVENS by Kass Morgan and Danielle PaigeThe Ravens by Kass Morgan, Danielle Paige
four-stars
Series: The Ravens #1
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on November 3, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Danielle Paige

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

About Kass Morgan

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

Review: KINGDOM OF THE WICKED by Kerri Maniscalco

Review:  KINGDOM OF THE WICKED by Kerri ManiscalcoKingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco
Also by this author: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1), Hunting Prince Dracula
four-stars
Series: Kingdom of the Wicked #1
Published by Jimmy Patterson on October 27, 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal
Pages: 448
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Kerri Maniscalco

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Author: Lyssa Kay Adams

Publication Date: October 27, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Author: Sophie Kinsella

Publication Date: October 27, 2020

Publisher:  The Dial Press

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Author: Alexa Martin

Publication Date: October 20, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Review: THE LOST LOVE SONG

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

three-half-stars

About Minnie Darke

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

five-stars

About Alix E. Harrow

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

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

Reviews: MAGIC LESSONS and IN A HOLIDAZE

 

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

 

Reviews:  MAGIC LESSONS and IN A HOLIDAZEMagic Lessons Goodreads

Author: Alice Hoffman

Publication Date: October 6, 2020

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Reviews:  MAGIC LESSONS and IN A HOLIDAZEIn a Holidaze Goodreads

Author: Christina Lauren

Publication Date: October 6, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery Books

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviews: TIES THAT TETHER & ALL THIS TIME

 

Today I’m sharing the last of my reviews for September book releases.  Both of these novels feature a bit of romance as well as characters who are struggling to figure out who they are supposed to be.  I enjoyed them both and I hope you will too.  Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

 

Reviews:  TIES THAT TETHER & ALL THIS TIMETies That Tether Goodreads

Author: Jane Igharo

Publication Date: September 29, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

Jane Igharo’s debut novel Ties That Tether is a thought-provoking and heartfelt story about a young woman who finds herself caught between the man she loves and the expectations her family has for her.  Azere is originally from Nigeria but emigrated to Canada at the age of 12 when her father died.  Azere made a promise to her dad that when she grew up, she would do her best to preserve her Nigerian culture and therefore would only marry a Nigerian man.  Azere’s mother has held her to this promise and has gone so far as to play matchmaker every time she thinks she has found a suitable Nigerian suitor.  There’s just one problem – Azere’s mom is a terrible matchmaker and Azere has hated every man she has been set up with so far.  After a particularly disastrous setup, Azere finds herself drinking alone in a hotel bar and this is where she meets Rafael, a man she feels truly has the potential to be Mr. Right.  What starts off as a scorching hot one-night stand quickly evolves into a more serious relationship, but there’s one major catch – he’s not Nigerian, he’s white and he’s Spanish.  As much as Azere wants to pursue a relationship with Rafael, she knows to choose Rafael is to break her mother’s heart. The bulk of the story follows Azere as she is caught between what her heart wants and what her family wants.

I felt for Azere right away. What an impossible choice to have to make. Of course she doesn’t want to crush her mother, but she also doesn’t want to crush her own heart.  I was rooting for her so hard to find a way to get her mom to come around to seeing what a wonderful guy Rafael is and how great he treats Azere.  I could understand where Azere’s mom was coming from in terms of not wanting Azere to forget her roots, but she was just so frustrating and unyielding about it.  There were times I just wanted to yell at her to just let Azere be with someone who makes her happy and that it’s totally possible to marry someone from another culture without losing yourself.  Azere’s mom has Azere so conflicted that instead of achieving clarity on what to do, she is more torn than ever.  One of the things I really loved about this story is that it’s a journey of learning and growth for all of the major characters, Azere, Rafael, and yes, even stubborn mom.

Even though Ties That Tether is being promoted as a romance, I honestly think it’s so much more than that. The family expectations and the preservation of culture drive the story along, just as much if not more than the romance.  I loved the chemistry between Azere and Rafael, and I always devour books that feature family drama of any kind so all of the tension between Azere and her mother had me flying through the pages.  There were also lots of rom-com references that added a fun element to offset some of the more dramatic moments. I really enjoyed that aspect of the story as well.

If you’re looking for a moving story about following your heart versus following your family’s desires, be sure to check out Ties That Tether. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading whatever Jane Igharo writes next! 4 STARS

 

Reviews:  TIES THAT TETHER & ALL THIS TIMEAll This Time Goodreads

Author: Mikki Daughtry and Rachael Lippincott

Publication Date: September 29, 2020

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

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

 

All This Time by Mikki Daughtry and Rachael Lippincott is a unique and heart-wrenching story about family and friends, love and loss, and a story about guilt, healing and forgiveness.  All This Time follows Kyle Lafferty, a young man who is graduating from high school. He and his longtime girlfriend Kimberly have been making plans to attend UCLA together in the fall and he’s very excited for what the future holds.  That is, until the night of their graduation party when Kyle’s life is turned upside down.  At the party, Kimberly informs Kyle that she is not attending UCLA and then tells him she doesn’t want to be his girlfriend anymore.  They fight in the car on the way home and end up in a horrific car accident that leaves Kyle in the hospital with a brain injury and Kimberly dead.

Kyle is struggling to move on from the accident, both in terms of his physical recovery and because he is wracked with guilt about Kimberly’s death.  When he is at his lowest, Kyle meets a girl named Marley at the cemetery. She’s there mourning the death of her twin sister and, like Kyle, she feels guilty and responsible for the death of her loved one.  Slowly Kyle and Marley get to know each other as they open up about everything they’re feeling, especially the guilt.  They begin the healing process together, but Kyle is plagued by this nagging feeling that the happiness he is finally starting to feel is too good to be true and that something is going to happen to take it all away from him. Are his fears justified or is this just more guilt about Kimberly?

What a tearjerker of a book this was for me!  I actually lost track of how many times I cried while I was reading.  My heart just broke for Kyle from the moment we meet him.  It’s like no matter what he does, he just can’t catch a break.  The writing is so powerful and vivid too, especially with respect to Kyle’s emotions. His heartbreak, his confusion, his grief, and even his hope were just palpable as I was reading. As much as I adored Kyle though, I think it was Marley who really stole my heart. She’s just such a unique character and I was truly captivated by her.  Marley loves to write original fairytales, she has a small army of ducks that follow her at the park because she feeds them popcorn, and she also nurtures small creatures like snails, moving them off of foot paths so they won’t get stepped on.  Marley is almost too pure for this world, which made it all the more heartbreaking that she was carrying around so much grief and sadness for her dead sister.  I loved Marley and I loved the person Kyle started to become when he was around her.

My only real issue with All This Time is that there’s a major unexpected plot twist about two-thirds of the way through the book and it completely changes the direction the story is going in.  I’m always up for a good dramatic plot twist, but I just didn’t find this twist and subsequent events to be all that believable.  It didn’t hamper my overall enjoyment of the story very much; it just felt like one twist too many and that the story didn’t really need it. Even with that issue, however, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend All This Time to anyone who enjoys heartfelt stories about love, grief, and healing. If you need a good cry, this is definitely your book!  3.5 STARS.

Reviews: DON’T LOOK FOR ME & WE ARE NOT FROM HERE

 

 

 

Reviews:  DON’T LOOK FOR ME & WE ARE NOT FROM HEREDon't Look for Me Goodreads

Author: Wendy Walker

Publication Date: September 15, 2020

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press

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

 

Who’s in the mood for an exciting psychological thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat?  If you are, then look no further that Wendy Walker’s new novel, Don’t Look for Me.  This is my third read from Walker and it’s my favorite yet.

The story follows Molly Clark, whose life is just a mess.  As soon as we meet her, we learn that one evening while driving through her neighborhood, she accidentally struck and killed her youngest daughter, who had unexpectedly darted into the street.  Instead of the rest of Molly’s family coming together to grieve their loss, they choose to collectively give Molly the cold shoulder.  Her other two children constantly say cruel things to her, and Molly is pretty sure, based on his standoffish behavior, that her husband is having an affair.  One night while out driving, Molly’s car runs out of gas.  As she sits there pondering what to do, she thinks about taking it as a sign that she should just walk away from everything in her life.  No one will even miss her and in fact, they’ll probably consider themselves better off without her.  The next morning, Molly’s car is found abandoned and a note is left behind indicating that Molly has done exactly that – left her family with no intention of returning.  Is that really what happened though?

One of my favorite aspects of Don’t Look for Me is that the story comes to us from two points of view, one is Molly and the other is her eldest daughter, Nicole.  Nicole doesn’t buy it for one second that her mother just took off and abandoned the family.  Riddled with guilt over some of the awful things she has said to her mother recently, Nicole vows not to rest until she has found her mother and brought her back home.  The story alternates between giving us glimpses of what has happened to Molly since we saw her in her car and Nicole’s amateur sleuthing to try to track down her mom.  The journey is equal parts riveting and downright creepy, especially the deeper Nicole digs and the longer Molly stays missing.  I was glued to my seat as it became more and more apparent that something way more sinister than a mom abandoning her responsibilities was afoot.

I don’t want to say anything else because you really need to experience these two women’s journeys for yourself, but if you’re looking for an excellent atmospheric thriller to kick off your fall reading, Don’t Look for Me is a great choice.  4 STARS 

 

Reviews:  DON’T LOOK FOR ME & WE ARE NOT FROM HEREWe Are Not From Here Goodreads

Author: Jenny Torres Sanchez

Publication Date: May 19, 2020

Publisher:  Philomel Books

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

 

Jenny Torres Sanchez’s latest novel, We Are Not From Here, is an absolutely heart-wrenching story about three teenagers, Pequena, Pulga, and Chico, who are trying to escape the abusive and dangerous conditions they’ve been surrounded by for most of their young lives. Traveling from Guatemala and up through Mexico, the teens are desperate to find a way across the Mexican border into America where they have a chance to live a better and safer life.

I became invested in Pequena, Pulga, and Chico from the moment I first met each of them.  My heart broke for them because they felt like they had no choice but to take off on such a dangerous and potentially deadly journey, but I also admired their courage and their loyalty to one another.  It was impossible not to root for them to make it safely into America.  In that sense, it was a very emotional read for me.  I laughed with them at times, but then I also cried a lot and just felt so angry and frustrated that their lives are so hard.  As touched as I was by these incredible kids though, it was the tension and suspense that really pulled me along through the story.  Every moment of their journey is downright terrifying and tragedy touches them way too many times along the way.  I was on the edge of my seat and flew through the pages waiting to see what their fate would be.

We Are Not From Here is a powerful and emotional read, and it’s also an important and timely one.  It’s one of those stories I wish everyone would read because I think it would help to create some much needed empathy and understanding toward those who are so desperately looking for a better life for themselves and their loved ones.

If you’re looking for a timely and thought provoking read filled with unforgettable characters and experiences that will move you to tears, We Are Not From Here should be on your reading list.  4.5 STARS

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