Mini Reviews for THE ACCIDENTAL BEAUTY QUEEN & MY FAVORITE HALF-NIGHT STAND

Mini Reviews for THE ACCIDENTAL BEAUTY QUEEN & MY FAVORITE HALF-NIGHT STANDThe Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson
four-stars
Published by Gallery Books on December 4, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In this charming romantic comedy perfect for fans of Meg Cabot and Sophie Kinsella, critically acclaimed author Teri Wilson shows us that sometimes being pushed out of your comfort zone leads you to the ultimate prize.

Charlotte Gorman loves her job as an elementary school librarian, and is content to experience life through the pages of her books. Which couldn’t be more opposite from her identical twin sister. Ginny, an Instagram-famous beauty pageant contestant, has been chasing a crown since she was old enough to enunciate the words world peace, and she’s not giving up until she gets the title of Miss American Treasure. And Ginny’s refusing to do it alone this time.

She drags Charlotte to the pageant as a good luck charm, but the winning plan quickly goes awry when Ginny has a terrible, face-altering allergic reaction the night before the pageant, and Charlotte suddenly finds herself in a switcheroo the twins haven’t successfully pulled off in decades.

Woefully unprepared for the glittery world of hair extensions, false eyelashes, and push-up bras, Charlotte is mortified at every unstable step in her sky-high stilettos. But as she discovers there’s more to her fellow contestants than just wanting a sparkly crown, Charlotte realizes she has a whole new motivation for winning.

Review:

After a stressful work week, I was in the mood for a light and fun read to ease me into the weekend. I came across Teri Wilson’s The Accidental Beauty Queen, and as soon as I read the synopsis, I knew this was exactly the kind of story I was searching for. As soon as I started reading about Charlotte, her twin sister Ginny, and their beauty pageant misadventures, I was hooked.  Their story is sweet, heartfelt, and just downright hilarious.

Charlotte was the biggest draw for me. She’s an elementary school librarian, and a huge fan of both Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice. Truly a heroine after my own heart.  I loved that she’s such a huge book nerd and that she’s so completely devoted to her twin.  When an allergic reaction sidelines Ginny with a swollen, blotchy face, Charlotte agrees to switch places and compete in the preliminary rounds of the pageant to keep her sister’s dream of winning this pageant alive.  Charlotte knows that the pageant is important to Ginny, not just for the prestige, but also for sentimental reasons. It’s a pageant that their mom won years ago before she passed away from cancer.  I was touched by Charlotte not wanting to let her sister down, even if it meant doing something that she was completely uncomfortable doing.  Wilson also does a beautiful job of portraying this sisterly dynamic.  I’m a sucker for a good sibling story anyway, and this was realistic and moving, and just everything I wanted it to be.

There were lots of other things to like about this story as well.  I was also a fan of how the actual pageant was portrayed.  Instead of the cattiness I was expecting Charlotte to encounter, it was nice to see that each pageant scene had more of a supportive sisterhood vibe to it.  Another point of interest to me was Grey, one of the pageant judges and someone Charlotte continually bumps into throughout the book.  Grey is super charming and he’s also quite bookish, so I just adored it when he and Charlotte would talk nerdy to each other. Their chemistry was off the charts, and their banter was sprinkled with Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice references.  Pure perfection!

In short, The Accidental Beauty Queen was everything my book-loving heart desired and then some.  4 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews for THE ACCIDENTAL BEAUTY QUEEN & MY FAVORITE HALF-NIGHT STANDMy Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren
four-stars
Published by Gallery Books on December 4, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

By the New York Times bestselling author who “hilariously depicts modern dating” (Us Weekly), My Favorite Half-Night Stand is a laugh-out-loud romp through online dating and its many, many fails.

Millie Morris has always been one of the guys. A UC Santa Barbara professor, she’s a female-serial-killer expert who’s quick with a deflection joke and terrible at getting personal. And she, just like her four best guy friends and fellow professors, is perma-single.

So when a routine university function turns into a black tie gala, Mille and her circle make a pact that they’ll join an online dating service to find plus-ones for the event. There’s only one hitch: after making the pact, Millie and one of the guys, Reid Campbell, secretly spend the sexiest half-night of their lives together, but mutually decide the friendship would be better off strictly platonic.

But online dating isn’t for the faint of heart. While the guys are inundated with quality matches and potential dates, Millie’s first profile attempt garners nothing but dick pics and creepers. Enter “Catherine”—Millie’s fictional profile persona, in whose make-believe shoes she can be more vulnerable than she’s ever been in person. Soon “Catherine” and Reid strike up a digital pen-pal-ship...but Millie can’t resist temptation in real life, either. Soon, Millie will have to face her worst fear—intimacy—or risk losing her best friend, forever.

Perfect for fans of Roxanne and She’s the Man, Christina Lauren’s latest romantic comedy is full of mistaken identities, hijinks, and a classic love story with a modern twist. Funny and fresh, you’ll want to swipe right on My Favorite Half-Night Stand.

Review:

Christina Lauren’s My Favorite Half-Night Stand, which explores the many ups and downs of online dating, is another book I picked up because I wanted a light and fluffy read.  It follows Millie Morris and her all-guy friend group as they try to use online dating apps to find themselves dates to a university function.

My Favorite Half-Night Stand really delivers with the laughs. I honestly lost track of how many times I laughed out loud at Millie and the guys as they bantered back and forth while trying out these apps.  In fact, the dynamics of this group was my favorite part of the whole book.  All I kept thinking while I was reading about them in action using these apps was that this whole premise would make for such a great episode of Friends. Everything about how they interacted with one another actually made me think of Friends, which is a good thing since Friends is one of my favorite shows.

I also really liked Millie.  She’s kind of a mother hen to the guys in her circle of friends, which is funny to watch.  What I liked most about Millie though is how much emotional growth there is with her character throughout the story.  When we first meet her, she’s very closed off about anything personal.  Even her closest friends can’t really pry any personal details out of her.  As the story progresses, however, she starts to have romantic feelings towards her best friend, Reid, and so she does slowly start to open up. She unfortunately makes some questionable choices along the way as she explores her feelings for Reid, but when her choices threaten their friendship, she vows to change her ways.  I liked that Millie was kind of a mess and trying to sort herself out. That made her feel very authentic to me.  I’m also all for a good friends to possible lovers story, so My Favorite Half-Night Stand really hit the spot in that area as well.

This was my first time reading anything by Christina Laurent but it definitely won’t be my last! 4 STARS

four-stars

About Christina Lauren

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

About Teri Wilson

Teri Wilson is the author/creator of the Hallmark Channel Original Movies UNLEASHING MR. DARCY, MARRYING MR. DARCY, THE ART OF US and NORTHERN LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS, based on her book SLEIGH BELL SWEETHEARTS. She is a double finalist for the prestigious RITA Award for excellence in romantic fiction for her novels THE PRINCESS PROBLEM and ROYALLY WED. She has a major weakness for cute animals, pretty dresses and Audrey Hepburn films, and she loves following the British royal family. Feel free to visit and connect with her here at TeriWilson.net, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

MIni Reviews: SEA WITCH & GOOD LUCK WITH THAT

MIni Reviews:  SEA WITCH & GOOD LUCK WITH THATSea Witch by Sarah Henning
three-half-stars
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on July 31, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 368
Source: Library
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Everyone knows what happens in the end. A mermaid, a prince, a true love’s kiss. But before that young siren’s tale, there were three friends. One feared, one royal, and one already dead.

Ever since her best friend, Anna, drowned, Evie has been an outcast in her small fishing town. A freak. A curse. A witch.

A girl with an uncanny resemblance to Anna appears offshore and, though the girl denies it, Evie is convinced that her best friend actually survived. That her own magic wasn’t so powerless after all. And, as the two girls catch the eyes—and hearts—of two charming princes, Evie believes that she might finally have a chance at her own happily ever after.

But her new friend has secrets of her own. She can’t stay in Havnestad, or on two legs, unless Evie finds a way to help her. Now Evie will do anything to save her friend’s humanity, along with her prince’s heart—harnessing the power of her magic, her ocean, and her love until she discovers, too late, the truth of her bargain.

Review:

What always impresses me about fairytale retellings is how authors are able to take a beloved story that we all know so well and somehow manage to put their own completely unique spin on it to turn it into something fresh and new.  Sarah Henning’s Sea Witch is the third Little Mermaid retelling I’ve read recently and I found myself wondering if Henning could really bring anything to the table that I hadn’t already read.  Well, spoiler alert, she can and does!  With Sea Witch, Henning offers up a compelling origin story for resident villain, Ursula the Sea Witch.  It’s filled with memorable characters, a vivid and atmosphere setting, and a storyline peppered with mystery, secrets, and lies.

I was sympathetic to Evie, the main character, because of a tragedy that takes the life of her best friend, Anna.  Evie and Anna were out swimming and while they were racing each other, Anna drowns.  Evie survives but is shunned as an outcast by everyone in the small fishing town she lives in.  They see her as a witch or curse.  The exception to that is Prince Nik, who although he is royalty, has never cared what anyone thinks of him or Evie.  She is one of his best friends and like a sister to him.  Nik is a fantastic character for a lot of reasons.  He’s handsome and kind, hilarious and somewhat of a dork at times, and really just downright loveable.  Honestly, he was my favorite character.

I was also drawn in by both the worldbuilding and the storyline itself, which is a fairytale wrapped in a mystery.  The story is set in Havnestad, a small fishing town, and the author paints such a vivid picture that I could practically hear the waves crashing and the wind whipping through the ships’ sails, and taste and smell the salt in the air.  I also liked that the story had a dark, almost moody feel to it at times. It was so atmospheric that it was very easy to slip into the mystery and follow it until it leads to the “birth” of the Sea Witch.

Sea Witch is pretty well-paced overall, although I’ll admit it did lag a little for me during a festival early on in the story.  However, once the mysterious Annemette, who bears an almost eerie resemblance to the drowned Anna, appears on the scene and unloads her secrets on Evie, the mystery intensifies and the pace quickens.  The mystery of who Annemette really is, why she has come to Havnestad, and what she wants from Evie kept me eagerly turning the pages.  Even with my slight issue with the pacing and my liking a secondary character a little more than the main character, I still quite enjoyed Sea Witch and think fans of The Little Mermaid will love it.  3.5 STARS

 

MIni Reviews:  SEA WITCH & GOOD LUCK WITH THATGood Luck with That by Kristan Higgins
four-stars
Published by Berkley Books on August 7, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Library
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Emerson, Georgia, and Marley have been best friends ever since they met at a weight-loss camp as teens. When Emerson tragically passes away, she leaves one final wish for her best friends: to conquer the fears they still carry as adults.

For each of them, that means something different. For Marley, it's coming to terms with the survivor's guilt she's carried around since her twin sister's death, which has left her blind to the real chance for romance in her life. For Georgia, it's about learning to stop trying to live up to her mother's and brother's ridiculous standards, and learning to accept the love her ex-husband has tried to give her.

But as Marley and Georgia grow stronger, the real meaning of Emerson's dying wish becomes truly clear: more than anything, she wanted her friends to love themselves.

Review:

Wow, talk about a book that packs an emotional punch!  Good Luck with That was my first time reading anything by Kristan Higgins and I was not at all prepared for how hard hitting this story was going to be.  This is a story that tackles a tough but all too relevant issue for many of us – that of body image and how so many people have a tendency to define their sense of self-worth based on how they look and, especially in this story, how much they weigh.

The story follows three friends, Emerson, Georgia, and Marley, who have been friends since they were teens and met at a weight loss camp.  When Emerson tragically passes away, her dying wish is for her two best friends to complete the tasks on a list they made as teenagers, a list of things they would do when they finally became skinny.  While some of the items on the list now seem silly to Georgia and Marley, they make it their mission to fulfill Emerson’s last wish.  This becomes an emotional and sometimes painful journey for both women as they not only strive to face their lifelong fears and complete the tasks on this list but are also forced to reflect on choices that they’ve made throughout their lives.  Their perspectives are rounded out as we are also given Emerson’s thoughts as her life and health become increasingly fragile, as seen through the pages of the journal she kept.  It was hard to read at times but I thought Higgins did an incredible job of making it all sound so real and so honest.

While Good Luck with That can be an emotionally draining read at times, ultimately I think it just has such an important message and it’s one that I hope will stick with me long after having finished this book. Emerson wants Georgia and Marley to come away from that list knowing that life is too short and it’s so important to just love yourself as you are.  You can’t sit around and not live your life to the fullest just because you aren’t whatever your eyes or society’s eyes thinks is the ideal body shape and size.

This may not be a read for everyone as it does deal with such a tough topic, but I think Higgins handles it with great sensitivity and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who is in search of a powerful read about body image and self-worth.  4 STARS.

three-half-stars

About Kristan Higgins

Kristan Higgins is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of more than a dozen novels. Her books have been honored with dozens of awards and accolades, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, the New York Journal of Books and Romantic Times. She is a two-time winner of the RITA award from Romance Writers of America and a five-time nominee for the Kirkus Prize for best work of fiction. She is happily married to a heroic firefighter and the mother of two fine children.

About Sarah Henning

Sarah Henning is a recovering journalist who has worked for the Palm Beach Post, Kansas City Star and Associated Press, among others. While in South Florida, Sarah lived and worked through five hurricanes, which gave her an extreme respect for the ocean. When not writing, she runs ultramarathons, hits the playground with her two kids and hangs out with her husband Justin, who doubles as her long-suffering IT department. Sarah lives in Lawrence, Kansas, which, despite being extremely far from the beach, happens to be pretty cool.

Backlist Briefs: Mini Reviews for BONE GAP & GIRL OUT OF WATER

Backlist Briefs: Mini Reviews for BONE GAP & GIRL OUT OF WATERBone Gap by Laura Ruby
four-stars
Published by Balzer + Bray on March 3, 2015
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 345
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

Review:

I purchased Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap on a whim last year at a local bookfair.  I had no idea what it was about but the cover with its bee and honeycomb just really drew me in.  I finally sat down and read it recently and, wow, what a gem of a book it turned out to be!  It’s also one of those books that it’s hard to say much about without giving away its secrets, and because those secrets are really the heart and soul of Bone Gap, I’m going to keep my remarks brief and vague. I’ll just say that what starts out as a straightforward mystery about a young woman who goes missing in a rural town takes a major turn for the unexpected.

Because I grew up in a similar environment, I had tremendous sympathy for the characters in this story. It’s hard to have secrets when you live in a tiny town where everyone makes it their business to know your business, and where the gossip/rumor mill always runs rampant.  Clearly the underdog of the story, Finn O’Sullivan captured my heart immediately.  He and his brother Sean were abandoned by their mother and are trying to live on their own.  Both brothers are beloved by those in their town, but everyone thinks Finn is an odd duck so when he comes forward one day to say that he saw a young woman named Roza kidnapped, no one believes him.  Finn knows Roza’s life is on the line and my heart just broke for him as he tried and tried to get people to believe him with no luck.  And it’s when Finn takes matters into his own hands that the story takes a walk on the wild and unexpected side.  I don’t want to say anything more, so I’ll just say think Neil Gaiman, or maybe even Maggie Stiefvater or Alice Hoffman and you’ll have a feel for the truly magical direction this small town tale takes.

I loved Finn’s brother Sean too, who has had to put his dreams of working in the medical field on hold to be the head of the household since their mom left them.  Sean is a great big brother and a good friend to all.  Petey, one of Finn’s female friends, is a hilarious addition to the cast.  She’s tough and sassy and gives every guy in town a run for their money, and I just loved every scene she was in.  Lastly, there’s Roza, the young woman who has gone missing.  Roza has a very painful past that she is running away from, but her arrival on the scene just after Finn and Sean’s mom left them, fills a void in both boys’ hearts.  When she then goes missing, both boys are heartbroken all over again, which is another reason why Finn so desperately wants to find her.

My only real complaint about the story is that the ending felt a little rushed, but I still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Bone Gap to anyone who is looking for an unpredictable tale filled with endearing characters and also to anyone who is a fan of magical realism.  4 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs: Mini Reviews for BONE GAP & GIRL OUT OF WATERGirl Out of Water by Laura Silverman
four-stars
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on May 2, 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 350
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Anise Sawyer plans to spend every minute of summer with her friends: surfing, chowing down on fish tacos drizzled with wasabi balsamic vinegar, and throwing bonfires that blaze until dawn. But when a serious car wreck leaves her aunt, a single mother of three, with two broken legs, it forces Anise to say goodbye for the first time to Santa Cruz, the waves, her friends, and even a kindling romance, and fly with her dad to Nebraska for the entire summer. Living in Nebraska isn’t easy. Anise spends her days caring for her three younger cousins in the childhood home of her runaway mom, a wild figure who’s been flickering in and out of her life since birth, appearing for weeks at a time and then disappearing again for months, or even years, without a word.

Complicating matters is Lincoln, a one-armed, charismatic skater who pushes Anise to trade her surfboard for a skateboard. As Anise draws closer to Lincoln and takes on the full burden and joy of her cousins, she loses touch with her friends back home – leading her to one terrifying question: will she turn out just like her mom and spend her life leaving behind the ones she loves?

Review:

Laura Silverman’s Girl out of Water is an engaging coming of age story about family, friendship, love, and sacrifice.  It follows teen Anise Sawyer, the quintessential California girl who loves the ocean and spends every free moment surfing with her friends.  When the novel opens, Anise is busy planning her last summer with most of her friends who are going off to college soon. All of her plans come crashing down around her, however, when her aunt is nearly killed in a car accident, and Anise and her dad have to travel to Nebraska to care for Anise’s young cousins until her aunt is well enough to do so herself.  Anise is torn:  California and the ocean are her happy place and she can’t think of anything worse than being separated from her friends and stuck in Nebraska all summer. At the same time, however, having lost her own mother, who abandoned her years ago, Anise knows how important family is and knows that going to Nebraska is the right thing to do.  But, boy is it going to be the longest summer ever…

This book worked well for me on a lot of levels.  I loved the focus on family and seeing Anise bond with and take care of her cousins.  In many ways, Anise needed them just as much as they needed her and it was nice to watch them all interact.  Anise is terrified that she’s going to somehow end up just like her mother and leave all her loved ones behind one day.  Having Anise work through those fears about her mother and abandonment really gave what could have been just a light summer read some added depth that I very much enjoyed.  The friendship dynamic also really kept me turning the pages.  Anise’s friends are all so fantastic and I loved that they were constantly trying to maintain contact with her even though she was halfway across the country.  She also makes a great friend/maybe more than friend named Lincoln while she’s in Nebraska and he was just too precious for words.  Lastly, I loved Silverman’s vivid descriptions of the ocean.  She makes it such a full sensory experience that I felt like I was on the beach watching the waves crash and smelling the salty air.

If you’re looking for a beautiful story about the importance of family and friendship and a young woman’s journey to find herself, I’d definitely recommend Girl out of Water4 STARS

four-stars

About Laura Ruby

Raised in the wilds of suburban New Jersey, Laura Ruby now lives in Chicago with her family. Her short fiction for adults has appeared in various literary magazines, including Other Voices, The Florida Review, Sycamore Review and Nimrod. A collection of these stories, I’M NOT JULIA ROBERTS, was published by Warner Books in January 2007. Called “hilarious and heart-wrenching” by People and “a knowing look at the costs and rewards of remaking a family,” by the Hartford-Courant, the book was also featured in Redbook, Working Mother , and USA Today among others.

Ruby is also the author of the Edgar-nominated children’s mystery LILY’S GHOSTS (8/03), the children’s fantasy THE WALL AND THE WING (3/06) and a sequel, THE CHAOS KING (5/07) all from Harpercollins. She writes for older teens as well, and her debut young adult novel, GOOD GIRLS (9/06), also from Harpercollins, was a Book Sense Pick for fall 2006 and an ALA Quick Pick for 2007. A new young adult novel, PLAY ME, is slated for publication in fall of 2008. Her books have sold in England, Australia, Italy, France, Germany, Denmark, Serbia and Montenegro. THE WALL AND THE WING is currently in development with Laika Studios for release as an animated feature.

Ms. Ruby has been a featured speaker at BookExpo, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention, the Miami Book Festival, the Florida Association of Media Educators (FAME) convention, the Midwest Literary Festival, the International Reading Association’s annual convention, and Illinois Reading Council annual conference, among other venues, and she has presented programs and workshops for both adults and children at numerous schools and libraries.

Currently, she is working on several thousand projects, drinking way too much coffee, and searching for new tunes for her iPod.

About Laura Silverman

Laura Silverman currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a writer and freelance editor, and spends way too much time hugging dogs instead of working.

Silverman’s debut novel, GIRL OUT OF WATER, is a summery coming-of-age story about a California surfer girl sent to landlocked Nebraska for the entire summer. It debuted in May 2017. Her second novel, YOU ASKED FOR PERFECT, is about the effects of intense academic pressure on a teenage Valedictorian-to-be. It comes out March 2019.

Silverman has degrees in English and Advertising from the University of Georgia, and an MFA in Writing for Children from the New School. While she lived in NYC, she interned at Penguin and two different literary agencies. In addition to writing, Silverman also freelance edits manuscripts and query letters.

Early Review – SUMMER BIRD BLUE by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Early Review – SUMMER BIRD BLUE by Akemi Dawn BowmanSummer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Also by this author: Starfish
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on September 11, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

 

Akemi Dawn Bowman’s Summer Bird Blue is a heartbreakingly beautiful story about grief and how to come to terms with the loss of a loved one, especially when that loved one is the person that you’re closest to in the whole world.  Rumi Seto and her younger sister Lea are like two peas in a pod.  They’re best friends and they both share a passion for music. They spend most of their time writing songs together and dream of making music together for a living when they’re older.  But then tragedy strikes and Lea dies in a car accident.

Rumi is overcome with grief and is struggling to cope.  Then things get even worse because without any warning or explanation, Rumi’s mother decides to send her away to stay with her aunt in Hawaii for the summer.  Rumi is hurt and confused – shouldn’t they be trying to work through their grief together?  All they have left is each other and now her own mother doesn’t want her around?   Rumi doesn’t know how she’s going to get through this on her own, or for that matter, if she will be able to get through this.    The sense of loss that she feels is so crushing that she can’t even bear to play music anymore because it just makes her heart ache so much.

Rumi arrives in Hawaii feeling so lost and angry that she immediately begins lashing out at everyone around her, especially her aunt and her aunt’s neighbors.  Everyone around her sees the pain that she is in and they want to help in any way they can, including a very persistent teenage surfer named Kai.  He is determined to break down the walls Rumi has built up around herself.  Will Rumi let him, or anyone else, in?

Summer Bird Blue has so many qualities that I love in a contemporary novel.    I could probably write about my LIKES for days, but I’ll try to restrain myself to a few highlights so I don’t accidentally spoil anything.

Rumi, of course, was a favorite from the beginning.  I loved seeing her interact with her sister, especially their song writing drill where they come up with three random words and then compose a song around those three words.  They were clearly about as close as two sisters could possibly be, so it was absolutely heartwrenching when the car accident took Lea away from Rumi.

I also thought Bowman did a beautiful job portraying all the emotions that Rumi was feeling after her sister’s death.  The grief, the frustration, the anger and the confusion – it’s all just so palpable.  Some may find Rumi somewhat abrasive and unlikable because of the way she lashes out at everyone around her, but she is so clearly being crushed by this suffocating grief that I didn’t hold her words or her actions against her.  It just all felt very real to me.  I’m very close to my sister too and know that I would probably react the exact same way if I lost her the way Rumi lost Lea.

Bowman’s use of flashbacks was also very effective.  She uses them to show memories that Rumi is reflecting on about her relationship with both her mother and her sister.  We begin to see that although Rumi loved her sister more than life, their relationship was pretty complex and a lot of what Rumi is feeling is also guilt because she wasn’t always the nicest to Lea.  There’s also an intricate dynamic between Rumi and her mom when it came to Lea that also sheds some light on why Rumi’s mom has seemingly abandoned her.

Summer Bird Blue also features a wonderful cast of secondary characters.  My favorite was Mr. Watanabe, the elderly man who turns his garden hose on Rumi when she lashes out at him and his dog.  After their initial contentious meeting, Mr. Watanabe becomes an unexpected source of emotional support for Rumi.  His home, along with the music he listens to, becomes somewhat of a sanctuary for Rumi.  Mr. Watanabe has also lost loved ones and so he understands that grieving is a process and that Rumi needs to work through it at her own pace.  The friendship that develops between them is just lovely.

In addition to Mr. Watanabe, surfer dude Kai was also a favorite of mine.  I loved his persistence, his sense of humor, and his free spirit.  Kai can be kind of an adorable dork at times, but when it comes down to it, he’s there for Rumi whether she wants him to be or not.

The last thing I want to talk about is how wonderfully diverse Summer Bird Blue is.  The entire cast of characters is multi-racial, and Bowman includes culture from every race that is represented.  She does an exceptional job of sharing Hawaiian culture, in particular, and had me wanting to pack my suitcase and fly there.

In addition to being racially and culturally diverse, however, Summer Bird Blue is also diverse in that while she is trying to work through her grief and figure out who she even is without Lea, Rumi is also questioning and exploring her sexuality.  She has never had any real interest in dating or in kissing anyone, and wonders why.  She’s not interested in boys or girls in any way beyond friendship and finally begins to understand and embrace the idea that she is both asexual and aromantic.

None! 😊

Summer Bird Blue is one of those books that I could just gush about for days.  Between it and Bowman’s earlier novel Starfish, she has become an auto buy author for me.  Her books are just always so heartfelt and are filled with such well-drawn characters.  Even when they make me cry, which both of these books did, they are a joy to read and I will never hesitant to recommend them to anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying she doesn’t have the answers to everything. What to eat, where to go, whom to love. But there is one thing she is absolutely sure of—she wants to spend the rest of her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea.

Then Lea dies in a car accident, and her mother sends her away to live with her aunt in Hawaii while she deals with her own grief. Now thousands of miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, being abandoned by her mother, and the absence of music in her life. With the help of the “boys next door”—a teenage surfer named Kai, who smiles too much and doesn’t take anything seriously, and an eighty-year-old named George Watanabe, who succumbed to his own grief years ago—Rumi attempts to find her way back to her music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish.

four-half-stars

About Akemi Dawn Bowman

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

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for THE KISS QUOTIENT & SOLD ON A MONDAY

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for THE KISS QUOTIENT & SOLD ON A MONDAYThe Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
four-stars
Series: The Kiss Quotient #1
Published by BERKLEY on May 30, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 324
Source: Library
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there's not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases--a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn't help that Stella has Asperger's and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice--with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can't afford to turn down Stella's offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan--from foreplay to more-than-missionary position...

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he's making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic...

Review:

I’m not normally the biggest fan of romance novels, but I have to admit that Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient won me over almost immediately, mainly because of the fabulous protagonist, Stella Lane. Stella is smart and successful, an actual math whiz who drives a Tesla.  She has pretty much every aspect of her life firmly under control except, as her mother repeatedly reminds her, her love life.  Stella is on the autism spectrum and has a lot of difficulties interacting with others, especially when things start to get intimate.  Faced with the constant pressure from her mother to meet someone, settle down and start a family, Stella decides that she needs to problem-solve her relationship awkwardness.  She decides that most of her issues will resolve themselves if she can get better at sexual intercourse, so she takes matters into her own hands and hires a professional to teach her all about sex.

This is where Michael enters the picture. Charming, adorable, sexy Michael.  Michael works during the week as a tailor, but on Friday nights, he works as a professional escort.  He does so because his family needs the extra cash to help pay for his mother’s cancer treatments.  When Stella approaches Michael with an offer he can’t refuse, he agrees to take her on as a client.  Michael turns out to be the perfect choice for Stella.  Even though he has no idea that she has autism, he is still completely patient with her and really allows her to dictate the pace of their learning sessions.  I found myself immediately rooting for them to become more than just teacher and student.

The story is sexy, cute, and just all around sweet, which made for a fun read, but what I actually liked most about it was the way autism was represented.  The Kiss Quotient is an #ownvoices story and Hoang really does a brilliant job of getting inside the head of someone who has autism so that you can see the world from their perspective.  I have a niece and a nephew who are both on the spectrum so I just really appreciated this insight.  If you’re looking for a fun read with a refreshing protagonist and an endearing potential suitor, look no further than The Kiss Quotient.  The only reason I’m not giving it 5 stars is because for me, the sex scenes were a little too graphic and too frequent.  They definitely fit in with the storyline so no criticism in that sense; they just weren’t my thing.  Still an utterly delightful read though. 4 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for THE KISS QUOTIENT & SOLD ON A MONDAYSold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris
three-half-stars
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark on August 28, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From New York Times bestselling author Kristina McMorris comes another unforgettable novel inspired by a stunning piece of history.

2 CHILDREN FOR SALE

The sign is a last resort. It sits on a farmhouse porch in 1931, but could be found anywhere in an era of breadlines, bank runs, and broken dreams. It could have been written by any mother facing impossible choices.

For struggling reporter Ellis Reed, the gut-wrenching scene evokes memories of his family’s dark past. He snaps a photograph of the children, not meant for publication. But when it leads to his big break, the consequences are more devastating than he ever imagined.

At the paper, Lillian Palmer is haunted by her role in all that happened. She is far too familiar with the heartbreak of children deemed unwanted. As the bonds of motherhood are tested, she and Ellis must decide how much they are willing to risk to mend a fractured family.

Inspired by an actual newspaper photograph that stunned the nation, Sold on a Monday is a powerful novel of love, redemption, and the unexpected paths that bring us home.

Review:

Set during the Great Depression, Kristina McMorris’ thought-provoking novel Sold on a Monday follows rookie journalist Ellis Reed, who is trying to figure out how to make his mark in the cutthroat newspaper business.  When he comes across two children playing in their yard next to a sign that reads “2 CHILDREN FOR SALE,” he can’t resist taking their picture.  He really has no intention of ever publishing the photo – it just really struck a nerve with him that times were bad enough that parents would even consider parting with their own children.

Lillian Palmer, a secretary who has ambitions to be more than a secretary, however, happens across Ellis’s photograph and takes it to their editor, who offers Ellis the chance to write a feature for the paper.  Ellis reluctantly agrees, his ambition and his desire to finally make his father proud of him outweighing his not wanting to exploit the struggling family.  The original photo is accidentally destroyed, however, so Ellis has to go back and take another.  When he arrives, however, the neighbors tell him the family has moved out.  The “2 CHILDREN FOR SALE” sign is still there though so he pays the neighbor’s children to take a staged photo to replace the original.  The chain reaction of events that the publication of the staged photo sets into motion is something that Ellis could never have predicted, as a family is torn apart.  Wracked by guilt once they realize what has happened, both Ellis and Lillian are determined to do whatever it takes to right the wrongs they’ve caused and reunite a family that never should have been separated.

Sold on a Monday is a powerful and provocative read that really gave me a lot of food for thought. It is a journey of self-discovery for both Ellis and Lillian and McMorris take us inside the minds of each of them as they re-evaluate choices they have made and rethink what is most important in their lives, on both a personal and professional level.  McMorris doesn’t stop there though.  She also shines a light on the frustrating societal expectations for women during this time by having Lillian working as a secretary although she aspires to be a reporter like the famous Nellie Bly.  Lillian not only has to hide the fact that she is unmarried with a young child in order to secure a job in the first place, but then she also has to contend with her boss ignoring any and all ideas that she pitches to him. Unfortunately Sold on a Monday did suffer from some pacing issues, especially during the first half which I found to be somewhat slow, but I would still highly recommend the read to fans of historical fiction and especially anyone who has any interest in what things were like for families during the Great Depression.  3.5 STARS

 

four-stars

About Helen Hoang

Helen Hoang is that shy person who never talks. Until she does. And the worst things fly out of her mouth. She read her first romance novel in eighth grade and has been addicted ever since. In 2016, she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in line with what was previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Her journey inspired THE KISS QUOTIENT. She currently lives in San Diego, California with her husband, two kids, and pet fish.

About Kristina McMorris

KRISTINA MCMORRIS is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. Her novels have garnered more than two dozen literary awards and nominations, including the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, RWA’s RITA® Award, and a Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction. Inspired by true personal and historical accounts, her works of fiction have been published by Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and Kensington Books. Her forthcoming novel, Sold on a Monday (Sourcebooks Landmark, 8-28-18), follows her widely praised The Edge of Lost, The Pieces We Keep, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, and Letters from Home. Additionally, her novellas are featured in the anthologies A Winter Wonderland and Grand Central. Prior to her writing career, Kristina hosted weekly TV shows since age nine, including an Emmy® Award-winning program, and has been named one of Portland’s “40 Under 40” by The Business Journal. She lives with her husband and two sons in the Pacific Northwest, where she is working on her next novel. For more, visit www.KristinaMcMorris.com.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LETTERS TO THE LOST and LOVE & GELATO

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LETTERS TO THE LOST and  LOVE & GELATOLetters to the Lost (Letters to the Lost, #1) by Brigid Kemmerer
Also by this author: More Than We Can Tell
five-stars
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on April 4, 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

Review:

Brigid Kemmerer’s Letters to the Lost is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.  What really hooked me from the beginning is its exploration of loss and the grieving process through the use of anonymous letters.  Juliet and Declan have both lost loved ones and are struggling to move through their grief and both feel alone because no one seems to understand what they’re going through.  Juliet tries to work through her grief by writing letters to her dead mom and leaving them in the cemetery where Declan works.  When Declan sees and reads one of the letters, he relates to the sense of loss in the letter so much that he replies to it.  Declan and Juliet begin writing to each other anonymously and immediately form a deeper connection than either of them could have imagined because they are able to say things to each other that they’ve not been able to say to anyone else.  I thought this aspect of the story was just so beautifully done.  The letters themselves were so raw and emotional, like reading someone’s diary and peering down deep into their souls, and they had me in tears on more than one occasion while reading.

In addition to the powerful exploration of grief, Letters to the Lost was also a wonderfully engaging read for me because of all the relationships.  And not just Declan and Juliet’s either.  They both have two of the most amazing best friends a person could ask for.  I had already met Declan’s best friend, Rev, and knew how precious he was because I read Kemmerer’s More Than We Can Tell first and fell in love with him there, but Juliet’s best friend Rowan is equally amazing.  Plus, there are also several adults (parents, teachers, and work supervisors) trying to be as supportive and non-judgmental as possible, which was just lovely to see, especially since a secondary theme of the book is about how wrong and unfair it is to judge people without ever bothering to get to know them first.

After reading and falling in love with both Letters to the Lost and More Than We Can Tell, Brigid Kemmerer has become an auto-buy author for me.  Her writing is exquisite, and her stories are filled with such incredibly realistic characters that you won’t be able to stop yourself from becoming fully invested in their lives.  If you’re looking for a read that will tug at your heart strings, I would highly recommend something from Kemmerer. 5 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LETTERS TO THE LOST and  LOVE & GELATOLove & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
four-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on May 3, 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 389
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

“I made the wrong choice.”

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

Review:

Jenna Evans Welch’s  Love & Gelato follows American teen Lina, who is sent to live in Florence, Italy after her mother passes away.  Lina’s mother had cancer and knew she was dying, so she made arrangements for Lina to go to Italy and get to know her father, whom she has never even met.  Although Lina doesn’t want to leave her friends and move to Italy, she feels like she has to respect her mother’s dying wish and at least visit.  Upon her arrival, she is handed an old journal that belonged to her mother that dates back to her own experiences living in Florence as a student.  It’s this old journal that takes Lina on a journey that she never expected to – one that leads her to discover never-before-known truths about both herself and her parents.

Although she was a bit stubborn and irritable at first, I found Lina to be a very likeable and relatable character overall.  It was easy to understand her attitude, given that she was being separated from everything she has ever known and sent off to live with strangers.  At the same time, I liked that once she was in Florence, she became determined to make the best of the situation.  I especially enjoyed reading along with her as she pored over her mother’s journal.  Her mother adored Florence and so it was fun to watch Lina slowly but surely discover a similar love for the city.  It was also fascinating to follow along as Lina learned more and more details about her mother’s life that had previously eluded her.  In many ways, it felt like we were both just getting to know Lina’s mother for the first time.

While Lina’s journey is mostly about discovering truths about her family, she also meets some wonderful friends while in Italy.  Ren, in particular, was just such a charming young man and I liked the friendship that developed between him and Lina, with its promise of becoming something more if Lina were to decide to stay in Florence.

My absolute favorite part of Love & Gelato though was that the author did such a magnificent job of capturing the essence of Florence and why it’s such an easy city to fall in love with.  I’ve visited Florence once and, after reading this book, I’m dying to go back!  4 STARS

 

five-stars

About Brigid Kemmerer

BRIGID KEMMERER is the author of LETTERS TO THE LOST (Bloomsbury; April 4, 2017), a dark, contemporary Young Adult romance; THICKER THAN WATER (Kensington, December 29, 2015), a New Adult paranormal mystery with elements of romance; and the YALSA-nominated Elemental series of five Young Adult novels and three e-novellas which Kirkus Reviews calls “refreshingly human paranormal romance” and School Library Journal describes as “a new take on the supernatural genre.” She lives in the Baltimore area with her husband and four sons.

About Jenna Evans Welch

Jenna Evans Welch was the kind of insatiable child reader who had no choice but to grow up to become a writer. She is the New York Times Bestselling author of LOVE & GELATO and the upcoming LOVE & LUCK. When she isn’t writing girl abroad stories, Jenna can be found chasing her children or making elaborate messes in the kitchen. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband and two young children.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SAVE THE DATE & NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SAVE THE DATE & NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FORSave the Date by Morgan Matson
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on June 5, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 417
Source: Library
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait—for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster—all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect.

The only problem? The weekend is shaping up to be an absolute disaster.

There’s the unexpected dog with a penchant for howling, house alarm that won’t stop going off, and a papergirl with a grudge.

There are the relatives who aren’t speaking, the (awful) girl her favorite brother brought home unannounced, and a missing tuxedo.

Not to mention the neighbor who seems to be bent on sabotage and a storm that is bent on drenching everything. The justice of the peace is missing. The band will only play covers. The guests are all crazy. And the wedding planner’s nephew is unexpectedly, distractingly…cute.

Over the course of three ridiculously chaotic days, Charlie will learn more than she ever expected about the family she thought she knew by heart. And she’ll realize that sometimes, trying to keep everything like it was in the past means missing out on the future.

Review:

Prior to reading Save the Date, I had never read a novel from Morgan Matson before.  I had always heard great things about her books though so when I was recently looking for a fun summer read and saw this book’s hilarious cover, I knew this was the book I had been looking for.  Everything about that cover just screams fun!  And let me tell you, this book seriously delivered too.  I devoured it in just over a day and was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

Save the Date follows the Grant family and is set over the course of the three days leading up to daughter Linnie’s wedding.  And wow, what a three days it is!  Seriously, everything that can possibly go wrong with the wedding preparations goes wrong and then some.  The wedding hijinks had me literally laughing out loud and oh so grateful that my own wedding went so much more smoothly than poor Linnie’s.  In addition to the wedding chaos and its ensuing hilarity, however, Save the Date has a heartwarming focus on family that I adored even more than the humor.  The Grant family is what I would call perfectly imperfect and Matson does a beautiful job making each family member so loveable, flaws and all.  I was able to relate to each of them easily, especially Charlie, the youngest Grant.  It is from Charlie’s perspective that we watch the story unfold and it’s such an interesting perspective because she has always seen her family as picture perfect and practically worshipped the ground they all walked on.  Now that she’s older and watching her family reunite for Linnie’s wedding, she has to come to the somewhat painful realization that no one is perfect, not even the family that she idolizes.  It really makes her rethink her own identity and choices in life, and I loved that the novel had that coming of age theme included to really add some depth to the overall narrative.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced read that will make you laugh out loud but also shed a tear or two at a flawed but loving family coming together as a team when it counts, I’d highly recommend Morgan Matson’s Save the Date.  As I said, this is my first Morgan Matson read, but I can guarantee it won’t be my last!  4.5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SAVE THE DATE & NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FORNot the Girls You're Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi
three-half-stars
Published by Feiwel & Friends on June 19, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Library
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Lulu Saad doesn't need your advice, thank you very much. She's got her three best friends and nothing can stop her from conquering the known world. Sure, for half a minute she thought she’d nearly drowned a cute guy at a party, but he was totally faking it. And fine, yes, she caused a scene during Ramadan. It's all under control. Ish.

Except maybe this time she’s done a little more damage than she realizes. And if Lulu can't find her way out of this mess soon, she'll have to do more than repair friendships, family alliances, and wet clothing. She'll have to go looking for herself.

Review:

I’m a complete sucker for books that center around female friendships, so as soon as I heard that Aminah Mae Safi’s Not the Girls You’re Looking For features Lulu Saad and her best girl friends, I knew I had to read it.  While I did love getting to know Lulu and her friends and watching them go through their ups and downs, I have to say that overall, this was just a good read for me, not a great one.

I thought the author did a brilliant job of accurately portraying the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to friendship dynamics.  I also liked that even though these girls clearly loved each other and would have each other’s backs no matter what, it’s definitely not all sunshine and roses for them.  Some of their fights really took me back to my own high school days and made me think back to my core group of friends back then and all of the ups and downs that we managed to make it through.  Safi perfectly captures all of those messy high school relationships that we’ve all experienced and it made the book so relatable (almost too relatable at times, lol).

Along similar lines, I was also a huge fan of the portrayal of Lulu’s family, both immediate and extended.  Lulu’s family on her father’s side is Muslim and I loved seeing that side of the family interact, both with each other and with Lulu’s mother, who is not Muslim.  The awkwardness is palpable as Lulu is caught in between and then gets herself into hot water when she disrespects one of her relatives.  I have a thing for messy family dynamics so Lulu’s family was a highlight for me.

So, what didn’t I like?  There were a few times in this book where it just felt like I was following Lulu around waiting and hoping for something exciting to happen.  Thankfully, exciting things eventually did start to happen, but for a few chapters there, my attention was starting to wander.  I was also a little disappointed because I found what I think was supposed to be a huge plot twist regarding Emma way too predictable.  I still loved the plot twist and her friends’ reactions to it; I just wish I hadn’t guessed it so early on.  All of that said, however, I still think this is a wonderful read, especially if you’re into realistic and sometimes messy portrayals of families and female friendships.  3.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Aminah Mae Safi

Aminah Mae Safi is a Muslim-American writer who explores art, fiction, feminism, and film. She loves Sofia Coppola movies, Bollywood endings, and the Fast and Furious franchise. She’s the winner of the We Need Diverse Books short story contest. Originally raised in Texas, she now lives in Los Angeles, California, with her partner, a cat bent on world domination, and another cat who’s just here for the snacks. NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR is her first novel.

About Morgan Matson

Morgan Matson was born in New York City and grew up there and in Greenwich, Connecticut. She attended Occidental College as a theater major, but halfway through, switched her focus to writing and never looked back. She received an MFA in Writing for Children from the New School, and then a second MFA in Screenwriting from USC.

She is the New York Times bestselling author of five books, all published by Simon & Schuster.

She currently lives in Los Angeles with her rescue terrier, Murphy, in a house with blue floors that’s overflowing with books.

Review: CHARLOTTE WALSH LIKES TO WIN

Review:  CHARLOTTE WALSH LIKES TO WINCharlotte Walsh Likes To Win by Jo Piazza
three-half-stars
on July 24, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Jo Piazza’s Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win is a timely and relevant exploration of what it’s like for a woman to run for political office at the national level. I have to admit that I picked this book up in part because I still have very strong feelings about how the 2016 Presidential election turned out and was therefore very curious to see how a book about a woman running for office written after that election would portray the political climate in America.

Charlotte Walsh is the successful head of a technology firm in Silicon Valley. She decides that she wants to run for office and after talking to her husband, packs up her family and moves back home to Pennsylvania to run for Senate in her home state.  The novel follows Charlotte and her family from the moment she decides to run and hires a campaign manager, through every step of the way up through election night.  We crisscross Pennsylvania with Charlotte as she seeks supports from the state’s very diverse population and we sit in on strategy sessions as she and her team plan their next moves.

In that sense it’s a very political novel, but it’s also so much more than that.  While the primary focus of the book is definitely Charlotte’s campaign, her family and especially her marriage are also a huge focus.  The campaign trail takes a huge toll on families, not just because everything moves at such a grueling pace but also because everything in your life past and present is suddenly on display and up for grabs by the media, the opposition, etc.  If you have any skeletons whatsoever in your closet, no matter how well you think you’ve buried them, there’s always the chance they will come back to haunt you.  All of this makes campaigning stressful and requires a great deal of sacrifice, and anyone who runs for office has to decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice to achieve their ambition.  Part of Charlotte’s journey in this book revolves around how much she is willing to sacrifice to earn that Senate seat.

I liked Charlotte from the moment she is introduced.  Those who know my reviews know I love a good underdog, and who is more of an underdog than a woman with no experience in government running for office in hopes of unseating a Senator who has had held his Senate seat for decades?  While Charlotte has to fight tooth and nail for every percentage point she gains in the polls, her opponent can tell lie after lie, behave like a condescending jerk, and even go so far as to call Charlotte a c*nt on stage at a debate and not lose a single percent in the polls.  Charlotte was an easy character to root for in many ways not just because of what she was up against, but also because for me, she represents all of the women who have decided to run for office after what happened in 2016.  Through Charlotte, Piazza gives her readers a pretty accurate snapshot of what probably every female candidate running for office is going through.

In fact, my favorite part of Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win was how truly authentic Charlotte’s campaign for senate felt.  Piazza does a brilliant job of conveying both the sacrifice that a grueling campaign can take, both physically and emotionally, on not only the candidate but also on his or her entire family, as well as the double standard and hypocrisy that is ever present when a woman runs for office versus when a man runs for office.  From the moment Charlotte announces her candidacy, she has to start answering questions, basically justifying why she is running, why her life isn’t good enough as is without running for office, and even obnoxious trivial things like why she chooses to wear the shoes she does, the nail polish she does, etc.  She is hit with this endless barrage of ridiculous questions that no one would ever ask a male candidate.

There were times when I wanted to say that the questions were over the top, but just following Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Presidency in 2016 was enough to tell me Piazza is spot on with how she portrays Charlotte’s campaign.  While every candidate who runs for office has their life scrutinized for anything that can be used against them, a female candidate’s life is truly placed under a microscope and it’s truly appalling to see what their opponents will use as weapons against them.  In Charlotte’s case, for example, her opponent actually has the gall to imply that she would be an ineffective senator because she is the mother of young children.  He actually states that she would neglect her duties as a senator every time one of her children has so much as a runny nose, as if being a mother is a detriment or handicap.  That hypocrisy and the double standard kept me fired up and turning the pages.  The more I read, the more infuriated I got, and the more I wanted to see Charlotte kick her opponent’s butt.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the third person point of view used in this story.  I felt like it kept me from fully connecting with Charlotte. It’s probably something that wouldn’t bother many others, but I think this would have been at least a 4-star read for me easily if the story had been written from Charlotte’s point of view in first person.

I also would have preferred a more definitive ending.  I don’t want to spoil anything so I’m not going to say much more here other than there were a few loose ends I wanted tied up that were left wide open.

Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win is a powerful read that explores themes of politics, inequality, marriage, and infidelity.  Charlotte and her family’s journey is one that should be relevant and engaging for all readers, especially women, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From Jo Piazza, the bestselling author of The Knock OffHow to Be Married, and Fitness Junkie, comes an exciting, insightful novel about what happens when a woman wants it all—political power, a happy marriage, and happiness—but isn’t sure just how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it.

Charlotte Walsh is running for Senate in the most important race in the country during a midterm election that will decide the balance of power in Congress. Still reeling from a presidential election that shocked and divided the country and inspired by the chance to make a difference, she’s left behind her high-powered job in Silicon Valley and returned, with her husband Max and their three young daughters, to her downtrodden Pennsylvania hometown to run in the Rust Belt state.

Once the campaign gets underway, Charlotte is blindsided by just how dirty her opponent is willing to fight, how harshly she is judged by the press and her peers, and how exhausting it becomes to navigate a marriage with an increasingly ambivalent and often resentful husband. When the opposition uncovers a secret that could threaten not just her campaign but everything Charlotte holds dear, she has to decide just how badly she wants to win and at what cost.

A searing, suspenseful story of political ambition, marriage, class, sexual politics, and infidelity, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win is an insightful portrait of what it takes for a woman to run for national office in America today. In a dramatic political moment like no other with more women running for office than ever before, Jo Piazza’s novel is timely, engrossing, and perfect for readers on both sides of the aisle.

 

 

three-half-stars

About Jo Piazza

Jo Piazza is an award-winning journalist, editor, digital content strategist and author.

Her latest book, How to be Married will be released by Penguin Random House in April 2017.

Her novel, The Knockoff, became an instant international bestseller in May 2015 and has been translated into 13 languages.

She has written and reported for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Daily News, the New York Times, New York, Glamour, CNN, Elle, Marie Claire and Slate.

Jo regularly appears as a commentator on NPR, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

Her nonfiction book about progressive American nuns, If Nuns Ruled the World, was released to critical acclaim in September of 2014. The New York Times columnist Nick Kristof wrote about it in the Sunday Times: “In an age of villainy, war and inequality, it makes sense that we need superheroes. And after trying Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, we may have found the best superheroes yet: Nuns.”

Jo lives in San Francisco with her giant dog and her husband.

Review: LETTING GO OF GRAVITY by Meg Leder

Review:  LETTING GO OF GRAVITY by Meg LederLetting Go of Gravity by Meg Leder
four-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on July 17, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Meg Leder’s Letting Go of Gravity is a beautiful, emotionally engaging story about a young woman named Parker and her twin brother, Charlie.  When the novel opens, Parker, as Class Valedictorian, is giving a speech at her graduation.  Parker has been wildly successful in her academic life – making straight As, achieving perfect scores on her SATs, getting accepted to Harvard where she plans to study to become a doctor, and landing herself a spot at a very competitive internship at the local children’s hospital.  Charlie, on the other hand, even though he’s Parker’s twin, is not graduating.  Instead, he is being held back because he missed too much time from school.  Why?  Because Charlie has been battling cancer.  He was diagnosed with it for the first time when he was in fourth grade, went into remission, only to have it return the summer before his senior year.

Parker is obsessed with making sure her twin is safe.  She watches over him like a hawk, reporting back to her parents anytime she fears Charlie might be doing something that will cause another relapse.  While Charlie understands where his sister is coming from, ultimately he can’t stand being around her because she makes him feel like he’s a caged animal with no freedom to do anything he wants to do.  Needless to say, their relationship is quite strained and Parker begins to wonder if things will ever be normal between them again…

 

I really loved Parker.  I thought she was just such a sweetheart and even though it drives Charlie crazy, I loved how devoted Parker is to him.  I have a sister, and she’s not even a twin, but I feel that level of fierce protectiveness for her that Parker has for Charlie.  Parker has devoted most of her life to watching over Charlie, so much so that he’s actually the main reason she’s planning to study pre-med at Harvard.  She wants to be a pediatric oncologist, specifically because of what has happened to Charlie.  Her parents are giddy about her decision, with her dad already starting to call her Dr. McCullough.  Parker, however, has been experiencing anxiety every time she thinks about going to Harvard in the fall, and when she arrives at the hospital to begin her internship, she has a full on panic attack and has to leave.  At this moment, Parker begins to seriously question if this is what she really wants.

The story is told from Parker’s perspective and this was fantastic too because the author does an incredible job of portraying all of the conflicting emotions that were at war in Parker’s head.  While Charlie may feel like a caged animal because everyone watches him like a hawk, Parker starts to feel equally caged in by her fears – fear of failure, fear of disappointing her loved ones, and of course, fear of losing her loved ones.  Being inside of Parker’s head was kind of a messy place to be because she has so much going on in there, but everything she’s thinking, feeling, and fearing just felt so realistic.

The relationships in Letting Go of Gravity were beautifully written as well. The very complex and strained sibling relationship between Parker and Charlie was my favorite, but I also loved the friendships.  Parker has three incredible friends, Finn, Em and Ruby, and they are as devoted to Parker as Parker is to Charlie.  Their support is unwavering but they are also all there to give Parker a kick in the pants when she really needs it.  There are also a couple of potential romances that come out of these friendships, but the author does a wonderful job of weaving those in gently so that they don’t get in the way of what I would say is more of a coming of age story than anything else as these friends give Parker the love and support she needs to figure out who she is and what she really wants out of life.

Lastly, this story is just packed with moving, relatable, and relevant themes, which is something that always makes a contemporary novel appealing to me.  This novel tackles how cancer and other serious illnesses impact, not just the patient, but also the entire family – the fear that comes when faced with the possibility of losing someone you love, the sacrifices you’re willing to make to do everything in your power to keep that from happening, and so on.  Letting Go of Gravity also explores anxiety and the pressure of putting too much on yourself, especially if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, but really, even if you think you’re doing it for the right reasons.  As the title implies, sometimes you just have to let go of what is weighing you down.

 

The only real issue I had with Letting Go of Gravity was that I found some of it to be a little too predictable.  I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil anything for other readers, but I guessed almost immediately how things were going to go for Parker.  I can’t say that it really lessened my enjoyment of the overall story, but I always prefer it when plot twists actually surprise me.

 

Letting Go of Gravity is a beautiful and moving book.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of John Green, Jennifer Niven, and Brigid Kemmerer.  If you like emotional books that feature sibling relationships and great friendships, and that might make you shed a tear or two, give Letting Go of Gravity a try.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Twins Parker and Charlie are polar opposites.  Where Charlie is fearless, Parker is careful.  Charlie is confident while Parker aims to please.  Charlie is outgoing and outspoken; Parker is introverted and reserved.  And of course, there’s the one other major difference: Charlie got leukemia. Parker didn’t.

But now that Charlie is officially in remission, life couldn’t be going better for Parker. She’s landed a prestigious summer internship at the hospital and is headed to Harvard in the fall to study pediatric oncology—which is why the anxiety she’s felt since her Harvard acceptance is so unsettling. And it doesn’t help that her relationship with Charlie has been on the rocks since his diagnosis.

Enter Finn, a boy who’s been leaving strange graffiti messages all over town. Parker can’t stop thinking about those messages, or about Finn, who makes her feel free for the first time: free to doubt, free to make mistakes, and free to confront the truth that Parker has been hiding from for a long time.

That she keeps trying to save Charlie, when the person who really needs saving is herself.

four-stars

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A MAN CALLED OVE & A BOY MADE OF BLOCKS

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A MAN CALLED OVE & A BOY MADE OF BLOCKSA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch
four-stars
Published by Atria Books on July 15, 2014
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 337
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.

Review:

Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove follows the story of, you guessed it, a man by the name of Ove.  Ove is the quintessential grumpy old man in pretty much every way.  I actually couldn’t stand him for the first few chapters of the book.  He’s set in his ways, incredibly opinionated, and can be downright mean and rude at times.  What we also learn about him early on, however, is there’s a lot more going on with Ove than just your average grumpiness.  Ove is suffering from depression and having thoughts of suicide because his beloved wife has passed away and he’s just completely lost without her.  I felt much more sympathetic to Ove after learning this news and found myself wanting to know more about him.

My favorite part of the story therefore is how the author presents us with such a complete portrait of Ove. In addition to chapters that take us through Ove’s present circumstances, the author also includes chapters that feature life-shaping events from Ove’s past.  The more I learned about Ove, both past and present, the more lovable I found him.  I especially enjoyed the chapters that focused on how Ove met his wife.  This grumpy old man was actually downright adorable as he awkwardly pursued the girl of his dreams.

The secondary characters also added a lot of depth to the story.  The author does a wonderful job fleshing them out and making them feel like people you might actually run into in your own neighborhood. I was an especially big fan of Ove’s new neighbors.  They’re loud, kind of obnoxious, and basically introduce themselves to Ove by nearly mowing his house over with their moving trailer.  This family, especially the wife and her two daughters, are determined to make Ove an extended part of their family, whether he likes it or not, and they are always inserting themselves into his days, shaking up his entire routine.  They bring a lot of comedy and a lot of heart to the story, and they also bring their own brand of chaos to Ove’s way too orderly existence and I loved every minute of it!

If you want an utterly charming read that focuses on family, unexpected friendships, and the evolution of a grumpy old man into a not-quite-so-grumpy old man, then definitely give A Man Called Ove a try.  The humor and sarcasm is sure to make you laugh, and the overriding heartfelt message of compassion will bring a tear to your eyes.  4 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A MAN CALLED OVE & A BOY MADE OF BLOCKSA Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 6, 2016
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Meet thirtysomething dad, Alex

He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn't understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.

Meet eight-year-old Sam. Beautiful, surprising, autistic. To him the world is a puzzle he can't solve on his own.

When Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other . . . When life starts to tear one family apart, can they put themselves back together, one piece at a time?

A Boy Made of Blocks is a beautiful, funny and heartwarming story of family and love inspired by the author's own experiences with his son.

Review:

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I first started reading A Boy Made of Blocks, but what I got was a beautiful, heartfelt story of Alex Rowe, a man who has somehow taken a wrong turn in life and lost his connection to both his wife and their 8-year old autistic son, Sam.  The novel follows Alex’s journey as he is determined to figure out where he went wrong and how he can turn things around so that he can get his family and his life back.

I have to admit that it did take me a while to warm up to Alex.  I couldn’t understand how he couldn’t see what he was doing wrong, that he was either treating everything to do with Sam as a chore or even worse, was ignoring it all together, saying that he was busy at work, and leaving the brunt of raising Sam on his wife.  I kind of wanted to throttle him and tell him to grow up and stop being so selfish.  The more I got to know Alex, however, the more I realized how much he truly did love his son and that he just needed to find a way to connect with him on a real level so that everything else would sort its way out.  And even though I was initially annoyed at Alex for having gotten himself into such a self-inflicted mess with his family in the first place, I grew to admire his effort and determination to right his wrong.  No matter how many missteps and wrong moves he makes, he never gives up on trying to reconnect with Sam.

I thought the author did an especially beautiful job of portraying the vulnerability of a child who has autism, the strain that trying to raise such a child can put on a marriage, and the overall determination of parents to do whatever it takes to make sure their child feels safe and secure and has every opportunity to live a happy and successful life.  Sam was also absolutely precious and I was moved to tears watching his own emotional growth as he and his Dad begin to reconnect in a meaningful way.

A Boy Made of Blocks was an emotional and moving read for me.  I think my favorite quote from the book best sums it up:  “Life is an adventure, not a walk.  That’s why it’s difficult.”  Alex and Sam’s adventure is one you won’t want to miss.  4 STARS

FTC Disclosure: I received A Boy Made of Blocks for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

four-stars

About Fredrik Backman

Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove (soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, as well as two novellas, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer and The Deal of a Lifetime. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children.

About Keith Stuart

Keith Stuart is an author and journalist. His heartwarming debut novel, A Boy Made of Blocks, was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick and a major bestseller, and was inspired by Keith’s real-life relationship with his autistic son. Keith has written for publications including Empire, Red and Esquire, and is the former games editor of the Guardian. He lives with his wife and two sons in Frome, Somerset.