Review: THIS IS MY AMERICA by Kim Johnson

Review:  THIS IS MY AMERICA by Kim JohnsonThis Is My America by Kim Johnson
five-stars
Published by Random House Children's Books on July 28, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Set in Galveston, Texas, Kim Johnson’s This Is My America follows Tracy Beaumont, a 17-year old African American who is on a mission to save her father, who is sitting on Death Row, convicted of a murder he did not commit. When the novel opens, he has less than one year before he’s put to death and so Tracy is running out of time. She has spent the past seven years writing weekly letters to Innocence X, an organization devoted to help those who have been wrongly incarcerated, pleading with them to take her father’s case.

The matter becomes all the more urgent when tragedy strikes the Beaumont family all over again. The local police arrive at the Beaumont house late one night with an arrest warrant for Tracy’s older brother Jamal. He is the prime suspect in the murder of Angela Herron, the editor of their school newspaper and also the white girl Jamal has been dating in secret. Jamal has no alibi and the sheriff’s son places him at the scene of the crime. Fearing he’s going to suffer the same fate as his dad, Jamal flees and refuses to come home until he can prove his innocence. With the clock ticking on both her father’s and her brother’s lives and still no response from Innocence X, Tracy decides it’s time to take matters into her own hands and starts looking for the evidence that will set them both free and save her family.

This story is hard-hitting on so many levels. As we follow Tracy on what turns out to be an increasingly dangerous journey to find the evidence that will exonerate her family members, the author unflinchingly explores so many tough and all-too-relevant topics, such as systemic racism, corruption in law enforcement, police brutality, the lingering existence of hate groups like the KKK, and the fact that without ample resources, a black person has little chance of successfully defending themselves in our legal system. The deck is just stacked against them. The author really drives her point home though by bringing us into the Beaumont home, where we meet and fall in love with Tracy, Jamal, their mom, and especially with their little sister Corinne, who at only seven years old, has never known her father as a free man. He has always been behind bars. Everything this family has gone through just had me in tears several times while I was reading, especially knowing that even though this account is fictional, the Beaumont’s situation is unfortunately a reality for too many families.

I don’t want to give away anything about the actual murder mysteries, so I’m just going to add that as powerful a read as this is because of its message about racial injustice, it’s also just a flat out fantastic read because the drive to find the real murderers is so riveting.

This Is My America is a hard-hitting exploration of the racial injustices that are so pervasive in American society. It’s a powerful read in that it will make you sad, angry, and frustrated at how little progress we as a society have made to stop the racial injustices, but at the same time, it’s a hopeful story. This is a book I’d love to see as required reading at the high school level because of its message that you’re never too young to start making your voice heard and that no matter how young you are, your voice can actually make a difference.

five-stars

About Kim Johnson

KIM JOHNSON held leadership positions in social justice organizations as a teen and in college. She’s now a college administrator who maintains civic engagement throughout the community while also mentoring Black student activists and leaders. She is also the graduate advisor and member of an historically Black sorority. This Is My America is her debut novel and explores racial injustice against innocent Black men who are criminally sentenced and the families left behind to pick up the pieces. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and the University of Maryland, College Park.

Review: PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA by Jenn McKinlay

Review:  PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA by Jenn McKinlayParis Is Always a Good Idea by Jenn McKinlay
four-half-stars
Published by Berkley Books on July 21, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction, Romance
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Brittanie at Berkley for inviting me to take part in the blog tour for Jenn McKinlay’s latest novel, Paris is Always a Good Idea.  I had a major case of cover love for this book as soon as I saw it, and I’m thrilled to report that the story itself is as wonderful as the gorgeous cover and can’t wait to share my thoughts on it with you.

 

* * * * *

 

Chelsea Martin is in a rut.  She’s all work and no play, and as her sister points out, hasn’t been in any kind of relationship in years.  Seven years ago their mother died of cancer, and it’s like Chelsea stopped living as well.  Things come to a head when Chelsea’s father announces that he is getting remarried. Chelsea is overwhelmed by the news and feels like her Dad is betraying her mom’s memory and basically tells him this, creating a very awkward and tense situation. A heart-to-heart with her sister afterwards convinces Chelsea that she really needs to do some soul searching.  Since the last time she can even remember actually being happy is during her trip to Europe after college, she decides she wants to retrace her steps and see if she can rediscover the Chelsea she used to be.

Paris is Always a Good Idea follows Chelsea on this journey to self-discovery, and wow, what a journey it is!  I don’t want to give away any details because her journey is best experienced knowing as little as possible up front, but I do want to share what I loved most about the story.  Below are some highlights.

* * * * *

5 REASONS PARIS IS A GOOD IDEA IS A MUST-READ

  1. Wanderlust. If you love traveling like I do and have been missing it fiercely because of the pandemic, Paris is Always a Good Idea is the perfect read for you.  We not only get to travel to romantic and beautiful Paris as the title suggests, but as part of retracing Chelsea’s gap year abroad, we are transported to the lush countryside of Ireland and to an incredible castle and vineyard in Tuscany, in central Italy.  The author does an incredible job of capturing the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of each location and bringing them to life. It’s as close as you can get without your passport and I loved following Chelsea on this journey.

  1. Mamma Mia vibes. Okay, so maybe I’ve watched Mamma Mia a few too many times, but as I was reading this book, I kept thinking certain aspects of it reminded me of Mamma Mia.  No, Chelsea doesn’t go to Greece and no, there’s no love child with three possible fathers, but still, Chelsea does go to Europe hoping to rekindle her heart by tracking down three hot guys she had fallen in love with during her gap year. The search for these three hotties leads to many awkward and hilarious moments for Chelsea, which is where my Mamma Mia comparison comes from. If you’re a Mamma Mia fan like I am, I think you’ll love this book too.

  1. Emotional journey. It’s not all lighthearted fun and games though. Paris is Always a Good Idea also very much focuses on the emotional journey Chelsea takes as she tries to find herself again.  Chelsea has been grieving for the loss of her mother for so many years now that trying to find her way past that grief so that she can live and love again is a tall order.  As much as I enjoyed the humor of those lighter moments as Chelsea looks for her old boyfriends, I really loved having this emotional journey as part of the reading experience as well. It made for an all around satisfying read.

 

  1. Relatable protagonist. Chelsea is definitely a character I found easy to relate to.  So much of what she goes through are things many of us have gone through or probably will go through at some point.  Burying ourselves in our work to avoid troubles in our personal lives, friction between family members, the loss of a parent, or even just feeling like we’ve lost some essential part of ourselves.  She’s also relatable in the sense that she’s messy and flawed. Some of what she says to her dad when she learns he’s getting remarried was downright cringeworthy, but at the same time, the reaction felt very authentic, like drama I could imagine playing out in my own family.

 

  1. Enemies to Lovers. Lastly, and perhaps the most fun reason of all, for all of you romance fans, there’s a fabulous enemies to lovers romance. I don’t want to give away any details on this, so I’m just going to say if you enjoy sparks flying, witty banter, and off the charts chemistry, you’re going to love this book!

 

Paris is Always a Good Idea is an emotionally satisfying read that will fill both your heart and  your need to travel.

four-half-stars

About Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay is the New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author of several mystery and romance series and will be debuting a stand alone romantic comedy in July 2020 entitled PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA. She lives in sunny Arizona in a house that is overrun with kids, pets and her husband’s guitars.

Review: WHAT YOU WISH FOR by Katherine Center

Review:  WHAT YOU WISH FOR by Katherine CenterWhat You Wish For by Katherine Center
Also by this author: Things You Save in a Fire
four-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on July 14, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Katherine Center’s latest novel, What You Wish For, is a beautiful story about love and loss, friendship and “found” family, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a story about overcoming fears, embracing joy, and living life to the fullest.

The story follows Samantha (“Sam”) Casey, an elementary school librarian at a prestigious private school in Galveston, Tx.  Life is pretty good for Sam when we first meet her. She loves her job – the school itself is fantastic with a vibrant, creative atmosphere, and Sam loves interacting with her students and with her colleagues.  She even loves her bosses, Max and Babette Kempner, the beloved founders of the school who also happen to be Sam’s landlords.  Over the years, Sam has come to think of Max and Babette as family.

When tragedy strikes unexpectedly and Max passes away, Sam’s life, both personally and professionally, is thrown into turmoil, especially when she learns that the man hired to replace Max as Principal is none other than Duncan Carpenter, a teacher from her old life that Sam had a mad crush on, so much so that when she realized she had missed her chance with him and that he was marrying someone else, she immediately resigned her position and moved to Texas to get away from his happily ever after with someone else.  When Duncan arrives, Sam is shocked that 1) he doesn’t even recognize her, and 2) he immediately starts dismantling everything about her beloved school that made it so special.

What You Wish For really took off for me from the moment Duncan walked back into Sam’s life. He’s so awful and not at all like Sam has described him to her friends that I, like Sam, was obsessed with trying to figure out what had happened to cause such a radical change in his personality.  I was even more hooked by the story though from the moment Sam and Duncan have their first meeting.  It’s borderline hostile and he clearly doesn’t remember Sam, but even so, the chemistry between them is intense and the sparks are flying.  This was a relationship I was eager to see evolve!

Aside from the relationship between Sam and Duncan, I also just loved all of the secondary characters in this story.  I already mentioned the lovable Max and Babette, but there’s also Alice, the hilarious math teacher who wears math pun t-shirts to work everyday and who is also Sam’s best friend.  Then there is Babette’s adorable grandson, Clay, who is a bookworm and loves to hang out in the library with Sam.  Oh and there’s also an adorable labradoodle named Chuck Norris who will absolutely melt your heart.

The last thing I want to mention is a major theme running through the story that I really loved. It was Max’s life philosophy, which he imparted to Sam over the years anytime he sensed her struggling.  Max believed that no matter what is going on in your life, no matter how scared or stressed you may be, it’s important to always choose joy. That while it may not solve all of your problems, it’s a great place to start.  I thought that was such a beautiful philosophy, and one that is especially relevant right now, with everything that is going on in the world.

What You Wish For is my third Katherine Center novel and she has yet to disappoint.  Her stories are always so moving and filled with unforgettable characters, and they never fail to leave me with a full heart and a smile on my face.  If that sounds like your kind of read, you definitely want to give What You Wish For a try.

four-half-stars

About Katherine Center

Katherine Center is the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away, the upcoming Things You Save in a Fire (August 2019), and five other bittersweet comic novels. Six Foot Pictures is currently adapting her fourth novel, The Lost Husband, into a feature film starring Josh Duhamel, Leslie Bibb, and Nora Dunn. Katherine has been compared to both Nora Ephron and Jane Austen, and the Dallas Morning News calls her stories, “satisfying in the most soul-nourishing way.” Katherine recently gave a TEDx talk on how stories teach us empathy, and her work has appeared in USA Today, InStyle, Redbook, People, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Real Simple, Southern Living, and InTouch, among others. Katherine lives in her hometown of Houston, Texas, with her fun husband, two sweet kids, and fluffy-but-fierce dog.

Review: PARTY OF TWO by Jasmine Guillory

Review:  PARTY OF TWO by Jasmine GuilloryParty of Two by Jasmine Guillory
Also by this author: Royal Holiday (The Wedding Date, #4)
four-stars
Series: The Wedding Date #5
Published by Berkley Books on June 23, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 320
Also in this series: Royal Holiday (The Wedding Date, #4)
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 don’t know if it’s the stress of the pandemic or because it’s finally summer, but I have found myself craving romantic reads lately.  I seriously just can’t get enough of them.  I’ve been enjoying Jasmine Guillory’s series, The Wedding Date, so when I saw she had a new installment in the series coming out this month, Party of Two, I couldn’t resist requesting it.

Olivia Monroe is smart, sexy, and savvy, and she’s also a successful attorney who has recently moved to L.A. to start her own law firm with her best friend.  The last thing Olivia has time for in her life right now is romance, but a chance encounter in a hotel bar with a handsome man has her thinking a little romance might not be a bad thing.  That is, until she later learns that the handsome man is none other than Senator Max Powell.  Olivia has absolutely no interest in dating a politician or in the pressure of being in the spotlight.  She still can’t deny that Max is gorgeous though…

I wanted to cringe as much as Olivia did when I realized Max was a politician, but I’ll freely admit that he won me over right away.  Max is smart and handsome, but he’s also just flat out adorable.  He wears disguises so he can have privacy while he’s out and about, he’s very passionate about causes that are important to him, and perhaps the biggest selling point for me, he tries to woo Olivia with cake!  This is a guy after my own heart, haha.  He’s not perfect though and I think that’s actually what I liked most about him. Max tends to be a little impulsive, especially when it comes to matters of love and romance.  His heart is always in the right place, but he can sometimes make a mess of things because he acts first and thinks second.

I really adored both Max and Olivia from that first encounter in the hotel bar.  Their chemistry was off the charts and their flirty banter was truly giving me life!  Even though I’m not really a believer in love at first sight, I was immediately rooting for the two of them to give it a go.  I also thought the author did a wonderful job of making both characters and their evolving relationship feel so authentic. As with most relationships, there are lots of fun moments, but also some more dramatic and stressful moments.  I was completely invested in both Max and Olivia as if I actually knew them and found myself glued to the book, finishing it in just a couple of sittings, because I just had to know if they were going to get a happy ending together or not.

If you’re in the mood for a smart, sexy romance, I highly recommend giving Party of Two a try.  As much as I have enjoyed The Wedding Date series overall, I won’t hesitate to say that Party of Two is my new favorite book in the series.  To quote Mary Poppins, it’s “practically perfect in every way.”

four-stars

About Jasmine Guillory

Jasmine Guillory is a graduate of Wellesley College and Stanford Law School. She is a Bay Area native who has towering stacks of books in her living room, a cake recipe for every occasion, and upwards of 50 lipsticks.

Review: ALWAYS THE LAST TO KNOW by Kristan Higgins

Review:  ALWAYS THE LAST TO KNOW by Kristan HigginsAlways the Last to Know by Kristan Higgins
Also by this author: Good Luck with That, Pack Up the Moon
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on June 9, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kristan Higgins is fast becoming one of my go-to authors when I’m in the mood for a moving read that focuses on family.  That’s exactly what I was in the mood for when I picked up her latest novel, Always the Last to Know, and wow, does it deliver! I just finished reading and I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes as I’m writing this review.

Always the Last to Know follows the Frost family.  Barb and John have been married for five decades but have gradually drifted apart over the years. They have two daughters, Juliet and Sadie, who are night and day in terms of personality. Juliet is an Ivy League graduate and a brilliant and successful architect, while Sadie is a struggling artist trying to make it in New York, currently working as an elementary school art teacher to make ends meet.  Juliet is also happily married with two beautiful children, while Sadie lost the love of her life when she moved to New York to follow her dream.  Because they’re so different, the relationship between Sadie and Juliet is somewhat contentious at times.  Sure, they love each other; they just don’t necessarily like each other very much.  Their lives all come to a screeching halt, however, when John suffers a stroke and ends up unable to care for himself or even speak.

I have to admit that the novel did start off a little slow for me, but thankfully it picked up as soon as Sadie moved home to help with her dad.  I loved that the story is presented in alternating chapters between Barb, Sadie, Juliet, and John, and Higgins does a wonderful job of conveying what each of them was thinking and feeling as they are trying to navigate John’s recovery. It’s an emotional journey for everyone, as they are all dealing with personal and/or professional dramas as well.  John’s chapters are of course moving since we’re the only ones who know what he’s feeling.  My heart also went out to Barb as she is forced to really examine her relationship with John and where it went wrong over the years, as well as to Juliet, who is starting to cave under the pressure of always having to be the “perfect” one.

For me though, it was Sadie who is actually the heart and soul of Always the Last to Know.  I was in her corner as soon as I realized she was the underdog in her family, and her journey is the one that I found myself the most emotionally invested in.  Even before her dad had the stroke, Sadie has already gone through so much, being rejected repeatedly in terms of her art, and then having to choose between her art and Noah, her first love.  When Sadie moves home and comes face-to-face with Noah again, I felt their chemistry so hard and was immediately rooting for them to find their way back to each other.

I don’t want to give away any major spoilers, so I’m just going to say that Always the Last to Know was an emotional roller coaster for me as I followed each of these characters.  The family dynamics, the secrets revealed, and the ensuing drama all felt very realistic, not over the top at all, and everything about this family just really got to me.  I cried several times the closer I got to the end of the story and even though I was still in tears when it was all over, I was very content with the way the story ended.  If you’re looking for a moving story about love, family, self discovery, and second chances, look no further.

four-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.

Review: HAPPY & YOU KNOW IT by Laura Hankin

Review:  HAPPY & YOU KNOW IT by Laura HankinHappy & You Know It by Laura Hankin
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on May 19, 2020
Genres: Women's Fiction, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laura Hankins’ addictive new novel, Happy & You Know It follows a group of wealthy Manhattan moms and their Instagram-perfect infant play group and the out-of-work musician who inadvertently turns their lives upside down.

Claire, the musician, is the character I immediately felt was the most relatable of the group.  She’s a talented singer who is down on her luck and wallowing in self-pity when we meet her because she got kicked out of the band she was playing in right as they hit it big. Their music is everywhere now, taunting her, while she’s desperately searching for a job so that she doesn’t have to leave New York and move back home, admitting she failed.  I felt tremendous sympathy for Claire and wanted to cringe right along with her every time someone mentioned her former band and their sexy new lead singer.

It is when Claire lands a job on Park Avenue playing music for a bunch of wealthy Manhattan moms and their infants that we meet the rest of the main characters. And what a crew these women are!  In some ways they are totally unrelatable because of their tremendous wealth and glamorous lifestyles, but on the other hand, their struggles as new moms is something that grounds them all and makes them a little easier to connect with as a whole.

The leader of this pack is Whitney, the social media queen who has a whole Instagram account devoted to showing how picture perfect her life as a mom is and how equally perfect her play group is.  Every playgroup meeting is a photo op, and Whitney has amassed a huge following and lots of sponsors who are constantly sending her free things to promote on her account. Then there’s Gwen, who comes from old money, is super reserved and also somewhat of a condescending know-it-all. Lastly, there’s Amara, who has some financial issues and who also has a child who isn’t developing as quickly as the other babies in the playgroup. Amara is constantly feeling like she just doesn’t measure up to the rest of the moms in the group.  There are also several other moms in the group but Whitney, Gwen, and Amara are the three who take center stage in this story.

I don’t want to give away any of the juicy details but what becomes apparent as the story progresses is that the more picture perfect Whitney tries to make all of their lives look on Instagram, the more clear it becomes that all of their lives are far from it.  They each have their own struggles they’re dealing with, and with the story unfolding from the perspectives of Claire, Whitney, Amara, and Gwen, we are taken on a roller coaster ride that is filled with secrets, drama, and all out scandal!

If you’re looking for a book that will make you forget your own troubles for a while, I suggest diving into Laura Hankins’ addictive new novel, Happy & You Know It.  It’s a quick and easy read that is sure to entertain!

four-stars

About Laura Hankin

Laura Hankin is the author of HAPPY & YOU KNOW IT and has written for McSweeney’s and HuffPost, among other publications. The viral videos that she creates and stars in with her comedy duo, Feminarchy, have been featured in Now This, The New York Times, and Funny or Die. She grew up in Washington, D.C. and now lives in New York City, where she has performed off-Broadway, acted onscreen, and sung to far too many babies.

Review: BIG SUMMER by Jennifer Weiner

Review:  BIG SUMMER by Jennifer WeinerBig Summer by Jennifer Weiner
Also by this author: Mrs. Everything
four-half-stars
Published by Atria Books on May 5, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wow, what a read.  There’s so much to love about Jennifer Weiner’s latest novel, Big Summer, that I hardly know where to even begin. It has everything I’ve come to love and expect from a Jennifer Weiner novel, but then so much more!

The protagonist, Daphne Berg, is such a wonderful character and I loved her from the moment we meet her. She’s smart, resourceful, warm and witty, big-hearted, and she also has a great relationship with her parents, especially her dad, which is always lovely to see.  Daphne has had a life-long struggle with her weight and with her self-image.  She has had to contend with bullying, fat shaming, and learning the very hard lesson that sometimes people who you think are your friends really aren’t. Instead of letting these bad experiences crush her, Daphne takes control of her life and spins those negatives into a very successful business venture for herself as a plus size social media influencer.  Her Instagram account has gained thousands of followers who tune in to watch Daphne embrace her body as it is and encourage others to do the same.  I just loved Daphne’s resiliency in this situation and that she creates this community that’s not only a career for herself, but it also helps others who are struggling to love themselves and their bodies.

Something else I really enjoyed about Big Summer is Weiner’s exploration of what I think is such a relevant theme and that’s forgiveness. One of the story’s many layers focuses on Daphne’s relationship with childhood best friend, rich girl Drue Cavanaugh.  Drue was spoiled and a quintessential mean girl, best known for befriending kids and then promptly discarding them once she lost interest.  She left a trail of hurt and embarrassed classmates in her wake, including Daphne.  No matter how cruel Drue is to Daphne, she keeps coming back for more, until they finally have a huge falling out. That fall out is what ultimately led to Daphne’s social media career and she has never looked back…until years later when Drue unexpectedly shows up, apologizing profusely and begging for forgiveness and for Daphne to be in her wedding.  Daphne is torn – there’s a part of her that wants to tell Drue off all over again because she’s so toxic, but then there’s the other part of her that remembers the good times they had and who wants to believe Drue has changed.  Weiner does an incredible job of exploring the complexities of their relationship and especially of letting us inside Daphne’s head to see just how conflicted she is.  It all felt authentic and their relationship is one I could see many people finding very relatable.

The wonderful characters and the relationship complexities were definitely what I was expecting when I started reading Big Summer.  What I didn’t expect and what really took the story to a whole new level was a huge plot twist that happens about the halfway point of the novel.  I can’t even talk about it without spoilers, but it had me running back to the synopsis to see if I had missed something because it threw me for such a loop.  That’s not a criticism though because as much as I loved learning about Daphne and her relationship with Drue, the surprise plot twist added a layer of mystery to the story that had me flying through the second half of Big Summer. I was desperate to find out what exactly happened and who was responsible.

I’m going to leave it at that, but suffice it to say, I absolutely loved Big Summer.  It’s Jennifer Weiner at her best with wonderful characters and relationships, but also with a mystery twist that makes it unlike any of Weiner’s books I’ve read so far.  If you’re a Jennifer Weiner fan, you’re going to love it and I also think you’ll love it if you’re a fan of mysteries.

four-half-stars

About Jennifer Weiner

Jennifer Weiner is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of seventeen books, including Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, and, most recently, Mrs. Everything. Her new novel, Big Summer, debuted May 5, 2020. A graduate of Princeton University and contributor to the New York Times Opinion section, she lives with her family in Philadelphia. Visit her online at JenniferWeiner.com.

Review & Giveaway: THE SWEENEY SISTERS by Lian Dolan

Review & Giveaway:  THE SWEENEY SISTERS by Lian DolanThe Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan
four-stars
Published by William Morrow on April 28, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

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

 

Thanks so much to the Fantastic Flying Book Club for including me in the blog tour for The Sweeney Sisters.  I’m thrilled to be able to share my thoughts on this wonderful read today.

 

 

When I read the synopsis for Lian Dolan’s new novel, The Sweeney Sisters, I knew I had to read it.  I’m a sucker for a good story about sisters, and this story has that, as well as a healthy dose of family drama and scandalous secrets.  As if those elements weren’t enticing enough on their own, The Sweeney Sisters is also a book about books! Sounds like a must-read, right?

The Sweeney Sisters follows three sisters, Liza, Maggie, and Tricia, who have returned to their childhood home after their father, literary giant William Sweeney, has passed away unexpectedly.  Their mother passed away years ago so it falls on the sisters to settle their father’s affairs.  The sisters knew their father wasn’t perfect, but what they learn upon reading his will and meeting with his long-time attorney, shocks them to the core.

Because of some financial missteps their dad made, the sisters learn they will inherit much less than they were anticipating. They also learn that he made some personal missteps as well, the result of which is Serena, an older half-sister whom they’ve never met and who now stands to inherit a piece of the Sweeney estate. On top of that, their father also left behind, and apparently hid, the manuscript of a tell-all memoir he had promised his publisher. The sisters need to either find the manuscript or be prepared to pay back the very large advance their father had received for committing to write it. The sisters are navigating a potential mine field while trying to protect their father’s legacy, which is not easy to do when he lived in a tiny, seaside town in Connecticut where everyone knows everyone else.

The sisters and the way they come together are what really made this a special read for me.  I adored all three of them so much.  There’s “Mad” Maggie (as her dad called her), who is an artist and free spirit.  Then there’s Tricia, the attorney in the family, who is both reserved and responsible.  And finally, there’s Liza, married with two children, who owns an art gallery in town.  The story unfolds from all of their perspectives and I found it fascinating to get a close up look at each sister’s thoughts and feelings as they try to make sense of the unexpected turns their lives have suddenly taken.  I also found it interesting to watch how each sister chose to approach their new half-sister.  The author rounds out the story well by also giving us Serena’s perspective so we can see how she processes this information and the drama it causes since she’s now faced with the news that the man she has called Dad all her life really isn’t her father. I really enjoyed Serena’s character.  Imagine the shock of taking one of those DNA tests as a lark and then finding out you’re related to someone famous? The author does a wonderful job of crafting these potentially dramatic and awkward moments without making the story feel like a soap opera. It all felt very authentic.

The Sweeney Sisters is a heartwarming story about what it means to be a family.  It’s a reminder that life is often messy and that it’s important to come together as a family to overcome any and all obstacles.  If books about sisters and secrets are your thing, The Sweeney Sisters is the book for you!

 

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository | Kobo | iTunes | Google Play Books

 

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS:

An accomplished storyteller returns with her biggest, boldest, most entertaining novel yet—a hilarious, heartfelt story about books, love, sisterhood, and the surprises we discover in our DNA that combines the wit of Jonathan Tropper with the heart of Susan Wiggs.

Maggie, Eliza, and Tricia Sweeney grew up as a happy threesome in the idyllic seaside town of Southport, Connecticut. But their mother’s death from cancer fifteen years ago tarnished their golden-hued memories, and the sisters drifted apart. Their one touchstone is their father, Bill Sweeney, an internationally famous literary lion and college professor universally adored by critics, publishers, and book lovers. When Bill dies unexpectedly one cool June night, his shell-shocked daughters return to their childhood home. They aren’t quite sure what the future holds without their larger-than-life father, but they do know how to throw an Irish wake to honor a man of his stature.

But as guests pay their respects and reminisce, one stranger, emboldened by whiskey, has crashed the party. It turns out that she too is a Sweeney sister.

When Washington, DC based journalist Serena Tucker had her DNA tested on a whim a few weeks earlier, she learned she had a 50% genetic match with a childhood neighbor—Maggie Sweeney of Southport, Connecticut. It seems Serena’s chilly WASP mother, Birdie, had a history with Bill Sweeney—one that has remained totally secret until now.

Once the shock wears off, questions abound. What does this mean for William’s literary legacy? Where is the unfinished memoir he’s stashed away, and what will it reveal? And how will a fourth Sweeney sister—a blond among redheads—fit into their story?

By turns revealing, insightful, and uproarious, The Sweeney Sisters is equal parts cautionary tale and celebration—a festive and heartfelt look at what truly makes a family.

 

GIVEAWAY: 

Prize: Win a copy of THE SWEENEY SISTERS by Lian Dolan (U.S. Only)

Starts: 28th April 2020.  Ends: 12th May 2020.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

TOUR SCHEDULE:  

Follow the tour!

April 28th

 

April 29th

@onemused – Review
Books, Tea, Healthy Me – Review + Favourite Quotes
Willow Writes And Reads – Review + Playlist
Jill’s Book Blog – Review

 

April 30th

My Bookish Escapades – Guest Post
TheGeekishBrunette – Review
wordnerdreviews – Review + Favourite Quotes
Mowgli with a book – Review
Crazykidjournal – Review

 

May 1st

Syllables of Swathi – Guest Post
Bookishly Nerdy – Review + Favourite Quotes
The Bookish Libra – Review
Indelible Ink Inscribes – Review
Annej Reads – Promotional Post

 

May 2nd

Sometimes Leelynn Reads – Review + Dream Cast
Pacific Northwest Bookworm – Review
3heartsandawish – Review
Inktalkswithmaria – Review
Paperbacks and pen – Review

 

May 3rd

Belle’s Archive – Review
Hooked on Bookz – Review + Favourite Quotes
Diary Of A Bookgirl – Review
Maddie.TV – Review + Favourite Quotes
Gwendalyn’s Anderson – Review
Nose Stuck in a Book – Promotional Post

 

May 4th

A Gingerly Review – Guest Post
Beckybookstore – Review
Bookish Geek – Review + Favourite Quotes
BiblioJoJo – Review
elena.luo – Review
four-stars

About Lian Dolan

Lian Dolan is a writer and talker. She’s the author of two Los Angeles Times best-selling novels, Helen of Pasadena and Elizabeth the First Wife published by Prospect Park Books. Her next novel, The Sweeney Sisters, will be published in 2020 by William Morrow. She’s a regular humor columnist for Pasadena Magazine and has previously written monthly columns for O, The Oprah Magazine and Working Mother Magazine. She’s also written for TV, radio and websites.

Lian is the producer and host of Satellite Sisters, the award-winning talk show she created with her four real sisters. On Satellite Sisters, she’s interviewed everyone from Nora Ephron to Madeleine Albright to Big Bird. Satellite Sisters began life as a syndicated radio show and is now a top-rated podcast for women. The recent book by the Satellite Sisters, You’re the Best: A Celebration of Friendship, is popular with book clubs.

A popular speaker who combines humor and heart, Lian has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Sunday Morning and The Today Show and many local TV stations. She’s been a featured speaker at the LA Times Festival of Books, the Santa Barbara Celebrity Authors Lunch, the Literary Guild of Orange County Festival of Women Authors and dozens of other events at libraries, book stores, schools and women’s organizations across the country. In 2020, she’ll be on the faculty of the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop.

Lian graduated from Pomona College with a degree in Classics. She lives in Pasadena, California with her husband, two sons and a big German shepherd.

Review: THE HONEY DON’T LIST by Christina Lauren

Review:  THE HONEY DON’T LIST by Christina LaurenThe Honey-Don't List by Christina Lauren
Also by this author: My Favorite Half-Night Stand, The Unhoneymooners
four-stars
Published by Gallery Books on March 24, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I admit that I was very late to jump on the Christina Lauren bandwagon, but ever since I read my first book by them, I’ve been hooked and their latest collaboration, The Honey Don’t List, has only made my love for their books continue to grow.

What a fun read this was!  Celebrity scandals have always fascinated me anyway, so I was drawn to this story as soon as I realized what it was about.  The fact that the story begins in a police station with the celebrity assistants being interviewed only served to whet my appetite all the more. Something dramatic and potentially scandalous has clearly happened and I was immediately flying through the pages wanting to know what had transpired.

Melly and Rusty Tripp are the celebrities in question.  Famous in the world of home décor and remodeling, Melly and Tripp have captured the hearts of their fans, not just because of their design talents but also because they have such a wonderful relationship.  They are America’s sweethearts and they’ve even written a book about their lives together and have a new Netflix series in the works. To cap off their success and promote their new book and show, the Tripps are going on a book tour together.  There’s just one problem: they actually despise each other.  Enter the real stars of The Honey Don’t List, the two personal assistants, Carey Douglas and James McCann, who have been tasked with the nearly impossible task of keeping the book tour from imploding by making sure Melly and Rusty don’t kill each other or otherwise expose that their marriage is basically a sham.

I adored both Carey and James from the start.  I was tremendously sympathetic to them both right away since my instinct would have been to resign.  Carey can’t resign though because 1) she desperately needs the health insurance, and 2) she has been with Melly since the beginning and feels obligated to be there for her. Even though she is high maintenance, Melly has been like a mom to Carey.  James is equally stuck in his position, primarily because his last job ended in disaster, with the firm he worked for wrapped up in some huge scandal.  James needs to rebuild his resume and a hugely successful organization like Melly and Rusty’s is just what he needs. I love a good underdog story and both of our protagonists are clearly cast in that role.

The book tour is of course a total train wreck with plenty of laugh out loud moments, which is exactly what I was hoping for from a Christina Lauren read.  What really had me captivated though was the growing relationship between Carey and James as they are forced to team up and try to save the day, so to speak.  Even though they initially don’t like each other very much, it’s clear they have off-the-charts chemistry.  I loved all of their moments together, whether they were scheming about how to do damage control with respect to Rusty and Melly or whether they were just truly opening up to one another and having meaningful conversations.  There are also plenty of flirty and sexy moments as the pair gets closer and closer, so yes, there’s lots of rom-com style goodness in The Honey Don’t List, also exactly what I’m looking and hoping for when I pick up a Christina Lauren book.

Hilarious and heartwarming, The Honey Don’t List is the perfect book to pick up if you’re looking to escape reality for a while. It’s sure to leave you with a smile on your face.

 

 

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.

Review: HARLEY IN THE SKY by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Review:  HARLEY IN THE SKY by Akemi Dawn BowmanHarley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Also by this author: Starfish, Summer Bird Blue
four-stars
Published by Ink Road on March 10, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Akemi Dawn Bowman is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.  She excels at creating characters and stories that are just so incredibly relatable.  I loved her first two books, Starfish and Summer Bird Blue, but I have to admit I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t connect as much to her latest novel, Harley in the Sky, since it is set in the world of the circus and focuses on a girl’s dream of becoming a trapeze artist.  My worry was completely unfounded though because at its heart, Harley in the Sky is a beautiful coming of age story about the search for identity and following one’s dreams.

The story follows Harley Milano, a young woman who has grown up in her parent’s Las Vegas-based circus.  Harley has dreamed of flying high as an aerialist for as long as she can remember and has even trained with her parents’ performers whenever possible.  When Harley turns 18, she approaches her parents to tell them she wants to train full-time and become one of their aerialists.  To her shock and dismay, her parents shut her down completely.  She is going to college, no ifs ands or buts about it.  Harley is crushed by her parent’s reaction and rebels by leaving home and joining a rival traveling circus.

Harley’s growth as a character is what really drew me into this story.  She is a flawed and very realistic character and one that many will relate to. She’s stubborn and headstrong, prone to make rash and emotional decisions, and she’s all too willing to hurt and betray others to follow her dream.  Her journey is a hard one for her as well though.  It’s filled with hard work, disappointment, and at first, a great deal of loneliness as she must come to terms with what she has done and gradually work her way to accepting responsibility for the hurt she has caused if she has any hope of reconciling with her family.

Her journey is not all hard times though in that she makes some great new friends in the traveling circus and even meets a sweet boy named Vas.  While there is a romantic element there, Vas’ role is so much more than that as Harley is able to talk to him and work through her feelings in a way that she hasn’t been able to with anyone else.

Harley in the Sky is also a story about identity.  In addition to the struggle she faces regarding her need for independence to pursue her dream, Harley is also struggling with who she is.  She comes from a multi-racial family and is equal parts Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and American.  In Harley’s mind, she is so little of each of them that she feels like none of them.

Harley in the Sky was an emotional read for me on a couple of different levels.  I found myself wrapped up, not only in Harley’s journey, but I was also caught up in Bowman’s gorgeous writing as she vividly captures the atmosphere of the circus and gave me several moments of nostalgia from my own childhood of watching those performers make magic and fly through the air.  If you’re into coming of age stories that are sure to take you back to your own journey to adulthood and independence, be sure to check out Harley in the Sky.

four-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.