Review: THE KINDRED SPIRITS SUPPER CLUB by Amy E. Reichert

Review:  THE KINDRED SPIRITS SUPPER CLUB by Amy E. ReichertThe Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. Reichert
five-stars
Published by BERKLEY on April 20, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

I was first drawn to Amy E. Reichert’s new novel, The Kindred Spirits Supper Club because the cover is so sweet, but let me tell you, the story inside is even sweeter and sure to leave you with a smile on your face.

Sabrina Monroe is a journalist. She loves to write and thought this would be the perfect job for her. There’s just one problem; Sabrina is an introvert and has anxiety, which makes it nearly impossible for her to call and interview people so she can actually get the information she needs to write her articles.  Her anxiety has cost her more than one job over the years and when we first meet Sabrina, she is jobless and living at her parent’s house in a small town in Wisconsin, trying to regroup.

Sabrina is, by far, one of the sweetest, most lovable main characters I think I’ve ever come across. I can’t even express how much I both adored Sabrina and related wholeheartedly to her introverted personality and her anxiety.  Even though she has lost her job and is stuck working as a duck tour guide driving amphibious vehicles all day and working for someone who actually used to bully Sabrina when they were in school together, Sabrina is still a walking ray of sunshine. She spreads kindness wherever she goes, whether it’s to the library where she leaves $5 bills inside of her favorite books for other readers to find and treat themselves or to the laundromat where she’ll leave stacks of quarters on machines so some lucky person can do a load of laundry on her. I was invested in her happiness within a few pages of watching her in action. I mean, seriously, how can you not root for someone who is so utterly kind?

I also very much liked Ray Jasper, a new local restaurant owner, who becomes instantly smitten with Sabrina as soon as he sees her in action at the local waterpark, picking up strangers’ dropped towels and rehanging them so they’ll be nice and dry when they return for them.  Like me, Ray is immediately struck by Sabrina’s kindness and he is determined to get to know her better.  What’s great about Ray is that he not only appreciates how kind Sabrina is, but he could actually give her a run for her money in the kindness department because he’s also a sweetheart.  I immediately wanted them to get together because they each deserved someone as sweet as they were, so they were a perfect match.

In addition to cheering on this adorable two-some, I also loved that this story has an element of magical realism in it.  The women in Sabrina’s family have a rare gift – they are able to see local spirits who passed away, leaving behind unfinished business.  Whether it’s to let a cheating spouse know they didn’t get away with the cheating or to help dispose of some adult toys the deceased doesn’t want their family to discover, Sabrina and her mom help these spirits to wrap up their unfinished business so that they can move on and rest in peace.  There’s one spirit they haven’t been able to help though, a young woman named Molly.  Molly died long ago as did the person she has unfinished business with, so she is stuck in a kind of limbo and hangs out with Sabrina.  The two of them have become practically like sisters over the years and Molly is as delightfully upbeat and kind as Sabrina is. Even though she can’t move on, Molly does everything she can to help other spirits move on and she’s also determined to play matchmaker for Sabrina and Ray, which leads to some funny moments.  Sometimes magical realism doesn’t work for me, but it’s honestly just perfect for this story since the story itself is pretty magical.

If you’re into charming small town romances with absolutely adorable characters, you’re going to want to check out The Kindred Spirits Supper Club.

five-stars

About Amy E. Reichert

Amy E. Reichert, author of THE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE, LUCK, LOVE & LEMON PIE, THE SIMPLICITY OF CIDER, and THE OPTIMIST’S GUIDE TO LETTING GO, loves to write stories that end well with characters you’d invite to dinner. A wife, mom, amateur chef, Fix-It Mistress, a volunteer baby snuggler, and cider enthusiast, she earned her MA in English Literature and serves on her library’s board of directors. She’s a member of Tall Poppy Writers.

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

Review:  THE ONCE AND FUTURE WITCHES by Alix E. HarrowThe Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
five-stars
Published by Orbit on October 13, 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Fiction, Paranormal
Pages: 528
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

five-stars

About Alix E. Harrow

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

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

Audiobook Review: THE SWITCH by Beth O’Leary

Audiobook Review:  THE SWITCH by Beth O’LearyThe Switch by Beth O'Leary, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Alison Steadman
four-stars
Published by Macmillan Audio on August 18, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction, Chick Lit, Romance
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Beth O’Leary

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

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

Review:  EIGHTY DAYS TO ELSEWHERE by K.C. DyerEighty Days to Elsewhere by K.C. Dyer
four-stars
Published by Berkley Books on August 11, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Brittanie from Berkley for inviting me to take part in their 2020 Romance blog tours.  Today I’m excited to share my thoughts on K.C. Dyer’s new novel, Eighty Days to Elsewhere with you.

* * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About K.C. Dyer

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

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

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

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

Review: 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
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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: BLACKTOP WASTELAND by S.A. Cosby

Review:  BLACKTOP WASTELAND by S.A. CosbyBlacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
four-half-stars
Published by Flatiron Books on July 14, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t normally read a lot of crime novels but I was drawn to S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland because it’s set in my home state of Virginia.  Whatever my reasons for initially picking it up though, I’m so glad I did because Blacktop Wasteland really blew me away.  It is both an action-packed thrill ride that features a high stakes heist and an emotional journey about a man who is caught between the sins of his past and what he desperately wants for his future.

Blacktop Wasteland hooked me from the very first chapter when we meet the protagonist, Beauregard “Bug” Montage.  If you like complicated characters, you’re going to love Bug.  When we first meet him, Bug is drag racing for cash and it becomes immediately clear that Bug’s driving skills are unmatched.  Think “The Fast and the Furious” and you’re on the right track.   For years, Bug was the go-to wheelman for anyone out there who was trying to pull off a heist.  He’s now trying to leave that life of crime behind though.  Bug has a wonderful wife, great kids, and he owns his own auto body shop.  He loves his life as a family man and business owner, living on the up and up, and wants to do right by his family no matter what.  Bug is also haunted by memories of his father, who led a similar criminal lifestyle but ultimately abandoned his family rather than stick around and take care of them.  Bug is determined not to be like his father.

Life gets complicated for Bug, however, when for reasons beyond his control (unexpected expenses, new competition from a rival shop, etc.), he starts struggling to make ends meet and fears he won’t be able to provide for his family.  As he exhausts all of his non-criminal options, his old way of life starts calling to him and when a former associate approaches him about a can’t miss heist, Bug agrees to take part, rationalizing in his mind that he’s doing this one last time and that it’s all for his family.  Things unfortunately don’t go according to plan as Bug and his associates realize they’ve stolen from the wrong person and that things are about to go from bad to worse for them.

There’s so much tension and suspense building as Bug finds himself in an increasingly impossible situation. When the heist goes wrong, Bug’s life spirals down a dark and dangerous path that leaves him and his family more vulnerable than ever before and he has to figure out a way to fix it once and for all. And what made Bug such an especially compelling character for me is that no matter how deep he found himself in trouble, he never loses sight of his family.  He truly is willing to do absolutely anything to protect them and secure their future, even if it means possibly sacrificing himself.   S. A. Cosby does such an incredible job with painting Bug as both morally gray and completely sympathetic that I actually found myself rooting for Bug to do whatever he had to do to take out all threats to his family, even if it involved violence.  I was just that invested in Bug and his family.

S. A. Cosby’s writing in Blacktop Wasteland is phenomenal as well.  Whether he’s describing the back roads of rural Virginia, muscle cars and action-packed driving scenes that would easily fit into a Fast and Furious script, exploring the landscape of poverty and racism that is ever-present in our society, or laying out an emotional discussion between a husband and wife about the challenges that are facing their family, Cosby’s characters are both authentic and unforgettable, and his imagery is vibrant, powerful, and sure to resonate.  This is my first time reading one of S. A. Cosby’s novels and I very much look forward to reading more from him. If you’re in the mood for a fast-paced crime thriller that is raw, gritty and will leave you on the edge of your seat, Blacktop Wasteland is a must-read.

four-half-stars

About S.A. Cosby

S. A. Cosby is a writer from Southeastern Virginia. He won the 2019 Anthony Award for Best Short Story for “The Grass Beneath My Feet”, and his previous books include Brotherhood of the Blade and My Darkest Prayer. He resides in Gloucester, Virginia. When not writing, he is an avid hiker and chess player.

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
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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: MEXICAN GOTHIC by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Review:  MEXICAN GOTHIC by Silvia Moreno-GarciaMexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
four-stars
Published by Del Rey on June 30, 2020
Genres: Horror, Historical Fiction
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t normally read much in the way of horror, but when I read the synopsis for Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s new novel, Mexican Gothic, and saw the comparisons to gothic classics Jane Eyre and Rebecca, I just couldn’t resist stepping out of my comfort zone and giving it a try.  I’m so glad I did too because Mexican Gothic is one wild and seriously creepy ride!

Set in Mexico during the 1950’s, the story follows Noemi Taboada, a stylish debutante who spends much of her time either going to parties or studying anthropology.  She’s trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life when her family receives a disturbing and cryptic letter from Noemi’s recently married cousin, Catalina.  In her letter, Catalina rants and raves, makes it sound like she’s being held against her will, and begs for someone to come and save her from a mysterious doom.  Noemi and her family hadn’t heard from Catalina much since she moved away with her new husband so her letter comes as a huge shock.  Fearful for both her physical and mental well-being, Noemi sets out on the long journey to visit Catalina and assess the situation.

As soon as Noemi arrives at High Place, the remote mansion in the countryside where Catalina is living, she can tell that something is just off.  The mansion is creepy, rundown, and there are signs of decay everywhere, and the family themselves doesn’t appear much better off.  Howard Doyle, the patriarch of the household, is practically on his deathbed, and all rules of the house are set up so as not to disturb him, with the ultra-stern housekeeper Florence enforcing them.  Catalina’s husband Virgil is equally creepy and has a predatory vibe about him that Noemi immediately dislikes, and she quickly begins to understand why Catalina could be distressed by her living arrangements.  Speaking of Catalina, Noemi is rarely allowed to see or speak to her cousin, and is told that she is recovering from an illness.  The few times Noemi does speak to her, she seems agitated and not at all like herself.  The longer Noemi stays in the house, the more she starts to sense that something is very wrong and that it may be starting to affect her as well.

I really enjoyed the character of Noemi.  She’s smart, resourceful, and quite brave.  She went to that house wanting answers and she wasn’t leaving without them. She also refused to back down to anyone who got in her way, no matter how much they tried to intimidate or threaten her.

I don’t want to say anything else about the plot since the bulk of the book deals with Noemi trying to figure out what is going on in this house.  I will say though that what Noemi finds blows her mind, and mine as well.  Mexican Gothic is a dark, disturbing, utterly twisted and such a unique story that all of the big reveals kept me guessing.  In addition to the uniqueness of the story itself, I also loved the gothic atmosphere of the setting, especially the rundown mansion with the creepy graveyard on the property.   Everything about this story had me on the edge of my seat from the moment Noemi started poking around in the mansion.  One of my favorite elements of the storytelling was that the author creates an environment where it becomes hard to distinguish what is real from what is illusion or perhaps an imagination run wild.  I mention this in part because I do want to give a trigger warning for some graphic scenes involving a real or imagined sexual assault.

Circling back to touch on those comparisons to Jane Eyre and Rebecca, I think both of those are apt and I would also toss in a little V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic as well.  If you’re craving a dark and haunting read, Mexican Gothic is sure to satisfy your appetite.

four-stars

About Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of several novels, including Gods of Jade and Shadow. She has also edited a number of anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award-winning She Walks in Shadows (a.k.a. Cthulhu’s Daughters). Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination.

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
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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: THE GUEST LIST by Lucy Foley

Review:  THE GUEST LIST by Lucy FoleyThe Guest List by Lucy Foley
four-stars
Published by William Morrow on June 2, 2020
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucy Foley’s The Guest List is an atmospheric thriller that centers on a high society wedding event gone wrong.  The wedding in question is that of Jules and Will.  Jules is a successful magazine publisher, while Will is an up and coming reality TV star.  With an exotic location, designer gowns, and boutique whiskey, Will and Jules’ wedding is shaping up to be the stuff dreams are made of.  That is, until it turns into a nightmare, complete with a dead body.

I was very intrigued by all the different points of view the author chose to use in this story.  We get alternating chapters from Jules, the bride; Olivia, Jules’ sister and only bridesmaid; Hannah, the wife of Jules’ best friend; Johnno, the best man; and Aoife, the wedding planner.  When I first started reading, I thought this was such an odd assortment of characters to choose and was eager to find out why in the world they had been selected.  As the story started to come together, it became obvious why these characters had been selected and I was eager to learn more about them, particularly what each of them was hiding since it was clear they all had secrets they were holding close to their chests.

In addition to the seemingly random points of view that weren’t so random after all, the author also uses a very effective timeline to pull together all of the threads of this mystery.  The Guest List begins the night of Jules and Will’s wedding. A fierce storm has blown in just after the ceremony and the guests are riding out the storm inside.  The environment quickly turns chaotic as the power starts flickering on and off and then the guests start to hear screams. It’s clear that something has gone terribly wrong and the ushers decide it’s up to them to go out and investigate the source of the screams.  The story then alternates between following the aftermath of discovering the dead body, and following the events that led up to the discovery of the body, with special attention to certain members of the wedding party and guests to see what, if any, role they played in the tragedy.

While I loved watching the different points of view and the two timelines come together, it was the atmospheric remote setting of The Guest List that really took this story to the next level for me.  It’s set on a small island off the coast of Ireland.  The island is practically deserted and is rumored to be haunted, and is composed of a landscape that is rocky, wild, and particularly dangerous if you stray from the designated paths.  All I kept thinking as I was reading was “Who in their right mind would want to have a wedding in such a dangerous and creepy place?”

I don’t want to give away any details since this is a thriller, so I’m going to close now before I say too much.  If you’re a fan of creepy atmospheric, slow burn thrillers reminiscent of Agatha Christie and Ruth Ware, you’re going to love The Guest List.

four-stars

About Lucy Foley

Lucy Foley studied English literature at Durham University and University College London and worked for several years as a fiction editor in the publishing industry. She is the author of The Book of Lost and Found and The Invitation. She lives in London.