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
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: You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Review:  You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks & Sarah PekkanenYou Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen
Also by this author: The Wife Between Us
three-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on March 3, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 343
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Authors Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are a dynamic duo when it comes to writing dark and twisty psychological thrillers that keep readers on the edge of their seats, and their latest offering, You Are Not Alone, continues the trend.  You Are Not Alone is a dark and disturbing read that explores what happens when an emotionally vulnerable young woman finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The story follows Shay Miller, whose life is just overall in a disappointing place for her.  She is working a temp job with no prospects of a permanent position on the horizon, she has no real friends to speak of, and she is in love with her roommate Sean, who already has a long-time girlfriend.  Shay finds herself mostly isolated and therefore vulnerable. When Shay happens to be in a subway station and witnesses a young woman commit suicide, she becomes obsessed with learning more about the victim.  She knows her obsession is unhealthy, but she feels compelled nonetheless to find out what led her to take her own life.

I found myself incredibly sympathetic to Shay and the position she has found herself in.  She feels a connection to the suicide victim in part because she can so easily put herself in that woman’s place and can imagine feeling like there’s nothing worth living for. I can understand why she feels it’s so important to find out what exactly drove this woman to do what she did.  She’s thinking of herself and what could drive her to that same point.

The story, and Shay’s life, takes a drastically different turn when she decides to attend the memorial service for the suicide victim and meets Cassandra and Jane Moore, who are sisters and who were also both close to the deceased.  Shay is fascinated by the ultra-charismatic sisters and her obsession with the victim soon expands to include them as well, especially since they seem very eager to befriend her.  Shay is desperate for friends and begins to imagine herself taking the victim’s place in the sisters’ circle of friends. Seems to easy and too good to be true, right?

Good things start happening for Shay as she deepens her connection to the sisters…until suddenly, they don’t. Out of nowhere, Shay finds herself inexplicably caught up in the investigation into the death of the suicide victim as well as another crime.  The authors ratchet up the tension and suspense as Shay desperately tries to figure out what is going on and how she’s going to get herself out of the mess she has found herself in.  I had a few minor issues with pacing early on in the story, but once I got to this part of the book, I flew through the rest of the pages trying put together the pieces of this wild and crazy puzzle.

You Are Not Alone is a disturbing and complex tale of manipulation, danger, and revenge.  If you’re into dark, twisty, and suspenseful reads, this is one that needs to go on your must-read list.

three-half-stars

About Greer Hendricks

GREER HENDRICKS spent over two decades as an editor at Simon & Schuster. Prior to her tenure in publishing, she worked at Allure Magazine and obtained her Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children, The Wife Between Us is her first novel.

Follow Greer Hendricks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

About Sarah Pekkanen

Internationally bestselling author Sarah Pekkanen’s newest book is THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS. She is also the co-author of the upcoming THE WIFE BETWEEN US (out in January 2018).

Her prior novels are: THINGS YOU WON’T SAY, CATCHING AIR, THE BEST OF US, THE OPPOSITE OF ME, SKIPPING A BEAT, and THESE GIRLS.

Sarah’s linked free short estories, published by Simon&Schuster exclusively for ereaders, are titled “All is Bright,” and “Love, Accidentally.”

Sarah is the mother of three young boys, which explains why she writes part of her novels at Chuck E. Cheese. Sarah penned her first book, Miscellaneous Tales and Poems, at the age of 10. When publishers failed to jump upon this literary masterpiece (hey, all the poems rhymed!) Sarah followed up by sending them a sternly-worded letter on Raggedy Ann stationery. Sarah still has that letter, and carries it to New York every time she has meetings with her publisher, as a reminder that dreams do come true.

Her website is www.sarahpekkanen.com and please find her on Facebook Instagram and Twitter @sarahpekkanen!

Review: BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN by Diane Chamberlain

Review: BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN by Diane ChamberlainBig Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain
Also by this author: The Dream Daughter
five-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 14, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN review

Diane Chamberlain’s latest novel, Big Lies in a Small Town, follows two protagonists, Morgan Christopher and Anna Dale.  When we meet Morgan, she is serving a three-year prison sentence. Prior to her arrest, Morgan was in school pursuing her dream of a career in art.  That dream is on indefinite hold until one day when Lisa Williams, the daughter of Jesse Jameson, one of Morgan’s favorite artists, visits her in prison and presents her with an offer she can’t refuse. If, per Jameson’s request, as expressed in his will, Morgan is willing to help Lisa with a major art restoration project, Morgan will immediately be released from prison.  It sounds too good to be true, of course. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration and can’t imagine how she ended up named in Jesse Jameson’s will, but she’s not about to pass up on an offer to get her life back and so she accepts.

The art restoration project, which is a post office mural from a tiny town in North Carolina in 1940, is where the second protagonist, Anna Dale, comes into play.  When Morgan begins work on the mural project and starts to remove the layers of dirt and grime that mire the mural’s surface, she makes a shocking discovery. What at first looks like a quaint portrait of small-town southern life soon reveals itself to be something much more disturbing. Hidden throughout the mural are axes, knives, blood, and even skulls. Morgan can’t imagine this was the artist’s original intention for the mural and becomes obsessed with trying to figure out what happened to make the artist go down such a dark path. The artist is Anna Dale.

* * * * *

One of my favorite things about this novel is Chamberlain’s use of the dual timeline.  In one timeline, we follow Anna from the time she takes the job to paint the mural and moves to North Carolina to complete her task, all the way through to what caused her to insert those violent images into her art.  At the same time, we follow Morgan as she both restores the mural and tries to find out whatever she can about what happened to Anna.  I loved how the two timelines parallel one another, revealing secret after secret and lie after lie, until they ultimately merge in the most heart-wrenching way.

I also loved Chamberlain’s portrayal of both of these characters. Both Anna and Morgan are underdogs in their respective timelines and I just adored both of them.  They’re strong yet vulnerable, smart and resourceful, and they’re also both just so complex.  Morgan is battling some inner demons related to her imprisonment, and as we can see from the mural, Anna had some demons of her own that haunted her.  The more I learned about Morgan, the more I was cheering her on every step of the way, and the more I learned about Anna, the more invested I became in learning what happened since that mural looks like it was painted by someone with a very disturbed mind.

* * * * *

Filled with gorgeous prose, a unique, multi-layered and compelling plot, and unforgettable characters, Big Lies in a Small Town, completely blew me away.  I loved every page of it, so much so that it’s my first 5-star review of 2020.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn’t expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.

What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?

five-stars

About Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain is the New York Times, USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author of 26 novels published in more than twenty languages. Her most recent novel is The Dream Daughter. Some of her most popular books include Necessary Lies, The Silent Sister, The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes, and The Keeper of the Light Trilogy. Diane likes to write complex stories about relationships between men and women, parents and children, brothers and sisters, and friends. Although the thematic focus of her books often revolves around family, love, compassion and forgiveness, her stories usually feature a combination of drama, mystery, secrets and intrigue. Diane’s background in psychology has given her a keen interest in understanding the way people tick, as well as the background necessary to create her realistic characters.

Diane was born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey and spent her summers at the Jersey Shore. She also lived for many years in San Diego and northern Virginia before making North Carolina her home.

Diane received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in clinical social work from San Diego State University. Prior to her writing career, Diane worked in hospitals in San Diego and Washington, D.C. before opening a private psychotherapy practice in Alexandria Virginia specializing in adolescents. All the while Diane was writing on the side. Her first book, Private Relations was published in 1989 and it earned the RITA award for Best Single Title Contemporary Novel.

Diane lives with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her sheltie, Cole. She has three stepdaughters, two sons-in-law, and four grandchildren. She’s currently at work on her next novel.

Please visit Diane’s website dianechamberlain.com for more information on her newest novel, The Stolen Marriage, and a complete list of her books.

Review: HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS by Raymond Fleischmann

Review:  HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS by Raymond FleischmannHow Quickly She Disappears by Raymond Fleischmann
three-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on January 14, 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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raymond Fleischmann’s debut novel How Quickly She Disappears is a powerful story about loneliness, grief, and obsession.  Primarily set in a small town in Alaska in 1941, the story follows Elisabeth Pfautz, a woman who becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her twin sister, Jacqueline.  Jacqueline went missing without a trace twenty years earlier and the lack of closure is something that has troubled Elisabeth for years.

Elisabeth’s life really gets turned on its end when a mysterious man named Alfred Seidel is imprisoned for murder and refuses to talk to anyone except for Elisabeth. When she goes to see him in prison, he tells her he knows where her missing sister is and that she’s alive and well.  He will gladly tell her everything she wants to know about Jacqueline… in due time and in exchange for a few favors.  As suspicious and outrageous as this sounds, Elisabeth is desperate for any news about her sister and so she plays along.  And play she does, as the two of them begin a mental game of cat and mouse.

Will Elisabeth get the answers she so desperately wants?  And if so, at what cost?  What is Alfred’s endgame?

* * * * *

I was drawn into this story immediately, both by the author’s vivid descriptions of the remote Alaskan landscape and by Elisabeth’s emotional plight.  I felt sympathy for Elisabeth’s situation right away.  The loss of her sister is of course devastating, but I also felt for her because she was so alone.  It’s hard enough to move away from everyone and everything you’ve ever known but imagine doing so and then not being welcomed to your new home with open arms. The story is set during WWII and so, being of German descent, Elisabeth and her husband, John, were unfortunately given the side eye more than once by those around them.  Couple that with the fact that it becomes apparent early on that John isn’t the most attentive husband in the world, and it’s easy to see why Elisabeth feels so alone.

In addition to creating a sympathetic protagonist, the author also uses one of my favorite tools for historical fiction, the dual timeline presented in alternating chapters.  Fleischmann lets the story unfold for us from Elisabeth’s perspective, with one timeline in the present following her cat and mouse game with the suspicious and mysterious Alfred, while the other timeline follows her at age eleven and shows us the lead up to Jacqueline’s disappearance and the immediate aftermath.  I really enjoyed following the twists and turns of each timeline and watching the pieces of the story fall into place.

Elisabeth’s growing obsession with Alfred’s game both thrilled and frustrated me.  It starts her on a downward spiral, basically taking over her life and causing her to make some horribly bad and downright reckless decisions.  Elisabeth’s obsession had me quickly turning the pages to find out what was next in Alfred’s manipulative little game, but at the same time, there were moments when I just couldn’t believe she was actually willing to do some of the things he was demanding of her. When she starts neglecting her own child and putting others at risk, I honestly started to dislike her a little.

Along with my growing frustration with Elisabeth as the story progressed, there were also some moments at the prison where I really had to suspend disbelief to get through. I keep telling myself it’s the 40’s and maybe prisons weren’t as strict back then about prisoners and visitors and the contact they’re allowed to have, but it still had me shaking my head a bit.

My issues with the book were quite minor though and overall I still found How Quickly She Disappears to be a riveting read.  It’s atmospheric, suspenseful, and it packs an emotional punch as well.  I was really impressed with this debut from Raymond Fleischmann and look forward to many more novels from him.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The Dry meets Silence of the Lambs in this intoxicating tale of literary suspense set in the relentless Alaskan landscape about madness and obsession, loneliness and grief, and the ferocious bonds of family …

It’s 1941 in small-town Alaska and Elisabeth Pfautz is alone. She’s living far from home, struggling through an unhappy marriage, and she spends her days tutoring her precocious young daughter. Elisabeth’s twin sister disappeared without a trace twenty years earlier, and Elisabeth’s life has never recovered. Cryptic visions of her sister haunt her dreams, and Elisabeth’s crushing loneliness grows more intense by the day. But through it all, she clings to one belief: That her sister is still alive, and that they’ll be reunited one day.

And that day may be coming soon. Elisabeth’s world is upended when Alfred Seidel — an enigmatic German bush pilot — arrives in town and murders a local man in cold blood. Sitting in his cell in the wake of his crime, Alfred refuses to speak to anyone except for Elisabeth. He has something to tell her: He knows exactly what happened to her long-missing sister, but he’ll reveal this truth only if Elisabeth fulfills three requests.

Increasingly isolated from her neighbors and imprisoned by the bitter cold and her own obsession, Elisabeth lets herself slip deeper into Alfred’s web. A tenuous friendship forms between them, even as Elisabeth struggles to understand Alfred’s game and what he’s after.

But if it means she’ll get answers, she’s willing to play by his rules. She’s ready to sacrifice whatever it takes to be reunited with her sister, even if it means putting herself — and her family — in mortal danger.

three-half-stars

About Raymond Fleischmann

Raymond Fleischmann’s debut novel, How Quickly She Disappears, is available now from Penguin Random House (Berkley Books). Fleischmann has published short fiction in The Iowa Review, Cimarron Review, The Pinch, and Los Angeles Review, among many others. He earned his MFA from Ohio State University and has received fellowships and scholarships from Richard Hugo House, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and others. He lives in Bloomington, Ind., with his wife and three daughters.

Review: THE LITTLE BOOKSHOP ON THE SEINE by Rebecca Raisin

Review:  THE LITTLE BOOKSHOP ON THE SEINE by Rebecca RaisinThe Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin
four-stars
Series: The Little Paris Collection #1
Published by Hqn on January 7, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Justine Sha for inviting me to take part in Harlequin Trade Publishing’s Winter 2020 Blog Tour for Romance & Women’s Fiction.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Rebecca Raisin’s novel, The Little Bookshop on the Seine.

As soon as I saw the title of The Little Bookshop on the Seine, I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. I love Paris and I love bookshops so it felt like this book was tailor made for me. I’m happy to say it did not disappoint either. I read it while I was off from work for Christmas and it was the perfect holiday read.

The Little Bookshop on the Seine is a heartwarming and charming story that follows Sarah Smith, an introverted bookshop owner who has grown bored with her life in a small town. When her friend Sophie, a bookshop owner in Paris, makes the wild suggestion that the two of them swap shops for six months, Sarah, much to the surprise of her friends and family, jumps at the idea. For Sarah, who is a romantic at heart, the swap is a no brainer. How can she resist the allure of the most romantic city in the world?

Her romantic notions about life in Paris take a hit, however, when her luggage and passport are stolen within hours of her arrival and again, when she realizes that Sophie’s bookshop is nothing like her own. Where Sarah’s is a quaint little bookshop that is rarely busy and where she is the only employee, Sophie’s bookshop is a landmark tourist attraction, complete with lines practically out the door and a staff that seems to come and go as they please. It’s way more of a challenge than Sarah expected and she’s not sure she’s up for the job.

I was really drawn to Sarah right away. As a fellow introvert, I was cheering her on as she came out of her shell and embraced this adventure wholeheartedly. She shows so much growth throughout the novel as she makes the transition from tourist to local, and embraces the challenges of running such a huge bookshop and the unexpected challenges of trying to rein in Sophie’s undisciplined staff. Sarah is also a sympathetic character in that she’s dealing with a boyfriend, Ridge, who she loves dearly, but who is never around because he’s a freelance journalist always off on assignment. My heart broke a little for her as he cancels on her time and time again and makes her question whether or not that’s a life she really wants. The questions and the relationship issues are all too relatable for many of us.

In addition to Sarah and her trials and tribulations, the Paris setting was another huge draw for me and Rebecca Raisin’s depiction of Paris is perfection. She captured every fabulous detail of Paris and made me fall in love with the City of Lights all over again. As she vividly describes the sights, the sounds, the food!, and the glorious secret shops that only locals know about, I truly felt transported there. I also loved that Sarah’s six months in Paris included the Christmas holiday. Can you imagine anything more romantic than Paris at Christmas?

A final element that really made The Little Bookshop on the Seine such a delightful read for me is the focus on friendship. Between the love and support that Sarah gets from her hometown friend group and the new group of friends she makes while in Paris (basically her ‘found family’), this book just had me smiling from start to finish.

If you’re in the mood for a story that focuses on love, family, friendship, and especially on taking chances, The Little Bookshop on the Seine is the perfect read for you!

PURCHASE LINKS:

HarlequinAmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundKoboTargetWalmartiBooksGoogle – Books-A-Million

 

SUMMARY:

It’s The Holiday on the Champs-Élysées in a great big love letter to Paris, charming old bookstores and happily-ever-afters!

When bookshop owner Sarah Smith is offered the opportunity for a job exchange with her Parisian friend Sophie, saying yes is a no-brainer—after all, what kind of romantic would turn down six months in Paris? Sarah is sure she’s in for the experience of a lifetime—days spent surrounded by literature in a gorgeous bookshop, and the chance to watch the snow fall on the Eiffel Tower. Plus, now she can meet up with her journalist boyfriend, Ridge, when his job takes him around the globe.

But her expectations cool faster than her café au lait soon after she lands in the City of Light—she’s a fish out of water in Paris. The customers are rude, her new coworkers suspicious and her relationship with Ridge has been reduced to a long-distance game of phone tag, leaving Sarah to wonder if he’ll ever put her first over his busy career. As Christmas approaches, Sarah is determined to get the shop—and her life—back in order…and make her dreams of a Parisian happily-ever-after come true.

four-stars

About Rebecca Raisin

Rebecca Raisin is the author of several novels, including the beloved Little Paris series and the Gingerbread Café trilogy, and her short stories have been published in various anthologies and fiction magazines. You can follow Rebecca on Facebook, and at www.rebeccaraisin.com.

Review: HUSBAND MATERIAL by Emily Belden

Review:  HUSBAND MATERIAL by Emily BeldenHusband Material by Emily Belden
four-stars
Published by Graydon House on December 30, 2019
Genres: Women's Fiction, Romance
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 Justine Sha for inviting me to take part in Harlequin Trade Publishing’s Winter 2020 Blog Tour for Romance & Women’s Fiction.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Emily Belden’s latest novel, Husband Material.  

Husband Material is a romantic tale that is filled with both wit and heart.  It follows twenty-nine year old Charlotte Rosen, a young woman who seems to have it all. She lives in L.A. and has a great job working as a social media analyst. Charlotte is not only a rising star at her firm, but she is also a whiz at numbers, algorithms, and programming, and so as a side project, she’s also developing her own dating app in hopes of one day turning it into a big money maker for herself. Charlotte is convinced that she can pull enough data from the internet (social media, etc.) to determine who would be most compatible.  As she is also in the market for Mr. Right, Charlotte is using herself as a test subject to work out the kinks in her app.

Charlotte is all about the numbers and the data. She sees everything in life in black and white, 0s and 1s. Everything has a right and wrong answer…until life throws a curve ball at her in the form of her dead husband’s ashes, which show up on her doorstep in a J. Crew box. Not only is this incredibly awkward because Charlotte hasn’t told anyone in LA. that she’s a widow, but it also exposes old wounds, unresolved issues, and of course the immense grief that Charlotte thought she was moving past. In order to begin the healing process anew, Charlotte has to reopen doors she thought were closed, including rekindling an awkward and painful relationship with her ex mother-in-law, as well as an unexpected one with her dead husband’s best friend.  With these encounters, Charlotte realizes her numbers and data will only take her so far, and that not everything in life is black and white.  There’s a lot of gray, more gray than she ever thought possible.

Charlotte’s growth throughout the story is what really made this book work for me.  I actually found her a little annoying at the beginning because she was just so borderline arrogant about how her skills with numbers were the answer to everything.  The can of worms that the urn showing up opened really turned Charlotte’s life upside down and I liked watching her have to re-evaluate and adapt her view of the world. Even though she annoyed me in the beginning, by the end of the story, I adored Charlotte and was sad to have to say goodbye.

In addition to creating such a complex character who shows so much growth in the story, I also thought Belden did a wonderful job of making Charlotte’s experience of loss and grief feel so authentic. I read at the end that she actually interviewed widows to discuss their experiences and that research really shines through with the range of emotions that Charlotte goes through each day and the unexpected things that can suddenly trigger an emotional reaction.

I also really liked that even though the book dealt with the very serious subject of grief and healing, it still overall felt like a very lighthearted read.  It was entertaining and heartfelt at the same time and was written in such a vivid way that I could easily picture it as a film on the big screen while I was reading.

If you’re looking for a heartwarming story about love, family, and finding a way to move on from the past, Emily Belden’s Husband Material is a great choice.  On sale, December 30, 2019.

 

PURCHASE LINKS:  

HarlequinAmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundKoboGoogle Books

 

SUMMARY:

Told in Emily Belden’s signature edgy voice, a novel about a young widow’s discovery of her late husband’s secret and her journey toward hope and second-chance love.

Twenty-nine-year-old Charlotte Rosen has a secret: she’s a widow. Ever since the fateful day that leveled her world, Charlotte has worked hard to move forward. Great job at a hot social media analytics company? Check. Roommate with no knowledge of her past? Check. Adorable dog? Check. All the while, she’s faithfully data-crunched her way through life, calculating the probability of risk—so she can avoid it.

Yet Charlotte’s algorithms could never have predicted that her late husband’s ashes would land squarely on her doorstep five years later. Stunned but determined, Charlotte sets out to find meaning in this sudden twist of fate, even if that includes facing her perfectly coiffed, and perfectly difficult, ex-mother-in-law—and her husband’s best friend, who seems to become a fixture at her side whether she likes it or not.

But soon a shocking secret surfaces, forcing Charlotte to answer questions she never knew to ask and to consider the possibility of forgiveness. And when a chance at new love arises, she’ll have to decide once and for all whether to follow the numbers or trust her heart.

 

 

 

four-stars

About Emily Belden

EMILY BELDEN is a journalist, social media marketer, and storyteller. She is the author of the novel Hot Mess and Eightysixed: A Memoir about Unforgettable Men, Mistakes, and Meals. She lives in Chicago. Visit her website at www.emilybelden.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram, @emilybelden.

Review: THE SHAPE OF NIGHT by Tess Gerritsen

Review:  THE SHAPE OF NIGHT by Tess GerritsenThe Shape of Night by Tess Gerritsen
three-half-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on October 1, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Paranormal
Pages: 288
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE SHAPE OF NIGHT Review

 

I’ve been a fan of Tess Gerritsen’s novels for years, especially her Rizzoli and Isles thriller series, so when I saw she had a new novel coming out, The Shape of Night, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

The Shape of Night is set in a remote coastal town in Maine where the protagonist, food writer Ava Collette, has rented a house, in hopes of escaping her troubles so that she can focus on finishing her latest cookbook, which is way overdue to her publishers.  The home, Brodie’s Watch, is named after its original owner Captain Jeremiah Brodie, who died at sea over 150 years ago. When Ava firsts arrives at Brodie’s Watch, the outside does not look at all like the quiet, peaceful spot she was hoping for.  Instead, it actually looks quite menacing and unwelcoming.  Once inside, however, it’s exactly what Ava was hoping for and so she settles in quickly, feeling at peace with the place.

That is, until she starts feeling like she’s being watched.  And not only that, she also starts hearing strange noises and seeing things at night that have her questioning her own sanity.  When she also starts to find random personal items that clearly belonged to the prior tenant, Ava contacts her realtor to see about forwarding the items to the prior tenant and to try to get some answers about the house.  The realtor gives her the runaround at first but then finally admits that the prior tenant left very abruptly and without explanation. Unsatisfied with the answers she is given, Ava starts to do some digging to learn as much as she can about the house and its prior owners.  What she finds regarding the prior owners is not only incredibly disturbing, but it could actually end up costing Ava her life.

While The Shape of Night is quite different from those Rizzoli and Isles novels I love so much because it features a paranormal element, it still kept me on the edge of my seat with the riveting mystery of what is going on at Brodie’s Watch.  I was very engrossed in the mystery of the house and whether or not it was actually haunted, and so found Ava’s investigation very entertaining.  I was also very invested in the character of Ava and wanted to know more about what had happened in her personal life to have her fleeing to such a remote location and avoiding phone calls from her friends and family.

I also loved the creepy, atmospheric, almost Gothic feel that Brodie’s Watch has at night and all of the supernatural touches that Gerritsen has added.  Ava’s paranoia about what she was experiencing was also quite contagious and had me looking over my own shoulder to make sure no one was watching me!

All in all, this was a gripping read that I was able to fly through in just a couple of sittings.  My only real issue with the book was that there were some sexual scenes in the book that I could have done without. They didn’t really add anything to the storyline and were a little more graphic than necessary, veering into BDSM territory.  Even with that issue though, it was definitely still a very solid read for me.

If you’re into mysteries and/or paranormal stories, Tess Gerritsen’s The Shape of Night may be exactly the book you’re looking for.  It’s a perfect read for fall!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A woman trying to outrun her past is drawn to a quiet coastal town in Maine–and to a string of unsolved murders–in this haunting tale of romantic suspense from New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen.

Ava Collette is punishing herself for an unspeakable tragedy. So she flees Boston and rents an old home named Brodie’s Watch on a remote coastal peninsula of Maine, hoping to work on a cookbook inspired by New England cuisine that she’s been trying to finish for months. She immediately feels at peace in the isolated house–until she starts to hear strange noises.

Rumor has it that a sea captain named Brodie has haunted the house for decades. Then, one night, Ava is awakened to find herself face to face with an apparition who looks–and feels–all too real. Meanwhile, there’s been a series of accidental deaths nearby that don’t add up. And as Ava starts to check into the previous renter’s mysterious disappearance, she starts to realize that there’s a disturbing secret some in town are desperate to keep hidden.

Soon all of Ava’s waking hours are consumed by her investigation, and her nights are ignited by Captain Brodie’s ghostly visits. But even as she questions her own sanity, she knows she must uncover the truth before a killer strikes again.

three-half-stars

About Tess Gerritsen

Internationally bestselling author Tess Gerritsen took an unusual route to a writing career. A graduate of Stanford University, Tess went on to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, where she was awarded her M.D.

While on maternity leave from her work as a physician, she began to write fiction. In 1987, her first novel was published. Call After Midnight, a romantic thriller, was followed by eight more romantic suspense novels. She also wrote a screenplay, “Adrift”, which aired as a 1993 CBS Movie of the Week starring Kate Jackson.

Tess’s first medical thriller, Harvest, was released in hardcover in 1996, and it marked her debut on the New York Times bestseller list. Her suspense novels since then have been: Life Support (1997), Bloodstream (1998), Gravity (1999), The Surgeon (2001), The Apprentice (2002), The Sinner (2003), Body Double (2004), Vanish (2005), The Mephisto Club (2006), and The Bone Garden (2007). Her books have been translated into 31 languages, and more than 15 million copies have been sold around the world.

As well as being a New York Times bestselling author, she has also been a #1 bestseller in both Germany and the UK. She has won both the Nero Wolfe Award (for Vanish) and the Rita Award (for The Surgeon.) Critics around the world have praised her novels as “Pulse-pounding fun” (Philadelphia Inquirer), “Scary and brilliant” (Toronto Globe and Mail), and “Polished, riveting prose” (Chicago Tribune). Publisher Weekly has dubbed her the “medical suspense queen”.

Now retired from medicine, she writes full time. She lives in Maine.

Review: ROYAL HOLIDAY by Jasmine Guillory

Review:  ROYAL HOLIDAY by Jasmine GuilloryRoyal Holiday (The Wedding Date, #4) by Jasmine Guillory
three-half-stars
Series: The Wedding Date #4
Published by BERKLEY on October 1, 2019
Genres: Romance, Contemporary Fiction, Holiday
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

ROYAL HOLIDAY Review

 

Royal Holiday is the fourth book in Jasmine Guillory’s popular romance series, The Wedding Date.  I actually haven’t read the first three books in the series but requested this one from Netgalley because I was in the mood for a holiday romance and I loved that this story is set in London and has royalty in it.

The synopsis promises a charming and fun holiday romance and it really delivers.  I especially loved that the main characters, Vivian Forest and Malcom Hudson are a more mature couple.  Vivian is in her fifties and is visiting England for the first time with her daughter, Maddie, who is there for work.  Maddie works as a stylist and has been tasked with styling a duchess over the holidays. What this means for both Maddie and Vivian is that they will actually be staying in a royal household. Talk about a bucket list trip for Vivian!  Almost as soon as she arrives at the royal residence, Vivian finds herself face to face with the handsome and very charming Malcolm, who is about her age and who works as the private secretary to the Queen of England.

Vivian and Malcolm hit it off right away.  I thought their time together was just so sweet.  Malcolm takes her on several special sightseeing dates because he wants to make her trip as special as possible.  Both Vivian and Malcolm haven’t had the best of luck in the relationship department so this second chance at love for both of them really warmed my heart.

About the only thing that would have made this an even more satisfying read would have been if I had felt a little more strongly about Vivian and Malcolm and their long-term prospects as a couple. As I moved through the story, however, I found myself feeling content however the author chose to end the story.  If it was just a holiday fling that ended as soon as Vivian went back home to America, fine. And if it ended with the two of them together, making a go of a long-distance relationship, fine.  I like to feel a little more invested in a relationship than that.  Regardless though, it really was a sweet story reading about their dates and watching them flirt with each other a little more each day.

Royal Holiday actually reminded me of one of those heartwarming Hallmark Christmas movies that are so popular every year.  If you like second chance romances and you’re looking for a charming little Christmas story to get you in the holiday spirit and put a smile on your face, Royal Holiday is your book.

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Proposal and “rising star in the romance genre” (Entertainment Weekly) comes a dazzling new novel about a spontaneous holiday vacation that turns into an unforgettable romance.

Vivian Forest has been out of the country a grand total of one time, so when she gets the chance to tag along on her daughter Maddie’s work trip to England to style a royal family member, she can’t refuse. She’s excited to spend the holidays taking in the magnificent British sights, but what she doesn’t expect is to become instantly attracted to a certain private secretary, his charming accent, and unyielding formality.

Malcolm Hudson has worked for the Queen for years and has never given a personal, private tour—until now. He is intrigued by Vivian the moment he meets her and finds himself making excuses just to spend time with her. When flirtatious banter turns into a kiss under the mistletoe, things snowball into a full-on fling.

Despite a ticking timer on their holiday romance, they are completely fine with ending their short, steamy affair come New Year’s Day. . .or are they?

three-half-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: 29 SECONDS by T.M. Logan

Review:  29 SECONDS by T.M. Logan29 Seconds by T.M. Logan
Also by this author: Lies
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 10, 2019
Genres: Thriller, Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

29 SECONDS Review

 

Wow, what a book! T.M. Logan’s latest novel 29 Seconds follows Dr. Sarah Haywood, who is a contracted member of a university faculty.  Sarah is a shining star in her department, but one person stands in the way of her getting the permanent position with the university she so desperately desires…her boss.  Alan Hawthorne, an esteemed professor and a TV host to boot, is a pig. He’s so awful that the women who work with him have an established set of rules as to how to interact with him, with the number one rule being to never, ever be alone with him.  He dangles promotions in exchange for sexual favors or threatens to ruin careers if a woman chooses not to participate in such acts.

When the novel opens, Sarah is clearly in Hawthorne’s crosshairs and he is making her life a living hell every day with endless uncomfortable encounters and veiled threats.  The workplace is completely toxic but any woman who leaves the staff finds herself black-listed in the academic world, also courtesy of Hawthorne.  The author does a wonderful job of making Sarah a sympathetic character.  She’s clearly the underdog in an impossible situation and I was immediately rooting for her to find a way to beat this monster and get that promotion.

A chance encounter with another powerful and dangerous man presents her with the unexpected opportunity to make one person disappear.  It’s the answer to Sarah’s prayers, but can she really bring herself to do it?  This moral dilemma that Sarah faces is the most compelling element of the story for me, and it’s what makes the novel so suspenseful.  Will she or won’t she?  How far can Hawthorne push and threaten her before she snaps?

I loved reading Sarah’s internal thoughts as she struggled with her decision.  She’s so tempted but she’s also flat out horrified at herself for even considering it.  I can’t even imagine working for such a monster that such a thing would be a temptation, but at the same time, the whole situation had me a little surprised and horrified at myself because I found myself kind of hoping she would just go for it.  It really gave me something to think about and I love it when a book can do that.

T.M. Logan’s 29 Seconds is a wild ride! I devoured it in less than 24 hours. Filled with suspense and exciting twists and turns, it’s a book I simply could not put down until I knew how it was going to end.  And what an ending it is! I totally did not see it coming, which for me, is the hallmark of a great thriller.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Give me one name. One person. And I will make them disappear . . .

When Sarah rescues a young girl in trouble, she expects nothing in return. But her act of bravery puts a powerful and dangerous man in her debt. He lives by his own brutal code, and all debts must be repaid – in the only way he knows how.

He offers Sarah a way to solve a desperate situation with her intolerable boss. A once-in-a-lifetime deal that will make all her problems disappear.

No consequences. No comeback. No chance of being found out.

All it takes is a 29 second phone call.

Because everyone has a name to give. Don’t they?

four-stars

About T.M. Logan

Tim was born in Berkshire and studied at Queen Mary and Cardiff universities before becoming a national newspaper journalist. He currently writes full-time and lives in Nottinghamshire with his wife and two children. LIES is his first novel – published by Bonnier Zaffre in January 2017. His next thriller, 29 SECONDS, comes out in January 2018 and is currently available to pre-order. For exclusive writing and new releases from TM Logan, sign up to the Readers’ Club: www.bit.ly/TMLogan.

Review: AKIN by Emma Donoghue

Review:  AKIN by Emma DonoghueAkin by Emma Donoghue
Also by this author: Room
four-half-stars
on September 10, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary 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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AKIN Review

 

Emma Donoghue is an auto-buy author for me. I fell in love with the way she crafts her stories when I read her best-known novel, Room, and have immensely enjoyed every book of hers I’ve read since.  It was therefore a given that I would request a review copy of Akin, her latest novel.  I was a little nervous since I always hype her books up in my head and then worry they won’t live up to my expectations, but my worries were alleviated as soon as I read the first page and was immediately drawn into the life of the quirky protagonist, Noah Selvaggio.

Noah is a seventy-nine year old retired professor who is about to embark on a trip to the South of France, where he was born.  It’s a trip he has been meaning to take for years, but now that he’s a widower and nearing 80, he knows his time is running out.  While getting his affairs in order for the trip, he is contacted unexpectedly by a representative from Child Services, informing him that his 11 year old great nephew is in danger of being separated from his family if he doesn’t have a relative that he can move in with immediately.  Michael’s mother is in prison, his father is deceased, and no other relatives are able or willing to take him at this time.  Noah has never had any contact with Michael – they are strangers to each other – but after much consideration, he agrees to take him in on a temporary basis.  When he finally meets Michael, he is immediately faced with a mouthy pre-teen who curses like a sailor and who does everything he can to be as uncooperative as possible.  Noah is resigned to the situation though and so this unlikely duo sets off for Nice, France together.

Much of Akin explores the evolving relationship between Noah and Michael, and I just loved every minute of this.  Donoghue has the entire story unfold from Noah’s perspective so we’re in his head as he, who never had children of his own, tries to navigate the minefield of parenthood while dealing with a child who is clearly lashing out because he is in a situation that isn’t of his own making.  Noah is practically walking a tightrope trying to gently parent the child, but without overstepping his boundaries, and it’s very challenging every step of the way.  I really loved watching this pair get to know each other, and I thought Donoghue did a brilliant job of authentically depicting the relationship, with all of its inevitable ups and downs.  They have their fair share of tender moments and frustrating moments, but there are also plenty of laugh out loud moments along the way.

While that relationship is the driving force behind the novel, Donoghue adds a fabulous subplot that I thought just really took the book to another level.  While Noah is preparing for his trip to France, he comes across a packet of old photos in some of his mother’s belongings.  They’re unusual photos that don’t make sense to Noah, but he can see they were taken in France during the 1940’s, so he decides to bring them along to see if the opportunity to learn more about them presents itself.  Noah doesn’t know where to even begin, but his technologically savvy great nephew comes in very handy and helps him identify a hotel in one of the photos.  The hotel, as it turns out, was a headquarters of sorts for the Nazis during WWII.  It was where they brought Jews and other prisoners before shipping them off to Drancy and then to Auschwitz.  I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, especially WWII fiction, so this angle of the story just sucked me right in, especially as it became clear that Noah’s mother had played an active role in the war.  What wasn’t so clear, however, was what side she was on, Resistance or Nazi collaborator.  Noah becomes obsessed with trying to figure out what his mother’s role was because he’s starting to feel as if he never really knew his mother at all. Michael is equally curious since this woman would have been his great grandmother, and so the two of them work as a team to learn the truth.

Emma Donoghue’s Akin is just such a wonderful read on so many levels.  The mystery regarding Noah’s mother is riveting, but it’s that relationship between Noah and Michael that gives this story such heart.  As its title suggests, Akin is ultimately a beautiful story about what it means to be family.  I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys stories that focus on family, to fans of both contemporary and historical fiction, and of course to Emma Donoghue fans, who are sure to love this gem. I think it’s my favorite Donoghue book yet!

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A retired New York professor’s life is thrown into chaos when he takes a young great-nephew to the French Riviera, in hopes of uncovering his own mother’s wartime secrets in the next masterpiece from New York Times bestselling author Emma Donoghue.

Noah Selvaggio is a retired chemistry professor and widower living on the Upper West Side, but born in the South of France. He is days away from his first visit back to Nice since he was a child, bringing with him a handful of puzzling photos he’s discovered from his mother’s wartime years. But he receives a call from social services: Noah is the closest available relative of an eleven-year-old great-nephew he’s never met, who urgently needs someone to look after him. Out of a feeling of obligation, Noah agrees to take Michael along on his trip.

Much has changed in this famously charming seaside mecca, still haunted by memories of the Nazi occupation. The unlikely duo, suffering from jet lag and culture shock, bicker about everything from steak frites to screen time. But Noah gradually comes to appreciate the boy’s truculent wit, and Michael’s ease with tech and sharp eye help Noah unearth troubling details about their family’s past. Both come to grasp the risks people in all eras have run for their loved ones, and find they are more akin than they knew.

Written with all the tenderness and psychological intensity that made Room an international bestseller, Akin is a funny, heart-wrenching tale of an old man and a boy, born two generations apart, who unpick their painful story and start to write a new one together.

four-half-stars

About Emma Donoghue

emma donoghue

Emma is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin, and in 1997 a PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. Since the age of 23, Donoghue has earned her living as a full-time writer. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 she settled in London, Ontario, where she lives with her partner and their son and daughter.