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
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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 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
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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.

Review: ALWAYS THE LAST TO KNOW by Kristan Higgins

Review:  ALWAYS THE LAST TO KNOW by Kristan HigginsAlways the Last to Know by Kristan Higgins
Also by this author: Good Luck with That
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on June 9, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Kristan Higgins

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

Review: HAPPY & YOU KNOW IT by Laura Hankin

Review:  HAPPY & YOU KNOW IT by Laura HankinHappy & You Know It by Laura Hankin
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on May 19, 2020
Genres: Women's Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Laura Hankin

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

Review: BEACH READ by Emily Henry

Review:  BEACH READ by Emily HenryBeach Read by Emily Henry
four-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on May 19, 2020
Genres: Women's Fiction, Romance, Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

Emily Henry’s new novel, Beach Read, is a book you don’t want to judge by its cover.  The cover is adorable of course and I love it, but it definitely gives off a vibe that this is going to be a fun, fluffy read to enjoy while you’re lounging in the sand.  Beach Read is so much more than that though – it’s a beautifully written, multi-layered story with realistic and complex characters that will tug at your heartstrings the entire time you’re reading. I love a book that takes me on an emotional journey, and Beach Read made me laugh, it made me cry, and just ultimately had me fully invested in these characters and their lives from start to finish.

One of my favorite parts about Beach Read is that both protagonists are writers.  January Andrews is a romance writer and is an ace at writing novels where true love wins and they all live happily ever after.  Her belief system when it comes to love and romance is driven by her parents, but when her father dies, she learns something about him that shatters her view of him and of love and romance.  Not only is it devastating to her personally, but it has given her a wicked case of writer’s block.  With a book deadline looming and an agent hounding her relentlessly, January retreats to her father’s second home, a beach house located in a remote but charming small town.  It is here that she runs into our second protagonist, Augustus (Gus) Everett, who is living in the beach house next door and who coincidentally is also a writer whose specialty is literary fiction. And if that’s not enough to entice you, he also just happens to be January’s main rival from her college writing program.  January is not a fan of Gus’s at all and can’t imagine anything worse than having to live next door to him all summer while trying desperately to make her deadline.

I was sympathetic to January right away.  She’s going through so much because of the losses she has suffered and now she has to deal with the tension with Gus on top of it.  But, boy do these two have chemistry!  It’s off the charts honestly and I love how much the actual writing process plays a role in how their relationship evolves from rivals/enemies to friends and maybe more.  At first they’re just trading witty, sarcastic barbs, often about each other’s preferred fictional genre, but then they kick it up a notch and revisit their old rivalry with the ultimate challenge:  January has to write a book that doesn’t end happily ever after, while Gus has to write a romance novel.  Bring it!

I don’t want to say much more because I don’t want to spoil anything but the story takes a more emotional turn as Gus and January both get out of their comfort zones and write something so different and challenging. It becomes a way for both of them to work through their pain and struggles, because it’s not just January who is dealing with loss. Gus is as well.  It’s these painful and personal journeys that add all of those wonderfully complex layers that took Beach Read well beyond the fluffy fun I was expecting.

Beach Read is, without a doubt, one of the most wonderful and heartwarming books I’ve read so far this year.  The writing is gorgeous, the story just so easy to get immersed in, and the characters are unforgettable. This was my first time reading Emily Henry but it definitely won’t be the last!

four-half-stars

About Emily Henry

Emily Henry writes stories about love and family for both teens and adults. She studied creative writing at Hope College and the now-defunct New York Center for Art & Media Studies. Find her on Instagram @EmilyHenryWrites.

Review: BIG SUMMER by Jennifer Weiner

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

four-half-stars

About Jennifer Weiner

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

Review: MASTER CLASS by Christina Dalcher

Review:  MASTER CLASS by Christina DalcherMaster Class by Christina Dalcher
Also by this author: Vox
three-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on April 21, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christina Dalcher’s latest novel, Master Class, is a terrifying exploration of what can happen when those in power choose to implement radical policy changes, but at such a slow and gradual pace, that the citizens don’t realize what a radical and dangerous path they’re being led down until it’s too late.

What makes Dalcher’s novel particularly frightening is that although it’s technically set in a dystopian world, the world is not that far removed from where we as a society actually are.  The whole time I was reading, I kept thinking. “Huh. I could see the current administration here trying to pull this kind of sneaky stunt.”  It’s that realness, that plausibility of something that should be totally implausible, that makes Master Class such a gripping read.  I found myself hardcore cheering on the protagonist, not just because I love to cheer on those scrappy underdog characters, but also because I just needed that reassurance, with such a realistic plot, that someone would in fact stand up to fight back against dangerous and radical policies.

I have to admit that it did take me a while to warm up to the protagonist, Elena Fairchild, though.  Her actions and choices early on in the story, combined with some flashbacks of her young adult year, paint a pretty ugly picture and I had some real issues relating to her. The radical policy changes that are the subject matter of Master Class revolve around education, specifically segregating lower performing students and sending them off to out-of-state boarding schools/institutions. Elena is a teacher at one of the elite schools where top-performing students attend, and she is also the wife of one of those in power who is specifically pushing forward this agenda.  Elena’s eldest child is excelling in the elite level school system and so Elena is very complacent about the way things are, even as she watches other children shamed if they drop in performances and end up packed up and sent away to these other schools.

It is when Elena’s youngest child, who struggles in school, fails a test and gets shipped off to a school hundreds of miles away from home that Elena finally opens her eyes and we see a different side of her. She starts to notice some of her own students getting shipped off and she can’t understand why. They were performing so well that even a failed test or two shouldn’t have dropped their scores low enough to take them to the lowest tier.  Elena starts to suspect something more sinister is afoot and makes it her mission to get to the bottom of it and to save her daughter, even if it means taking down her own husband in the process.  That was the moment when I really started to cheer on Elena, this redemption arc of sorts.  She’s smart, resourceful, and she is a Momma Bear to her core.  Do not mess with her babies.  Or anyone else’s babies for that matter.

I don’t want to go into anymore details for fear of spoilers, so I’m just going to say that it’s a wild and, at times, frightening, ride as Elena digs deeper to find out what has been going on right under her own nose.  Dalcher does a wonderful job of gradually ratcheting up the tension and suspense until everything just boils over.

Master Class is a compelling read that really took me on an emotional roller coaster.  I felt such rage at those who were coming up with these horrid educational policies, frustration at the parents who just sat by and accepted the way things were, sympathy for those who didn’t, and finally, heartbroken for the children themselves who were being hurt by them.  When I read the author’s note and learned that Dalcher based her novel on real-life events that actually happened here in America, I got angry all over again.  If you’re looking for an eye opening read about what can happen when people let their guard down and blindly accept that those in power have their best interests at heart, Master Class is the book you’re looking for.

three-half-stars

About Christina Dalcher

Christina Dalcher earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University. She specializes in the phonetics of sound change in Italian and British dialects and has taught at universities in the United States, England, and the United Arab Emirates.

Her short stories and flash fiction appear in over one hundred journals worldwide. Recognitions include the Bath Flash Award’s Short List; nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions; and multiple other awards. She teaches flash fiction as a member of the faculty at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents Dalcher’s novels.

After spending several years abroad, most recently in Sri Lanka, Dalcher and her husband now split their time between the American South and Naples, Italy.
Her debut novel, VOX, will be published in August 2018 by Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).

Review & Giveaway: THE SWEENEY SISTERS by Lian Dolan

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

PURCHASE LINKS:

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

 

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GIVEAWAY: 

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

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

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

TOUR SCHEDULE:  

Follow the tour!

April 28th

 

April 29th

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

 

April 30th

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

 

May 1st

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

 

May 2nd

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

 

May 3rd

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

 

May 4th

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

About Lian Dolan

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

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

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

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

Review: FEELS LIKE FALLING by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Review:  FEELS LIKE FALLING by Kristy Woodson HarveyFeels Like Falling by Kristy Woodson Harvey
four-half-stars
Published by Gallery Books on April 28, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kristy Woodson Harvey is fast becoming one of my favorite authors when I’m in the mood for heartwarming stories filled with lovable characters.  For those who haven’t read it, I highly recommend her Peachtree Bluff series, which is wonderful, and I’m happy to report that her new novel, Feels Like Falling, is equally delightful, perhaps even more so.

I was drawn to the protagonists in Feels Like Falling right away.  Gray Howard is going through a messy and seemingly never ending divorce where her ex-husband, even though he cheated on her, is still trying to take half of the company she has built from the ground up as part of the divorce settlement.  Gray refuses to cave so they’re basically at a stand-off, with their 8-year-old son, Wagner, caught in the middle.  Our second protagonist, Diana Harrington, is also going through a messy breakup and, because her deadbeat of an ex gambled away all her money, is also currently living in her car.  When the two women cross paths and Gray accidentally gets Diana fired from her job, they have no idea that their lives are about to become intertwined in ways they never could have anticipated from that first meeting.

Both Diana and Gray are smart and resourceful women who are going through a rough patch and who are used to being completely independent.  What they start to learn the better they get to know each other, however, is that it’s okay to lean on others sometimes. You don’t always have to go it alone.  The friendship and the sense of sisterhood that grew between Diana and Gray throughout the book kept a smile on my face the entire time I was reading.

I also adored the secondary characters that made up the rest of Gray’s found family.  Her best friend Marcy and her gem of an assistant, Trey, really rounded out Gray’s support system and I loved that they pulled Diana in with warm and welcoming arms as well.  The banter between this foursome had me chuckling to myself every time they appeared on the page together.

There are also some weightier topics in Feels Like Falling.  There are some real family issues with sisters who have gone off the rails, mother-daughter issues, plus those dramatic breakups I already touched on. Harvey gives a very realistic portrait of just how messy and complicated life can be sometimes, which makes that support group of Gray’s (and now Diana’s as well) all the more important.

For those who love a bit of romance, Feels Like Falling has that too. There’s a fun summer fling that’s maybe more than a fling, and there’s also my favorite romance trope, a second chance romance.  Both romances are very well written and felt completely authentic, and yes, I was rooting for them both to work out. 😊

Feels Like Falling is a fun read that is sure to leave you with a smile on your face, but it’s also a story that is filled with heart and with so many important themes and life lessons.  I found it a very satisfying read on so many levels and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a heartwarming story about friendship and love.

four-half-stars

About Kristy Woodson Harvey

Kristy Woodson Harvey is the bestselling author of DEAR CAROLINA, LIES AND OTHER ACTS OF LOVE, SLIGHTLY SOUTH OF SIMPLE, THE SECRET TO SOUTHERN CHARM and THE SOUTHERN SIDE OF PARADISE. Kristy is the winner of the Lucy Bramlette Patterson Award for Excellence in Creative Writing, a finalist for the Southern Book Prize, her work has been optioned for film and her books have received numerous accolades including:

Southern Living’s Most Anticipated Beach Reads
Southern Living’s Best Spring Break Reads
Southern Independent Bookseller Association’s Okra Pick
Parade’s Big Fiction Reads Every Book Club Will Love
Entertainment Weekly’s Spring Reading Picks
Us Weekly’s Sweet Reads for Right Now
Woman’s WorldBest Books
PopSugar’s Ultimate Summer Reading
USA Today Happy Ever After’s Best Women’s Fiction
New York Live’s “Ashley’s A-List”
Deep South Magazine’s Summer Reading List
Raleigh News & Observer‘s “The Best Reads of Summer”
Charlotte Observer’s “Summer’s Best Books”
Bustle’s Books to Read and Discuss With Your Mom and Grandma
Huffington Post’s Summer Reading: Women’s Fiction Style

She blogs with her mom Beth Woodson on Design Chic about how creating a beautiful home can be the catalyst for creating a beautiful life. Design Chic is the inaugural member of the design blogger hall of fame, sponsored by Traditional Home, and winner of Amara’s Best Luxury Blog, as chosen by Roberto Cavalli. She also loves connecting with readers on kristywoodsonharvey.com.

Harvey is a Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s school of journalism and holds a master’s in English from East Carolina University, with a concentration in multicultural and transnational literature. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications and websites, including Southern Living, Traditional Home, Parade, USA Today, Domino, Our State and O. Henry. She has been seen in Today.com, Women’s Health,The Washington Post, US News and World Report, The Huffington Post,Marie Claire’s The Fix, Woman’s World, Readers’ Digest, Bustle, New York Live and North Carolina Bookwatch, among others.

She is a proud member of the Tall Poppy Writers, serves on the board of Beaufort Historical Association, and is a member of the University of North Carolina’s Women’s Leadership Council. She is a frequent speaker at fundraisers, book conferences and private events. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and seven-year-old son where she is working on her next novel.