Early Review: THE BRIDE TEST by Helen Hoang

Early Review:  THE BRIDE TEST by Helen HoangThe Bride Test by Helen Hoang
Also by this author: The Kiss Quotient
five-stars
Series: The Kiss Quotient #2
Published by BERKLEY on May 7, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 320
Also in this series: The Kiss Quotient
Source: a Blog Giveaway
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from a Blog Giveaway in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 
 
 
 
 
 

THE BRIDE TEST Review

 

After falling in love with Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient last year, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her newest book, The Bride Test.  I was fortunate enough to win a copy of an ARC in a giveaway at jennifertarheelreader.com and dove into the book this past weekend.  I’ll admit I was a little nervous that The Bride Test wouldn’t be able to live up to my very high expectations, but I’m happy to report that I loved it.  So much so that I devoured the book in less than 24 hours!  In addition to being a really sweet and sexy romance, The Bride Test also features so much more.  It’s also a powerful and heartfelt read that takes on important topics such as grief and mourning, what it’s like to live with autism, and also what it’s like to be an immigrant who comes to America looking for a better way of life.

I adored the main characters, Khai Diep and Esme Tran, from the first moment I met them.  Khai is just precious.  He is autistic and doesn’t think that he is capable of feeling emotions.  He feels nothing while attending the funeral of one of his best friends and just shies away from most relationships because he thinks everyone deserves better than what he can offer them.  Khai’s mother isn’t buying it though.  She  wants grandbabies and makes it her mission in life to find the perfect girl for Khai.  When she has a chance encounter with Esme, a single mom living in Vietnam, she knows Esme is the right girl and makes her a surprising and somewhat shocking offer – she will pay for Esme to come to America if Esme is willing to do whatever it takes to win Khai’s heart.  Esme sees this as her best chance to secure a better life for herself and for her daughter, so she accepts the offer.  Esme won my heart right away because she’s incredibly brave and resourceful, working on a backup plan for herself so that even if things don’t go well with Khai, she has the skills and education she needs to be able to stay in America and bring her daughter over as well.

There’s just so much to love about The Bride Test.  The romance was just so well written.  Esme and Khai are adorably awkward together but still manage to have intense chemistry. I loved how realistic the relationship felt with all of its ups and downs. At the same time, however, Hoang also weaves some wonderful family moments into her story.  Khai’s siblings, Quan and Vy, are wonderful secondary characters and I just loved watching them educate Khai on all matters of the heart.  The family dynamic was so sweet, as they were all so devoted to making sure Khai has every chance at love and happiness.  Hoang’s depiction of autism also felt very authentic, as did her portrayal of what it’s like to be an immigrant in search of the “American Dream.”  Overall, The Bride Test is a very satisfying read in every way and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to everyone.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons

five-stars

About Helen Hoang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

 

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

2 CHILDREN FOR SALE

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

 

four-stars

About Helen Hoang

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

About Kristina McMorris

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

Early Review: VOX by Christina Dalcher

Early Review:  VOX by Christina DalcherVox by Christina Dalcher
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on August 21, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Christina Dalcher’s Vox is a dystopian novel set in America in the not-so-distant future.  Instead of being the land of the free and the home of the brave, however, Dalcher’s America is one where radical religious fundamentalists have taken the reins of power and have implemented what they call the “Pure Movement.”  What the Pure Movement entails is basically stripping women of all of their basic rights, including the right to speak. One day women are just removed from the workforce and fitted with bracelets that count the number of words they speak.  If they go over the their daily allotment of 100 words, or if they try to skirt the 100 word limit by using any form of non-verbal communication, there are severe consequences.

Girls are also placed into different schools from boys and no longer receive the same caliber of education.  They are taught how to do basic arithmetic and how to do household chores like sewing and cooking, the idea being that they are meant to take care of household responsibilities while the men in their lives go out and earn a living.  Cameras have been mounted everywhere to make sure women and girls are falling into line as expected and punishments are readily doled out if they are not complying.

Needless to say, life is pure hell for women like Dr. Jean McClennan, the protagonist in Vox.  Jean is a renowned linguist who was engaged in groundbreaking research that would benefit stroke victims when she is forced out of work and fitted with a bracelet.  Jean is in denial that this is actually happening and she’s absolutely furious at herself for not seeing the signs and not trying to do something to stop this movement from taking hold.  She’s also angry at the men in her life for going along with it and she’s furious at women like her neighbor, Mrs. King, who seem perfectly content with this new way of life.  Most of all, Jean is livid because of how quickly she sees her young daughter fall into line and embrace the idea of speaking as few words in a day as possible.

So what happens when Jean is offered a temporary reprieve from her new way of life because the President needs her expertise?  Can she figure out a way to put a stop to this horrid movement before she, her daughter, and all American women are stripped of their voices?

 

Gosh, where to start with this book?!  I’m always a big fan of books that really make me think and that get to me on an emotional level, and wow, does this book ever fit the bill in both of those categories!  I think The Handmaid’s Tale and maybe The Hunger Games are the last two books I’ve read that got to me the same way Vox did.  I was so angry the whole time I was reading and lost track of how many times I just wanted to fling it across the room.  Why?  I think because even though the book falls into the dystopian category, it just felt so darn plausible.  Way too plausible, honestly, especially given the current administration in charge in the U.S. How many times have we heard this President make sexist and derogatory comments about women?  I get the feeling that he and his cronies would be all too happy to shut women up if they could and so this book resonated with me immensely for that reason.  If I wasn’t already an activist prior to reading Vox, it would definitely motivate me to become one.

In addition to how much it resonated with me and made me think about our government and how easily things could go horribly wrong if a radical movement were to take hold, I also loved how the author really thought of every little detail as she was building this dystopian version of America.  My very first question while reading was why wouldn’t all women just flee the country as soon as they got wind of what the founders of this movement had in mind?  The author took care of that right away by having their passports confiscated.  And it was like that all along the way…every time I thought of something that made a world like this seem highly unlikely, Dalcher immediately came up with something that made it suddenly seem all too likely.  She really thought of every little detail and made the idea of this kind of society frighteningly realistic, especially when she illustrates how this group pushes their agenda using the schools so as to indoctrinate them at a young age.

Another huge selling point of the book for me was, of course, the protagonist, Dr. Jean McClennan.  Can you imagine being at the top of your field in such an important line of work and suddenly being told to go home and shut up?  I felt tremendous sympathy for her, not just for her own loss of voice but also because she has to watch her daughter grow up accepting such a horrible way of life.  I thought the author did an incredible job of portraying the array of emotions that Jean was feeling – the initial denial, the anger, the frustration, the growing hostility toward the men around her, including her own eldest son who seems to have immediately embraced the Pure Movement, all of it is palpable and as a mother, I found it all so easy to relate to.

 

Overall, I thought Vox was an incredibly well written and gripping read.  The only real issue I had with it was that it felt like the ending wrapped up a little too quickly.  It just felt a little rushed and like maybe a few things fell into place a little too conveniently.

 

Vox is an utterly terrifying book in part because even though it’s supposed to be a dystopian read, it seems like something that could easily happen if the wrong people were ever in power.  It serves as a warning to us all to never take for granted what we consider to be our rights and to pay attention to what is going on at all levels of government.  The world on display in Vox is reminiscent of what we see in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale so I’d definitely recommend to fans of that book and TV series.

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial–this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

But this is not the end. 

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

four-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: THE MERMAID by Christina Henry

Review:  THE MERMAID by Christina HenryThe Mermaid by Christina Henry
four-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on June 19, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 325
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

 

Christina Henry’s The Mermaid is a captivating reimaging of the FeeJee Mermaid, one of P.T. Barnum’s infamous hoaxes from the 1840’s. In Henry’s version of the tale, the Mermaid is not a hoax at all.  Amelia is a real, live mermaid who lives in the sea until one day when a fisherman catches her in his net.  When their eyes meet, Amelia instantly knows that she wants to spend her life with this man, and so when he cuts her free from his net, instead of fleeing to safety, Amelia chooses to come ashore, find the fisherman, and live as his wife.  They live together in a cabin overlooking the ocean until the fisherman is lost at sea and Amelia is left all alone.

Rumors about the existence of a mermaid reach the ears of P.T. Barnum, who is always on the lookout for new attractions for his museum.  When he hears about Amelia, he knows she is sure to be a money maker for him if he can convince her to join him.  He sends an associate to find her and after meeting Barnum, Amelia agrees to play the mermaid in one of Barnum’s attractions.  She sets her own terms – a 6 month contract and enough money to be able travel anywhere in the world she wishes to go – and they sign a contract.

At first Amelia is somewhat intrigued by the idea of showing the world what a real mermaid looks like, but the more she sees of humanity and how people behave, the less enamored she is with the idea and the more determined she is to leave the show as soon as her contract is up.

Will Amelia ultimately be free to leave Barnum when her contract is up or will Barnum’s determination to hold on to his moneymaker lead him to try and stand in her way?

 

Appealing main character.  I was drawn to Amelia from the first moment we meet her.  First of all, I loved that Henry chose not to give Amelia the half woman half fish appearance that typically comes to mind when we think of mermaids.  Instead, she gives Amelia the appearance of being something truly born from the sea.  Her body is completely covered in silvery scales and she doesn’t really resemble a human in any way.  In addition to giving her this unexpected appearance, Henry also makes Amelia’s transformation from mermaid to human and vice versa sound so beautiful.  I loved the idea that it was solely Amelia’s choice which form she took and that all she needed was sand to become human and ocean water to turn back into a mermaid.  I thought Henry just did such a beautiful job of bringing this mythology to life.

What really captivated me about Amelia, however, wasn’t really the way she looked.  It had more to do with the feminist twist that Henry gives her.  Amelia is a force to be reckoned with, a woman ahead of her time, and it’s mainly because coming from the sea, she really has no idea how society expects women to behave.  The more she learns about society’s expectations for women, the more she begins to dislike the whole idea of society.  She values her own freedom and independence above all else, and she has no use for anyone who tries to stand in her way and hold her back.  Because of this, she stands up to Barnum and challenges him in ways that he never expects to be challenged.  Barnum is portrayed as kind of a jerk as well so it makes it very easy to cheer Amelia on.

 Atmospheric writing:  The Mermaid is not what I would consider to be a fast paced novel.  Instead, it’s one of those novels where the storytelling is just so exquisite I felt as if a spell was being cast over me drawing me deeper and deeper into the tale with each page that I read.

Henry’s use of vivid descriptions made me feel like I had stepped back in time to 1840’s America.  I could feel my nose wrinkling in disgust at some of the less savory smells that were present on the streets of a less than sanitary New York City.  In contrast, Henry’s attention to detail also made me feel like I was at the ocean with Amelia.  I could practically hear the waves slapping the shore and smell the salt in the air.  Henry’s writing reminds me very much of Alice Hoffman’s, which is a good thing since Hoffman is one of my favorites.

Social commentary:  For the most part, The Mermaid reads like part fairy tale/part historical fiction.  It’s whimsical and almost otherworldly at times because of the mermaid’s presence and the mythology surrounding her, but at the same time, the story also contains a powerful social commentary on the lack of women’s rights and about how restricting societal expectations for women were during this time period.  It becomes especially evident in scenes between Amelia and Barnum’s wife, Charity.  There are many times when Charity is the one who seems like she’s living in a cage rather than Amelia.  Amelia even begins to pity Charity because she has so little freedom.

Amelia not only sees and speaks out against the fundamental wrongness of this lack of rights for women, but she also exposes how inhumane humans can actually be.  She is appalled by the idea that Barnum thinks he has a right to own people or animals, and she is also dismayed when the mermaid tour travels south and she sees slaves working the fields and being mistreated.  Through Amelia’s eyes, Henry delivers a pretty clear message that humans could use a little more humanity.

 

The only issue I really had with the novel was the character of Levi Lyman.  He is the associate of Barnum’s who is sent to find the Mermaid in the first place.  I liked him well enough, especially in the sense that he clearly had Amelia’s best interests at the forefront of his mind at all times.  My only issue was that it felt like I didn’t really get to know nearly as much about him as I would have liked.  Same thing with Barnum’s wife, Charity.  They both intrigued me and while there were hints of what they were like, I just wanted a little more.

 

The Mermaid is a beautifully written story that is sure to captivate fans of both historical fiction and mythology.  One caveat I’ll add is that Henry admits she has written the version of Barnum that she needed for this story, so I’d recommend taking this portrayal of him with a grain of salt since this isn’t meant to be a biography.  It is an exquisite work of fiction though and I fully expect it to land of my list of favorite 2018 reads.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From the author of Lost Boy comes a historical fairy tale about a mermaid who leaves the sea for love and later finds herself in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum as the real Fiji mermaid. However, leaving the museum may be harder than leaving the sea ever was.

Once there was a mermaid who longed to know of more than her ocean home and her people. One day a fisherman trapped her in his net but couldn’t bear to keep her. But his eyes were lonely and caught her more surely than the net, and so she evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore. The mermaid, Amelia, became his wife, and they lived on a cliff above the ocean for ever so many years, until one day the fisherman rowed out to sea and did not return.\

P. T. Barnum was looking for marvelous attractions for his American Museum, and he’d heard a rumor of a mermaid who lived on a cliff by the sea. He wanted to make his fortune, and an attraction like Amelia was just the ticket.

Amelia agreed to play the mermaid for Barnum, and she believes she can leave any time she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he’s determined to hold on to his mermaid.

four-half-stars

About Christina Henry

CHRISTINA HENRY is the author of the CHRONICLES OF ALICE duology, ALICE and RED QUEEN, a dark and twisted take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as well as LOST BOY: THE TRUE STORY OF CAPTAIN HOOK, an origin story of Captain Hook from Peter Pan.

She is also the author of the national bestselling BLACK WINGS series (BLACK WINGS, BLACK NIGHT, BLACK HOWL, BLACK LAMENT, BLACK CITY, BLACK HEART and BLACK SPRING) featuring Agent of Death Madeline Black and her popcorn-loving gargoyle Beezle.

ALICE was chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Year in Science Fiction and Fantasy for 2015. It was also a Goodreads Choice Award nominee in Horror and one of Barnes & Noble’s Bestselling Science Fiction and Fantasy novels of 2015.

She enjoys running long distances, reading anything she can get her hands on and watching movies with samurai, zombies and/or subtitles in her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and son.

You can visit her on the web at www.christinahenry.net, facebook.com/authorChristinaHenry, twitter.com/C_Henry_Author and www.goodreads.com/CHenryAuthor.

Review: LITTLE BIG LOVE by Katy Regan

Review:  LITTLE BIG LOVE by Katy ReganLittle Big Love by Katy Regan
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on June 5, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

I requested Katy Regan’s Little Big Love from Netgalley primarily because the book’s synopsis describes it as About a Boy meets ParenthoodParenthood is one of my all-time favorite family-centric dramas and I loved it because every episode took me through a full range of emotions because I became so invested in the Braverman family:  joy, sadness, anger, frustration, love, regret – you name it, I felt it. Seeing Little Big Love compared to Parenthood therefore made it a must-read for me.  The comparison is apt too because the characters in Little Big Love captured my heart in much the same way the Bravermans did in Parenthood.

Little Big Love follows Zac Hutchinson, a 10-year old boy who is on a mission to find the his father, whom he has never met.  Zac knows he has a dad because, of course, everyone does, but all Zac knows about his is that according to his mom and grandparents, Zac’s dad “did a runner” as soon as Zac was born and never came back.  Zac has therefore spent his entire life without a dad and is obsessed with what it would be like to have one.  The older he gets, the more convinced he is that if his dad could just meet him once, he’d want to stick around.  Then, one fateful night when his mom, in a drunken state, confesses to Zac that she still loves his dad, Zac, with the help of his best friend Teagan, sets his “Find Dad Mission” into motion. Now he wants to find his dad, not just for himself, because he also thinks it would finally make his mom happy again.

Zac.  10-year-old Zac was, by far, my favorite character in this story.  He’s such a sweetheart, always thinking of others, and just the type of kid who wouldn’t hurt a fly.  It broke my heart to watch him obsess so much about not having a Dad in his life, especially once I realized how many secrets about his father his mom and grandparents were keeping from him.  For reasons that weren’t revealed until much later, it was as if all mention of Zac’s father had been banned from their household so Zac literally knew nothing about his dad, aside from his name.  Zac was also an incredibly sympathetic character because he’s being bullied at school because of his weight and because he doesn’t stick up for himself.  The kids are just so evil and relentless, and I cried for Zac several times as I was reading.  Regan really got me in the feels when it came to Zac.

Teagan.  Teagan is Zac’s classmate and best friend, and she is the spunkiest little firecracker there ever was.  She is Zac’s biggest supporter, which makes me love her all the more knowing how low Zac’s self-esteem is because of his weight and because of the constant bullying.  Teagan is also a breath of fresh air, frequently using comical expressions like “He just needs a rocket up his bum!” to bring some levity and humor into what is otherwise a pretty heavy story.  My favorite thing about Teagan is her enthusiastic support of Zac’s mission to find his dad.  She spends a lot of time watching crime and detective shows so that she can share helpful tips on how Zac should conduct his investigation and gather evidence that will help locate his dad.  It’s just adorable!

3 Points of View.  While the children were my favorite characters in Little Big Love and Zac’s chapters were my favorites because that have that honesty and tell-it-like-it-is bluntness that only an innocent child can bring, I also appreciated that the story was presented not just from Zac’s perspective, but also from the perspectives of Zac’s mom, Juliet, and Zac’s grandfather, Mick. Juliet is a single mom who is struggling to make ends meet and who is also dealing with her own self-esteem and weight issues.  All she wants is what’s best for Zac but sometimes finds herself questioning her life’s choices.  Mick, Zac’s granddad brings us the perspective of a recovering alcoholic who loves his family more than life itself, but who is weighted down by secrets that if revealed, could cost him everyone he loves.  I loved all of the layers that Regan adds to the story by using these three completely different perspectives.

Realistic Issues and Big Themes.  As I mentioned earlier, at times, Little Big Love was a heavy read.  It deals with some issues and themes that really got to me on an emotional level.  They’re issues that many families will face and perhaps they got to me all the more since I have a son Zac’s age.

There is of course the family drama with these secrets that they’re keeping and how those secrets are just weighing everyone down. But then there’s also alcoholism, bullying, loss and grief, and mental health/low self-esteem issues as well.  This whole family has been through so much, and as I said with Parenthood, I became so invested in them that their stories – the good and the bad – just really had me so emotional at times.  Bless little Teagan and her “rocket up the bum” jokes to lighten the mood and keep things from getting too heavy, lol.

Even though I really enjoyed Little Big Love overall, I did occasionally struggle with the pacing, especially in the beginning.  I adored all of Zac’s chapters and just flew through them, but I’ll admit that I struggled to get into Juliet’s story and even Mick’s at first.  I was a little put off by the secrets they were keeping because I just didn’t see where any good could possibly come from what they were doing.  Ultimately though, they won me over because it became clear that they both loved Zac more than anything else in this world and that they were beating themselves up about their choices just as much, if not even more, than I was beating them up.

Katy Regan’s Little Big Love is a moving story about a flawed but beautiful family and the things they’re willing to do to protect both themselves and the ones they love.  They don’t always make the best choices, but their hearts are in the right place, even if their heads aren’t.  I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys books that feature endearing characters, especially lovable children, as well as messy but realistic family situations.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

About a Boy meets Parenthood in this smart, big-hearted love story about a family for whom everything changed one night, a decade ago, and the young boy who unites them all.

Told through the eyes of Zac, Juliet, and grandfather Mick, Little Big Love is a layered, heartfelt, utterly satisfying story about family, love, and the secrets that can define who we are.

four-stars

About Katy Regan

Katy Regan was born and brought up in the northern seaside town of Morecambe. Her claim to fame – aside from being possibly the only person in the world to get expelled from primary school – is that at the age of 16 she went to stage school in Surrey with Posh Spice. She worked at 19 magazine for two years before joining Marie Claire in 2002. ‘Highlights’ in that position included spending ten days in the buff on a nudist resort and becoming a footballer’s wife for a week — all in the name of investigative journalism. In 2004 at the height of her career as the office roving reporter singleton, she fell accidentally pregnant by her best mate (who just remained a friend). Seeing the creative possibilities in this unconventional situation, her editor commissioned her to write a column – And then there were three! which proved so successful it ran for two years and inspired many a reader to write in to Katy with their life story. She has now taken her loyal following to her blog – The State She’s In – on the Marie Claire website. She lives in south London and shares care of her son Fergus with his dad who lives across the road.