Review: THE LAST TRAIN TO KEY WEST by Chanel Cleeton

Review:  THE LAST TRAIN TO KEY WEST by Chanel CleetonThe Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton
five-stars
Published by BERKLEY on June 16, 2020
Genres: Historical Fiction
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Set in the Florida Keys during the Great Depression, Chanel Cleeton’s latest novel, The Last Train to Key West is a heart-stopping read that follows three young women whose lives are forever changed when a devastating hurricane strikes.

Helen has lived in the Keys all her life. She is nine months pregnant and married to an abusive man whose abuse has only gotten worse as times have gotten more desperate.  When we first meet Helen, she is daydreaming about what life could be like if her husband were to die.  Helen captured my heart right from that scene because imagine being in such a bad situation that trying to make it alone in the world with an infant in the middle of the Depression is preferable to living with your own husband.

Mirta, a young woman from Cuba, has come to the Keys with her new husband.  Her marriage is an arranged marriage to pay off her family’s debts and all Mirta knows about the man she has married is that he is from New York and that he appears to be involved in an unsavory and potentially dangerous line of work.  As they arrive in the Keys on their honeymoon before heading home to NYC, Mirta is feeling incredibly anxious, having been forced to leave her family and the only home she has ever known to go with this man who is a stranger to her.  As with Helen, I immediately became invested in Mirta and her well being.

The last young woman we meet is Eliza, a native New Yorker who has traveled to the Keys.  She tries to play it cool and be coy about why she’s traveling so far alone, but the truth is that she’s desperately searching for a long-lost family member.  Eliza has heard rumors that he may be at a work camp in the Keys, which is what has brought her to Florida.  Eliza is determined to find him and bring him home because he’s the only one who can save her from a future she does not want and a man she does not love.  I admired Eliza right away because of her spunk and determination, so as with both Helen and Mirta, I was immediately hoping that Eliza would find her happy ending.

Cleeton’s storytelling just pulled me in right away.  I loved the way the story unfolds through alternating chapters from Helen, Mirta and Eliza and how their journeys eventually become intertwined with one another.  The characters are so complex and beautifully drawn, and all three of them possess an inner strength and sense of resiliency that made me love them all the more.  Their stories were all so compelling that I just couldn’t put the book down.

It wasn’t just these wonderful characters that made The Last Train to Key West such a fantastic read, however.  The story is also fraught with danger, suspense, and mystery, and kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading.  As if these women didn’t already have enough to contend with, there are also potential dangers with the mob afoot as well as a deadly hurricane bearing down on the island contrary to weather reports that had the storm taking a different path. I don’t want to say anything else for fear of spoiling but, just wow!  I devoured this book in a couple of sittings and still wanted more when I finished the final page!

These characters and their lives grabbed hold of my heartstrings and didn’t let go, which just made for a perfect read for me.  I also didn’t realize when I first started reading that the hurricane in the book is also based on an actual catastrophic storm that struck the Keys back in 1935.  Cleeton made that whole experience feel so real and so devastating that I shed tears when I realized it was based on an actual event.  The Last Train to Key West is, by far, one of my favorite reads of 2020 thus far and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and stories that feature women trying to make their own happy endings.

five-stars

About Chanel Cleeton

Chanel Cleeton is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba. Originally from Florida, Chanel grew up on stories of her family’s exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution. Her passion for politics and history continued during her years spent studying in England where she earned a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Richmond, The American International University in London and a master’s degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics & Political Science. Chanel also received her Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law. She loves to travel and has lived in the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia.

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
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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: 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
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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: UNDERCOVER BROMANCE by Lyssa Kay Adams

Review:  UNDERCOVER BROMANCE by Lyssa Kay AdamsUndercover Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams
Also by this author: The Bromance Book Club
four-half-stars
Series: Bromance Book Club #2
Published by BERKLEY on March 10, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 320
Also in this series: The Bromance Book Club
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyssa Kay Adams’ hilarious and heartwarming novel The Bromance Book Club was one of my favorite reads of 2019.  I was beyond excited to hear she was actually writing an entire series of Bromance books and that the second book in the series, Undercover Bromance, was to focus on one of my favorite characters from the first book, Braden Mack, the sexy and charming nightclub owner who also happens to be the founder of the Bromance Book Club.  Needless to say, my anticipation for Undercover Bromance was high. I’m thrilled to share with you that not only did Undercover Bromance live up to my expectations, I actually loved this book even more than the first book in the series.

I really enjoyed getting to know more about Mack and seeing what makes him tick.  Mack was the charming ringleader in the first book so I was very interested in getting a deeper look into his life and especially his reasons for deciding to create this book club.  I was especially curious to learn about this since he is the only one who isn’t married and his fellow book club members love to place bets on how quickly he will dump his current girlfriend.  (For anyone unfamiliar with the first book, the Bromance Book Club is a book club for men where they read romance novels in hopes of better understanding women, thereby hopefully improving their relationships with their wives).  I don’t want to give anything away about what I learned so I’ll just say that it made me love Mack even more than I already did.

In addition to Mack, the story also focuses on another character who appeared in the first novel, Liv Papandreas, a talented pastry chef who, as this novel opens, gets fired from her dream job at an elite restaurant when she witnesses her boss sexually harassing another female employee.  I was a little nervous going into the story because of Liv; she wasn’t my favorite character in the first book and I worried that a story that focuses on her would put me off.  Thankfully I was dead wrong about that and the author made me fall in love with Liv as well as I got to know her better.  Liv is fierce, feisty, and she’s determined to take down this sexual predator.   She knows she can’t do it alone and reluctantly turns to Mack, who knows her boss, for assistance.

Mack and Liv teaming up to bring down this jerk is epic.  Liv doesn’t like Mack, which drives Mack insane because everyone likes Mack.  I loved watching their relationship develop from trading witty insults back and forth to finally starting to open up to one another.  Their chemistry is off the charts and it was just so much fun watching them interact as they got to know each other better and honestly as they realized some truths about themselves as well.

Where Lyssa Kay Adams truly excels in this book though is the wonderful balance she strikes between the very serious topic of sexual harassment and the trademark humor we have come to expect with the members of the Bromance Book Club.  Those guys are always there to keep things from getting too heavy and I lost track of how many times I laughed so hard I cried as they traded middle fingers, cashed in bets about Mack’s love life, and pummeled the Russian with fart jokes.   I swear this series needs to be made into a rom-com film or a sitcom because it is truly hilarious!  Adams has also gifted us with two more fabulous secondary characters in this book that I hope we haven’t seen the last of – Rosie, who is Liv’s landlord and a long-time, outspoken feminist, and Hop, a grumpy old fellow who clearly has it bad for Rosie but could really use some assistance from the Bromance Book Club.  I don’t want to give away anything about them, but they truly stole every scene they were in and I adored them both.

I guess it’s pretty obvious that I highly recommend Undercover Bromance to anyone who enjoyed the first book in this series.  It’s charming, heartwarming, and hilarious, with a lovable cast of characters.  And if you haven’t started this series yet, what are you waiting for?

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Braden Mack thinks reading romance novels makes him an expert in love, but he’ll soon discover that real life is better than fiction. 

Liv Papandreas has a dream job as a sous chef at Nashville’s hottest restaurant. Too bad the celebrity chef owner is less than charming behind kitchen doors. After she catches him harassing a young hostess, she confronts him and gets fired. Liv vows revenge, but she’ll need assistance to take on the powerful chef.

Unfortunately, that means turning to Braden Mack. When Liv’s blackballed from the restaurant scene, the charismatic nightclub entrepreneur offers to help expose her ex-boss, but she is suspicious of his motives. He’ll need to call in reinforcements: the Bromance Book Club.

Inspired by the romantic suspense novel they’re reading, the book club assists Liv in setting up a sting operation to take down the chef. But they’re just as eager to help Mack figure out the way to Liv’s heart… even though she’s determined to squelch the sparks between them before she gets burned.

four-half-stars

About Lyssa Kay Adams

Lyssa Kay Adams is the pen name of an award-winning journalist who gave up the world of telling true stories to pen emotional romances. She’s also a diehard Detroit Tigers fan who will occasionally cheer for the Red Sox because her husband is from Boston.

Lyssa lives in Michigan with her family and an anxiety-ridden Maltese who steals food and buries it around the house and who will undoubtedly be a character in a future book.

Things Lyssa loves: Baseball pants, mashed potatoes, and that little clicking sound that scissors make on the cutting table at fabric stores.

Things she doesn’t love: Mean people, melting ice cream cones, and finding food in her underwear drawer.

Keep up with Lyssa on Twitter at @LyssaKayAdams. Please note: She mostly tweets about baseball pants and mashed potatoes.

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 BROMANCE BOOK CLUB by Lyssa Kay Adams

Review:  THE BROMANCE BOOK CLUB by Lyssa Kay AdamsThe Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
Also by this author: Undercover Bromance
four-half-stars
Series: Bromance Book Club #1
Published by BERKLEY on November 5, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 320
Also in this series: Undercover Bromance
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BROMANCE BOOK CLUB Review

 

I knew I wanted to read Lyssa Kay Adams’ new novel, The Bromance Book Club, as soon as I read the synopsis and realized it has three of my favorite things:  a sports theme, a second chance romance, and a book club. And not only does it have a book club, it’s a secret romance book club whose members are professional baseball players.  Their goal:  to use romance novels as a way to better understand women so as to improve their relationships with their wives. That just sounded like a recipe for a hilarious read so I was thrilled when Berkley approved my review request.

Let me start by saying yes, this is an absolutely hilarious read! I lost count of how many times I laughed out loud while I was reading and I just loved everything about the idea of the book club.  The group of guys that are in the book club are just so much fun together and I just loved all of their scenes.  The focus of their attention in this book is Gavin, a fellow teammate who is separated from his wife, Thea, but desperately wants to try to save his marriage.  At each of their meetings, the guys gently rib Gavin over some of the dumb things he has done in his marriage, but at the same time, their hearts are ultimately in the right place and they do whatever they can to coach him to make better choices when it comes to Thea.

While the promise of humor is what initially drew me to The Bromance Book Club, the heart of the story is what really won me over. I just truly adored Gavin and Thea.  Gavin is such a sweetheart, and Thea is too so it just broke my heart to see them at odds with each other.  I became invested in them immediately and was desperate for them to work through what had gone wrong between them.  I also loved how authentic their relationship issues felt, particularly when it came to issues with communication.  I think many readers will relate to the sad truth that a few heartfelt talks along the way could have kept Gavin and Thea from the breaking point we find them at when the novel opens.

The Bromance Book Club was everything I hoped it would be and more. It’s delightfully funny, heartwarming, and oh yes, a little hot and steamy too!  It’s also one of those books that I was immediately picturing as a film and casting the various characters in my head as I was reading, which made it even more of a fun read.  If you’re interested in a fresh take on the second chance romance trope, you definitely need to add The Bromance Book Club to your reading list.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The first rule of book club:

You don’t talk about book club.

Nashville Legends second baseman Gavin Scott’s marriage is in major league trouble. He’s recently discovered a humiliating secret: his wife Thea has always faked the Big O. When he loses his cool at the revelation, it’s the final straw on their already strained relationship. Thea asks for a divorce, and Gavin realizes he’s let his pride and fear get the better of him.

Welcome to the Bromance Book Club.

Distraught and desperate, Gavin finds help from an unlikely source: a secret romance book club made up of Nashville’s top alpha men. With the help of their current read, a steamy Regency titled Courting the Countess, the guys coach Gavin on saving his marriage. But it’ll take a lot more than flowery words and grand gestures for this hapless Romeo to find his inner hero and win back the trust of his wife.

four-half-stars

About Lyssa Kay Adams

Lyssa Kay Adams is the pen name of an award-winning journalist who gave up the world of telling true stories to pen emotional romances. She’s also a diehard Detroit Tigers fan who will occasionally cheer for the Red Sox because her husband is from Boston.

Lyssa lives in Michigan with her family and an anxiety-ridden Maltese who steals food and buries it around the house and who will undoubtedly be a character in a future book.

Things Lyssa loves: Baseball pants, mashed potatoes, and that little clicking sound that scissors make on the cutting table at fabric stores.

Things she doesn’t love: Mean people, melting ice cream cones, and finding food in her underwear drawer.

Keep up with Lyssa on Twitter at @LyssaKayAdams. Please note: She mostly tweets about baseball pants and mashed potatoes.

Review: ROYAL HOLIDAY by Jasmine Guillory

Review:  ROYAL HOLIDAY by Jasmine GuilloryRoyal Holiday (The Wedding Date, #4) by Jasmine Guillory
Also by this author: Party of Two
three-half-stars
Series: The Wedding Date #4
Published by BERKLEY on October 1, 2019
Genres: Romance, Contemporary Fiction, Holiday
Pages: 304
Also in this series: Party of Two
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..

 

 

 

 

 

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: BRINGING DOWN THE DUKE by Evie Dunmore

Review:  BRINGING DOWN THE DUKE by Evie DunmoreBringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore
four-stars
Series: A League of Extraordinary Women #1
Published by BERKLEY on September 3, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

BRINGING DOWN THE DUKE Review

 

Evie Dunmore’s debut novel Bringing Down the Duke is a wildly entertaining historical romance with a feminist twist.  Set in England during the late 19th century, it follows protagonist Annabelle Archer.  Annabelle is a brilliant young woman who has been accepted into the first class of female students to attend the prestigious University of Oxford.  Annabelle, the daughter of a country vicar, comes from a poor family, however, and can only afford to attend the university because she was awarded a scholarship.

To keep her scholarship, Annabelle must meet a few requirements, one of which being that she must play an active role in the up and coming women’s suffrage movement.  She begins attending meetings and learns that the primary strategy for the movement is to start recruiting men of influence who are willing to support their cause.  Annabelle is assigned perhaps the most challenging target of them all, Sebastian Devereux, the Duke of Montgomery. Sebastian is politically opposed to everything the suffragists are fighting for.  He also serves at the Queen’s command, and the Queen is also opposed to the suffrage movement.  Trying to change the Duke’s mind is a daunting task, but Annabelle thinks she is up for the challenge…as long as she can ignore the growing attraction she feels for him.

Annabelle is not the only one fighting this attraction, however.  As Annabelle spends more and more time with the Duke, he finds himself more and more interested in her as well.  The problem:  she is well below his social status and a relationship between them would be considered scandalous and could quite possibly cost him his legacy.

All’s fair in love and politics, but the question is which will win out in the end?  Can Annabelle get the Duke on her side?  Is the Duke willing to possibly give up everything to claim Annabelle as his love?

* * * *

I truly adored Bringing Down the Duke.  I loved the chemistry between the fiercely independent Annabelle and the stuffy Duke of Montgomery.  The evolution of their relationship not only felt authentic, it was also just flat out sexy!  It was fun watching the cold and calculating Duke thaw toward Annabelle as he got to know her better.

I also really liked that the story was presented from both of their perspectives.  I liked being in both of their heads as they’re trying to fight their mutual attraction. Seeing those internal struggles play out added so much depth to the story.

As much as I enjoyed the romantic angle of the story, I also very much enjoyed the exploration of 19th century England.  The author also does a brilliant job of capturing the social and political climate of that time as well as the opposition to suffrage movement.  The author does a very nice job of balancing the politics and the romance, which makes the story move along at a nice clip. I was able to finish it easily in two sittings because I was so invested in seeing what would happen between Annabelle and the Duke and if the suffragettes would get what they wanted.

All in all, I was completely delighted by Bringing Down the Duke and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about feminism and to fans of historical romances.  You won’t be disappointed!  For a little taste of what to expect, the publisher has very kindly provided an excerpt from Bringing Down the Duke, which I have posted below.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A stunning debut for author Evie Dunmore and her Oxford Rebels, in which a fiercely independent vicar’s daughter takes on a duke in a fiery love story that threatens to upend the British social order.

England, 1879. Annabelle Archer, the brilliant but destitute daughter of a country vicar, has earned herself a place among the first cohort of female students at the renowned University of Oxford. In return for her scholarship, she must support the rising women’s suffrage movement. Her charge: recruit men of influence to champion their cause. Her target: Sebastian Devereux, the cold and calculating Duke of Montgomery who steers Britain’s politics at the Queen’s command. Her challenge: not to give in to the powerful attraction she can’t deny for the man who opposes everything she stands for.

Sebastian is appalled to find a suffragist squad has infiltrated his ducal home, but the real threat is his impossible feelings for green-eyed beauty Annabelle. He is looking for a wife of equal standing to secure the legacy he has worked so hard to rebuild, not an outspoken commoner who could never be his duchess. But he wouldn’t be the greatest strategist of the Kingdom if he couldn’t claim this alluring bluestocking without the promise of a ring…or could he?

Locked in a battle with rising passion and a will matching her own, Annabelle will learn just what it takes to topple a duke….

 

EXCERPT:

 

It was a long walk past yards of empty table to reach her assigned chair. The footman pulled it back for her.

Montgomery was watching her with his neutral aristo expression. A diamond pin glinted equally impenetrable against the smooth black silk of his cravat.

“I trust it was not something in your room that had you rising this early?” he asked.

“The room is excellent, Your Grace. I simply don’t find it that early in the day.”

That sparked some interest in his eyes. “Indeed, it isn’t.”

Unlike her, he probably hadn’t had to be trained to rise before dawn. He probably enjoyed such a thing.

He hadn’t yet put his gloves on. His bare hands were resting idly on the polished table surface. Elegant hands, with long, elegant fingers. They could have belonged to a man who mastered a classical instrument. On his left pinky, the dark blue sapphire on the ducal signet ring swallowed the light like a tiny ocean

The footman leaned over her shoulder. “Would you like tea or coffee, miss?”

“Tea, please,” she said, mindful not to thank him, because one did not say thank you to staff in such a house. He proceeded to ask whether she wanted him to put a plate together for her, and because it would have been awkward to get up again right after sitting down, she said yes. In truth, she wasn’t hungry. The maid must have laced in her in more tightly than she was accustomed.

Montgomery appeared to have long finished eating. Next to his stack of newspapers was an empty cup. Just why had he ordered her to sit next to him? He had been immersed in his read. But she knew now that he was a dutiful man. Being polite was probably as much a duty to him as riding out into the cold to save a willful houseguest from herself. She would have to make a note on his profile sheet, very polite. As long as he didn’t mistake one for a social climbing tart, of course.

“You are one of Lady Tedbury’s political activists,” he said.

Her throat was instantly dry as dust.

“Yes, Your Grace.”

“Why?”

She could sense interest in him, genuine interest.

Cold sweat broke over her back. She had the ear of their greatest opponent, and the headache was jumbling her thoughts.

“I’m a woman,” she said. “It is only natural for me to believe in women’s rights.”

Montgomery gave a surprisingly Gallic, one-shouldered shrug. “Plenty of women don’t believe in this kind of women’s rights. And whether the 1870 Property Act is amended or not will not make a difference for you personally.”

There it was again, the arrogance. Of course he had guessed she didn’t have any property to lose to a husband, and thus no voting rights to forfeit. His arrogance was most annoying when it was right on the truth.

“I also believe in Aristotelian ethics,” she said, “and Aristotle says that there is greater value in striving for the common good than the individual good.”

“But women didn’t have the vote in the Greek democracies,” he said, a ghost of a smile hovering over his mouth. One could almost think he was enjoying this.

“They forgot to include women’s rights in the common good,” she muttered. “An easy mistake; it seems to be forgotten frequently.”

He nodded. “But then what do you make of the fact that men without property cannot vote, either?”

He was enjoying this. Like a tomcat enjoyed swatting at a mouse before he ate it.

Her temples were throbbing away in pain.

“Perhaps there should be more equality for the men as well, Your Grace.” That had been the wrong thing to say.

He slowly shook his head. “A socialist as well as a feminist. Do I need to worry about the corruption of my staff while you are here, Miss Archer? Will I have mutiny on my hands when I return from London tomorrow?”

“I wouldn’t dare,” she murmured. “There’s probably a dungeon under the house.”

He contemplated her with a hawklike gaze. “Oh, there is.”

four-stars

About Evie Dunmore

Debut author Evie Dunmore wrote BRINGING DOWN THE DUKE inspired by the magical scenery of Oxford and her passion for romance, women pioneers, and all things Victorian.

In her civilian life, she is a strategy consultant with a M.Sc. in Diplomacy from Oxford. Scotland and the great outdoors have a special place in her heart, so she can frequently be found climbing the Highlands and hunting for woolly tartan blanket bargains.

Evie lives in Europe and pours her fascination with 19th century Britain into her writing. She is a member of the British Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA).