Review: WELL PLAYED by Jen DeLuca

Review:  WELL PLAYED by Jen DeLucaWell Played by Jen DeLuca
Also by this author: Well Met
four-stars
Series: Well Met #2
Published by BERKLEY on September 22, 2020
Genres: Romance, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jen DeLuca’s Renaissance Faire-themed romance Well Met was one of my favorite reads from last year, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series, Well Played. I was so excited to revisit the world of the Willow Creek Ren Faire and to see Simon and Emily, who are now engaged, and the rest of the Ren Faire gang again.  Well Played follows Emily’s best friend, Stacey, and since I adored Stacey in the first book, it was fun to get to know her better this time around.

Stacey is a character that I think many will find very relatable.  Stacey’s dreams of a fashion career in New York are put on hold indefinitely when her mother suffers a heart attack.  Instead of leaving Willow Creek as planned, Stacey moves into her parent’s garage apartment to help care for her mom and, years later, is still hesitant to leave her parents on their own.  At first Stacey was content with the arrangement, but now, especially in light of Emily and Simon’s engagement, she finds herself in a rut.  Stacey’s not sure what kind of change she’s looking for but vows that her life will be different by the time Ren Faire season rolls around next year.

To put her plan into motion, Stacey decides a good first step would be to reach out to her sexy summertime hookup, Dex MacLean, a Ren Faire musician.  The two of them begin exchanging increasingly intimate emails and texts over the next few months, and by the time Ren Faire season starts up again, Stacey is convinced she’s in love with Dex.  There’s just one catch — Dex hasn’t actually been the one writing to her…

Well Played is such an entertaining read.  I sat down with it this morning and devoured the entire novel in a couple of sittings.  The story is filled with plenty of emotional, dramatic, and yes, even romantic moments as Stacey navigates her way through this unexpected plot twist.  It’s not all drama though, as of course, the story is also filled with plenty of light-hearted, laugh out loud moments courtesy of the Ren Faire castmates.  I loved the mix of the dramatic and light-hearted moments, and I especially loved the mother-daughter relationship between Stacey and her mom.  There were some lovely heartfelt moments between those two.

If Ren Faires, romance, and a loveable cast of characters are your thing, you should definitely check out both Well Met and Well Played.

four-stars

About Jen DeLuca

Jen DeLuca was born and raised near Richmond, Virginia, but now lives in Central Florida with her husband and a houseful of rescue pets. She loves latte-flavored lattes, Hokies football, and the Oxford comma. Well Met is her first novel, inspired by her time volunteering as a pub wench with her local Renaissance Faire.

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

Review:  EIGHTY DAYS TO ELSEWHERE by K.C. DyerEighty Days to Elsewhere by K.C. Dyer
four-stars
Published by Berkley Books on August 11, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

* * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About K.C. Dyer

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

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

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

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

Review: 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
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

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
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.