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: YOU LUCKY DOG by Julia London

Review:  YOU LUCKY DOG by Julia LondonYou Lucky Dog by Julia London
four-stars
Published by Berkley Romance on August 25, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Chick Lit
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..

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Brittanie from Berkley for inviting me to take part in Berkley’s 2020 Romance blog tour.  Today I’m excited to share my thoughts with you on You Lucky Dog by Julia London.

*****

Julia London’s latest novel, You Lucky Dog, is the perfect choice if you’re looking for a light read filled with dogs, a little romance (including the sweetest meet-cute), and some hilarious dysfunctional family fun.  The story follows Carly and Max, who meet when their beloved basset hounds are accidentally swapped in an incident involving a pot-selling dog walker and an ill-timed encounter with the police.  Although their initial meeting is somewhat awkward because of the circumstances, two things become clear right away:  1) Their dogs, Baxter and Hazel, clearly adore each other, and 2) Carly and Max are attracted to one another as well.

The timing couldn’t be worse for either of them though. Carly is an up and coming publicist who is desperately trying to build her brand and grow her clientele, while Max is a professor of neurology at the local university who is working hard in hopes of achieving tenure this year.  Carly is also dealing with her dysfunctional divorced parents, while Max has his hands full helping his dad care for his brother, Jamie, who has autism.  Even with all of those obstacles in their path, however, after a couple of doggie play dates, Max and Carly can’t deny their attraction any longer and hope they can figure out a way to make things work even though it feels like the deck is stacked against them.

*****

I really loved both main characters in You Lucky Dog.  Carly definitely has her hands full with some pretty quirky and moody clients, but I admired her persistence and determination as she continued to push to make things happen for herself.  Max is literally the sweetest guy and in addition to loving the way he cares for his dog (and for Carly’s), I also adored the scenes with Max and his brother.  Max is such a good brother to Jamie and it just warmed my heart to watch the two of them together. I also, of course, adored Carly and Max together.  At first I was hesitant because it felt a little like insta-love but seriously how can you not bond while watching your adorable basset hounds frolic in the park together?  Scenes like that sold me on their growing chemistry pretty quickly and I was rooting for them to get together, in part because I wanted Baxter and Hazel to have their own happily ever after.

In addition to the cute factor, there’s also a healthy dose of family drama to balance out the reading experience.  Carly’s mother is having a sexual reawakening, which is downright hilarious at times until her awakening actually threatens Carly and Max’s relationship and lends an almost star-crossed lovers vibe to the story.  Don’t let that scare you off if you need a happy ending though. The story is meant to be a rom-com so you know what that means. 😊

If you’re into dogs, meet cutes, and romance, with a side of family drama to keep things interesting, You Lucky Dog is a perfect fit for you.

four-stars

About Julia London

Julia London is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of more than thirty romantic fiction novels. She is the author of the popular Cabot Sisters historical series, including The Trouble with Honor, The Devil Takes a Bride, and The Scoundrel and the Debutante. She is also the author of several contemporary romances, including Homecoming Ranch, Return to Homecoming Ranch and The Perfect Homecoming.

Julia is the recipient of the RT Bookclub Award for Best Historical Romance and a six-time finalist for the prestigious RITA award for excellence in romantic fiction.

She lives in Austin, Texas.

Review: HIDDEN by Laura Griffin

Review:  HIDDEN by Laura GriffinHidden by Laura Griffin
four-stars
Series: The Texas Murder Files #1
Published by Berkley Books on August 25, 2020
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Romance
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Brittanie from Berkley for inviting me to take part in Berkley’s 2020 Romance blog tour.  Today I’m excited to share my thoughts with you on Laura Griffin’s latest novel, Hidden.

Hidden is the first installment in Laura Griffin’s new crime thriller series, The Texas Murder Files.  Hidden draws the reader in from the very first page as we follow a jogger on a popular hike-and-bike trail.  As she is jogging, the woman seems nervous and fearful, to the point of paranoia.  When a man with a large knife accosts her, it becomes all too painfully clear that she had a reason to be so nervous.  Investigative journalist Bailey Rhoads is sent to investigate the murder, as is police detective Jacob Merritt.  Bailey approaches Jacob to see if he can give her some details on the case, but instead of being helpful, Jacob is gruff and close-lipped about the case.  When she doesn’t get any assistance from Jacob, Bailey decides to do some digging on her own.

Two things become clear as both Jacob and Bailey begin to investigate:  1) There is frustratingly little evidence to go on with respect to the murder. Even getting an ID on the victim is proving to be nearly impossible, and 2) Whether they want to admit it or not or even act on it, Bailey and Jacob are attracted to one another.

Hidden was a winner for me for several reasons, the main one being that the murder case itself is very compelling.  From that opening scene, I was hooked on finding out who this woman was and why she was killed in such an awful way.  I became all the more invested in the case when both Jacob and Bailey couldn’t find out anything about the victim. It was like she had gone completely off the grid.  As Jacob and Bailey slowly began to unravel the details of the case and the suspense began to build, I flew through the pages eager to get to the truth about what had happened, especially as it became clear the woman’s murder was a hit job and that the killer wasn’t finished.

I also really loved both of the main characters.  Bailey is a talented and tenacious journalist.  She’s determined to get her story and won’t let anyone, not even a sexy police detective, stand in her way.  Jacob is equally likeable, even though he initially comes off as somewhat gruff and standoffish.  He’s actually just very protective when it comes to his cases. He truly cares about finding justice for his victims and in the case of this victim, is downright ticked off when the FBI comes to take jurisdiction over the case.  I loved his passion and I also thought it was cute how hard he tried to fight his growing attraction to Bailey even though her stubbornness made him crazy. His head keeps telling him it’s a bad idea for a cop to get involved with the media, but his heart has other ideas.  The chemistry between Jacob and Bailey was great too. The way their relationship progressed felt very organic, not to mention both cute and sexy.

Hidden is a very satisfying and entertaining read.  If you enjoy romantic suspense and a riveting murder mystery, be sure to add this gem to your reading list.

four-stars

About Laura Griffin

Laura Griffin is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty-five books and novellas. Her books have been translated into fourteen languages. Laura is a two-time RITA® Award winner (for Scorched and Whisper of Warning) as well as the recipient of the Daphne du Maurier Award (for Untraceable). Her book Desperate Girls was named one of the Best Books of 2018 by Publishers Weekly. Laura lives in Austin, Texas, where she is working on her next novel.

Audiobook Review: THE SWITCH by Beth O’Leary

Audiobook Review:  THE SWITCH by Beth O’LearyThe Switch by Beth O'Leary, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Alison Steadman
four-stars
Published by Macmillan Audio on August 18, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction, Chick Lit, Romance
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beth O’Leary’s The Switch is a charming and heartwarming story that follows Leena, a young woman who lives and works in London.  When Leena suffers a panic attack at work one day and almost costs her company a huge client, it becomes apparent that she needs a break from her life.  When she confides to her grandmother Eileen about what happened, Eileen confesses that she’s not overly happy with her own life at the moment either.  She’s looking for love, but unfortunately, pickings are slim in rural Yorkshire.  On a whim, Eileen and Leena decide to swap places for a couple of months, the idea being that Leena can relax and revitalize in a charming, slower paced rural setting, while Eileen can kick up her heels and enjoy life in the big city, where there are of course many more opportunities to meet Mr. Right.

I enjoyed The Switch so much!  Both Leena and Eileen are such likeable characters and it was fun to watch them both settle into their new environments.  I thought it was so cute watching Eileen hang out with Leena’s young friends, who helped her set up social media dating profiles, and made sure her time in London was everything she hoped it would be.  I also loved watching Leena interact with her grandmother’s, mostly elderly, neighbors.  Everything about this aspect of the book was just so entertaining and I loved all the quirky characters both in London and in Yorkshire.

It wasn’t all fun and games though. The Switch also deals with some serious and emotional topics as well, such as grief, infidelity, and the hazards of online dating.  There’s an especially moving secondary plot that focuses on the death of Leena’s sister Carla and how the loss of Carla has impacted Leena and Eileen, and especially Leena’s mother, who is really struggling with her grief.

There’s also a little romance.  It’s somewhat secondary to the emotional journeys of both Eileen and Leena, but for those who love a little romance in their women’s fiction, it’s definitely there and will put a smile on your face.

I listened to the audiobook version of The Switch and thought the narration was wonderful.  Leena’s chapters are narrated by Daisy Edgar-Jones, while Eileen’s are narrated by Allison Steadman.  I thought both voices were perfectly suited to the characters they were narrating and that they both really brought these characters to life beautifully.  I also liked that I was able to comfortably listen to the audio at my usual 1.25x speed.

The Switch is a delightful story about love, family, and community.  If you enjoyed Beth O’Leary’s last novel, The Flatshare, I think you’ll love this one too.

four-stars

About Beth O’Leary

Beth studied English at university before going into children’s publishing. She lives as close to the countryside as she can get while still being within reach of London, and wrote her first novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from work.
You’ll usually find her curled up with a book, a cup of tea, and several woolly jumpers (whatever the weather).

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 BLACK KIDS by Christina Hammonds Reed

Review:  THE BLACK KIDS by Christina Hammonds ReedThe Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
four-stars
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on August 4, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed is a poignant coming of age story set in Los Angeles during the 1992 Rodney King Riots.  It follows Ashley Bennett, a wealthy black teen whose parents have raised her in such a way as to shelter her from the struggles, and particularly, the racism that faces the black community.  Ashley attends a mostly white private school and her childhood friends are all white.  The only black kids she knows are those who attend her school on scholarships, but they keep to themselves and she doesn’t interact with them.  When the novel opens, Ashley’s most pressing concerns are whether to go to school or ditch and hang out with her friends at the pool or beach.

Everything changes, however, when the police officers who were captured on video brutally beating Rodney King, a black man, are acquitted.  Rightfully so, the black community is outraged and so the L.A. riots began.  The beating, acquittal, and subsequent riots is such big news that there’s no way Ashley can be sheltered from it, and it soon becomes a revelation to her that makes her question everything about herself – her privileged life, her disconnect with the black community, and her entire sense of self.

Ashley’s inner monologue was what really made this story so powerful for me.  I just found myself so moved by all of the emotions going through her head as she truly has to re-evaluate everything she has ever known now that she is faced with this new harsher reality.  Ashley is also worried sick about her older sister, who abandoned that sheltered life and is out protesting for justice right in the middle of the riots.  My heart especially broke for Ashley when during an argument with one of her childhood friends, the friend lets the ‘n’ word fly.  Hearing that hate come out of her friend’s mouth for the first time makes her realize that perhaps it’s time to move on and find friends who understand what she is going through and what a mess her head is because of it.  Even though my heart broke for her at the loss of friendship, it also soared for her as she slowly starts to find her way, figure out who she is, and who the best kinds of friends are for her.

Ashley’s journey in The Black Kids is a hard one, but as hard as it was, I still loved watching her learn and grow, and discover a new sense of identity.  I also thought it was very powerful to watch the riots unfold through the eyes of a frightened and confused black teen.  I’m old enough that I remember watching the riots on TV, but Ashley’s perspective is an entirely different one and it really hit me hard as I was reading.  It also made me sad in the sense that it’s now almost 30 years since those riots and we still have so much more work to do when it comes to fighting racial injustice.  I’m glad to see more and more books like The Black Kids and hope they will inspire all of us to understand and to do better.

four-stars

About Christina Hammonds Reed

Christina Hammonds Reed holds an MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. A native of the Los Angeles area, her work has previously appeared in the Santa Monica Review and One Teen Story. The Black Kids is her first novel.

Review: THIS IS MY AMERICA by Kim Johnson

Review:  THIS IS MY AMERICA by Kim JohnsonThis Is My America by Kim Johnson
five-stars
Published by Random House Children's Books on July 28, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
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 Galveston, Texas, Kim Johnson’s This Is My America follows Tracy Beaumont, a 17-year old African American who is on a mission to save her father, who is sitting on Death Row, convicted of a murder he did not commit. When the novel opens, he has less than one year before he’s put to death and so Tracy is running out of time. She has spent the past seven years writing weekly letters to Innocence X, an organization devoted to help those who have been wrongly incarcerated, pleading with them to take her father’s case.

The matter becomes all the more urgent when tragedy strikes the Beaumont family all over again. The local police arrive at the Beaumont house late one night with an arrest warrant for Tracy’s older brother Jamal. He is the prime suspect in the murder of Angela Herron, the editor of their school newspaper and also the white girl Jamal has been dating in secret. Jamal has no alibi and the sheriff’s son places him at the scene of the crime. Fearing he’s going to suffer the same fate as his dad, Jamal flees and refuses to come home until he can prove his innocence. With the clock ticking on both her father’s and her brother’s lives and still no response from Innocence X, Tracy decides it’s time to take matters into her own hands and starts looking for the evidence that will set them both free and save her family.

This story is hard-hitting on so many levels. As we follow Tracy on what turns out to be an increasingly dangerous journey to find the evidence that will exonerate her family members, the author unflinchingly explores so many tough and all-too-relevant topics, such as systemic racism, corruption in law enforcement, police brutality, the lingering existence of hate groups like the KKK, and the fact that without ample resources, a black person has little chance of successfully defending themselves in our legal system. The deck is just stacked against them. The author really drives her point home though by bringing us into the Beaumont home, where we meet and fall in love with Tracy, Jamal, their mom, and especially with their little sister Corinne, who at only seven years old, has never known her father as a free man. He has always been behind bars. Everything this family has gone through just had me in tears several times while I was reading, especially knowing that even though this account is fictional, the Beaumont’s situation is unfortunately a reality for too many families.

I don’t want to give away anything about the actual murder mysteries, so I’m just going to add that as powerful a read as this is because of its message about racial injustice, it’s also just a flat out fantastic read because the drive to find the real murderers is so riveting.

This Is My America is a hard-hitting exploration of the racial injustices that are so pervasive in American society. It’s a powerful read in that it will make you sad, angry, and frustrated at how little progress we as a society have made to stop the racial injustices, but at the same time, it’s a hopeful story. This is a book I’d love to see as required reading at the high school level because of its message that you’re never too young to start making your voice heard and that no matter how young you are, your voice can actually make a difference.

five-stars

About Kim Johnson

KIM JOHNSON held leadership positions in social justice organizations as a teen and in college. She’s now a college administrator who maintains civic engagement throughout the community while also mentoring Black student activists and leaders. She is also the graduate advisor and member of an historically Black sorority. This Is My America is her debut novel and explores racial injustice against innocent Black men who are criminally sentenced and the families left behind to pick up the pieces. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and the University of Maryland, College Park.

Review: PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA by Jenn McKinlay

Review:  PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA by Jenn McKinlayParis Is Always a Good Idea by Jenn McKinlay
four-half-stars
Published by Berkley Books on July 21, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction, Romance
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Brittanie at Berkley for inviting me to take part in the blog tour for Jenn McKinlay’s latest novel, Paris is Always a Good Idea.  I had a major case of cover love for this book as soon as I saw it, and I’m thrilled to report that the story itself is as wonderful as the gorgeous cover and can’t wait to share my thoughts on it with you.

 

* * * * *

 

Chelsea Martin is in a rut.  She’s all work and no play, and as her sister points out, hasn’t been in any kind of relationship in years.  Seven years ago their mother died of cancer, and it’s like Chelsea stopped living as well.  Things come to a head when Chelsea’s father announces that he is getting remarried. Chelsea is overwhelmed by the news and feels like her Dad is betraying her mom’s memory and basically tells him this, creating a very awkward and tense situation. A heart-to-heart with her sister afterwards convinces Chelsea that she really needs to do some soul searching.  Since the last time she can even remember actually being happy is during her trip to Europe after college, she decides she wants to retrace her steps and see if she can rediscover the Chelsea she used to be.

Paris is Always a Good Idea follows Chelsea on this journey to self-discovery, and wow, what a journey it is!  I don’t want to give away any details because her journey is best experienced knowing as little as possible up front, but I do want to share what I loved most about the story.  Below are some highlights.

* * * * *

5 REASONS PARIS IS A GOOD IDEA IS A MUST-READ

  1. Wanderlust. If you love traveling like I do and have been missing it fiercely because of the pandemic, Paris is Always a Good Idea is the perfect read for you.  We not only get to travel to romantic and beautiful Paris as the title suggests, but as part of retracing Chelsea’s gap year abroad, we are transported to the lush countryside of Ireland and to an incredible castle and vineyard in Tuscany, in central Italy.  The author does an incredible job of capturing the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of each location and bringing them to life. It’s as close as you can get without your passport and I loved following Chelsea on this journey.

  1. Mamma Mia vibes. Okay, so maybe I’ve watched Mamma Mia a few too many times, but as I was reading this book, I kept thinking certain aspects of it reminded me of Mamma Mia.  No, Chelsea doesn’t go to Greece and no, there’s no love child with three possible fathers, but still, Chelsea does go to Europe hoping to rekindle her heart by tracking down three hot guys she had fallen in love with during her gap year. The search for these three hotties leads to many awkward and hilarious moments for Chelsea, which is where my Mamma Mia comparison comes from. If you’re a Mamma Mia fan like I am, I think you’ll love this book too.

  1. Emotional journey. It’s not all lighthearted fun and games though. Paris is Always a Good Idea also very much focuses on the emotional journey Chelsea takes as she tries to find herself again.  Chelsea has been grieving for the loss of her mother for so many years now that trying to find her way past that grief so that she can live and love again is a tall order.  As much as I enjoyed the humor of those lighter moments as Chelsea looks for her old boyfriends, I really loved having this emotional journey as part of the reading experience as well. It made for an all around satisfying read.

 

  1. Relatable protagonist. Chelsea is definitely a character I found easy to relate to.  So much of what she goes through are things many of us have gone through or probably will go through at some point.  Burying ourselves in our work to avoid troubles in our personal lives, friction between family members, the loss of a parent, or even just feeling like we’ve lost some essential part of ourselves.  She’s also relatable in the sense that she’s messy and flawed. Some of what she says to her dad when she learns he’s getting remarried was downright cringeworthy, but at the same time, the reaction felt very authentic, like drama I could imagine playing out in my own family.

 

  1. Enemies to Lovers. Lastly, and perhaps the most fun reason of all, for all of you romance fans, there’s a fabulous enemies to lovers romance. I don’t want to give away any details on this, so I’m just going to say if you enjoy sparks flying, witty banter, and off the charts chemistry, you’re going to love this book!

 

Paris is Always a Good Idea is an emotionally satisfying read that will fill both your heart and  your need to travel.

four-half-stars

About Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay is the New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author of several mystery and romance series and will be debuting a stand alone romantic comedy in July 2020 entitled PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA. She lives in sunny Arizona in a house that is overrun with kids, pets and her husband’s guitars.

Review: BLACKTOP WASTELAND by S.A. Cosby

Review:  BLACKTOP WASTELAND by S.A. CosbyBlacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
four-half-stars
Published by Flatiron Books on July 14, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t normally read a lot of crime novels but I was drawn to S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland because it’s set in my home state of Virginia.  Whatever my reasons for initially picking it up though, I’m so glad I did because Blacktop Wasteland really blew me away.  It is both an action-packed thrill ride that features a high stakes heist and an emotional journey about a man who is caught between the sins of his past and what he desperately wants for his future.

Blacktop Wasteland hooked me from the very first chapter when we meet the protagonist, Beauregard “Bug” Montage.  If you like complicated characters, you’re going to love Bug.  When we first meet him, Bug is drag racing for cash and it becomes immediately clear that Bug’s driving skills are unmatched.  Think “The Fast and the Furious” and you’re on the right track.   For years, Bug was the go-to wheelman for anyone out there who was trying to pull off a heist.  He’s now trying to leave that life of crime behind though.  Bug has a wonderful wife, great kids, and he owns his own auto body shop.  He loves his life as a family man and business owner, living on the up and up, and wants to do right by his family no matter what.  Bug is also haunted by memories of his father, who led a similar criminal lifestyle but ultimately abandoned his family rather than stick around and take care of them.  Bug is determined not to be like his father.

Life gets complicated for Bug, however, when for reasons beyond his control (unexpected expenses, new competition from a rival shop, etc.), he starts struggling to make ends meet and fears he won’t be able to provide for his family.  As he exhausts all of his non-criminal options, his old way of life starts calling to him and when a former associate approaches him about a can’t miss heist, Bug agrees to take part, rationalizing in his mind that he’s doing this one last time and that it’s all for his family.  Things unfortunately don’t go according to plan as Bug and his associates realize they’ve stolen from the wrong person and that things are about to go from bad to worse for them.

There’s so much tension and suspense building as Bug finds himself in an increasingly impossible situation. When the heist goes wrong, Bug’s life spirals down a dark and dangerous path that leaves him and his family more vulnerable than ever before and he has to figure out a way to fix it once and for all. And what made Bug such an especially compelling character for me is that no matter how deep he found himself in trouble, he never loses sight of his family.  He truly is willing to do absolutely anything to protect them and secure their future, even if it means possibly sacrificing himself.   S. A. Cosby does such an incredible job with painting Bug as both morally gray and completely sympathetic that I actually found myself rooting for Bug to do whatever he had to do to take out all threats to his family, even if it involved violence.  I was just that invested in Bug and his family.

S. A. Cosby’s writing in Blacktop Wasteland is phenomenal as well.  Whether he’s describing the back roads of rural Virginia, muscle cars and action-packed driving scenes that would easily fit into a Fast and Furious script, exploring the landscape of poverty and racism that is ever-present in our society, or laying out an emotional discussion between a husband and wife about the challenges that are facing their family, Cosby’s characters are both authentic and unforgettable, and his imagery is vibrant, powerful, and sure to resonate.  This is my first time reading one of S. A. Cosby’s novels and I very much look forward to reading more from him. If you’re in the mood for a fast-paced crime thriller that is raw, gritty and will leave you on the edge of your seat, Blacktop Wasteland is a must-read.

four-half-stars

About S.A. Cosby

S. A. Cosby is a writer from Southeastern Virginia. He won the 2019 Anthony Award for Best Short Story for “The Grass Beneath My Feet”, and his previous books include Brotherhood of the Blade and My Darkest Prayer. He resides in Gloucester, Virginia. When not writing, he is an avid hiker and chess player.

Review: WHAT YOU WISH FOR by Katherine Center

Review:  WHAT YOU WISH FOR by Katherine CenterWhat You Wish For by Katherine Center
Also by this author: Things You Save in a Fire
four-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on July 14, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Katherine Center’s latest novel, What You Wish For, is a beautiful story about love and loss, friendship and “found” family, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a story about overcoming fears, embracing joy, and living life to the fullest.

The story follows Samantha (“Sam”) Casey, an elementary school librarian at a prestigious private school in Galveston, Tx.  Life is pretty good for Sam when we first meet her. She loves her job – the school itself is fantastic with a vibrant, creative atmosphere, and Sam loves interacting with her students and with her colleagues.  She even loves her bosses, Max and Babette Kempner, the beloved founders of the school who also happen to be Sam’s landlords.  Over the years, Sam has come to think of Max and Babette as family.

When tragedy strikes unexpectedly and Max passes away, Sam’s life, both personally and professionally, is thrown into turmoil, especially when she learns that the man hired to replace Max as Principal is none other than Duncan Carpenter, a teacher from her old life that Sam had a mad crush on, so much so that when she realized she had missed her chance with him and that he was marrying someone else, she immediately resigned her position and moved to Texas to get away from his happily ever after with someone else.  When Duncan arrives, Sam is shocked that 1) he doesn’t even recognize her, and 2) he immediately starts dismantling everything about her beloved school that made it so special.

What You Wish For really took off for me from the moment Duncan walked back into Sam’s life. He’s so awful and not at all like Sam has described him to her friends that I, like Sam, was obsessed with trying to figure out what had happened to cause such a radical change in his personality.  I was even more hooked by the story though from the moment Sam and Duncan have their first meeting.  It’s borderline hostile and he clearly doesn’t remember Sam, but even so, the chemistry between them is intense and the sparks are flying.  This was a relationship I was eager to see evolve!

Aside from the relationship between Sam and Duncan, I also just loved all of the secondary characters in this story.  I already mentioned the lovable Max and Babette, but there’s also Alice, the hilarious math teacher who wears math pun t-shirts to work everyday and who is also Sam’s best friend.  Then there is Babette’s adorable grandson, Clay, who is a bookworm and loves to hang out in the library with Sam.  Oh and there’s also an adorable labradoodle named Chuck Norris who will absolutely melt your heart.

The last thing I want to mention is a major theme running through the story that I really loved. It was Max’s life philosophy, which he imparted to Sam over the years anytime he sensed her struggling.  Max believed that no matter what is going on in your life, no matter how scared or stressed you may be, it’s important to always choose joy. That while it may not solve all of your problems, it’s a great place to start.  I thought that was such a beautiful philosophy, and one that is especially relevant right now, with everything that is going on in the world.

What You Wish For is my third Katherine Center novel and she has yet to disappoint.  Her stories are always so moving and filled with unforgettable characters, and they never fail to leave me with a full heart and a smile on my face.  If that sounds like your kind of read, you definitely want to give What You Wish For a try.

four-half-stars

About Katherine Center

Katherine Center is the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away, the upcoming Things You Save in a Fire (August 2019), and five other bittersweet comic novels. Six Foot Pictures is currently adapting her fourth novel, The Lost Husband, into a feature film starring Josh Duhamel, Leslie Bibb, and Nora Dunn. Katherine has been compared to both Nora Ephron and Jane Austen, and the Dallas Morning News calls her stories, “satisfying in the most soul-nourishing way.” Katherine recently gave a TEDx talk on how stories teach us empathy, and her work has appeared in USA Today, InStyle, Redbook, People, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Real Simple, Southern Living, and InTouch, among others. Katherine lives in her hometown of Houston, Texas, with her fun husband, two sweet kids, and fluffy-but-fierce dog.