Fantasy Review: ONCE UPON A BROKEN HEART by Stephanie Garber

Fantasy Review:  ONCE UPON A BROKEN HEART by Stephanie GarberOnce Upon a Broken Heart (Once Upon a Broken Heart, #1) by Stephanie Garber
Also by this author: Caraval, Legendary
five-stars
Series: Once Upon a Broken Heart #1
Published by Flatiron Books on September 28, 2021
Genres: Fantasy
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.

 

Thanks so much to Cat Kinney from Flatiron Books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour for Once Upon a Broken Heart. I’m thrilled to share my thoughts with you today on one of my most anticipated reads of 2021.

Stephanie Garber’s new novel, Once Upon a Broken Heart, is the first installment in her new fantasy series of the same name and it’s a companion series to her wildly popular Caraval series.  As the title hints with its “once upon a time” tease, Once Upon a Broken Heart has a fairytale-like feel to it.  I loved this vibe and found it very fitting for the main premise of the story, which explores how far a person will go to secure a happily ever after for themselves.

The protagonist of the novel is Evangeline Fox, a young woman who grew up in her dad’s curiosity shop, where she steeped herself in myths and legends.  When Luc, the love of Evangeline’s life, abruptly dumps her in favor of her stepsister and wants to marry her immediately, Evangeline is desperate to stop the wedding and win Luc back.  It comes quite naturally to her that she should seek out help from one of the legendary Fates, in particular Jacks, the Prince of Hearts.  If anyone can help her, she’s sure it’s him and is willing to pay whatever price he asks of her. She knows that whatever bargain she makes with the Fate will change her life forever; she just doesn’t know if that change will be for better or for worse.

I really adored Evangeline.  I felt so bad for her in those opening scenes because she’s absolutely distraught that Luc and her stepsister would betray her like this and doesn’t know who to trust anymore.  She’s somewhat naïve about love and relationships and the fact that some people just cheat, but I did admire the sense of determination she displayed when going to the Prince of Hearts.  Her plan to get help from a Fate might not be the smartest idea, but I had to give her credit for taking matters into her own hands to try to make something happen for herself.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers about Evangeline’s journey overall and whether or not she gets that happily ever after she so desperately wants but if you enjoy a story where the protagonist experiences tremendous growth as the story progresses, you’ll enjoy this one.

Now, let me talk about Jacks, the Prince of Hearts.   Jacks is your guy if you love a story that features an anti-hero because he’s the ultimate anti-hero.  He was one of my favorite characters from the Caraval series and was the main reason I was so excited to read this book.  And he does not disappoint. I love Jacks so much! He’s mysterious and broody, and he’s also a sexy, bad boy.  He’s all about tricks and making deals with desperate souls like Evangeline, and his motives are always selfish and sometimes nefarious. He’s just such a great character, and what I loved in Once Upon a Broken Heart, is the added depth we are given with respect to him.  Even though he’s clearly making this bargain with Evangeline for his own personal gain, he still can’t seem to stop himself from helping her and protecting her whenever she finds herself in trouble, which is quite often thanks to the precarious situation the deal puts her in.  There’s an almost indefinable connection between them. I wouldn’t call it a romantic connection and it’s not quite a friendship either. Whatever it is though, the chemistry between the two of them is fantastic and I became immensely invested in the relationship between them as soon as they struck that fateful bargain. Trying to figure out what it is that Jacks wants out of the deal, coupled with whether or not Evangeline will get her heart’s desire, had me flying through the pages and I devoured the book in a day.

The worldbuilding is also exquisite in this story. We are introduced to a new kingdom in this series that we didn’t see in Caraval.  This kingdom is in the North and Garber beautifully uses imagery and myths and folklore, to add to that fairytale-like atmosphere I mentioned earlier and vividly bring the setting to life.

Once Upon a Broken Heart is a companion to Caraval, and while it would work quite well as a standalone, if you’re ever planning to read Caraval, it’s probably best to read that series first to avoid any possible spoilers.  Scarlett and Tella from Caraval make a brief appearance and it was delightful to see them again, but otherwise there isn’t much overlap in plot at all.  As much as I enjoyed Caraval though, I have to admit that I actually loved Once Upon a Broken Heart even more and can’t wait to see what’s next for Evangeline and Jacks!

five-stars

About Stephanie Garber

Stephanie Garber is the #1 New York Times and Sunday Times bestselling author of THE CARAVAL SERIES, which has been translated in over 25 languages. Her newest book, ONCE UPON A BROKEN HEART, releases September 28, 2021.

When she’s not writing, she’s usually reading or watching television shows with vampires. Now that her dream of becoming a published author has come true, her new dream is to visit Club 33 at Disneyland.

Fantasy Review: UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR by T.J. Klune

Fantasy Review:  UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR by T.J. KluneUnder the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune
five-stars
Published by Tor Books on September 21, 2021
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 373
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

T.J. Klune’s new novel Under the Whispering Door is pure, heartwarming magic.  I loved this story so much that I know nothing I write here is going to convey just how special this book is.  I’m going to try though so bear with me.

The story follows Wallace Price and it actually begins with his death.  Wallace was apparently such a jerk while he was alive that only four people show up for his funeral — his ex-wife and his three partners from his law firm — and based on their comments, they all clearly did not like him.  Also in attendance at the funeral, is Wallace himself, or rather the ghost of Wallace.  He’s somewhat in disbelief that he’s actually dead and mad because he still had so much work to do, cases to prepare for, etc. He’s also furious about the nasty comments the funeral attendees are making about him.

Wallace is distracted by all of this, however, when he realizes that a mystery woman who is also attending the funeral can actually see him in his ghost form.  She introduces herself as Mei and explains that she is a Reaper who has come to collect his soul and help him to cross over to the afterlife.  Instead of taking him directly to the afterlife, however, Mei instead leads the reluctant Wallace to a tea shop located in a small, remote village.  There she introduces him to Hugo, the owner of the tea shop who also happens to be a ferryman to souls who need to cross to the afterlife. Wallace insists he isn’t ready to leave his life behind and thus begins a journey with Hugo that allows him to fully discover and explore all the things he missed out on in life while he was so fully obsessed with work and power, including love, kindness, and family, just to name a few biggies.

This story is filled with laugh out loud moments as Wallace adjusts to his “life” as a ghost and particularly as he is constantly teased by Mei and punked by another resident ghost, Hugo’s grandfather. Hugo’s grandfather steals every scene he is in, as does Hugo’s loyal ghost dog, Apollo.  Aside from being hilarious though, Under the Whispering Door is also just an all around moving, emotional story because of its focus on love and loss, and living life to the fullest. It explores death and how we all deal with loss and grief differently, and I guess maybe because I had just lost a loved one right before I read this book, that aspect of the story really resonated with me. I cried just as much as I laughed, especially because Wallace grows so much throughout the story that I went from hating him and thinking he was the worst person ever to absolutely adoring him and never wanting him to pass on and leave Hugo and Mei, his wonderful found family, behind. That’s a pretty powerful transformation for a character to make and T.J. Klune does it in such a beautiful and realistic way.

I could go on and on about everything I loved about this book, but you’ll really want to experience all of its magic yourself.  Under the Whispering Door is a book that’s going to stay with me for a long time and it has definitely placed T.J. Klune on my list of auto-buy authors.

five-stars

About T.J. Klune

TJ KLUNE is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author (Into This River I Drown) and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include the Green Creek series, The House on the Cerulean Sea and The Exraordinaries. Being queer himself, TJ believes it’s important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.

Tj can be reached at tjklunebooks@yahoo.com.

Review: THE LOVE HYPOTHESIS by Ali Hazelwood

Review:  THE LOVE HYPOTHESIS by Ali HazelwoodThe Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
five-stars
Published by Berkley Books on September 14, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood is quite possibly the sweetest, most adorable romance novel I’ve ever read.  It checked so many boxes for me (a STEM heroine, the fake dating trope, hilarious banter, and so much more) and it just had me grinning from ear to ear pretty much the entire time I was reading.

The story follows Olive Smith, a third-year Ph.D. candidate at Stanford.  Olive has just learned that her best friend, Anh, is attracted to Jeremy, a guy Olive used to date.  Anh and this guy have major chemistry but Anh doesn’t want to hurt Olive by dating him.  Olive thinks that’s sweet and is grateful to have such a loyal friend but she also knows that Anh and Jeremy would actually be perfect together.  Olive decides to also be a great friend and let Anh think she is head over heels in love with a new guy so that Anh will go for it with Jeremy.  The next time she sees Anh, Olive panics, grabs the first guy she sees and plants a kiss on him.  There’s just one problem – the guy she kisses is none other than Adam Carlsen, a rock star of a professor who also happens to have a reputation for being an ass and making his students cry.  Not exactly who Olive had in mind, to say the least, but to her utter shock, once she explains to Adam why she did what she did, he agrees to fake-date her so that Anh and Jeremy can get together.

I honestly can’t even get over how much I adored both Olive and Adam.  As we’ve established, Olive is such a lovely friend who would clearly do anything to help a friend find happiness.  I also just found her overall personality delightful. She’s smart, determined, resilient, and she’s also hilarious. Once she gets comfortable fake dating Adam, he repeatedly calls her a pain in his rear because she’s always gently mocking and teasing him about his awful reputation and of course tormenting him with her love of all things pumpkin spice, lol.  After hanging out with him just a few times, Olive has picked up on the fact that Adam is anything but an ass. He’s actually quite sweet and surprisingly soft, and she can really open up to him in ways she never has with anyone else. I loved watching the two of them interact because they really did bring out the best in each other and I loved the slight tension as they each began to realize that their feelings for each other weren’t fake at all.

Aside from the romance, the author also tackles some more serious topics, such as the challenges women face in academia, particularly in STEM.  She explores sexism, bias, and what happens when a professor grossly abuses his power. The romance definitely takes center stage and makes up the bulk of the story, but I liked having these “meatier” topics to add some depth to the overall story.

I could go on and on about how much I adored the book. If you’re looking for a charming and heartwarming romance that features lovable characters, witty banter, and fake dating, be sure to check out The Love Hypothesis.  It’s an absolute gem of a book that I will be recommending to every romance reader I know.

five-stars

About Ali Hazelwood

Ali Hazelwood is a multi-published author–alas, of peer-reviewed articles about brain science, in which no one makes out and the ever after is not always happy. Originally from Italy, she lived in Germany and Japan before moving to the U.S. to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience. She recently became a professor, which absolutely terrifies her. When Ali is not at work, she can be found running, eating cake pops, or watching sci-fi movies with her two feline overlords (and her slightly-less-feline husband).

Review: THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED by Lisa Jewell

Review:  THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED by Lisa JewellThe Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell
Also by this author: Watching You, The Family Upstairs
four-half-stars
Published by Atria Books on September 7, 2021
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
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.

 

 

I’m a big fan of Lisa Jewell’s storytelling so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her latest mystery, The Night She Disappeared.  I knew I would be in for a wild ride and I was not disappointed.

It’s 2017, and 19 year old Tallulah and her boyfriend have left their baby with Tallulah’s mom, Kim, while they go out for a much-needed night on the town.  When they don’t return home, Kim becomes frantic because it’s just not like Tallulah to be irresponsible.  After calling all her daughter’s friends and learning only that Tallulah had decided to go to a party at Dark Place, a mysterious house in the nearby woods, Kim decides it’s time to call the police.  The police investigate but there’s just no sign of either of them, dead or alive.

Two years later, Sophie moves to the same town. Sophie’s husband has just taken a job as headmaster at a local boarding school and they’ll be living in a house on campus.  One day while wandering in the woods around the school, Sophie comes across a note affixed to a tree that reads “DIG HERE.”  The note looks pretty new so, intrigued, Sophie does as instructed, unaware that she is about to uncover new evidence in Tallulah’s missing persons case.

My favorite part of this story is how Jewell lets the pieces of this mystery come together through dual timelines.  The 2017 timeline shows us both the lead up to what ultimately happens with Tallulah and her boyfriend, as well as the initial police investigation as witnessed through the eyes of Kim, who is determined to find out what happened to her daughter.  I was so heartbroken for Kim because I just can’t even imagine how she could go on from day to day, raising her grandson alone and wondering everyday what had become of his mother. I was also very sympathetic to Tallulah herself because it becomes clear she had some pretty major issues that she was dealing with up until the time of her disappearance.

The second timeline, which Sophie really kicks into motion with her digging, focuses on what the new evidence brings to light as Sophie decides to do a little sleuthing on her own.  Sophie is an author of cozy mysteries who is currently suffering from writer’s block so she goes into this thinking it might help inspire her to write.  She has no idea what she is getting herself into as she slowly starts to put together the pieces and gets closer to the truth than anyone has gotten thus far.

It’s definitely a slow burn when it comes to learning the fate of Tallulah and her boyfriend, but the journey is filled with plenty of twists and turns, riveting drama, ever increasing suspense and tension, and a wonderfully intricate plot that will keep you guessing until the very end.  I’ve read four of Jewell’s thrillers so far and The Night She Disappeared is my favorite. I read it in a single day and just could not put it down until I had answers, which is what I look for in a great mystery. If you’re looking for a read that will keep you turning pages until the wee hours of the morning, The Night She Disappeared is the book for you.

four-half-stars

About Lisa Jewell

Lisa was born in London in 1968. Her mother was a secretary and her father was a textile agent and she was brought up in the northernmost reaches of London with her two younger sisters. She was educated at a Catholic girls’ Grammar school in Finchley. After leaving school at sixteen she spent two years at Barnet College doing an arts foundation course and then two years at Epsom School of Art & Design studying Fashion Illustration and Communication.

She worked for the fashion chain Warehouse for three years as a PR assistant and then for Thomas Pink, the Jermyn Street shirt company for four years as a receptionist and PA. She started her first novel, Ralph’s Party, for a bet in 1996. She finished it in 1997 and it was published by Penguin books in May 1998. It went on to become the best-selling debut novel of that year.

She has since written a further nine novels, as is currently at work on her eleventh.

She now lives in an innermost part of north London with her husband Jascha, an IT consultant, her daughters, Amelie and Evie and her silver tabbies, Jack and Milly.

Review: MOM JEANS AND OTHER MISTAKES

Review:  MOM JEANS AND OTHER MISTAKESMom Jeans and Other Mistakes by Alexa Martin
five-stars
Published by Berkley Books on September 7, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Women's Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

I was honestly not prepared for how much I would fall in love with Alexa Martin’s new novel Mom Jeans and Other Mistakes.  I requested it for review because of the fun title, cute cover, and because I enjoyed my last read from this author, but I’m going to tell you all right now before I break it down any further, this is my new favorite book about female friendships!

The story follows two women, Jude Andrews and Lauren Turner, who have been best friends since the third grade.  Jude is a popular social media influencer whose online brand is healthy eating, pilates, and a positive attitude.  Her online life, however, doesn’t even remotely resemble her real life, where she has a toxic relationship with her out-of-work celebrity mother and where a bad decision involving the guy she was dating left her with an empty bank account.  Lauren isn’t faring much better unfortunately.  She had to abandon her dream of becoming a doctor when she unexpectedly got pregnant and even more unexpectedly, when her fiancé decided to dump her and leave her to raise her daughter all alone.  Jude and Lauren turn to each other, as they have all their lives, and decide that the solution to their troubles is to move in together and be, as they like to call themselves, “Sister Wives”!

The relationship between Jude and Lauren just really spoke to me.  Sure, the book is filled with plenty of laughs and good times, particularly surrounding a fun podcast that Lauren and Jude decide to do together, but at the heart of the story is this truly beautiful friendship.  They are each other’s ride-or-die and it shows in everything they do for each other. I especially adored how much their love for each other spilled over to Lauren’s adorable daughter, Addy.  Jude would seriously lay down her life for that little girl and it just made me smile from ear to ear every time the two of them interacted.

Although the podcast provides plenty of laughs, Mom Jeans and Other Mistakes still has its fair share of more dramatic moments.  Jude and Lauren both have personal drama that weighs on them, Lauren in the form of her ex deciding, out of the blue, that he wants full custody of Addy, and Jude in the form of a mom who is little more than a parasite, constantly coming to Jude to beg for money to finance her career comeback.  Jude is so used to putting on this happy mask for her social media followers that she tries to do it to Lauren as well, but Lauren sees through her act and forces Jude to stop keeping everything all bottled up.

I really just loved everything about their friendship and about the book as a whole.  The book, like Jude and Lauren’s podcast, very realistically explores the ups and downs women, whether they’re moms or not, go through every day and sends the message that we should all support each other.  If you’re looking for a book that explores and celebrates the bonds of female friendship and sisterhood, I highly recommend Alexa Martin’s Mom Jeans and Other Mistakes.

five-stars

About Alexa Martin

Alexa Martin is a writer and stay at home mom. A Nashville transplant, she’s intent on instilling a deep love and respect for the great Dolly Parton in her four children and husband. The Playbook Series was inspired by the eight years she spent as a NFL wife and her deep love of all things pop culture, sparkles, leggings, and wine. When she’s not repeating herself to her kids, you can find her catching up on whatever Real Housewives franchise is currently airing or filling up her Etsy cart with items she doesn’t need.

Review: THE LAST CHANCE LIBRARY by Freya Sampson

Review:  THE LAST CHANCE LIBRARY by Freya SampsonThe Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson
four-half-stars
Published by Berkley Books on August 31, 2021
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.

 

 

 

The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson is an absolute gem of a book.  I’m a sucker for a book about books anyway, but throw in a charming smalltown setting, a group of feisty senior citizens determined to do whatever it takes to save their local library, and an introverted library assistant who really wants to find her voice and this book was just an all around wonderful experience for me.

The story follows June Jones, a timid but lovable library assistant who works at Chalcot Library.  The library holds a special place in June’s heart, not just because she loves assisting fellow book lovers but also because for years, her mother also worked there.  Since June’s mother passed away, working at the library has been a way for June to still feel close to her.

I loved watching June interact with the patrons, especially the children, who she did everything she could to help foster their love of reading, and the elderly, who she not only helped with book recommendations but also with any technology/internet needs they have.  When the local council starts talking of closing the library as a way to save money and it appears that the head librarian, Marjorie, may be in on it and tells June she is forbidden from speaking out against the possible closure,  June is determined to do whatever she has to do to save the library, in spite of Marjorie’s warning, thus sealing her place in my heart as the beloved underdog.

I also had tremendous sympathy for June because in some ways, it seems that she is so busy trying to preserve her mother’s memory that she has stopped living her own life.  She still lives in her childhood home, hasn’t packed up any of her mother’s old belongings even though she died 10 years ago, and June has indefinitely put on hold her dreams of going to university to study writing.  Helping to save the library really seems to be the spark she needs to finally move forward and start living again.

It’s not just June fighting to save the library though.  The library’s elderly patrons spring into action, forming a Friends of the Library group to protest the closing.  I adored the members of this group so much.  They’re so much fun to read about –  all scrappy, full of wit, and just so incredibly devoted to the library.  Through their actions, it becomes clear that the library is so much more than just a building full of books. It’s a safe haven for the homeless, a place where teenagers who live in crowded homes can have a quiet place to study, a place where unlikely friendships are forged between a cranky old woman and an immigrant who is new to the area.  In short, the library is the very heart of the community.

I don’t want to say anything else that may spoil the plot, but this really is such a special story.  If you enjoy books about friendship, finding your voice and standing up for what you believe in, and of course books about books, be sure to check out The Last Chance Library!

four-half-stars

About Freya Sampson

Freya Sampson works in TV and was the executive producer of Channel 4’s Four in a Bed and Gogglesprogs. She studied History at Cambridge University and is a graduate of the Faber Academy. She lives in London with her husband, two young children and an antisocial cat. The Last Library (called The Last Chance Library on the U.S. version) is her debut novel.

Romance Review: WAIT FOR IT by Jenn McKinlay

Romance Review:  WAIT FOR IT by Jenn McKinlayWait for It by Jenn McKinlay
Also by this author: Paris Is Always a Good Idea
four-half-stars
Published by Berkley Books on August 10, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, 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.

 

 

Jenn McKinlay’s new romance Wait for It is one of the most delightful books I’ve read so far this year. I’m pretty sure I had a smile on my face almost the entire time I was reading it.  It follows Annabelle Martin, a young woman who loves her job working as a freelance graphic designer but who has grown tired of the cold and dreary Boston winters.  She also has not one, but two ex-husbands even though she’s only in her twenties. Annabelle just really needs a change.  When her best friend Sophie offers her the job of a lifetime to come and work for her in Phoenix, Arizona, Annabelle jumps at the chance.  There’s just one drawback – based on his endless notes about rules, rules, and more rules, her anonymous landlord appears to be a cranky “Get off my lawn!” kind of guy.  Even though her friends warn her against approaching the guy, Annabelle considers herself a charmer and is convinced she can win him over so he’ll relax the rules.  She has no idea what she’s in for…

Enter Nick Daire, said landlord, who actually isn’t an old curmudgeon after all, but instead is a gorgeous young man who has recently suffered a stroke and is wheelchair bound.  Nick used to be a successful businessman but this stroke has really done a number on him both physically and emotionally, and so he has chosen to live as a recluse, shutting out almost everyone he knows.  Nick didn’t even want to rent out his guest house but was talked into it by Sophie’s husband, who Nick owes his life to. Nick can’t wait for his tenant to move out in six months and has absolutely no intention whatsoever of interacting with her.  He has no idea what he’s in for…

I can’t even express how much I enjoyed watching these two characters.  I loved watching their relationship grow from little snarky letters taped to doors to them finally meeting in person and bonding over of all things, a stray tuxedo cat Annabelle has named Sir.  It was so clear to me from the moment we meet each of them that they’re perfect for each other and I just couldn’t wait for them to figure it out too.

I also really enjoyed the journeys of personal growth both Annabelle and Nick experience.  They both have plenty of flaws that they need to work on, like Annabelle’s need to “mother” the men she dates and Nick’s fear of appearing vulnerable in front of anyone, even those who love and care about him.  I love watching characters really learn from their mistakes and grow, and both of these characters do.  Wait for It does explore some weighty topics with respect to mental health, but the author does a wonderful job balancing this more serious topic with the lighter romance.

If you’re looking for a fun and sweet romance that will leave you with a smile on your face, check out Jenn McKinley’s Wait for It. You won’t be disappointed!

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.

YA Review: WHERE IT ALL LANDS by Jennie Wexler

YA Review:  WHERE IT ALL LANDS by Jennie WexlerWhere It All Lands by Jennie Wexler
four-stars
Published by Wednesday Books on July 6, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
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.

 

 

Jennie Wexler’s debut YA contemporary novel Where It All Lands is one of the more unique stories I’ve read recently.  It’s a story about love, friendship, missed opportunities and second chances, and it’s about how something as simple as the flip of a coin can alter the course of a person’s journey.

The story follows three teens: new girl Stevie Rosenstein and Shane and Drew, who have been best friends forever.  Both Shane and Drew find themselves drawn to Stevie and want to ask her out.  They don’t want to step on each other’s toes though and have a girl come between their friendship, so they do what they always do when they need to resolve something and move on – they flip a coin.  Whoever wins the coin flip gets to ask Stevie out and the loser steers clear.

It’s here that the story takes a unique turn because the author presents the rest of the story in a dual timeline:  in one timeline, Shane has won the coin toss and becomes involved with Stevie and in the other timeline, Drew has won and it is he who gets to ask out Stevie. I have to admit I was a little nervous when I realized it was somewhat of a love triangle, but I really loved how the author presented the relationships in each timeline. She really fleshes out all three characters and shows how sometimes even the smallest choices people make can have a huge impact on their lives and the lives of those around them.

Even though it was the unique concept of the love triangle/coin flip dual timeline that drew me to this story, what really made me love it was the cast of characters.  I adored Stevie, Shane, and Drew.  I was particularly drawn to Stevie because she had spent her whole life moving from city to city because of her father’s job.  Every time she makes friends, she immediately has to pack up and move.  She’s lonely and at this point in her life is hesitant to even bother trying to make new friends.  I felt so bad for her and was immediately rooting for her to find some great friends and convince her dad to settle in one place so she can put down roots.

I also adored Shane and Drew, especially because of their friendship.  They’ve both been through so much and no matter what, have always been each other’s number one support system.  I didn’t want them to let a girl, or anyone else for that matter, come between them, so I was anxious to see if they would really be able to abide by the rules of their coin toss or if the tension would come to a head and cost them not only Stevie, but also their lifelong friendship.  Wexler does a wonderful job creating tension and straining these relationships to the brink.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers but I’ll say that this book also had me in tears a few times.  I just became so invested in these characters that when tragedy strikes (also presented in a dual timeline with different outcomes) I was immediately a wreck.

Even though there’s definitely quite a bit of heartbreak sprinkled throughout, overall Where It All Lands is still a heartfelt and hopeful book.  If you enjoy unique stories that feature love, friendship, trust, second chances, and possibilities, you’ll want to check out Where It All Lands.

four-stars

About Jennie Wexler

Jennie Wexler spent the first part of her career producing television shows appearing on VH1, Bravo, and The Travel Channel. She has a BA in literature/rhetoric from Binghamton University and an MA in television/radio/film from The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Jennie’s debut young adult contemporary novel will be released on July 6th, 2021. She is a member of SCBWI and lives in New Jersey with her husband, son, and Havanese puppy.

Romance Review: WHILE WE WERE DATING by Jasmine Guillory

Romance Review:  WHILE WE WERE DATING by Jasmine GuilloryWhile We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory
Also by this author: Royal Holiday (The Wedding Date, #4), Party of Two
four-stars
Series: The Wedding Date #6
Published by Berkley Books on July 13, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 336
Also in this series: Royal Holiday (The Wedding Date, #4), Party of Two
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

While We Were Dating is the sixth book in Jasmine Guillory’s popular contemporary romance series, The Wedding Date. I’m a big fan of this series so I’m thrilled to report that Guillory’s latest is just as delightfully sexy and swoony as its five predecessors.  One of the things I love about this series is that even though the books are loosely interconnected and characters sometimes make appearances in later books in the series, each book still works quite well as a standalone.  While We Were Dating follows Hollywood actress Anna Gardiner and Ben Stephens, an up and coming executive at an ad agency.  For those familiar with the series, Ben is the younger brother of Theo Stephens who appears in The Wedding Party.  Theo and his girlfriend Maddie also make an appearance in this story.

Guillory always does a wonderful job of crafting main characters that are likeable, relatable, and that have undeniable chemistry between them and Anna and Ben are no exception here.  Anna has been struggling with anxiety recently and so has had to put her acting career on the backburner.  She feels ready to take on the world again and is determined to take control of both her career and her personal life and mount a comeback.  I loved Anna right away because while she may be ultra-famous, she’s not a diva at all.  While she’s clearly aware of how talented she is, there’s never a time when she tries to act like she’s more entitled than anyone else. I loved how down-to-earth she is.  She’s also funny, sexy, sassy, and smart, so there’s plenty about her to love.

Anna meets Ben when the ad agency he works for decides to make a pitch for a campaign that is going to feature Anna. Ben usually takes a backseat when it comes to pitching big campaigns like this one, but when his colleagues are delayed in getting to the pitch meeting, it’s finally Ben’s turn to shine in the spotlight.  And shine he does!  Ben is charming, sexy, funny, and he’s also very good at his job.  The chemistry between Anna and Ben becomes immediately apparent during the meeting. In fact, Anna is so impressed by Ben that she tells the campaign heads that she wants Ben’s agency but only if Ben runs the show.

I loved watching Anna and Ben grow closer and especially enjoyed that their relationship wasn’t just all about the sex.  Sure, there were plenty of swoony sexy scenes between them sprinkled throughout, but there are also many heartfelt discussions as they discuss their families as well as their own mental health struggles.  Both Anna and Ben regularly see therapists and they have some very healthy discussions about why they do.  In addition to the sexy and the heartfelt moments, there are also some downright comical moments that involve road trips, fake dating, as well as shenanigans to avoid the paparazzi.

I don’t want to spoil anything so I’m going to stop now, but as with all of the other books in this series, I just had a lot of fun reading While We Were Dating.  It’s one of those stories that just has something for everyone and it just left me feeling so content when I reached the last page.

four-stars

About Jasmine Guillory

Jasmine Guillory is a graduate of Wellesley College and Stanford Law School. She is a Bay Area native who has towering stacks of books in her living room, a cake recipe for every occasion, and upwards of 50 lipsticks.

Review: THE FOREST OF VANISHING STARS by Kristin Harmel

Review:  THE FOREST OF VANISHING STARS by Kristin HarmelThe Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel
Also by this author: The Room on Rue Amélie
five-stars
Published by Gallery Books on July 6, 2021
Genres: Historical 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.

 

 

Kristin Harmel is fast becoming one of my favorite authors of WWII historical fiction.  I love how she always manages to uncover and shine a spotlight on some aspect of the war, and in particular of the various Resistance movements, that I was completely unaware of.  In the case of her latest novel, The Forest of Vanishing Stars, Harmel’s subject matter are groups of Jewish refugees who flee from the Nazis and try to survive by hiding in the vast forests of Poland. The author’s note at the end of the novel is just as fascinating a read as the book itself because Harmel shares the details of her research, including information about the real-life groups of Jewish refugees she based her fictional groups on.

The Forest of Vanishing Stars centers on a young woman named Yona who is stolen from her crib by an elderly Jewish woman when she is only two years old.  It is unclear at first what the old woman’s motivation is. She seems to have some mystical powers that allow her to see the future and she “sees” that Yona is destined for something special and that she must teach her so that she is ready when the time comes.  The old woman raises Yona in the forest and gives her what seems like the oddest of educations.  She teaches her all about how to survive in the forest – how to build various kinds of shelters, how to gather and preserve food, how to use plants and herbs for medicinal purposes, and how to defend herself.  She also teaches Yona many languages: Polish, German, and Russian to name a few. The old woman dies soon after Yona’s education is complete and she is left to wonder what exactly she is meant to do with all she has learned.  It soon becomes clear when she encounters a large group of Jewish refugees fleeing for their lives deep in the forest.  They are doing everything wrong and if they continue as they are, they will all surely perish.  Yona makes it her mission to ensure that they all survive and begins to teach them everything she knows about living off the land and about how to stay hidden.

The survival aspect of the story is definitely compelling enough in its own right, but I especially adored the character of Yona.  She is such a special young woman and I loved how fully she devoted herself to caring for this group of people even though they are complete strangers and she could be executed if she is caught helping them. I admired her bravery and her selflessness.  I also became quite attached to the group of refugees.  They are all so eager to learn everything Yona has to teach them and they become just as devoted to her as she is to them.  They become a family and it’s just beautiful to see that bond form when everything around them is so dark and treacherous.

Made all the more poignant by Harmel’s characters and her exquisite storytelling, The Forest of Vanishing Stars is a story of strength, resilience, love, family, and sacrifice.  If you think you’ve read it all when it comes to WWII historical fiction, I highly recommend giving Kristin Harmel’s novels a try.  I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve read from Harmel so far and The Forest of Vanishing Stars is my favorite yet; it’s a real gem.

five-stars

About Kristin Harmel

Kristin Harmel is the New York Times bestselling, USA Today bestselling, and #1 international bestselling author of The Book of Lost Names, The Winemaker’s Wife, and a dozen other novels that have been translated into twenty-nine languages and are sold all over the world.

A former reporter for PEOPLE magazine, Kristin has been writing professionally since the age of 16, when she began her career as a sportswriter, covering Major League Baseball and NHL hockey for a local magazine in Tampa Bay, Florida in the late 1990s. After stints covering health and lifestyle for American Baby, Men’s Health, and Woman’s Day, she became a reporter for PEOPLE magazine while still in college and spent more than a decade working for the publication, covering everything from the Super Bowl to high-profile murders to celebrity interviews. Her favorite stories at PEOPLE, however, were the “Heroes Among Us” features—tales of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

In addition to a long magazine writing career (which also included articles published in Travel + Leisure, Glamour, Ladies’ Home Journal, Every Day with Rachael Ray, and more), Kristin was also a frequent contributor to the national television morning show The Daily Buzz and has appeared on Good Morning America and numerous local television morning shows.

Kristin was born just outside Boston, Massachusetts and spent her childhood there, as well as in Columbus, Ohio, and St. Petersburg, Florida. After graduating with a degree in journalism (with a minor in Spanish) from the University of Florida, she spent time living in Paris and Los Angeles and now lives in Orlando, with her husband and young son. She is also the co-founder and co-host of the weekly web show and podcast Friends & Fiction.