Review: UNDER THE SOUTHERN SKY by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Review:  UNDER THE SOUTHERN SKY by Kristy Woodson HarveyUnder the Southern Sky by Kristy Woodson Harvey
Also by this author: Feels Like Falling
five-stars
Published by Gallery Books on April 20, 2021
Genres: 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.

 

 

 

 

Under the Southern Sky is the fifth novel I’ve read from Kristy Woodson Harvey and it’s my favorite yet.  It’s a story about love, family and childhood friendships rekindled, and it’s also a story about loss and grief and how to move forward when you think your life has fallen apart.

The story follows journalist Amelia Saxton. Amelia is recently separated from her husband after catching him cheating on her and while licking her wounds, she is also researching the biggest story of her writing career, a story about what couples who have gone through IVF choose to do with any leftover embryos.  Amelia discovers that her childhood friend, Parker, and his late wife, Greer, are on the list of those who have abandoned their embryos.  After much consideration, Amelia decides she is obligated to reach out to Parker and make sure he is aware of the abandoned embryos and it is then that Amelia’s hunt for a story takes her on a far more personal journey than she ever anticipated.

I loved both Parker and Amelia and enjoyed watching them reconnect.  They both have some tough choices to make, particularly Parker with respect to those embryos, and they are both dealing with loss and how to move on.  So much of what they go through is heavy and heartbreaking but there are some lighter and more hopeful moments as well.  I found myself rooting for them to build a future together almost right away because they just seemed so well suited to one another.

I don’t want to give anything else about the plot away as the story packs an emotional punch and it’s best to let it unfold as spoiler free as possible, but I will say that as someone who has gone through IVF, everything about this story spoke to me and I thought the author handled this sensitive topic with respect and grace.  Even though Greer is deceased, we still get some chapters from her perspective so we get a feel for what her and Parker’s dreams for a family were before she got sick.

Filled with wonderfully complex characters and poignant moments, and all framed by gorgeous writing, Under the Southern Sky is a story that is sure to tug at your heartstrings and keep you invested from the first to the very last page.  It’s not a light read but it’s one of the most beautiful stories I’ve read this year.

 

five-stars

About Kristy Woodson Harvey

Kristy Woodson Harvey is the bestselling author of DEAR CAROLINA, LIES AND OTHER ACTS OF LOVE, SLIGHTLY SOUTH OF SIMPLE, THE SECRET TO SOUTHERN CHARM and THE SOUTHERN SIDE OF PARADISE. Kristy is the winner of the Lucy Bramlette Patterson Award for Excellence in Creative Writing, a finalist for the Southern Book Prize, her work has been optioned for film and her books have received numerous accolades including:

Southern Living’s Most Anticipated Beach Reads
Southern Living’s Best Spring Break Reads
Southern Independent Bookseller Association’s Okra Pick
Parade’s Big Fiction Reads Every Book Club Will Love
Entertainment Weekly’s Spring Reading Picks
Us Weekly’s Sweet Reads for Right Now
Woman’s WorldBest Books
PopSugar’s Ultimate Summer Reading
USA Today Happy Ever After’s Best Women’s Fiction
New York Live’s “Ashley’s A-List”
Deep South Magazine’s Summer Reading List
Raleigh News & Observer‘s “The Best Reads of Summer”
Charlotte Observer’s “Summer’s Best Books”
Bustle’s Books to Read and Discuss With Your Mom and Grandma
Huffington Post’s Summer Reading: Women’s Fiction Style

She blogs with her mom Beth Woodson on Design Chic about how creating a beautiful home can be the catalyst for creating a beautiful life. Design Chic is the inaugural member of the design blogger hall of fame, sponsored by Traditional Home, and winner of Amara’s Best Luxury Blog, as chosen by Roberto Cavalli. She also loves connecting with readers on kristywoodsonharvey.com.

Harvey is a Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s school of journalism and holds a master’s in English from East Carolina University, with a concentration in multicultural and transnational literature. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications and websites, including Southern Living, Traditional Home, Parade, USA Today, Domino, Our State and O. Henry. She has been seen in Today.com, Women’s Health,The Washington Post, US News and World Report, The Huffington Post,Marie Claire’s The Fix, Woman’s World, Readers’ Digest, Bustle, New York Live and North Carolina Bookwatch, among others.

She is a proud member of the Tall Poppy Writers, serves on the board of Beaufort Historical Association, and is a member of the University of North Carolina’s Women’s Leadership Council. She is a frequent speaker at fundraisers, book conferences and private events. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and seven-year-old son where she is working on her next novel.

Review: BETTER THAN THE MOVIES by Lynn Painter

Review:  BETTER THAN THE MOVIES by Lynn PainterBetter Than the Movies by Lynn Painter
five-stars
on May 4, 2021
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 368
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.

 

 

 

 

 

Lynn Painter’s new novel Better Than the Movies follows Liz Buxbaum, high school student and hopeless romantic.  Liz is obsessed with romantic comedies and uses them partly as a coping mechanism to deal with the death of her mom, who was also a huge fan of rom-coms.  Liz daydreams about securing a happily ever after of her own and thinks the perfect opportunity for one has presented itself when Michael, her childhood crush, moves back to town.

I really loved Liz. Her extensive knowledge and love of romantic comedies was so endearing, as was her slightly misguided attempt to secure her own happy ending by fake dating her neighbor in an effort to get Michael’s attention. I also found Liz to be a very sympathetic character, as she is clearly struggling with the loss of her mom.  It’s clear they were very close and that Liz is feeling her absence tremendously.

Liz wasn’t perfect by any stretch though.  While trying to orchestrate that happy ending for herself, she all but ditches her best friend.  And while she’s struggling to cope with the loss of her mom, she pretty much pushes her stepmother Hannah, who is actually really cool, off to the periphery of her life and refuses to let her be a part of any of Liz’s senior year milestones.  These rocky, awkward moments just made Liz come across as all the more real and, for me, made her that much more likable and relatable.

My absolute favorite part of Better Than the Movies though was Liz’s relationship with her neighbor and arch nemesis, Wes Bennett.  When the novel opens, Liz and Wes are in the midst of an ongoing war over the parking space out in front of their homes.  They each resort to all sorts of dirty tricks to keep the other from getting the spot, which was just hilarious. It’s actually Liz promising Wes unlimited access to that parking space that makes him agree to help her get Michael to notice her.  Watching the relationship between Liz and Wes evolve was the aspect of the book that really had me smiling as I read.  No matter how much Liz professed to loathe Wes, it was all too clear the two of them had tremendous chemistry and that her actual happily ever after has quite possibly been living next door to her all along.

I don’t want to say anything else because you just really need to experience Wes and Liz’s immensely entertaining journey for yourself.  Not only is Lynn Painter’s new novel Better Than the Movies a delightful rom-com that features fake dating and the enemies-to-lovers trope, but it’s also filled with perfectly placed references to all of my favorite rom-com films.  I honestly don’t think a book has ever made me smile so much; I’m sure I was grinning from ear to ear pretty much the entire time I was reading.

five-stars

About Lynn Painter

Lynn Painter lives with her husband and pack of wild children in Nebraska, where she is a weekly contributor to the Omaha World-Herald and an avid fan of napping. When working on a new book, she can often be found sound asleep on her office floor. Some might say she should grow up and stop randomly dozing off like she’s a toddler, but Lynn considers it part of her writing “process.”

Review: PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir

Review:  PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy WeirProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Also by this author: Artemis
five-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on May 4, 2021
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 496
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.

 

 

 

 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir is a high stakes sci-fi thriller, which if you’re familiar with Weir’s writing, you know that means you’re probably in for a wild ride. And you would be correct!  I was hooked from the opening scene of this book and devoured it in less than a day.

Even though it’s science fiction, Project Hail Mary has a premise that is terrifyingly plausible. Something is inexplicably causing the Sun to dim, which, in turn, is triggering climate-related issues on Earth. If the situation on the Sun isn’t reversed, the Earth and all of its inhabitants are on the verge of mass extinction.  With all the talk in the news about climate change and how catastrophic it could be, I found myself super invested in this story since it explores exactly that. Knowing they are running out of time, the scientists and governments of the world pool their resources to attack this problem head on.  The solution they come up with is not ideal. Project Hail Mary, it turns out, is very aptly named because it is a last-ditch Hail Mary pass (for all you football fans out there) to try to save all of humanity.  And it’s also a suicide mission.

Weir grabbed my attention from the opening scene of Project Hail Mary.  Our protagonist, Ryland Grace, an 8th grade science teacher, wakes up aboard a spaceship with no memory of who he is and with only two dead bodies for company.  He has no idea why he is on this ship and no clue about what happened to the people with him. It’s unsettling to say the least, but being the science geek that he is, he starts to explore the ship and fiddling with things, which starts to gradually trigger the return of his memories.  Ryland is a smart guy and he’s also a pretty funny guy, so there’s a lot of humor mixed in with this otherwise unsettling storyline.  I loved when he finally has his ‘Oh yeah, I’m supposed to save the Earth or we’re all going to die. But oh yeah, I’m going to die anyway” moment.  It is surprising to me how he manages to take that fact in stride.  This made Ryland an extremely likable character.  Also, seriously, how can you not root for the 8th grade science teacher to save the world?! He’s the ultimate underdog.

I love when a dual timeline is used well and while I’m mainly used to seeing them in the historical fiction I read, Weir effectively employs a dual timeline in Project Hail Mary, one present and one past.  In the present day timeline, we follow Ryland Grace as he attempts to carry out his mission, while in the other timeline, we get a series of flashbacks as Ryland’s memory starts to return.  Those flashbacks show what led up to the moment when Ryland wakes up on a spaceship millions of miles from home.  I loved having the story unfold this way, especially as we piece together how in the world he actually ended up chosen for the mission in the first place since he’s such an unlikely candidate.

It’s pretty much impossible to say much else about this book without giving away major spoilers, but I did want to mention that there is a major plot twist that really took this story to a whole new level for me and made the story so special.  I can’t give you any details because it’s best to go in unspoiled, but you’ll know it when you get there and it will blow your mind in the best possible way!

If you’re looking for a suspenseful, action-packed read that makes science entertaining and celebrates the underdog, you’re definitely going to want to check out Project Hail Mary.  It’s exciting and terrifying, fascinating and wondrous, and all the while it’s downright fun.  As much as I loved both The Martian and Artemis, Project Hail Mary stole my science-loving heart and is my new favorite Andy Weir novel.

five-stars

About Andy Weir

ANDY WEIR built a career as a software engineer until the runaway success of his debut novel, THE MARTIAN, allowed him to pursue writing full-time. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects such as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He lives in California.

Review: THE KINDRED SPIRITS SUPPER CLUB by Amy E. Reichert

Review:  THE KINDRED SPIRITS SUPPER CLUB by Amy E. ReichertThe Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. Reichert
five-stars
Published by BERKLEY on April 20, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 336
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 was first drawn to Amy E. Reichert’s new novel, The Kindred Spirits Supper Club because the cover is so sweet, but let me tell you, the story inside is even sweeter and sure to leave you with a smile on your face.

Sabrina Monroe is a journalist. She loves to write and thought this would be the perfect job for her. There’s just one problem; Sabrina is an introvert and has anxiety, which makes it nearly impossible for her to call and interview people so she can actually get the information she needs to write her articles.  Her anxiety has cost her more than one job over the years and when we first meet Sabrina, she is jobless and living at her parent’s house in a small town in Wisconsin, trying to regroup.

Sabrina is, by far, one of the sweetest, most lovable main characters I think I’ve ever come across. I can’t even express how much I both adored Sabrina and related wholeheartedly to her introverted personality and her anxiety.  Even though she has lost her job and is stuck working as a duck tour guide driving amphibious vehicles all day and working for someone who actually used to bully Sabrina when they were in school together, Sabrina is still a walking ray of sunshine. She spreads kindness wherever she goes, whether it’s to the library where she leaves $5 bills inside of her favorite books for other readers to find and treat themselves or to the laundromat where she’ll leave stacks of quarters on machines so some lucky person can do a load of laundry on her. I was invested in her happiness within a few pages of watching her in action. I mean, seriously, how can you not root for someone who is so utterly kind?

I also very much liked Ray Jasper, a new local restaurant owner, who becomes instantly smitten with Sabrina as soon as he sees her in action at the local waterpark, picking up strangers’ dropped towels and rehanging them so they’ll be nice and dry when they return for them.  Like me, Ray is immediately struck by Sabrina’s kindness and he is determined to get to know her better.  What’s great about Ray is that he not only appreciates how kind Sabrina is, but he could actually give her a run for her money in the kindness department because he’s also a sweetheart.  I immediately wanted them to get together because they each deserved someone as sweet as they were, so they were a perfect match.

In addition to cheering on this adorable two-some, I also loved that this story has an element of magical realism in it.  The women in Sabrina’s family have a rare gift – they are able to see local spirits who passed away, leaving behind unfinished business.  Whether it’s to let a cheating spouse know they didn’t get away with the cheating or to help dispose of some adult toys the deceased doesn’t want their family to discover, Sabrina and her mom help these spirits to wrap up their unfinished business so that they can move on and rest in peace.  There’s one spirit they haven’t been able to help though, a young woman named Molly.  Molly died long ago as did the person she has unfinished business with, so she is stuck in a kind of limbo and hangs out with Sabrina.  The two of them have become practically like sisters over the years and Molly is as delightfully upbeat and kind as Sabrina is. Even though she can’t move on, Molly does everything she can to help other spirits move on and she’s also determined to play matchmaker for Sabrina and Ray, which leads to some funny moments.  Sometimes magical realism doesn’t work for me, but it’s honestly just perfect for this story since the story itself is pretty magical.

If you’re into charming small town romances with absolutely adorable characters, you’re going to want to check out The Kindred Spirits Supper Club.

five-stars

About Amy E. Reichert

Amy E. Reichert, author of THE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE, LUCK, LOVE & LEMON PIE, THE SIMPLICITY OF CIDER, and THE OPTIMIST’S GUIDE TO LETTING GO, loves to write stories that end well with characters you’d invite to dinner. A wife, mom, amateur chef, Fix-It Mistress, a volunteer baby snuggler, and cider enthusiast, she earned her MA in English Literature and serves on her library’s board of directors. She’s a member of Tall Poppy Writers.

Review: HANA KHAN CARRIES ON by Uzma Jalaluddin

Review:  HANA KHAN CARRIES ON by Uzma JalaluddinHana Khan Carries on by Uzma Jalaluddin
four-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on April 13, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 368
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 requested Uzma Jalaluddin’s new novel, Hana Khan Carries On, as soon as I read the synopsis which describes it as inspired by the popular romantic film, You’ve Got Mail, but set in two competing halal restaurants.  The promise of romance, rivalry, and descriptions of delicious food was too irresistible to pass up.  I’m happy I did too because it did not disappoint!

The story follows Hana Khan, a 24 year old second generation Muslim woman who lives with her family in Toronto.  Hana helps out at her family’s halal restaurant, but her real passion lies in radio.  In addition to her waitressing gig, Hana has an internship at a local radio station and she also hosts her own podcast.  I really adored Hana from the moment we meet her. I loved how devoted she is to her family and how much she wants to help her mom with the family restaurant even though that’s not where her true interest lies.  I also loved that she wants a career in radio specifically because she wants to share stories about her fellow Muslims. Stories that shine a true light on her people rather than just retreading tired and  harmful stereotypes.  I also liked that while she had so many admirable qualities, Hana was definitely still a flawed and very realistic character.  She makes plenty of mistakes throughout the course of the story, but I loved that she was always learning from her missteps and growing as a person.  She was just a really easy character to like.

In addition to adoring Hana, I also liked that the story had plenty of drama in the form of a rival restaurant that opens up in their neighborhood.  Hana has a run-in with Aydin, the handsome, young owner of the new restaurant and finds herself unexpectedly attracted to him.  She knows she should hate him because of what he’s doing to her family, but the struggle to fight her attraction to him is real.  Hana finds this especially frustrating since she also has a possible relationship budding online with Stanley P., one of her podcast fans.  She and Stanley haven’t exchanged real names or met in person yet, but they talk every day and he is always super supportive of her as she shares her hopes and dreams with him, as well as her fears and frustrations.  How can she possibly be attracted to a jerk like Aydin when she has Stanley P.?  Except that Aydin isn’t exactly a jerk and Hana and Aydin have amazing chemistry.  I’m a sucker for a good enemies-to-lovers romance anyway, so I was absolutely eating up the initial tension between them as well as the changing dynamic between them as they got to know each other better.

There’s honestly so much to love about Hana Khan Carries On, but what I think I loved most was it’s a story about love and family and sacrifice and that it’s also a story that is infused with culture, religion, and community.  It’s a story that has fun and romantic moments, but it’s also a powerful story that explores timely and relevant social issues, including racism, prejudice, and stereotypes.  I have not yet read Uzma Jalaluddin’s first novel Ayesha At Last yet, but I loved Hana Khan Carries On so much that I immediately purchased the first one and can’t wait to dive into it.

four-half-stars

About Uzma Jalaluddin

Uzma Jalaluddin grew up in a diverse suburb of Toronto. Her favourite place in the world is the nearest bookstore or library, so it came as no surprise to anyone when she started writing her own stories, poems, plays and other creative writing from an early age. Her debut novel, AYESHA AT LAST (2018), is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in the Toronto Muslim community. The novel was a Goodreads Choice Award Finalist, was featured on The Today Show, and was a Cosmopolitan UK Book of the Year. AYESHA AT LAST has been optioned for film by Pascal Pictures. Her second novel, HANA KHAN CARRIES ON, will be published in April 2021. She writes a culture and parenting column for The Toronto Star, and has written for The Atlantic. Uzma lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and two sons, where she also teaches high school. She is probably dreaming up ideas for her next book right about now.

Review: THE INTIMACY EXPERIMENT by Rosie Danan

Review:  THE INTIMACY EXPERIMENT by Rosie DananThe Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan
Also by this author: The Roommate
four-half-stars
Series: The Roommate #2
Published by Berkley Books on April 6, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 336
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rosie Danan’s steamy debut The Roommate was one of my favorite romance reads of 2020.  The plot was original, the characters were unforgettable, and the sexy factor was off the charts.  This year Danan has gifted us with The Intimacy Experiment, a companion novel that features one of my favorite characters from The Roommate, former porn star turned businesswoman, Naomi Grant.  I knew I would love The Intimacy Experiment, but what I didn’t expect was that I would actually end up loving it even more than the first book!

Naomi and Clara, the protagonist from The Roommate, are co-CEOs of a successful website that educates its subscribers about sexual satisfaction. Naomi has also decided she would like to teach some classes on relationships and intimacy and is looking for a forum where she can make that happen.  As always, Naomi is smart, sassy, and determined to get what she wants, but she’s getting frustrated that she can’t get anyone to take her seriously.  That is until she meets Rabbi Ethan Cohen at a seminar.  Ethan has been trying to figure out a way to attract more younger members to his synagogue and when he hears Naomi’s passionate speech about what she wants to teach, he invites her to design a seminar series on Modern Intimacy.  At first Naomi wants no part of this proposal, but then she reconsiders.  It also doesn’t hurt that Rabbi Ethan is super sexy and Naomi is finding it hard to resist his charms.

There’s so much I enjoyed about this book but the chemistry between Naomi and Ethan was definitely a high point.  I loved watching Naomi and Ethan design the course together.  Even though they’re an unlikely pair, they just worked together so perfectly and the more they worked together, the more they became invested in each other. I loved the contrast between Naomi’s feisty independence and Ethan’s loyalty and devotion.  Ethan is like a Golden Retriever and I just adored him and wanted Naomi to stop fighting her attraction to him.

If you enjoy romance that is a slow burn, you’ll enjoy Naomi and Ethan’s journey because fighting their attraction to each other is definitely a big part of the story.  Also, where The Roommate is filled with sexy, steamy intimate scenes, this book features way fewer scenes of that variety.  As much as I enjoyed the romance of Clara and Josh in the first book, I actually preferred the slower pace and the deeper issues involved as Naomi and Ethan were both so conflicted as to whether or not it would be appropriate for them to be together.  I also liked that we got a little insight into the Jewish faith as Naomi, who is also Jewish, decides to take some courses to learn more about the faith she hasn’t practiced since she was a child.

One last thing I loved was the Intimacy seminar itself and the way Danan presents it.  It’s as if we’re attending all of the courses as well.  I loved watching Naomi teach, Ethan sitting in the audience lending his support, and also how enthusiastic the young attendees were as Naomi explores topics such as being honest with yourself and potential dates about what you’re looking for in a relationship, how to meet people in the first place, how to take a relationship to the next level, and how to survive a breakup.  I thought the seminar was brilliant and wished I could have taken a course like it back during my single days. It would have made dating life so much easier to navigate!

If you’re looking for an original, sexy romance I highly recommend The Intimacy Experiment.  The characters are immensely likable, the storyline is both fun and thought-provoking, and the ending will leave you with a smile on your face.  I loved every page of it and look forward to reading more from Rosie Danan.

four-half-stars

About Rosie Danan

Rosie Danan writes steamy, big-hearted books, articles, and tweets about the trials and triumphs of modern love.

The New York Times calls Rosie Danan’s debut novel, THE ROOMMATE “a book about people expanding into their best possible selves…warmly funny and gorgeously sexy.” The rom-com has been optioned for film, and a companion book THE INTIMACY EXPERIMENT is forthcoming April 6, 2021 in both the US and UK.

After participating in the writing mentorship program Pitch Wars as a 2018 mentee, she was thrilled to rejoin the organization as a 2019 and 2020 mentor.

When not writing, Rosie enjoys jogging slowly to fast music, petting other people’s dogs, and competing against herself in rounds of Chopped using the miscellaneous ingredients occupying her fridge.

As an American expat currently living in London, she’s developed an incurable fondness for electric kettles.

Historical Fiction Review: THE PARIS LIBRARY by Janet Skeslien Charles

Historical Fiction Review:  THE PARIS LIBRARY by Janet Skeslien CharlesThe Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
four-stars
Published by Atria Books on February 9, 2021
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
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’m a huge fan of WWII historical fiction and I’ve read a lot of it over the years. For that reason, I’m always on the lookout for books that bring a fresh perspective or a story that I haven’t heard yet, and that it exactly what Janet Skeslien Charles does with her new novel, The Paris Library.  Based on a true story, The Paris Library shines a light on a part of the French Resistance movement that I was not familiar with, that of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris (ALP).  While the Nazis occupied and terrorized their city, the men and women of the ALP risked everything to keep the library open at all costs, even sneaking books across Paris to their beloved Jewish patrons who were barred from entering the building.  For these librarians and their book loving patrons, books were both an escape and a symbol of hope and so the librarians wanted to do their part to keep hope alive no matter how dark life seemed.

One of the things I enjoyed most about The Paris Library was how the story unfolded.  We are presented with a dual timeline, one in the 1980s that follows Lily, an awkward and lonely high school student living in a small town in Montana.  Lily becomes intrigued by her neighbor, an elderly woman named Odile who keeps to herself and has an air of mystery about her.  All anyone really knows about her is that she’s originally from France.  Lily decides she wants to get to know Odile better and so, under the guise that she’s doing a school project on Paris, she approaches Odile and requests to interview her.  A lovely friendship develops over time between Lily and Odile, and it is through this interview that we are introduced to Odile and the second timeline, which reveals that as a young woman, Odile worked as a librarian at the ALP and was a very active member of the Resistance.

While I loved watching the relationship blossom between Lily and Odile because Odile becomes almost like a second mom to Lily, I was of course most drawn to the incredible story that takes place during WWII.  The author had me fully invested in the lives of Odile and her fellow librarians.  I loved how committed they were to their cause, as well as how devoted they were to each other and to their patrons.  I never would have guessed that there was an actual Resistance movement within the walls of a library and was glued to the pages each time the librarians faced danger or the risk of betrayal since one never knew who might be a Nazi collaborator.  Even though the WWII timeline was the most engaging of the two, the author still manages to make the 1980s timeline compelling in the sense that there is some mystery surrounding Odile and why she keeps to herself and why she has never returned to Paris, not even once, after all these years.  I loved the scrappy and determined Odile of WWII so much that I really wanted to know what had happened to send her to live in isolation in Montana of all places.

The Paris Library is a beautiful story of friendship, family, resistance, and resilience.  If you’re looking for a WWII historical fiction that brings something new to the table, I highly recommend The Paris Library.

four-stars

About Janet Skeslien Charles

Janet Skeslien Charles is the award-winning author of Moonlight in Odessa and The Paris Library. Her shorter work has appeared in revues such as Slice and Montana Noir. She learned about the history of the American Library in Paris while working there as the programs manager. She divides her time between Montana and Paris.

Review: THE EX TALK by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Review:  THE EX TALK by Rachel Lynn SolomonThe Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
four-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on January 26, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year I read and fell in love with Rachel Lynn Solomon’s YA contemporary novel Today Tonight Tomorrow.  I was captivated by both her characters and her storytelling and couldn’t wait to get my hands on anything and everything else she’s written.  So when I heard she had a new adult contemporary novel called The Ex Talk coming out, I was quick to rush over to Netgalley and request a review copy.  And I’m thrilled to report that, as soon as I started reading, I fell in love with Solomon’s writing and storytelling all over again.

As with Today Tonight Tomorrow, it’s the incredibly realistic and well drawn characters Solomon creates that really pulled me in.  The Ex Talk follows Shay Goldstein, a radio producer who has been working at a public radio station in Seattle for almost ten years.  Shay loves her job and can’t imagine ever doing anything else.  Her job also makes her feel connected to her Dad, who passed away a while ago, as they both shared a love of public radio.  Shay has also held kind of a Rockstar status at the radio station because she’s young and talented.  That all changes, however, when Dominic Yun starts working at the station. Fresh out of grad school and anxious to prove himself, Dominic quickly threatens to steal the spotlight from Shay.  Needless to say, Shay is not impressed (although she has to admit he’s pretty cute, even though he is absolutely infuriating).

Shay is so likeable from the opening pages that I was immediately rooting for her to put Dominic in his place. That is, until the banter and the sparks started flying!  When the radio station falls on hard times and needs fresh new programming in a hurry, Shay suggests a talk show about relationships that features two exes as cohosts.  The boss loves the idea and says that since there’s no time to look for actual exes, Shay and Dominic will pretend to be exes and host the show together.  Can you say awkward?  I’m a sucker for a good enemies to lovers story anyway so throw in some fake dating on top of it and you’ve got yourself a practically perfect romcom.  As soon as Dominic and Shay started with the verbal sparring, both on and off air, I was completely hooked. And of course, as soon as we start to learn more about Dominic, I fell in love with his character too and just wanted the two of them to get together already, haha!

There’s so much more I could say, but I don’t want to spoil the evolution of their relationship.  I’ll just leave it at this – I loved pretty much everything about The Ex Talk.  I loved the characters, the dialogue, the focus on public radio, the actual scripts from their show, etc.  The Ex Talk is one of those books that was so much fun to read I didn’t want it to end and I’m predicting now that it will make my Best of 2021 list.

four-half-stars

About Rachel Lynn Solomon

Rachel Lynn Solomon writes, tap dances, and collects red lipstick in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of the YA novels Today Tonight Tomorrow, You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone, Our Year of Maybe, and We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This (June 2021). Her debut adult romantic comedy, The Ex Talk, will be published in January 2021.

In high school, Rachel sang and played keyboard in an all-girl band, and she was once part of a group of people who broke a Guinness World Record for the most natural redheads in one place.

She has written for newspapers, produced a radio show that aired in the middle of the night, and worked for NPR. Rachel has been a Pitch Wars mentor since 2014 and currently serves on the Pitch Wars leadership committee.

These days, she writes books about ambitious, messy, sometimes unlikable girls and women who are trying their best and often falling in love along the way. She is represented by Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency.

Review: THE WIFE UPSTAIRS by Rachel Hawkins

Review:  THE WIFE UPSTAIRS by Rachel HawkinsThe Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 5, 2021
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Retelling
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rachel Hawkins’ latest novel, The Wife Upstairs, is a domestic thriller that is inspired by the popular Gothic classic, Jane Eyre. Thankfully, however, you don’t have to have read Jane Eyre to thoroughly enjoy this dark and suspenseful tale.  Jane Eyre’s Gothic English setting has been updated to a gated community in Birmingham, Alabama, and the Jane in this tale is not a governess, but instead is a professional dog walker.

As in the original tale, Jane is the classic underdog character.  She grew up in foster care and has been struggling to make ends meet.  She shares an apartment with a loser roommate who eats her food, uses her things without asking, and is just all around rude. Jane has some secrets in her past that she is running from and so she is living somewhat off the grid, making money by walking dogs for rich people in the elite Thornfield Estates and stealing trinkets from their homes to pawn for cash at every opportunity.

Life starts to look up for Jane, however, when she has a chance run-in with a handsome, wealthy widower, Eddie Rochester, while she’s out walking dogs.  Because his wife and her best friend drowned in a boating accident and their bodies still haven’t been recovered, Eddie is the talk of the neighborhood amongst the bored housewife set.  Jane sees her run in with Eddie as the doorway to a better life for herself, and lucky for her, Eddie is so enamored with her that he goes out and gets himself a dog so that he can hire Jane as his dog walker, which quickly escalates to Eddie asking Jane to move in with him.  That’s when Jane starts to realize that what seems too good to be true may actually be just that and that Eddie may have just as many dark secrets lurking in his closet as she does in hers.

One thing that surprised me about The Wife Upstairs is that I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters.  That was kind of a bummer since I would normally be rooting for the underdog, but something about Jane and her machinations just didn’t sit well with me and I felt the same way about Eddie.  Even feeling ambivalent about them, however, I still found myself completely invested in the story.  Why? Because, like those bored housewives, I really wanted to know the dirt on everyone. What is Jane running from? What is Eddie hiding?  If those deaths were just an accident, why haven’t the bodies turned up?  There were just so many questions and so many deliciously dark twists and each turn of the page would just ramp up the tension and suspense all the more.

I don’t want to say anything else because you really need to experience the unraveling of all of those deep, dark secrets yourself, but if you’re in the mood for a dark and suspenseful domestic thriller and/or are a fan of the original Jane Eyre, definitely check out The Wife Upstairs.

four-stars

About Rachel Hawkins

Rachel Hawkins is the author of Rebel Belle and the New York Times bestselling series Hex Hall. Born in Virginia and raised in Alabama, Rachel taught high school English for three years before becoming a full-time writer.

Review: IN THE GARDEN OF SPITE by Camilla Bruce

Review:  IN THE GARDEN OF SPITE by Camilla BruceIn the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on January 19, 2021
Genres: Historical 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Man Shall Inherit the Earth…Unless She Kills Him First.”  I’ve been wanting to try one of Camilla Bruce’s books for a while now and when I saw this attention-grabbing tagline on the cover of her latest novel, In the Garden of Spite, I knew I had to read it.  In the Garden of Spite is a work of historical fiction that follows the life of Belle Gunness, perhaps better known as “The Black Widow of La Porte,” one of the most famous female serial killers in American History.

Let me start by saying In the Garden of Spite isn’t for the faint of heart.  Belle’s preferred methods of dispatching her victims ranged from poisons to cleavers, and she quite literally butchered them, chopping them into manageable pieces to make it easier to bury them in her backyard.  So yes, it’s gory and gruesome at times, but if you can get past that, this story is a fascinating, in-depth look inside the mind of a serial killer.  I was equally repulsed and riveted the entire time I was reading.

The author takes us through about thirty years of Belle’s life, from when she was a child living in poverty in Norway all the way through to the height of her killing spree once she has immigrated to America.  Belle’s early life was not an easy one and the author paints a vivid portrait as to how abuse, trauma, and poverty could have shaped her into the very disturbed woman we meet in this book.

Belle is a truly fascinating character and I found myself drawn to her more than I expected to be.  She’s not an especially likeable character, being a serial killer and all, but wow, her resourcefulness and determination is impressive! As twisted as she could be most of the time, I frequently found myself quite impressed by her at other times.  How she managed to spin her way out of trouble time and time again, and how she is constantly able to reinvent herself.  Normally an unlikeable main character would derail my enjoyment of a book, but Belle is just so fascinating that I found myself glued to the story in spite of myself.

One of my favorite parts of the story though is how Belle’s life is presented.  The author uses two perspectives, 1) Belle’s and 2) Belle’s older sister, Nellie, who also lives in America.  With Belle’s perspective, we obviously get that intimate look into what she’s thinking and feeling as she commits each heinous murder.  With Nellie’s perspective though, we get the perspective of a family member who loves her sister deeply, but who is also torn between her desire to protect her baby sister from the world and her increasing suspicion that there is something truly broken in Belle and that she may be forced to do something about it.  I just loved the contrast in these two points of view.

If you’re interested in learning more about The Black Widow of La Porte, I highly recommend In the Garden of Spite.  It’s a dark and grisly, yet truly riveting tale.

four-stars

About Camilla Bruce

Camilla Bruce is a Norwegian writer of dark speculative and historical fiction.

Her debut novel, You Let Me In, is out now from Bantam Press (UK) and Tor (US).

Her dark historical, In the Garden of Spite, will be published by Berkley (US) and Michael Joseph (UK) in 2021.