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
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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
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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.

Thriller Review: RAZORBLADE TEARS by S.A. Cosby

Thriller Review:  RAZORBLADE TEARS by S.A. CosbyRazorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby
Also by this author: Blacktop Wasteland
five-stars
Published by Flatiron Books on July 6, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Thriller
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.

 

 

S.A. Cosby’s high octane crime thriller Blacktop Wasteland was one of my favorite reads of 2020, and as high as my expectations were for his follow up novel, Razorblade Tears, I was pretty sure there was no way he could top Blacktop Wasteland.  I was dead wrong though because Razorblade Tears is one of the most powerful and provocative books I’ve ever read.  It’s a story about loss and grief, revenge and justice, and it’s also a story about regret and about learning from the mistakes of your past.

Set in Virginia, the story follows ex-cons Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee Jenkins.  On the surface it would appear these two men have nothing in common aside from their criminal pasts.  Ike is a Black man who used to run with a gang, while Buddy is, as he refers to himself, redneck, white trash. What these two men do have in common though is their sons, a married gay couple, both of whom were brutally murdered.  What they also have in common is that both men let their homophobia prevent them from having loving relationships with their boys and now they’re filled with regret because they can no longer make things right between them.

Most of the book focuses on Ike and Buddy Lee’s quest to bring their sons’ killers to justice and their road to justice is paved with violence, blood and gore as well as coarse language as Ike and Buddy Lee encounter some pretty rough crowds.  To put it mildly, it’s an intense read that isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s also a fast-paced adrenaline rush that I devoured in a day because I just had to know who was responsible for the murders and whether or not Ike and Buddy Lee would bring them down.

Razorblade Tears, as its name implies, is also a story that is filled with pain, grief and raw emotion and it’s this angle that really took this book to the next level for me. These two fathers know they made terrible mistakes when it came to their sons and how they refused to just love them and accept them for who they were.  Both Ike and Buddy Lee desperately wish they could go back and do things differently.  I enjoyed reading their journey, both as they became unlikely friends bonding over this tragedy and as they both try to learn from their mistakes and become better men. This personal journey of growth made for such an interesting contrast with the gritty violence of their revenge quest.

With Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears, S.A. Cosby has proven he’s a force to be reckoned with in the crime thriller genre.  I highly recommend both books if you’re looking for a powerful read that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

five-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: THE MAIDENS by Alex Michaelides

Review:  THE MAIDENS by Alex MichaelidesThe Maidens by Alex Michaelides
four-stars
Published by Celadon Books on June 15, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 352
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 very impressed with Alex Michaelides’ debut psychological thriller The Silent Patient when I read it last year.  It was a shocking and compelling read that I just couldn’t put down, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of his latest offering, The Maidens.  Set primarily at Cambridge University in England, The Maidens is a twisty, atmospheric psychological thriller that follows Mariana Andros, a group therapist who unexpectedly finds herself at the center of a murder investigation and becomes obsessed with catching the killer.

Mariana is a pretty complex character with a lot of layers, so having the story unfold from her perspective made for a very addicting read.  Mariana is a former Cambridge student herself and she also met her husband there, so her ties to the university run deep, especially since her husband has recently died in a tragic accident.  Mariana is still grieving and just going through the motions from day to day, so when her niece Zoe, currently a Cambridge student, calls to tell Mariana that her roommate is missing and a dead body has been found on campus, Mariana heads to the university right away.  She goes on the premise of offering comfort to Zoe, but when it’s determined that Zoe’s roommate is the victim and that she was a member of a secret all female society called The Maidens, whose members are all hand-picked by the handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor, Edward Fosca, Mariana becomes convinced he must be involved in the girl’s death, especially when it becomes clear that his only alibi are the other girls in his secret society and when another one of them turns up dead.  Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt is what drives the action in the story and makes for such an intense, unputdownable read.

It is of course a wild, twisty, and suspenseful ride as we follow Mariana on her quest. I loved how unpredictable the story is. It took me in directions I never expected to go and kept me guessing to the very end. As intoxicating as the murder mystery itself was though, I was also very much drawn to both Mariana and to Fosca. I love it when a thriller has complex characters to complement its complex plot.  Mariana is such a sympathetic character because she has experienced so much loss and is obviously still trying to cope. Being surrounded by university memories of her dead husband has to be so overwhelming and in some ways, I think she tunnel visions on the murders as a distraction from her own pain.  Fosca, on the other hand, is fascinating in his own right because he’s so charismatic.  Students line up for a chance to sit in on his lectures and the young women he chooses for his special society are clearly willing to do anything for him.  The subject matter he is so passionate about also ties quite closely to the manner in which the girls were murdered. Is it a coincidence or is this guy’s charm all an act to cover up something sinister?

I don’t want to give anything away with respect to the murders, but if you’re looking for an atmospheric psychological thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and that has an almost Gothic feel to it at times, be sure to check out The Maidens.

four-stars

About Alex Michaelides

Alex Michaelides was born and raised in Cyprus. He has an M.A. in English literature from Trinity College, Cambridge University, and an M.A. in screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. The Silent Patient was his first novel and was the biggest-selling debut in the world in 2019. It spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list and sold in a record-breaking forty-nine countries. Alex lives in London.

Review: PACK UP THE MOON by Kristan Higgins

Review:  PACK UP THE MOON by Kristan HigginsPack Up the Moon by Kristan Higgins
Also by this author: Good Luck with That, Always the Last to Know
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on June 8, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

Kristan Higgins’ new novel Pack Up the Moon is a beautiful story about love, loss, and grief, and it’s about how to pick up the pieces of your life and start again when the love of your life is taken away way too soon.

The story follows Joshua and Lauren Park, a newly married couple who are just perfect for each other and madly in love.  Their happy lives come crashing down around them, however, when Lauren is unexpectedly and tragically diagnosed with a terminal illness and is told she probably only has 3-5 years to live.

What I loved most about this book is how Higgins chooses to unfold the story of Joshua and Lauren.  Within the first few pages of the book, Lauren dies and we are presented with Joshua, the grieving widow.  It is actually after Lauren’s death that we really get to know her because Lauren has spent many of her final months living writing letters for Joshua that he is to be given in the months after her death.  Her thought in doing that is that it will help him better cope with her death and start to live his life again.  She also tried to process her own life ending so prematurely by writing letters to her dead father.  She talks to him about her fears, about how sad she is that she’ll be leaving Joshua alone and that they never had children, etc.  She also communicates her hope that she will be reunited with her father in the afterlife.  Each chapter of the novel presents us with either a letter from Lauren to Joshua or one from Lauren to her dad.

I fell in love with both Lauren and Joshua as I read these letters and then read the flashbacks that accompanied so many of them.  Lauren is such a beautiful soul and it’s easy to see why Joshua loved her so much and is so devastated by her loss.  I loved the glimpses of their life together that the flashbacks provided, and I especially loved Lauren’s letters to Joshua, which were actually quite funny at times and gave him very explicit instructions that she fully expected him to follow, from simple things like go to the grocery store to more challenging tasks like ask a woman out on a date, and because he loved her so much, of course he followed them to the letter.

Pack Up the Moon broke my heart into a million pieces, but at the same time, it gave me hope that there is a way to move forward after tragedy.  Keep your tissues handy because this is a story that will make you cry your eyes out, but it will also surprise you with some humorous moments and, most importantly, it will leave you with a full heart because there’s just so much love in the story.

four-stars

About Kristan Higgins

Kristan Higgins is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of more than a dozen novels. Her books have been honored with dozens of awards and accolades, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, the New York Journal of Books and Romantic Times. She is a two-time winner of the RITA award from Romance Writers of America and a five-time nominee for the Kirkus Prize for best work of fiction. She is happily married to a heroic firefighter and the mother of two fine children.

Review: 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
Goodreads

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.