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Review: I KILLED ZOE SPANOS by Kit Frick

Review:  I KILLED ZOE SPANOS by Kit FrickI Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick
Also by this author: All Eyes on Us
four-stars
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on June 30, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kit Frick’s new novel, I Killed Zoe Spanos, has all of the ingredients that make for a great summer read.  It has a compelling mystery regarding what has happened to Zoe Spanos and who is responsible, and it also features a fantastic podcast run by a teenager who doesn’t think the police are doing enough to solve the mystery.  Top that off with an unreliable narrator and a small town setting in the ultra-elite Hamptons and you’ve got yourself a must-read book for the beach or your next vacation.

The protagonist of I Killed Zoe Spanos is Anna Cicconi.  Anna has come to Herron Mills, a village in the Hamptons, to work as a nanny for a family there.  She is hoping this job will be a fresh start for her.  Anna has gone through a rough patch lately and spent entirely too much time partying and drinking, to the point where she has started experiencing blackouts and memory loss.  Anna’s journey takes an unexpected turn when she arrives in Herron Mills and is immediately told by everyone she meets that she looks just like Zoe Spanos, a young woman who went missing in the village months earlier.  Anna becomes interested in Zoe’s disappearance and starts having little flashes of memories that convince her that she knows Zoe and that she has been to Herron Mills before.  When the story opens and we are faced with a scene in which Anna is confessing to Zoe’s murder, it becomes clear that Anna’s summer in the Hamptons is life changing in all the wrong ways.

We get most of the story from Anna’s perspective, and Anna is a classic unreliable narrator.  From the moment we meet her as she is confessing to Zoe’s murder, it’s clear that we can’t necessarily trust what she’s saying.  The confession is oddly specific yet filled with comments like “I guess,” “I think,” etc. It doesn’t sound at all like a statement made by someone who is sure she committed the crime.  An even bigger cloud of doubt is cast over Anna’s story when we learn from her best friend Kaylee that she was with Anna and they weren’t even at the house where Anna is saying Zoe died.  Even though the story opens with a confession, the mystery of what happened to Zoe and what, if any, role Anna had in it, is truly about as muddled as it gets and I was hooked on wanting to get to the bottom of it.  I also really liked Anna and that she was trying to get her life under control, so I wanted her account to be wrong. I didn’t want her to be a killer.  Sometimes unreliable narrators don’t work well for me, but I loved its use here.

I was also a big fan of the author’s use of a dual timeline.  One timeline follows the events that lead up to the discovery of Zoe’s body, while the other timeline deals with the fallout after the body is discovered.  I always love watching the pieces of a puzzle come together this way, as it allows me lots of opportunities to try to fit those pieces together and come up with my own theories about what has happened, as I did with this story.  In this case, the chapters alternate between the two timelines so that the reader is fed a few crumbs at a time from each end of the mystery, both from Anna’s perspective and from the perspective of Martina Jenkins, who is conducting her own investigation into what happened to Zoe, and broadcasting her findings on a podcast called Missing Zoe.

I don’t want to give away any details about what actually happened to Zoe, but I will say that it’s a wild ride to the final reveal.  I came up with lots of theories along the way and was wrong every time.  In addition to the mystery about Zoe, there are also plenty of little side plots filled with secrets and drama that add extra layers of intrigue and suspense to the overall story.  I devoured I Killed Zoe Spanos in just a couple of sittings and definitely recommend it if you’re in the mood for a good mystery.

four-stars

About Kit Frick

Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press, edits for private clients, and mentors emerging writers through Pitch Wars. She is the author of the young adult novels See All the Stars, All Eyes on Us (2019), and Windermere (2020), all from Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, and the poetry collection A Small Rising Up in the Lungs (New American Press). Her fiction is represented by Erin Harris at Folio Literary Management / Folio Jr.

Review: PARTY OF TWO by Jasmine Guillory

Review:  PARTY OF TWO by Jasmine GuilloryParty of Two by Jasmine Guillory
Also by this author: Royal Holiday (The Wedding Date, #4)
four-stars
Series: The Wedding Date #5
Published by Berkley Books on June 23, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 320
Also in this series: Royal Holiday (The Wedding Date, #4)
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know if it’s the stress of the pandemic or because it’s finally summer, but I have found myself craving romantic reads lately.  I seriously just can’t get enough of them.  I’ve been enjoying Jasmine Guillory’s series, The Wedding Date, so when I saw she had a new installment in the series coming out this month, Party of Two, I couldn’t resist requesting it.

Olivia Monroe is smart, sexy, and savvy, and she’s also a successful attorney who has recently moved to L.A. to start her own law firm with her best friend.  The last thing Olivia has time for in her life right now is romance, but a chance encounter in a hotel bar with a handsome man has her thinking a little romance might not be a bad thing.  That is, until she later learns that the handsome man is none other than Senator Max Powell.  Olivia has absolutely no interest in dating a politician or in the pressure of being in the spotlight.  She still can’t deny that Max is gorgeous though…

I wanted to cringe as much as Olivia did when I realized Max was a politician, but I’ll freely admit that he won me over right away.  Max is smart and handsome, but he’s also just flat out adorable.  He wears disguises so he can have privacy while he’s out and about, he’s very passionate about causes that are important to him, and perhaps the biggest selling point for me, he tries to woo Olivia with cake!  This is a guy after my own heart, haha.  He’s not perfect though and I think that’s actually what I liked most about him. Max tends to be a little impulsive, especially when it comes to matters of love and romance.  His heart is always in the right place, but he can sometimes make a mess of things because he acts first and thinks second.

I really adored both Max and Olivia from that first encounter in the hotel bar.  Their chemistry was off the charts and their flirty banter was truly giving me life!  Even though I’m not really a believer in love at first sight, I was immediately rooting for the two of them to give it a go.  I also thought the author did a wonderful job of making both characters and their evolving relationship feel so authentic. As with most relationships, there are lots of fun moments, but also some more dramatic and stressful moments.  I was completely invested in both Max and Olivia as if I actually knew them and found myself glued to the book, finishing it in just a couple of sittings, because I just had to know if they were going to get a happy ending together or not.

If you’re in the mood for a smart, sexy romance, I highly recommend giving Party of Two a try.  As much as I have enjoyed The Wedding Date series overall, I won’t hesitate to say that Party of Two is my new favorite book in the series.  To quote Mary Poppins, it’s “practically perfect in every way.”

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: REBEL SPY by Veronica Rossi

Review:  REBEL SPY by Veronica RossiRebel Spy by Veronica Rossi
three-half-stars
Published by Delacorte Press on June 23, 2020
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was drawn to Veronica Rossi’s new novel Rebel Spy because although I love historical fiction and read it often, I’ve not read much in the way of fiction that focuses on the American Revolution.  I was especially intrigued by Rebel Spy because the rebel spy in question is actually a woman, which was definitely new information to me.  Aside from those who went on to become First Ladies, the only other female figure that even comes to mind when I think of the Revolutionary War is Betsy Ross.  Needless to say, I was thrilled to learn that there were actually female spies in George Washington’s intelligencer networks and that they played a vital role in the war.

Rossi’s novel follows a woman identified in our historical records only as Agent 355 “Lady.”  Agent 355’s  true identity remains unknown to this day and all we know of her is that she was a woman of high society in New York and that she worked as a part of Washington’s Culper spy network.  In her novel, Rossi has used her imagination to fill in the gaps and reimagine Agent 355’s life.

In Rossi’s reimagining, Agent 355 is Frannie Tasker, an orphaned young woman who lives on Grand Bahama Island with her abusive stepfather.  Frannie dreams of a new life free from his abuse, and when her stepfather announces that he wants to marry her, Frannie becomes all the more desperate to get away from him.  A timely storm, a devastating shipwreck with no survivors, and the body of a young woman who drowned in the wreck and bears a striking resemblance to Frannie provides her the escape she has been looking for.  With her quick thinking, Frannie switches places with the young woman, thus assuming her identity. She learns that the young woman has lost her entire family in the shipwreck and the plan is now to put her on the next ship to New York, where her new guardian is located.  The story follows Frannie as she takes on this new identity, learns to behave like a proper lady of society, and begins her life anew in New York City.  It is while she is on the journey to New York that Frannie meets a young man who puts the idea of rebelling against the Crown into her head and sets into motion her journey to joining a spy ring.  Frannie’s new position as a lady of society in New York gives her a prime vantage spot for intelligence as there are constantly British soldiers milling around at events she attends.

Rebel Spy is definitely a character driven story in the sense that while we do see Frannie in action as a spy, the spy ring and the Revolutionary War itself are very much in the background.  This is a story about Frannie, the life she has left behind, the new life she embraces in New York, the new friends and more-than-friends she meets along the way, and then finally her introduction to the world of spying.  As much as I enjoyed reading about Frannie’s life and what a resourceful and principled young lady she was, I would have rated this book even higher if we had gotten to see a little more of the actual spying and the war up close.

Even with that little quibble, I still found Rebel Spy to be a quick and satisfying read and one that has definitely made me want to learn more about the women who played a role in the American Revolution.

three-half-stars

About Veronica Rossi

Veronica Rossi is a best selling author of fiction for young adults. Her debut novel, UNDER THE NEVER SKY, was the first in a post-apocalyptic trilogy, and was deemed one of the Best Books of Year by School Library Journal. The series appeared in the NY Times and USA Today best seller lists and was published in over 25 foreign markets.

Her second series for young adults began with RIDERS and tells the story of four modern day teens who become incarnations of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and the prophetic girl who brings them together. SEEKER completes the duology.

Veronica completed her undergraduate studies at UCLA and then went on to study fine art at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. She is a lifelong reader and artist. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she has lived in Mexico, Venezuela, and all over the United States, to finally settle in Northern California with her husband and two sons.

When not writing, Veronica enjoys reading painting, hiking, and running. She does not like anything involving numbers, the addition of them, subtraction of them, you name it. They terrify her. Her obsessions generally lead to fictional works. Currently, she has just finished delving into New York City during the Revolutionary War.

Review: THE GUEST LIST by Lucy Foley

Review:  THE GUEST LIST by Lucy FoleyThe Guest List by Lucy Foley
four-stars
Published by William Morrow on June 2, 2020
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucy Foley’s The Guest List is an atmospheric thriller that centers on a high society wedding event gone wrong.  The wedding in question is that of Jules and Will.  Jules is a successful magazine publisher, while Will is an up and coming reality TV star.  With an exotic location, designer gowns, and boutique whiskey, Will and Jules’ wedding is shaping up to be the stuff dreams are made of.  That is, until it turns into a nightmare, complete with a dead body.

I was very intrigued by all the different points of view the author chose to use in this story.  We get alternating chapters from Jules, the bride; Olivia, Jules’ sister and only bridesmaid; Hannah, the wife of Jules’ best friend; Johnno, the best man; and Aoife, the wedding planner.  When I first started reading, I thought this was such an odd assortment of characters to choose and was eager to find out why in the world they had been selected.  As the story started to come together, it became obvious why these characters had been selected and I was eager to learn more about them, particularly what each of them was hiding since it was clear they all had secrets they were holding close to their chests.

In addition to the seemingly random points of view that weren’t so random after all, the author also uses a very effective timeline to pull together all of the threads of this mystery.  The Guest List begins the night of Jules and Will’s wedding. A fierce storm has blown in just after the ceremony and the guests are riding out the storm inside.  The environment quickly turns chaotic as the power starts flickering on and off and then the guests start to hear screams. It’s clear that something has gone terribly wrong and the ushers decide it’s up to them to go out and investigate the source of the screams.  The story then alternates between following the aftermath of discovering the dead body, and following the events that led up to the discovery of the body, with special attention to certain members of the wedding party and guests to see what, if any, role they played in the tragedy.

While I loved watching the different points of view and the two timelines come together, it was the atmospheric remote setting of The Guest List that really took this story to the next level for me.  It’s set on a small island off the coast of Ireland.  The island is practically deserted and is rumored to be haunted, and is composed of a landscape that is rocky, wild, and particularly dangerous if you stray from the designated paths.  All I kept thinking as I was reading was “Who in their right mind would want to have a wedding in such a dangerous and creepy place?”

I don’t want to give away any details since this is a thriller, so I’m going to close now before I say too much.  If you’re a fan of creepy atmospheric, slow burn thrillers reminiscent of Agatha Christie and Ruth Ware, you’re going to love The Guest List.

four-stars

About Lucy Foley

Lucy Foley studied English literature at Durham University and University College London and worked for several years as a fiction editor in the publishing industry. She is the author of The Book of Lost and Found and The Invitation. She lives in London.

Review: THE PRISONER’S WIFE by Maggie Brookes

Review:  THE PRISONER’S WIFE by Maggie BrookesThe Prisoner's Wife by Maggie Brookes
four-half-stars
Published by Berkley Books on May 26, 2020
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
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Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Set during WWII, Maggie Brookes’ new novel The Prisoner’s Wife follows a British soldier named Bill and a Czech girl named Izzy.  Bill is a POW who has been sent, along with several other prisoners, to labor at Izzy’s family’s farm. As soon as Bill and Izzy meet, sparks fly and they quickly fall in love.  Izzy is desperate to get away from life on the farm and arranges for her and Bill to secretly marry so that they can run away and be together.  Their honeymoon – and their freedom – is short-lived, however, when they are almost immediately captured by the Germans and sent to a POW camp.  To hide her identity while they were fleeing, Izzy had cut her hair short and donned men’s clothing, but keeping her identity and gender a secret in a POW camp is practically an impossible task.  Bill knows they need help and enlists some fellow prisoners to help keep their secret, and most importantly, to keep Izzy safe.  If she’s found now, Izzy will almost certainly be executed as a spy.

I’ve read a lot of WWII historical fiction in my day, but this one really got to me.  Bill and Izzy’s journey is so fraught with danger at every turn and it just had my heart in my throat the entire time I was reading.  The author paints such a vivid picture of the horrors of the POW camp – the brutality, the lack of proper rations, the unsanitary conditions and sickness, not to mention the complete lack of privacy.  Even just the act of trying to use the bathroom posed a threat to Izzy’s well being.  The author created such a tense and suspenseful environment that hardly a page went by when I wasn’t convinced that Izzy’s identity would be revealed at any moment.

I just adored Izzy and Bill too.  How can you not root for a young couple in love to outwit the Germans and survive?  I was rooting that a happy ending for them from the moment they met.  I especially loved Izzy, who not only wanted to get off that farm, but she specifically wanted to find and join up with her father and brother who were members of a resistance group.  I loved her spark and her strength and was sure that if anyone could survive their impossible situation, it was Izzy.

I also loved the group of prisoners that banded together to protect Izzy from the Germans.  I was just so moved by their immediate willingness to put themselves in harm’s way to save a complete stranger, especially when it would have been so much easier to just look out for themselves and not try to help.  This group becomes Izzy and Bill’s “found family” and I found myself rooting for them all to survive just as hard as I was for Izzy and Bill.

Inspired by true events, The Prisoner’s Wife is an unforgettable story of courage, resiliency, and survival.  It’s also a story about love and the lengths people will go to for those they care about.

four-half-stars

About Maggie Brookes

Maggie Brookes is a British ex-journalist and BBC television producer turned poet and novelist.
The Prisoner’s Wife is based on an extraordinary true story of love and courage, told to her by an ex-WW2 prisoner of war. Maggie visited the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany as part of her research for the book, learning largely forgotten aspects of the war.
The Prisoner’s Wife is due to be published by imprints of Penguin Random House in the UK and in the US in May 2020. Publication in other countries, including Holland, Italy, Portugal, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic will follow.
As well as being a writer, Maggie is an advisory fellow for the Royal Literary Fund and also an Associate Professor at Middlesex University, London, England, where she has taught creative writing since 1990. She lives in London and Whitstable, Kent and is married, with two grown-up daughters.
She has published five poetry collections in the UK under her married name of Maggie Butt. Poetry website: www.maggiebutt.co.uk

Review: HAPPY & YOU KNOW IT by Laura Hankin

Review:  HAPPY & YOU KNOW IT by Laura HankinHappy & You Know It by Laura Hankin
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on May 19, 2020
Genres: Women's Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laura Hankins’ addictive new novel, Happy & You Know It follows a group of wealthy Manhattan moms and their Instagram-perfect infant play group and the out-of-work musician who inadvertently turns their lives upside down.

Claire, the musician, is the character I immediately felt was the most relatable of the group.  She’s a talented singer who is down on her luck and wallowing in self-pity when we meet her because she got kicked out of the band she was playing in right as they hit it big. Their music is everywhere now, taunting her, while she’s desperately searching for a job so that she doesn’t have to leave New York and move back home, admitting she failed.  I felt tremendous sympathy for Claire and wanted to cringe right along with her every time someone mentioned her former band and their sexy new lead singer.

It is when Claire lands a job on Park Avenue playing music for a bunch of wealthy Manhattan moms and their infants that we meet the rest of the main characters. And what a crew these women are!  In some ways they are totally unrelatable because of their tremendous wealth and glamorous lifestyles, but on the other hand, their struggles as new moms is something that grounds them all and makes them a little easier to connect with as a whole.

The leader of this pack is Whitney, the social media queen who has a whole Instagram account devoted to showing how picture perfect her life as a mom is and how equally perfect her play group is.  Every playgroup meeting is a photo op, and Whitney has amassed a huge following and lots of sponsors who are constantly sending her free things to promote on her account. Then there’s Gwen, who comes from old money, is super reserved and also somewhat of a condescending know-it-all. Lastly, there’s Amara, who has some financial issues and who also has a child who isn’t developing as quickly as the other babies in the playgroup. Amara is constantly feeling like she just doesn’t measure up to the rest of the moms in the group.  There are also several other moms in the group but Whitney, Gwen, and Amara are the three who take center stage in this story.

I don’t want to give away any of the juicy details but what becomes apparent as the story progresses is that the more picture perfect Whitney tries to make all of their lives look on Instagram, the more clear it becomes that all of their lives are far from it.  They each have their own struggles they’re dealing with, and with the story unfolding from the perspectives of Claire, Whitney, Amara, and Gwen, we are taken on a roller coaster ride that is filled with secrets, drama, and all out scandal!

If you’re looking for a book that will make you forget your own troubles for a while, I suggest diving into Laura Hankins’ addictive new novel, Happy & You Know It.  It’s a quick and easy read that is sure to entertain!

four-stars

About Laura Hankin

Laura Hankin is the author of HAPPY & YOU KNOW IT and has written for McSweeney’s and HuffPost, among other publications. The viral videos that she creates and stars in with her comedy duo, Feminarchy, have been featured in Now This, The New York Times, and Funny or Die. She grew up in Washington, D.C. and now lives in New York City, where she has performed off-Broadway, acted onscreen, and sung to far too many babies.

Review: BEACH READ by Emily Henry

Review:  BEACH READ by Emily HenryBeach Read by Emily Henry
four-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on May 19, 2020
Genres: Women's Fiction, Romance, Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

Emily Henry’s new novel, Beach Read, is a book you don’t want to judge by its cover.  The cover is adorable of course and I love it, but it definitely gives off a vibe that this is going to be a fun, fluffy read to enjoy while you’re lounging in the sand.  Beach Read is so much more than that though – it’s a beautifully written, multi-layered story with realistic and complex characters that will tug at your heartstrings the entire time you’re reading. I love a book that takes me on an emotional journey, and Beach Read made me laugh, it made me cry, and just ultimately had me fully invested in these characters and their lives from start to finish.

One of my favorite parts about Beach Read is that both protagonists are writers.  January Andrews is a romance writer and is an ace at writing novels where true love wins and they all live happily ever after.  Her belief system when it comes to love and romance is driven by her parents, but when her father dies, she learns something about him that shatters her view of him and of love and romance.  Not only is it devastating to her personally, but it has given her a wicked case of writer’s block.  With a book deadline looming and an agent hounding her relentlessly, January retreats to her father’s second home, a beach house located in a remote but charming small town.  It is here that she runs into our second protagonist, Augustus (Gus) Everett, who is living in the beach house next door and who coincidentally is also a writer whose specialty is literary fiction. And if that’s not enough to entice you, he also just happens to be January’s main rival from her college writing program.  January is not a fan of Gus’s at all and can’t imagine anything worse than having to live next door to him all summer while trying desperately to make her deadline.

I was sympathetic to January right away.  She’s going through so much because of the losses she has suffered and now she has to deal with the tension with Gus on top of it.  But, boy do these two have chemistry!  It’s off the charts honestly and I love how much the actual writing process plays a role in how their relationship evolves from rivals/enemies to friends and maybe more.  At first they’re just trading witty, sarcastic barbs, often about each other’s preferred fictional genre, but then they kick it up a notch and revisit their old rivalry with the ultimate challenge:  January has to write a book that doesn’t end happily ever after, while Gus has to write a romance novel.  Bring it!

I don’t want to say much more because I don’t want to spoil anything but the story takes a more emotional turn as Gus and January both get out of their comfort zones and write something so different and challenging. It becomes a way for both of them to work through their pain and struggles, because it’s not just January who is dealing with loss. Gus is as well.  It’s these painful and personal journeys that add all of those wonderfully complex layers that took Beach Read well beyond the fluffy fun I was expecting.

Beach Read is, without a doubt, one of the most wonderful and heartwarming books I’ve read so far this year.  The writing is gorgeous, the story just so easy to get immersed in, and the characters are unforgettable. This was my first time reading Emily Henry but it definitely won’t be the last!

four-half-stars

About Emily Henry

Emily Henry writes stories about love and family for both teens and adults. She studied creative writing at Hope College and the now-defunct New York Center for Art & Media Studies. Find her on Instagram @EmilyHenryWrites.

Review: BIG SUMMER by Jennifer Weiner

Review:  BIG SUMMER by Jennifer WeinerBig Summer by Jennifer Weiner
Also by this author: Mrs. Everything
four-half-stars
Published by Atria Books on May 5, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction, Contemporary 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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wow, what a read.  There’s so much to love about Jennifer Weiner’s latest novel, Big Summer, that I hardly know where to even begin. It has everything I’ve come to love and expect from a Jennifer Weiner novel, but then so much more!

The protagonist, Daphne Berg, is such a wonderful character and I loved her from the moment we meet her. She’s smart, resourceful, warm and witty, big-hearted, and she also has a great relationship with her parents, especially her dad, which is always lovely to see.  Daphne has had a life-long struggle with her weight and with her self-image.  She has had to contend with bullying, fat shaming, and learning the very hard lesson that sometimes people who you think are your friends really aren’t. Instead of letting these bad experiences crush her, Daphne takes control of her life and spins those negatives into a very successful business venture for herself as a plus size social media influencer.  Her Instagram account has gained thousands of followers who tune in to watch Daphne embrace her body as it is and encourage others to do the same.  I just loved Daphne’s resiliency in this situation and that she creates this community that’s not only a career for herself, but it also helps others who are struggling to love themselves and their bodies.

Something else I really enjoyed about Big Summer is Weiner’s exploration of what I think is such a relevant theme and that’s forgiveness. One of the story’s many layers focuses on Daphne’s relationship with childhood best friend, rich girl Drue Cavanaugh.  Drue was spoiled and a quintessential mean girl, best known for befriending kids and then promptly discarding them once she lost interest.  She left a trail of hurt and embarrassed classmates in her wake, including Daphne.  No matter how cruel Drue is to Daphne, she keeps coming back for more, until they finally have a huge falling out. That fall out is what ultimately led to Daphne’s social media career and she has never looked back…until years later when Drue unexpectedly shows up, apologizing profusely and begging for forgiveness and for Daphne to be in her wedding.  Daphne is torn – there’s a part of her that wants to tell Drue off all over again because she’s so toxic, but then there’s the other part of her that remembers the good times they had and who wants to believe Drue has changed.  Weiner does an incredible job of exploring the complexities of their relationship and especially of letting us inside Daphne’s head to see just how conflicted she is.  It all felt authentic and their relationship is one I could see many people finding very relatable.

The wonderful characters and the relationship complexities were definitely what I was expecting when I started reading Big Summer.  What I didn’t expect and what really took the story to a whole new level was a huge plot twist that happens about the halfway point of the novel.  I can’t even talk about it without spoilers, but it had me running back to the synopsis to see if I had missed something because it threw me for such a loop.  That’s not a criticism though because as much as I loved learning about Daphne and her relationship with Drue, the surprise plot twist added a layer of mystery to the story that had me flying through the second half of Big Summer. I was desperate to find out what exactly happened and who was responsible.

I’m going to leave it at that, but suffice it to say, I absolutely loved Big Summer.  It’s Jennifer Weiner at her best with wonderful characters and relationships, but also with a mystery twist that makes it unlike any of Weiner’s books I’ve read so far.  If you’re a Jennifer Weiner fan, you’re going to love it and I also think you’ll love it if you’re a fan of mysteries.

four-half-stars

About Jennifer Weiner

Jennifer Weiner is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of seventeen books, including Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, and, most recently, Mrs. Everything. Her new novel, Big Summer, debuted May 5, 2020. A graduate of Princeton University and contributor to the New York Times Opinion section, she lives with her family in Philadelphia. Visit her online at JenniferWeiner.com.

Review: MASTER CLASS by Christina Dalcher

Review:  MASTER CLASS by Christina DalcherMaster Class by Christina Dalcher
Also by this author: Vox
three-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on April 21, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christina Dalcher’s latest novel, Master Class, is a terrifying exploration of what can happen when those in power choose to implement radical policy changes, but at such a slow and gradual pace, that the citizens don’t realize what a radical and dangerous path they’re being led down until it’s too late.

What makes Dalcher’s novel particularly frightening is that although it’s technically set in a dystopian world, the world is not that far removed from where we as a society actually are.  The whole time I was reading, I kept thinking. “Huh. I could see the current administration here trying to pull this kind of sneaky stunt.”  It’s that realness, that plausibility of something that should be totally implausible, that makes Master Class such a gripping read.  I found myself hardcore cheering on the protagonist, not just because I love to cheer on those scrappy underdog characters, but also because I just needed that reassurance, with such a realistic plot, that someone would in fact stand up to fight back against dangerous and radical policies.

I have to admit that it did take me a while to warm up to the protagonist, Elena Fairchild, though.  Her actions and choices early on in the story, combined with some flashbacks of her young adult year, paint a pretty ugly picture and I had some real issues relating to her. The radical policy changes that are the subject matter of Master Class revolve around education, specifically segregating lower performing students and sending them off to out-of-state boarding schools/institutions. Elena is a teacher at one of the elite schools where top-performing students attend, and she is also the wife of one of those in power who is specifically pushing forward this agenda.  Elena’s eldest child is excelling in the elite level school system and so Elena is very complacent about the way things are, even as she watches other children shamed if they drop in performances and end up packed up and sent away to these other schools.

It is when Elena’s youngest child, who struggles in school, fails a test and gets shipped off to a school hundreds of miles away from home that Elena finally opens her eyes and we see a different side of her. She starts to notice some of her own students getting shipped off and she can’t understand why. They were performing so well that even a failed test or two shouldn’t have dropped their scores low enough to take them to the lowest tier.  Elena starts to suspect something more sinister is afoot and makes it her mission to get to the bottom of it and to save her daughter, even if it means taking down her own husband in the process.  That was the moment when I really started to cheer on Elena, this redemption arc of sorts.  She’s smart, resourceful, and she is a Momma Bear to her core.  Do not mess with her babies.  Or anyone else’s babies for that matter.

I don’t want to go into anymore details for fear of spoilers, so I’m just going to say that it’s a wild and, at times, frightening, ride as Elena digs deeper to find out what has been going on right under her own nose.  Dalcher does a wonderful job of gradually ratcheting up the tension and suspense until everything just boils over.

Master Class is a compelling read that really took me on an emotional roller coaster.  I felt such rage at those who were coming up with these horrid educational policies, frustration at the parents who just sat by and accepted the way things were, sympathy for those who didn’t, and finally, heartbroken for the children themselves who were being hurt by them.  When I read the author’s note and learned that Dalcher based her novel on real-life events that actually happened here in America, I got angry all over again.  If you’re looking for an eye opening read about what can happen when people let their guard down and blindly accept that those in power have their best interests at heart, Master Class is the book you’re looking for.

three-half-stars

About Christina Dalcher

Christina Dalcher earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University. She specializes in the phonetics of sound change in Italian and British dialects and has taught at universities in the United States, England, and the United Arab Emirates.

Her short stories and flash fiction appear in over one hundred journals worldwide. Recognitions include the Bath Flash Award’s Short List; nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions; and multiple other awards. She teaches flash fiction as a member of the faculty at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents Dalcher’s novels.

After spending several years abroad, most recently in Sri Lanka, Dalcher and her husband now split their time between the American South and Naples, Italy.
Her debut novel, VOX, will be published in August 2018 by Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).

Review & Giveaway: THE SWEENEY SISTERS by Lian Dolan

Review & Giveaway:  THE SWEENEY SISTERS by Lian DolanThe Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan
four-stars
Published by William Morrow on April 28, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

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

 

Thanks so much to the Fantastic Flying Book Club for including me in the blog tour for The Sweeney Sisters.  I’m thrilled to be able to share my thoughts on this wonderful read today.

 

 

When I read the synopsis for Lian Dolan’s new novel, The Sweeney Sisters, I knew I had to read it.  I’m a sucker for a good story about sisters, and this story has that, as well as a healthy dose of family drama and scandalous secrets.  As if those elements weren’t enticing enough on their own, The Sweeney Sisters is also a book about books! Sounds like a must-read, right?

The Sweeney Sisters follows three sisters, Liza, Maggie, and Tricia, who have returned to their childhood home after their father, literary giant William Sweeney, has passed away unexpectedly.  Their mother passed away years ago so it falls on the sisters to settle their father’s affairs.  The sisters knew their father wasn’t perfect, but what they learn upon reading his will and meeting with his long-time attorney, shocks them to the core.

Because of some financial missteps their dad made, the sisters learn they will inherit much less than they were anticipating. They also learn that he made some personal missteps as well, the result of which is Serena, an older half-sister whom they’ve never met and who now stands to inherit a piece of the Sweeney estate. On top of that, their father also left behind, and apparently hid, the manuscript of a tell-all memoir he had promised his publisher. The sisters need to either find the manuscript or be prepared to pay back the very large advance their father had received for committing to write it. The sisters are navigating a potential mine field while trying to protect their father’s legacy, which is not easy to do when he lived in a tiny, seaside town in Connecticut where everyone knows everyone else.

The sisters and the way they come together are what really made this a special read for me.  I adored all three of them so much.  There’s “Mad” Maggie (as her dad called her), who is an artist and free spirit.  Then there’s Tricia, the attorney in the family, who is both reserved and responsible.  And finally, there’s Liza, married with two children, who owns an art gallery in town.  The story unfolds from all of their perspectives and I found it fascinating to get a close up look at each sister’s thoughts and feelings as they try to make sense of the unexpected turns their lives have suddenly taken.  I also found it interesting to watch how each sister chose to approach their new half-sister.  The author rounds out the story well by also giving us Serena’s perspective so we can see how she processes this information and the drama it causes since she’s now faced with the news that the man she has called Dad all her life really isn’t her father. I really enjoyed Serena’s character.  Imagine the shock of taking one of those DNA tests as a lark and then finding out you’re related to someone famous? The author does a wonderful job of crafting these potentially dramatic and awkward moments without making the story feel like a soap opera. It all felt very authentic.

The Sweeney Sisters is a heartwarming story about what it means to be a family.  It’s a reminder that life is often messy and that it’s important to come together as a family to overcome any and all obstacles.  If books about sisters and secrets are your thing, The Sweeney Sisters is the book for you!

 

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository | Kobo | iTunes | Google Play Books

 

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS:

An accomplished storyteller returns with her biggest, boldest, most entertaining novel yet—a hilarious, heartfelt story about books, love, sisterhood, and the surprises we discover in our DNA that combines the wit of Jonathan Tropper with the heart of Susan Wiggs.

Maggie, Eliza, and Tricia Sweeney grew up as a happy threesome in the idyllic seaside town of Southport, Connecticut. But their mother’s death from cancer fifteen years ago tarnished their golden-hued memories, and the sisters drifted apart. Their one touchstone is their father, Bill Sweeney, an internationally famous literary lion and college professor universally adored by critics, publishers, and book lovers. When Bill dies unexpectedly one cool June night, his shell-shocked daughters return to their childhood home. They aren’t quite sure what the future holds without their larger-than-life father, but they do know how to throw an Irish wake to honor a man of his stature.

But as guests pay their respects and reminisce, one stranger, emboldened by whiskey, has crashed the party. It turns out that she too is a Sweeney sister.

When Washington, DC based journalist Serena Tucker had her DNA tested on a whim a few weeks earlier, she learned she had a 50% genetic match with a childhood neighbor—Maggie Sweeney of Southport, Connecticut. It seems Serena’s chilly WASP mother, Birdie, had a history with Bill Sweeney—one that has remained totally secret until now.

Once the shock wears off, questions abound. What does this mean for William’s literary legacy? Where is the unfinished memoir he’s stashed away, and what will it reveal? And how will a fourth Sweeney sister—a blond among redheads—fit into their story?

By turns revealing, insightful, and uproarious, The Sweeney Sisters is equal parts cautionary tale and celebration—a festive and heartfelt look at what truly makes a family.

 

GIVEAWAY: 

Prize: Win a copy of THE SWEENEY SISTERS by Lian Dolan (U.S. Only)

Starts: 28th April 2020.  Ends: 12th May 2020.

 

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TOUR SCHEDULE:  

Follow the tour!

April 28th

 

April 29th

@onemused – Review
Books, Tea, Healthy Me – Review + Favourite Quotes
Willow Writes And Reads – Review + Playlist
Jill’s Book Blog – Review

 

April 30th

My Bookish Escapades – Guest Post
TheGeekishBrunette – Review
wordnerdreviews – Review + Favourite Quotes
Mowgli with a book – Review
Crazykidjournal – Review

 

May 1st

Syllables of Swathi – Guest Post
Bookishly Nerdy – Review + Favourite Quotes
The Bookish Libra – Review
Indelible Ink Inscribes – Review
Annej Reads – Promotional Post

 

May 2nd

Sometimes Leelynn Reads – Review + Dream Cast
Pacific Northwest Bookworm – Review
3heartsandawish – Review
Inktalkswithmaria – Review
Paperbacks and pen – Review

 

May 3rd

Belle’s Archive – Review
Hooked on Bookz – Review + Favourite Quotes
Diary Of A Bookgirl – Review
Maddie.TV – Review + Favourite Quotes
Gwendalyn’s Anderson – Review
Nose Stuck in a Book – Promotional Post

 

May 4th

A Gingerly Review – Guest Post
Beckybookstore – Review
Bookish Geek – Review + Favourite Quotes
BiblioJoJo – Review
elena.luo – Review
four-stars

About Lian Dolan

Lian Dolan is a writer and talker. She’s the author of two Los Angeles Times best-selling novels, Helen of Pasadena and Elizabeth the First Wife published by Prospect Park Books. Her next novel, The Sweeney Sisters, will be published in 2020 by William Morrow. She’s a regular humor columnist for Pasadena Magazine and has previously written monthly columns for O, The Oprah Magazine and Working Mother Magazine. She’s also written for TV, radio and websites.

Lian is the producer and host of Satellite Sisters, the award-winning talk show she created with her four real sisters. On Satellite Sisters, she’s interviewed everyone from Nora Ephron to Madeleine Albright to Big Bird. Satellite Sisters began life as a syndicated radio show and is now a top-rated podcast for women. The recent book by the Satellite Sisters, You’re the Best: A Celebration of Friendship, is popular with book clubs.

A popular speaker who combines humor and heart, Lian has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Sunday Morning and The Today Show and many local TV stations. She’s been a featured speaker at the LA Times Festival of Books, the Santa Barbara Celebrity Authors Lunch, the Literary Guild of Orange County Festival of Women Authors and dozens of other events at libraries, book stores, schools and women’s organizations across the country. In 2020, she’ll be on the faculty of the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop.

Lian graduated from Pomona College with a degree in Classics. She lives in Pasadena, California with her husband, two sons and a big German shepherd.