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Reviews: THE EXTRAORDINARIES & CINDERELLA IS DEAD

 

I’ve got two great YA fantasies to share with you today.  The first is a hilarious new superhero story from T.J. Klune.  This was my first time reading one of Klune’s novels and it did not disappoint! The second is an entertaining and fresh take on the beloved fairytale, Cinderella.

 

Reviews:  THE EXTRAORDINARIES & CINDERELLA IS DEADThe Extraordinaries Goodreads

Author: T.J. Klune

Publication Date: July 14, 2020

Publisher:  Tor Teen

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

 

T.J. Klune’s YA debut, The Extraordinaries, is one of the most laugh-out loud funny books I’ve read in a long time.  A cross between Marissa Meyers’ Renegades and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, The Extraordinaries follows Nick, a gay teen and popular fanfiction writer who writes stories for the Extraordinaries superhero fandom. Nick’s fanfiction centers around Shadow Star, the Extraordinary he has a major crush on.  Nick dreams of meeting Shadow Star and winning his affections, and Nick’s dream only increases when against all odds, he has a chance meeting with Shadow Star, that leaves him utterly awestruck and formulating a hilarious yet slightly unrealistic plan as to how he too can become a superhero so he and Shadow Star can be a real team and live happily ever after.

Nick and his “adorkableness” are really what made me love this book.  His nerdy crush on Shadow Star is just adorable, as is his passion for his fanfiction.  I think Nick is going to be a character that a lot of readers relate to as well. Nick has an amazing queer friend group that supports his crush and yet has fun mocking him relentlessly over it.  He’s also got an ex-boyfriend that just won’t go away, which makes life interesting yet awkward for everyone.  On a more serious note, Nick has ADHD that he takes medication for to help him stay focused, and he’s also dealing with the loss of his mom, who was killed during a robbery.  One of my favorite parts of the novel is actually Nick’s relationship with his ultra-supportive Dad as they try to navigate their new normal without Nick’s mom in their lives.  As much as I was sitting there giggling right along with Nick’s friends as they gently poke fun at his crush, I also had moments where I just wanted to grab him and give him a big hug because he just needs one every now and then.

I don’t want to say much more because with superheroes, secret identities and even a bit of a mystery thrown in the mix, it’s just way too easy to run into spoilers, but I will say if you’re looking for a read that is as heartwarming as it is funny, The Extraordinaries should be on your must-read list.  I highly recommend it to anyone who loved Renegades and Fangirl and to anyone who enjoys a good friends-to-lovers romance.  The Extraordinaries has something for everyone!  4 STARS

 

 

Reviews:  THE EXTRAORDINARIES & CINDERELLA IS DEADCinderella Is Dead Goodreads

Author: Kalynn Bayron

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Publisher:  Bloomsbury YA

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

 

Those who follow my blog know that I love fairytale retellings, so it was a given that I would want to read Kalynn Barton’s feminist Cinderella retelling, Cinderella is Dead.  As the title states, Cinderella is long dead when this story opens but her story is being used by the King of Lille to control his young female citizens.  Girls are required to commit Cinderella’s tale to memory and they are taught that they should want a happy ending just like Cinderella’s.

There’s a cruel twist to the King’s version of the fairy tale, however.  Once they reach a certain age, the young ladies are required to attend the King’s annual ball.  They are to dress up in the finest gowns and present themselves to potential suitors, who are then charged with selecting a mate.  Girls who aren’t chosen are allowed to return to the ball twice more but then after that, their lives are deemed forfeit and they are never heard from again.  Being chosen isn’t necessarily a happily ever after either as the men in the kingdom view their wives as property and often beat and verbally abuse them.

Sophia, the protagonist, wants no part of this dystopian disaster. She’s not looking for a Prince Charming and in fact would much rather marry her childhood best friend, Erin.  She decides that she will not take part in this sick ritual and makes it her mission to not only escape from the King’s ball, but to also come back once she finds a way to bring the whole patriarchal system crashing down.  I really loved Sophia. She’s bright, fierce, independent, and she’s loyal.  She’s also not perfect, which makes her all the more likeable and relatable.  Once she makes her escape, she meets up with an unexpected member of the Resistance and that’s when the story really takes off and takes turn after unexpected turn to shake up the original Cinderella tale.

Sophia is definitely the shining star of this story, but what I loved most is just how unique and fresh the story is even though it uses so many elements from the original fairytale.  The author will have you questioning every aspect of the tale you thought you knew so well.  Were the stepsisters really evil?  Who was the fairy godmother?  Was Prince Charming all that charming after all?  What really happened to Cinderella?  Did she really have a happy ending?

Cinderella is Dead is a quick and entertaining read that I breezed through in less than a day.  If feminist retellings, queer protagonists, and smashing the patriarchy are your thing, then this is the book for you! 4 STARS.

Reviews: THE HEIR AFFAIR & NOT LIKE THE MOVIES

 

I hope everyone who was celebrating this weekend had a safe and fun 4th of July holiday.  I spent most of my holiday weekend reading so today I’m sharing reviews for a couple of fun contemporary reads that are coming out this week.  The Heir Affair and Not Like the Movies are the perfect reads to escape into this summer.

 

Reviews:  THE HEIR AFFAIR & NOT LIKE THE MOVIESThe Heir Affair (Royal We, #2) Goodreads

Author: Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Publisher:  Grand Central Publishing

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

 

If you enjoy books about royalty or have ever fancied yourself marrying the future King of England, The Royal We series by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan needs to be on your must read list.  The Royal We, the first book in the series, follows American college student Rebecca Porter (Bex) and Prince Nicholas (Nick), the future King of Great Britain as they meet, fall in love, and navigate the many obstacles that stand in the way of Bex becoming a member of the Royal Family, while the newest novel in the series, The Heir Affair, picks up with Nick and Bex as a newly married couple starting out their lives together.

While I thoroughly enjoyed both of these books, what I really loved about The Heir Affair is that it really takes a deep dive into Nick and Bex’s relationship.  Some very dramatic events from the first book have really shaken them.  They need time to heal and regroup, and then they also need to work to try to reconcile with Nick’s brother, Freddie, as well as mend their reputations with respect to the people of Great Britain.  The authors do a wonderful job of making Bex and Nick’s relationship easy to relate to.  Even though they are royalty and many of their issues and challenges are royal problems that most of us can only imagine in our wildest dreams, many of the other challenges they face are normal, everyday couple issues.

Of course there are still plenty of humorous moments sprinkled throughout the book, particularly with respect to Bex’s relationship with the Queen and with Bex and Nick’s circle of friends from college who are always entertaining.  As much as Bex and Nick’s journey through married life and, in particular, their strained relationship with Freddie, tugged at my heartstrings, the humorous moments really balanced things out, as did some of the long-buried, juicy royal secrets that come to light and shake things up for everyone.

As much as I enjoyed The Royal We, I couldn’t have asked for a better sequel in The Heir Affair. Overall, a very satisfying read. 4 STARS

 

 

Reviews:  THE HEIR AFFAIR & NOT LIKE THE MOVIESNot Like the Movies (Waiting for Tom Hanks, #2) Goodreads

Author: Kerry Winfrey

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

 

I went into Kerry Winfrey’s new novel, Not Like the Movies, hoping for a bit of light rom-com goodness, but I have to say that I fully underestimated this book because Not Like the Movies has turned out to be one of my favorite reads of the summer so far.  While yes, it has plenty of that rom-com goodness I was looking for, it also has so much more.

Chloe Sanderson is the protagonist of the story and I adored her and just found her so relatable. Chloe has a big heart, always going out of her way to do nice things for others.  She also has a lot on her plate, working as a waitress and baker at Nick’s Café, going to school to finish her business degree, and, most importantly, caring for her aging father who has Alzheimer’s.  Chloe’s life is further complicated when her best friend Annie, an up and coming filmmaker, writes a rom-com screenplay inspired by Chloe’s life and her romance with her boss, Nick.  There’s just one problem…Chloe and Nick are not in a relationship and never have been.

When Annie’s screenplay is actually picked up by a major studio, Chloe’s fictionalized life is suddenly everywhere and everyone thinks she and Nick are together. Awkward!  Things become even more awkward as Chloe starts to consider the possibility of dating her boss. She doesn’t have time for it with everything else on her plate and doesn’t even know if she believes in love, but Nick is kind of irresistible in a sexy, grumpy yet super sweet Luke Danes from Gilmore Girls kind of way. I loved Nick and Chloe’s chemistry and immediately became fully invested in the “Will they or won’t they?” pull of the story.

As much as I adored the rom-com aspect of Nick and Chloe’s evolving relationship, what really took Not Like the Movies to the next level for me was Chloe’s journey as she tries to balance everything she has going on in her life.  It’s an emotional one for her because she’s always so worried about caring for others, especially her Dad, and leaves her own self-care out of the equation.  Even though the journey is a struggle for her, I loved watching Chloe grow as a person, and I especially enjoyed watching her assert herself when it comes to her brother, who has conveniently stayed away and not pulled his weight when it comes to matters of their family.

There’s just so much to love about Not Like the Movies. I flew through it in a couple of sittings and even though I was completely satisfied with the ending, I was actually still just a little sad just because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Chloe and Nick yet.  If you’re in the mood for a story that features romance, family drama, and friendship, this is your book.  Oh and there’s pie too!  Lots of pie!  4.5 STARS

Review: MEXICAN GOTHIC by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Review:  MEXICAN GOTHIC by Silvia Moreno-GarciaMexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
four-stars
Published by Del Rey on June 30, 2020
Genres: Horror, Historical Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t normally read much in the way of horror, but when I read the synopsis for Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s new novel, Mexican Gothic, and saw the comparisons to gothic classics Jane Eyre and Rebecca, I just couldn’t resist stepping out of my comfort zone and giving it a try.  I’m so glad I did too because Mexican Gothic is one wild and seriously creepy ride!

Set in Mexico during the 1950’s, the story follows Noemi Taboada, a stylish debutante who spends much of her time either going to parties or studying anthropology.  She’s trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life when her family receives a disturbing and cryptic letter from Noemi’s recently married cousin, Catalina.  In her letter, Catalina rants and raves, makes it sound like she’s being held against her will, and begs for someone to come and save her from a mysterious doom.  Noemi and her family hadn’t heard from Catalina much since she moved away with her new husband so her letter comes as a huge shock.  Fearful for both her physical and mental well-being, Noemi sets out on the long journey to visit Catalina and assess the situation.

As soon as Noemi arrives at High Place, the remote mansion in the countryside where Catalina is living, she can tell that something is just off.  The mansion is creepy, rundown, and there are signs of decay everywhere, and the family themselves doesn’t appear much better off.  Howard Doyle, the patriarch of the household, is practically on his deathbed, and all rules of the house are set up so as not to disturb him, with the ultra-stern housekeeper Florence enforcing them.  Catalina’s husband Virgil is equally creepy and has a predatory vibe about him that Noemi immediately dislikes, and she quickly begins to understand why Catalina could be distressed by her living arrangements.  Speaking of Catalina, Noemi is rarely allowed to see or speak to her cousin, and is told that she is recovering from an illness.  The few times Noemi does speak to her, she seems agitated and not at all like herself.  The longer Noemi stays in the house, the more she starts to sense that something is very wrong and that it may be starting to affect her as well.

I really enjoyed the character of Noemi.  She’s smart, resourceful, and quite brave.  She went to that house wanting answers and she wasn’t leaving without them. She also refused to back down to anyone who got in her way, no matter how much they tried to intimidate or threaten her.

I don’t want to say anything else about the plot since the bulk of the book deals with Noemi trying to figure out what is going on in this house.  I will say though that what Noemi finds blows her mind, and mine as well.  Mexican Gothic is a dark, disturbing, utterly twisted and such a unique story that all of the big reveals kept me guessing.  In addition to the uniqueness of the story itself, I also loved the gothic atmosphere of the setting, especially the rundown mansion with the creepy graveyard on the property.   Everything about this story had me on the edge of my seat from the moment Noemi started poking around in the mansion.  One of my favorite elements of the storytelling was that the author creates an environment where it becomes hard to distinguish what is real from what is illusion or perhaps an imagination run wild.  I mention this in part because I do want to give a trigger warning for some graphic scenes involving a real or imagined sexual assault.

Circling back to touch on those comparisons to Jane Eyre and Rebecca, I think both of those are apt and I would also toss in a little V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic as well.  If you’re craving a dark and haunting read, Mexican Gothic is sure to satisfy your appetite.

four-stars

About Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of several novels, including Gods of Jade and Shadow. She has also edited a number of anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award-winning She Walks in Shadows (a.k.a. Cthulhu’s Daughters). Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination.

Mini Reviews: The “Slow Burn” Edition

 

Today I’m sharing reviews of some new and recent releases that are sure to please anyone who enjoys a fun and heartwarming read with a side of slow burn romance.

 

Mini Reviews:  The “Slow Burn” EditionReal Men Knit Goodreads

Author: Kwana Jackson

Publication Date: May 19, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

 

Kwana Jackson’s new novel, Real Men Knit, is a heartwarming story about what happens when a prominent Harlem business owner, Mama Joy Strong, unexpectedly passes away and her four adoptive sons are left to determine what happens to Strong Knits, her beloved knitting shop.

I was drawn into this story right away because of Mama Joy.  Even though she’s deceased, Mama Joy is still such a major presence in the book. She’s the thread that ties everyone together and was clearly loved and respected by all who knew her. I also just loved that she chose to adopt not just one or two, but four (!) troubled boys who were in foster care and made them all into a family.  She just struck me as one of those people you instantly wish you had had the opportunity to meet because she was clearly a force of nature.

What surprised me about Real Men Knit is that I went into it expecting a romance based on the synopsis, but while the story does have a hint of romance, I would consider it more a story about family and about growing up.  One of the main characters is Jesse, one of Mama Joy’s sons.  Jesse is the butt of many a joke in the Strong household because 1) he has no real direction in life yet in terms of a career, and 2) because he has a reputation as a ladies’ man, specifically for moving from one woman to the next, leaving a trail of broken hearts in his wake.  The other thing about Jesse though is that he loved Mama Joy more than anything and it’s Jesse who is the driving force behind wanting to save Strong Knits and preserve his mama’s legacy.  He also wants to prove to his brothers that he’s not the screw up they think he is.  Jesse won me over right away, mainly because of his intense devotion to Mama Joy, and I was rooting for him to win his brothers over to the cause of saving Strong Knits.

The hint of romance comes in the form of Kerry Fuller, the other main character, who also grew up thinking of Strong Knits as her home away from home and Mama Joy as her second mom. Kerry is invested in saving the shop as well and agrees to help Jesse.  Sparks fly and there is definitely chemistry between them, but it’s a slow burn affair because Jesse has to get past thinking of Kerry as ‘Little Kerry’ that he grew up with, and Kerry has to get past Jesse’s reputation as the neighborhood heartbreaker.  It’s sweet watching the two of them come together to save the shop but I definitely would have preferred a little less of a slow burn.

Real Men Knit is a wonderful story about family and community, and yes, about love too.  If you’re in the mood for a heartwarming story that will put a smile on your face, look no further.

 

 

Mini Reviews:  The “Slow Burn” EditionSomething to Talk About Goodreads

Author: Meryl Wilsner

Publication Date: May 26, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

 

Meryl Wilsner’s debut romance Something to Talk About was such a fun read for me.  It centers on Jo Jones, a showrunner for a popular TV series who is now looking to make her move to the big screen when she signs on to pen the script for the next installment in a hugely popular action series.  Hollywood being what it is, there are plenty of people lined up ready and waiting to gossip about how Jo’s not up for the job.  Jo is already tired of fielding questions about the new film and whether she’s the right person for the job, so when she has to attend a major award ceremony, she asks her trusted assistant Emma to accompany her and serve as a buffer to drive away the reporters.  An innocent moment between Jo and Emma is caught on camera and the rumor mill runs wild with it, declaring them a couple and trying to spin it into a scandal worthy of the tabloids.

We watch the story unfold from the alternating perspectives of Jo and Emma, and I thought this was very well done. I liked seeing how each woman reacted to the growing scandal, and, in particular, how worried they were for each other.  Would Jo be deemed as a predatory employer taking advantage of her assistant?  Or would Emma be seen as trying to sleep her way to the top?  Ever-present paparazzi and on-set leaks have both women on edge, second guessing their every interaction and who might be watching them. It makes for some very awkward moments between them, especially since the more closely they work together to make it look like they aren’t romantically involved, the more they begin to realize they actually do have feelings for one another.  I really liked both Jo and Emma so I was definitely cheering them on, both to beat back the rumor mongers and to take the leap to coupledom.

Something to Talk About is an entertaining read that also takes a hard look at some of the more toxic elements of working in show business.  I loved this aspect of the story, especially since it featured Jo kicking butt and taking names, reminiscent of today’s Me Too movement.  About the only real downside of the book for me was that it felt like the actual romance I was looking for and expecting took a back seat to everything else.  I don’t mind a slow burn romance at all, but I felt like I was nearly finished with the book before we really started to get a hint of any potential romance between Emma and Jo. If that had happened, just a little sooner, it would have been an even better read for me.  Even with that though, I would highly recommend Something to Talk About to anyone who enjoys women’s fiction and an inside look at Hollywood culture.

Book Reviews: April 2020 Releases That Will Make You Laugh and Cry

 

Today I’m sharing reviews of some new and recent releases that are sure to please anyone who enjoys emotional reads.  The Big Finish is a heartwarming and fun read that put a smile on my face, while You and Me and Us had me reaching for my tissues and doing the ugly cry.

 

Book Reviews:  April 2020 Releases That Will Make You Laugh and CryThe Big Finish Goodreads

Author: Brooke Fossey

Publication Date: April 14, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

Brooke Fossey’s debut novel The Big Finish is an absolutely delightful story that follows a lovable cast of characters at an assisted living facility and the young woman who shows up unexpectedly and turns all of their lives upside down in the best way possible.  I’ll confess right now that I requested this book because I fell in love with the adorable cover as soon as I saw it.  I couldn’t resist the elderly man sitting on the back of the motorcycle waving his cane in the air.  That’s the promise of a hilarious read right there and thankfully I was not disappointed.

I got so much more than a humorous read though.  The Big Finish is a heartwarming story about family, friendship, love and loss. It centers around longtime roommates, Carl and Duffy.  Duffy is a bit of a curmudgeon, while Carl is a total sweetheart.  Even though they’re polar opposites, their friendship and living arrangements work seamlessly.  That is, until Josie, the granddaughter Carl has never met, comes climbing in their bedroom window in the middle of the night one night, with nothing but the clothes on her back, alcohol on her breath, and a black eye.  It’s clear Josie is in trouble and Duffy wants no part of it.  If she creates drama for them, their nasty landlord will surely give them a one-way ticket to the nearest nursing home and that is not how Duffy wants to live out his final days.  Duffy’s friendship with Carl means everything to him though so he reluctantly agrees to do whatever he can to help Carl get to know his granddaughter and to help her out of whatever toxic situation she is running from.  What starts out as a mission on the down-low soon draws in more and more of the home’s residents as they fall in love with Josie and want to help her.

I don’t want to say anything more about the plot because you just have to experience it for yourself, but I promise this is a cast of characters you will fall in love with, especially Duffy, who is nowhere near as grumpy and gruff as he would have you believe.  Duffy and Carl’s friendship is what really made the book such a special read for me and I also adored Duffy’s friendship with another resident, Alice.  He would clearly love for their relationship to be more than just friends and every scene with her brings out his softer side.  The Big Finish is one of those books I’d love to see made into a movie and was practically casting it in my mind the whole time I was reading it (with the cast of Grace and Frankie actually, haha).

If you’re looking for a fun and heartwarming read about friendship and the things we’re willing to do for our loved ones, you should definitely check out The Big Finish.

4 STARS

 

 

Book Reviews:  April 2020 Releases That Will Make You Laugh and CryYou and Me and Us Goodreads

Author: Alison Hammer

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Publisher:  William Morrow

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

 

Alison Hammer’s new novel You and Me and Us is the heartbreaking story of what happens to a family when a diagnosis of terminal cancer turns their lives upside down.  Alexis and her teen daughter, CeCe, haven’t been close in years.  The ad agency Alexis founded keeps her so busy that she’s rarely ever around and has missed many of her daughter’s important milestones.  While Alexis and CeCe aren’t close, the opposite is true for CeCe and her dad, Tommy.  Tommy is CeCe’s rock and has been there for everything her mom has missed and then some.  Tommy is devoted to both Alexis and CeCe, and neither of them know what they would do without him.  When Tommy, who has been nursing a nagging cough for months, finally confesses to his girls that he has cancer and only has a few months to live, they are understandably devastated but are determined to make the most of every moment they have left with him.

Oh my gosh, guys, this book is such an emotional journey!  I loved that the author presents the story to us from the perspectives of both CeCe and Alexis.  I thought it gave a very full picture of what each of them was feeling at every step along the way – the sadness, the anger and frustration at the situation, CeCe’s resentment of her mother, Alexis’ sorrow at having missed out on so much of her daughter’s life (and Tommy’s for that matter).  The author also beautifully captured how fearful both Alexis and CeCe were of what life was going to be like once Tommy was gone.  Would Alexis finally make CeCe a priority?  Would CeCe actually let her mom back into her life?  I felt like the range of emotions they were experiencing were portrayed very realistically, which made the story all the more heartbreaking and engrossing.

As sad as the story is, it also has some beautiful and uplifting moments that really help to balance and round out the story.  I really did love watching Tommy interact with both CeCe and Alexis. He’s just such a wonderful guy and his bond with each of them was so special.  I also loved the secondary cast of characters – friends who are there for both CeCe and Alexis as they get closer and closer to the end of Tommy’s life.  I was also a huge fan of the ending, which although it had me in tears, it also left me with a smile on my face and hope in my heart. If books that pack an emotional punch are your thing, I highly recommend You and Me and Us4.5 STARS

Mini Reviews – April 2020 Releases

 

It’s time for a new batch of mini reviews and this time it’s April ARCs. I’ve got a bit of a mixed bag here in terms of genre – YA contemporary, YA fantasy, and Historical Romance, but these are the books that have gotten me through the first week of my state’s stay-at-home order.

 

Mini Reviews – April 2020 ReleasesJack Kerouac Is Dead to Me Goodreads

Author: Gae Polisner

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

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

 

Gae Polisner’s Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is an oh-so-relatable YA contemporary about the challenges of being a teenager.  The story follows 15-year-old JL Markham who is firmly caught between the pressure of being forced to grow up too fast vs. those of not being allowed to grow up fast enough.  When the novel opens, we learn that JL has had a falling out with her lifelong best friend, Aubrey, and that she is trying to make amends.  It remains to be seen exactly what the falling out was over, but it’s clear the two have been drifting apart for a while now. Aubrey has a whole new circle of friends, while JL is left on the outside looking in.  JL is also dealing with the everyday peer pressure that confronts high school students – parties, drinking, dating, and especially in JL’s case because her boyfriend Max is four years older than she is, the added pressure to have sex, perhaps before one is ready.

Then as if being a teenager isn’t challenging enough, JL is also dealing with absentee parents and thus is pretty much on her own, without any guidance whatsoever, to navigate the issues she is facing.  Her father, although he hasn’t technically abandoned her, has been on the other side of the country for 18 months for his job and rarely checks in, except to push back his return home date.  This is especially disturbing considering JL’s mother is clearly suffering from a mental illness that has left her barely functioning. She sits around wearing kimonos most of the time, drinks a lot, and of all random things, writes love letters to Jack Kerouac (yes, the dead famous author).

Polisner does a tremendous job of making JL a sympathetic character.  She lets the reader inside JL’s head so we can see firsthand how she is coping and what her thoughts are about everything that is going on around her. She’s so lost and overwhelmed, and just hoping that she’s making the right decisions as she tries to figure things out day-by-day.  Max is the only one who is there for her, but is he there for the right reasons?  And where I was sympathetic to JL, I was unfortunately not a big fan of any of the other characters in the book, Max included. It seemed like they were all just either flat out awful to JL or just not there for her at all even though they should have been.  I honestly found myself angry and frustrated at all of them.

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a quick read but it’s also one that packs an emotional punch because of everything JL goes through.  The only reason my rating isn’t higher is because I felt the ending was somewhat abrupt and left me with several questions that weren’t resolved.  Even with my lingering questions, however, it was still another great read from Gae Polisner.  3.5 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews – April 2020 ReleasesRuthless Gods Goodreads

Author: Emily A. Duncan

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

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

 

Ruthless Gods is the second book in Emily A. Duncan’s YA fantasy trilogy, Something Dark and Holy. It’s hard to review the middle book of a trilogy for fear of spoiling it for those who haven’t read the first book, but I’m going to do my best and will keep my remarks as general as possible.

What struck me the most about Ruthless Gods is that it definitely took a darker turn than Wicked Saints, which was already pretty dark.  In that sense, it kind of reminded me of The Empire Strikes Back vs. A New Hope.   There are dark forces at work everywhere, and those dark forces are impacting everyone, especially the main characters from the first book.  Nadya, the cleric who is the only one who can communicate with her Gods, can suddenly no longer reach them. It’s like they’ve cut her off.  Serefin, the Prince of Tranavia, is haunted by voices and feels as if his entire body has literally been taken over by someone or something else. And then there’s Malachiasz, the Prince’s brother, who is torn between who he once was and the monster he has become after incidents at the end of book one.  All three are battling inner demons and trying to figure out what is expected of them because it becomes clear they are pawns in someone else’s game.  Watching them struggle, I quickly found myself enamored with and rooting for all three characters all over again and anxious to see what awaited them.

As with Wicked Saints, the world building is phenomenal and I loved how dark and atmospheric it was and that it all felt tinged with the supernatural.  As much as I enjoyed the world building, the characters, and the overall story, I do have to admit that the pacing was a bit slow early on.  As Duncan starts to weave together the pieces that bind Nadya, Serefin, and Malachiasz, however, the book, thankfully, really takes off and I flew through the last half.

Even though I thought this second book was a little uneven in terms of its delivery, Ruthless Gods still gave me enough in that second half to have me anxiously awaiting the final book in the series.  If you enjoy slow-burn, dark fantasies, be sure to check out Wicked Saints and Ruthless Gods.  3.5 STARS

 

Mini Reviews – April 2020 ReleasesTo Have and to Hoax Goodreads

Author: Martha Waters

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Publisher:  Altria Books

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

 

Martha Waters’ debut novel To Have and to Hoax is the hilarious, feel good read we all need in our lives right now. I breezed through it in a couple of sittings and just sat there chuckling to myself the entire time I was reading.  The book is set in Regency, England, and reads very much like a Jane Austen novel, which I loved since I’m a huge Austen fan.

To Have and to Hoax follows a young couple, Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley, who meet, fall in love, and marry within just a few months of becoming acquainted.  A fierce quarrel between the two of them early on in their marriage has left them completely alienated from one another.  Both Violet and James are apparently not only stubborn as mules, but they are also quite juvenile and so 4 years have passed with them at a stalemate.   Deciding enough is enough, the two of them start to play mind games with one another – feigning sick to make the other one worry, pretending to have a paramour to make the other jealous. They even actually start to bring outsiders into their games as actors to up the stakes to try to get under each other’s skin.  These two idiots and their antics are just so silly and ridiculous that I couldn’t stop laughing at them and especially at their hilarious sniping banter.

To Have and to Hoax is exactly the bit of fluffy goodness I was hoping for when I started reading and I definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking for a light-hearted read about a couple of stubborn fools.  3.5 STARS

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read List

 

Today I have a new batch of reviews to share and this time it’s a very eclectic mix of February and March releases that I’ve enjoyed reading recently.  This selection of books fed my love of historical fiction, as well as my enjoyment of thrillers and contemporary reads.  I hope you’ll enjoy them as well.

 

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read ListThe Two Lives of Lydia Bird Goodreads

Author: Josie Silver

Publication Date: March 3, 2020

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

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

 

I read Josie Silver’s One Day in December a couple of months ago and absolutely fell in love with it, so much so that I immediately requested her newest novel, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird.  Just as with the case of One Day in DecemberThe Two Lives of Lydia Bird captured my heart as soon as I met the main character.

Lydia Bird has been in love with her fiance, Freddie, for over a decade.  She has adored Freddie with every fiber of her being since she was a teenager and so is utterly devastated when he is killed in a car accident on her 28th birthday.  Silver does an incredible job of making Lydia’s pain feel so real and my heart broke more and more for her with every page.  Lydia is truly in despair and can barely function without Freddie.  Her doctor finally prescribes her some sleeping pills in hopes of getting Lydia to rest, and what Lydia discovers when she takes the pills is that not only does she dream deeply, but her dreams are filled with Freddie, of a whole alternate life where she can experience what her life would be like if Freddie hadn’t died. Her dream life quickly becomes her preferred place to be since she still has Freddie there.

Throughout the novel, we watch Lydia try to navigate her life in both worlds as she both clings to the what-ifs of a life with Freddie, but also tries to consider the possibilities of what her real life will be like without Freddie.  I loved the support system that Lydia has surrounding her throughout the story – her sister and her mom, both of whom she’s very close to, her wonderful coworkers, and perhaps most importantly, Jonah Jones, who is her oldest friend and who was also Freddie’s best friend.  Jonah understands her grief perhaps better than anyone else she knows and is there for her every step of the way.

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird is a moving story about love, loss, and about how individual the grieving process is.  It beautifully conveys the message that we all grieve in different ways and move through the process at our own pace.  At times, this is a truly heartbreaking story, but I was happy that it offered glimmers of hope throughout as well.  I did feel that the ending was a little awkward and would have preferred something different, but I still adored the book even with the ending as is.  4.5 STARS

 

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read ListRed Letter Days Goodreads

Author: Sarah-Jane Stratford

Publication Date: February 25, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

Sarah-Jane Stratford’s latest novel, Red Letter Days, is a riveting work of historical fiction that explores the McCarthy Era or “Red Scare”, a dark time in post World War II American history where fear and hysteria led to American citizens being persecuted as Communists, in many cases, without any evidence whatsoever.  Red Letter Days specifically focuses on how this Communist witchhunt impacted the Hollywood community and women, in particular.

Phoebe Adler, one of the story’s protagonists, is trying to make it as a television writer in a man’s world.  I loved Phoebe right from the start. She’s a New Yorker through and through. She’s smart, tough as nails, and she’s a talented writer who is passionate about her craft.  I got the vibe right away that if anyone could make it as a TV writer in the 50’s, it would be Phoebe.  Somehow, though, Phoebe finds herself on an ever-growing blacklist of Communist sympathizers and it costs her her job.  Devastated that she has lost everything and fearful of what else could befall her since so many have been arrested, Phoebe flees to London. It is in London where Phoebe meets the novel’s second protagonist, the formidable Hannah Wolfson.  I loved Hannah as well. Hannah, another American who has found herself living in exile in London, is brave, ambitious, and as a successful TV and film producer, she sees it as her mission to help blacklisted writers like Phoebe continue pursuing their passion by letting them write for her under assumed names.  Phoebe and Hannah hit it off right away and become close, but both of them know they are living in dangerous times and that everything they’re working for could come crashing down around them as the witchhunt continues to spread and reach beyond the shores of America.

I thoroughly enjoyed Red Letter Days.  In addition to these two wonderful protagonists who were so easy to root for. They are both the epitome of strength, resilience, and even defiance, as they fought to resist the Red Scare and its ever growing hysteria.   I also loved the focus on the camaraderie and support of those in exile and especially the growing friendship between Hannah and Phoebe.  If you’re interested in learning about how McCarthyism and the Red Scare impacted the entertainment writers’ community, I’d highly recommend Red Letter Days.  Red Letter Days is both a well-researched work of historical fiction and an incredibly suspenseful read.  4 STARS

 

 

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read ListFollow Me Goodreads

Author: Kathleen Barber

Publication Date: February 25, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery Books

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

 

Kathleen Barber’s latest thriller, Follow Me, is a frightening look inside the dangers of oversharing on social media.  The story follows Audrey Miller, a semi-famous Instagram influencer, who is addicted to the spotlight and hungers for the adoration of her 1 million plus followers on the social media platform.  When she relocates from New York City to Washington D.C. for a new job, she chronicles the details of her new adventure for her followers.  What Audrey doesn’t realize, however, is that her life is about to take an absolutely terrifying turn because her move has brought her to much closer proximity to a male fan who is obsessed with her.

What made Follow Me so completely riveting for me is that in addition to seeing the story unfold from Audrey’s perspective, we are also given the perspective of the male fan.  It’s super creepy to watch his obsession with Audrey grow and to watch how he becomes less and less satisfied with just following her Instagram now that he’s close enough to physically follow her.  Nothing is ever enough to satisfy him though so he ultimately turns to the dark web to seek advice on how to make Audrey his once and for all.

Follow Me is a wild, dark, and suspenseful page turner that will have you wanting to delete all your social media accounts, smash your webcam, and never overshare ever again!  4 STARS

 

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read ListThe Girl in White Gloves Goodreads

Author: Kerri Maher

Publication Date: February 25, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

Kerri Maher’s latest novel, The Girl in White Gloves, is based on the life of Hollywood icon turned Princess, Grace Kelly.  The novel takes readers behind the curtain of Kelly’s seemingly fairy tale-like life to reveal that it really wasn’t much of a fairy tale at all.

The Girl in White Gloves gives us two timelines that fully explore Kelly’s life, one that follows her as she is pursuing her dream to be an actress and one that follows her after she has given up that life for the love of Prince Rainier.

I requested this book because I honestly didn’t know that much about Grace Kelly but I remember my grandmother being fascinated by her and so I wanted to learn more.  What I really loved about this book was how far into Grace Kelly’s head we got at every point during her life.  We get a glimpse as to what she must have been feeling and thinking as she navigates the two paths illuminated by the dual timelines.  We experience the confusion, the unexpected loneliness, the pressure of societal expectations, the constant disapproval  and disappointment of her father, and finally, Grace’s desperate need to find fulfillment in her life and the risks she is willing to take to get that fulfillment.

The Girl in White Gloves is a well-researched and truly captivating portrait of what a complex woman Grace Kelly was.  I went into it expecting to learn a little more about her and was impressed at how the thoroughly the author drew me in to Kelly’s life story.  It was a truly immersive experience.  4 STARS

Reviews for THE LOOK ALIKE and BEHIND EVERY LIE

 

It’s time for another roundup of ARCs I’ve been reading.  This time I want to share a couple of fantastic thrillers that I’ve read recently, The Look Alike by Erica Spindler and Behind Every Lie by Christina McDonald.

 

Reviews for THE LOOK ALIKE and BEHIND EVERY LIEThe Look-Alike Goodreads

Author: Erica Spindler

Publication Date: January 28, 2020

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press

Genre:  Thriller

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

Erica Spindler’s latest novel The Look Alike is a gripping psychological thriller that follows Sienna Scott, a young woman who, while a college student, discovered a dead body in the snow one night as she was walking back home from the campus library.  The campus and local police were never able to solve the case.  Sienna is also dealing with some troubles at home. Her mother suffers from a condition that makes her both paranoid and delusional.  She believes that everyone is out to get her and, specifically, that they’re going to hurt her by hurting her daughter. These circumstances create such a suffocating environment for Sienna that her father finally tells her she should leave home so that she can have some semblance of a life. Sierra stays away for 10 years but returns home to care for her mother after her father passes away.

As soon as Sierra returns, that unsolved murder begins to dominate her thoughts and a nagging thought she had all those years ago returns – She and the dead woman were wearing the same jacket that fateful night.  When strange things start happening – prank phone calls, a strange van driving past her house at all hours of the day and night, etc. – Sienna becomes even more convinced that she may have been the intended target and is now in danger. Is she right? Or is she just letting her imagination get the better of her?  Or is it possible her mother’s condition is hereditary?

Wow, this book was such a wild ride! It was so suspenseful and filled with twists and turns that kept me guessing until the end. Every time I thought I had the murderer figured out, the author would introduce a new clue that would send me spinning off in another direction. I devoured The Look Alike in just a couple of sittings because I needed to know what happened and which girl was truly the killer’s target.

I was also very much drawn in by the characters.  I felt tremendous sympathy for Sienna for all that she has had to contend with, and I felt equally sympathetic toward Sienna’s mom. Yes, she can be suffocating at times, but it’s the mental illness that makes her that way.  Imagine thinking day in and day out that someone is out to hurt you and your child. That would be pure hell for any parent.   With her latest novel, The Look Alike, Erica Spindler has crafted both a riveting murder mystery and an intense family drama about mental illness.  I highly recommend it!  4 STARS

 

 

Reviews for THE LOOK ALIKE and BEHIND EVERY LIEBehind Every Lie Goodreads

Author: Christina McDonald

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery Books

Genre:  Thriller

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

With a title like Behind Every Lie, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re in for a read filled with twists and turns, and author Christina McDonald does not disappoint. Behind Every Lie opens with a young woman named Eva Hansen frantically running down the street. She is clearly afraid, possibly in shock, and is covered in blood.  She stops for a moment, to take stock of her situation and then everything abruptly goes dark.  When Eva awakens, she is in the hospital being treated for, against all odds, a lightning strike.  Eva has no memory of what happened to her leading up to the moment she was struck by lightning, which becomes a real problem when a police detective shows up at the hospital and tells her that her mother has been stabbed to death.  Eva was found near her mother’s house and covered with blood, so she is automatically the prime suspect.  Even with no memory of what happened that night, Eva is sure there’s no way she could have killed her own mother so she flees the hospital and sets out to find the real killer and clear her name.

Those who follow my reviews know that I’m a sucker for a story that features a dual timeline and McDonald uses one here to great effect.  The story unfolds from both Eva’s perspective in the present and her mother Kat’s perspective in the past.  As Eva uncovers more and more details about her mother’s life, the more she realizes her mother lived a life filled with secrets and lies and that by extension, Eva’s entire life has been nothing but a lie.  She also realizes that whoever else knew about her mother’s secret could very easily be the person who killer her.

Unreliable narrators can be hit or miss for me, but I really like the way it was used here.  Eva is unreliable quite simply because she has amnesia brought on by the lightning strike.  I loved the twists and turns that each returning memory added to the story, especially when the doctor said that she couldn’t necessarily trust those memories at first.  The bits and pieces Eva keeps remembering have her doubting her own innocence even as she’s finding evidence that there may be a real killer out there somewhere.

Behind Every Lie grabbed me from the opening scene and kept me riveted to the end.  If murder mysteries, dual timelines and unreliable narrators are your thing, be sure to add Christina McDonald’s Behind Every Lie to your must-read list.  4 STARS

Mini Reviews for Scavenge the Stars, You Were There Too, & Echoes Between Us

 

It’s time for a new batch of mini reviews and this time it’s January ARCs!  There are a ton of great new books coming out in early January so if you have Christmas money to spend, here are some titles you should consider.

 

Mini Reviews for Scavenge the Stars, You Were There Too, & Echoes Between UsScavenge the Stars (Scavenge the Stars, #1) Goodreads

Author: Tara Sim

Publication Date: January 7, 2020

Publisher:  Disney Hyperion

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

If you’re in the mood for a good revenge story, then Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim is the book you’re looking for.  It’s a gender-bent retelling of the classic novel, The Count of Monte Cristo,, which is also a tale of revenge.  Scavenge the Stars follows a young woman named Amaya, who has spent much of her life imprisoned aboard a debtor’s ship, forced to work off her parents’ debt.  For seven years, Amaya has known nothing but shame, cruelty, and unfair treatment, and thus has vowed that as soon as she is finally free from her parents’ debt, her first act will be to seek revenge against the man who ruined her family. When the opportunity presents itself, Amaya secures her freedom and sets out to implement her plan of revenge.  Amaya unexpectedly finds herself entangled with Cayo, the son of the man she seeks revenge against, and the more she gets to know Cayo, the more she realizes nothing is as it seems and that she has been living a lie for most of her life.

Amaya and Cayo really made the story for me.  I loved everything about both characters.  Amaya is absolutely fierce. She’s smart, scrappy, and sassy, and she’s ultra-protective of those she cares about.  I admired her determination to bring down those who destroyed her life as well as those who are cruel enough to imprison children as payment for debts.  Cayo, while the son of a rich man, has spent much of his time in the proverbial dog house, due to an over fondness for gambling.  He’s trying to live down past mistakes and prove to his father that he can live a respectable life.  Like Amaya, he learns something about his family that turns his world up on its end and makes him question who he really is and what kind of person he is. I really loved the complexity of each of these characters.  The story is told from each of their perspectives and there’s just so much inner turmoil for both Amaya and Cayo as they struggle to find their way through the secrets and lies of the past.  That struggle makes it easy to feel sympathy for them both.

Scavenge the Stars is an engaging fantasy filled with secrets, lies and betrayals, family drama, political intrigue, and even a hint of potential romance.  It’s also a story about not letting mistakes from the past define or control you.  Filled with complex, three-dimensional characters, and plenty of action-packed scenes, Scavenge the Stars is sure to please.  I highly recommend it to fans of Leigh Bardugo and Sarah J. Maas.  4 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews for Scavenge the Stars, You Were There Too, & Echoes Between UsEchoes Between Us Goodreads

Author: Katie McGarry

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Publisher:  Tor Teen

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

Echoes Between Us by Katie McGarry is a heart-wrenching story about love and loss, family and friends, and about facing your fears.  It follows Veronica, who is a senior in high school and who suffers from debilitating migraines that are caused by a brain tumor. And not just a brain tumor, but the same kind of brain tumor that killed her mother.  So while all of her friends are preparing for life after high school, Veronica lives knowing there’s a possibility that there may be no life after high school for her.  Veronica is also a girl who marches to the beat of her own drum. She does what she wants to do, dresses however wild she wants to dress, and celebrates holidays on random days of the year and only a core group of friends appreciates Veronica and her originality.  Most of her classmates, including golden boy Sawyer and his friends, think Veronica is a weirdo and have nothing to do with her.  That is, until Sawyer and his family move into the apartment that Veronica’s dad rents out.  Once he starts spending time with Veronica, Sawyer realizes how truly special she is and his whole outlook on life changes.

I can’t even express how much I loved both Veronica and Sawyer.  Veronica captured my heart right away. I loved the way she lived her life to the fullest, even with a tumor and these horrible migraines hanging over her head at all times.  She’s just this fearless dynamo who always speaks her mind and it was so admirable to watch.  I also adored her close relationship with her dad.  It broke my heart that she would hide that her condition was worsening from him, but I could completely understand why. It would clearly crush him to lose both his wife and his daughter this way and Veronica wanted to protect her dad from that pain for as long as she could.  Sawyer was a character it took me a few pages to warm up to, but once I did, I fell hard.  He may seem like the golden boy on the outside, but he is fighting demons of his own in the form of an adrenaline addiction, as well as having to deal with a less than ideal home life.  As much as my heart hurt for Veronica and what she was going through, my heart hurt just as much for Sawyer. They are both in impossible situations and need each other more than either one of them ever could have thought possible.  I loved watching their friendship blossom and my heart just ached for them, knowing how fragile Veronica’s health was.

I don’t want to give away anything about how Echoes Between Us ends so I’m just going to say it was one of the most moving and emotional reads I experienced in 2019. Many tears were shed, both happy and sad.  If you like a story that will constantly tug at your heartstrings, pick up a copy of Katie McGarry’s Echoes Between Us4.5 STARS

 

Mini Reviews for Scavenge the Stars, You Were There Too, & Echoes Between UsYou Were There Too Goodreads

Author: Colleen Oakley

Publication Date: January 7, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

You Were There Too by Colleen Oakley is a story about love and fate.  The novel follows Mia Graydon, an artist who dreams of starting a family with her husband Harrison.  Luck has not been on their side, however, and they have suffered several miscarriages. Frustration has set in and has started to put a strain on their relationship, especially as Harrison is also battling some internal demons of his own.  Even though Mia and Harrison really are happily married, Mia has been having recurring dreams about another man for several years.  The dreams themselves are odd enough, but what’s most odd about them is that Mia has no idea who the man is. She has never met him before.  When Mia and Harrison decide to relocate to a small town in Pennsylvania, Mia unexpectedly meets Oliver, the mystery man from her dreams. Not only that but he tells her that he has been having dreams about her too.  Determined to make sense of it all, Mia and Oliver dive deep into their pasts, looking for any possible connection between them.  As Mia and Oliver grow closer, Mia starts to think about fate and what her life would be like if she was with Oliver instead of Harrison.

I loved this story, mainly because I was just so immediately invested in the relationship between Mia and Harrison.  The two of them were so sweet together and so clearly in love and it just hurt to see them struggle so much to start their family.  Then when I learned more about the demons that Harrison was battling and saw how it was tearing him apart inside, it just hurt all the more, especially when Oliver appears on the scene and unintentionally threatens all that they have built together.  I think the ‘What Ifs’ that Mia starts experiencing are what really made this story so engrossing for me.  I could understand where she was coming from in wondering what life might have been like if she had met Oliver sooner and even though I wanted to be angry with Mia for even thinking about it, I could especially understand it as Harrison’s demons start to consume him more and more and because Oliver was such a likable guy.

You Were There Too kept me reading late into the night because I just had to know what Mia was going to do.  Does she embrace the idea of fate and go after the man who has haunted her dreams for all these years or does she stay faithful to the man she vowed to be there for in good times and in bad? If a heart-wrenching story about love, fate, and making hard choices appeals to you, Colleen Oakley’s You Were There Too is the book for you.  4 STARS