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Reviews: PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION & THAT SUMMER

Happy Monday all!  I hope all of the moms out there had a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend.  My son had a soccer tournament so I spent my holiday at my second home, the soccer field, lol. Today I’m sharing my thoughts on two books hitting the shelves this week that also happen to be two of my most anticipated reads of 2021, Emily Henry’s People We Meet on Vacation and Jennifer Weiner’s That Summer.

 

Reviews:  PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION & THAT SUMMERPeople We Meet on Vacation Goodreads

Author: Emily Henry

Publication Date: May 11, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

Emily Henry’s novel Beach Read was one of my favorite books of 2020.  It was a five-star read for me and I adored everything about it.  I therefore had very high expectations going into her new novel, People We Meet on Vacation.  I’m thrilled to report that Henry not only met my expectations, but she really hit it out of the park.

People We Meet on Vacation follows Poppy and Alex.  Poppy and Alex both come from a small town in Ohio and that, aside from the fact that they attended the same college, which is where they met and became best friends, is pretty much the only thing they have in common.  Poppy is a travel writer and a quirky extrovert, while Alex is a high school teacher and a highly reserved introvert.  They are truly the most unlikely of friends, but as the old saying goes, opposites attract and their friendship just works.  They have not only stayed friends long after graduating from college, but every year they get together and take an epic vacation.  That is, until two years ago when something happened to completely derail their friendship to the point where they stopped speaking to each other.  Poppy desperately wants her best friend back and reaches out to Alex with an offer she hopes he won’t refuse.

I fell in love with both Poppy and Alex right away.  Henry has the story unfold through a dual timeline where in the present, we watch Poppy and Alex take a trip together to try to rekindle their friendship and move forward, while in the past, we get lots of flashbacks of Poppy and Alex’s first meeting, their friendship growing, scenes from those amazing yearly vacations, etc.  I loved watching the two of them interact because 1) the banter is hilarious, 2) it’s clear they have intense chemistry, and 3) they really bring out the best in each other.  I was utterly heartbroken to learn that something had happened to fracture their relationship and I shared Poppy’s desperation to fix it.  I was also shipping them so hard to become more than friends because they were truly just adorable together in the flashback scenes.

I don’t want to spoil anything so I’m just going to say if I had to compare this book to any other book, I’d say it has a similar vibe to Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren.  If you enjoy a good friends-to-lovers story filled with lovable characters and hilarious banter, you are in for a treat with People We Meet on Vacation. This one left me with a full heart and happy tears in my eyes.  5 STARS.

 

Reviews:  PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION & THAT SUMMERThat Summer Goodreads

Author: Jennifer Weiner

Publication Date: May 11, 2021

Publisher:  Altria Books

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

Based on the cover of Jennifer Weiner’s latest book, That Summer, I was expecting a light and fun read, perfect for the beach.  What I got instead was a powerful story about the long-lasting psychological impact of rape on its victims and a heartfelt story about the healing qualities of friendship. That Summer was darker at times than I had anticipated, but with the incredible Cape Cod setting as a backdrop and the focus on a wonderful female friendship, it was still a very compelling and satisfying read.

The story focuses on two women named Diana.  We meet the first one, Diana Starling, when she is a teen spending her summer in Cape Cod.  She is having the time of her life, meeting new friends, attending parties on the beach, etc. until one night changes her life in the worst imaginable way.  Fast forward a couple of decades and we meet the second Diana, who goes by the nickname Daisy.  Daisy Shoemaker is a busy but bored housewife.  She dropped out of college years ago to marry and start a family, and now, with her husband frequently occupied with his own career, Daisy feels like she’s all on her own to run their household and to deal with their teen daughter who has been kicked out of private school for behavioral issues and is a real handful.  Daisy is also receiving emails intended for someone else named Diana S. (coincidentally our first Diana now all grown up) and Daisy finds herself envious of what appears to be a much more exciting life than her own.  After exchanging a few emails, the two Dianas decide it would be fun to meet up.  Neither of them has any idea just how life changing this meeting will be.

I really loved how Jennifer Weiner has crafted this story.  Both of these women are very likeable and I enjoyed the bond of friendship that immediately sprung up between them.  But what I loved most was how Weiner then starts building suspense by making it clear that it’s no accident these two women have met and by making it just as clear that Diana Starling is preparing to do something that will turn Daisy’s life upside down.  She hates the thought of doing it because she really likes Daisy, but in her mind, it still has to be done.  I loved how ominous this aspect of the story was and the tension and suspense that built as it became more and more apparent that their lives were bound together by secrets and lies from the past and that Diana Starling was on a mission to take down someone who hurt her.

Weiner handles a difficult topic with care and in such a way that does not demean rape victims, but also in a way that takes direct aim at the old “boys will be boys” mentality that has pervaded our society for so long.

That Summer is a powerful story about revenge and holding people accountable for their actions, but it’s also an emotional and hopeful story about survival, moving forward, and the healing power of friendship.  4 STARS

Review: UNDER THE SOUTHERN SKY by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Review:  UNDER THE SOUTHERN SKY by Kristy Woodson HarveyUnder the Southern Sky by Kristy Woodson Harvey
Also by this author: Feels Like Falling
five-stars
Published by Gallery Books on April 20, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

five-stars

About Kristy Woodson Harvey

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

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

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

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

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

Review: PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir

Review:  PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy WeirProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Also by this author: Artemis
five-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on May 4, 2021
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 496
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

five-stars

About Andy Weir

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

Review: HANA KHAN CARRIES ON by Uzma Jalaluddin

Review:  HANA KHAN CARRIES ON by Uzma JalaluddinHana Khan Carries on by Uzma Jalaluddin
four-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on April 13, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

I requested Uzma Jalaluddin’s new novel, Hana Khan Carries On, as soon as I read the synopsis which describes it as inspired by the popular romantic film, You’ve Got Mail, but set in two competing halal restaurants.  The promise of romance, rivalry, and descriptions of delicious food was too irresistible to pass up.  I’m happy I did too because it did not disappoint!

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

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

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

four-half-stars

About Uzma Jalaluddin

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

Review: THE INTIMACY EXPERIMENT by Rosie Danan

Review:  THE INTIMACY EXPERIMENT by Rosie DananThe Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan
Also by this author: The Roommate
four-half-stars
Series: The Roommate #2
Published by Berkley Books on April 6, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

four-half-stars

About Rosie Danan

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

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

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

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

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

Rom-Com Reviews: THE DATING PLAN & ACT YOUR AGE, EVE BROWN

 

Beware the Ides of March!  More like, beware the day after Daylight Savings Time kicks back in.  I feel like I have been dragging ever since we turned our clocks ahead.  Oh well, hopefully sharing my thoughts on these two fabulous rom-coms will liven things up a bit.

 

Rom-Com Reviews:  THE DATING PLAN & ACT YOUR AGE, EVE BROWNThe Dating Plan Goodreads

Author: Sara Desai

Publication Date: March 16, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

Sara Desai’s new novel The Dating Plan is a heartwarming rom-com filled with quirky characters and laugh out loud moments.  That’s not all though.  It’s also a heartfelt story about two people who are perfect for each other, if they can only overcome painful events from the past that have shaped how they see themselves and how they see each other.

Daisy Patel is a software engineer who loves statistics, spreadsheets, and all things Marvel.  Daisy, however, does not love Liam Murphy.  In fact, she actually hates him.  Why?  Because ten years ago, Liam was supposed to be Daisy’s date to her senior prom and he stood her up.  Not only did he stand her up, but he abruptly packed up and left town without a word.  She hasn’t heard from him since that night, so when Liam shows up at a conference Daisy is attending, sparks fly…and not in a good way.

Liam is in a bind though and thinks Daisy might actually be the perfect person to help him get what he wants.  Liam’s grandfather, who recently passed away, has left him the family business in his will, but there’s a catch. In order to secure his inheritance, Liam must marry before his next birthday and then stay married for at least one year.  Otherwise, the business goes to Liam’s brother, who just wants to dismantle it and use it to infuse cash into his own struggling business.  Liam is desperate to keep that from happening and when he witnesses Daisy being hounded by her matchmaking Aunties, he approaches Daisy with what he thinks is a win-win deal for them both.  If Daisy will agree to marry him and stay married for a year, he can secure the family business for himself while Daisy is freed from the incessant matchmaking and arranged marriage frenzy.  Daisy agrees reluctantly but says she cannot wing it when it comes to faking a whole relationship.  She needs a plan, complete with a slate of dates, that will provide her with a realistic backstory.

The plan they come up with is what really drives the bulk of the action in the book and it’s so much fun to follow Liam and Daisy as they seek to fool people into thinking they’re a couple.  There are so many hilarious moments, particularly involving Daisy’s aunties as well as some of the fun dates they decide to go on.  Daisy and Liam are adorable together and it becomes clear the more time Daisy and Liam spend together that they really are perfect for each other.  If only they could resolve and move past what happened ten years ago.  I was really rooting for them every step of the way.

I don’t want to give away anything, but I found the progression of their relationship very satisfying overall, and I also appreciate the blend of rom-com and heavier topics as we learn more about why Liam so abruptly disappeared from Daisy’s life.  The Dating Plan is a gem of a story for anyone who enjoys a light-hearted romance balanced with a healthy dose of family drama.  4 STARS. 

 

Rom-Com Reviews:  THE DATING PLAN & ACT YOUR AGE, EVE BROWNAct Your Age, Eve Brown (The Brown Sisters, #3) Goodreads

Author: Talia Hibbert

Publication Date: March 9, 2021

Publisher:  Avon

I’m so bummed that Act Your Age, Eve Brown marks the end of Talia Hibbert’s popular romance series, The Brown Sisters, but I’m thrilled to report that the final book in the series has quickly become my favorite.  I devoured this book in just a few hours because I just couldn’t get enough of Eve and her new boss, Jacob.  Their chemistry is off the charts so the sexy factor is high, but Eve is kind of a hot mess so the laugh factor is equally high.

As much as I adored Chloe and Dani from the first two books, I have to say that Eve just stole my heart from the very first page. With her purple hair, orange lip gloss, her kickass music playlist, and her overall sunny disposition, Eve is just a delight in every way.  Eve does have one little problem though and that’s sticking with plans she has made, especially those plans that relate to a career.  Eve has no idea what she really wants to do with her life and so she basically flits from one career to another, all the while living off of her trust fund.  Until her parents decide to cut her off, that is.  They’re both worried that she’s never going to get her life together so they kick her out of the nest and force her to get a job and fend for herself.  Eve goes out for a drive to clear her head and comes across a charming bed and breakfast that has an opening for a chef. On a whim, she decides to interview for the position and immediately butts heads with Jacob Wayne, the sexy B&B owner. Jacob likes to be in control and wants everything just so.  He can tell from the moment he meets Eve that there’s no way he could deal with having her in his kitchen. She’s just way too flighty for him to deal with.  When an unforeseen accident forces Jacob to step back and let Eve work for him, he finds out there’s a lot more to Eve than meets the eye and he may have severely underestimated her.

As I’ve already mentioned, the chemistry between Eve and Jacob is fantastic.  I was rooting for them to get together from their first snarky conversation during the job interview and cheering for them every step of the way as they got to know each other better.  I love how Eve’s sunny disposition basically wears down Jacob’s inner grump in one hilarious scene after another.

I don’t want to give away anything else about the plot but if you’ve been enjoying this series so far, you are absolutely going to fall in love with Eve.  And if you’re unfamiliar with the series but are looking for a delightful and sexy romance, Act Your Age, Eve Brown is just the read you’re looking for.  My only disappointment was that another Brown sister didn’t turn up out of the blue so that the series could continue.  Otherwise, the series has ended on a perfect note with me.  5 STARS.

Historical Fiction Reviews: Wartime Settings

Hey everyone!  Hope you all had a nice weekend and that this week is off to a good start for you.  In a departure from the rom-com spree I have been on for most of the pandemic, I actually found myself craving some good historical fiction last week so I was excited to find that I actually had a couple of March ARCs on my TBR that fit the bill.  Both feature wartime settings with World War II for the first one and the Civil War for the second, and I’m excited to share my thoughts on both of them with you.

 

Historical Fiction Reviews:  Wartime SettingsThe Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz Goodreads

Author: Ellie Midwood

Publication Date: March 9, 2021

Publisher:  Bookouture

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

Ellie Midwood’s new novel The Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz tells the inspiring yet tragic true story of Mala Zimetbaum, a young Jewish woman sent to Auschwitz and is known as the first woman to escape, and Edek Galinski, a long-time Polish political prisoner who also happens to be a member of the underground Resistance. Imprisoned in absolutely inhumane and hellish conditions, surrounded by cruelty and death, Mala and Edek somehow manage to find each other and fall in love.  They make a promise to each other – that they will either escape the camp together or will die trying…

As with most accounts of Nazi atrocities, this is such a hard story to read, just knowing that the awful things described within the pages actually happened to real people, and that these monsters slaughtered so many innocent people. I found myself in tears often as I read the graphic and horrific accounts of the gas chambers and the crematoriums, and the story also had me furious as I read about how the Nazis were so easily able to fool the Red Cross into thinking they were treating their prisoners well.

What makes the story such a beautiful one in spite of everything, is the love story of Mala and Edek and just the overall selfless way they lived their lives in the camp.  Although she was a prisoner, when it was learned that she was fluent in several languages, Mala was given a job as an interpreter and camp runner.  She uses her position of privilege to help better the lives of as many fellow prisoners as she can, finding them jobs that are suited to their skills, slipping them extra rations whenever possible, etc.  Edek, as a member of the Resistance, lives his life in much the same way.  When the two of them meet and fall in love, they become a symbol of hope to those around them.  A light in the dark.

I don’t want to spoil their story so I’m going to stop here so you can experience it for yourself.  I’ll just conclude by saying that The Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz is a powerful but heartbreaking story of strength, courage, hope and love against all odds. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys WWII historical fiction. 4.5 STARS

 

Historical Fiction Reviews:  Wartime SettingsSunflower Sisters (Lilac Girls, #3) Goodreads

Author: Martha Hall Kelly

Publication Date: March 30, 2021

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

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

Sunflower Sisters is the third and final book in Martha Hall Kelly’s historical fiction series, The Lilac Girls.  For those unfamiliar with the series, the first two books introduce us first to Caroline Ferriday, an American philanthropist who does all she can to help young girls released from concentration camps during WWII, and then to Caroline’s mother, Eliza Woolsey, who, a generation earlier, helped displaced Russian families who made their way to America during the Russian Revolution and WWI.

The final book in the series, Sunflower Sisters, takes us back yet another generation to the Civil War to meet another Woolsey ancestor, Georgeanna (Georgy) Woolsey. Raised by an abolitionist mother, Georgy is determined to do her part to bring slavery to an end and so she trains to be an Army nurse.   From New York City to Washington D.C. to the battlefield at Gettysburg, Sunflower Sisters follows Georgy everywhere her passion for nursing takes her.

One of my favorite things about all three books in the series is the way Martha Hall Kelly crafts her stories so that the events unfold from the perspectives of three very different characters, gradually pulling the threads of their stories together until their lives intersect.  In Sunflower Sisters, we follow not only Georgy, but also a slave girl name Jemma who is sold off and then somehow ends up conscripted into the Union Army, and we follow a woman named Anne-May Wilson, a plantation owner in Maryland who also happens to be Jemma’s owner.

The story itself started off a little slow for me as each of these characters were introduced, but I quickly became invested in both Georgy and Jemma and just wanted to see Anne-May, as a cruel slave owner among other things, get what was coming to her.  I loved Georgy’s determination and tenacity, especially as she was constantly being told by men that women should not be helping on the battlefront. She never let their blatant sexism deter her.  As much as I loved getting to know Georgy, Jemma was the character who ultimately stole my heart.  Jemma’s strength and determination in the face of endless cruelty from Anne-May and her nasty overseer was incredible to witness and I was wishing with every fiber of my being for her to find a way to safely escape to freedom.  Where I loved Georgy and Jemma, Anne-May, on the other hand, was a character I loved to hate.  She is a desperate, evil, manipulative woman and I was wishing for her to fail just as hard as I was wishing for Georgy and Jemma to thrive.  The story became quite riveting as I was waiting for the lives of these three women to come together in what was shaping up to be an epic clash between slave, abolitionist, and slave owner.  I don’t want to give anything away, but the clash does not disappoint!

Sunflower Sisters was a bittersweet read for me, just because I’m sad this wonderful series is ending, but the Ferriday/Woolsey family is filled with extraordinary women and I’m grateful to this series for introducing me to them. 4 STARS

Can’t Wait Wednesday – WE ARE INEVITABLE by Gayle Forman

 

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, which encourages fellow bloggers to spotlight upcoming releases that we’re excited about.  It is a meme that I have  loved participating in since I first started blogging, but as Jill is no longer actively posting, from now on I’ll be linking to Can’t Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, which is a spinoff of the original WoW meme.

* * * * *

My selection for this week is WE ARE INEVITABLE by Gayle Forman. I read my first Gayle Forman book, I Have Lost My Way, a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it.  The theme of that book, finding yourself and finding your people, is similar to the theme of Forman’s upcoming release, We Are Inevitable, so I’m hoping that means I will love this new one just as much.

 

WE ARE INEVITABLE by Gayle Forman

Publication Date: June 2, 2021 by Simon & Schuster

 

From Goodreads:

A heartbreaking story about finding yourself and your people, from the bestselling author of If I Stay, a major film starring Chloë Grace Moretz. For fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, John Green and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

‘I got this whole-body feeling . . . it was like a message from future me to present me, telling me that in some way we weren’t just bound to happen, that we had, in some sense, already happened. It felt . . . inevitable.’

So far, the inevitable hasn’t worked out so well for Aaron Stein.

While his friends have gone to college and moved on with their lives, Aaron’s been left behind in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, running a failing bookshop with his dad, Ira. What he needs is a lucky break, the good kind of inevitable.

And then he meets Hannah. Incredible Hannah – magical, musical, brave and clever. Could she be the answer? And could they – their relationship, their meeting – possibly be the inevitable Aaron’s been waiting for?

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I’d love to hear what upcoming book releases you’re waiting on this Wednesday? Leave me your link in the comments below and I’ll stop by and check out your CWW selection for this week. 🙂

Review: THE EX TALK by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Review:  THE EX TALK by Rachel Lynn SolomonThe Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
four-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on January 26, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

four-half-stars

About Rachel Lynn Solomon

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

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

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

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

Review: IN THE GARDEN OF SPITE by Camilla Bruce

Review:  IN THE GARDEN OF SPITE by Camilla BruceIn the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on January 19, 2021
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Camilla Bruce

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

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

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