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Review: BETTER THAN THE MOVIES by Lynn Painter

Review:  BETTER THAN THE MOVIES by Lynn PainterBetter Than the Movies by Lynn Painter
five-stars
on May 4, 2021
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

five-stars

About Lynn Painter

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

Review: PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

five-stars

About Andy Weir

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

Reviews: WHEN THE STARS GO DARK & THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN CUBA

 

Happy Friday all!  I hope everyone has had a wonderful week.  The past couple of weeks I have finally found myself in the mood for some more dramatic reads that don’t fall in the romance category. So today I’m sharing an excellent mystery/thriller from Paula McLain.  I had never read anything by her before so I was excited to finally give her a try.  My second review is historical fiction from Chanel Cleeton.  This was my third Cleeton novel and she is fast becoming an auto-buy author for me.

Reviews: WHEN THE STARS GO DARK & THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN CUBAWhen the Stars Go Dark Goodreads

Author: Paula McLain

Publication Date: April 13, 2021

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

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

I can be hit or miss when it comes to reading mysteries.  If the story is so plot-driven that I can’t really connect to the main character, then I tend to be less invested in the outcome of the story.  That is absolutely not the case with Paula McLain’s new novel, When the Stars Go Dark, which is both a compelling mystery about a missing teen and an emotional journey of personal tragedy and healing for McLain’s protagonist, Anna Hart.  It was the perfect combination for me, and I couldn’t put this book down.

Anna Hart is a detective who specializes in missing persons cases. When we first meet Anna, she is returning home to Mendocino, California, the town where she grew up with her foster parents.  It’s clear from her emotional state that something tragic has happened and that she needs time to heal and regroup, but it’s also clear that she doesn’t have fond memories of her time in Mendocino and is only returning as a last resort because she feels she has nowhere else to go.  I was drawn to Anna right away and wanted to know what had happened to her, both recently and in her past, since it seems like she must have quite a backstory.

As much of a mystery as Anna herself is at first, the real mystery kicks off once she arrives in her hometown and learns that a teenage girl has gone missing and that foul play is suspected.  Even though she is meant to be using this time to recover from her own personal tragedy, Anna becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl.  She remembers a similar case with a missing girl in this town back when she lived there. That case ended in tragedy and left the town reeling, and she’s not about to let it happen again.  It’s revealed that some events from Anna’s own past have made her especially skilled in the area of figuring out exactly how some victims initially come into contact with predators.  Anna knows she has this unique skill set that can help local law enforcement find the girl and bring her home, so she forces her own pain to the background and focuses all her energy on the case.  I admired Anna’s strength and resilience here, especially considering how truly devastated she is at the beginning of the book.

I really enjoyed watching Anna work all angles of the case and especially liked the way the author starts to weave bits of Anna’s past into what’s going on in the present.  It’s an evenly paced story, with the tension and suspense building slowly as we get closer and closer to the truth about the missing girl as well as to the root of Anna’s personal pain.  Usually I love a mystery that has me on the edge of my seat, but the even pacing really worked for me here since it allowed me time to really get into Anna’s head more and get a sense of where she is emotionally along the way.

I don’t want to give away any details about the mystery itself or Anna’s tragedy, past or present, as I think those are best discovered as you’re reading the book, but I highly recommend When the Stars Go Dark to anyone who enjoys a well crafted mystery that is equally driven by character and plot. 4 STARS

 

Reviews: WHEN THE STARS GO DARK & THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN CUBAThe Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba Goodreads

Author: Chanel Cleeton

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley

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

Set in the late 1890s, Chanel Cleeton’s new novel, The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba gives her readers an inside look at the Spanish-American War and at the journalistic war between famous newspaper publishers, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.

What really brings Cleeton’s story to life are the three perspectives she uses to let the events of the story unfold through, 3 women who find themselves at the center of the action.  Grace Harrington is a young American socialite who wants to be the next Nellie Bly.  She marches into both Joseph Pulitzer’s office and William Randolph Hearst’s and demands they give her a chance to prove herself.  She is hired by one to spy on the other, while earning her living working undercover as a “stunt girl reporter.” It is through Grace’s eyes that we not only see how difficult it was for a woman to break into the field of journalism, but also how sensational or “yellow” journalism played a huge role in drawing America into Cuba’s war for independence.  Grace is a sympathetic character as she’s clever, talented, and very passionate about the kinds of stories she wants to write and of course because she’s an underdog in a man’s world.

The other two perspectives provide an intimate look at how badly Cubans were being hurt living under Spanish rule.  Eighteen year old Evangelina Cisneros dreams of a free Cuba, and even more so after she is wrongfully imprisoned because she turned down the romantic overtures of a high ranking Spanish officer. When William Hearst hears of her imprisonment and sees a photo of how beautiful she is, he plasters her photo on the front page of his newspaper and uses her as a rallying cry for the U.S. to get involved in the war.  What I found most interesting about Evangelina is that Hearst and his people portray her as this delicate flower in need of saving, but when it comes down to it, she writes her own escape plan, complete with diagrams, and has someone on the inside of the prison smuggle it to her would-be rescuers.  She’s much tougher and more resourceful than she is portrayed and in her own way is a force to be reckoned with, especially once she gets to New York and starts making speeches on behalf of those in Cuba she has left behind.

The third perspective is that of Marina Perez, and in some ways, I found her perspective the most interesting of all. Marina is a wife and mother, trying to safely raise her child against all odds in a reconcentration camp while her husband is off fighting for Cuba’s independence.  In addition to that, however, Marina is also trying to do whatever she can to advance the same cause.  She works as a laundry woman and because she has access to so many people, she has become a courier ferrying messages back and forth to help the Cuban revolutionaries.  I was captivated my Marina’s story, especially her passion and devotion to both her family and her country.  I also thought her relationship with her husband was beautifully portrayed, as they are both sacrificing so much and each just wants the other to come home safely.  It was very moving.

If you enjoy beautifully written, well-researched historical fiction that features unforgettable characters, look no further than Chanel Cleeton’s new novel, The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba.   4 STARS

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

Review:  THE KINDRED SPIRITS SUPPER CLUB by Amy E. ReichertThe Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. Reichert
five-stars
Published by BERKLEY on April 20, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

I was first drawn to Amy E. Reichert’s new novel, The Kindred Spirits Supper Club because the cover is so sweet, but let me tell you, the story inside is even sweeter and sure to leave you with a smile on your face.

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

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

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

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

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

five-stars

About Amy E. Reichert

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

Review: HANA KHAN CARRIES ON by Uzma Jalaluddin

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

four-half-stars

About Uzma Jalaluddin

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

Review: THE INTIMACY EXPERIMENT by Rosie Danan

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

four-half-stars

About Rosie Danan

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Fiction Review: THE PARIS LIBRARY by Janet Skeslien Charles

Historical Fiction Review:  THE PARIS LIBRARY by Janet Skeslien CharlesThe Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
four-stars
Published by Atria Books on February 9, 2021
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Janet Skeslien Charles

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

Reviews: MUCH ADO ABOUT YOU & MAKE UP BREAK UP

 

My love for rom-coms has continued into 2021 and I’m excited to share my thoughts with you on two new ones that will hit bookstores tomorrow, Samantha Young’s Much Ado About You and Lily Menon’s Make Up Break Up.

 

Reviews: MUCH ADO ABOUT YOU & MAKE UP BREAK UPMuch Ado About You Goodreads

Author: Samantha Young

Publication Date: February 2, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Publishing Group

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

Much Ado About You by Samantha Young is one of the most delightful rom-coms I’ve ever read.  From its Shakespeare-loving heroine to its sexy farmer love interest to its quaint English village setting, this book captivated me from cover to cover.

The story follows 33-year-old Evie Starling, who just feels like her life is going nowhere.  Her love life is not great to say the least, and when she is passed over for a big promotion at work that she fully expected to get, Evie decides it’s time for a change.  That change comes in the form of a last minute holiday package to England.  As part of the package deal, she will live in an apartment above a charming little bookstore called Much Ado About Books, which she will also temporarily manage. How perfect does that sound?!  Evie’s plan is to take four weeks to lick her wounds, regroup, and come up with a new game plan for her life.  She wants no distractions from this plan and for Evie, that especially means no men.

Let me just say how much I adored Evie from the opening chapter.  I was cheering her on from the moment she told her boss off and quit her job.  I admired her courage and her determination and I especially loved that she didn’t just wallow, but instead came up with this great plan to recharge and reset her life.  It was so much fun watching her travel to this little village and immediately start fitting in with them like she belonged there.

I knew Evie was doomed though as soon as we meet my second favorite character in Much Ado About You, the sexy English farmer, Roane Robson. Roane is the most eligible bachelor in town and all the ladies swoon over him. He’s not a player though and is heart-set on finding that special someone to share his life with.  Roane is kind, soft, and as soon as he meets Evie, he knows he wants to get to know her better.  Needless to say, I was eager for Roane to find a way to wear down Evie’s defenses and her “No Men” rule because he was practically perfect.  We’re talking serious book boyfriend material here! Not only that, but the chemistry between Evie and Roane is off the charts.

I devoured this book in just a couple of sittings because I was so invested in these characters and whether or not they would take their growing friendship to the next level.  What I also loved is that the townspeople were clearly right there with me, trying to play matchmaker whenever possible.  And speaking of the townspeople, the novel also features a delightful cast of secondary characters, including Roane’s cousin Caro, who becomes like a little sister to Evie, as well as Roane’s gigantic and fabulous dog, Shadow, who can be credited with Evie and Roane’s meet-cute when Evie runs into the street to keep him from being hit by a car.

Much Ado About You does pack some emotional weight to it as well as the fun and romance.  There are some town rivalries and fractured relationships floating about, a touch of deception, and Evie has some drama with her mom and with her best friend from home. All of these elements added just the right touch of drama and made me love Much Ado About You all the more.  4.5 STARS

 

Reviews: MUCH ADO ABOUT YOU & MAKE UP BREAK UPMake Up Break Up Goodreads

Author: Lily Menon

Publication Date: February 2, 2021

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Griffin

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

I’m a sucker for a good enemies-to-lovers story as well as a second chance romance, so I was eager to read Lily Menon’s new novel Make Up Break Up as soon as I heard it featured both.  It also features an inside look at dating apps and start up companies, and I’m drawn to books that feel timely when it comes to technology so in many ways, this book was a great fit for me.

I found myself very invested in the main character, Annika, primarily because she’s a female business owner in the tech industry.  I found myself rooting for her company’s success, especially when it became clear that not only were they the underdogs of the story, but it appears that Annika’s chief rival, Hudson Craft, is rising to fame on what appears to be an idea about a dating app that he stole from her when they met over the summer at a conference in Las Vegas.  The fact that Annika’s company is struggling while Hudson’s is clearly taking off makes matters all the worse.

I really wanted to hate Hudson on Annika’s behalf but I have to admit that he won me over pretty quickly because even though he could be totally obnoxious around Annika, he seemed like a nice guy otherwise.  The story takes an awkward but entertaining turn when Hudson moves into Annika’s office building so that now she has to see him every day.  In spite of her seeming animosity toward Hudson, it becomes clear pretty quickly that the two of them have major chemistry.  It’s hard to tell from one moment to the next if they’re going to kill each other or end up making out.

Even though I enjoyed their interactions overall and most of their scenes were a lot of fun, there were a few times where it just felt like they were acting pretty juvenile and I wanted to yell at them to grow up and behave like adults.  I also found myself a little torn when it came to the actual app development and business side of Annika’s life though. While it was really interesting at times, there were other moments when I wanted less tech talk and more relationship talk.

In spite of those issues, however, I still really enjoyed Make Up Break Up overall and look forward to reading more from Lily Menon in the future.  3.5 STARS

Reviews: THE NATURE OF FRAGILE THINGS and A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN

I’m going to start off by saying the reason you’re getting two Susan Meissner reviews today is that I loved her latest, The Nature of Fragile Things, so much that I immediately ran to my shelf to see what other books of hers I owned but hadn’t read yet and found A Bridge Across the Ocean.

Reviews: THE NATURE OF FRAGILE THINGS and A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEANThe Nature of Fragile Things Goodreads

Author: Susan Meissner

Publication Date: February 2, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Publishing Group

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

The Nature of Fragile Things is set primarily in San Francisco around the time of the Great Earthquake of 1906.  It follows a young Irish immigrant named Sophie Whalen who has come to America looking for a better life.  Instead of a better life, however, she has found herself living in a dirty, overcrowded slum in New York.   Desperately searching for something better, Sophie answers a newspaper ad posted by a widow who is looking for a woman to marry him and help care for his 5-year-old daughter and run his household.  The two of them come to an agreement and Sophie travels to San Francisco to get married and begin her new life.

Married life isn’t quite what she expects it to be, however.  Her husband, Martin, is aloof and secretive, takes minimal interest in Sophie or his daughter, and stays away, supposedly for his job, for days at a time.  When another woman shows up on their doorstep claiming ties to Martin, it becomes clear that Martin has been keeping secrets from Sophie.  While Sophie is in the midst of confronting Martin about his deception, their lives literally and figuratively crumble around them when a devastating earthquake strikes the city. Will they make it out alive?  If so, where do they go from here now that trust has been broken?

I absolutely fell in love with Sophie as I was reading this book.  She’s just such a complex and well-drawn character. She’s definitely not without flaws and has a few secrets of her own, but I really admired her determination to keep pushing for the kind of life she’s looking for.  I also adored the relationship she cultivates with Martin’s young daughter.  She truly became a mom for that little girl and it was just so touching to watch the two of them together.  Where I loved Sophie though, I totally loathed her husband.   At first I just thought he was a little odd, but the more I saw of him, the more I grew to think of him as a monster who has lied his way through life.

In addition to crafting these incredibly vivid characters who made me feel so much, both good and bad, Meissner also does a wonderful job making me feel like I really was in San Francisco and that I was actually there when the earthquake struck.  Her descriptions are so vivid and terrifying that my heart felt like it was in my throat the entire time I was reading those scenes.

If you enjoy historical fiction that tells a story of deception, betrayal, and heartbreak but also of sisterhood, found families, hope and second chances, The Nature of Fragile Things is a must-read for you. 5 STARS

 

Reviews: THE NATURE OF FRAGILE THINGS and A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEANA Bridge Across the Ocean Goodreads

Author: Susan Meissner

Publication Date: March 14, 2017

Publisher:  Berkley Publishing Group

As anyone who has followed my blog for a while knows, I’m a huge fan of WWII historical fiction.  I’ve actually not read much about war brides though so I was intrigued to see that Susan Meissner’s novel, A Bridge Across the Ocean, focuses on them.

A Bridge Across the Ocean also features one of my favorite elements in historical fiction, a dual timeline, one in present day and the other in 1946 right after WWII.  The present timeline follows Brette Caslake, a young woman who can see and communicate with ghosts.  It can be overwhelming at times because the spirits tend to follow her around once they realize she can see and speak to them, but when Brette visits the RMS Queen Mary, a famous haunted ship that once transported war brides from England to the U.S., she meets a spirit with a tale she cannot ignore.  It sets her on a course to try and solve a 70-year old mystery surrounding a passenger who somehow fell overboard and drowned while the ship was crossing the Atlantic.  Brette knows if she can find out the truth about what happened, she can give this spirit the closure it so desperately desires.

The second timeline takes us back 70 years to follow the journey of two women who end up aboard the RMS Queen Mary on that fateful trip. Simone Deveraux is a young French woman whose father and brother, part of the French Resistance, were murdered by Nazis right in front of her. Desperate and alone, Simone runs for her life and ends up hiding in a basement for months waiting for France to be liberated. Annaliese Lange is a German ballerina who catches the eye of a Nazi officer and is soon married off to him, at her parents’ insistence because they thought it would keep her safe.  Unfortunately, that was not the case and Annaliese suffers greatly at the hands of this horrible man. After the war, Simone and Annaliese end up as roommates on the RMS Queen Mary headed to America for a fresh start.  When their ship docks in New York, however, only one of them disembarks and she is the only one who knows what happened to the other woman. Thus, the mystery that Brette is trying to solve.

I found the war brides’ timeline to be the more compelling of the two.  I was so invested in both Simone and Annaliese surviving the awful circumstances they found themselves in and was really rooting for them both to get that fresh start they so richly deserved.  Even though I wasn’t quite as invested in the present day timeline with the ghost, I still loved the way Meissner pulled all of the intricate threads of both timelines together as Brette followed the clues and found her way to the truth about what really happened on that ship.

A Bridge Across the Ocean is a captivating story of tragedy and heartbreak, love and loss, and of survival and resilience.  If you’re in the mood for a haunting mystery, you can’t go wrong with this book. 4 STARS

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.