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Romance Reviews: Isn’t It Bromantic? & It Happened One Summer

 

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend.  It was a quiet one here, filled with lots of quality reading time.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts one two fun romance novels, one of which, Isn’t It Bromantic? was one of my most anticipated reads of the year.  Check out my reviews and let me know if you’re planning to read either of these. 🙂

 

Romance Reviews:  Isn’t It Bromantic? & It Happened One SummerIsn't It Bromantic? (Bromance Book Club, #4) Goodreads

Author: Lyssa Kay Adams

Publication Date: July 20, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley

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

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you know I’m pretty obsessed with Lyssa Kay Adams contemporary romance series, Bromance Book Club, and that the latest installment Isn’t It Bromantic? is one of my most anticipated reads of 2021.

Isn’t It Bromantic? finally gives us a story featuring Vlad, aka “The Russian,” the adorable but gaseous Russian professional hockey player.  Vlad is a fan favorite, and he’s definitely my favorite character so expectations were high. I didn’t think it was possible to love Vlad more than I already did, but this book proved me wrong.  For a beast of a hockey player, Vlad is actually the softest of soft boys and quite possibly the biggest romantic on the planet.  Women love him, animals love him, and his Bromance Book Club brothers love him.  The man even writes his own romance novels!

Vlad being such a romantic makes it all the more sad that he has spent the last 6 years in a marriage of convenience with Elena, a fellow Russian and his childhood best friend.  My heart truly broke for Vlad in the opening scenes of the novel when he confesses to Elena that he’s in love with her and wants a real relationship with her, and she snubs him and tells him she’s moving back to Russia. I have to admit that this at first made me feel pretty hostile toward Elena, but once it’s revealed why she’s acting the way she does, I felt more sympathetic toward her and really wanted her and Vlad to work things out since it was pretty clear her feelings for Vlad run way deeper than she’s letting on.

I don’t want to say much else since it’s best to watch the drama of Vlad and Elena’s relationship unfold for yourself, but suffice it to say that if you’ve enjoyed the hilarious shenanigans of the Bromance Cook Club boys in the past, you’re sure to enjoy yourself this time around too. There’s also a fun new cast of secondary characters, including a sassy group of widows who call themselves the Loners and who are very protective of Vlad and the mysterious Cheese Man, who feeds Vlad’s cheese addiction.

Four books in and I’m still loving the Bromance Book Club series so much.  They’re fun, sexy, and quick reads, perfect for devouring over a weekend or a day at the beach.  Here’s hoping that there will be a fifth book in the series!  4.5 STARS

 

Romance Reviews:  Isn’t It Bromantic? & It Happened One SummerIt Happened One Summer Goodreads

Author: Tessa Bailey

Publication Date: July 13, 2021

Publisher:  Avon

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

When I saw Tessa Bailey’s latest novel, It Happened One Summer, described as a Schitt’s Creek-inspired rom-com, it immediately landed on my must-read list. Schitt’s Creek is one of my favorite television series so I’ll admit that I was a little nervous about the comparison since it creates high expectations in the humor department for me, but I’m thrilled to report that It Happened One Summer really delivers. The Schitt’s Creek-inspired part of the story involves Piper Bellinger, a Hollywood party girl and influencer, who takes her partying one step too far and lands herself in jail.  Piper’s mother and stepfather are beyond furious at her behavior and decide to cut her off from their money and send her to live in a fishing town in the Pacific Northwest.  She’ll be living in an apartment above a bar that her father used to own and will have to fend for herself for three months.  The hope is that Piper will learn there’s more to life than parties, fashion, money, and getting likes on Instagram.

The characters in It Happened One Summer are what really made me fall in love with this story.  I honestly really wanted to dislike Piper when we first meet her, just because she comes off as such a flake, but she wormed her way into my heart almost immediately.  There’s so much more to her than first meets the eye.  She’s got a huge heart, she’s a lot stronger than she thinks she is but at the same time, she has a vulnerable side as well, particularly when it comes to her own sense of self worth. I felt so much sympathy for her when she talked about how alone she feels in Hollywood, even when she’s in the middle of a crowd.  The more I got to know Piper, the more I wanted her to find happiness in this little fishing town so that she wouldn’t return to the toxic Hollywood environment.

As much as I adored Piper’s character, I loved Brendan, the sea captain, even more.  He’s big, burly, and gruff, but like with Piper, there’s so much more to him than first meets the eye. He might be a grizzly bear on the outside, but he’s soft like a teddy bear on the inside.  Brendan’s wife Desiree died seven years ago and he now devotes most of his time to helping his father-in-law keeping Desiree’s memory alive.  In essence, Brendan himself has stopped living.  That is, until he meets Piper and the sparks fly.  From the moment the two of them meet, it’s clear they are each exactly what the other needs and I was hardcore rooting for them to get together.  I don’t want to give anything away about how their relationship progresses, but I was fully invested in every page, every scene of it, even the inevitable angsty, dramatic moments of their journey.

It Happened One Summer is a sexy, flirty, romance that will leave you feeling swoony, but at the same time, it’s a hilarious read that will have you laughing out loud page after page.  It’s truly just a delightful read! 4.5 STARS

YA Review: WHERE IT ALL LANDS by Jennie Wexler

YA Review:  WHERE IT ALL LANDS by Jennie WexlerWhere It All Lands by Jennie Wexler
four-stars
Published by Wednesday Books on July 6, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

Jennie Wexler’s debut YA contemporary novel Where It All Lands is one of the more unique stories I’ve read recently.  It’s a story about love, friendship, missed opportunities and second chances, and it’s about how something as simple as the flip of a coin can alter the course of a person’s journey.

The story follows three teens: new girl Stevie Rosenstein and Shane and Drew, who have been best friends forever.  Both Shane and Drew find themselves drawn to Stevie and want to ask her out.  They don’t want to step on each other’s toes though and have a girl come between their friendship, so they do what they always do when they need to resolve something and move on – they flip a coin.  Whoever wins the coin flip gets to ask Stevie out and the loser steers clear.

It’s here that the story takes a unique turn because the author presents the rest of the story in a dual timeline:  in one timeline, Shane has won the coin toss and becomes involved with Stevie and in the other timeline, Drew has won and it is he who gets to ask out Stevie. I have to admit I was a little nervous when I realized it was somewhat of a love triangle, but I really loved how the author presented the relationships in each timeline. She really fleshes out all three characters and shows how sometimes even the smallest choices people make can have a huge impact on their lives and the lives of those around them.

Even though it was the unique concept of the love triangle/coin flip dual timeline that drew me to this story, what really made me love it was the cast of characters.  I adored Stevie, Shane, and Drew.  I was particularly drawn to Stevie because she had spent her whole life moving from city to city because of her father’s job.  Every time she makes friends, she immediately has to pack up and move.  She’s lonely and at this point in her life is hesitant to even bother trying to make new friends.  I felt so bad for her and was immediately rooting for her to find some great friends and convince her dad to settle in one place so she can put down roots.

I also adored Shane and Drew, especially because of their friendship.  They’ve both been through so much and no matter what, have always been each other’s number one support system.  I didn’t want them to let a girl, or anyone else for that matter, come between them, so I was anxious to see if they would really be able to abide by the rules of their coin toss or if the tension would come to a head and cost them not only Stevie, but also their lifelong friendship.  Wexler does a wonderful job creating tension and straining these relationships to the brink.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers but I’ll say that this book also had me in tears a few times.  I just became so invested in these characters that when tragedy strikes (also presented in a dual timeline with different outcomes) I was immediately a wreck.

Even though there’s definitely quite a bit of heartbreak sprinkled throughout, overall Where It All Lands is still a heartfelt and hopeful book.  If you enjoy unique stories that feature love, friendship, trust, second chances, and possibilities, you’ll want to check out Where It All Lands.

four-stars

About Jennie Wexler

Jennie Wexler spent the first part of her career producing television shows appearing on VH1, Bravo, and The Travel Channel. She has a BA in literature/rhetoric from Binghamton University and an MA in television/radio/film from The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Jennie’s debut young adult contemporary novel will be released on July 6th, 2021. She is a member of SCBWI and lives in New Jersey with her husband, son, and Havanese puppy.

Romance Review: WHILE WE WERE DATING by Jasmine Guillory

Romance Review:  WHILE WE WERE DATING by Jasmine GuilloryWhile We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory
Also by this author: Royal Holiday (The Wedding Date, #4), Party of Two
four-stars
Series: The Wedding Date #6
Published by Berkley Books on July 13, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 336
Also in this series: Royal Holiday (The Wedding Date, #4), Party of Two
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

While We Were Dating is the sixth book in Jasmine Guillory’s popular contemporary romance series, The Wedding Date. I’m a big fan of this series so I’m thrilled to report that Guillory’s latest is just as delightfully sexy and swoony as its five predecessors.  One of the things I love about this series is that even though the books are loosely interconnected and characters sometimes make appearances in later books in the series, each book still works quite well as a standalone.  While We Were Dating follows Hollywood actress Anna Gardiner and Ben Stephens, an up and coming executive at an ad agency.  For those familiar with the series, Ben is the younger brother of Theo Stephens who appears in The Wedding Party.  Theo and his girlfriend Maddie also make an appearance in this story.

Guillory always does a wonderful job of crafting main characters that are likeable, relatable, and that have undeniable chemistry between them and Anna and Ben are no exception here.  Anna has been struggling with anxiety recently and so has had to put her acting career on the backburner.  She feels ready to take on the world again and is determined to take control of both her career and her personal life and mount a comeback.  I loved Anna right away because while she may be ultra-famous, she’s not a diva at all.  While she’s clearly aware of how talented she is, there’s never a time when she tries to act like she’s more entitled than anyone else. I loved how down-to-earth she is.  She’s also funny, sexy, sassy, and smart, so there’s plenty about her to love.

Anna meets Ben when the ad agency he works for decides to make a pitch for a campaign that is going to feature Anna. Ben usually takes a backseat when it comes to pitching big campaigns like this one, but when his colleagues are delayed in getting to the pitch meeting, it’s finally Ben’s turn to shine in the spotlight.  And shine he does!  Ben is charming, sexy, funny, and he’s also very good at his job.  The chemistry between Anna and Ben becomes immediately apparent during the meeting. In fact, Anna is so impressed by Ben that she tells the campaign heads that she wants Ben’s agency but only if Ben runs the show.

I loved watching Anna and Ben grow closer and especially enjoyed that their relationship wasn’t just all about the sex.  Sure, there were plenty of swoony sexy scenes between them sprinkled throughout, but there are also many heartfelt discussions as they discuss their families as well as their own mental health struggles.  Both Anna and Ben regularly see therapists and they have some very healthy discussions about why they do.  In addition to the sexy and the heartfelt moments, there are also some downright comical moments that involve road trips, fake dating, as well as shenanigans to avoid the paparazzi.

I don’t want to spoil anything so I’m going to stop now, but as with all of the other books in this series, I just had a lot of fun reading While We Were Dating.  It’s one of those stories that just has something for everyone and it just left me feeling so content when I reached the last page.

four-stars

About Jasmine Guillory

Jasmine Guillory is a graduate of Wellesley College and Stanford Law School. She is a Bay Area native who has towering stacks of books in her living room, a cake recipe for every occasion, and upwards of 50 lipsticks.

Review: THE FOREST OF VANISHING STARS by Kristin Harmel

Review:  THE FOREST OF VANISHING STARS by Kristin HarmelThe Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel
Also by this author: The Room on Rue Amélie
five-stars
Published by Gallery Books on July 6, 2021
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

Kristin Harmel is fast becoming one of my favorite authors of WWII historical fiction.  I love how she always manages to uncover and shine a spotlight on some aspect of the war, and in particular of the various Resistance movements, that I was completely unaware of.  In the case of her latest novel, The Forest of Vanishing Stars, Harmel’s subject matter are groups of Jewish refugees who flee from the Nazis and try to survive by hiding in the vast forests of Poland. The author’s note at the end of the novel is just as fascinating a read as the book itself because Harmel shares the details of her research, including information about the real-life groups of Jewish refugees she based her fictional groups on.

The Forest of Vanishing Stars centers on a young woman named Yona who is stolen from her crib by an elderly Jewish woman when she is only two years old.  It is unclear at first what the old woman’s motivation is. She seems to have some mystical powers that allow her to see the future and she “sees” that Yona is destined for something special and that she must teach her so that she is ready when the time comes.  The old woman raises Yona in the forest and gives her what seems like the oddest of educations.  She teaches her all about how to survive in the forest – how to build various kinds of shelters, how to gather and preserve food, how to use plants and herbs for medicinal purposes, and how to defend herself.  She also teaches Yona many languages: Polish, German, and Russian to name a few. The old woman dies soon after Yona’s education is complete and she is left to wonder what exactly she is meant to do with all she has learned.  It soon becomes clear when she encounters a large group of Jewish refugees fleeing for their lives deep in the forest.  They are doing everything wrong and if they continue as they are, they will all surely perish.  Yona makes it her mission to ensure that they all survive and begins to teach them everything she knows about living off the land and about how to stay hidden.

The survival aspect of the story is definitely compelling enough in its own right, but I especially adored the character of Yona.  She is such a special young woman and I loved how fully she devoted herself to caring for this group of people even though they are complete strangers and she could be executed if she is caught helping them. I admired her bravery and her selflessness.  I also became quite attached to the group of refugees.  They are all so eager to learn everything Yona has to teach them and they become just as devoted to her as she is to them.  They become a family and it’s just beautiful to see that bond form when everything around them is so dark and treacherous.

Made all the more poignant by Harmel’s characters and her exquisite storytelling, The Forest of Vanishing Stars is a story of strength, resilience, love, family, and sacrifice.  If you think you’ve read it all when it comes to WWII historical fiction, I highly recommend giving Kristin Harmel’s novels a try.  I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve read from Harmel so far and The Forest of Vanishing Stars is my favorite yet; it’s a real gem.

five-stars

About Kristin Harmel

Kristin Harmel is the New York Times bestselling, USA Today bestselling, and #1 international bestselling author of The Book of Lost Names, The Winemaker’s Wife, and a dozen other novels that have been translated into twenty-nine languages and are sold all over the world.

A former reporter for PEOPLE magazine, Kristin has been writing professionally since the age of 16, when she began her career as a sportswriter, covering Major League Baseball and NHL hockey for a local magazine in Tampa Bay, Florida in the late 1990s. After stints covering health and lifestyle for American Baby, Men’s Health, and Woman’s Day, she became a reporter for PEOPLE magazine while still in college and spent more than a decade working for the publication, covering everything from the Super Bowl to high-profile murders to celebrity interviews. Her favorite stories at PEOPLE, however, were the “Heroes Among Us” features—tales of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

In addition to a long magazine writing career (which also included articles published in Travel + Leisure, Glamour, Ladies’ Home Journal, Every Day with Rachael Ray, and more), Kristin was also a frequent contributor to the national television morning show The Daily Buzz and has appeared on Good Morning America and numerous local television morning shows.

Kristin was born just outside Boston, Massachusetts and spent her childhood there, as well as in Columbus, Ohio, and St. Petersburg, Florida. After graduating with a degree in journalism (with a minor in Spanish) from the University of Florida, she spent time living in Paris and Los Angeles and now lives in Orlando, with her husband and young son. She is also the co-founder and co-host of the weekly web show and podcast Friends & Fiction.

Review: THE MAIDENS by Alex Michaelides

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Alex Michaelides

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

Romance Reviews: VERY SINCERELY YOURS & LOVE SCENES

Happy Friday everyone!  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on two romance novels that I think are going to find their way into a lot of beach bags this summer because they are both truly delightful.

 

Romance Reviews:  VERY SINCERELY YOURS & LOVE SCENESVery Sincerely Yours Goodreads

Author: Kerry Winfrey

Publication Date: June 15, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey follows Teddy Phillips, a young woman who is going through a rough patch.  Her longtime boyfriend has just unexpectedly dumped her and kicked her out of their home.  After spending so many years catering to this man’s every whim, Teddy feels like she doesn’t even know who she is without him.  She spends most of her days working at a vintage toy store and engaging in her biggest guilty pleasure, watching a local children’s show that is hosted by a sexy Mr. Rogers type named Everett St. James.  Of course Everett is easy on the eyes but what Teddy really loves about his show is how kind and respectful he is to all of the children who send him letters looking for advice.  When Teddy decides to take a chance and send him a letter herself, she has no idea how much her life is about to change.

I swear this book was like catnip for me.  I loved every page of it and just couldn’t get enough of both Teddy and Everett.  They’re both just such sweet, soft, adorable characters and as soon as I met each of them, and especially as soon as Everett wrote a response to Teddy and they basically became flirty email pen pals, I knew they would be perfect for one another. Their emails truly gave me life as I was reading.  They’re filled with witty banter, good advice from Everett, as well as humorous sign offs that made me laugh out loud.  The more Teddy and Everett wrote to each other, the more I was rooting for them to find their way to each other in person.

It’s not even just Teddy and Everett that made Very Sincerely Yours such a wonderful read for me; it was also all of Teddy’s friends.  She has such a lovely and supportive relationship with the owner of the  toy store.  They’re more like mother-daughter than boss-employee and I really enjoyed their friendship.  I also adored Teddy’s roommates, who were her best friends prior to her relationship with loser guy.  He basically monopolized her attention to the extent that she drifted apart from her besties, but they were right there for her every step of the way after she got dumped and they really helped her pick up the pieces and get back to living her life and having fun.  It was just so nice to see Teddy surrounded by so much love and support.

Very Sincerely Yours is one of the most delightful romantic comedies I’ve read so far this year.  It’s a gem of a book that is sure to put a smile on your face.  5 STARS!

 

Romance Reviews:  VERY SINCERELY YOURS & LOVE SCENESLove Scenes Goodreads

Author: Bridget Morrissey

Publication Date: June 22, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

Love Scenes by Bridget Morrissey follows Sloane Ford, a young actress who hails from Hollywood royalty.  Everyone in her family works in film and they’ve decided to work on a project together, a WWII era romance, and although they wanted Sloane to play the lead, she declined because it conflicted with work she was doing on a TV series.  When her character is abruptly killed off, Sloane’s mother offers her a job as a producer on their film, but doesn’t tell her they’ve cast Joseph Donovan, her arch nemesis and the man who almost derailed her acting career, to play the male lead.  Oh boy, what has Sloane gotten herself into?

I really enjoyed the chemistry between Sloane and Joseph from the moment they come face to face on the movie set.  It’s clear that there is some loaded history between them, and it’s also clear that they have feelings for one another, whether they want to admit it or not.  Joseph knows how awful he was to Sloane the last time they worked together and he really wants to make amends.  Sloane was recently dumped by her musician boyfriend and is completely off the whole idea of love. But when she steps on the movie set, and the female lead is abruptly fired and Sloane is asked to fill in, the more she works with Joseph, the more she realizes she doesn’t hate him as much as she thought she did. I really liked both Sloane and Joseph a lot and wanted her to give him a chance to prove he has changed.

As much as I enjoyed the evolving relationship between Sloane and Joseph, what I loved most about this book is Sloane’s family.  They’re such a fun, tight-knit, and quirky group and I love watching them all interact as they worked together on the film.  The egos, the personalities, the ex-husbands and ex-wives who are still very much part of the family, etc. were just so entertaining to watch and I loved how vividly and realistically the author brings this family to life. I especially loved the relationship between Sloan and her sister Tyler, who is also directing the film.  The two of them are very close and actually used to make home movie versions of their favorite films for fun when they were kids.  I love a good sibling relationship and watching these two sisters work and grow together just made for a lovely read.

Love Scenes is a fun read that is filled with romance, family, and all the drama you could ever expect to find on a movie set and then some! It’s also a wonderful story about second chances that will warm your heart.  4 STARS.

Review: PACK UP THE MOON by Kristan Higgins

Review:  PACK UP THE MOON by Kristan HigginsPack Up the Moon by Kristan Higgins
Also by this author: Good Luck with That, Always the Last to Know
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on June 8, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Kristan Higgins

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

Reviews: MALIBU RISING & THE INVISIBLE HUSBAND OF FRICK ISLAND

 

Sorry I disappeared off the blogosphere for a few days but man, it has been a week.  We are short-staffed at work, as usual, so the universe decided this would be a great week for a trip to the ER with my son, followed by a fender bender this weekend when a teen driver decided to plow into the back of my car while we were stopped at a traffic light.  We’re all fine thankfully, but if the universe could cut me a break for a bit, that would be fantastic.  Anyway, my life drama aside, I do have two reviews to share today, one for Malibu Rising, one of my most anticipated reads of the year, and one for The Invisible Husband of Frick Island, which I was drawn to because of the island setting. When I read the synopsis, it reminded me of a little island off the coast of Virginia called Tangier Island and being from Virginia, I was intrigued.

 

Reviews:  MALIBU RISING & THE INVISIBLE HUSBAND OF FRICK ISLANDMalibu Rising Goodreads

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid

Publication Date: June 1, 2021

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

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

Taylor Jenkins Reid became one of my favorite authors after I fell in love with her most recent novels, Daisy Jones & the Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.  Her masterful storytelling and her ability to bring unforgettable characters to life just really won me over, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of her new novel, Malibu Rising.

Malibu Rising is a story of love and loss, secrets and betrayals, and at the heart of it all is the Riva family, the parents Mick and June, and the four Riva children, Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit.  Those familiar with TJR’s books will probably recognize Mick Riva, who appears in the Daisy Jones and Evelyn Hugo novels.  Mick is an iconic musician who can’t seem to break the cycle of infidelity that he falls into the moment he becomes successful as a musician.  He waltzes in and out of June and their kids’ lives, leaving wreckage in his wake each time he decides family life isn’t for him.  To say the Rivas are a dysfunctional family is probably putting it mildly.

Malibu Rising is told using a dual timeline, which I’m always a fan of if it’s done well, and TJR uses it effectively here to peel back the layers on the Riva family.  One timeline is set in the past which explores Mick and June Riva’s life together, showing how they met and the dramatic ups and downs of their relationship and how it impacted their young children.  The second timeline is set in the 1980s and focuses on the Riva children, Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit, who are all adults now and are experiencing their own ups and downs.

This family’s journey is a wild and often heartbreaking one and because of that, I loved the modern timeline that shows the kids all grown up and trying to make their way in the world.  I loved how tight their sibling bond has grown over the years, probably because they could only rely on each other.  Nina, the eldest, was a particular favorite of mine in that she sacrificed everything to basically become a mother to her younger siblings.  Their lives are full of ups and downs as well, but they are all there for each other in ways their parents weren’t there for them.

The only part of the novel I didn’t enjoy was actually the big end-of-summer party that is the focal point of the story.  Yes, it’s most definitely a life-changing event as it brings many issues to a head and turns quite a few lives upside down.  At the same time, however, I found it to be somewhat tedious at times.  I guess the Hollywood life doesn’t appeal to me and I just got bored reading page after page of celebrity after celebrity showing up and behaving in utterly predictable ways.  The drama surrounding the Riva siblings at that party is riveting and everything else just felt like it was in the way.

Even though I wasn’t the biggest fan of the party itself, everything else about the novel made for a very compelling read.  If you enjoy family dramas and sibling stories, you’ll enjoy Malibu Rising. 4 STARS.

 

Reviews:  MALIBU RISING & THE INVISIBLE HUSBAND OF FRICK ISLANDThe Invisible Husband of Frick Island Goodreads

Author: Colleen Oakley

Publication Date: May 25, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley

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

Colleen Oakley’s new novel The Invisible Husband of Frick Island is an emotional story about love, loss, and grief and the lengths people will go to in order to help those they love.  The story centers on Piper Parrish, a young woman who lives on Frick Island, a tiny island located in the Chesapeake Bay and only accessible by ferry.  The Frick Island community, cut off as they are from the mainland, are a tightknit group who look out for each other.  When Piper’s husband Tom is lost at sea when his boat capsizes during a terrible storm, the community rallies together to help Piper cope with the loss.  It’s the method in which they choose to rally that brings a bit of a whimsical element to the story.  When they realize that Piper is hallucinating that Tom is still alive and by her side, the community decides to play along with it and pretend he’s still alive as well. When Anders Caldwell, an aspiring journalist, is sent to the island on assignment, he witnesses Piper and her hallucinations as well as the community going along with it, he can’t believe what he is seeing and decides he needs to investigate it further. He thinks this is a story that could make his career but has no idea how truly life changing it will end up being.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story.  I especially loved the small town island setting and how they’re all practically one big family.  I also loved all the quirky characters who live on the island.  They were fun and I immediately liked them all just by virtue of what they were willing to do to keep from breaking Piper’s heart.  Piper herself is of course an incredibly sympathetic character because of the loss she has suffered and it’s easy to see why her community loves her so much.  I very much enjoyed watching her interact with Anders as he tried to piece together what was motivating the community to go along with Piper’s hallucinations rather than set her straight about Tom’s death. There were times when I wanted to shake him for using Piper’s tragedy to further his career, but he shows tremendous growth in this area as he and Piper grew closer and he starts to realize his own mistakes.

My only real issue with The Invisible Husband of Frick Island is that it felt a little slow at times.  As much as I enjoyed it, I felt like the story got a little bogged down by Anders’ repetitive ferry rides back and forth to the island.  I think I would have preferred either fewer trips or maybe less description of them each time.

If you enjoy small town settings, quirky characters, and reading about the things we do for love, you’ll want to check out The Invisible Husband of Frick Island.  3.5 STARS.

YA Reviews: Instructions for Dancing, Cool for the Summer, & Misfit in Love

Happy Friday everyone!  I’ve had a crazy, busy week and I’m behind on pretty much everything, which means you get mini reviews for my latest reads.  Just because the reviews are mini doesn’t means the books aren’t fabulous though.  I’ve got three great YA reads to share my thoughts on today.

 

YA Reviews: Instructions for Dancing, Cool for the Summer, & Misfit in LoveInstructions for Dancing Goodreads

Author: Nicola Yoon

Publication Date: June 1, 2021

Publisher:  Delacorte Press

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

Nicola Yoon’s new novel Instructions for Dancing follows Evie Thomas, a senior in high school, whose world has been rocked because she walked in on her dad cheating on her mother.  Her utter disappointment in her dad, coupled with her parents’ divorce, has left Evie feeling like there’s no point in falling in love if it’s just going to end in misery.  Evie is so off the whole idea of love at this point, she takes all of her old romance novels to donate to a Little Free Library. An elderly woman there encourages Evie to take a book as well and gives her a book called Instructions for Dancing. Evie doesn’t want to be rude so she takes it and when she sees an address on the back for a local dance studio, she decides to check out the studio and while there, she meets ‘X’ (short for Xavier).  They bond immediately as they begin taking dance lessons together and as they grow closer and closer, Evie starts to wonder if she’s wrong about love being a waste of time…

I don’t want to give away any further details about the story, so that teaser about how Evie’s emotional journey begins is all I’m giving you.  Her path is a beautiful one, although painful at times. If you have parents who are divorced, you will relate very strongly to where Evie is emotionally. I know I did.  As Evie finds, it can be hard to open yourself up to love when you know there’s the possibility you could get hurt. The message of this book though is that it’s not about how that love might end in heartbreak. Instead it’s about the journey of falling in love so deeply that when you do loose them, it crushes you, and the idea that we should all hope to be lucky enough to experience a love that deep.  I thought this was such a powerful and important message both for Evie and for all of us and I loved how this beautiful sentiment, which reduced me to tears several times, balances out with some of the lighter and more fun elements of the story.

Oh yes, it’s not all doom and gloom by any stretch.  Evie’s group of friends is a lot of fun and so are the people Evie meets at the dance studio.  There’s intense training for a dance competition that brings Evie and X even closer together, as well as lots of dates for them as their instructor forces them to get to know each other better so that they have better chemistry on the dance floor.

Instructions for Dancing is a story that will tug at your heartstrings and make you believe that no matter what, love is always worth it.  As the old Dr. Seuss quote says, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”  4.5 STARS

 

YA Reviews: Instructions for Dancing, Cool for the Summer, & Misfit in LoveCool for the Summer Goodreads

Author: Dahlia Adler

Publication Date: May 11, 2021

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

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

When Larissa arrives to school on the first day of her senior year, everyone can tell there’s something different about her and it’s not just the new haircut and blond highlights.  It’s more that she has a new attitude, a certain confidence she didn’t have before.  Whatever it is, it has gotten the attention of her forever-crush Chase Harding and now he has gone from barely acknowledging her existence to blatantly flirting with her.  Chase Harding is everything Larissa has ever wanted, and between him, her close-knit friend group, and a fantastic job, Larissa is sure her senior year is going to be incredible…until Jasmine walks through the door.  Jasmine, the girl Larissa met and had a summer romance with when she traveled to the Outer Banks in North Carolina with her mom.  What is Jasmine doing here in New York, at Larissa’s school?  And the bigger question, why is she now ignoring Larissa and pretending they don’t know each other? Was their romance just a summer fling or could it be more than that?

I really enjoyed the way the author lets this story unfold through a dual timeline, with the first timeline set in the present as Larissa and Jasmine try to navigate getting to know one another in a completely different environment from where they first met. The second timeline takes place in the Outer Banks over the summer and shows us how Jasmine and Larissa meet.  Larissa had no idea she was possibly bisexual until she met Jasmine and I thought the author did a wonderful job of showing Larissa exploring this newly discovered aspect of her sexuality in a positive light. There is of course a bit of a love triangle in the present-day timeline and even though I’m not usually a fan of those, it works here because the triangle reflects how Larissa finds herself torn between the person she used to be and the person she has grown into since meeting Jasmine.  She has some big decisions to make and doesn’t want to hurt anyone or get hurt in the process.  Larissa’s journey is somewhat painful at times as she attempts to navigate this awkward terrain, but I really enjoyed watching her grow throughout the story. Cool for the Summer is a satisfying coming of age story that left me feeling nostalgic for my own summer romances from years gone by. 4 STARS

 

YA Reviews: Instructions for Dancing, Cool for the Summer, & Misfit in LoveMisfit in Love Goodreads

Author: S.K. Ali

Publication Date: May 25, 2021

Publisher:  Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster for Young Readers

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

I loved S.K. Ali’s debut novel Saints & Misfits when I read it a couple of years ago so I was beyond excited to hear that we would be returning to that world with Ali’s latest novel, Misfit in Love.  I adored Janna, the protagonist from both books, just as much this time around.  She’s a little older now and will be off to college soon, but before that, she has a big family wedding to attend.  Her beloved brother Muhammad is getting married, which means that Janna will soon be surrounded by family and friends, including Nuah. The last time she saw Nuah, Janna had told him she wasn’t ready to start a relationship, but now that she’s about to see him again, she thinks she has changed her mind and hopes he’s still interested even though he has been away at college.

There’s so much to love about Misfit in Love.  I really enjoyed reading about all of the wedding traditions as well as the preparations and, of course, the fun shenanigans, as well as some of the drama between Muhammad’s family and his bride’s family. It was also so much fun to see old friends from Ali’s first two books.  I was especially excited to see Adam and Zayneb from Love from A to Z as wedding attendees.  I would love to revisit their world with another book at some point too. They’re just so sweet together. In addition to the fun surrounding the wedding, I also enjoyed watching Janna continue to grow and mature.  She is still somewhat of a misfit when it comes to love and relationships but she’s finding her way, and I was especially proud of her when she has a very difficult conversation with her father about his racism. She makes a statement that many of us should take to heart.  If you see someone being racist and hateful, you can’t just sit there passively.  If anything is ever going to change, you have to speak out against the hate.  Misfit in Love might be a light summer read about a wedding and falling in love, but it also packs a strong punch with that message from Janna.  I don’t want to say anything else because of spoilers, I think fans of Ali’s other books will adore this one too and I’ll be sitting here hoping that we get another book that follows Janna when she goes off to college. 🙂  4 STARS.

ROM COM Reviews: THE SOULMATE EQUATION & ROSALINE PALMER TAKES THE CAKE

Happy Friday!  We’ve made it through another week and I don’t know about you but I’m so ready for the weekend.  We are short-staffed at work yet again and it’s kicking my butt. I also don’t know about you, but I have so many books to review that are coming out on May 25th.  I’ve been reading as fast as I can but still have 4 to get through between now and then so I can review them.  There are definitely worse problems to have so I won’t complain. I just hope I can get them all read in time!  Anyway, today I’m sharing my thoughts on two fun and fabulous rom-coms that come out on May 18th, The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren and Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall.

 

ROM COM Reviews: THE SOULMATE EQUATION & ROSALINE PALMER TAKES THE CAKEThe Soulmate Equation Goodreads

Author: Christina Lauren

Publication Date: May 18, 2021

Publisher:  Gallery Books

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

Before I started reading Christina Lauren’s novels, I was not the biggest fan of romance books.  With their lovable characters, often hilarious banter, and addictive storylines, they won me over and now I can’t get enough of their books.  Their latest, The Soulmate Equation, is the tenth book I’ve read from them and I’m happy to say it’s one of my favorites yet.

The story follows Jess Davis, who is a freelance statistician.  Her passion is crunching numbers all day.  Abandoned by her mother at a young age and raised by her grandparents, Jess is now a single mom raising a 7-year-old daughter. Between her career and her daughter, Jess has no time or interest in dating.  I really liked Jess right away.  She’s a STEM girl, which I loved, and I also loved both her devotion to her adorable daughter, Juno, and her fierce sense of independence.   All of that said, I also loved that her curiosity about the data and the science behind a new DNA-based dating app called GeneticAlly leads her to actually submit a sample of her DNA to see if it actually works.  Even though she’s all about science and numbers, when she is found to be 98% compatible with another subject in the database, she is skeptical, especially because she has actually met the guy and can’t stand him!

The guy is Dr. River Pena, the sexy scientist who is the brains behind the GeneticAlly app.  Jess makes a snap judgment about River because she sees him at the local coffee shop every day and he doesn’t speak to anyone.  She thinks he’s arrogant, rude, and obnoxious, but as she starts to get to know him, she realizes she may have been a bit hasty and overly harsh in her initial assessment.  I loved watching Jess get to know River.  It becomes clear that what she deemed arrogant and rude was actually just him being shy and awkward.  The more they talk and interact, the more Jess starts to wonder if there’s any merit to that 98% compatibility score.  As much as I liked Jess, I have to say that I flat out adored everything about River, especially the way he interacts with Jess’ daughter, Juno, when he meets her. They are adorable together, which made it impossible not to root for a happy ending for River and Jess since it would mean a father figure for Juno as well.

The actual DNA science and how that worked was a little over my head at times, but I didn’t care.  I was so into Jess and River and their journey that I flew through the pages, smiling all the way.  With The Soulmate Equation, I think it’s safe to say Christina Lauren have another hit on their hands for romance fans.  4 STARS

 

ROM COM Reviews: THE SOULMATE EQUATION & ROSALINE PALMER TAKES THE CAKERosaline Palmer Takes the Cake Goodreads

Author: Alexis Hall

Publication Date: May 18, 2021

Publisher:  Forever (Grand Central Publishing)

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

I just finished reading Alexis Hall’s last novel, Boyfriend Material, a couple of months ago and loved it, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of her latest, Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, the first book in a new queer romcom series called Winner Bakes All.  The lure of a reality TV baking competition and its potential for hilarious antics was just impossible to resist!

The story follows Rosaline Palmer, a single mom who has found herself in a dead end job after choosing to drop out of college to raise her daughter, Amelie.  Rosaline does not in any way regret her decision to do this but she really wishes she could do something to give her daughter a better life than she currently has.  When she hears about a reality TV baking competition, she thinks this could be exactly what she needs to turn things around, and so she applies and is selected to be a contestant.  The competition is fierce, and the judges can be harsh in their criticism, but Rosaline is convinced she has what it takes to go all the way.

Rosaline is such a great protagonist.  I loved pretty much everything about her.  She’s bisexual and very open about her sexuality, even to the point that her young daughter has been raised to know what it means to be bisexual and that it’s absolutely normal.  Rosaline is like this in every aspect of life with Amelie and is raising a very precocious, open-minded young lady.  Watching Amelie in action throughout the book made me feel lots of proud mom vibes on Rosaline’s behalf.  She might be on her own but she is doing a splendid job raising her daughter.

As much as I adored the mother-daughter moments with Rosaline and Amelie, the fun and most of the action takes place at the competition and I thought every aspect of the competition was fabulous and very well executed.  The descriptions of the glorious food items being prepared practically had me drooling while I was reading, and I loved the cast of characters, from Rosaline’s fellow competitors, most of whom become like a little family by the end of the competition, to the quirky judges and the borderline insane producer.

There’s a bit of a love triangle between Rosaline and two of her fellow competitors that at first I wasn’t sure about until it became clear that it wasn’t really much of a triangle.  Rosaline meets Alain Pope while traveling to the competition and at first he seems quite charming. He’s well educated, smooth, and he certainly knows his way around a kitchen.  The more Rosaline gets to know him, however, the less appealing he seems. In fact, she finds herself way more attracted to another competitor, a less educated, super awkward and shy electrician named Harry.  You guys, I just have to say that Harry is the most adorable cinnamon roll of a leading man.  I adored everything about him, from his cute banter with Rosaline, to his delightful creations that he bakes for the competition, including a mermaid cake, and most especially the way he treats Rosaline’s daughter.  As soon as I watched Harry in action with Rosaline and her daughter, I was rooting hard for Rosaline to tell Alain to kiss off so she could be with Harry.

I don’t want to give away anything about the competition or how things turn out for Rosaline, but I will say I came away very satisfied and with a smile on my face and can’t wait to see what Alexis Hall has in store for us with the next book in this fun series. 4 STARS.