Posts

Review: WELL PLAYED by Jen DeLuca

Review:  WELL PLAYED by Jen DeLucaWell Played by Jen DeLuca
Also by this author: Well Met
four-stars
Series: Well Met #2
Published by BERKLEY on September 22, 2020
Genres: Romance, Contemporary 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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jen DeLuca’s Renaissance Faire-themed romance Well Met was one of my favorite reads from last year, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series, Well Played. I was so excited to revisit the world of the Willow Creek Ren Faire and to see Simon and Emily, who are now engaged, and the rest of the Ren Faire gang again.  Well Played follows Emily’s best friend, Stacey, and since I adored Stacey in the first book, it was fun to get to know her better this time around.

Stacey is a character that I think many will find very relatable.  Stacey’s dreams of a fashion career in New York are put on hold indefinitely when her mother suffers a heart attack.  Instead of leaving Willow Creek as planned, Stacey moves into her parent’s garage apartment to help care for her mom and, years later, is still hesitant to leave her parents on their own.  At first Stacey was content with the arrangement, but now, especially in light of Emily and Simon’s engagement, she finds herself in a rut.  Stacey’s not sure what kind of change she’s looking for but vows that her life will be different by the time Ren Faire season rolls around next year.

To put her plan into motion, Stacey decides a good first step would be to reach out to her sexy summertime hookup, Dex MacLean, a Ren Faire musician.  The two of them begin exchanging increasingly intimate emails and texts over the next few months, and by the time Ren Faire season starts up again, Stacey is convinced she’s in love with Dex.  There’s just one catch — Dex hasn’t actually been the one writing to her…

Well Played is such an entertaining read.  I sat down with it this morning and devoured the entire novel in a couple of sittings.  The story is filled with plenty of emotional, dramatic, and yes, even romantic moments as Stacey navigates her way through this unexpected plot twist.  It’s not all drama though, as of course, the story is also filled with plenty of light-hearted, laugh out loud moments courtesy of the Ren Faire castmates.  I loved the mix of the dramatic and light-hearted moments, and I especially loved the mother-daughter relationship between Stacey and her mom.  There were some lovely heartfelt moments between those two.

If Ren Faires, romance, and a loveable cast of characters are your thing, you should definitely check out both Well Met and Well Played.

four-stars

About Jen DeLuca

Jen DeLuca was born and raised near Richmond, Virginia, but now lives in Central Florida with her husband and a houseful of rescue pets. She loves latte-flavored lattes, Hokies football, and the Oxford comma. Well Met is her first novel, inspired by her time volunteering as a pub wench with her local Renaissance Faire.

Reviews: ANXIOUS PEOPLE & ONE BY ONE

 

 

One of the things I’ve been very grateful for during this pandemic is that I’ve had no shortage of excellent review books to read.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on two more of those fantastic reads, both from two of my favorite authors.  This is my fourth book from each of them and they have yet to let me down.

 

Reviews:  ANXIOUS PEOPLE & ONE BY ONEAnxious People Goodreads

Author: Fredrik Backman

Publication Date: September 8, 2020

Publisher:  Atria Books

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

 

What I always enjoy about Fredrik Backman’s novels is that they are so unique.  Filled with quirky characters and thought-provoking life lessons presented in the most original and fresh ways, I always know I’m in for a treat when I pick up one of his books.  Backman’s latest novel, Anxious People, is no exception

I knew Anxious People was going to be a quirky delightful read from the opening paragraphs. “This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots.” I was chuckling to myself from the moment I read that line and couldn’t wait to see what kind of an adventure he was taking me on.  And let me tell you, it’s a wild ride.  On its surface, this is a story about a bank robbery that goes wrong which collides with an apartment viewing gone wrong, which ultimately becomes an almost absurdly comical hostage situation, which somehow ends with the bank robber/hostage taker disappearing right out from under the noses of the police officers assigned to the case.  The bulk of the story focuses on the police attempting to get statements from the hostages, which is presented alongside the story of the bank robber, including what led them to decide to rob a bank all the way up to the moment the robber disappears.

One of Backman’s greatest gifts as a writer is his ability to create well-drawn, complex, multi-layered characters.  Even though every witness the police interrogates starts out as just someone who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, by the end, each of them has a pretty fleshed-out story of their own within the overall story.  We get a glimpse of the inner demons each of them is battling and it just makes them all feel so real.  I also love the dynamic we are given with the two police officers assigned to the case. They are actually father and son, and there’s a lot going on there between the two of them.

Backman also has a gift for writing stories that engage all my emotions.  With Anxious People, I laughed my way through the police interrogations, especially when it seemed that the witnesses either were, in fact, idiots, or they were being deliberately difficult and evasive.  It truly must have been the most maddening investigation those poor police officers had ever experienced!  But then as the story developed and I got to know the various characters better and learned about their lives and struggles, including the bank robber, I found myself growing more and more attached to each of them and invested in their stories, to the point that I was in tears by the time I reached the end, which actually surprised me with how incredibly moving it was.

If you’re already a fan of Backman’s, I think you’ll love Anxious People. And if you’ve never tried his books before but enjoy stories that are equally funny and moving, and are filled with quirky well-drawn characters, Anxious People should be on your reading list.  4 STARS

 

Reviews:  ANXIOUS PEOPLE & ONE BY ONEOne by One Goodreads

Author: Ruth Ware

Publication Date: September 8, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery/Scout Press

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

 

Ruth Ware is one of my go-to authors when I’m in the mood for a suspenseful thriller and she did not disappoint with her latest novel, One By One.  The story is set in France in a rustic mountain ski chalet and follows a group of employees who are there for a company retreat.  Tragedy strikes when weather conditions unexpectedly deteriorate while this group is out skiing and one of their company’s founders goes missing.  Conditions continue to deteriorate and an avalanche hits, burying the ski chalet, turning what was a picture perfect setting into a potentially deadly one, especially when one by one, they start turning up dead.  It’s the ultimate locked-room mystery as the killer has to be one of them since they’re trapped in the chalet and cut off from the rest of the world.

I do have to admit that One By One started off a little slow for me in spite of the promise of an exciting suspenseful read. I got a little bogged down as the employees arrived at the chalet and we get an in-depth rundown of their company, which is called Snoop, and is the latest and greatest in music-based social media apps.  It’s designed to allow members to “spy” on what music other members are listening to. The premise is that if Beyonce, for example, is on Snoop, you can snoop what she’s listening to and listen to the same thing at the same time.  That’s the basic description but the book goes into a lot more detail that I felt wasn’t really necessary.  Once that was out of the way, thankfully the story picks up very quickly.

The dynamics between the group of employees, and even one former employee who was invited fascinated me.  One of the reasons they were having this retreat was to discuss an offer of a buyout they had received. It’s a buyout that could make them all very rich, but it becomes clear immediately that there are factions within the group. Some want the buyout, while others are adamantly against it.  I was busy watching these characters as the story progressed, trying to figure out who had the most motive to start offing their colleagues and trying to figure out what the motivation was anyway.  Was it the money? Or was it something more personal since, after all, there’s a former employee with them who may have an ax to grind?

Like an avalanche itself, One By One builds momentum quickly and becomes filled with tension and suspense as the story shifts into a full-on survival story.  Ware had me on the edge of my seat as I tried to figure out who the killer might be. Several times I thought I had it figured out, only to have my suspect end up being the next one to die.  And then of course, there’s the missing company founder. Is she dead?  If so, was it really an accident or is it somehow tied to the murders?

I don’t want to give anything away, so I’m going to stop now, but if you enjoy suspenseful thrillers, locked-door mysteries, and survival stories, give Ruth Ware’s One By One a try.  4 STARS

 

Reviews: September Book Releases That Should Be on Your Reading List

 

Happy September everyone!  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on some great books that you’re going to want to add to your reading list.  If you enjoy historical romance,  YA fantasy, and/or YA contemporary, you’re going to want to check these out.

 

Reviews:  September Book Releases That Should Be on Your Reading ListRecommended for You Goodreads

Author: Laura Silverman

Publication Date: September 1, 2020

Publisher:  Margaret K. McElderry Books

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

Laura Silverman’s new novel Recommended For You is an absolute delight.  I was in love with it from the moment I saw that adorable cover and my love only grew as I started reading.  The story is set at Once Upon, a popular Indie bookstore, over the holiday season and follows Shoshanna Greenberg, a Jewish teen and veteran bookseller at Once Upon.  When we meet Shoshanna, it becomes clear right away that she views the bookstore as her home away from home and her escape from the stress in her life.  It also becomes clear that Shoshanna is dealing with some pretty major stress:  1) there are money issues and her car is on its last legs, and 2) there is a tension between her mothers that she has never seen before and she’s worried they may split up.  There’s a light at the end of the tunnel with respect to her car when her boss announces a holiday contest – whoever sells the most books will receive a cash bonus.  Shoshanna is stoked because she knows she can outsell everyone…that is, until Once Upon’s newest employee, Jake Kaplan arrives on the scene and throws a kink into Shoshanna’s plans.  Shoshanna can’t stand Jake from the moment she meets him and the tension mounts the more they try to outsell each other.  Who will be the last bookseller standing?

I really adored both Shoshanna and Jake.  Shoshanna is a messy and flawed character who often acts without thinking.  Even with her flaws though, she’s still completely lovable because she has such a huge heart.  Nearly every impulsive thing she does is because she’s trying to help someone she cares about.  Even though she sometimes does more harm than good, her heart is always in the right place.  One of my favorite parts about Recommended For You was watching Shoshanna learn and grow as a person when she has to deal with the fallout from some of her more impulsive moves.  It’s a very personal journey for her.  Jake is also just an adorable character.  Even though Shoshanna wants to hate him because he’s not even a reader and he’s standing between her and that cash bonus, he still manages to eventually win her over.  Since Recommended For You is being advertised as a rom-com, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say there’s an enemies/rivals to friends/more than friends vibe going on between Shoshanna and Jake.  I think the coming of age aspect of the book takes center stage over the romantic vibes, but it’s definitely still there as the sparks and witty barbs fly between these two competitive booksellers.

Recommended For You is a fun and heartwarming read about love, friendship, and personal growth. Everything Shoshanna goes through kept me fully invested in her journey, and the adrenaline rush of the book competition kept me fully entertained and chuckling to myself as I was reading.  If you love coming of age stories with a side of romance and family drama, and of course Indie bookstores, Laura Silverman’s Recommended for You is the book you’re looking for.  4 STARS

 

Reviews:  September Book Releases That Should Be on Your Reading ListA Rogue of One's Own (A League of Extraordinary Women, #2) Goodreads

Author: Evie Dunmore

Publication Date: September 1, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

In the past I haven’t been much of a Historical Romance reader.  Last year I decided to give Evie Dunmore’s A League of Extraordinary Women series a try because I loved that it centered on the women’s suffrage movement.  I ended up pleasantly surprised by the first book and so was eager to get my hands on the latest offering from the series, A Rogue of One’s Own.  I’m thrilled to say that as much as I enjoyed the first book, this new book is even better!  It was just so much fun to visit again with this merry band of feminists and see what they’re up to.

This time the story focuses on Lucie, the leader of the group, and Lucie is on a mission.  She is trying to secure controlling interest in a major publishing company because to do so would make it all the easier for her group to push forward with their feminist agenda.  It’s unheard of for a woman to control a publishing house, but Lucie could give a flying fig for what’s heard of or unheard of.  There’s just one unexpected obstacle standing in her way…the handsome Lord Tristan Ballentine who has, unbeknownst to her, just purchased 50% ownership of the publishing company in question.  The situation is made all the more complicated by the fact that Lucie and Tristan have a history, specifically, Lucie has loathed Tristan since she was a child and he used to spend his summers at her home, making her life miserable at every turn.  How will she possibly manage to wrestle publishing control over a man who lives to torment her?  Yep, you guessed it; it’s an enemies to lovers story, my favorite!

As much as I enjoyed Annabelle in the first book, it’s Lucie that has really captured my heart. I just love her determination and grit and the fact that she’s doing everything she’s doing for the women’s movement in spite of the fact that her family has cast her off and refuses to have anything to do with her.  I love a scrappy underdog and Lucie fits the bill.  Tristan is a fantastic character as well.  I love that he’s a bit of a rogue, but that there’s also a lot more to him than first meets the eye.  He’s used to having ladies practically swoon at his feet, so it’s hilarious to watch him try to win Lucie over knowing that she can’t stand him.  The battle of wills between the two of them as they each try to secure what they want, all the while fighting their obvious attraction to one another, is so entertaining!

I will say that there was one moment in the story that gave me pause and it involved a tattoo of a naked dancer that was apparently inspired by a Hindu God. It was on the chest of a white man and while the tattoo itself serves a purpose later in the story, that particular choice of tattoo felt unnecessary and potentially offensive.  It didn’t ruin my overall enjoyment of the book, but since this is an honest review, I wanted to mention it.

I don’t want to give anything else away so I’m going to stop here and will just say that if you’re into fun, steamy stories with characters who are passionate and full of heart, you’ll want to check out A Rogue of One’s Own.  4 STARS

 

Reviews:  September Book Releases That Should Be on Your Reading ListFable (Fable, #1) Goodreads

Author: Adrienne Young

Publication Date: September 1, 2020

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

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

Fable, the first book in Adrienne Young’s YA fantasy duology of the same name, is my third read from this author and I swear her writing and storytelling just keeps getting better and better.  Seventeen-year-old Fable is the daughter of a powerful sea trader.  She hasn’t seen her father in four years, not since he abandoned her on a remote island after their ship sank during a terrible storm and her mother drowned.  Since being left on this island to fend for herself, Fable has worked as a dredger, locating gems at the bottom of the sea, and trading them for coin.  Her goal is simple:  to earn enough coin to purchase passage off the island so that she can then track down and confront her father.  Fable’s plans get turned upside down, however, when she runs into unexpected trouble and needs to get off the island sooner than planned.  She begs a young man named West, her primary buyer, to take her on as a passenger.  Even though no one from his crew wants her on board, West reluctantly agrees to help take her to where she thinks her father is.  Fable has no idea what kind of danger she’s getting herself into though, as nothing and no one, including West or her father, is what it seems.

Fable is such a fantastic character.  I love how strong and resilient she is, and how she refuses to take no for an answer.  Most thirteen-year-olds dumped on an island to fend for themselves would probably have died, so the fact that she survived and managed to secure some semblance of a living for herself says a lot about her character.  Fable also possesses a rare gift that was fascinating to read about.  Somehow she is able to actually hear gems when she’s near them.  It’s this gift that made her so successful as a dredger and it’s also something she needs to keep hidden.  If any of the other roguish traders out there knew she could do this, it would put a target on her back.  Aside from Fable, I also really enjoyed West and his crew.  There’s a bit of a ‘found family’ vibe there as they grow to slowly accept Fable’s presence among them.

Aside from great characters, I also thought the worldbuilding was fantastic.  I loved the descriptions of the sea, beautiful and serene one moment, dark and deadly the next.  Young paints an incredibly vivid and realistic portrait of this dangerous environment Fable’s father has thrust her into.  Not only is the sea itself dangerous, but practically everyone around her is a dangerous scoundrel as well.

Fable is a story that is beautifully written on every level. The characters are all so well-drawn and complex, and the story itself is fast-paced and action-packed.  I breezed through it in a day and immediately wanted to get my hands on the second book because this one ends with a major surprise and I just have to know what happens next.

If stories about the sea that feature scrappy resilient heroines, found families, and a hint of magic appeal to you, definitely check out Adrienne Young’s latest novel, Fable.  You won’t be disappointed.  4.5 STARS

Review: HIDDEN by Laura Griffin

Review:  HIDDEN by Laura GriffinHidden by Laura Griffin
four-stars
Series: The Texas Murder Files #1
Published by Berkley Books on August 25, 2020
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, 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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Brittanie from Berkley for inviting me to take part in Berkley’s 2020 Romance blog tour.  Today I’m excited to share my thoughts with you on Laura Griffin’s latest novel, Hidden.

Hidden is the first installment in Laura Griffin’s new crime thriller series, The Texas Murder Files.  Hidden draws the reader in from the very first page as we follow a jogger on a popular hike-and-bike trail.  As she is jogging, the woman seems nervous and fearful, to the point of paranoia.  When a man with a large knife accosts her, it becomes all too painfully clear that she had a reason to be so nervous.  Investigative journalist Bailey Rhoads is sent to investigate the murder, as is police detective Jacob Merritt.  Bailey approaches Jacob to see if he can give her some details on the case, but instead of being helpful, Jacob is gruff and close-lipped about the case.  When she doesn’t get any assistance from Jacob, Bailey decides to do some digging on her own.

Two things become clear as both Jacob and Bailey begin to investigate:  1) There is frustratingly little evidence to go on with respect to the murder. Even getting an ID on the victim is proving to be nearly impossible, and 2) Whether they want to admit it or not or even act on it, Bailey and Jacob are attracted to one another.

Hidden was a winner for me for several reasons, the main one being that the murder case itself is very compelling.  From that opening scene, I was hooked on finding out who this woman was and why she was killed in such an awful way.  I became all the more invested in the case when both Jacob and Bailey couldn’t find out anything about the victim. It was like she had gone completely off the grid.  As Jacob and Bailey slowly began to unravel the details of the case and the suspense began to build, I flew through the pages eager to get to the truth about what had happened, especially as it became clear the woman’s murder was a hit job and that the killer wasn’t finished.

I also really loved both of the main characters.  Bailey is a talented and tenacious journalist.  She’s determined to get her story and won’t let anyone, not even a sexy police detective, stand in her way.  Jacob is equally likeable, even though he initially comes off as somewhat gruff and standoffish.  He’s actually just very protective when it comes to his cases. He truly cares about finding justice for his victims and in the case of this victim, is downright ticked off when the FBI comes to take jurisdiction over the case.  I loved his passion and I also thought it was cute how hard he tried to fight his growing attraction to Bailey even though her stubbornness made him crazy. His head keeps telling him it’s a bad idea for a cop to get involved with the media, but his heart has other ideas.  The chemistry between Jacob and Bailey was great too. The way their relationship progressed felt very organic, not to mention both cute and sexy.

Hidden is a very satisfying and entertaining read.  If you enjoy romantic suspense and a riveting murder mystery, be sure to add this gem to your reading list.

four-stars

About Laura Griffin

Laura Griffin is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty-five books and novellas. Her books have been translated into fourteen languages. Laura is a two-time RITA® Award winner (for Scorched and Whisper of Warning) as well as the recipient of the Daphne du Maurier Award (for Untraceable). Her book Desperate Girls was named one of the Best Books of 2018 by Publishers Weekly. Laura lives in Austin, Texas, where she is working on her next novel.

Review: EIGHTY DAYS TO ELSEWHERE by K.C. Dyer

Review:  EIGHTY DAYS TO ELSEWHERE by K.C. DyerEighty Days to Elsewhere by K.C. Dyer
four-stars
Published by Berkley Books on August 11, 2020
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..

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Brittanie from Berkley for inviting me to take part in their 2020 Romance blog tours.  Today I’m excited to share my thoughts on K.C. Dyer’s new novel, Eighty Days to Elsewhere with you.

* * * * * *

K.C. Dyer’s new novel, Eighty Days to Elsewhere, is an entertaining romp around the globe that reads like a mash up of the Jules Verne classic, Around the World in 80 Days, The Amazing Race reality TV show, and Eat Pray Love.  The novel follows Ramona (Romy) Keene, a young woman who lives in New York City and works with her uncle in his bookstore in the Village.  Although Romy dreams of being a photographer and of traveling, she instead sticks close to home, the charming bookstore a safe haven from the world.  When an evil new landlord arrives on the scene, jacks up the rent on the bookstore, and threatens to evict them, Romy is desperate to do whatever it takes to save the bookstore.

She applies for a job at a company called ExLibris Expeditions, an unusual company whose mission it is to create custom adventures for clients based on scenes from their favorite books.  (How cool does that sound?!) The custom trips involve a great deal of research, including actually traveling to each destination being considered to figure out transportation, things to see and do, etc.  When Romy applies for the job, as part of her application process, she is tasked with doing the legwork on a custom trip that follows the route taken in Around the World in 80 Days.  There’s a catch, however, a few of them actually:  1) Romy is given significantly less than 80 days to complete her task because of the timeline the client has given ExLibris, 2) Romy is not allowed to travel via commercial airline since that mode of travel didn’t exist at the time of the novel, and 3) Romy is competing against another applicant who is also applying for the job.  Whoever successfully completes the trip first and by the stated deadline will win the job and a $10,000 bonus.

It’s best to watch the adventure portion of the book unfold for yourself, but I did want to share some highlights.

5 Reasons You’ll Want to Read Eighty Days to Elsewhere

  1. It’s a book of journeys. We follow Romy on her actual physical journey around the world, which is perfect for readers like me who love to travel but have been sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Romy’s trip takes us through London, Paris, Mumbai, Singapore, and so many other incredible destinations.  Even though Romy couldn’t stop at any destination for very long because of the contest, I still loved reading and learning a little something about each place she visited.  In addition to the physical journey, we also follow Romy on a psychological journey.  Romy has been grieving the loss of her parents and that grief has been holding her back from fully living her life.  This trip gives her the opportunity to really live, learn, and grow as a person.  The Romy who comes back to NYC after her journey is definitely not the same Romy who left.
  1. Romy’s misadventures.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I’m just going to say that Romy must seriously have the worst luck of anyone on the planet.  If something could go hilariously wrong at any of her destinations, it absolutely did.  It got to the point where I couldn’t wait for her to get to the next country just to see what went wrong next and how she was able to recover from it.  All I kept thinking the whole time I was reading these misadventure scenes was that this book would make a very entertaining movie or series.
  1. Serious topics are tackled as well. It’s not all fun and games on Romy’s trip.  The author also takes on some serious and thought-provoking topics as well, as part of Romy’s journey of growth.  Romy learns about the plight of Somali refugees, racism on a level she has never seen it before, her own privilege, and she even has an encounter with Greenpeace and whale hunters, just to name a few. These encounters make it a very eye-opening trip for Romy.
  1. Show stealers. Romy meets an adorably sassy Somali teen named Sumaya on her trip. When Romy meets her, Sumaya has lost both of her parents and is trying to make her way to find her aunt, who emigrated several years earlier.  Sumaya is a force of nature, determined that no one and nothing will stand in her way, and she also has a pretty mean stand-up routine, as she wants to be a comedian when she grows up. Sumaya not only steals the spotlight once she joins Romy on her travels, she will also steal your heart.
  1. Romance.  Speaking of getting your heart stolen, there is romance in the book as well.  Be forewarned that it’s a slow burn and definitely takes a backseat to Romy’s psychological journey, but it’s still really nice to watch Romy finally let her guard down and let someone in.  I’m not entirely sure what trope it falls under so I’m going to call it a mix of enemies to lovers and rivals to lovers.

Now I will confess that there were a few times along the way when I had to suspend disbelief.  Seriously, no one could have the kind of consistently bad luck Romy has.  Also, a few of the places in Around the World in Eighty Days are probably not places that Americans would be advised to travel to at this point in time.  That said, I finally just told myself that this is fiction and that I needed to stop nitpicking unlikely scenarios and just enjoy the ride.  Once I did that, I enjoyed Eighty Days to Elsewhere immensely and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for an entertaining adventure.

four-stars

About K.C. Dyer

kc dyer loves to travel. When she’s not on the road, she resides in the wilds of British Columbia, where she likes to walk in the woods and write books. Her most recent novel, published by Berkley Books, is arriving in 2020. A romantic comedy, EIGHTY DAYS TO ELSEWHERE is the madcap story of a young woman so desperate to save her family’s bookstore that she undertakes a race around the world, but ends up falling for her competition.

She is the author of FINDING FRASER, an international bestseller in romantic comedy, and published by Berkley Books. US Weekly called FINDING FRASER a “humorous but relateable self-discovery tale”, and Bustle named it a ‘Must-Read for OUTLANDER fans”.

For teens, kc’s most recent work is FACING FIRE, a sequel to the acclaimed novel, A WALK THROUGH A WINDOW, published by Doubleday/Random House. kc is represented by Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency.

kc has spoken before thousands of readers — both kids and adults — across Canada and the US, and in Europe and Asia. She is a director and long-time participant at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. She has been writer-in-residence at New Westminster Secondary School, and a featured presenter at the National Council of English Teachers in both Philadelphia, PA and Chicago, Ill; YouthWrite in Penticton, BC; Young Authors in Kamloops, BC; WORD Vancouver, Canadian Authors’ Association in Victoria, BC; Ontario Library Association Super-Conference in Toronto, ON; Simon Fraser University Southbank Writers in Surrey, BC; WriteOn Bowen and many others.

Review: THE BLACK KIDS by Christina Hammonds Reed

Review:  THE BLACK KIDS by Christina Hammonds ReedThe Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
four-stars
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on August 4, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, 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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed is a poignant coming of age story set in Los Angeles during the 1992 Rodney King Riots.  It follows Ashley Bennett, a wealthy black teen whose parents have raised her in such a way as to shelter her from the struggles, and particularly, the racism that faces the black community.  Ashley attends a mostly white private school and her childhood friends are all white.  The only black kids she knows are those who attend her school on scholarships, but they keep to themselves and she doesn’t interact with them.  When the novel opens, Ashley’s most pressing concerns are whether to go to school or ditch and hang out with her friends at the pool or beach.

Everything changes, however, when the police officers who were captured on video brutally beating Rodney King, a black man, are acquitted.  Rightfully so, the black community is outraged and so the L.A. riots began.  The beating, acquittal, and subsequent riots is such big news that there’s no way Ashley can be sheltered from it, and it soon becomes a revelation to her that makes her question everything about herself – her privileged life, her disconnect with the black community, and her entire sense of self.

Ashley’s inner monologue was what really made this story so powerful for me.  I just found myself so moved by all of the emotions going through her head as she truly has to re-evaluate everything she has ever known now that she is faced with this new harsher reality.  Ashley is also worried sick about her older sister, who abandoned that sheltered life and is out protesting for justice right in the middle of the riots.  My heart especially broke for Ashley when during an argument with one of her childhood friends, the friend lets the ‘n’ word fly.  Hearing that hate come out of her friend’s mouth for the first time makes her realize that perhaps it’s time to move on and find friends who understand what she is going through and what a mess her head is because of it.  Even though my heart broke for her at the loss of friendship, it also soared for her as she slowly starts to find her way, figure out who she is, and who the best kinds of friends are for her.

Ashley’s journey in The Black Kids is a hard one, but as hard as it was, I still loved watching her learn and grow, and discover a new sense of identity.  I also thought it was very powerful to watch the riots unfold through the eyes of a frightened and confused black teen.  I’m old enough that I remember watching the riots on TV, but Ashley’s perspective is an entirely different one and it really hit me hard as I was reading.  It also made me sad in the sense that it’s now almost 30 years since those riots and we still have so much more work to do when it comes to fighting racial injustice.  I’m glad to see more and more books like The Black Kids and hope they will inspire all of us to understand and to do better.

four-stars

About Christina Hammonds Reed

Christina Hammonds Reed holds an MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. A native of the Los Angeles area, her work has previously appeared in the Santa Monica Review and One Teen Story. The Black Kids is her first novel.

Review: THIS IS MY AMERICA by Kim Johnson

Review:  THIS IS MY AMERICA by Kim JohnsonThis Is My America by Kim Johnson
five-stars
Published by Random House Children's Books on July 28, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Set in Galveston, Texas, Kim Johnson’s This Is My America follows Tracy Beaumont, a 17-year old African American who is on a mission to save her father, who is sitting on Death Row, convicted of a murder he did not commit. When the novel opens, he has less than one year before he’s put to death and so Tracy is running out of time. She has spent the past seven years writing weekly letters to Innocence X, an organization devoted to help those who have been wrongly incarcerated, pleading with them to take her father’s case.

The matter becomes all the more urgent when tragedy strikes the Beaumont family all over again. The local police arrive at the Beaumont house late one night with an arrest warrant for Tracy’s older brother Jamal. He is the prime suspect in the murder of Angela Herron, the editor of their school newspaper and also the white girl Jamal has been dating in secret. Jamal has no alibi and the sheriff’s son places him at the scene of the crime. Fearing he’s going to suffer the same fate as his dad, Jamal flees and refuses to come home until he can prove his innocence. With the clock ticking on both her father’s and her brother’s lives and still no response from Innocence X, Tracy decides it’s time to take matters into her own hands and starts looking for the evidence that will set them both free and save her family.

This story is hard-hitting on so many levels. As we follow Tracy on what turns out to be an increasingly dangerous journey to find the evidence that will exonerate her family members, the author unflinchingly explores so many tough and all-too-relevant topics, such as systemic racism, corruption in law enforcement, police brutality, the lingering existence of hate groups like the KKK, and the fact that without ample resources, a black person has little chance of successfully defending themselves in our legal system. The deck is just stacked against them. The author really drives her point home though by bringing us into the Beaumont home, where we meet and fall in love with Tracy, Jamal, their mom, and especially with their little sister Corinne, who at only seven years old, has never known her father as a free man. He has always been behind bars. Everything this family has gone through just had me in tears several times while I was reading, especially knowing that even though this account is fictional, the Beaumont’s situation is unfortunately a reality for too many families.

I don’t want to give away anything about the actual murder mysteries, so I’m just going to add that as powerful a read as this is because of its message about racial injustice, it’s also just a flat out fantastic read because the drive to find the real murderers is so riveting.

This Is My America is a hard-hitting exploration of the racial injustices that are so pervasive in American society. It’s a powerful read in that it will make you sad, angry, and frustrated at how little progress we as a society have made to stop the racial injustices, but at the same time, it’s a hopeful story. This is a book I’d love to see as required reading at the high school level because of its message that you’re never too young to start making your voice heard and that no matter how young you are, your voice can actually make a difference.

five-stars

About Kim Johnson

KIM JOHNSON held leadership positions in social justice organizations as a teen and in college. She’s now a college administrator who maintains civic engagement throughout the community while also mentoring Black student activists and leaders. She is also the graduate advisor and member of an historically Black sorority. This Is My America is her debut novel and explores racial injustice against innocent Black men who are criminally sentenced and the families left behind to pick up the pieces. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and the University of Maryland, College Park.

Review: PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA by Jenn McKinlay

Review:  PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA by Jenn McKinlayParis Is Always a Good Idea by Jenn McKinlay
four-half-stars
Published by Berkley Books on July 21, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Women's 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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Brittanie at Berkley for inviting me to take part in the blog tour for Jenn McKinlay’s latest novel, Paris is Always a Good Idea.  I had a major case of cover love for this book as soon as I saw it, and I’m thrilled to report that the story itself is as wonderful as the gorgeous cover and can’t wait to share my thoughts on it with you.

 

* * * * *

 

Chelsea Martin is in a rut.  She’s all work and no play, and as her sister points out, hasn’t been in any kind of relationship in years.  Seven years ago their mother died of cancer, and it’s like Chelsea stopped living as well.  Things come to a head when Chelsea’s father announces that he is getting remarried. Chelsea is overwhelmed by the news and feels like her Dad is betraying her mom’s memory and basically tells him this, creating a very awkward and tense situation. A heart-to-heart with her sister afterwards convinces Chelsea that she really needs to do some soul searching.  Since the last time she can even remember actually being happy is during her trip to Europe after college, she decides she wants to retrace her steps and see if she can rediscover the Chelsea she used to be.

Paris is Always a Good Idea follows Chelsea on this journey to self-discovery, and wow, what a journey it is!  I don’t want to give away any details because her journey is best experienced knowing as little as possible up front, but I do want to share what I loved most about the story.  Below are some highlights.

* * * * *

5 REASONS PARIS IS A GOOD IDEA IS A MUST-READ

  1. Wanderlust. If you love traveling like I do and have been missing it fiercely because of the pandemic, Paris is Always a Good Idea is the perfect read for you.  We not only get to travel to romantic and beautiful Paris as the title suggests, but as part of retracing Chelsea’s gap year abroad, we are transported to the lush countryside of Ireland and to an incredible castle and vineyard in Tuscany, in central Italy.  The author does an incredible job of capturing the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of each location and bringing them to life. It’s as close as you can get without your passport and I loved following Chelsea on this journey.

  1. Mamma Mia vibes. Okay, so maybe I’ve watched Mamma Mia a few too many times, but as I was reading this book, I kept thinking certain aspects of it reminded me of Mamma Mia.  No, Chelsea doesn’t go to Greece and no, there’s no love child with three possible fathers, but still, Chelsea does go to Europe hoping to rekindle her heart by tracking down three hot guys she had fallen in love with during her gap year. The search for these three hotties leads to many awkward and hilarious moments for Chelsea, which is where my Mamma Mia comparison comes from. If you’re a Mamma Mia fan like I am, I think you’ll love this book too.

  1. Emotional journey. It’s not all lighthearted fun and games though. Paris is Always a Good Idea also very much focuses on the emotional journey Chelsea takes as she tries to find herself again.  Chelsea has been grieving for the loss of her mother for so many years now that trying to find her way past that grief so that she can live and love again is a tall order.  As much as I enjoyed the humor of those lighter moments as Chelsea looks for her old boyfriends, I really loved having this emotional journey as part of the reading experience as well. It made for an all around satisfying read.

 

  1. Relatable protagonist. Chelsea is definitely a character I found easy to relate to.  So much of what she goes through are things many of us have gone through or probably will go through at some point.  Burying ourselves in our work to avoid troubles in our personal lives, friction between family members, the loss of a parent, or even just feeling like we’ve lost some essential part of ourselves.  She’s also relatable in the sense that she’s messy and flawed. Some of what she says to her dad when she learns he’s getting remarried was downright cringeworthy, but at the same time, the reaction felt very authentic, like drama I could imagine playing out in my own family.

 

  1. Enemies to Lovers. Lastly, and perhaps the most fun reason of all, for all of you romance fans, there’s a fabulous enemies to lovers romance. I don’t want to give away any details on this, so I’m just going to say if you enjoy sparks flying, witty banter, and off the charts chemistry, you’re going to love this book!

 

Paris is Always a Good Idea is an emotionally satisfying read that will fill both your heart and  your need to travel.

four-half-stars

About Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay is the New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author of several mystery and romance series and will be debuting a stand alone romantic comedy in July 2020 entitled PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA. She lives in sunny Arizona in a house that is overrun with kids, pets and her husband’s guitars.

Review: BLACKTOP WASTELAND by S.A. Cosby

Review:  BLACKTOP WASTELAND by S.A. CosbyBlacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
four-half-stars
Published by Flatiron Books on July 14, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t normally read a lot of crime novels but I was drawn to S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland because it’s set in my home state of Virginia.  Whatever my reasons for initially picking it up though, I’m so glad I did because Blacktop Wasteland really blew me away.  It is both an action-packed thrill ride that features a high stakes heist and an emotional journey about a man who is caught between the sins of his past and what he desperately wants for his future.

Blacktop Wasteland hooked me from the very first chapter when we meet the protagonist, Beauregard “Bug” Montage.  If you like complicated characters, you’re going to love Bug.  When we first meet him, Bug is drag racing for cash and it becomes immediately clear that Bug’s driving skills are unmatched.  Think “The Fast and the Furious” and you’re on the right track.   For years, Bug was the go-to wheelman for anyone out there who was trying to pull off a heist.  He’s now trying to leave that life of crime behind though.  Bug has a wonderful wife, great kids, and he owns his own auto body shop.  He loves his life as a family man and business owner, living on the up and up, and wants to do right by his family no matter what.  Bug is also haunted by memories of his father, who led a similar criminal lifestyle but ultimately abandoned his family rather than stick around and take care of them.  Bug is determined not to be like his father.

Life gets complicated for Bug, however, when for reasons beyond his control (unexpected expenses, new competition from a rival shop, etc.), he starts struggling to make ends meet and fears he won’t be able to provide for his family.  As he exhausts all of his non-criminal options, his old way of life starts calling to him and when a former associate approaches him about a can’t miss heist, Bug agrees to take part, rationalizing in his mind that he’s doing this one last time and that it’s all for his family.  Things unfortunately don’t go according to plan as Bug and his associates realize they’ve stolen from the wrong person and that things are about to go from bad to worse for them.

There’s so much tension and suspense building as Bug finds himself in an increasingly impossible situation. When the heist goes wrong, Bug’s life spirals down a dark and dangerous path that leaves him and his family more vulnerable than ever before and he has to figure out a way to fix it once and for all. And what made Bug such an especially compelling character for me is that no matter how deep he found himself in trouble, he never loses sight of his family.  He truly is willing to do absolutely anything to protect them and secure their future, even if it means possibly sacrificing himself.   S. A. Cosby does such an incredible job with painting Bug as both morally gray and completely sympathetic that I actually found myself rooting for Bug to do whatever he had to do to take out all threats to his family, even if it involved violence.  I was just that invested in Bug and his family.

S. A. Cosby’s writing in Blacktop Wasteland is phenomenal as well.  Whether he’s describing the back roads of rural Virginia, muscle cars and action-packed driving scenes that would easily fit into a Fast and Furious script, exploring the landscape of poverty and racism that is ever-present in our society, or laying out an emotional discussion between a husband and wife about the challenges that are facing their family, Cosby’s characters are both authentic and unforgettable, and his imagery is vibrant, powerful, and sure to resonate.  This is my first time reading one of S. A. Cosby’s novels and I very much look forward to reading more from him. If you’re in the mood for a fast-paced crime thriller that is raw, gritty and will leave you on the edge of your seat, Blacktop Wasteland is a must-read.

four-half-stars

About S.A. Cosby

S. A. Cosby is a writer from Southeastern Virginia. He won the 2019 Anthony Award for Best Short Story for “The Grass Beneath My Feet”, and his previous books include Brotherhood of the Blade and My Darkest Prayer. He resides in Gloucester, Virginia. When not writing, he is an avid hiker and chess player.

Review: WHAT YOU WISH FOR by Katherine Center

Review:  WHAT YOU WISH FOR by Katherine CenterWhat You Wish For by Katherine Center
Also by this author: Things You Save in a Fire
four-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on July 14, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 320
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Katherine Center’s latest novel, What You Wish For, is a beautiful story about love and loss, friendship and “found” family, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a story about overcoming fears, embracing joy, and living life to the fullest.

The story follows Samantha (“Sam”) Casey, an elementary school librarian at a prestigious private school in Galveston, Tx.  Life is pretty good for Sam when we first meet her. She loves her job – the school itself is fantastic with a vibrant, creative atmosphere, and Sam loves interacting with her students and with her colleagues.  She even loves her bosses, Max and Babette Kempner, the beloved founders of the school who also happen to be Sam’s landlords.  Over the years, Sam has come to think of Max and Babette as family.

When tragedy strikes unexpectedly and Max passes away, Sam’s life, both personally and professionally, is thrown into turmoil, especially when she learns that the man hired to replace Max as Principal is none other than Duncan Carpenter, a teacher from her old life that Sam had a mad crush on, so much so that when she realized she had missed her chance with him and that he was marrying someone else, she immediately resigned her position and moved to Texas to get away from his happily ever after with someone else.  When Duncan arrives, Sam is shocked that 1) he doesn’t even recognize her, and 2) he immediately starts dismantling everything about her beloved school that made it so special.

What You Wish For really took off for me from the moment Duncan walked back into Sam’s life. He’s so awful and not at all like Sam has described him to her friends that I, like Sam, was obsessed with trying to figure out what had happened to cause such a radical change in his personality.  I was even more hooked by the story though from the moment Sam and Duncan have their first meeting.  It’s borderline hostile and he clearly doesn’t remember Sam, but even so, the chemistry between them is intense and the sparks are flying.  This was a relationship I was eager to see evolve!

Aside from the relationship between Sam and Duncan, I also just loved all of the secondary characters in this story.  I already mentioned the lovable Max and Babette, but there’s also Alice, the hilarious math teacher who wears math pun t-shirts to work everyday and who is also Sam’s best friend.  Then there is Babette’s adorable grandson, Clay, who is a bookworm and loves to hang out in the library with Sam.  Oh and there’s also an adorable labradoodle named Chuck Norris who will absolutely melt your heart.

The last thing I want to mention is a major theme running through the story that I really loved. It was Max’s life philosophy, which he imparted to Sam over the years anytime he sensed her struggling.  Max believed that no matter what is going on in your life, no matter how scared or stressed you may be, it’s important to always choose joy. That while it may not solve all of your problems, it’s a great place to start.  I thought that was such a beautiful philosophy, and one that is especially relevant right now, with everything that is going on in the world.

What You Wish For is my third Katherine Center novel and she has yet to disappoint.  Her stories are always so moving and filled with unforgettable characters, and they never fail to leave me with a full heart and a smile on my face.  If that sounds like your kind of read, you definitely want to give What You Wish For a try.

four-half-stars

About Katherine Center

Katherine Center is the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away, the upcoming Things You Save in a Fire (August 2019), and five other bittersweet comic novels. Six Foot Pictures is currently adapting her fourth novel, The Lost Husband, into a feature film starring Josh Duhamel, Leslie Bibb, and Nora Dunn. Katherine has been compared to both Nora Ephron and Jane Austen, and the Dallas Morning News calls her stories, “satisfying in the most soul-nourishing way.” Katherine recently gave a TEDx talk on how stories teach us empathy, and her work has appeared in USA Today, InStyle, Redbook, People, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Real Simple, Southern Living, and InTouch, among others. Katherine lives in her hometown of Houston, Texas, with her fun husband, two sweet kids, and fluffy-but-fierce dog.