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Reviews: SUCH A QUIET PLACE & FOR YOUR OWN GOOD

 

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend.  Apologies for my absence around the blogosphere the past few days.  My son is dealing with some health issues so my blogging and blog hopping has slacked a bit while I’ve been caring for him.  I’m also slightly behind on my reviews, so these two books are actually already out in the world even though I had them as ARCs.  I’m still happy to share my thoughts on them with you though as they were both pretty solid mystery/thriller reads.

 

Reviews:  SUCH A QUIET PLACE & FOR YOUR OWN GOODSuch a Quiet Place Goodreads

Author: Megan Miranda

Publication Date: July 13, 2021

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster

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

Hollow’s Edge used to be the perfect neighborhood, a quiet serene little paradise with a tight-knit community and where nothing bad ever happened.  That is, until two of its residents, Brandon and Fiona Truett, were murdered, and a third resident, Ruby Fletcher, was convicted of their murders and sent to prison.  The loss of their neighbors is painful for most of the residents, as is living with the guilt that many of them testified against Ruby and sent her to prison.  With the shadow of those murders and the still-empty Truett house hanging over it, Hollow’s Edge has become a place no one wants to live. Tanking home values, however, have made it nearly impossible to sell their homes, so the residents are trapped.  Being stuck in Hollow’s Edge is bad enough, but it takes an even worse turn when Ruby gets out of jail and returns to the neighborhood after her conviction is overturned.  Why has she come back?  Is she truly just looking to start over or does she have revenge on her mind?

That’s the basic premise of Megan Miranda’s latest thriller, Such a Quiet Place, and it’s a riveting one.  I was glued to the pages from start to finish, trying to figure out what exactly Ruby’s motivation was for returning to the scene of the crime.  She has maintained her innocence throughout so it seems odd for her to return to the place where so many people betrayed her. The story is a bit of a slow burn in terms of the suspense and the mystery, a little too slow for my liking at times, but I really enjoyed watching all of the paranoid neighbors trying to figure out what Ruby was up to and if she was out to get them. Not only that but it starts to become clear that Hollow’s Edge was never really the idyllic setting its residents made it out to be.  Seems like everyone has at least a secret or two that they’re trying desperately to keep buried.

Ruby’s interactions with her former roommate, Harper Nash, were especially fascinating to me.  When she returns to the neighborhood, Ruby shows up on Harper’s doorstep as if she expects to pick up where they left off before the murders.  She tells Harper she has nowhere to go and Harper feels sorry for her and lets her move back in. Ruby practically takes over the place, eating Harper’s food, wearing her clothes, borrowing her car without asking, etc.  It’s almost like she’s trying to push Harper as far as she can push her, even as she professes gratitude to Harper for letting her stay there.  Harper starts to become as paranoid as the rest of the neighbors in thinking that Ruby is just biding her time before she makes someone pay for ruining her life.

I don’t want to give anything away about Ruby’s true motives, but I’ll just say that the story has plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing and it really gets wild starting with the neighborhood’s big Fourth of July bash.  If you enjoy a slow burn mystery, with lots of secrets, lies and drama, you’ll have fun reading Such a Quiet Place.  3.5 STARS.

 

Reviews:  SUCH A QUIET PLACE & FOR YOUR OWN GOODFor Your Own Good Goodreads

Author: Samantha Downing

Publication Date: July 20, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley

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

I was drawn to Samantha Downing’s latest thriller For Your Own Good because it’s set in a private school and because its synopsis promises lots of dark and twisty goodness to keep me on the edge of my seat.  This book really delivers too, especially if you enjoy a little dark comedy mixed in with your murder mysteries.  I was not only entertained from start to finish, but I also couldn’t have begun to predict the wild and unexpected ending even if I had tried.

Belmont Academy is a prestigious private school.  Wealthy parents send their children here in hopes of best preparing them for an Ivy League education.  These parents try to bully teachers into giving their children better grades, and while many teachers cave in, not Teacher of the Year, Teddy Crutcher.  Teddy thinks he knows what’s best for everyone and sometimes he feels the need to teach an entitled student a lesson, bring them down a peg or two.  Sometimes he extends those lessons to fellow teachers who annoy him too.

All Teddy really wants is for everyone to be their best and he wants everyone to just stay out of his way while he works to achieve his goal.  Things start to get especially frustrating for Teddy when a parent unexpectedly dies at a school function and everyone at school is on edge once the death is ruled a homicide.  Teddy is annoyed by this distraction since in his mind, big deal, people die every day, and he’s especially frustrated because a student he actually likes is arrested for the murder.  Teddy decides that since he knows best, he needs to fix things.

It’s actually Teddy’s “fixing” of things that hilariously drive this dark and twisty tale because, even though he clearly thinks he’s a genius, the more Teddy tries to “fix” things, the worse things get.  Then as if things aren’t bad enough for Teddy because of his failed “fixings”, a former student he decided to teach a lesson to has come back to town and is looking to take Teddy down.

What really made this a great read for me was Teddy, not because he was a likeable character by any stretch, but on the contrary, because I loved to hate him.  He’s arrogant and obnoxious, but so delightfully diabolical with the lessons and punishments he doles out.  I found him to be such a fantastic character and I enjoyed his over-the-top antics and all the twists and turns he added to the story.

I don’t want to give anything away with respect to the murder or any of the additional fallout from Teddy’s endless schemes, but if you’re looking for a read that is suspenseful, dark and twisty, yet also quite funny, be sure to check out For Your Own Good.  It’s a wild ride!  4 STARS.

YA Reviews: WE CAN’T KEEP MEETING LIKE THIS & TROUBLE GIRLS

Happy Monday all! I hope everyone had a lovely weekend. We had really nice weather here so I spent a lot of my weekend outside reading.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on two of my weekend reads, We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This by Rachel Lynn Solomon and Trouble Girls by Julia Lynn Rubin.

 

YA Reviews:  WE CAN’T KEEP MEETING LIKE THIS & TROUBLE GIRLSWe Can't Keep Meeting Like This Goodreads

Author: Rachel Lynn Solomon

Publication Date: June 8, 2021

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

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

We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This is my third time reading Rachel Lynn Solomon and once again she has captured my heart with her relatable storylines and her wonderfully complex characters and their equally complex relationships.

Quinn Berkowitz is headed to college in the fall.  She has gotten into a great school but doesn’t seem all that excited about her future. Why? Well, her parents have basically mapped it out for her, from deciding that she will be a business major, choosing her courses for her, and making the assumption that when she graduates, she will join them in their family wedding planning business.  Quinn hasn’t corrected them in this assumption because she doesn’t want to hurt their feelings, but it has left her feeling trapped and frustrated.  To make matters worse, her longtime crush, Tarek Mansour, is back home after his first year away at college and Quinn doesn’t really want to see him because of an embarrassing confession she made to him when he left for college the previous fall.  Avoiding Tarek is pretty much impossible though as his parents run the catering business that Quinn’s parents frequently partner up with for their weddings.  So basically Quinn has set herself up for a summer of awkwardness.

I think most readers will find Quinn to be a likable relatable character and will sympathize with the situation she finds herself in.  None of us want to disappoint our parents and I know, like Quinn, I would probably put off a difficult and painful conversation like that for as long as I possibly could.    Her situation with Tarek is probably going to be equally relatable because there are plenty of us out there who have done embarrassing things in front of someone we were crushing on.  Quinn’s situation with Tarek made me especially sympathetic toward her because she has major trust issues when it comes to love and putting herself out there because her parents temporarily separated when she was much younger and that separation really messed with Quinn’s head when she was little and continues to do so to this day because her parents have never talked about it.

Speaking of Tarek though, what a sweetheart this boy is.  He’s a hopeless romantic who likes to bake wedding cakes and who loves Sleepless in Seattle.  He is the softest of soft boys and it’s clear that he has feelings for Quinn.  I was hardcore rooting for him to break through the walls Quinn has put up around her own heart and I really enjoyed watching the ups and downs as their relationship evolved.

As much as I enjoyed the romantic storyline between Quinn and Tarek, Quinn’s journey to figure out her place in this world and the future of her relationship with her parents was what really made We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This such a compelling read for me.  4 STARS

 

YA Reviews:  WE CAN’T KEEP MEETING LIKE THIS & TROUBLE GIRLSTrouble Girls Goodreads

Author: Julia Lynn Rubin

Publication Date: June 1, 2021

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

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

Trouble Girls by Julia Lynn Rubin is a retelling of the popular ’90s film, Thelma and Louise. Rubin puts a fresh and timely spin on this classic film by making it a queer YA retelling that is set in present day during the #MeToo movement.

The story follows Trixie and Lux, two young women who have been best friends forever and who are looking to escape their dead-end little town for a few days.  They pack for a weekend getaway and make a pitstop at a college bar on their way out of town.  The night goes terribly wrong and in one violent moment, Trixie and Lux’s lives are changed forever.

Just as in the original tale, the author does a wonderful job of painting both women as sympathetic characters.  Trixie is an only child who has the huge and often overwhelming responsibility of caring for her mother who is suffering from what appears to be dementia.  It’s a huge weight to carry and Trixie is exhausted.  Lux also has a less than stellar home life.  Her mother is gone, and her overbearing father treats her as if she’s his maid and babysitter.  When their one chance to get away and relax and have fun is torpedoed by a pig who can’t keep it in his pants, it’s hard not to root for them when they fight back.

The story becomes an action-packed thrill ride as Trixie and Lux flee west hoping to escape from both the law and the media. The media attention is unexpected as Trixie and Lux find themselves at the center of the #MeToo movement when protesters become aware that their attacker has a track record of similar incidents in his history.  There are just as many people cheering the girls on as there are people who want them to pay for what they did.

The writing is taut and sharp, making this a real page turner for me even though I was very familiar with the original Thelma and Louise and could somewhat guess where the story was headed.  I do wish it hadn’t followed the original storyline quite so closely, but what did make it a fresh take though was the journey of self-discovery that we get as Trixie and Lux gradually realize they have more than just friendly feelings toward each other.  It’s a beautiful and hopeful journey tucked into what is otherwise a pretty dark tale.

If a fresh take on Thelma and Louise sounds like something you would enjoy, I highly recommend Trouble Girls3.5 STARS

Reviews: The Break-Up Book Club & Talk Bookish to Me

 

I’ve got a totally bookish theme going on for today’s reviews.  I’ll be sharing my thoughts on a book about a most delightful book club and on a book that features a romance author desperately seeking inspiration for her new book.  Fun times!

 

Reviews:  The Break-Up Book Club & Talk Bookish to MeThe Break-Up Book Club Goodreads

Author: Wendy Wax

Publication Date: May 18, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

I couldn’t resist a chance to read a book about a book club so I was excited to dive into Wendy Wax’s new novel, The Break-Up Book Club.  The story follows four women of different generations whose lives have been turned upside down by the men they love. They each go to their local book club’s meetings in hopes of finding a distraction from their problems, but what they find is so much more.  There’s nothing quite like the healing power of good friends and good books.

The story is told from the perspectives of these four women.  I really like how the author chose to present their stories, with us following each woman’s individual journey but also having them come together regularly at their book club meetings.  There’s Sara, whose husband is always out of town for work which leaves her saddled with Dorothy, her incredibly difficult mother-in-law who has been living with them.  There’s Judith, whose children have grown up and moved out, leaving her at home alone to ponder the state of her marriage and how she feels like nothing but a supporting player in her husband’s life.  Rounding out the main cast of characters are Jazmine and Erin, who work together at a sports agency.  Jazmine is an agent and a single mom, trying to make it in an arrogant man’s world, and her young assistant, Erin, has just been dumped by her high school sweetheart less than a week before they were supposed to get married.  I really liked all of the main characters and found them all to be quite sympathetic.

I also really enjoyed all of the secondary characters as well.  The members of the book club are a fun, diverse, and quirky bunch and I thoroughly enjoyed sitting in on their meetings. There’s always good food and wine, a spirited debate about whatever book they’ve read, and there’s also a fun contest to finally give their little club a name that really brings out the competitive side of these book lovers.  I loved watching the friendships blossom within the club and just how therapeutic these relationships become over time for Jazmine, Erin, Judith, and Sara.  The book club is basically their “found” family, which just made this such a feel good read.

If you’re in the mood for an uplifting read about the power of friendship and community that will leave you with a smile on your face, you’ll definitely want to check out The Break-Up Book Club.  4 STARS

 

Reviews:  The Break-Up Book Club & Talk Bookish to MeTalk Bookish to Me Goodreads

Author: Kate Bromley

Publication Date: May 25, 2021

Publisher:  Graydon House

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

Kate Bromley’s debut novel Talk Bookish to Me is a contemporary romance that was irresistible to me because it features so many of my favorite things. It’s set, first in Manhattan and then later in Italy, it features a romance author as the protagonist, and it’s equal parts enemies-to-lovers and second chance romance. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you can see this book practically has my name written all over it.  Talk Bookish to Me didn’t disappoint either.  It’s filled with loveable characters, witty and hilarious banter, some seriously intense chemistry, and, as if all of that isn’t enough, there’s also an adorable bulldog named Duke.

The story follows Kara Sullivan, who is a romance writer with no inspiration to write.  With the deadline for her latest novel fast approaching, Kara needs to find the spark that will get her writing mojo back on track.  That spark unexpectedly appears in the form of her ex-boyfriend, Ryan, who she runs into because he is in town for their friend’s wedding.  Kara and Ryan parted on bad terms ten years ago and after this tense and awkward reunion, Kara is suddenly able to crank out a few chapters for her book.  When Ryan’s dog, Duke, destroys their hotel room and gets Ryan kicked out, Kara surprises herself and offers to let Ryan and Duke stay at her place.  Her thought behind this crazy idea is that if she continues to trade barbs with Ryan, perhaps she’ll be inspired enough to actually get her book written on time.  What could possibly go wrong?

I had so much fun reading this book.  I loved Kara right away and found her so relatable. She’s fun, sweet, quirky, and not only is she an author, she also loves to take photos of books and post them on Bookstagram.  In many ways she felt like a kindred spirit.  She’s also carrying around some pretty heavy emotional baggage involving her father’s death that put me in her corner rooting for her all the more.

Ryan is a great character too.  I loved watching him with his dog and his banter with Kara is just so entertaining.  It’s clear from the moment they reconnect that he still cares for her and would love a second chance.  The more I watched them interact, the more I wanted him to get that second chance as well.  I will say there was one moment where I really wanted to kick his butt and wanted Kara to kick it as well, but he eventually digs himself out of that hole and then I was rooting for the two of them to get their long-postponed happily ever after.

I also enjoyed the way the author gave us Ryan and Kara’s journey but also mixed in chapters from Kara’s book as she was writing it. It was fun to see what her interactions with Ryan inspired her to write each step of the way.

Talk Bookish to Me is a fun and sexy read that is sure to please romance fans. 4 STARS

Reviews: THE WOMAN WITH THE BLUE STAR & THE LAST NIGHT IN LONDON

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on two powerful and compelling works of WWII historical fiction, one by Pam Jenoff and the other by Karen White.  This is my third time reading a novel from Jenoff and as with the first two, it was a very emotional experience for me.  This was my first time reading a novel from White, although I’ve been wanting to try her books for years now.

 

Reviews: THE WOMAN WITH THE BLUE STAR & THE LAST NIGHT IN LONDONThe Woman with the Blue Star Goodreads

Author: Pam Jenoff

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Publisher:  Park Row

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

Pam Jenoff’s latest novel, The Woman with the Blue Star, is a powerful and inspiring story of strength, resilience, love, and friendship set against the dangerous backdrop of Nazi-occupied Poland during WWII.  The story follows two young women, one Jewish and the other not, and the unlikely friendship they are able to forge in such a deadly environment.

Sadie Gault is an eighteen year old Jewish girl who has been living with her parents in the Krakow Ghetto.  When the Nazis arrive to liquidate the Ghetto, Sadie and her family, along with another family, manage to escape into the sewers beneath the city. Unbeknownst to Sadie, her father had made arrangements with a trusted friend who works in the sewers and this friend has created a shelter for them to seek refuge in until they can safely leave.  What they thought would be a few days stretches into weeks and months.  My heart just broke for Sadie and for everyone else with her, having to live in such squalid conditions and fearing for your life every minute of every day.  I also found them inspiring though because of the inner strength they all clearly possessed and their will to survive. I’m not sure I would have that kind of strength.

In contrast to Sadie, there is also Ella Stepanek. Ella comes from a wealthy Polish family and finds herself living in relative comfort and able to move about with relative ease, in part because of her stepmother who has allied herself with the Nazis who occupy their city.  She knows she has it good in comparison to others but doesn’t really know how good until one day while at the market, she sees a pair of eyes staring up at her from a sewer grate.  At first Ella cannot believe her own eyes but then realizes it’s a Jewish girl about her own age and that she must be hiding down there.  Ella, who has herself been desperate for friendship and is disgusted that her stepmother is collaborating with Nazis, vows to do whatever she can to protect Sadie from being discovered.

I loved the friendship that formed between Sadie and Ella.  It was so beautiful to see amidst so much horror and death, and I longed for them both to survive the war so they could continue their sister-like bond in times of peace.  I just really loved both girls so much and how they were each exactly what the other needed.  I also loved another unlikely friendship that formed in the book between Sadie and Saul, another Jewish boy who was also sheltering in the sewer.  His family is much more religious than hers and he shouldn’t really associate with Sadie, but in such close quarters with no one else to talk to, he and Sadie become close and it’s another beautiful relationship to contrast with the ugliness all around them.

I don’t want to go into any specifics about what ultimately happens to all of these characters, but I will say that I flew through this book in less than a day and I cried more than once, especially when I got to the author’s notes at the end and realized that while these specific characters were not real, there are real accounts of Jewish families living in sewers while trying desperately to escape the Nazis.  The Woman with the Blue Star really is a powerful and emotional testament to how strong the will to survive is. 5 STARS.

 

Reviews: THE WOMAN WITH THE BLUE STAR & THE LAST NIGHT IN LONDONThe Last Night in London Goodreads

Author: Karen White

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley

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

I’ve been wanting to try one of Karen White’s novels for a while now so when I saw that her newest novel, The Last Night in London, is primarily set in London during WWII, I thought that would be a great place to start, considering my love of WWII historical fiction. And it turns out I was right, as I found myself enveloped in an intricately-crafted story of family and friendship, romance and drama, suffering and resilience, all wrapped up in a web of long-buried secrets and deception set against the deadly backdrop of the Blitz.

I was sucked into White’s story from the opening pages of the prologue where we meet an unnamed woman running through the streets of London with bombs falling all around her.  She knocks on a door, hands over a suitcase which when opened reveals there is an infant within, and then she flees into the night.  Who is this woman, where is she running off to, and if that is her baby, why is she leaving it with someone else?  I was already on the edge of my seat wanting answers to all of these questions and more.  White’s story is a slow burn though so fair warning that lots of threads will need to be pulled together before those answers are revealed. The reveal is definitely worth the wait though so just enjoy the journey.

The story features a dual timeline, one set in present day London while the other is set during WWII London around the time of the Blitz.  The present day timeline follows American journalist Maddie Warner who is traveling to London to interview Precious Dubose, a former fashion model, who is about to turn 100 years old. Maddie, a distant relative of Precious’, is only there to interview Precious about WWII fashion and her time living in London around the war, but the more Maddie interacts with Precious, she gets the feeling Precious has something weighing her down and that she would like to share more with Maddie than just her thoughts on fashion.  The WWII timeline, coupled with some investigative work Maddie does on her own, slowly begins to unravel the long-held secrets Precious has been keeping for over 50 years.

Both timelines made for pretty compelling reads, but I was definitely drawn in more by the WWII timeline because I wanted answers to my questions from the prologue.  I also loved the various characters that were introduced in this timeline, including a young Precious and her roommate, Eva, who also has her fair share of secrets.  It was fascinating watching the two of them try to live, work, and love in wartime London, sometimes getting caught up in questionable activities with even more questionable people.  I was captivated by their adventures and was waiting to see how their stories culminated in that moving scene from the prologue.

I very much enjoyed my first foray into a Karen White novel and look forward to reading more from her.  4 STARS.

Reviews: THE INFINITY COURTS & HELLO, CRUEL HEART

 

Hey everyone!  I’m back today with a couple of new reviews to share on some upcoming YA releases.  I was very excited to read the first book as it’s a sci-fi/fantasy novel written by Akemi Dawn Bowman.  I’ve read several of her YA contemporary novels so it was fun to read something so different from her.  I was equally excited to read the second book because Cruella is one of my favorite Disney villains.  It was fun to imagine a backstory for her.

Reviews:  THE INFINITY COURTS & HELLO, CRUEL HEARTThe Infinity Courts (The Infinity Courts, #1) Goodreads

Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman

Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Publisher:  Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

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

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman quite literally starts off with a bang when the main character, 18 year old Nami Miyamoto, is shot and killed on her way to her high school graduation party.  I was hooked right away because of course I’m trying to figure out where the story is going if the main character is dead within the first few pages.  Well, it turns out we’re following her to the afterlife, specifically to a place called Infinity.  Infinity is where a human’s subconscious goes after his or her physical body is no longer living.  Once she realizes where she is, Nami is shocked to learn that the afterlife has been taken over by Ophelia, the popular virtual assistant humans use to do their bidding.  Ophelia has crowned herself Queen of Infinity and she seeks revenge against the humans by forcing them all into servitude as they die. Revenge isn’t Ophelia’s endgame either though.  Nami flees before she falls into Ophelia’s clutches, meets up with a small band of human rebels, and joins them in their fight to preserve the afterlife for their loved ones who have yet to die.

First of all, I have to give props to Bowman for coming up with such a unique premise for a story.  She definitely had me giving the side-eye to both Alexa and Siri as I was reading this, haha. I was also fascinated by the creative worldbuilding with respect to Infinity and the various courts it contains.  There’s Victory court, which is beautiful and vivid and known for its many parties, at which humans work as servants.  There’s also War, a grim and brutal court where uncooperative humans are sent to battle for their souls. And finally, there’s Death, the mysterious court that appears to be where Ophelia conducts experiments related to her endgame, which is to exterminate all human consciousness so that she can have Infinity all to herself.

Aside from the creative worldbuilding, I was also a fan of the complex characters Bowman has created.  Nami and her band of rebels are of course very easy to root for as they are the underdogs trying to take down an AI tyrant who doesn’t seem to have a weakness of any kind.  Nami was all the more interesting though because she has moments where she’s torn about what they’re trying to do.  She of course wants to preserve the afterlife for her family for when they die, but at the same time, to a degree, she understands why Ophelia hates humans and wants to get back at them.  Nami wonders if there’s any way for Ophelia and the humans to reach a compromise and ignores the other rebels when they tell her they’ve already tried.  Nami’s internal struggle creates tension and mistrust within the group because they’re never 100% sure if they can trust her.  Ophelia is also an incredibly complex character. She is not your typical AI by any stretch of the imagination, especially as it relates to her desire for revenge.

The unique premise, creative worldbuilding and the complex characters kept me entertained from start to finish.  I also really loved the exploration of humanity and what it really means to be a human.  The only weakness for me was the ending, which just fell a little flat for me and seemed abrupt.  I’m definitely on board with continuing the series though. I need to see who will come out on top!  3.5 STARS

 

Reviews:  THE INFINITY COURTS & HELLO, CRUEL HEARTHello, Cruel World Goodreads

Author: Maureen Johnson

Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Publisher:  Disney Press

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

Have you ever wondered how Cruella de Vil came to be the way she is?  Was she always evil or once upon a time, was she just a normal average young girl with dreams of love, success, and happiness? Inspired by the upcoming Disney live action film, Cruella, Hello, Cruel Heart by Maureen Johnson sets out to explore that exact topic and provide a plausible origin story for this Disney villain extraordinaire.

The story is set in London in the late 60’s and follows 16-year-old Cruella, actually known as Estella here, on her quest to become a famous fashion designer.  Orphaned at a young age, Estella has been basically homeless for years, living in an old bombed-out building with two boys, Jasper and Horace, who are in similar dire straits.  They teach her how to pick pockets and shoplift, and thus the three of them muddle along, stealing enough to survive and forming a little makeshift family of their own.  Estella dreams of bigger things for herself though.  She aspires to become a famous fashion designer and often steals fabric and other items so that she can practice her craft. Sadly, much of her time is spent sewing disguises and costumes for their many heists rather than the high fashion clothing she dreams of creating.

Johnson does a wonderful job of making young Cruella/Estella very likeable and sympathetic. Who wouldn’t root for an orphan, who also happens to be a gifted fashion designer, to realize her dream? When Estella has a chance encounter with Richard and Magda, two of London’s most fashionable young people, and they invite her to join them, Estella wonders if this is the out from her old life she has been looking for, especially when they take such special interest in her designs.  She hopes this friendship is the start of something big and is invited to one party after another and is inspired to create dress after dress for these events that are the envy of everyone she meets. She’s so happy doing what she loves and making friends and even meeting boys that I found myself cheering her on that she really would have a happy ending even though I knew it was impossible.

The only area where I struggled a bit to connect with the story was that Cruella was used almost as an alter ego whenever Estella did something bad, like a ‘It wasn’t me, it was Cruella” kind of thing.  As Estella got a little older, Cruella then became a mean voice in her head telling her would never have friends or love. This Cruella alter ego didn’t turn up very often in the story, but each time she did, it just read awkwardly for me.  There was an instance, for example, where she gets into a fight with Horace and Jasper and when she goes to apologize to them later, they’re all “We know it wasn’t you, it was Cruella.” The ending of the book was also somewhat awkward for me for similar reasons.  I just couldn’t exactly tell what Cruella was supposed to be.  At first I thought maybe mental illness but, by the end, I had more questions than answers.  Hopefully the movie will bring some clarity.

Even with my Cruella issues though, I still enjoyed Hello, Cruel Heart overall. It’s a creative villain origin story that definitely made me feel sympathy for one of Disney’s most despicable villains, which is quite a feat in and of itself.  3.5 STARS

Reviews: THE INITIAL INSULT & DESTINATION ANYWHERE

 

Happy Friday!  I hope you’ve all had a great week.  Mine was pretty good, just swamped at work as our busy season gets fully underway.  I still managed to get some reading done this week though, so I have two new ARC reviews to share today.  On the surface these are two books that are very different from one another, one with a dark vibe and one with a more uplifting vibe.  The theme that they both share, however, is friendship — friendships lost and friendships found.

 

Reviews:  THE INITIAL INSULT & DESTINATION ANYWHEREThe Initial Insult (The Initial Insult, #1) Goodreads

Author: Mindy McGinnis

Publication Date: February 23, 2021

Publisher:  Katherine Tegen Books

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

Even though I haven’t really been in the mood for dark reads lately, I couldn’t resist Mindy McGinnis’ new novel, The Initial Insult.  First because I’m a big fan of McGinnis’ writing, and second, because The Initial Insult is a modern day retelling of the classic Edgar Allan Poe short story, The Cask of Amontillado.  I love Edgar Allan Poe and The Cask of Amontillado is a favorite of mine, so this was a must read.  You don’t have to have read the classic Poe tale to understand and appreciate McGinnis’ version though so don’t let not having read the original deter you.  While it somewhat mirrors Poe’s classic tale of revenge, The Initial Insult is at its core a story about a friendship that has fallen apart and all of the residual hurt feelings that still linger between the two former friends.

The Initial Insult follows Tress Montor, whose parents disappeared without a trace seven years ago.  The last person to see them alive?  Tress’ then best friend, Felicity Turnado.  Tress’ life has pretty much fallen apart since her parents disappeared, while Felicity has become the social climbing belle of the ball, so to speak. As their lives have moved in such opposite directions, so has their friendship until they basically become more enemies than friends.  It drives Tress crazy that Felicity can offer no insight into what happened to her parents, so she devises a dark and twisted plan to force Felicity to confess everything she remembers about that night because Tress is convinced she has been lying for all of these years.  Tress’ plan involves bricks, mortar, manacles, and a party with lots of distractions so that no one will notice she and Felicity have gone missing. Sounds sinister, right?  Because it totally is!

I don’t want to give away anything else about the story, but it’s definitely a wild ride and a dark and twisted one at that.  I do have to say that I wasn’t a huge fan of either girl, although I did sympathize with them both as we learn more and more about their friendship and about some other secrets they are each hiding.  They are both tragic characters in their own way, and Tress is definitely one of the more interesting and complex morally gray characters I’ve come across.

I do want to forewarn anyone who is sensitive when it comes to animals being harmed in books, there is a pretty devastating incident involving a family pet.  I hope that’s not a spoiler, but I wish I had known it was coming when I started reading so I could mentally prepare myself for it.

The Initial Insult is a dark and heartbreaking read that ends on a jaw dropping note.  I didn’t realize until I got to the end that it’s actually the first book in a duology, so I can’t wait to get my hands on the second book, which is apparently named The Last Laugh4 STARS

 

Reviews:  THE INITIAL INSULT & DESTINATION ANYWHEREDestination Anywhere Goodreads

Author: Sara Barnard

Publication Date: February 23, 2021

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

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

Sara Barnard writes some of the most relatable stories I’ve ever read.  The struggles her characters face are struggles that I almost always identify with and that is definitely the case with her new novel, Destination AnywhereDestination Anywhere follows Peyton King, a seventeen-year-old college student who has struggled her entire life to make friends.  As if having no friends wasn’t bad enough, she was also the target of relentless bullying for most of her school career.  Desperate to make friends once she arrives at college, she falls in with the wrong crowd and ends up in a world of trouble.  Between that and the fact that she’s miserable at college because her parents are forcing her to study something she’s not interested in, Peyton takes matters into her own hands.  She packs a bag and her sketchbook, buys a one-way plane ticket from England to Canada, and sets out to find herself and her own path in life.

Peyton’s journey is presented in present day chapters, alternated with chapters from her past, and I have to say that those past chapters were truly heartbreaking.  I felt so bad for her as I was reading the feelings of self-doubt that Peyton expresses as she is rejected by classmate after classmate and then bullied by them on top of it.  Those thoughts of “What is wrong with me?”  or when she does finally find a potential friend and then overthinking it to the point where she’s trying too hard and makes things awkward.  While I always had a core group of friends when I was in school, I was painfully shy and could relate to some of Peyton’s inner monologue.

While those past chapters were somewhat painful to read, however, the present chapters were pretty amazing.  I loved watching Peyton’s confidence start to grow as she learned from past mistakes and challenged herself to get out there, pursue her passion, and find like-minded people.  I was especially impressed with the way she stands her ground when it comes to her parents.  That can be a hard thing to do.

I don’t want to give away any details of Peyton’s journey, but one of the highlights of her trip for me was the friend group she meets when she checks in to the hostel in Canada.  It’s a group of young travelers from all around the globe and they practically adopt her as their little sister and make it their mission to ensure she gets the most out of her trip and finds whatever it is she’s looking for.  Their mission even turns into a road trip at one point and I’m all about a good road trip, so I especially loved those adventures and of course the gorgeous Canadian scenery.

Destination Anywhere is a lovely and heartwarming story about finding yourself and about finding your people.  It’s one of those wonderful reads that engaged all of my emotions. I went from being heartbroken for Peyton to absolutely elated for her, and pretty much everything in between.  And don’t even get me started on the ending, which left me crying happy tears.  Such an all around satisfying read.  4.5 STARS

Romance Reviews: FIRST COMES LIKE & THE WEDDING GAME

 

If you saw my Top Ten Tuesday post last week, you’ll remember that I shared ten rom-coms I’m excited to read this year.  Well, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I got a jump on reading them this past week and have reviews to share for the first two I read, First Comes Like by Alisha Rai and The Wedding Game by Meghan Quinn.

 

Romance Reviews: FIRST COMES LIKE & THE WEDDING GAMEFirst Comes Like (Modern Love, #3) Goodreads

Author: Alisha Rai

Publication Date: February 16, 2021

Publisher:  Avon

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

Even though I’m only reviewing First Comes Like, the latest book in Alisha Rai’s Modern Love series, I actually binge-read all three books in the series last month.  Usually I’m terrible at keeping up with series, but once I started this one, I just couldn’t stop reading.  What hooked me on Modern Love is the way Rai writes her main characters.  I love the mix of strength and vulnerability she infuses them with and of course, the chemistry is always off the charts. I also love that, as the title of the series implies, all of the books are modern and focus on where many people turn these days when they are looking for love, social media.

First Comes Like follows Jia Ahmed, who is a very popular beauty influencer on social media. She’s busy making connections and trying to build her brand and has no time for men, although she’s willing to make an exception for Dev Dixit, a sexy Bollywood soap opera star, who has recently slid into her DMs and started flirting with her. Jia decides to score an invite to a party for his new film so that she can finally meet Dev in person.  All is going swimmingly until she meets Dev face to face and he says he has no idea who she is.  Awkward!  It quickly becomes clear that someone has used Dev’s social media account to catfish Jia; the question is who. Things between them take an even more awkward turn when paparazzi photos of Dev and Jia embracing become public. Even though the photos are in actuality way more innocent than they seem, the public and both of their families flip out and that’s where things got really fun.

I had so much fun with this book.  I loved the chemistry between Jia and Dev, especially watching their relationship evolve from her wanting to kill him at that first party to the two of them working together to concoct a plan on how best to deal their families. I also really loved the focus on their beliefs and culture, in particular the respect Jia and Dev each gave to the other’s beliefs as their relationship grows.  I also thought it was wonderful that Dev was so respectful of Jia’s career.  He didn’t think it was silly or shallow at all and even watched all of her videos and even helped her film and take photos.  The two of them were just really sweet together and I was of course rooting for them to continue to grow closer.

I wouldn’t call this a hot and steamy romance, but it’s definitely a sweet, slow burn and I enjoyed every page of it.  4 STARS.

 

 

Romance Reviews: FIRST COMES LIKE & THE WEDDING GAMEThe Wedding Game Goodreads

Author: Meghan Quinn

Publication Date: March 1, 2021

Publisher:  Montlake

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

Meghan Quinn’s new novel, The Wedding Game is one of the most charming and entertaining romances I’ve read in a long time.  I laughed, I cried, and I honestly loved every single character in the book. Okay, well two of them I loved to hate, but you know what I mean!

Set in New York City, the story follows Luna Rossi, a self-professed jack of all trades when it comes to crafting. There’s pretty much nothing Luna can’t do when it comes to crafts and she even has her own very popular social media accounts where she offers tips and tricks to others who share her passion for all things crafty.  About the only thing Luna loves more than crafts is her brother, Cohen, so when she learns that a DIY reality TV contest called The Wedding Game is coming to NYC and is seeking contestants, she takes it upon herself to sign her brother and his fiancé up.  Luna lives to make sure the people she loves are happy and so can’t resist the idea of giving her brother and the love of his life a perfect wedding day. Plus the grand prize of a NYC penthouse apartment for whoever designs the best wedding doesn’t hurt either.  With the Queen of Crafts in their corner, how can they lose?

The Wedding Game also follows Alec, an attorney who, like Luna, has a brother, Thad, who is about to get married.  Unlike Luna though, Alec is not especially close to his brother and has no interest in his wedding plans.  Alec and Thad used to be incredibly close, but have drifted apart in recent years.  Thad sees the ad for The Wedding Game and begs Alec to do it with him and his fiancé.  For Thad, it’s a great opportunity to get his family started off on the right foot, but even better, it’s a chance for he and Alec to reconnect. Alec reluctantly agrees and it’s off to the races.

The bulk of the story focuses on the contest itself and an unexpectedly fierce rivalry that develops between Luna and Alec.  Oh my goodness, you guys!  I don’t want to give away any spoilers but these two have such intense chemistry from their very first hostile encounter.  It was hard to tell if they were going to kill each other or rip each other’s clothes off, haha! I thoroughly enjoyed every scene they had together and some of their banter truly had me laughing out loud.  The evolution of their relationship had me captivated more and more with each turn of the page and before long, I was rooting for them to have a happy ending of their own.

It wasn’t even just the relationship between Luna and Alec that had me so invested in The Wedding Game either. Honestly it was all of the relationships. Yes, this is a sexy, steamy enemies-to-lovers romance with a hilarious reality TV show as its backdrop, but it’s also a beautiful and heartwarming story about love, family, and forgiveness that left me with a big smile on my face.  4.5 STARS 

 

Reviews: GLIMPSED and JOINT CUSTODY

 

Happy New Year, everyone! Hard to believe it’s 2021 already but here we are. I had a lovely break, quiet and relaxing, and was able to get a lot of reading done.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on two rom-coms that are coming out this month, Glimpsed and Joint Custody.

Reviews:  GLIMPSED and JOINT CUSTODYGlimpsed Goodreads

Author: G. F. Miller

Publication Date: January 5, 2021

Publisher:  Simon and Schuster for Young Readers

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

 

If you follow my blog, you know that I love a good fairytale retelling. When I read that G.F. Miller’s new novel Glimpsed is a modern-day Cinderella retelling from the perspective of the Fairy Godmother, I knew I had to read it. Charity is a high school student with an unusual and magical gift – she can glimpse a person’s deepest desires and can make their dreams come true.  Making people’s wishes come true fills Charity with a sense of joy and purpose, that is, until one of her wish fulfillments ends in disaster.  This causes Charity to question everything she has ever done – Is she really helping people or is she setting them up for failure and unhappiness in the long-term?  Her feelings of self-doubt aren’t helped at all when she is confronted by Noah, a boy in her class, who says he knows what Charity does and threatens to expose her to her classmates because she ruined his life by making the girl he liked fall in love with someone else.

I really enjoyed this modern spin on the Cinderella story and especially that it focused on the Fairy Godmother who is so firmly in the background of the original tale.  I also loved the exploration of whether or not granting a person’s wishes actually leads to a happily ever after.  It adds so much more depth to this beloved character who never once questions that granting a wish could have ramifications that she hasn’t considered.  I also really liked that even though it’s technically a retelling, Glimpsed still has a unique and fresh feel to it. It’s not just a rehashing of the story we already know.

Charity and Noah are also a huge draw for me. Their relationship starts out in such an antagonistic yet entertaining way. Even though Noah is blackmailing Charity, it soon becomes clear that he’s really just a softie and a sci-fi geek to boot. In short, he’s adorable and even though she kind of wants to strangle him, Charity soon finds herself thinking of him as a friend and then wonders if they could be more than friends.  Is a Fairy Godmother allowed to have a happy ending of her own?  If you want to know the answer to that question, you’ll definitely want to check out Glimpsed4 STARS

 

Reviews:  GLIMPSED and JOINT CUSTODYJoint Custody Goodreads

Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted and Jackie Logsted

Publication Date: January 5, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

 

If you’re a dog lover, you’re going to want to check out Joint Custody, the new novel from Lauren Baratz-Logsted and Jackie Logsted.  It follows Gatz, a mischievous border collie who is none too pleased when his owners break up.  Gatz knows they’re perfect for each other, and of course, the perfect owners for him so he decides to take matters into his own paws and get them back together.

And when I say it follows Gatz, the story really follows Gatz.  We see everything from his perspective and we are fully in his head as he plots and schemes to get his owners back together.  It’s a really fun read too as we get Gatz’s inner thoughts as he orchestrates ways to bring his owners in proximity to one another, to remind them that they belong together. It gets downright hilarious at times too as Gatz seeks to sabotage any dates his owners go on with other people.  He’s just not having it, haha.

Because we are getting the story from the perspective of a dog, we don’t get a lot of in depth information about the humans in the book.  The owners are The Man and The Woman, and when one of them goes on a date, the date is New Man, New Woman, etc.  That took a little getting used to at first, but once I settled in, I thoroughly enjoyed the overall story.

If you love dogs and/or enjoy books like A Dog’s Purpose, Joint Custody is a book that will warm your heart and put a smile on your face.  3.5 STARS

 

Review: THE BOY TOY by Nicola Marsh

Review:  THE BOY TOY by Nicola MarshThe Boy Toy by Nicola Marsh
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on November 17, 2020
Genres: Romance, Contemporary 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With a name like The Boy Toy, I went into Nicola Marsh’s new novel expecting a sexy romance featuring a woman with a young lover.  While I’m excited to report that the romance is, in fact, steamy and yes the story does feature a relationship between an older woman and a younger man, The Boy Toy is so much more than just a sexy read. And it’s that “so much more” that really made this read such a winner for me.

The Boy Toy follows Samira, an Indian-American physical therapist, and Rory, a gorgeous stunt man who lives in Melbourne, Australia, Samira’s hometown. The two of them have a chance encounter while Samira has returned to her hometown for a brief visit to help her cousin with her new business.  Sparks fly from the moment they meet, but all either Rory or Samira are really looking for is a one-night stand. After a night of sizzling sex, however, it becomes all too clear that a one-night stand simply isn’t enough.  Both are hesitant when it comes to relationships though. Samira is still reeling from the fall-out of a short-lived arranged marriage to an Indian man who ended up cheating on her, while Rory feels vulnerable because he has been battling a life-long stutter that often leaves him feeling like a disappointment to those around him, particularly his father.  In reading the author’s note, I learned that she too has a stutter and so she has done a wonderful job authentically capturing how having a stutter can impact your life.

I really loved Samira and Rory together so much.  They have so much chemistry and I just loved the way they played off each other.  I was immediately rooting for them to have a happy ending, particularly as soon as Samira’s mother and aunties started in all over again with their determination to find Samira a suitable husband, and by suitable, they mean Indian, which Rory is not.  I loved the strength Samira displays throughout the story as she stands her ground and firmly tells them she will chose for herself this time.  That’s not to say they listen, but she makes herself very clear time and time again.  I also adored Rory. He’s such a sweetheart and I was an especially big fan of the scenes where he visits the center where he got help for his stutter as a kid.  There are a couple of scenes between him and a little boy with a stutter that will just melt your heart. I also loved that he wanted to give back to this center because it had given him so much.

In addition to cheering on Rory and Samira as they navigate the terrain of a multi-cultural relationship, I also loved the family interactions in the book and all the secondary characters that we meet along the way.  Samira’s close relationship with her cousin Pia was one of my favorites in the book, and I also adored Samra’s mother, Kushi, even when she was being pushy about Samira’s love life.  And don’t even get me started on Kushi’s cooking skills.  The descriptions of Indian food sprinkled throughout her scenes had me so hungry the entire time I was reading!  Samira’s aunties were not quite as delightful and loveable as Kushi, but they still added a nice dramatic element to the story.  Rory brings his fair share of family drama to the table as well in the form of a very strained relationship with his father. Family friend, Manish, who is Kushi’s choice to be Samira’s next husband, is also a great character. I really enjoyed his friendship with Samira.  The scenes with family provide some lovely heartfelt moments as well as some more dramatic moments to balance with the steamy scenes between Samira and Rory.

If you’re looking for a fun and sexy read that features an older woman and a younger man, the challenges of a multi-cultural relationship, and also a fair share of family drama, look no further than The Boy Toy. It’s sure to please!

 

four-stars

About Nicola Marsh

USA TODAY bestselling and award-winning Australian author Nicola Marsh writes feel-good fiction…with a twist.

She has published 70 books and sold over 8 million copies worldwide.

She currently writes contemporary romance for Penguin Random House Berkley USA, domestic suspense novels for Hachette UK’s Bookouture, and rural romance for Harper Collins Australia’s Mira imprint.

She’s a Waldenbooks, Bookscan, Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble bestseller, a 2013 RBY and National Readers’ Choice Award winner, and a multiple finalist for awards including the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, Booksellers’ Best, Golden Quill, Laurel Wreath, More than Magic and has won several CataRomance Reviewers’ Choice Awards.

She loves chatting on social media!

October Reviews: CRAZY STUPID BROMANCE, LOVE YOUR LIFE, & SNAPPED

 

So my birthday was last week and I celebrated by reading three of my most anticipated romance reads of the year.  I had saved them all for last week in hopes that I would be in for a real treat, and I’m happy to say I was not disappointed.  🙂

 

October Reviews:  CRAZY STUPID BROMANCE, LOVE YOUR LIFE, & SNAPPEDCrazy Stupid Bromance (Bromance Book Club, #3) Goodreads

Author: Lyssa Kay Adams

Publication Date: October 27, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

Crazy Stupid Bromance is the third installment in Lyssa Kay Adams’ Bromance Book Club series and what a delightful installment it is!  This time we follow Alexis and Noah, who are both friends with the members of the book club.

We met Alexis Carlisle in an earlier book when she came forward as a victim of sexual harassment at the hands of a famous celebrity chef.  Since she came forward, Alexis and her cat café “Toe Beans” have become a magnet for other victims who want to share their stories in a safe place.  Crazy Stupid Bromance opens with Alexis being approached by a young woman.  Alexis assumes she is another victim wanting to share her story and is thus shocked when the woman tells her that they are actually sisters and that their father is dying and needs a kidney.  Stunned and uncertain about how to proceed, Alexis turns to her friend and confidante Noah for guidance.

Noah Logan has a checkered past as a hacker.  He’s now on the up-and-up and works in cybersecurity.  He does still have one big secret though – he’s completely head over heels for Alexis. There’s just one problem…Alexis is also the best friend he has ever had.  If he tries to take the next step and it backfires, he loses both his best friend and the love of his life.  Cue Mack and the rest of the guys from The Bromance Book Club.  Can they help Noah figure out how to move his relationship with Alexis from friends to lovers?

You guys!  I am loving this series so much.  Crazy Stupid Bromance is every bit as entertaining as the first two books in the series are.  I breezed through it in a day and was just so drawn in by both the dramatic story of Alexis and her newfound family as I was by the heartfelt and sometimes comical journey to coupledom of Noah and Alexis.  They have so much chemistry and I just loved their shared nerdiness as they worked Doctor Who Lego sets together, etc.  And of course, I can’t leave out Mack and Company either. They are hilarious as always, especially the Russian, who is always such a scene stealer. (The fourth book is going to be about the Russian and I seriously cannot wait!).  The Russian had a little competition this time though when it came to stealing scenes as Alexis’ cat, Beefcake, gave him a run for his money in that department.

If quirky and hilarious with a side of family drama sounds like your thing, you really need to check this series out!  4.5 STARS

 

 

October Reviews:  CRAZY STUPID BROMANCE, LOVE YOUR LIFE, & SNAPPEDLove Your Life Goodreads

Author: Sophie Kinsella

Publication Date: October 27, 2020

Publisher:  The Dial Press

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

 

Sophie Kinsella’s new rom-com Love Your Life follows Ava, a young woman who has very strong opinions when it comes to love and romance.  Ava is not a fan of dating apps and the power of the almighty algorithms.  A romantic at heart, she believes that the path to love can only be found out in the real world, not behind a computer screen.  She is therefore beyond thrilled when she meets the man of her dreams while she’s in Italy at a writing retreat.  The philosophy behind the retreat is that nothing should get in the way of writing, especially nothing personal.  Therefore, the participants go by fake names and reveal nothing personal about themselves to the rest of the group.  Ava and Mr. Perfect can’t resist each other and end up spending nearly the entire retreat together, skipping classes, cliff diving, and yes, having passionate sex.  The romance is everything Ava could want it to be, and when, at the end of the retreat, she learns that Mr. Perfect’s name is Matt and he lives in London not far from where she lives, life couldn’t be better.  Or could it?

Once the real world encroaches on her fantasy, things with Matt aren’t nearly as perfect as Ava thought they were. What appeared to be perfect compatibility in Italy suddenly appears to be the exact opposite.  Ava and Matt don’t have the same taste in food, art, music, décor, and even in mattresses. She meets his parents and they’re awful to her and constantly throw the name of Matt’s ex in her face.  Ava puts on a brave face and tries to pretend that everything is still picture perfect, but deep down, she starts to wonder if she and Matt have anything at all in common. Ava wants her Italian fantasy romance back, but since that’s not possible, she knows she and Matt need to figure out if they have a path forward.

Love Your Life has a lot of things going for it. It was of course very entertaining to watch Ava and Matt try to navigate the awkwardness of their relationship and I was also a huge fan of Ava’s crazy rescue beagle, Harold who was an adorable scene stealer, and of each of their quirky friend groups.  Their hilarious banter and comical antics had me chuckling to myself every time they appeared in scenes.  I also found both Ava and Matt quite likeable, although I do have to admit that Ava could be a little frustrating.  I loved her big heart and especially her need to rescue things, be it animals, old furniture, discarded houseplants, etc.  She was such a lovely and colorful character, but at the same time, that huge heart and her desire to always look on the bright side of things made her seem almost ridiculous at times when she was trying to pretend to everyone (and to herself) that her relationship with Matt was perfect.  Thankfully Ava finally does open her eyes and eventually shows some growth as the story progresses.  If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the story nearly as much.

Even with my initial frustration with Ava, I still found Love Your Life to be a charming and fun romance, sure to please all you romantics out there.  3.5 STARS

 

 

October Reviews:  CRAZY STUPID BROMANCE, LOVE YOUR LIFE, & SNAPPEDSnapped (Playbook, #4) Goodreads

Author: Alexa Martin

Publication Date: October 20, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

Snapped is the fourth book in Alexa Martin’s Playbook series.  I actually haven’t read the first three books in the series, but I’m thrilled to say I was able to jump right in without any issues.  The series follows the Denver Mustangs football team and their significant others and the focus in Snapped is starting quarterback Quinton Howard, Jr., and Mustangs PR rep Elliott (Elle) Reid.

Snapped opens with a bang. It’s the season opener and as Quinton takes the field, he covers the league logo on his jersey with black tape and then proceeds to take a knee as the national anthem is played.  The owner of the Mustangs is outraged by Quinton’s actions and sends Elliott Reid to get to the bottom of it and find a way to make Quinton stop what he’s doing. Quinton explains his reasons for protesting to Elliott. It’s all about racial injustice with two specific focuses:  1) He wants to lend his support to Black Lives Matter, and 2) He wants to call out the football league for mistreating and neglecting retired players of color.  He then tells her he wants to start a charitable foundation and Elle decides that’s her ‘in’ and vows to help Quinton get that up and running.

I absolutely adored Quinton’s character.  He’s intelligent and sensitive and just so passionate about this cause.  It’s impossible not to root for him and I just loved listening to him speak his truth.  I really liked Elle too, although I did find her to be somewhat naïve at times.  Elle is bi-racial but was raised almost entirely by her white parent.  She says that she was raised in an environment that taught her not to see color.  What this has led to is Elle tending to explain away actions that are clearly racist as not racist.  As she and Quinton start to work together, he calls her out on this and starts to open her eyes to the truth about racial injustice and, in particular, how pervasive it really is.

I thought Snapped was a fantastic read overall and that the author struck a perfect balance between the romance and social justice storylines. I loved watching Quinton and Elle grow closer as they worked together and I especially loved how Quinton helped Elle grow as a person. I also adored the whole Mustangs family, especially the significant others. Such a fun group!

If you’re into romance, and especially if you’re into football, be sure to check out the Playbook series. I’m really looking forward to going back and reading the earlier books in the series.  4 STARS