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Reviews: THE HEIR AFFAIR & NOT LIKE THE MOVIES

 

I hope everyone who was celebrating this weekend had a safe and fun 4th of July holiday.  I spent most of my holiday weekend reading so today I’m sharing reviews for a couple of fun contemporary reads that are coming out this week.  The Heir Affair and Not Like the Movies are the perfect reads to escape into this summer.

 

Reviews:  THE HEIR AFFAIR & NOT LIKE THE MOVIESThe Heir Affair (Royal We, #2) Goodreads

Author: Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Publisher:  Grand Central Publishing

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

 

If you enjoy books about royalty or have ever fancied yourself marrying the future King of England, The Royal We series by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan needs to be on your must read list.  The Royal We, the first book in the series, follows American college student Rebecca Porter (Bex) and Prince Nicholas (Nick), the future King of Great Britain as they meet, fall in love, and navigate the many obstacles that stand in the way of Bex becoming a member of the Royal Family, while the newest novel in the series, The Heir Affair, picks up with Nick and Bex as a newly married couple starting out their lives together.

While I thoroughly enjoyed both of these books, what I really loved about The Heir Affair is that it really takes a deep dive into Nick and Bex’s relationship.  Some very dramatic events from the first book have really shaken them.  They need time to heal and regroup, and then they also need to work to try to reconcile with Nick’s brother, Freddie, as well as mend their reputations with respect to the people of Great Britain.  The authors do a wonderful job of making Bex and Nick’s relationship easy to relate to.  Even though they are royalty and many of their issues and challenges are royal problems that most of us can only imagine in our wildest dreams, many of the other challenges they face are normal, everyday couple issues.

Of course there are still plenty of humorous moments sprinkled throughout the book, particularly with respect to Bex’s relationship with the Queen and with Bex and Nick’s circle of friends from college who are always entertaining.  As much as Bex and Nick’s journey through married life and, in particular, their strained relationship with Freddie, tugged at my heartstrings, the humorous moments really balanced things out, as did some of the long-buried, juicy royal secrets that come to light and shake things up for everyone.

As much as I enjoyed The Royal We, I couldn’t have asked for a better sequel in The Heir Affair. Overall, a very satisfying read. 4 STARS

 

 

Reviews:  THE HEIR AFFAIR & NOT LIKE THE MOVIESNot Like the Movies (Waiting for Tom Hanks, #2) Goodreads

Author: Kerry Winfrey

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

 

I went into Kerry Winfrey’s new novel, Not Like the Movies, hoping for a bit of light rom-com goodness, but I have to say that I fully underestimated this book because Not Like the Movies has turned out to be one of my favorite reads of the summer so far.  While yes, it has plenty of that rom-com goodness I was looking for, it also has so much more.

Chloe Sanderson is the protagonist of the story and I adored her and just found her so relatable. Chloe has a big heart, always going out of her way to do nice things for others.  She also has a lot on her plate, working as a waitress and baker at Nick’s Café, going to school to finish her business degree, and, most importantly, caring for her aging father who has Alzheimer’s.  Chloe’s life is further complicated when her best friend Annie, an up and coming filmmaker, writes a rom-com screenplay inspired by Chloe’s life and her romance with her boss, Nick.  There’s just one problem…Chloe and Nick are not in a relationship and never have been.

When Annie’s screenplay is actually picked up by a major studio, Chloe’s fictionalized life is suddenly everywhere and everyone thinks she and Nick are together. Awkward!  Things become even more awkward as Chloe starts to consider the possibility of dating her boss. She doesn’t have time for it with everything else on her plate and doesn’t even know if she believes in love, but Nick is kind of irresistible in a sexy, grumpy yet super sweet Luke Danes from Gilmore Girls kind of way. I loved Nick and Chloe’s chemistry and immediately became fully invested in the “Will they or won’t they?” pull of the story.

As much as I adored the rom-com aspect of Nick and Chloe’s evolving relationship, what really took Not Like the Movies to the next level for me was Chloe’s journey as she tries to balance everything she has going on in her life.  It’s an emotional one for her because she’s always so worried about caring for others, especially her Dad, and leaves her own self-care out of the equation.  Even though the journey is a struggle for her, I loved watching Chloe grow as a person, and I especially enjoyed watching her assert herself when it comes to her brother, who has conveniently stayed away and not pulled his weight when it comes to matters of their family.

There’s just so much to love about Not Like the Movies. I flew through it in a couple of sittings and even though I was completely satisfied with the ending, I was actually still just a little sad just because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Chloe and Nick yet.  If you’re in the mood for a story that features romance, family drama, and friendship, this is your book.  Oh and there’s pie too!  Lots of pie!  4.5 STARS

Mini Reviews: TAKE A HINT, DANI BROWN & I WAS TOLD IT WOULD GET EASIER

 

Today I’m sharing reviews of a couple of contemporary reads that are coming out in the next couple of weeks.  I adored both of these novels; they were just the perfect reads to distract me and help pass the time while stuck in quarantine because of the pandemic.

 

Mini Reviews:  TAKE A HINT, DANI BROWN & I WAS TOLD IT WOULD GET EASIERTake a Hint, Dani Brown (The Brown Sisters, #2) Goodreads

Author: Talia Hibbert

Publication Date: June 23, 2020

Publisher:  Avon

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

 

I wasn’t sure Talia Hibbert would be able to top Get a Life, Chloe Brown, but as much as I enjoyed that book, I fell head over heels in love with Take a Hint, Dani Brown.

Dani is a professor and is absolutely brilliant at most things…the one exception to that being love.  When it comes to matters of the heart, she is admittedly completely clueless and therefore just doesn’t even try anymore.  All she wants out of life is to be successful professionally and academically, and a friends-with-benefits relationship on the side to satisfy her physical needs.  When the universe places Zaf, a tall, dark, and handsome university security officer in her path, Dani thinks it must surely be a sign.

Zaf, however, has other ideas when it comes to love. An avid reader of romance novels, Zaf knows what he wants too and it’s all about romance and a happily ever after for him.  When a chance encounter between Zaf and Dani is captured on video and goes viral,  it’s game on, especially when both he and Dani realize their video is actually generating positive buzz and much-needed donations to Zaf’s sports charity for kids.  Dani agrees to pose as his girlfriend for a while to keep that positive press coming. Zaf is great with this arrangement at first, but finds his attraction to Dani growing with every encounter.   Can Zaf win Dani over to his way of thinking when it comes to love and romance?  Or can Dani persuade Zaf that her way is the way to go?

The main characters, Dani and Zaf were both so adorable. I just couldn’t get enough of them.  The chemistry and sexual tension between them is off the charts, and I just loved all of their flirty banter.  Dani is so outspoken when it comes to her thoughts on sex and it cracked me up because she could so easily fluster Zaf and leave him blushing.  I love the fake dating trope because it makes for such a fun storyline, but man was I rooting for these two to get together for real.  They were just so perfect for each other, and I devoured page after page eagerly waiting to see what would happen between them.

If you’re looking for a quick, fun and sexy read with a “Will they or won’t they?” vibe, definitely check out Take a Hint, Dani Brown. You won’t regret it!  4.5 STARS

 

Mini Reviews:  TAKE A HINT, DANI BROWN & I WAS TOLD IT WOULD GET EASIERI Was Told It Would Get Easier Goodreads

Author: Abbi Waxman

Publication Date: June 16, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

 

I became a huge fan of Abbi Waxman’s writing and her sense of humor when I read The Bookish Life of Nina Hill last year, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of her latest book, I Was Told It Would Get Easier.

I fell in love with this book as soon as I started reading it and realized it was about a mother and daughter taking a road trip to visit colleges and especially as soon as I felt the tension between them.  I love those complicated relationship dynamics and couldn’t wait to dive in and learn more about what was going on with these two.  Jessica and her daughter Emily used to be very close, but as often happens when our children enter their teen years, things get a little more challenging, and in this case, mother and daughter have gradually grown apart.  Jessica is really hoping this college tour will give them a chance to bond; however, Emily doesn’t even know if she wants to go to college so she isn’t overly invested in the trip and doesn’t know how to tell her mom that college may not be for her.  Emily is also completely distracted by a potential scandal that seems to be unfolding at the private school she attends. This all makes for an even more strained mother-daughter dynamic as they embark on this trip.

While Jessica and Emily’s emotional journey is definitely at the heart of I Was Told It Would Get Easier, the novel is also filled with Waxman’s trademark humor, especially when it came to the actual college tours, which sometimes went completely off the rails in the most amusing ways.  The cast of secondary characters was very entertaining as well, filled with a nice mix of characters I loved and even a couple that I loved to hate, which is always fun.  I also enjoyed watching Emily and Jessica interact with other kids and their parents.  Waxman’s mix of heart and humor kept me turning the pages, as did the dramatic hints of some trouble brewing at Jessica’s workplace as well as that school scandal Emily seems to be obsessing over.

Abbi Waxman definitely has another winner on her hands with I Was Told It Would Get Easier.  I whole heartedly recommend it to anyone who enjoys heartwarming and humorous reads and stories that focus on mother-daughter relationships.  4.5 STARS

Mini Reviews: The “Slow Burn” Edition

 

Today I’m sharing reviews of some new and recent releases that are sure to please anyone who enjoys a fun and heartwarming read with a side of slow burn romance.

 

Mini Reviews:  The “Slow Burn” EditionReal Men Knit Goodreads

Author: Kwana Jackson

Publication Date: May 19, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

 

Kwana Jackson’s new novel, Real Men Knit, is a heartwarming story about what happens when a prominent Harlem business owner, Mama Joy Strong, unexpectedly passes away and her four adoptive sons are left to determine what happens to Strong Knits, her beloved knitting shop.

I was drawn into this story right away because of Mama Joy.  Even though she’s deceased, Mama Joy is still such a major presence in the book. She’s the thread that ties everyone together and was clearly loved and respected by all who knew her. I also just loved that she chose to adopt not just one or two, but four (!) troubled boys who were in foster care and made them all into a family.  She just struck me as one of those people you instantly wish you had had the opportunity to meet because she was clearly a force of nature.

What surprised me about Real Men Knit is that I went into it expecting a romance based on the synopsis, but while the story does have a hint of romance, I would consider it more a story about family and about growing up.  One of the main characters is Jesse, one of Mama Joy’s sons.  Jesse is the butt of many a joke in the Strong household because 1) he has no real direction in life yet in terms of a career, and 2) because he has a reputation as a ladies’ man, specifically for moving from one woman to the next, leaving a trail of broken hearts in his wake.  The other thing about Jesse though is that he loved Mama Joy more than anything and it’s Jesse who is the driving force behind wanting to save Strong Knits and preserve his mama’s legacy.  He also wants to prove to his brothers that he’s not the screw up they think he is.  Jesse won me over right away, mainly because of his intense devotion to Mama Joy, and I was rooting for him to win his brothers over to the cause of saving Strong Knits.

The hint of romance comes in the form of Kerry Fuller, the other main character, who also grew up thinking of Strong Knits as her home away from home and Mama Joy as her second mom. Kerry is invested in saving the shop as well and agrees to help Jesse.  Sparks fly and there is definitely chemistry between them, but it’s a slow burn affair because Jesse has to get past thinking of Kerry as ‘Little Kerry’ that he grew up with, and Kerry has to get past Jesse’s reputation as the neighborhood heartbreaker.  It’s sweet watching the two of them come together to save the shop but I definitely would have preferred a little less of a slow burn.

Real Men Knit is a wonderful story about family and community, and yes, about love too.  If you’re in the mood for a heartwarming story that will put a smile on your face, look no further.

 

 

Mini Reviews:  The “Slow Burn” EditionSomething to Talk About Goodreads

Author: Meryl Wilsner

Publication Date: May 26, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

 

Meryl Wilsner’s debut romance Something to Talk About was such a fun read for me.  It centers on Jo Jones, a showrunner for a popular TV series who is now looking to make her move to the big screen when she signs on to pen the script for the next installment in a hugely popular action series.  Hollywood being what it is, there are plenty of people lined up ready and waiting to gossip about how Jo’s not up for the job.  Jo is already tired of fielding questions about the new film and whether she’s the right person for the job, so when she has to attend a major award ceremony, she asks her trusted assistant Emma to accompany her and serve as a buffer to drive away the reporters.  An innocent moment between Jo and Emma is caught on camera and the rumor mill runs wild with it, declaring them a couple and trying to spin it into a scandal worthy of the tabloids.

We watch the story unfold from the alternating perspectives of Jo and Emma, and I thought this was very well done. I liked seeing how each woman reacted to the growing scandal, and, in particular, how worried they were for each other.  Would Jo be deemed as a predatory employer taking advantage of her assistant?  Or would Emma be seen as trying to sleep her way to the top?  Ever-present paparazzi and on-set leaks have both women on edge, second guessing their every interaction and who might be watching them. It makes for some very awkward moments between them, especially since the more closely they work together to make it look like they aren’t romantically involved, the more they begin to realize they actually do have feelings for one another.  I really liked both Jo and Emma so I was definitely cheering them on, both to beat back the rumor mongers and to take the leap to coupledom.

Something to Talk About is an entertaining read that also takes a hard look at some of the more toxic elements of working in show business.  I loved this aspect of the story, especially since it featured Jo kicking butt and taking names, reminiscent of today’s Me Too movement.  About the only real downside of the book for me was that it felt like the actual romance I was looking for and expecting took a back seat to everything else.  I don’t mind a slow burn romance at all, but I felt like I was nearly finished with the book before we really started to get a hint of any potential romance between Emma and Jo. If that had happened, just a little sooner, it would have been an even better read for me.  Even with that though, I would highly recommend Something to Talk About to anyone who enjoys women’s fiction and an inside look at Hollywood culture.

Mini Reviews – April 2020 Releases

 

It’s time for a new batch of mini reviews and this time it’s April ARCs. I’ve got a bit of a mixed bag here in terms of genre – YA contemporary, YA fantasy, and Historical Romance, but these are the books that have gotten me through the first week of my state’s stay-at-home order.

 

Mini Reviews – April 2020 ReleasesJack Kerouac Is Dead to Me Goodreads

Author: Gae Polisner

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

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

 

Gae Polisner’s Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is an oh-so-relatable YA contemporary about the challenges of being a teenager.  The story follows 15-year-old JL Markham who is firmly caught between the pressure of being forced to grow up too fast vs. those of not being allowed to grow up fast enough.  When the novel opens, we learn that JL has had a falling out with her lifelong best friend, Aubrey, and that she is trying to make amends.  It remains to be seen exactly what the falling out was over, but it’s clear the two have been drifting apart for a while now. Aubrey has a whole new circle of friends, while JL is left on the outside looking in.  JL is also dealing with the everyday peer pressure that confronts high school students – parties, drinking, dating, and especially in JL’s case because her boyfriend Max is four years older than she is, the added pressure to have sex, perhaps before one is ready.

Then as if being a teenager isn’t challenging enough, JL is also dealing with absentee parents and thus is pretty much on her own, without any guidance whatsoever, to navigate the issues she is facing.  Her father, although he hasn’t technically abandoned her, has been on the other side of the country for 18 months for his job and rarely checks in, except to push back his return home date.  This is especially disturbing considering JL’s mother is clearly suffering from a mental illness that has left her barely functioning. She sits around wearing kimonos most of the time, drinks a lot, and of all random things, writes love letters to Jack Kerouac (yes, the dead famous author).

Polisner does a tremendous job of making JL a sympathetic character.  She lets the reader inside JL’s head so we can see firsthand how she is coping and what her thoughts are about everything that is going on around her. She’s so lost and overwhelmed, and just hoping that she’s making the right decisions as she tries to figure things out day-by-day.  Max is the only one who is there for her, but is he there for the right reasons?  And where I was sympathetic to JL, I was unfortunately not a big fan of any of the other characters in the book, Max included. It seemed like they were all just either flat out awful to JL or just not there for her at all even though they should have been.  I honestly found myself angry and frustrated at all of them.

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a quick read but it’s also one that packs an emotional punch because of everything JL goes through.  The only reason my rating isn’t higher is because I felt the ending was somewhat abrupt and left me with several questions that weren’t resolved.  Even with my lingering questions, however, it was still another great read from Gae Polisner.  3.5 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews – April 2020 ReleasesRuthless Gods Goodreads

Author: Emily A. Duncan

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

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

 

Ruthless Gods is the second book in Emily A. Duncan’s YA fantasy trilogy, Something Dark and Holy. It’s hard to review the middle book of a trilogy for fear of spoiling it for those who haven’t read the first book, but I’m going to do my best and will keep my remarks as general as possible.

What struck me the most about Ruthless Gods is that it definitely took a darker turn than Wicked Saints, which was already pretty dark.  In that sense, it kind of reminded me of The Empire Strikes Back vs. A New Hope.   There are dark forces at work everywhere, and those dark forces are impacting everyone, especially the main characters from the first book.  Nadya, the cleric who is the only one who can communicate with her Gods, can suddenly no longer reach them. It’s like they’ve cut her off.  Serefin, the Prince of Tranavia, is haunted by voices and feels as if his entire body has literally been taken over by someone or something else. And then there’s Malachiasz, the Prince’s brother, who is torn between who he once was and the monster he has become after incidents at the end of book one.  All three are battling inner demons and trying to figure out what is expected of them because it becomes clear they are pawns in someone else’s game.  Watching them struggle, I quickly found myself enamored with and rooting for all three characters all over again and anxious to see what awaited them.

As with Wicked Saints, the world building is phenomenal and I loved how dark and atmospheric it was and that it all felt tinged with the supernatural.  As much as I enjoyed the world building, the characters, and the overall story, I do have to admit that the pacing was a bit slow early on.  As Duncan starts to weave together the pieces that bind Nadya, Serefin, and Malachiasz, however, the book, thankfully, really takes off and I flew through the last half.

Even though I thought this second book was a little uneven in terms of its delivery, Ruthless Gods still gave me enough in that second half to have me anxiously awaiting the final book in the series.  If you enjoy slow-burn, dark fantasies, be sure to check out Wicked Saints and Ruthless Gods.  3.5 STARS

 

Mini Reviews – April 2020 ReleasesTo Have and to Hoax Goodreads

Author: Martha Waters

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Publisher:  Altria Books

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

 

Martha Waters’ debut novel To Have and to Hoax is the hilarious, feel good read we all need in our lives right now. I breezed through it in a couple of sittings and just sat there chuckling to myself the entire time I was reading.  The book is set in Regency, England, and reads very much like a Jane Austen novel, which I loved since I’m a huge Austen fan.

To Have and to Hoax follows a young couple, Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley, who meet, fall in love, and marry within just a few months of becoming acquainted.  A fierce quarrel between the two of them early on in their marriage has left them completely alienated from one another.  Both Violet and James are apparently not only stubborn as mules, but they are also quite juvenile and so 4 years have passed with them at a stalemate.   Deciding enough is enough, the two of them start to play mind games with one another – feigning sick to make the other one worry, pretending to have a paramour to make the other jealous. They even actually start to bring outsiders into their games as actors to up the stakes to try to get under each other’s skin.  These two idiots and their antics are just so silly and ridiculous that I couldn’t stop laughing at them and especially at their hilarious sniping banter.

To Have and to Hoax is exactly the bit of fluffy goodness I was hoping for when I started reading and I definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking for a light-hearted read about a couple of stubborn fools.  3.5 STARS

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read List

 

Today I have a new batch of reviews to share and this time it’s a very eclectic mix of February and March releases that I’ve enjoyed reading recently.  This selection of books fed my love of historical fiction, as well as my enjoyment of thrillers and contemporary reads.  I hope you’ll enjoy them as well.

 

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read ListThe Two Lives of Lydia Bird Goodreads

Author: Josie Silver

Publication Date: March 3, 2020

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

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

 

I read Josie Silver’s One Day in December a couple of months ago and absolutely fell in love with it, so much so that I immediately requested her newest novel, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird.  Just as with the case of One Day in DecemberThe Two Lives of Lydia Bird captured my heart as soon as I met the main character.

Lydia Bird has been in love with her fiance, Freddie, for over a decade.  She has adored Freddie with every fiber of her being since she was a teenager and so is utterly devastated when he is killed in a car accident on her 28th birthday.  Silver does an incredible job of making Lydia’s pain feel so real and my heart broke more and more for her with every page.  Lydia is truly in despair and can barely function without Freddie.  Her doctor finally prescribes her some sleeping pills in hopes of getting Lydia to rest, and what Lydia discovers when she takes the pills is that not only does she dream deeply, but her dreams are filled with Freddie, of a whole alternate life where she can experience what her life would be like if Freddie hadn’t died. Her dream life quickly becomes her preferred place to be since she still has Freddie there.

Throughout the novel, we watch Lydia try to navigate her life in both worlds as she both clings to the what-ifs of a life with Freddie, but also tries to consider the possibilities of what her real life will be like without Freddie.  I loved the support system that Lydia has surrounding her throughout the story – her sister and her mom, both of whom she’s very close to, her wonderful coworkers, and perhaps most importantly, Jonah Jones, who is her oldest friend and who was also Freddie’s best friend.  Jonah understands her grief perhaps better than anyone else she knows and is there for her every step of the way.

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird is a moving story about love, loss, and about how individual the grieving process is.  It beautifully conveys the message that we all grieve in different ways and move through the process at our own pace.  At times, this is a truly heartbreaking story, but I was happy that it offered glimmers of hope throughout as well.  I did feel that the ending was a little awkward and would have preferred something different, but I still adored the book even with the ending as is.  4.5 STARS

 

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read ListRed Letter Days Goodreads

Author: Sarah-Jane Stratford

Publication Date: February 25, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

Sarah-Jane Stratford’s latest novel, Red Letter Days, is a riveting work of historical fiction that explores the McCarthy Era or “Red Scare”, a dark time in post World War II American history where fear and hysteria led to American citizens being persecuted as Communists, in many cases, without any evidence whatsoever.  Red Letter Days specifically focuses on how this Communist witchhunt impacted the Hollywood community and women, in particular.

Phoebe Adler, one of the story’s protagonists, is trying to make it as a television writer in a man’s world.  I loved Phoebe right from the start. She’s a New Yorker through and through. She’s smart, tough as nails, and she’s a talented writer who is passionate about her craft.  I got the vibe right away that if anyone could make it as a TV writer in the 50’s, it would be Phoebe.  Somehow, though, Phoebe finds herself on an ever-growing blacklist of Communist sympathizers and it costs her her job.  Devastated that she has lost everything and fearful of what else could befall her since so many have been arrested, Phoebe flees to London. It is in London where Phoebe meets the novel’s second protagonist, the formidable Hannah Wolfson.  I loved Hannah as well. Hannah, another American who has found herself living in exile in London, is brave, ambitious, and as a successful TV and film producer, she sees it as her mission to help blacklisted writers like Phoebe continue pursuing their passion by letting them write for her under assumed names.  Phoebe and Hannah hit it off right away and become close, but both of them know they are living in dangerous times and that everything they’re working for could come crashing down around them as the witchhunt continues to spread and reach beyond the shores of America.

I thoroughly enjoyed Red Letter Days.  In addition to these two wonderful protagonists who were so easy to root for. They are both the epitome of strength, resilience, and even defiance, as they fought to resist the Red Scare and its ever growing hysteria.   I also loved the focus on the camaraderie and support of those in exile and especially the growing friendship between Hannah and Phoebe.  If you’re interested in learning about how McCarthyism and the Red Scare impacted the entertainment writers’ community, I’d highly recommend Red Letter Days.  Red Letter Days is both a well-researched work of historical fiction and an incredibly suspenseful read.  4 STARS

 

 

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read ListFollow Me Goodreads

Author: Kathleen Barber

Publication Date: February 25, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery Books

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

 

Kathleen Barber’s latest thriller, Follow Me, is a frightening look inside the dangers of oversharing on social media.  The story follows Audrey Miller, a semi-famous Instagram influencer, who is addicted to the spotlight and hungers for the adoration of her 1 million plus followers on the social media platform.  When she relocates from New York City to Washington D.C. for a new job, she chronicles the details of her new adventure for her followers.  What Audrey doesn’t realize, however, is that her life is about to take an absolutely terrifying turn because her move has brought her to much closer proximity to a male fan who is obsessed with her.

What made Follow Me so completely riveting for me is that in addition to seeing the story unfold from Audrey’s perspective, we are also given the perspective of the male fan.  It’s super creepy to watch his obsession with Audrey grow and to watch how he becomes less and less satisfied with just following her Instagram now that he’s close enough to physically follow her.  Nothing is ever enough to satisfy him though so he ultimately turns to the dark web to seek advice on how to make Audrey his once and for all.

Follow Me is a wild, dark, and suspenseful page turner that will have you wanting to delete all your social media accounts, smash your webcam, and never overshare ever again!  4 STARS

 

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read ListThe Girl in White Gloves Goodreads

Author: Kerri Maher

Publication Date: February 25, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

Kerri Maher’s latest novel, The Girl in White Gloves, is based on the life of Hollywood icon turned Princess, Grace Kelly.  The novel takes readers behind the curtain of Kelly’s seemingly fairy tale-like life to reveal that it really wasn’t much of a fairy tale at all.

The Girl in White Gloves gives us two timelines that fully explore Kelly’s life, one that follows her as she is pursuing her dream to be an actress and one that follows her after she has given up that life for the love of Prince Rainier.

I requested this book because I honestly didn’t know that much about Grace Kelly but I remember my grandmother being fascinated by her and so I wanted to learn more.  What I really loved about this book was how far into Grace Kelly’s head we got at every point during her life.  We get a glimpse as to what she must have been feeling and thinking as she navigates the two paths illuminated by the dual timelines.  We experience the confusion, the unexpected loneliness, the pressure of societal expectations, the constant disapproval  and disappointment of her father, and finally, Grace’s desperate need to find fulfillment in her life and the risks she is willing to take to get that fulfillment.

The Girl in White Gloves is a well-researched and truly captivating portrait of what a complex woman Grace Kelly was.  I went into it expecting to learn a little more about her and was impressed at how the thoroughly the author drew me in to Kelly’s life story.  It was a truly immersive experience.  4 STARS

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller Edition

 

It’s time for a new batch of mini reviews and this time it’s February ARCs, specifically three amazing thrillers that need to go on your must read list.  I don’t want to say much about these since with thrillers, it’s usually best to go in knowing as little as possible, but I do want to share a few highlights of what I loved about each book.

 

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller EditionA Good Girl's Guide to Murder Goodreads

Author: Holly Jackson

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Publisher:  Delacorte Press

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

 

Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is a YA murder mystery that follows Pip, who has been thinking about a local murder investigation from a few years earlier, the outcome of which has never set well with her.  The case in question involved local high school students, Andie Bell and Sal Singh.  Andie went missing and Sal, who was her boyfriend at the time, immediately becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance.  When Sal takes his own life, everyone assumes that he killed Andie and committed suicide and thus the case was closed. Pip doesn’t buy it. Sal was one of the sweetest people she has ever known and she refuses to believe for one second that he hurt Andie.  Pip therefore decides to use her senior project as an opportunity to re-examine the case and find the real killer and she enlists Sal’s younger brother, Ravi, to help her.

This was such a fun read for me. I loved watching Pip in action.  She’s a very sharp young lady and has a real knack for being able to sift through clues and put together the pieces of a five year old murder mystery.  There were plenty of twists and turns to keep me guessing as Pip followed the evidence and recorded her findings in her project journal. I also really loved that we were given the excerpts from Pip’s journal so that we could get inside of her head and follow her thought patterns as she sifted through what she found.  In addition to the thrill of feeling like I was right there with Pip as she investigated, there was also growing tension and suspense as Pip starts receiving anonymous threats warning her to back off or else.

While the case itself and Pip’s journey toward the truth is riveting, I also really enjoyed A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder because of the growing friendship between Pip and Ravi.  Ravi of course never believed his brother was capable of murder and has always wanted the opportunity to prove Sal’s innocence.  Instead of having that chance, however, Ravi, as the brother of an accused murderer, has pretty much been ostracized by the community. I loved that Pip reached out to him and gave him the opportunity to help clear his brother and get closure, and I especially loved that a true friendship between Pip and Ravi grew from them working on this project together.  I’m also excited that this book is the first in a series so I’m hoping we’ll get more of both Pip and Ravi in the next installment.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is one heck of a wild ride and I highly recommend it to fans of YA thrillers.   4.5 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller EditionThe Sun Down Motel Goodreads

Author: Simone St. James

Publication Date: February 18, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

I’m going to predict right now that Simone St. James’ latest novel The Sun Down Motel lands on my Best of 2020 list.  This book, hands down, blew me away, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to write anything here that will do it justice.  I devoured the book in less than 24 hours and it had me so hooked that I simply refused to put it down and do anything else until I knew how it ended.

The story follows two young women, Viv and Carly, 35 years apart, who both become entangled in the secrets that haunt an old run-down, roadside motel called the Sun Down Motel, located in the tiny town of Fell, New York.  In 1982, Viv Delaney was working as a night clerk at the motel when she unexpectedly went missing and was never heard from again.  In 2017, we meet Carly, who is actually Viv’s niece and who has left college and come to Fell, NY, trying to find the truth about what happened to her aunt. When Carly visits the Sun Down, while trying to retrace her aunt’s footsteps, she sees they are looking for a new night shift clerk, her aunt’s old shift. Carly can’t explain why but she feels compelled to take the job while she’s in town looking for leads on Viv.  And that’s when strange things start happening at the Sun Down Motel, like something out of The Twilight Zone.  The strange happenings at the Sun Down, as well as the mystery and secrets that surrounded them, absolutely enthralled me, as did the use of the dual timeline to show Viv investigating them in 1982 and then Carly experiencing and investigating the same things 35 years later in 2017. Would Carly find out what happened to Viv all those years ago…or would Carly disappear as well?

I don’t want to say anything else because both Carly and Viv’s journeys are best experienced with as few spoilers as possible going in. I will say though that this is absolutely one of the most suspenseful, atmospheric, mysterious, and haunting books I’ve read in a long time.  5 STARS

 

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller EditionThe Dark Corners of the Night (UNSUB, #3) Goodreads

Author: Meg Gardiner

Publication Date: February 18, 2020

Publisher:  Blackstone Publishing

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

 

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I’m a huge fan of the UNSUB series and that The Dark Corners of the Night is one of my most anticipated reads of 2020. I’m happy to report that my love for the series has only grown with this third book because author Meg Gardiner really knocked it out of the park.  While the cover of the book is super creepy, let me just say that the story itself is even creepier. My skin crawled as I read about the horrific adventures of the killer who has been dubbed “The Midnight Man.”

The Midnight Man sneaks into family homes in the Los Angeles, CA area under the cover of darkness.  He deliberately chooses families, and he murders the parents but leaves the children alive as witnesses to his unspeakable acts.  As the body count quickly starts to rise and local law enforcement officers realize they are dealing with a serial killer, they call in the FBI, which is where the protagonist of the UNSUB series, FBI behavioral analyst, Caitlyn Hendrix, enters the picture.

As with the first two novels in the series, it is absolutely riveting watching Caitlyn and her team carefully piece together a behavioral profile for this UNSUB and gradually work their way toward a list of possible suspects.  I love the sense of trust and camraderie that has developed between the members of the FBI team in these first three books, but I also liked the bit of tension that I saw here between the local law enforcement.  It was an uneasy alliance between the two groups even though they were both there trying to achieve the same goal: to catch a killer.

Caitlyn is always a big draw for me when I start a new UNSUB book, but she really drew me in even more than usual in this one, for a couple of reasons.  First, as she’s learning more and more about the profile of the Midnight Man, she starts to see something of herself in him. He reminds her of her past and it disturbs her so much that she has to fight to keep it from impacting her work.  Second, The Dark Corners of the Night also signals that we are finally starting to circle back around to an unresolved case that was left hanging at the end of the first book.  My one disappointment with the second book was that it wasn’t really touched on, so I was thrilled to see it revisited here with some teasers to advance the plot.

I think the books work fine as standalones but are absolutely outstanding as a series read in order, especially when it comes to watching for developments with that unsolved case that keeps dogging Caitlyn.  If you’re into thrillers and especially into shows like Criminal Minds that delve into the FBI world of analyzing criminal behavior, I highly recommend the UNSUB series.  5 STARS

Book Reviews: February Contemporary Releases

 

It’s time for another roundup of ARCs I’ve been reading.  This time I want to share a couple of adult contemporary novels I read recently and really enjoyed, The Antidote for Everything by Kimmery Martin and Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West.

 

Book Reviews: February Contemporary ReleasesThe Antidote For Everything Goodreads

Author: Kimmery Martin

Publication Date: February 18, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

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

The Antidote for Everything is a powerful and emotional read that explores the all too relevant and timely topic of LGBTQ discrimination.  Set in Charleston, SC, the story follows what happens when two doctors buck the system and fight for the rights of their transgender patients who have suddenly and unexpectedly been denied access to medical care at a local hospital.

Dr. Georgia Brown, the protagonist, is a respected urologist at the hospital in question.  She is on her way to a conference in Amsterdam when she hears the news about patients being turned away from her best friend and fellow doctor, Jonah Tsukada, who is also part of the LGBTQ community.  When Jonah refuses to comply with the administration’s new policy, he is fired and the hospital starts circulating vicious rumors about him.  When Jonah fills Georgia in on everything that has happened, she is equally distraught, both for her own patients and of course for her best friend, and vows to join the fight with him as soon as she returns home.

The doctors’ fight against discrimination made for a truly powerful and riveting read, but it honestly was the characters that made me love this book so much.  Georgia is smart, feisty, and fierce, and Jonah is just everything I’d want in a best friend. It killed me to think that someone would go out of his or her way to tank his career just because they didn’t approve of his or his patients’ sexual orientation.  The wit, the banter, and the unwavering support between Georgia and Jonah just captivated my heart.  Both characters are complicated, messy, and sometimes don’t make the best decisions, but for me, that was part of their charm and what made them feel so real.

In addition to the gripping drama and scandal that surrounded the hospital, there was also a romance on the side for Georgia that really balanced out the story for me.  Georgia has never been lucky in love, but when there is a medical emergency on her plane to Amsterdam and she’s the only doctor on board, a potential Mr. Right, whose name is Mark, falls right into her path.  Their chemistry had me smiling, even though the rest of the book had me equal parts sad, angry, and frustrated for Jonah, Georgia, and their patients.

With a discrimination story and subsequent scandal that felt like something that could appear in the headlines of any media outlet these days, The Antidote for Everything grabbed my attention from the opening scenes and held my interest to the very last page.  If you’re into medical dramas, stories about social justice, and stories about friendship and loyalty, give The Antidote for Everything a try. 4 STARS

 

 

Book Reviews: February Contemporary ReleasesMinor Dramas & Other Catastrophes Goodreads

Author: Kathleen West

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

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

Kathleen West’s debut novel Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes is an entertaining read that focuses on the cutthroat world of school politics and teachers who find themselves at the mercy of helicopter parents and social media trolls.

The story follows Isobel Johnson, an English teacher at a prestigious school who prides herself on challenging her students to open their minds and consider a variety of perspectives when reading literary classics.  When the school starts receiving complaints about what she’s teaching and an anonymous Facebook page starts attacking her reputation, Isobel learns the hard way that the parents wield all of the power and that her own colleagues won’t defend her. I adored Isobel so much! She’s such a well drawn character, and I really admired her strength. It would have been very easy to immediately give in to the parents’ demands, but Isobel is determined to stand her ground even if the consequence could be losing her job.

While Isobel had my heart, I also felt for Julia Abbott, an over-the-top theater mom who barges into the school while class is still in session to find out if her son was cast in the school play.  In a moment of excitement when she sees her son’s name on the cast list, Julia enthusiastically pumps her fist…and accidentally punches a student in the stomach.  The incident is caught on video and immediately goes viral. Chaos ensues and Julia finds herself quite the outcast. While Julia isn’t an especially likeable character, her situation is a sad one and I liked that the author ultimately made her a sympathetic character instead of just a crazy stereotype.

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes really struck a chord with me as I watched these two women fight to defend themselves and my emotions were all over the place.  There were moments that made me angry and frustrated, and there were also moments that made me laugh.  Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes is a delightful and engaging read as well as one that tackles some pretty serious issues that many teachers face. I highly recommend it and look forward to reading more from Kathleen West.  4 STARS

Reviews for THE LOOK ALIKE and BEHIND EVERY LIE

 

It’s time for another roundup of ARCs I’ve been reading.  This time I want to share a couple of fantastic thrillers that I’ve read recently, The Look Alike by Erica Spindler and Behind Every Lie by Christina McDonald.

 

Reviews for THE LOOK ALIKE and BEHIND EVERY LIEThe Look-Alike Goodreads

Author: Erica Spindler

Publication Date: January 28, 2020

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press

Genre:  Thriller

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

Erica Spindler’s latest novel The Look Alike is a gripping psychological thriller that follows Sienna Scott, a young woman who, while a college student, discovered a dead body in the snow one night as she was walking back home from the campus library.  The campus and local police were never able to solve the case.  Sienna is also dealing with some troubles at home. Her mother suffers from a condition that makes her both paranoid and delusional.  She believes that everyone is out to get her and, specifically, that they’re going to hurt her by hurting her daughter. These circumstances create such a suffocating environment for Sienna that her father finally tells her she should leave home so that she can have some semblance of a life. Sierra stays away for 10 years but returns home to care for her mother after her father passes away.

As soon as Sierra returns, that unsolved murder begins to dominate her thoughts and a nagging thought she had all those years ago returns – She and the dead woman were wearing the same jacket that fateful night.  When strange things start happening – prank phone calls, a strange van driving past her house at all hours of the day and night, etc. – Sienna becomes even more convinced that she may have been the intended target and is now in danger. Is she right? Or is she just letting her imagination get the better of her?  Or is it possible her mother’s condition is hereditary?

Wow, this book was such a wild ride! It was so suspenseful and filled with twists and turns that kept me guessing until the end. Every time I thought I had the murderer figured out, the author would introduce a new clue that would send me spinning off in another direction. I devoured The Look Alike in just a couple of sittings because I needed to know what happened and which girl was truly the killer’s target.

I was also very much drawn in by the characters.  I felt tremendous sympathy for Sienna for all that she has had to contend with, and I felt equally sympathetic toward Sienna’s mom. Yes, she can be suffocating at times, but it’s the mental illness that makes her that way.  Imagine thinking day in and day out that someone is out to hurt you and your child. That would be pure hell for any parent.   With her latest novel, The Look Alike, Erica Spindler has crafted both a riveting murder mystery and an intense family drama about mental illness.  I highly recommend it!  4 STARS

 

 

Reviews for THE LOOK ALIKE and BEHIND EVERY LIEBehind Every Lie Goodreads

Author: Christina McDonald

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery Books

Genre:  Thriller

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

With a title like Behind Every Lie, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re in for a read filled with twists and turns, and author Christina McDonald does not disappoint. Behind Every Lie opens with a young woman named Eva Hansen frantically running down the street. She is clearly afraid, possibly in shock, and is covered in blood.  She stops for a moment, to take stock of her situation and then everything abruptly goes dark.  When Eva awakens, she is in the hospital being treated for, against all odds, a lightning strike.  Eva has no memory of what happened to her leading up to the moment she was struck by lightning, which becomes a real problem when a police detective shows up at the hospital and tells her that her mother has been stabbed to death.  Eva was found near her mother’s house and covered with blood, so she is automatically the prime suspect.  Even with no memory of what happened that night, Eva is sure there’s no way she could have killed her own mother so she flees the hospital and sets out to find the real killer and clear her name.

Those who follow my reviews know that I’m a sucker for a story that features a dual timeline and McDonald uses one here to great effect.  The story unfolds from both Eva’s perspective in the present and her mother Kat’s perspective in the past.  As Eva uncovers more and more details about her mother’s life, the more she realizes her mother lived a life filled with secrets and lies and that by extension, Eva’s entire life has been nothing but a lie.  She also realizes that whoever else knew about her mother’s secret could very easily be the person who killer her.

Unreliable narrators can be hit or miss for me, but I really like the way it was used here.  Eva is unreliable quite simply because she has amnesia brought on by the lightning strike.  I loved the twists and turns that each returning memory added to the story, especially when the doctor said that she couldn’t necessarily trust those memories at first.  The bits and pieces Eva keeps remembering have her doubting her own innocence even as she’s finding evidence that there may be a real killer out there somewhere.

Behind Every Lie grabbed me from the opening scene and kept me riveted to the end.  If murder mysteries, dual timelines and unreliable narrators are your thing, be sure to add Christina McDonald’s Behind Every Lie to your must-read list.  4 STARS

Mini Reviews for Scavenge the Stars, You Were There Too, & Echoes Between Us

 

It’s time for a new batch of mini reviews and this time it’s January ARCs!  There are a ton of great new books coming out in early January so if you have Christmas money to spend, here are some titles you should consider.

 

Mini Reviews for Scavenge the Stars, You Were There Too, & Echoes Between UsScavenge the Stars (Scavenge the Stars, #1) Goodreads

Author: Tara Sim

Publication Date: January 7, 2020

Publisher:  Disney Hyperion

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

If you’re in the mood for a good revenge story, then Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim is the book you’re looking for.  It’s a gender-bent retelling of the classic novel, The Count of Monte Cristo,, which is also a tale of revenge.  Scavenge the Stars follows a young woman named Amaya, who has spent much of her life imprisoned aboard a debtor’s ship, forced to work off her parents’ debt.  For seven years, Amaya has known nothing but shame, cruelty, and unfair treatment, and thus has vowed that as soon as she is finally free from her parents’ debt, her first act will be to seek revenge against the man who ruined her family. When the opportunity presents itself, Amaya secures her freedom and sets out to implement her plan of revenge.  Amaya unexpectedly finds herself entangled with Cayo, the son of the man she seeks revenge against, and the more she gets to know Cayo, the more she realizes nothing is as it seems and that she has been living a lie for most of her life.

Amaya and Cayo really made the story for me.  I loved everything about both characters.  Amaya is absolutely fierce. She’s smart, scrappy, and sassy, and she’s ultra-protective of those she cares about.  I admired her determination to bring down those who destroyed her life as well as those who are cruel enough to imprison children as payment for debts.  Cayo, while the son of a rich man, has spent much of his time in the proverbial dog house, due to an over fondness for gambling.  He’s trying to live down past mistakes and prove to his father that he can live a respectable life.  Like Amaya, he learns something about his family that turns his world up on its end and makes him question who he really is and what kind of person he is. I really loved the complexity of each of these characters.  The story is told from each of their perspectives and there’s just so much inner turmoil for both Amaya and Cayo as they struggle to find their way through the secrets and lies of the past.  That struggle makes it easy to feel sympathy for them both.

Scavenge the Stars is an engaging fantasy filled with secrets, lies and betrayals, family drama, political intrigue, and even a hint of potential romance.  It’s also a story about not letting mistakes from the past define or control you.  Filled with complex, three-dimensional characters, and plenty of action-packed scenes, Scavenge the Stars is sure to please.  I highly recommend it to fans of Leigh Bardugo and Sarah J. Maas.  4 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews for Scavenge the Stars, You Were There Too, & Echoes Between UsEchoes Between Us Goodreads

Author: Katie McGarry

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Publisher:  Tor Teen

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

Echoes Between Us by Katie McGarry is a heart-wrenching story about love and loss, family and friends, and about facing your fears.  It follows Veronica, who is a senior in high school and who suffers from debilitating migraines that are caused by a brain tumor. And not just a brain tumor, but the same kind of brain tumor that killed her mother.  So while all of her friends are preparing for life after high school, Veronica lives knowing there’s a possibility that there may be no life after high school for her.  Veronica is also a girl who marches to the beat of her own drum. She does what she wants to do, dresses however wild she wants to dress, and celebrates holidays on random days of the year and only a core group of friends appreciates Veronica and her originality.  Most of her classmates, including golden boy Sawyer and his friends, think Veronica is a weirdo and have nothing to do with her.  That is, until Sawyer and his family move into the apartment that Veronica’s dad rents out.  Once he starts spending time with Veronica, Sawyer realizes how truly special she is and his whole outlook on life changes.

I can’t even express how much I loved both Veronica and Sawyer.  Veronica captured my heart right away. I loved the way she lived her life to the fullest, even with a tumor and these horrible migraines hanging over her head at all times.  She’s just this fearless dynamo who always speaks her mind and it was so admirable to watch.  I also adored her close relationship with her dad.  It broke my heart that she would hide that her condition was worsening from him, but I could completely understand why. It would clearly crush him to lose both his wife and his daughter this way and Veronica wanted to protect her dad from that pain for as long as she could.  Sawyer was a character it took me a few pages to warm up to, but once I did, I fell hard.  He may seem like the golden boy on the outside, but he is fighting demons of his own in the form of an adrenaline addiction, as well as having to deal with a less than ideal home life.  As much as my heart hurt for Veronica and what she was going through, my heart hurt just as much for Sawyer. They are both in impossible situations and need each other more than either one of them ever could have thought possible.  I loved watching their friendship blossom and my heart just ached for them, knowing how fragile Veronica’s health was.

I don’t want to give away anything about how Echoes Between Us ends so I’m just going to say it was one of the most moving and emotional reads I experienced in 2019. Many tears were shed, both happy and sad.  If you like a story that will constantly tug at your heartstrings, pick up a copy of Katie McGarry’s Echoes Between Us4.5 STARS

 

Mini Reviews for Scavenge the Stars, You Were There Too, & Echoes Between UsYou Were There Too Goodreads

Author: Colleen Oakley

Publication Date: January 7, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

You Were There Too by Colleen Oakley is a story about love and fate.  The novel follows Mia Graydon, an artist who dreams of starting a family with her husband Harrison.  Luck has not been on their side, however, and they have suffered several miscarriages. Frustration has set in and has started to put a strain on their relationship, especially as Harrison is also battling some internal demons of his own.  Even though Mia and Harrison really are happily married, Mia has been having recurring dreams about another man for several years.  The dreams themselves are odd enough, but what’s most odd about them is that Mia has no idea who the man is. She has never met him before.  When Mia and Harrison decide to relocate to a small town in Pennsylvania, Mia unexpectedly meets Oliver, the mystery man from her dreams. Not only that but he tells her that he has been having dreams about her too.  Determined to make sense of it all, Mia and Oliver dive deep into their pasts, looking for any possible connection between them.  As Mia and Oliver grow closer, Mia starts to think about fate and what her life would be like if she was with Oliver instead of Harrison.

I loved this story, mainly because I was just so immediately invested in the relationship between Mia and Harrison.  The two of them were so sweet together and so clearly in love and it just hurt to see them struggle so much to start their family.  Then when I learned more about the demons that Harrison was battling and saw how it was tearing him apart inside, it just hurt all the more, especially when Oliver appears on the scene and unintentionally threatens all that they have built together.  I think the ‘What Ifs’ that Mia starts experiencing are what really made this story so engrossing for me.  I could understand where she was coming from in wondering what life might have been like if she had met Oliver sooner and even though I wanted to be angry with Mia for even thinking about it, I could especially understand it as Harrison’s demons start to consume him more and more and because Oliver was such a likable guy.

You Were There Too kept me reading late into the night because I just had to know what Mia was going to do.  Does she embrace the idea of fate and go after the man who has haunted her dreams for all these years or does she stay faithful to the man she vowed to be there for in good times and in bad? If a heart-wrenching story about love, fate, and making hard choices appeals to you, Colleen Oakley’s You Were There Too is the book for you.  4 STARS

Mini Reviews: VIRTUALLY YOURS & WILD AND CROOKED

Mini Reviews:  VIRTUALLY YOURS & WILD AND CROOKEDVirtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash
three-half-stars
on June 4, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Modern love plus online anonymity is a recipe for romantic disaster in this lighthearted new romance from the author of The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love

How bad can one little virtual lie be?

NYU freshman Mariam Vakilian hasn’t dated anyone in five months, not since her high school sweetheart Caleb broke up with her. So, when she decides to take advantage of an expiring coupon and try out a new virtual reality dating service, it’s sort of a big deal.

It’s an even bigger deal when it chooses as one of her three matches none other than Caleb himself. That has to be a sign, right?

Except that her other match, Jeremy, just happens to be her new best friend IRL.

Mariam’s heart is telling her one thing, but the app is telling her another. So, which should she trust? Is all fair in modern love?

Review:

Sarvenaz Tash’s Virtually Yours is a delightful and lighthearted read that is sure to please romance fans.  It follows Mariam Vakilian, who is a freshman at NYU.  Right before leaving for college, Mariam and her long-time boyfriend Caleb broke up and now Mariam finds herself struggling to move on and date new people.  When she receives a coupon from a new virtual reality dating service called HEAVR, she decides to give it a go. Maybe it will give her the kickstart she needs to get over Caleb. HEAVR throws a monkey wrench into Mariam’s plan, however, when one of her top three matches ends up being Caleb of all people.  Mariam is torn because as much as she knows she should move on, surely this must be a sign that she and Caleb were meant to be together, right?

Mariam was my absolute favorite part of Virtually Yours.  She’s incredibly relatable because she’s so perfectly imperfect.  She’s a sweet girl, one I could easily see myself making friends with if I was at NYU, She’s also that friend that you love so much, but at the same time, find yourself wanting to scream at because she doesn’t think and ends up doing cringy things.  Or maybe she’s me.  Haven’t we all made bad decisions at times even when our hearts are in the right place?  Anyway, I just loved Mariam, flaws and all.  I especially loved her journey because at the beginning of the story, she’s clinging to her past so tightly that she can’t even see what’s right in front of her face.  It was fun to watch her “wake up” so to speak.  For that reason, I’d consider Virtually Yours equal parts rom-com, coming of age story.

My biggest issue with Virtually Yours is that I found the HEAVR match results to be unrealistic.  I mean, seriously, if you select ‘Worldwide’ in terms of who you’re willing to be matched with, what are the odds that out of all the people in the world using that service, two out of your top three matches end up being people you know? That just really annoyed me and had me considering not finishing the book, but I finally let it go and ended up enjoying the rest of the story.  I was also not a fan of the catfishing in the novel.  I understood why it was there but could have done without it.

If you’re looking for a quick and easy read that will leave you with a smile on your face, give Virtually Yours a try. You won’t regret it!  3.5 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews:  VIRTUALLY YOURS & WILD AND CROOKEDWild and Crooked by Leah Thomas
Also by this author: When Light Left Us
four-stars
Published by Bloomsbury YA on June 4, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 448
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Critically-acclaimed author Leah Thomas blends a small-town setting with the secrets of a long-ago crime, in a compelling novel about breaking free from the past.

In Samsboro, Kentucky, Kalyn Spence's name is inseparable from the brutal murder her father committed when he was a teenager. Forced to return to town, Kalyn must attend school under a pseudonym . . . or face the lingering anger of Samsboro's citizens, who refuse to forget the crime.

Gus Peake has never had the luxury of redefining himself. A Samsboro native, he's either known as the "disabled kid" because of his cerebral palsy, or as the kid whose dad was murdered. Gus just wants to be known as himself.

When Gus meets Kalyn, her frankness is refreshing, and they form a deep friendship. Until their families' pasts emerge. And when the accepted version of the truth is questioned, Kalyn and Gus are caught in the center of a national uproar. Can they break free from a legacy of inherited lies and chart their own paths forward?.

Review:

Leah Thomas’ latest novel Wild and Crooked is a story about family, friendship, and not letting mistakes from the past dictate your present and future.  The story follows two small town teens, Gus Peake and Kalyn Spence.  Gus has lived in Samsboro, Kentucky all his life and is known either as that “disabled kid” because of his cerebral palsy or as that kid whose dad was murdered.  Kalyn Spence has just returned to Samsboro and is going to school under an assumed name because her father is the one in jail for murdering Gus’ dad and the Spence name is therefore infamous in Samsboro.  Gus and Kalyn run into each other one day and a fast friendship ensues.  The only problem is that Kalyn has no idea Gus’ dad is who her father is accused of murdering, and Gus has no idea that Kalyn is the daughter of his dad’s accused murderer.  When they each finally learn the truth, it’s a tough pill to swallow and one that will test the bonds of their newfound friendship.

I adored both Gus and Kalyn, Gus because he’s just such a sweetheart.  He just wants so badly to be defined by something other than his disability or by his family’s tragedy.  Gus is immediately drawn to Kalyn, not because she’s the pretty new girl at school, but instead because when they meet, she immediately treats him like she would any other kid at school.  For Gus, Kalyn is like a breath of fresh air because she sees the person behind the disability.  Kalyn is drawn to Gus for similar reasons. She has basically reinvented herself and is acting like the perfect little southern belle every day at school.  It’s draining after a while, and when Kalyn realizes Gus can basically see right through her act, he becomes a refuge for her where she can be herself.  I really loved watching their friendship grow over the course of the book and was really rooting for them to be able to withstand whatever life threw at them.

Even though Wild and Crooked is over 400 pages long, I devoured it in just over a day and I attribute that to Leah Thomas’ masterful way of weaving together a moving story of friendship with the gripping story of what really happened between Gus and Kalyn’s fathers all those years ago.  The anger and prejudice of the Samsboro town folk was palpable once they realized who Kalyn was, and even though she clearly had nothing to do with the murder, in their eyes, she’s guilty by association.  I thought Thomas did a brilliant job of realistically capturing their mob-like mentality.  Thomas also had me simultaneously cheering on this blossoming friendship and sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to find out the truth about the murder.

If you’re looking for a compelling story about friendship and overcoming the past, I highly recommend Wild and Crooked. 4 STARS

three-half-stars

About Leah Thomas

Leah Thomas once wrote from a house in the woods, and now an apartment more or less by the sea (well, less). Her debut novel BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER MEET ME was a 2016 Morris Award finalist, and its sequel, NOWHERE NEAR YOU, is out now from Bloomsbury. Her third YA science fiction novel, WHEN LIGHT LEFT US, hits shelves in early 2018.

A graduate of Clarion 2010, her short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Black Static, Ideomancer, and Three-Lobed Burning Eye, among others. She’s mostly a dork and always feels uncomfortable about author bios. If she’s not writing, she’s likely teaching or cosplaying. Follow her on instagram (@fellowhermit), or on tumblr (cuttoothom).

About Sarvenaz Tash

Sarvenaz Tash is the author of The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love (an Amazon Best Book of the Year, YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant YA Readers), Virtually Yours, Three Day Summer and The Mapmaker and the Ghost. She was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up on Long Island, NY. She received her BFA in Film and Television from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, which means she got to spend most of college running around and making movies (it was a lot of fun). She has dabbled in all sorts of writing including screenwriting, Emmy-award winning copywriting, and professional tweeting for the likes of Bravo and MTV. Sarvenaz currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her family.