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Review: CODE NAME HÉLÈNE by Ariel Lawhon

Review:  CODE NAME HÉLÈNE by Ariel LawhonCode Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon
Also by this author: I Was Anastasia
four-stars
Published by Doubleday Books on March 31, 2020
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 464
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the things I love about reading historical fiction is that I often learn of important historical figures that were previously unknown to me.  Such is the case with Ariel Lawhon’s latest novel Code Name Hélène.  Set in Europe during World War II, Code Name Hélène follows the adventures of Nancy Wake, an Australian-born socialite who is living in Paris when World War II breaks out.  When we first meet Nancy, she is working hard, trying to be taken seriously as a journalist in a man’s world.  When the war breaks out, however, Nancy finds her true calling as a spy and ultimately becomes one of the leaders of the French Resistance.

I had never heard of Nancy Wake and was fascinated to learn what a huge part she played during the war.  I was also a big fan of the way the author delivers Nancy’s story to us, using several interweaving timelines, one for each of the code names Nancy acquired through her work for the Resistance.  We get to see Nancy in action as an oblivious mistress, Lucienne Carlier, as she smuggles documents and people across borders to safety.  When the Nazis learn of Nancy and quickly become frustrated by her uncanny ability to evade capture, they nickname her ‘The White Mouse” and put a steep price on her head. Knowing she is in imminent danger, Nancy flees France and begins training with the Special Operations Executive where she earns a new code name, Hélène, and is air dropped back into France with a new mission. As Madam Andre, this final mission is to do whatever it takes to arm the French Resistance and drive the Germans out of France.

I was completely riveted by Nancy’s journey from start to finish.  It is fraught with danger and suspense at every turn, and I just found myself more and more inspired by Nancy’s formidable presence and spirit.  She’s fearless, brash, resourceful, and has a take-no-prisoners attitude.  Working in what could only be described as a man’s world and wearing her signature Chanel red lipstick, Nancy ultimately commands respect from all of those around her, even those who initially refuse to accept the authority of a woman in a war zone. Heck, at one point, she even kills a Nazi with her bare hands!

As awe-inspiring as her career in espionage was, I also loved that the author chose to include a glimpse into Nancy’s personal life as well, most especially her relationship with Henri Fiocca, the love of her life.  Watching how the war impacted their relationship was almost as gripping as watching Nancy order men around as a Resistance fighter.

Code Name Hélène is an inspiring story of bravery, resilience, love, and sacrifice.  If historical fiction and strong women are your thing, this is a book you want to check out.

four-stars

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the critically acclaimed author of THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS, FLIGHT OF DREAMS, and I WAS ANASTASIA. Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, four sons, and black Lab—who is, thankfully, a girl.

Review: THE HONEY DON’T LIST by Christina Lauren

Review:  THE HONEY DON’T LIST by Christina LaurenThe Honey-Don't List by Christina Lauren
Also by this author: My Favorite Half-Night Stand
four-stars
Published by Gallery Books on March 24, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I admit that I was very late to jump on the Christina Lauren bandwagon, but ever since I read my first book by them, I’ve been hooked and their latest collaboration, The Honey Don’t List, has only made my love for their books continue to grow.

What a fun read this was!  Celebrity scandals have always fascinated me anyway, so I was drawn to this story as soon as I realized what it was about.  The fact that the story begins in a police station with the celebrity assistants being interviewed only served to whet my appetite all the more. Something dramatic and potentially scandalous has clearly happened and I was immediately flying through the pages wanting to know what had transpired.

Melly and Rusty Tripp are the celebrities in question.  Famous in the world of home décor and remodeling, Melly and Tripp have captured the hearts of their fans, not just because of their design talents but also because they have such a wonderful relationship.  They are America’s sweethearts and they’ve even written a book about their lives together and have a new Netflix series in the works. To cap off their success and promote their new book and show, the Tripps are going on a book tour together.  There’s just one problem: they actually despise each other.  Enter the real stars of The Honey Don’t List, the two personal assistants, Carey Douglas and James McCann, who have been tasked with the nearly impossible task of keeping the book tour from imploding by making sure Melly and Rusty don’t kill each other or otherwise expose that their marriage is basically a sham.

I adored both Carey and James from the start.  I was tremendously sympathetic to them both right away since my instinct would have been to resign.  Carey can’t resign though because 1) she desperately needs the health insurance, and 2) she has been with Melly since the beginning and feels obligated to be there for her. Even though she is high maintenance, Melly has been like a mom to Carey.  James is equally stuck in his position, primarily because his last job ended in disaster, with the firm he worked for wrapped up in some huge scandal.  James needs to rebuild his resume and a hugely successful organization like Melly and Rusty’s is just what he needs. I love a good underdog story and both of our protagonists are clearly cast in that role.

The book tour is of course a total train wreck with plenty of laugh out loud moments, which is exactly what I was hoping for from a Christina Lauren read.  What really had me captivated though was the growing relationship between Carey and James as they are forced to team up and try to save the day, so to speak.  Even though they initially don’t like each other very much, it’s clear they have off-the-charts chemistry.  I loved all of their moments together, whether they were scheming about how to do damage control with respect to Rusty and Melly or whether they were just truly opening up to one another and having meaningful conversations.  There are also plenty of flirty and sexy moments as the pair gets closer and closer, so yes, there’s lots of rom-com style goodness in The Honey Don’t List, also exactly what I’m looking and hoping for when I pick up a Christina Lauren book.

Hilarious and heartwarming, The Honey Don’t List is the perfect book to pick up if you’re looking to escape reality for a while. It’s sure to leave you with a smile on your face.

 

 

four-stars

About Christina Lauren

Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of long-time writing partners and best friends Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. The #1 international bestselling coauthor duo writes both Young Adult and Adult Fiction, and together has produced fourteen New York Times bestselling novels. They are published in over 30 languages, have received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, won both the Seal of Excellence and Book of the Year from RT Magazine, named Amazon and Audible Romance of the Year, a Lambda Literary Award finalist and been nominated for several Goodreads Choice Awards. They have been featured in publications such as Forbes, The Washington Post, Time, Entertainment Weekly, People, O Magazine and more. Their third YA novel, Autoboyography was released in 2017 to critical acclaim, followed by Roomies, Love and Other Words, Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, and the Publisher’s Weekly starred My Favorite Half-Night Stand, out in December.

Review: HARLEY IN THE SKY by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Review:  HARLEY IN THE SKY by Akemi Dawn BowmanHarley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Also by this author: Starfish
four-stars
Published by Ink Road on March 10, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Akemi Dawn Bowman is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.  She excels at creating characters and stories that are just so incredibly relatable.  I loved her first two books, Starfish and Summer Bird Blue, but I have to admit I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t connect as much to her latest novel, Harley in the Sky, since it is set in the world of the circus and focuses on a girl’s dream of becoming a trapeze artist.  My worry was completely unfounded though because at its heart, Harley in the Sky is a beautiful coming of age story about the search for identity and following one’s dreams.

The story follows Harley Milano, a young woman who has grown up in her parent’s Las Vegas-based circus.  Harley has dreamed of flying high as an aerialist for as long as she can remember and has even trained with her parents’ performers whenever possible.  When Harley turns 18, she approaches her parents to tell them she wants to train full-time and become one of their aerialists.  To her shock and dismay, her parents shut her down completely.  She is going to college, no ifs ands or buts about it.  Harley is crushed by her parent’s reaction and rebels by leaving home and joining a rival traveling circus.

Harley’s growth as a character is what really drew me into this story.  She is a flawed and very realistic character and one that many will relate to. She’s stubborn and headstrong, prone to make rash and emotional decisions, and she’s all too willing to hurt and betray others to follow her dream.  Her journey is a hard one for her as well though.  It’s filled with hard work, disappointment, and at first, a great deal of loneliness as she must come to terms with what she has done and gradually work her way to accepting responsibility for the hurt she has caused if she has any hope of reconciling with her family.

Her journey is not all hard times though in that she makes some great new friends in the traveling circus and even meets a sweet boy named Vas.  While there is a romantic element there, Vas’ role is so much more than that as Harley is able to talk to him and work through her feelings in a way that she hasn’t been able to with anyone else.

Harley in the Sky is also a story about identity.  In addition to the struggle she faces regarding her need for independence to pursue her dream, Harley is also struggling with who she is.  She comes from a multi-racial family and is equal parts Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and American.  In Harley’s mind, she is so little of each of them that she feels like none of them.

Harley in the Sky was an emotional read for me on a couple of different levels.  I found myself wrapped up, not only in Harley’s journey, but I was also caught up in Bowman’s gorgeous writing as she vividly captures the atmosphere of the circus and gave me several moments of nostalgia from my own childhood of watching those performers make magic and fly through the air.  If you’re into coming of age stories that are sure to take you back to your own journey to adulthood and independence, be sure to check out Harley in the Sky.

four-stars

About Akemi Dawn Bowman

Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster) and Summer Bird Blue (Fall 2018). She’s a proud Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix. She is represented by Penny Moore of Empire Literary.

Review: You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Review:  You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks & Sarah PekkanenYou Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen
Also by this author: The Wife Between Us
three-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on March 3, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 343
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Authors Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are a dynamic duo when it comes to writing dark and twisty psychological thrillers that keep readers on the edge of their seats, and their latest offering, You Are Not Alone, continues the trend.  You Are Not Alone is a dark and disturbing read that explores what happens when an emotionally vulnerable young woman finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The story follows Shay Miller, whose life is just overall in a disappointing place for her.  She is working a temp job with no prospects of a permanent position on the horizon, she has no real friends to speak of, and she is in love with her roommate Sean, who already has a long-time girlfriend.  Shay finds herself mostly isolated and therefore vulnerable. When Shay happens to be in a subway station and witnesses a young woman commit suicide, she becomes obsessed with learning more about the victim.  She knows her obsession is unhealthy, but she feels compelled nonetheless to find out what led her to take her own life.

I found myself incredibly sympathetic to Shay and the position she has found herself in.  She feels a connection to the suicide victim in part because she can so easily put herself in that woman’s place and can imagine feeling like there’s nothing worth living for. I can understand why she feels it’s so important to find out what exactly drove this woman to do what she did.  She’s thinking of herself and what could drive her to that same point.

The story, and Shay’s life, takes a drastically different turn when she decides to attend the memorial service for the suicide victim and meets Cassandra and Jane Moore, who are sisters and who were also both close to the deceased.  Shay is fascinated by the ultra-charismatic sisters and her obsession with the victim soon expands to include them as well, especially since they seem very eager to befriend her.  Shay is desperate for friends and begins to imagine herself taking the victim’s place in the sisters’ circle of friends. Seems to easy and too good to be true, right?

Good things start happening for Shay as she deepens her connection to the sisters…until suddenly, they don’t. Out of nowhere, Shay finds herself inexplicably caught up in the investigation into the death of the suicide victim as well as another crime.  The authors ratchet up the tension and suspense as Shay desperately tries to figure out what is going on and how she’s going to get herself out of the mess she has found herself in.  I had a few minor issues with pacing early on in the story, but once I got to this part of the book, I flew through the rest of the pages trying put together the pieces of this wild and crazy puzzle.

You Are Not Alone is a disturbing and complex tale of manipulation, danger, and revenge.  If you’re into dark, twisty, and suspenseful reads, this is one that needs to go on your must-read list.

three-half-stars

About Greer Hendricks

GREER HENDRICKS spent over two decades as an editor at Simon & Schuster. Prior to her tenure in publishing, she worked at Allure Magazine and obtained her Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children, The Wife Between Us is her first novel.

Follow Greer Hendricks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

About Sarah Pekkanen

Internationally bestselling author Sarah Pekkanen’s newest book is THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS. She is also the co-author of the upcoming THE WIFE BETWEEN US (out in January 2018).

Her prior novels are: THINGS YOU WON’T SAY, CATCHING AIR, THE BEST OF US, THE OPPOSITE OF ME, SKIPPING A BEAT, and THESE GIRLS.

Sarah’s linked free short estories, published by Simon&Schuster exclusively for ereaders, are titled “All is Bright,” and “Love, Accidentally.”

Sarah is the mother of three young boys, which explains why she writes part of her novels at Chuck E. Cheese. Sarah penned her first book, Miscellaneous Tales and Poems, at the age of 10. When publishers failed to jump upon this literary masterpiece (hey, all the poems rhymed!) Sarah followed up by sending them a sternly-worded letter on Raggedy Ann stationery. Sarah still has that letter, and carries it to New York every time she has meetings with her publisher, as a reminder that dreams do come true.

Her website is www.sarahpekkanen.com and please find her on Facebook Instagram and Twitter @sarahpekkanen!

Review: UNDERCOVER BROMANCE by Lyssa Kay Adams

Review:  UNDERCOVER BROMANCE by Lyssa Kay AdamsUndercover Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams
Also by this author: The Bromance Book Club
four-half-stars
Series: Bromance Book Club #2
Published by BERKLEY on March 10, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 320
Also in this series: The Bromance Book Club
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyssa Kay Adams’ hilarious and heartwarming novel The Bromance Book Club was one of my favorite reads of 2019.  I was beyond excited to hear she was actually writing an entire series of Bromance books and that the second book in the series, Undercover Bromance, was to focus on one of my favorite characters from the first book, Braden Mack, the sexy and charming nightclub owner who also happens to be the founder of the Bromance Book Club.  Needless to say, my anticipation for Undercover Bromance was high. I’m thrilled to share with you that not only did Undercover Bromance live up to my expectations, I actually loved this book even more than the first book in the series.

I really enjoyed getting to know more about Mack and seeing what makes him tick.  Mack was the charming ringleader in the first book so I was very interested in getting a deeper look into his life and especially his reasons for deciding to create this book club.  I was especially curious to learn about this since he is the only one who isn’t married and his fellow book club members love to place bets on how quickly he will dump his current girlfriend.  (For anyone unfamiliar with the first book, the Bromance Book Club is a book club for men where they read romance novels in hopes of better understanding women, thereby hopefully improving their relationships with their wives).  I don’t want to give anything away about what I learned so I’ll just say that it made me love Mack even more than I already did.

In addition to Mack, the story also focuses on another character who appeared in the first novel, Liv Papandreas, a talented pastry chef who, as this novel opens, gets fired from her dream job at an elite restaurant when she witnesses her boss sexually harassing another female employee.  I was a little nervous going into the story because of Liv; she wasn’t my favorite character in the first book and I worried that a story that focuses on her would put me off.  Thankfully I was dead wrong about that and the author made me fall in love with Liv as well as I got to know her better.  Liv is fierce, feisty, and she’s determined to take down this sexual predator.   She knows she can’t do it alone and reluctantly turns to Mack, who knows her boss, for assistance.

Mack and Liv teaming up to bring down this jerk is epic.  Liv doesn’t like Mack, which drives Mack insane because everyone likes Mack.  I loved watching their relationship develop from trading witty insults back and forth to finally starting to open up to one another.  Their chemistry is off the charts and it was just so much fun watching them interact as they got to know each other better and honestly as they realized some truths about themselves as well.

Where Lyssa Kay Adams truly excels in this book though is the wonderful balance she strikes between the very serious topic of sexual harassment and the trademark humor we have come to expect with the members of the Bromance Book Club.  Those guys are always there to keep things from getting too heavy and I lost track of how many times I laughed so hard I cried as they traded middle fingers, cashed in bets about Mack’s love life, and pummeled the Russian with fart jokes.   I swear this series needs to be made into a rom-com film or a sitcom because it is truly hilarious!  Adams has also gifted us with two more fabulous secondary characters in this book that I hope we haven’t seen the last of – Rosie, who is Liv’s landlord and a long-time, outspoken feminist, and Hop, a grumpy old fellow who clearly has it bad for Rosie but could really use some assistance from the Bromance Book Club.  I don’t want to give away anything about them, but they truly stole every scene they were in and I adored them both.

I guess it’s pretty obvious that I highly recommend Undercover Bromance to anyone who enjoyed the first book in this series.  It’s charming, heartwarming, and hilarious, with a lovable cast of characters.  And if you haven’t started this series yet, what are you waiting for?

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Braden Mack thinks reading romance novels makes him an expert in love, but he’ll soon discover that real life is better than fiction. 

Liv Papandreas has a dream job as a sous chef at Nashville’s hottest restaurant. Too bad the celebrity chef owner is less than charming behind kitchen doors. After she catches him harassing a young hostess, she confronts him and gets fired. Liv vows revenge, but she’ll need assistance to take on the powerful chef.

Unfortunately, that means turning to Braden Mack. When Liv’s blackballed from the restaurant scene, the charismatic nightclub entrepreneur offers to help expose her ex-boss, but she is suspicious of his motives. He’ll need to call in reinforcements: the Bromance Book Club.

Inspired by the romantic suspense novel they’re reading, the book club assists Liv in setting up a sting operation to take down the chef. But they’re just as eager to help Mack figure out the way to Liv’s heart… even though she’s determined to squelch the sparks between them before she gets burned.

four-half-stars

About Lyssa Kay Adams

Lyssa Kay Adams is the pen name of an award-winning journalist who gave up the world of telling true stories to pen emotional romances. She’s also a diehard Detroit Tigers fan who will occasionally cheer for the Red Sox because her husband is from Boston.

Lyssa lives in Michigan with her family and an anxiety-ridden Maltese who steals food and buries it around the house and who will undoubtedly be a character in a future book.

Things Lyssa loves: Baseball pants, mashed potatoes, and that little clicking sound that scissors make on the cutting table at fabric stores.

Things she doesn’t love: Mean people, melting ice cream cones, and finding food in her underwear drawer.

Keep up with Lyssa on Twitter at @LyssaKayAdams. Please note: She mostly tweets about baseball pants and mashed potatoes.

Review: Of Curses and Kisses

Review:  Of Curses and KissesOf Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon
Also by this author: When Dimple Met Rishi
three-half-stars
Series: St. Rosetta's Academy #1
Published by Simon Pulse on February 18, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Retelling, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandhya Menon’s latest book, Of Curses and Kisses, is a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast and I really enjoyed Menon’s spin on the classic fairytale. I thought it was very original and I especially liked the fact that she set her story at an elite international boarding school.

When the story opens, Princess Jaya Rao and her younger sister, Isha, have just arrived at their new boarding school, which is nestled in the mountains of Colorado.  The sisters have relocated halfway around the world to escape some negative media attention that Isha found herself caught in the middle of.  Their parents are hoping the time away will lead the media to get bored and move on to another scandal.  Even though Jaya herself has done nothing wrong, she is completely devoted to her family and preserving the Rao reputation so she agrees to go and keep an eye on Isha. Jaya also has an ulterior motive. She knows that Grey Emerson attends the school and thinks this is the perfect opportunity to exact revenge on him.  There is bad blood between the Rao and Emerson families that can be traced back to a stolen ruby and a subsequent retaliatory curse and Jaya is certain that the Emersons are responsible for her family’s latest troubles.

Ironically, Grey Emerson is also at the school because of the curse.  His cold-hearted father believes so thoroughly in the curse that he has cut all ties with his doomed son and shipped him off to boarding school. And since the curse threatens to wipe out his family line and he’s currently the last male heir, Grey can’t help but be concerned.

As one expects when reading one of Menon’s novels, both of her main characters are quite likable.  I loved Jaya’s devotion to her family and how thoroughly she watched over her sister.  I also liked getting inside of her head once she actually meets Grey and realizes he may not be the monster she thinks he is.  I really felt for her as she becomes more and more conflicted about what she should do.  I also really liked Grey and just felt tremendous sympathy for him.  He has spent his whole life tortured by this awful curse and feeling unloved by his father.  Grey believes there’s a good chance he will die once he turns 18, so he keeps others at a distance so no one will end up devastated if he really does die.  As much as I enjoyed reading Jaya’s conflicted internal monologues, I thought Grey’s were excellent as well, especially once he starts getting to know Jaya and wants to be close to her in spite of the curse and the Rao vs. Emerson feud.  My favorite character though was actually Jaya’s sister, Isha.  Isha is a STEM girl (YES!) who just wants to live her life without feeling constricted by her family’s royal status.  Isha is a firecracker who stole the spotlight in every scene she was in, and I adored her. I wanted more of her and would totally be on board for reading a story that focused more on her.

While I really did enjoy Of Curses and Kisses, I won’t say that it’s my favorite Menon novel.  I liked the characters, but didn’t love them with quite the same intensity that I’ve loved some of Menon’s other protagonists like Dimple and Rishi or Sweetie and Ashish. I also thought the pacing was a little slow at times.  Overall though, I still thought it was a solid read and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, especially to anyone who enjoys Beauty and the Beast retellings.

three-half-stars

About Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon is the New York Times bestselling author of When Dimple Met Rishi, From Twinkle, With Love, and There’s Something About Sweetie. A full-time dog servant and part-time writer, she makes her home in the foggy mountains of Colorado.

Review: FOUL IS FAIR by Hannah Capin

Review:  FOUL IS FAIR by Hannah CapinFoul Is Fair by Hannah Capin
three-half-stars
Series: Foul Is Fair #1
Published by Wednesday Books on February 18, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Meghan from St. Martin’s Press & Wednesday Books for inviting me to take part in their blog tour for Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin.  I’m excited to share my thoughts on this thrilling new novel.

* * * * *

“Something wicked this way comes…”

Hannah Capin’s latest novel, Foul is Fair, is a violent and disturbing tale of revenge.  It is deliciously entertaining in the darkest of ways.  While it reads like a mash-up of Mean Girls, Riverdale, and Pretty Little Liars, Foul is Fair, as you may have surmised from the title, is actually a modern retelling of the Shakespearean tragedy, Macbeth.

I’m a total Shakespeare nerd and the tragedies are my favorites, so Foul is Fair was a must-read for me.  As I was reading, I was just so impressed with the creative revenge plot the author devised to mirror the original Macbeth storyline.  Foul is Fair follows Elle, who as the novel opens, is planning a night out with her best friends to celebrate her sweet sixteen birthday.  The girls get all glammed up and attend a party at the local elite prep school.  The night turns tragic, however, when Elle is drugged and raped at the party.  Elle knows who did it, and she also remembers who just stood around and let it happen.  The name of the game for Elle is vengeance as she vows to take them all down.

With the help of her girls (or her coven as she calls them), Elle, the Lady Macbeth of Foul is Fair, changes her appearance so that she isn’t recognizable, changes her name to Jade, and finally, arranges to transfer to the prep school. Once there, she sets her plot for revenge into motion, with the first step being to seduce a boy named Mack (the Macbeth of Foul is Fair) into doing her bidding and ultimately taking the fall for anything she does in her quest for vengeance.

My favorite part of the novel is the revenge plot itself. I flew through the pages once Jade started taking her rapists down, one by one.  Her quest for revenge is more intense than anything I could have imagined, truly vicious!  Elle/Jade is a master manipulator and the mind games she and her coven play on these boys are brilliant. She practically has them drowning in their paranoia and turning on each other.  I found myself cheering the girls on in a show of solidarity but also sitting there shocked at myself for cheering such violence.  I love a read that can do that to me.

Foul is Fair works well as a Macbeth retelling, but it also felt wholly unique and unpredictable even with the numerous references and shout-outs to the original Shakespearean play peppered throughout the novel.  If you’re into Shakespearean tragedies, retellings, or even just revenge thrillers, Foul is Fair is a must-read for you too.

* * * * *

On a side note, I also want to thank the author for posting clear trigger warnings regarding the subject matter. I knew going in that, as a Macbeth retelling, Foul is Fair would be a dark revenge tale, but I was grateful for the warning that the primary thematic content “centers on sexual assault (not depicted), rape culture, and violence. Additionally, the book includes an abusive relationship, a suicide attempt, and a brief scene with transphobic bullying.”

For a more detailed description of sensitive content in Foul is Fair, please visit hannahcapin.com/foulisfair.

 

 

PURCHASE LINK:

Wednesday Books

 

SUMMARY:

Hannah Capin’s Foul is Fair is a bloody, thrilling revenge fantasy for the girls who have had enough. Golden boys beware: something wicked this way comes.

Jade and her friends Jenny, Mads, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of. Every party is theirs and the world is at their feet. Until the night of Jade’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Jade as their next target.

They picked the wrong girl.

Sworn to vengeance, Jade transfers to St. Andrew’s Prep. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. She’ll take their power, their lives, and their control of the prep school’s hierarchy. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly.

 

three-half-stars

About Hannah Capin

Hannah Capin is the author of Foul is Fair and The Dead Queens Club, a feminist retelling of the wives of Henry VIII. When she isn’t writing, she can be found singing, sailing, or pulling marathon gossip sessions with her girl squad. She lives in Tidewater, Virginia.

MIni Reviews: The Historical Fiction Edition

 

It’s time for another roundup of the ARCs I read in January.  This time I want to focus on a couple of lovely historical fiction novels that I read, one set in WWII and the other set during WWI.

 

MIni Reviews: The Historical Fiction EditionThe Whispers of War Goodreads

Author: Julia Kelly

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery Books

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

Julia Kelly’s The Whispers of War is an engaging work of historical fiction that focuses on three friends, Marie, Nora, and Hazel, and the challenges they face when World War II reaches the shores of England.  The author deftly uses a dual timeline to both ground her readers in the present and take us back in time. She begins in the present with Marie’s granddaughter, Samantha, who has travelled to London after Marie’s death to present Nora with a keepsake Marie wanted her dear friend to have.  Samantha has also been charged with writing a eulogy for her grandmother so she takes the opportunity of meeting Nora to pick her brain about Marie’s early life.  Although Nora is the gateway to the past, the author presents the WWII timeline from the perspectives of Nora, Marie, and their other good friend, Hazel.

As much as WWII historical fiction has always fascinated me, the friendship of these three women was what really sold me on this book.  Marie is German-born, and although she has lived in England nearly all of her life, the threat of war with the Nazis has her on edge, especially as rumors abound that those with German blood could be placed in internment camps.  Nora, on the other hand, is English by birth and actually works for the British government at the Home Office.  She takes advantage of her position to keep Marie apprised of what’s really going on with respect to possible internment camps.  In sharp contrast to both Nora and Marie is Hazel, who works for a matchmaking company. Ever the optimist and even in the face of war, she’s in the business of helping people find love.  These three women are such an unlikely trio, but the bond of friendship they share is just beautiful to see, especially when contrasted with the ugliness of war as more and more people turn on Marie because of her German background.

Using WWII and Marie’s experiences as its backdrop, The Whispers of War explores some pretty big themes – friendship, sisterhood, what happens when loyalties are tested, politics, women’s rights issues, and even a little romance.  Marie’s story is pretty incredible and I loved learning more about her alongside her granddaughter.  If you’re into WWII historical fiction and/or stories that feature strong female characters, you’ll want to check out The Whispers of War4 STARS

 

 

MIni Reviews: The Historical Fiction EditionThe Vineyards of Champagne Goodreads

Author: Juliet Blackwell

Publication Date: January 21, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

Set in the beautiful Champagne region of France, Juliet Blackwell’s latest novel The Vineyards of Champagne follows Rosalyn, an American woman who is traveling to France to find new wines for her company to distribute in America.  Rosalyn, still reeling from the loss of her husband, isn’t excited about the trip but her boss thinks it will be good for her.  On the plane, Rosalyn meets Emma, an Australian woman with a larger-than-life personality and who is working on a project that piques Rosalyn’s interest.

Emma has a packet of letters that belonged to her grandmother, who was corresponding with a young French soldier named Emile LeGrand during WWI.  The letters were written by Emile, and Emma is heading to France in hopes of finding out more about the French soldier and hopefully finding her grandmother’s side of the correspondence.  Rosalyn is drawn in by Emma’s enthusiasm for the project, and so what started as a business trip for Rosalyn slowly becomes a trip about healing and moving forward, as she and Emma dive deeper into the letters and learn more about Emile and about what life was like in the Champagne region during WWI.

This was such an easy book to fall in love with.  I adored both Emma and Rosalyn from the moment they met.  I felt tremendous sympathy for Rosalyn because of her loss and how much she was struggling to cope but could tell right away that Emma was going to be good for her with that live-out-loud personality of hers.  I also loved the quaint little town that Rosalyn stays in while she’s there, as well as the array of wonderful secondary characters, especially Jerome, a champagne maker who catches Rosalyn’s eye.

The biggest draw for me in The Vineyards of Champagne though was what I learned about WWI.  The history that unfolded through the letters just made for such a fascinating read. I had no idea that the citizens of this region in France had taken shelter during the war in underground caves beneath the champagne houses. The women and children basically lived in underground cities, educated the children there, and periodically came up to harvest the grapes to keep champagne production going.  How amazing is that?

The Vineyards of Champagne is a story of love and loss, resilience and survival, and above all else, friendship and hope.  4 STARS

 

Review: DON’T READ THE COMMENTS by Eric Smith

Review:  DON’T READ THE COMMENTS by Eric SmithDon't Read the Comments by Eric Smith
four-stars
Published by Inkyard Press on January 28, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Justine Sha for inviting me to take part in Harlequin Trade Publishing’s Winter 2020 Blog Tour for Inkyard Press.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Eric Smith’s new novel Don’t Read the Comments.

Don’t Read the Comments follows Divya Sharma, a teen girl who has become internet famous because of her video game stream for Reclaim the Sun on the popular Glitch website.  Her stream has gained so many followers that she has received sponsorships from several big gaming companies, which means she receives a lot of gifted items and even cash.  While all of the perks are great and it’s fun being considered a celebrity of sorts, Divya also relies on the money she makes from streaming to help her mom make ends meet.  So when she encounters trolls online who threaten her livelihood, it’s a big deal on many levels. They send her messages telling her she doesn’t belong in their community and is taking money and endorsements that should go to others more talented and deserving than she is.

When they destroy her ship in the game, Divya refuses to give into them. She begins the game all over again, seeking a quiet corner of the Reclaim the Sun universe to start from scratch and rebuild her resources.  It is here she encounters the second protagonist of the book, Aaron Jericho, a teen who is equally passionate about video games but from the standpoint that he wants to actually write video games for a living. Aaron is a little starstruck at first because of Divya’s celebrity status but slowly, a friendship starts to build between them.

I really loved both Divya and Aaron.  Divya is smart, scrappy, and resourceful. She’s also a great friend and a good daughter. I loved that she was so determined to use her streaming income to help her mom achieve her dream of a college degree.  Aaron is equally likeable and is immediately a great friend to Divya. He’s also the sweetest big brother ever, even allowing his adorable little sister Mira to play video games with him and name planets he has claimed.  Divya and Aaron are just so sweet that it’s all the more wonderful that they find each other online.

Along with the relationship between Divya and Aaron, the other friendships in the novel really made Don’t Read the Comments such an enjoyable read for me. There were several feel good geeky moments throughout the story involving Divya and her Angst Armada, a group of fans/friends she has met and bonded with through the Reclaim the Sun game.  Having made many wonderful friends online myself, I found it very heartwarming to watch this group interact in such a positive way.

The author does a wonderful job of creating a balance between those feel good moments and the other darker aspects of the online gaming community.  While the story has many moments that left me smiling, it also has its fair share of tension and suspense, which is created by racism, sexism, and doxing, which takes harassment to a whole new level when it moves from online to in-your-face personal.

I have to confess that I was initially drawn to Eric Smith’s Don’t Read the Comments because of the cute cover that promises a “wonderfully geeky” read.  And yes, while it was definitely a wonderfully geeky read, Don’t Read the Comments is so much more than that.  It’s also an in-depth exploration of the online world of video game streaming, both the good and the bad.  Smith exposes the undercurrent of racism, sexism and harassment that sometimes pervades the culture, he also shows the positives such as online friendships that are born from shared interests.  I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary reads that focus on relevant and timely issues, and definitely to anyone who loves video games.

 

 

PURCHASE LINKS:

AmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundKoboGoogle – Books-A-Million

 

SUMMARY:

Slay meets Eliza and Her Monsters in Eric Smith’s Don’t Read the Comments, an #ownvoices story in which two teen gamers find their virtual worlds—and blossoming romance—invaded by the real-world issues of trolling and doxing in the gaming community.

Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight.

 

four-stars

About Eric Smith

Eric Smith is an author, prolific book blogger, and literary agent from New Jersey, currently living in Philadelphia. Smith cohosts Book Riot’s newest podcast, HEY YA, with non-fiction YA author Kelly Jensen. He can regularly be found writing for Book Riot’s blog, as well as Barnes & Noble’s Teen Reads blog, Paste Magazine, and Publishing Crawl. Smith also has a growing Twitter platform of over 40,000 followers (@ericsmithrocks).

Review: THE GOD GAME by Danny Tobey

Review:  THE GOD GAME by Danny TobeyThe God Game by Danny Tobey
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 7, 2020
Genres: Science Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 496
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The God Game by Danny Tobey is a sci-fi thriller that focuses on what happens when a video game that starts off as a welcome escape from reality goes off the rails and takes a horribly wrong and dangerous turn.

The story follows Charlie, a high school senior, and his best friends, a group of computer whizzes who call themselves The Vindicators.  The Vindicators are invited to play a secret underground virtual reality video game called The God Game.  The game is designed by hackers and it’s controlled by an AI (Artificial Intelligence) that really believes it’s God, thus it knows everything and its presence is everywhere.  The whole concept fascinates the Vindicators and they get caught up in the excitement of the game right away.

The game really appeals to the teens for several reasons:  1) it’s challenging because it doesn’t come with instructions and you have to figure things out as you go, 2) it makes them feel special to be ‘in the know’ about something no one else knows about, and 3) they can actually perform tasks and get rewarded with actual prizes like expensive electronics and even cash.

It’s all fun and games at first, but then things take a decidedly darker and more sinister turn. The game starts to threaten them if they don’t perform certain tasks, shadowy figures start following them in real life and actually attack them.  Suddenly it’s not so fun anymore, but what happens when “God” won’t let them leave the game?

****

Wow, what a wild ride this book was!  The whole premise of the video game fascinated me and so I got sucked in just as quickly as the characters in the book did.  I’ve seen The God Game compared to both Black Mirror and Stranger Things, but I’ve not watched either show so I can’t attest to that.  What I will say though is that it gave me a definite Ready Player One vibe because of the virtual reality environment that would superimpose itself right over the real world every time Charlie and his friends played.  I loved this aspect of the author’s worldbuilding, especially when the teens go into the boiler room at school and it magically shifts into something that looks way more like Middle Earth than it does a room in a school.

Aside from the brilliant virtual reality worldbuilding, I also loved the suspense and tension created each time the game raises the stakes.  I found myself just flying through the pages because I wanted to know just how far “God” would go with its threats.

As exciting as the game itself was, what also really drew me into the story was its focus on the personal lives of this group of teens and why they were so eager to escape reality and practically live within the virtual reality walls of this game.  There’s a big focus on how hard it is to be a teen – the peer pressure, the pressure from parents, and even the pressure we put on ourselves.  I think that’s a theme that many will find all too relatable, and it also makes it all the more tragic that this game, which should have been an escape from their troubles, just ends up piling on to their troubles even more.

I don’t want to say anything else because it’s really a story you just have to experience for yourself, so I’ll just say if you’re looking for an exciting sci-fi thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and especially if you have an interest in AI, VR, and/or video games, you should definitely add Danny Tobey’s The God Game to your reading list.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

You are invited!
Come inside and play with G.O.D.
Bring your friends!
It’s fun!
But remember the rules. Win and ALL YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE.

Lose, you die!

With those words, Charlie and his friends enter the G.O.D. Game, a video game run by underground hackers and controlled by a mysterious AI that believes it’s God. Through their phone-screens and high-tech glasses, the teens’ realities blur with a virtual world of creeping vines, smoldering torches, runes, glyphs, gods, and mythical creatures. When they accomplish a mission, the game rewards them with expensive tech, revenge on high-school tormentors, and cash flowing from ATMs. Slaying a hydra and drawing a bloody pentagram as payment to a Greek god seem harmless at first. Fun even.

But then the threatening messages start. Worship me. Obey me. Complete a mission, however cruel, or the game reveals their secrets and crushes their dreams. Tasks that seemed harmless at first take on deadly consequences. Mysterious packages show up at their homes. Shadowy figures start following them, appearing around corners, attacking them in parking garages. Who else is playing this game, and how far will they go to win?

And what of the game’s first promise: win, win big, lose, you die? Dying in a virtual world doesn’t really mean death in real life—does it?

As Charlie and his friends try to find a way out of the game, they realize they’ve been manipulated into a bigger web they can’t escape: an AI that learned its cruelty from watching us.

God is always watching, and He says when the game is done.

four-stars

About Danny Tobey

Danny Tobey is the author of THE GOD GAME, arriving January 7, 2020 from St. Martin’s press. He is a fifth-generation Texan and a graduate of Harvard College, Yale Law School, and UT Southwestern medical school. Harvard gave Danny the Edward Eager prize “for the best creative writing.” He wrote and edited the Harvard Lampoon and was anthologized in The Best of the Harvard Lampoon: 140 Years of American Humor. Danny’s first novel, the sci-fi fantasy thriller The Faculty Club, came out from Simon & Schuster. Danny is a noted expert on Artificial Intelligence. In 2019, the Library of Congress gave Danny the Burton Award for his work on AI and the law.