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Reviews: PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION & THAT SUMMER

Happy Monday all!  I hope all of the moms out there had a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend.  My son had a soccer tournament so I spent my holiday at my second home, the soccer field, lol. Today I’m sharing my thoughts on two books hitting the shelves this week that also happen to be two of my most anticipated reads of 2021, Emily Henry’s People We Meet on Vacation and Jennifer Weiner’s That Summer.

 

Reviews:  PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION & THAT SUMMERPeople We Meet on Vacation Goodreads

Author: Emily Henry

Publication Date: May 11, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

Emily Henry’s novel Beach Read was one of my favorite books of 2020.  It was a five-star read for me and I adored everything about it.  I therefore had very high expectations going into her new novel, People We Meet on Vacation.  I’m thrilled to report that Henry not only met my expectations, but she really hit it out of the park.

People We Meet on Vacation follows Poppy and Alex.  Poppy and Alex both come from a small town in Ohio and that, aside from the fact that they attended the same college, which is where they met and became best friends, is pretty much the only thing they have in common.  Poppy is a travel writer and a quirky extrovert, while Alex is a high school teacher and a highly reserved introvert.  They are truly the most unlikely of friends, but as the old saying goes, opposites attract and their friendship just works.  They have not only stayed friends long after graduating from college, but every year they get together and take an epic vacation.  That is, until two years ago when something happened to completely derail their friendship to the point where they stopped speaking to each other.  Poppy desperately wants her best friend back and reaches out to Alex with an offer she hopes he won’t refuse.

I fell in love with both Poppy and Alex right away.  Henry has the story unfold through a dual timeline where in the present, we watch Poppy and Alex take a trip together to try to rekindle their friendship and move forward, while in the past, we get lots of flashbacks of Poppy and Alex’s first meeting, their friendship growing, scenes from those amazing yearly vacations, etc.  I loved watching the two of them interact because 1) the banter is hilarious, 2) it’s clear they have intense chemistry, and 3) they really bring out the best in each other.  I was utterly heartbroken to learn that something had happened to fracture their relationship and I shared Poppy’s desperation to fix it.  I was also shipping them so hard to become more than friends because they were truly just adorable together in the flashback scenes.

I don’t want to spoil anything so I’m just going to say if I had to compare this book to any other book, I’d say it has a similar vibe to Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren.  If you enjoy a good friends-to-lovers story filled with lovable characters and hilarious banter, you are in for a treat with People We Meet on Vacation. This one left me with a full heart and happy tears in my eyes.  5 STARS.

 

Reviews:  PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION & THAT SUMMERThat Summer Goodreads

Author: Jennifer Weiner

Publication Date: May 11, 2021

Publisher:  Altria Books

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

Based on the cover of Jennifer Weiner’s latest book, That Summer, I was expecting a light and fun read, perfect for the beach.  What I got instead was a powerful story about the long-lasting psychological impact of rape on its victims and a heartfelt story about the healing qualities of friendship. That Summer was darker at times than I had anticipated, but with the incredible Cape Cod setting as a backdrop and the focus on a wonderful female friendship, it was still a very compelling and satisfying read.

The story focuses on two women named Diana.  We meet the first one, Diana Starling, when she is a teen spending her summer in Cape Cod.  She is having the time of her life, meeting new friends, attending parties on the beach, etc. until one night changes her life in the worst imaginable way.  Fast forward a couple of decades and we meet the second Diana, who goes by the nickname Daisy.  Daisy Shoemaker is a busy but bored housewife.  She dropped out of college years ago to marry and start a family, and now, with her husband frequently occupied with his own career, Daisy feels like she’s all on her own to run their household and to deal with their teen daughter who has been kicked out of private school for behavioral issues and is a real handful.  Daisy is also receiving emails intended for someone else named Diana S. (coincidentally our first Diana now all grown up) and Daisy finds herself envious of what appears to be a much more exciting life than her own.  After exchanging a few emails, the two Dianas decide it would be fun to meet up.  Neither of them has any idea just how life changing this meeting will be.

I really loved how Jennifer Weiner has crafted this story.  Both of these women are very likeable and I enjoyed the bond of friendship that immediately sprung up between them.  But what I loved most was how Weiner then starts building suspense by making it clear that it’s no accident these two women have met and by making it just as clear that Diana Starling is preparing to do something that will turn Daisy’s life upside down.  She hates the thought of doing it because she really likes Daisy, but in her mind, it still has to be done.  I loved how ominous this aspect of the story was and the tension and suspense that built as it became more and more apparent that their lives were bound together by secrets and lies from the past and that Diana Starling was on a mission to take down someone who hurt her.

Weiner handles a difficult topic with care and in such a way that does not demean rape victims, but also in a way that takes direct aim at the old “boys will be boys” mentality that has pervaded our society for so long.

That Summer is a powerful story about revenge and holding people accountable for their actions, but it’s also an emotional and hopeful story about survival, moving forward, and the healing power of friendship.  4 STARS

Review: UNDER THE SOUTHERN SKY by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Review:  UNDER THE SOUTHERN SKY by Kristy Woodson HarveyUnder the Southern Sky by Kristy Woodson Harvey
Also by this author: Feels Like Falling
five-stars
Published by Gallery Books on April 20, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Pages: 400
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.

 

 

 

 

Under the Southern Sky is the fifth novel I’ve read from Kristy Woodson Harvey and it’s my favorite yet.  It’s a story about love, family and childhood friendships rekindled, and it’s also a story about loss and grief and how to move forward when you think your life has fallen apart.

The story follows journalist Amelia Saxton. Amelia is recently separated from her husband after catching him cheating on her and while licking her wounds, she is also researching the biggest story of her writing career, a story about what couples who have gone through IVF choose to do with any leftover embryos.  Amelia discovers that her childhood friend, Parker, and his late wife, Greer, are on the list of those who have abandoned their embryos.  After much consideration, Amelia decides she is obligated to reach out to Parker and make sure he is aware of the abandoned embryos and it is then that Amelia’s hunt for a story takes her on a far more personal journey than she ever anticipated.

I loved both Parker and Amelia and enjoyed watching them reconnect.  They both have some tough choices to make, particularly Parker with respect to those embryos, and they are both dealing with loss and how to move on.  So much of what they go through is heavy and heartbreaking but there are some lighter and more hopeful moments as well.  I found myself rooting for them to build a future together almost right away because they just seemed so well suited to one another.

I don’t want to give anything else about the plot away as the story packs an emotional punch and it’s best to let it unfold as spoiler free as possible, but I will say that as someone who has gone through IVF, everything about this story spoke to me and I thought the author handled this sensitive topic with respect and grace.  Even though Greer is deceased, we still get some chapters from her perspective so we get a feel for what her and Parker’s dreams for a family were before she got sick.

Filled with wonderfully complex characters and poignant moments, and all framed by gorgeous writing, Under the Southern Sky is a story that is sure to tug at your heartstrings and keep you invested from the first to the very last page.  It’s not a light read but it’s one of the most beautiful stories I’ve read this year.

 

five-stars

About Kristy Woodson Harvey

Kristy Woodson Harvey is the bestselling author of DEAR CAROLINA, LIES AND OTHER ACTS OF LOVE, SLIGHTLY SOUTH OF SIMPLE, THE SECRET TO SOUTHERN CHARM and THE SOUTHERN SIDE OF PARADISE. Kristy is the winner of the Lucy Bramlette Patterson Award for Excellence in Creative Writing, a finalist for the Southern Book Prize, her work has been optioned for film and her books have received numerous accolades including:

Southern Living’s Most Anticipated Beach Reads
Southern Living’s Best Spring Break Reads
Southern Independent Bookseller Association’s Okra Pick
Parade’s Big Fiction Reads Every Book Club Will Love
Entertainment Weekly’s Spring Reading Picks
Us Weekly’s Sweet Reads for Right Now
Woman’s WorldBest Books
PopSugar’s Ultimate Summer Reading
USA Today Happy Ever After’s Best Women’s Fiction
New York Live’s “Ashley’s A-List”
Deep South Magazine’s Summer Reading List
Raleigh News & Observer‘s “The Best Reads of Summer”
Charlotte Observer’s “Summer’s Best Books”
Bustle’s Books to Read and Discuss With Your Mom and Grandma
Huffington Post’s Summer Reading: Women’s Fiction Style

She blogs with her mom Beth Woodson on Design Chic about how creating a beautiful home can be the catalyst for creating a beautiful life. Design Chic is the inaugural member of the design blogger hall of fame, sponsored by Traditional Home, and winner of Amara’s Best Luxury Blog, as chosen by Roberto Cavalli. She also loves connecting with readers on kristywoodsonharvey.com.

Harvey is a Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s school of journalism and holds a master’s in English from East Carolina University, with a concentration in multicultural and transnational literature. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications and websites, including Southern Living, Traditional Home, Parade, USA Today, Domino, Our State and O. Henry. She has been seen in Today.com, Women’s Health,The Washington Post, US News and World Report, The Huffington Post,Marie Claire’s The Fix, Woman’s World, Readers’ Digest, Bustle, New York Live and North Carolina Bookwatch, among others.

She is a proud member of the Tall Poppy Writers, serves on the board of Beaufort Historical Association, and is a member of the University of North Carolina’s Women’s Leadership Council. She is a frequent speaker at fundraisers, book conferences and private events. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and seven-year-old son where she is working on her next novel.

Review: BETTER THAN THE MOVIES by Lynn Painter

Review:  BETTER THAN THE MOVIES by Lynn PainterBetter Than the Movies by Lynn Painter
five-stars
on May 4, 2021
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

Lynn Painter’s new novel Better Than the Movies follows Liz Buxbaum, high school student and hopeless romantic.  Liz is obsessed with romantic comedies and uses them partly as a coping mechanism to deal with the death of her mom, who was also a huge fan of rom-coms.  Liz daydreams about securing a happily ever after of her own and thinks the perfect opportunity for one has presented itself when Michael, her childhood crush, moves back to town.

I really loved Liz. Her extensive knowledge and love of romantic comedies was so endearing, as was her slightly misguided attempt to secure her own happy ending by fake dating her neighbor in an effort to get Michael’s attention. I also found Liz to be a very sympathetic character, as she is clearly struggling with the loss of her mom.  It’s clear they were very close and that Liz is feeling her absence tremendously.

Liz wasn’t perfect by any stretch though.  While trying to orchestrate that happy ending for herself, she all but ditches her best friend.  And while she’s struggling to cope with the loss of her mom, she pretty much pushes her stepmother Hannah, who is actually really cool, off to the periphery of her life and refuses to let her be a part of any of Liz’s senior year milestones.  These rocky, awkward moments just made Liz come across as all the more real and, for me, made her that much more likable and relatable.

My absolute favorite part of Better Than the Movies though was Liz’s relationship with her neighbor and arch nemesis, Wes Bennett.  When the novel opens, Liz and Wes are in the midst of an ongoing war over the parking space out in front of their homes.  They each resort to all sorts of dirty tricks to keep the other from getting the spot, which was just hilarious. It’s actually Liz promising Wes unlimited access to that parking space that makes him agree to help her get Michael to notice her.  Watching the relationship between Liz and Wes evolve was the aspect of the book that really had me smiling as I read.  No matter how much Liz professed to loathe Wes, it was all too clear the two of them had tremendous chemistry and that her actual happily ever after has quite possibly been living next door to her all along.

I don’t want to say anything else because you just really need to experience Wes and Liz’s immensely entertaining journey for yourself.  Not only is Lynn Painter’s new novel Better Than the Movies a delightful rom-com that features fake dating and the enemies-to-lovers trope, but it’s also filled with perfectly placed references to all of my favorite rom-com films.  I honestly don’t think a book has ever made me smile so much; I’m sure I was grinning from ear to ear pretty much the entire time I was reading.

five-stars

About Lynn Painter

Lynn Painter lives with her husband and pack of wild children in Nebraska, where she is a weekly contributor to the Omaha World-Herald and an avid fan of napping. When working on a new book, she can often be found sound asleep on her office floor. Some might say she should grow up and stop randomly dozing off like she’s a toddler, but Lynn considers it part of her writing “process.”

Review: PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir

Review:  PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy WeirProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Also by this author: Artemis
five-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on May 4, 2021
Genres: Science Fiction
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.

 

 

 

 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir is a high stakes sci-fi thriller, which if you’re familiar with Weir’s writing, you know that means you’re probably in for a wild ride. And you would be correct!  I was hooked from the opening scene of this book and devoured it in less than a day.

Even though it’s science fiction, Project Hail Mary has a premise that is terrifyingly plausible. Something is inexplicably causing the Sun to dim, which, in turn, is triggering climate-related issues on Earth. If the situation on the Sun isn’t reversed, the Earth and all of its inhabitants are on the verge of mass extinction.  With all the talk in the news about climate change and how catastrophic it could be, I found myself super invested in this story since it explores exactly that. Knowing they are running out of time, the scientists and governments of the world pool their resources to attack this problem head on.  The solution they come up with is not ideal. Project Hail Mary, it turns out, is very aptly named because it is a last-ditch Hail Mary pass (for all you football fans out there) to try to save all of humanity.  And it’s also a suicide mission.

Weir grabbed my attention from the opening scene of Project Hail Mary.  Our protagonist, Ryland Grace, an 8th grade science teacher, wakes up aboard a spaceship with no memory of who he is and with only two dead bodies for company.  He has no idea why he is on this ship and no clue about what happened to the people with him. It’s unsettling to say the least, but being the science geek that he is, he starts to explore the ship and fiddling with things, which starts to gradually trigger the return of his memories.  Ryland is a smart guy and he’s also a pretty funny guy, so there’s a lot of humor mixed in with this otherwise unsettling storyline.  I loved when he finally has his ‘Oh yeah, I’m supposed to save the Earth or we’re all going to die. But oh yeah, I’m going to die anyway” moment.  It is surprising to me how he manages to take that fact in stride.  This made Ryland an extremely likable character.  Also, seriously, how can you not root for the 8th grade science teacher to save the world?! He’s the ultimate underdog.

I love when a dual timeline is used well and while I’m mainly used to seeing them in the historical fiction I read, Weir effectively employs a dual timeline in Project Hail Mary, one present and one past.  In the present day timeline, we follow Ryland Grace as he attempts to carry out his mission, while in the other timeline, we get a series of flashbacks as Ryland’s memory starts to return.  Those flashbacks show what led up to the moment when Ryland wakes up on a spaceship millions of miles from home.  I loved having the story unfold this way, especially as we piece together how in the world he actually ended up chosen for the mission in the first place since he’s such an unlikely candidate.

It’s pretty much impossible to say much else about this book without giving away major spoilers, but I did want to mention that there is a major plot twist that really took this story to a whole new level for me and made the story so special.  I can’t give you any details because it’s best to go in unspoiled, but you’ll know it when you get there and it will blow your mind in the best possible way!

If you’re looking for a suspenseful, action-packed read that makes science entertaining and celebrates the underdog, you’re definitely going to want to check out Project Hail Mary.  It’s exciting and terrifying, fascinating and wondrous, and all the while it’s downright fun.  As much as I loved both The Martian and Artemis, Project Hail Mary stole my science-loving heart and is my new favorite Andy Weir novel.

five-stars

About Andy Weir

ANDY WEIR built a career as a software engineer until the runaway success of his debut novel, THE MARTIAN, allowed him to pursue writing full-time. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects such as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He lives in California.

Reviews: Trust Me & Quiet in Her Bones

 

It’s Thursday, I’m Sharon, so you know what that means: Thriller Thursday! This week I am sharing my thoughts on Trust Me, by T.M. Logan and Quiet in Her Bones by Nalini Singh, a new author to me. I am happy to say I really liked both of these books.

 

Reviews: Trust Me & Quiet in Her BonesTrust Me Goodreads

Author: T.M. Logan

Publication Date: March 18, 2021

Publisher: Bonnier Books

I have been a fan of T.M. Logan since I read his first book Lies and his latest book Trust Me is everything I was hoping for. As with all of his books, T.M. Logan kept me guessing and when I thought I knew what was going on, he would twist things up and pull it in a new direction.

Ellen Devlin longs for a child of her own but has just come from an appointment with her fertility specialist with the news that she is not able to conceive. While on the train home a young woman named Kathryn and her 3-month-old baby, Mia, sits next to her. After striking up a conversation, Kathryn asks Ellen to hold Mia while she takes a phone call.  But as Kathryn walks to a quiet spot on the train to make the call, the train pulls into a station and Ellen is shocked to see her hurrying off the train. As the train leaves the station Ellen is about to alert security but then she finds a note in the baby’s bag, “Please protect Mia. Don’t trust the police. Don’t trust anyone”  Little does Ellen realize that her act of kindness is about to put her life in jeopardy.

I loved Ellen. She both pulled at my heart strings and also had me cheering her on. After she got off the train with Mia, she was planning on taking her to the police, but before she could get there, she and Mia were kidnapped. And when an opportunity arrived where Ellen herself could have escaped, she didn’t take it because she would not leave Mia behind. Instead, she fought and was able to get both herself and Mia to safety. She eventually did turn Mia over to the police, but that did not stop her from wanting to make sure Mia was safe. And as more information was revealed about who Kathryn was and what happened to her, Ellen knew that Mia was still in danger and wanted to do whatever she could to make sure she protected her. I loved the momma bear persona Ellen developed for Mia.  Ellen turned into one bad ass woman when she had to and did not back down when danger presented itself. And danger presented itself a few times, in terms of a couple of break-ins at her house and a few unsavory characters Ellen came in contact with.

I really cannot say much more because anything I say will spoil it.  But I will say this book was full of twists and turns that kept me guessing and also had me not trusting anyone besides Ellen. Every time I thought a character could be trusted, the next chapter would have me second guessing myself. And the whole time I was reading I was trying to figure out who wanted to hurt Mia and why?  Let me tell you, my mind was all over the place on the answer to those questions. I had a lot of conspiracy theories going around in my head lol. None of which were correct.

The closer I got to the end of the book I finally did figure out what was going on and who Mia needed protecting from. By the final few chapters, the tension picked up and I was on the edge of my seat and flying through the pages because I couldn’t wait to find out how it was all going to end.

4 Stars

 

Reviews: Trust Me & Quiet in Her BonesQuiet in Her Bones Goodreads

Author: Nalini Singh

Publication Date: February 23, 2021

Publisher: Berkley Books

I have never read anything by Nalini Singh, but from the eeriness of the book cover and the synopsis, I knew I had to read Quiet in Her Bones. And I am so glad I did, this book had me hooked from the beginning.

One night Nina Rai drove off in her car, along with a quarter of a million dollars and was never heard from again. Her son Aarav has been haunted by his mother’s disappearance ever since.  He knows she would never just leave him and he cannot forget the chilling scream he heard the night she disappeared.

Now 10 years later Nina’s remains and her car has been discovered hidden deep in the woods near her home. Aarav is now 26 and has temporarily moved back to his childhood home to recover from injuries he suffered in a car accident. After the police rule this a homicide, Aarav vows to find out who killed his mother and make them pay.  And it seems that most everyone in the exclusive cul-de-sac could have had a motive for killing Nina.

I liked how Nalini Singh made Nina come to life through Aarav’s memories and also from what he learned from neighbors. We get a good insight into her and she came alive on the pages even though she is dead. While Nina may have been a drunk, cheater and blackmailer, she was also a good friend and loving mother.

Aarav starts his own investigation by talking to his neighbors in the cul-de-sac. Someone must have heard or seen something that night. But the more he talks to his neighbors the more it becomes clear that they all have their own secrets and motives for killing Nina. I was all over the place on my feelings for these people. One minute I would like and trust them, and then something would be revealed to flip me over to not trusting them at all.  I also had suspicions about Aarav as his memories of that night came back to him in bits and pieces. I was praying that he didn’t have anything to do with his mother’s murder as that would have just destroyed him.

I loved Aarav’s relationship with his little sister. Aarav’s father remarried 3 years after his mother disappeared and he and his new wife have a daughter, Pari, who is now 7 years old. He may have had his flaws but when it came to his sister, Aarav made sure that she was happy and knew that he loved her. He would read to her, let her sneak some of the candy that he kept in his desk drawer. It was little things, but I loved watching the bond they had.

This was an even paced read, that slowly built up to the conclusion on what happened to Nina that night.  And while I never did figure anything out, I did think the reveal was a bit of a let down. I was looking for more of a “Holy Crap! Didn’t see that coming” ending. But I still thoroughly enjoyed my journey in this book.   4 stars

Reviews: WHEN THE STARS GO DARK & THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN CUBA

 

Happy Friday all!  I hope everyone has had a wonderful week.  The past couple of weeks I have finally found myself in the mood for some more dramatic reads that don’t fall in the romance category. So today I’m sharing an excellent mystery/thriller from Paula McLain.  I had never read anything by her before so I was excited to finally give her a try.  My second review is historical fiction from Chanel Cleeton.  This was my third Cleeton novel and she is fast becoming an auto-buy author for me.

Reviews: WHEN THE STARS GO DARK & THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN CUBAWhen the Stars Go Dark Goodreads

Author: Paula McLain

Publication Date: April 13, 2021

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

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

I can be hit or miss when it comes to reading mysteries.  If the story is so plot-driven that I can’t really connect to the main character, then I tend to be less invested in the outcome of the story.  That is absolutely not the case with Paula McLain’s new novel, When the Stars Go Dark, which is both a compelling mystery about a missing teen and an emotional journey of personal tragedy and healing for McLain’s protagonist, Anna Hart.  It was the perfect combination for me, and I couldn’t put this book down.

Anna Hart is a detective who specializes in missing persons cases. When we first meet Anna, she is returning home to Mendocino, California, the town where she grew up with her foster parents.  It’s clear from her emotional state that something tragic has happened and that she needs time to heal and regroup, but it’s also clear that she doesn’t have fond memories of her time in Mendocino and is only returning as a last resort because she feels she has nowhere else to go.  I was drawn to Anna right away and wanted to know what had happened to her, both recently and in her past, since it seems like she must have quite a backstory.

As much of a mystery as Anna herself is at first, the real mystery kicks off once she arrives in her hometown and learns that a teenage girl has gone missing and that foul play is suspected.  Even though she is meant to be using this time to recover from her own personal tragedy, Anna becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl.  She remembers a similar case with a missing girl in this town back when she lived there. That case ended in tragedy and left the town reeling, and she’s not about to let it happen again.  It’s revealed that some events from Anna’s own past have made her especially skilled in the area of figuring out exactly how some victims initially come into contact with predators.  Anna knows she has this unique skill set that can help local law enforcement find the girl and bring her home, so she forces her own pain to the background and focuses all her energy on the case.  I admired Anna’s strength and resilience here, especially considering how truly devastated she is at the beginning of the book.

I really enjoyed watching Anna work all angles of the case and especially liked the way the author starts to weave bits of Anna’s past into what’s going on in the present.  It’s an evenly paced story, with the tension and suspense building slowly as we get closer and closer to the truth about the missing girl as well as to the root of Anna’s personal pain.  Usually I love a mystery that has me on the edge of my seat, but the even pacing really worked for me here since it allowed me time to really get into Anna’s head more and get a sense of where she is emotionally along the way.

I don’t want to give away any details about the mystery itself or Anna’s tragedy, past or present, as I think those are best discovered as you’re reading the book, but I highly recommend When the Stars Go Dark to anyone who enjoys a well crafted mystery that is equally driven by character and plot. 4 STARS

 

Reviews: WHEN THE STARS GO DARK & THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN CUBAThe Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba Goodreads

Author: Chanel Cleeton

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley

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

Set in the late 1890s, Chanel Cleeton’s new novel, The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba gives her readers an inside look at the Spanish-American War and at the journalistic war between famous newspaper publishers, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.

What really brings Cleeton’s story to life are the three perspectives she uses to let the events of the story unfold through, 3 women who find themselves at the center of the action.  Grace Harrington is a young American socialite who wants to be the next Nellie Bly.  She marches into both Joseph Pulitzer’s office and William Randolph Hearst’s and demands they give her a chance to prove herself.  She is hired by one to spy on the other, while earning her living working undercover as a “stunt girl reporter.” It is through Grace’s eyes that we not only see how difficult it was for a woman to break into the field of journalism, but also how sensational or “yellow” journalism played a huge role in drawing America into Cuba’s war for independence.  Grace is a sympathetic character as she’s clever, talented, and very passionate about the kinds of stories she wants to write and of course because she’s an underdog in a man’s world.

The other two perspectives provide an intimate look at how badly Cubans were being hurt living under Spanish rule.  Eighteen year old Evangelina Cisneros dreams of a free Cuba, and even more so after she is wrongfully imprisoned because she turned down the romantic overtures of a high ranking Spanish officer. When William Hearst hears of her imprisonment and sees a photo of how beautiful she is, he plasters her photo on the front page of his newspaper and uses her as a rallying cry for the U.S. to get involved in the war.  What I found most interesting about Evangelina is that Hearst and his people portray her as this delicate flower in need of saving, but when it comes down to it, she writes her own escape plan, complete with diagrams, and has someone on the inside of the prison smuggle it to her would-be rescuers.  She’s much tougher and more resourceful than she is portrayed and in her own way is a force to be reckoned with, especially once she gets to New York and starts making speeches on behalf of those in Cuba she has left behind.

The third perspective is that of Marina Perez, and in some ways, I found her perspective the most interesting of all. Marina is a wife and mother, trying to safely raise her child against all odds in a reconcentration camp while her husband is off fighting for Cuba’s independence.  In addition to that, however, Marina is also trying to do whatever she can to advance the same cause.  She works as a laundry woman and because she has access to so many people, she has become a courier ferrying messages back and forth to help the Cuban revolutionaries.  I was captivated my Marina’s story, especially her passion and devotion to both her family and her country.  I also thought her relationship with her husband was beautifully portrayed, as they are both sacrificing so much and each just wants the other to come home safely.  It was very moving.

If you enjoy beautifully written, well-researched historical fiction that features unforgettable characters, look no further than Chanel Cleeton’s new novel, The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba.   4 STARS

Review: THE KINDRED SPIRITS SUPPER CLUB by Amy E. Reichert

Review:  THE KINDRED SPIRITS SUPPER CLUB by Amy E. ReichertThe Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. Reichert
five-stars
Published by BERKLEY on April 20, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's 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.

 

 

 

 

 

I was first drawn to Amy E. Reichert’s new novel, The Kindred Spirits Supper Club because the cover is so sweet, but let me tell you, the story inside is even sweeter and sure to leave you with a smile on your face.

Sabrina Monroe is a journalist. She loves to write and thought this would be the perfect job for her. There’s just one problem; Sabrina is an introvert and has anxiety, which makes it nearly impossible for her to call and interview people so she can actually get the information she needs to write her articles.  Her anxiety has cost her more than one job over the years and when we first meet Sabrina, she is jobless and living at her parent’s house in a small town in Wisconsin, trying to regroup.

Sabrina is, by far, one of the sweetest, most lovable main characters I think I’ve ever come across. I can’t even express how much I both adored Sabrina and related wholeheartedly to her introverted personality and her anxiety.  Even though she has lost her job and is stuck working as a duck tour guide driving amphibious vehicles all day and working for someone who actually used to bully Sabrina when they were in school together, Sabrina is still a walking ray of sunshine. She spreads kindness wherever she goes, whether it’s to the library where she leaves $5 bills inside of her favorite books for other readers to find and treat themselves or to the laundromat where she’ll leave stacks of quarters on machines so some lucky person can do a load of laundry on her. I was invested in her happiness within a few pages of watching her in action. I mean, seriously, how can you not root for someone who is so utterly kind?

I also very much liked Ray Jasper, a new local restaurant owner, who becomes instantly smitten with Sabrina as soon as he sees her in action at the local waterpark, picking up strangers’ dropped towels and rehanging them so they’ll be nice and dry when they return for them.  Like me, Ray is immediately struck by Sabrina’s kindness and he is determined to get to know her better.  What’s great about Ray is that he not only appreciates how kind Sabrina is, but he could actually give her a run for her money in the kindness department because he’s also a sweetheart.  I immediately wanted them to get together because they each deserved someone as sweet as they were, so they were a perfect match.

In addition to cheering on this adorable two-some, I also loved that this story has an element of magical realism in it.  The women in Sabrina’s family have a rare gift – they are able to see local spirits who passed away, leaving behind unfinished business.  Whether it’s to let a cheating spouse know they didn’t get away with the cheating or to help dispose of some adult toys the deceased doesn’t want their family to discover, Sabrina and her mom help these spirits to wrap up their unfinished business so that they can move on and rest in peace.  There’s one spirit they haven’t been able to help though, a young woman named Molly.  Molly died long ago as did the person she has unfinished business with, so she is stuck in a kind of limbo and hangs out with Sabrina.  The two of them have become practically like sisters over the years and Molly is as delightfully upbeat and kind as Sabrina is. Even though she can’t move on, Molly does everything she can to help other spirits move on and she’s also determined to play matchmaker for Sabrina and Ray, which leads to some funny moments.  Sometimes magical realism doesn’t work for me, but it’s honestly just perfect for this story since the story itself is pretty magical.

If you’re into charming small town romances with absolutely adorable characters, you’re going to want to check out The Kindred Spirits Supper Club.

five-stars

About Amy E. Reichert

Amy E. Reichert, author of THE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE, LUCK, LOVE & LEMON PIE, THE SIMPLICITY OF CIDER, and THE OPTIMIST’S GUIDE TO LETTING GO, loves to write stories that end well with characters you’d invite to dinner. A wife, mom, amateur chef, Fix-It Mistress, a volunteer baby snuggler, and cider enthusiast, she earned her MA in English Literature and serves on her library’s board of directors. She’s a member of Tall Poppy Writers.

Reviews: Every Last Fear & Every Vow You Break

 

Hello, it’s Sharon and I am back with Thriller Thursday. This week brings Alex Finlay’s Every Last Fear and Peter Swanson’s Every Vow You Break. I was intrigued by the synopsis of both of these books, and I am happy to say they did not disappoint.

 

Reviews: Every Last Fear & Every Vow You BreakEvery Last Fear Goodreads

Author: Alex Finlay

Publication Date: March 2, 2021

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Alex Finlay’s Every Last Fear is a suspenseful and heartbreaking story that follows the fate of the Pine Family.

Seven years ago, 18 year old Danny Pine was convicted of killing his girlfriend Charlotte and is currently serving a life sentence. He has recently been denied an appeal, even though a true crime documentary called “A Violent Nature” has shed doubt on his confession and guilt. And now 21 year old Matt Pine has been told that the rest of his family (his mother, father, 17 year old sister and 6 year old brother) have died from an apparent gas leak in their rental cottage while on vacation in Tulum, Mexico. The Mexican authorities have closed the case as accidental, but the FBI are not convinced it was an accident.

Matt Pine just pulled at my heart strings. With his brother in jail, it is up to Matt to go to Mexico to have the bodies of his family released and then plan the funeral. While in Mexico he is almost assaulted and then when he returns to his hometown he is met with a cold reception, thanks to how the documentary portrayed the community.  I felt so bad for Matt, I just wanted to reach into the book and hug him. And my tears were flowing when he said his final goodbye to his family during the funeral.

Another emotional part for me was when we were given chapters of the Pine’s in Mexico. The reason they were in Mexico was because Matt’s father was following up on some leads that could possibly prove Danny’s innocence. Just reading their thoughts and activities, knowing they are now dead made my heart ache for them. And then reading exactly what happened to them, it was like a punch in the gut.

The suspenseful part of the book centered around the investigation into what happen to the Pine family. FBI agent Sarah Keller is in charge of the investigation and I loved her. She was one tough cookie and would not stop until she uncovered the truth, not only about what happened to the Pine family, but also what happened the night Charlotte died. I also liked how caring and concerned Sarah was with Matt. She made sure she kept him up to date on the investigation, and she also made sure she checks on his welfare as well.

I also really liked Matt’s friends from college. When Matt returned to the dorms the morning after he got the news about his family, they were all waiting for him, and then they all flew to Nebraska for the funeral. It really warmed my heart to see them drop everything to be there for Matt. I was really glad Matt had that kind of love and support from his friends.

I really cannot say much about what was uncovered in the investigation because anything I say will just spoil it. But I can say that there were lots of twists and turns that took the investigation into a different direction than I thought it was going and I was on the edge of my seat as I was reading. When all was revealed at the end, I was literally sitting with my mouth open.  4 Stars

 

Reviews: Every Last Fear & Every Vow You BreakEvery Vow You Break Goodreads

Author: Peter Swanson

Publication Date: March 23, 2021

Publisher: William Morrow

Peter Swanson’s Every Vow You Break follows Abigail Baskin who is set to marry millionaire, Bruce Lamb.  At her bachelorette weekend in California, Abigail has a one night stand. When her fling shows up in New York just before her wedding, Abigail chalks it up to coincidence. But when he shows up on her honeymoon, Abigail knows her world is about to come crashing down. She just doesn’t know that her life could be in jeopardy as well.

This book starts off slow, but by the halfway mark when Abigail and Bruce are on their honeymoon, things picked up and I couldn’t wait to find out what was going on.

Bruce has planned the honeymoon on a secluded island in Maine called, Heart Pond. It is totally off the grid. There is no cell service, no internet and no TV.  I really liked this setting and as I was reading, I was picturing myself there swimming, hiking, reading, just all around relaxing. But unfortunately for Abigail, it was not all that romantic or relaxing. Not long after they arrived, Abigail noticed that aside from themselves and one other honeymooning couple, all the other guests were men. Well, this just set off my ‘The Stepford Wives’ radar and I was sure I knew where this story was going. Oh, how wrong I was. lol

After Abigail sees Jill, the only other woman on the island, in the woods one night in a bloody nightgown, she cannot make any of the men on the island, including her husband, Bruce, believe her. They tell her she could not have seen Jill because Jill and her husband left that morning. But Abigail knows what she saw and tries to find out on her own what happened to Jill. But as the men, including her husband, start to act strange, she does not know who she can trust. And it is becoming clear that whatever happened to Jill is going to happen to her unless she can find a way off the island. I really liked this part of Abigail. She did not just sit back and wait for what was coming; she formed a plan to get off the island, gathered her supplies and waited for the perfect time to execute her plan. And let me tell you, when she set her plan in motion she did not let any of the men get in her way. You go Abigail!

Aside from the slow start of the book, the other issue I had was that the characters were flat. While I liked Abigail’s tough persona on the island, I really would have liked to have known more about her, as well as her husband, Bruce. He was a very underdeveloped character. He actually came off to me as kind of juvenile, as did all of the men on the island.

Even with those couple of issues, once the action picked up on the island I was racing through the book because I needed to find out what was going on, why, and how it was going to end. The end did feel a bit quick to wrap up to me, but I did like the outcome.

3 ½ Stars

Review: HANA KHAN CARRIES ON by Uzma Jalaluddin

Review:  HANA KHAN CARRIES ON by Uzma JalaluddinHana Khan Carries on by Uzma Jalaluddin
four-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on April 13, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

I requested Uzma Jalaluddin’s new novel, Hana Khan Carries On, as soon as I read the synopsis which describes it as inspired by the popular romantic film, You’ve Got Mail, but set in two competing halal restaurants.  The promise of romance, rivalry, and descriptions of delicious food was too irresistible to pass up.  I’m happy I did too because it did not disappoint!

The story follows Hana Khan, a 24 year old second generation Muslim woman who lives with her family in Toronto.  Hana helps out at her family’s halal restaurant, but her real passion lies in radio.  In addition to her waitressing gig, Hana has an internship at a local radio station and she also hosts her own podcast.  I really adored Hana from the moment we meet her. I loved how devoted she is to her family and how much she wants to help her mom with the family restaurant even though that’s not where her true interest lies.  I also loved that she wants a career in radio specifically because she wants to share stories about her fellow Muslims. Stories that shine a true light on her people rather than just retreading tired and  harmful stereotypes.  I also liked that while she had so many admirable qualities, Hana was definitely still a flawed and very realistic character.  She makes plenty of mistakes throughout the course of the story, but I loved that she was always learning from her missteps and growing as a person.  She was just a really easy character to like.

In addition to adoring Hana, I also liked that the story had plenty of drama in the form of a rival restaurant that opens up in their neighborhood.  Hana has a run-in with Aydin, the handsome, young owner of the new restaurant and finds herself unexpectedly attracted to him.  She knows she should hate him because of what he’s doing to her family, but the struggle to fight her attraction to him is real.  Hana finds this especially frustrating since she also has a possible relationship budding online with Stanley P., one of her podcast fans.  She and Stanley haven’t exchanged real names or met in person yet, but they talk every day and he is always super supportive of her as she shares her hopes and dreams with him, as well as her fears and frustrations.  How can she possibly be attracted to a jerk like Aydin when she has Stanley P.?  Except that Aydin isn’t exactly a jerk and Hana and Aydin have amazing chemistry.  I’m a sucker for a good enemies-to-lovers romance anyway, so I was absolutely eating up the initial tension between them as well as the changing dynamic between them as they got to know each other better.

There’s honestly so much to love about Hana Khan Carries On, but what I think I loved most was it’s a story about love and family and sacrifice and that it’s also a story that is infused with culture, religion, and community.  It’s a story that has fun and romantic moments, but it’s also a powerful story that explores timely and relevant social issues, including racism, prejudice, and stereotypes.  I have not yet read Uzma Jalaluddin’s first novel Ayesha At Last yet, but I loved Hana Khan Carries On so much that I immediately purchased the first one and can’t wait to dive into it.

four-half-stars

About Uzma Jalaluddin

Uzma Jalaluddin grew up in a diverse suburb of Toronto. Her favourite place in the world is the nearest bookstore or library, so it came as no surprise to anyone when she started writing her own stories, poems, plays and other creative writing from an early age. Her debut novel, AYESHA AT LAST (2018), is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in the Toronto Muslim community. The novel was a Goodreads Choice Award Finalist, was featured on The Today Show, and was a Cosmopolitan UK Book of the Year. AYESHA AT LAST has been optioned for film by Pascal Pictures. Her second novel, HANA KHAN CARRIES ON, will be published in April 2021. She writes a culture and parenting column for The Toronto Star, and has written for The Atlantic. Uzma lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and two sons, where she also teaches high school. She is probably dreaming up ideas for her next book right about now.

Review: THE INTIMACY EXPERIMENT by Rosie Danan

Review:  THE INTIMACY EXPERIMENT by Rosie DananThe Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan
Also by this author: The Roommate
four-half-stars
Series: The Roommate #2
Published by Berkley Books on April 6, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rosie Danan’s steamy debut The Roommate was one of my favorite romance reads of 2020.  The plot was original, the characters were unforgettable, and the sexy factor was off the charts.  This year Danan has gifted us with The Intimacy Experiment, a companion novel that features one of my favorite characters from The Roommate, former porn star turned businesswoman, Naomi Grant.  I knew I would love The Intimacy Experiment, but what I didn’t expect was that I would actually end up loving it even more than the first book!

Naomi and Clara, the protagonist from The Roommate, are co-CEOs of a successful website that educates its subscribers about sexual satisfaction. Naomi has also decided she would like to teach some classes on relationships and intimacy and is looking for a forum where she can make that happen.  As always, Naomi is smart, sassy, and determined to get what she wants, but she’s getting frustrated that she can’t get anyone to take her seriously.  That is until she meets Rabbi Ethan Cohen at a seminar.  Ethan has been trying to figure out a way to attract more younger members to his synagogue and when he hears Naomi’s passionate speech about what she wants to teach, he invites her to design a seminar series on Modern Intimacy.  At first Naomi wants no part of this proposal, but then she reconsiders.  It also doesn’t hurt that Rabbi Ethan is super sexy and Naomi is finding it hard to resist his charms.

There’s so much I enjoyed about this book but the chemistry between Naomi and Ethan was definitely a high point.  I loved watching Naomi and Ethan design the course together.  Even though they’re an unlikely pair, they just worked together so perfectly and the more they worked together, the more they became invested in each other. I loved the contrast between Naomi’s feisty independence and Ethan’s loyalty and devotion.  Ethan is like a Golden Retriever and I just adored him and wanted Naomi to stop fighting her attraction to him.

If you enjoy romance that is a slow burn, you’ll enjoy Naomi and Ethan’s journey because fighting their attraction to each other is definitely a big part of the story.  Also, where The Roommate is filled with sexy, steamy intimate scenes, this book features way fewer scenes of that variety.  As much as I enjoyed the romance of Clara and Josh in the first book, I actually preferred the slower pace and the deeper issues involved as Naomi and Ethan were both so conflicted as to whether or not it would be appropriate for them to be together.  I also liked that we got a little insight into the Jewish faith as Naomi, who is also Jewish, decides to take some courses to learn more about the faith she hasn’t practiced since she was a child.

One last thing I loved was the Intimacy seminar itself and the way Danan presents it.  It’s as if we’re attending all of the courses as well.  I loved watching Naomi teach, Ethan sitting in the audience lending his support, and also how enthusiastic the young attendees were as Naomi explores topics such as being honest with yourself and potential dates about what you’re looking for in a relationship, how to meet people in the first place, how to take a relationship to the next level, and how to survive a breakup.  I thought the seminar was brilliant and wished I could have taken a course like it back during my single days. It would have made dating life so much easier to navigate!

If you’re looking for an original, sexy romance I highly recommend The Intimacy Experiment.  The characters are immensely likable, the storyline is both fun and thought-provoking, and the ending will leave you with a smile on your face.  I loved every page of it and look forward to reading more from Rosie Danan.

four-half-stars

About Rosie Danan

Rosie Danan writes steamy, big-hearted books, articles, and tweets about the trials and triumphs of modern love.

The New York Times calls Rosie Danan’s debut novel, THE ROOMMATE “a book about people expanding into their best possible selves…warmly funny and gorgeously sexy.” The rom-com has been optioned for film, and a companion book THE INTIMACY EXPERIMENT is forthcoming April 6, 2021 in both the US and UK.

After participating in the writing mentorship program Pitch Wars as a 2018 mentee, she was thrilled to rejoin the organization as a 2019 and 2020 mentor.

When not writing, Rosie enjoys jogging slowly to fast music, petting other people’s dogs, and competing against herself in rounds of Chopped using the miscellaneous ingredients occupying her fridge.

As an American expat currently living in London, she’s developed an incurable fondness for electric kettles.