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Review: HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING by Denise Williams

Review:  HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING by Denise WilliamsHow to Fail at Flirting by Denise Williams
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on December 1, 2020
Genres: Romance, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

How to Fail at Flirting by Denise Williams is exactly the kind of read I have been craving this year. It’s that perfect blend of rom-com fun and weightier, more dramatic moments that makes for such a satisfying multi-layered read.

How to Fail at Flirting follows Naya Turner, an education professor at a local university who finds her job in jeopardy because of possible budget cuts.  Since she left an abusive relationship, Naya has 100% thrown herself into her work, so she is devastated to hear her job may be in trouble.  In need of a distraction, Naya lets her friends convince her she needs to get out into the world of dating again.  Naya’s looking for a no-strings hookup but instead, she meets Jake, a man that she really just clicks with. Everything about him seems perfect, that is until she finds out what he does for a living and that it could directly impact her own career in a negative way. Can Naya and Jake find a way to overcome their conflict or is their relationship doomed before it ever gets started?

I really loved and admired Naya so much.  She’s smart, sassy, passionate about her teaching career, and she’s also brave and resilient.  After learning about her horrible experiences at the hands of an abusive ex, I was rooting so hard for her to find true happiness.  I wanted her to go to that bar, have a blast completing every item on the hilarious list of dating dares her friends had given her, and then find a wonderful man who appreciates her for the strong woman she is.

I also adored Jake, the man Naya meets at the bar.  Jake is handsome, eloquent, kind, and he has a great sense of humor.  He has also recently gotten out of a bad relationship, so he’s a little reluctant about putting himself out there in the dating pool as well, that is until he meets Naya and can’t deny his attraction to her.  I loved watching their relationship slowly develop and was heartbroken as soon as I realized there was a real possibility that his job might prevent them from finding happiness together.

The twist with Jake’s job possibly threatening Naya’s job made what was already a compelling read truly unputdownable.  I just had to know if Jake and Naya were going to get a happy ending.  If you enjoy stories that feature loveable characters with undeniable chemistry whose happy ending is threatened by unforeseen circumstances, How to Fail at Flirting is a must-read.

four-stars

About Denise Williams

Denise Williams wrote her first book in the 2nd grade. I Hate You and its sequel, I Still Hate You, featured a tough, funny heroine, a quirky hero, witty banter, and a dragon. Minus the dragons, these are still the books she likes to write. After penning those early works, she finished second grade and eventually earned a PhD.

A diversity trainer and co-creator of a women’s empowerment group, she is dedicated to developing flawed, multidimensional characters who struggle with those issues impacting real women. After growing up a military brat around the world and across the country, Denise now lives in Iowa with her husband, son, and two ornery shih-tzus who think they own the house.

Denise was a 2019 Romance Writers of America ® Golden Heart Finalist and How to Fail at Flirting is her debut novel.

Review: ADMISSION by Julie Buxbaum

Review:  ADMISSION by Julie BuxbaumAdmission by Julie Buxbaum
four-stars
Published by Delacorte Press on December 1, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 304
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julie Buxbaum’s new novel Admission is a timely and relevant read that takes an inside look at a college admissions scandal.  The novel contains clear parallels to the recent admissions scandal involving actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin as it explores what happens when those who are rich and privileged enough to already have the deck stacked in their favor decide that still isn’t enough.

Admission opens with a bang and never looks back.  The protagonist of the story, Chloe Wynn Berringer, awakens to the sound of the doorbell ringing and watches helplessly as her world unravels around her. Her mom, a famous celebrity, is led away in handcuffs, and as Chloe soon learns while watching the news, her mother has gotten caught up in a college admissions scandal while trying to bribe Chloe’s way into her college of choice.  The story then progresses, very effectively using dual timelines, “now” and “then”, to follow Chloe and her family as they deal with the fallout from the scandal and to show what happened to lead to the moment where the FBI came knocking.

I have to admit that my feelings for her and for her family were very ambivalent.  Like the general public, I was furious to learn the lengths these rich, entitled folks would go to in order to take what they wanted, even if it meant taking an admissions slot that should have gone to a more-deserving student.  To Buxbaum’s credit though, she brings Chloe and her family to life in such a way that I wanted to learn more about them and understand their motivations and wanted to know if they had any understanding or remorse for how their actions impacted other families.  In the same regard, Chloe’s journey fascinated me because she really is just an all-around average person – average intelligence, average grades, average school activities, etc. There is nothing stand-out about her aside from that her family has money, so there’s no way she should have had her pick of colleges.  Although Chloe comes across as dense and naïve, I found it hard to believe that she was completely blindsided by what her parents had done and believed she had legitimately earned a spot at her college of choice. It soon became clear though that the novel is about more than just the actual admissions scandal; it’s also about Chloe’s exploration of whether she knowingly or unknowingly played any role in her parents’ scheme. As ambivalent as I felt about Chloe, I did really enjoy watching her grow as she tried to make sense of and learn from the experience rather than just play the victim.

My favorite characters in the novel though are actually Chloe’s best friend, Shola, and Chloe’s younger sister, Isla.  I adored both of these brilliant and driven young women and that they were up close and personal examples for Chloe of how truly unfair the admissions scandal is for hard-working students who have their spots stolen by rich people.  Shola is an incredibly gifted student who works hard everyday and her dream is to get into Harvard, but she needs a lot of financial aid in order for it to happen.  Shola faces the real fear that she will be rejected in favor of a privileged student who doesn’t need aid.  And then poor Isla. Like Shola, Isla is brilliant and a hard worker whose dream is to attend Yale and based on her grades, test scores, and overall amazing transcript, she should be able to get in pretty much anywhere on her own merits.  But is her name now tainted because of what her parents did for Chloe?  Where I had minimal sympathy for Chloe, these two young ladies had all of my sympathy and they were the two I found myself hardcore rooting for as I was reading.

If you’re in the mood for a compulsively readable family drama with a “ripped from the headlines” vibe, look no further than Julie Buxbaum’s new novel, Admission.  You won’t be able to put it down!

four-stars

About Julie Buxbaum

Julie Buxbaum is the New York Times best selling author of Tell Me Three Things, her young adult debut, What to Say Next, Hope and Other Punchlines, and Admission. She’s also the author of two critically acclaimed novels for adults: The Opposite of Love and After You. Her work has been translated into twenty-five languages. Julie’s writing has appeared in various publications, including The New York Times. She is a former lawyer and graduate of Harvard Law School and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two children, and more books than is reasonable.

Review: CHASING LUCKY by Jenn Bennett

Review:  CHASING LUCKY by Jenn BennettChasing Lucky by Jenn Bennett
Also by this author: Starry Eyes, Serious Moonlight
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on November 10, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chasing Lucky has everything I’ve come to love and expect from a Jenn Bennett novel. It has an engaging story with a wonderful romance, moving family moments, and most importantly, it is filled with unforgettable and ultra-relatable characters.

There’s a lot to love about this story, and main characters Josie Saint-Martin and Lucky Karras are at the top of my list.  Josie and her mom moved away from their New England hometown several years ago and have only now returned to help out in Josie’s grandmother’s book shop while she is out of the country.  Josie is not excited about being home and only views this as a temporary pitstop. Josie is a budding photographer and plans to save up enough money to move across the country to L.A. where her famous photographer dad is.  Josie is torn because she doesn’t want to break her mother’s heart and leave her alone, but she is also determined to follow her dreams.  That is, until she crosses paths with Lucky, resident bad boy and also Josie’s former best friend from when she lived there before.  After an initial awkward reacquaintance because Lucky isn’t at all like Josie remembered him to be, Josie and Lucky renew their friendship.  It is this developing relationship and its many possibilities that really drew me into the story and I especially wanted to know what had happened to Lucky to change him so much in the years that Josie was away.

In addition to these two characters and their journeys, I also really loved the New England small town setting.  Lucky’s family business is a shipyard of sorts and there are lots of scenes set on or near boats and the ocean and Bennett describes these scenes so vividly that I felt like I was there.  I also adored the Saint-Martin family’s book shop, which is just so quaint.

Chasing Lucky hooked me from the opening scene and captivated me until the very end because I was so invested in Josie and Lucky, both individually and as a pair. I needed happy endings for them both and I also needed a happy ending for Josie’s mom, who in a very intriguing side plot, has some things from her past that come back to haunt her as soon as she returns home. If you’re a Jenn Bennett fan and/or a fan of small-town romances and bad boys who may not really be bad boys after all, be sure to check out Chasing Lucky.

four-half-stars

About Jenn Bennett

Jenn Bennett is an award-winning author of young adult contemporary romance books, including: Alex, Approximately; The Anatomical Shape of a Heart; and Starry Eyes. She also writes romance and urban fantasy for adults (the Roaring Twenties and Arcadia Bell series). Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award, garnered two Reviewers’ Choice awards and a Seal of Excellence from RT Book Reviews, and been included on Publishers Weekly Best Books annual list. She lives near Atlanta with one husband and two dogs.

Review: KINGDOM OF THE WICKED by Kerri Maniscalco

Review:  KINGDOM OF THE WICKED by Kerri ManiscalcoKingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco
Also by this author: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1), Hunting Prince Dracula
four-stars
Series: Kingdom of the Wicked #1
Published by Jimmy Patterson on October 27, 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal
Pages: 448
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was a big fan of Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of her latest novel, Kingdom of the Wicked, especially once I heard it was about witches and demons.  I started reading it last week and let me tell you, it’s the perfect dark and twisted read for spooky season.

Kingdom of the Wicked follows Emilia a young witch who lives with her family, including her twin sister Vittoria, in Sicily.  The witches in Sicily live in secret to avoid persecution, so it is quite shocking when witches start turning up dead, brutally murdered. Who’s responsible?  Is it the new witch hunting group that has suddenly cropped up or is something supernatural afoot?  When Emilia’s twin becomes a victim, Emilia, who was normally the more cautious of the two, throws all caution to the wind and vows revenge.

At its heart, I’d say Kingdom of the Wicked is a story of revenge.  Emilia is willing to do absolutely anything to bring her sister’s killers to justice and is tunnel visioned on that quest, even when it quite literally takes her to Hell, or to the Princes of Hell, I should say.  And it is when she magically binds herself to Wrath, one of the Princes of Hell, that everything changes…

The chemistry between Emilia and Wrath is off the charts.  They both really knew how to push each other’s buttons and I couldn’t get enough of their banter and bickering.  Wrath is dark, dangerous, and sexy, and it becomes clear as the story progresses that he develops feelings for Emilia that go beyond just the magic of the bond. He has a soft spot for her, whether he likes it or not.  Emilia finds herself experiencing similar feelings.  Neither should trust the other but can they fight the intoxicating lure of their attraction?  I was a huge fan of Charmed way back when and these two seriously gave me Phoebe and Cole vibes!

Aside from the amazing chemistry between Emilia and Wrath, and the compelling mystery as to who has been killing witches, I also fell in love with the worldbuilding, especially 19th century Sicily.  I’m a sucker for a story set in Italy, particularly if there’s food involved, and Emilia’s family owns a restaurant. Emilia loves to cook so the story is filled with vivid descriptions of delicious Italian recipes.  I also loved how atmospheric the story was.  It’s dark and eerie every time someone goes out because of the tension of knowing there’s a killer among them.  I also thought Maniscalco did a brilliant job with the witchy folklore. I absolutely loved the details of Emilia’s family history and how they ultimately became tied to the devil himself.  And speak of the devil, her descriptions of the Princes of Hell are truly brilliant.  This is one of those books where, as I was reading, I could easily imagine it as a film.

I don’t want to give anything away regarding Emilia’s quest for revenge and how her entanglement with Wrath factors in, but I will say some unexpected twists and turns at the end have me very eager to get my hands on the next book.

If dark and twisty reads filled with witches and demons are your things, you’ll want to visit the Kingdom of the Wicked. You won’t be disappointed!

four-stars

About Kerri Maniscalco

Kerri Maniscalco grew up in a semi-haunted house outside NYC where her fascination with gothic settings began. In her spare time she reads everything she can get her hands on, cooks all kinds of food with her family and friends, and drinks entirely too much tea while discussing life’s finer points with her cats.

Her first novel in this series, Stalking Jack the Ripper, debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. It incorporates her love of forensic science and unsolved history.

Review: THE LOST LOVE SONG

Review:  THE LOST LOVE SONGThe Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke
three-half-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on October 13, 2020
Genres: Romance, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minnie Darke’s new novel The Lost Love Song is one of the most unique love stories I’ve read in a long time.  Rather than a character, the star of this story is actually a love song and the powerful yet subtle way it serves as a catalyst to bring people together all around the world.  The unnamed love song was composed in a hotel in Singapore by a piano prodigy named Diana Clare, who wrote it for her fiancé, Arie Johnson. Diana desperately wanted Arie to feel all the love for him that she had in her heart, and while she was never very good with words, her exquisite music has always perfectly conveyed what she’s feeling.

When Diana returns home from her concert tour, she plans to share her song with Arie and tell him that she’s finally ready to get married.  When she checks out of her hotel, however, she accidentally leaves the notebook behind. When tragedy strikes soon after, it appears that the beautiful song is lost.  Or is it? When the notebook finds its way into the hands of another musician, he falls in love with the song as soon as he plays it and thus begins the song’s journey as it captivates everyone who hears it.

We get to see the song work its magic on several couples throughout the story and I really loved how the song felt like it was actually a character in the story with the way it spoke to people and brought them together.  That was probably my favorite thing about the story honestly.  I was also quite captivated by Arie and Diana’s story, which is both romantic and tragic, and by Arie’s connection to a young woman named Evie who is staying in the apartment next to his.   This was a double-edged sword for me though because although I loved that I was so drawn to these three characters, I didn’t find any other characters nearly as compelling.  This made for a slightly uneven read as I found myself skimming through their parts so that I could get back to Arie, Diana, and Evie where I would then devour their chapters.

Even with that issue though, I still really enjoyed The Lost Love Song overall.  It’s a beautiful story that is full of grief and heartache, but also with love, hope, and second chances.  If you’re a romantic at heart, I think you’ll love this one.

three-half-stars

About Minnie Darke

Minnie Darke is the author of the bestselling novel Star-crossed, winner of the Margaret Scott People’s Choice Award, and which has now been published in over 30 countries. Her new novel, The Lost Love Song, is out now! She lives in Tasmania with her family.

Reviews: MAGIC LESSONS and IN A HOLIDAZE

 

Today I’m sharing reviews of two of my most anticipated reads of 2020, Alice Hoffman’s latest installment in her Practical Magic series and the new holiday-themed novel from Christina Lauren, In a Holidaze.  If these two books are any indication of the caliber of reads we can expect in October, I think we’re all in for a real treat!

 

Reviews:  MAGIC LESSONS and IN A HOLIDAZEMagic Lessons Goodreads

Author: Alice Hoffman

Publication Date: October 6, 2020

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster

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

 

Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors so, as you can guess, her latest novel, Magic Lessons, is one of my most anticipated reads of 2020.  I’m thrilled to say, not only did Magic Lessons meet my high expectations, it far exceeded them. I haven’t had many 5 star reads this year, but Magic Lessons is definitely one of them.

Magic Lessons is Hoffman’s third venture into the world of her beloved Owens witches.  Where Hoffman’s second venture into this world, The Rules of Magic, gave us the backstory for the Owens sisters who grew up to be the aunts in Practical Magic, with Magic Lessons, Hoffman ventures back to the 1600s and the Salem Witch Trials, this time to give us the origin of the Owens bloodline as well as the events that led to the curse that has haunted their family for generations.

As always, what I love most about Hoffman’s novels is that her storytelling is truly exquisite.  I felt transported back in time as soon as I started reading and was immediately caught up in the life of Maria Owens, the matriarch of the Owens witches.  Hoffman does such a beautiful job creating an unforgettable character and crafting an origin story for her that flows seamlessly into the other two books in the series.  As an infant, Maria was abandoned by her own mother, left in a snowy field in the English countryside.  A woman named Hannah Owens, who is gifted in the “Unnamed Arts” finds Maria and raises her as her own.  She recognizes that Maria shares her gift and therefore teaches her everything she knows.  After Hannah’s death, Maria falls in love with a man and when he abandons her, she decides to follow him. This is how she ends up in Salem, right as the infamous witch hunts are getting underway, and this man’s betrayal of her is what ultimately leads to the Owens curse everyone who has read the other books is so familiar with.

Magic Lessons is a gorgeous and atmospheric read and I found myself completely invested in Maria’s journey, which is filled with both love and heartbreak, but also with hope, and of course with magic.  I especially loved watching all of the pieces fall into place, with little shout outs here and there to the magic we see in the books that come later in the Owens timeline.

If you’re looking for the perfect atmospheric read to kick off spooky season, look no further than Alice Hoffman’s Magic Lessons. It was everything I wanted for this series and more! 5 STARS

 

 

Reviews:  MAGIC LESSONS and IN A HOLIDAZEIn a Holidaze Goodreads

Author: Christina Lauren

Publication Date: October 6, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery Books

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

 

I don’t normally start my holiday reading this early in the year, but I’m more than happy to make the exception when it’s to read a new novel by Christina Lauren. Their latest collaboration, In a Holidaze,,  follows Mae Jones, a young woman who has found herself in a bit of a rut. She’s stuck in a job that’s going nowhere and is currently living with her parents.  Mae’s life spirals in an even more downward direction when, at her family’s traditional Christmas vacation at their best friends’ cabin in Utah, two terrible things happen:  1) she drunkenly kisses the brother of the guy she’s in love with, and 2) she learns their friends have decided to sell the cabin.

While Mae is mortified about kissing the wrong brother, she’s truly heartbroken about the cabin because it’s her absolute favorite place in the world and they’ve been coming there every Christmas for her entire life.  As they prepare to leave the cabin for what will be the last time, Mae makes one simple wish to the universe:  “Show me what will make me happy.”  The universe is more than happy to oblige Mae’s request, in its own special way, and Mae ends up somehow reliving this last week at the cabin over and over again because apparently the key to her happiness can only be found there.

I had so much fun reading this book!  I’ve always enjoyed the movie Groundhog Day so having that kind of déjà vu, time travel element in the story was such a treat for me.  I also really loved Mae and found her entire situation, and particularly her sadness about the potential loss of such a huge family tradition incredibly relatable.  I was in her corner every step of the way, hoping she would not only figure out what would make her truly happy but that she would also find a way to convince the family not to sell the cabin.

While I adored Mae, what really made the story such a special read for me was the family tradition and how it brought both family and friends together in such a wonderful way. I loved watching them spend the holidays together, especially all of their often hilarious holiday traditions.  They really did become one giant extended family over the years and it was just so heartwarming to read.

And it wouldn’t be a Christina Lauren book if there wasn’t a romance and I was totally on board with the romance in In a Holidaze.  Mae’s chemistry with the brother she really is attracted to is undeniable, and he’s adorable, so I really wanted her to figure out a way as she keeps reliving this week to make it work out between them.

If a mashup of the film Groundhog Day and your favorite Hallmark Christmas movie sounds good to you, I highly recommend Christina Lauren’s In a Holidaze.  It’s the perfect read to get you into the holiday spirit! 4 STARS

Reviews: TIES THAT TETHER & ALL THIS TIME

 

Today I’m sharing the last of my reviews for September book releases.  Both of these novels feature a bit of romance as well as characters who are struggling to figure out who they are supposed to be.  I enjoyed them both and I hope you will too.  Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

 

Reviews:  TIES THAT TETHER & ALL THIS TIMETies That Tether Goodreads

Author: Jane Igharo

Publication Date: September 29, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

Jane Igharo’s debut novel Ties That Tether is a thought-provoking and heartfelt story about a young woman who finds herself caught between the man she loves and the expectations her family has for her.  Azere is originally from Nigeria but emigrated to Canada at the age of 12 when her father died.  Azere made a promise to her dad that when she grew up, she would do her best to preserve her Nigerian culture and therefore would only marry a Nigerian man.  Azere’s mother has held her to this promise and has gone so far as to play matchmaker every time she thinks she has found a suitable Nigerian suitor.  There’s just one problem – Azere’s mom is a terrible matchmaker and Azere has hated every man she has been set up with so far.  After a particularly disastrous setup, Azere finds herself drinking alone in a hotel bar and this is where she meets Rafael, a man she feels truly has the potential to be Mr. Right.  What starts off as a scorching hot one-night stand quickly evolves into a more serious relationship, but there’s one major catch – he’s not Nigerian, he’s white and he’s Spanish.  As much as Azere wants to pursue a relationship with Rafael, she knows to choose Rafael is to break her mother’s heart. The bulk of the story follows Azere as she is caught between what her heart wants and what her family wants.

I felt for Azere right away. What an impossible choice to have to make. Of course she doesn’t want to crush her mother, but she also doesn’t want to crush her own heart.  I was rooting for her so hard to find a way to get her mom to come around to seeing what a wonderful guy Rafael is and how great he treats Azere.  I could understand where Azere’s mom was coming from in terms of not wanting Azere to forget her roots, but she was just so frustrating and unyielding about it.  There were times I just wanted to yell at her to just let Azere be with someone who makes her happy and that it’s totally possible to marry someone from another culture without losing yourself.  Azere’s mom has Azere so conflicted that instead of achieving clarity on what to do, she is more torn than ever.  One of the things I really loved about this story is that it’s a journey of learning and growth for all of the major characters, Azere, Rafael, and yes, even stubborn mom.

Even though Ties That Tether is being promoted as a romance, I honestly think it’s so much more than that. The family expectations and the preservation of culture drive the story along, just as much if not more than the romance.  I loved the chemistry between Azere and Rafael, and I always devour books that feature family drama of any kind so all of the tension between Azere and her mother had me flying through the pages.  There were also lots of rom-com references that added a fun element to offset some of the more dramatic moments. I really enjoyed that aspect of the story as well.

If you’re looking for a moving story about following your heart versus following your family’s desires, be sure to check out Ties That Tether. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading whatever Jane Igharo writes next! 4 STARS

 

Reviews:  TIES THAT TETHER & ALL THIS TIMEAll This Time Goodreads

Author: Mikki Daughtry and Rachael Lippincott

Publication Date: September 29, 2020

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

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

 

All This Time by Mikki Daughtry and Rachael Lippincott is a unique and heart-wrenching story about family and friends, love and loss, and a story about guilt, healing and forgiveness.  All This Time follows Kyle Lafferty, a young man who is graduating from high school. He and his longtime girlfriend Kimberly have been making plans to attend UCLA together in the fall and he’s very excited for what the future holds.  That is, until the night of their graduation party when Kyle’s life is turned upside down.  At the party, Kimberly informs Kyle that she is not attending UCLA and then tells him she doesn’t want to be his girlfriend anymore.  They fight in the car on the way home and end up in a horrific car accident that leaves Kyle in the hospital with a brain injury and Kimberly dead.

Kyle is struggling to move on from the accident, both in terms of his physical recovery and because he is wracked with guilt about Kimberly’s death.  When he is at his lowest, Kyle meets a girl named Marley at the cemetery. She’s there mourning the death of her twin sister and, like Kyle, she feels guilty and responsible for the death of her loved one.  Slowly Kyle and Marley get to know each other as they open up about everything they’re feeling, especially the guilt.  They begin the healing process together, but Kyle is plagued by this nagging feeling that the happiness he is finally starting to feel is too good to be true and that something is going to happen to take it all away from him. Are his fears justified or is this just more guilt about Kimberly?

What a tearjerker of a book this was for me!  I actually lost track of how many times I cried while I was reading.  My heart just broke for Kyle from the moment we meet him.  It’s like no matter what he does, he just can’t catch a break.  The writing is so powerful and vivid too, especially with respect to Kyle’s emotions. His heartbreak, his confusion, his grief, and even his hope were just palpable as I was reading. As much as I adored Kyle though, I think it was Marley who really stole my heart. She’s just such a unique character and I was truly captivated by her.  Marley loves to write original fairytales, she has a small army of ducks that follow her at the park because she feeds them popcorn, and she also nurtures small creatures like snails, moving them off of foot paths so they won’t get stepped on.  Marley is almost too pure for this world, which made it all the more heartbreaking that she was carrying around so much grief and sadness for her dead sister.  I loved Marley and I loved the person Kyle started to become when he was around her.

My only real issue with All This Time is that there’s a major unexpected plot twist about two-thirds of the way through the book and it completely changes the direction the story is going in.  I’m always up for a good dramatic plot twist, but I just didn’t find this twist and subsequent events to be all that believable.  It didn’t hamper my overall enjoyment of the story very much; it just felt like one twist too many and that the story didn’t really need it. Even with that issue, however, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend All This Time to anyone who enjoys heartfelt stories about love, grief, and healing. If you need a good cry, this is definitely your book!  3.5 STARS.

Review: WELL PLAYED by Jen DeLuca

Review:  WELL PLAYED by Jen DeLucaWell Played by Jen DeLuca
Also by this author: Well Met
four-stars
Series: Well Met #2
Published by BERKLEY on September 22, 2020
Genres: Romance, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Jen DeLuca

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

Reviews: ANXIOUS PEOPLE & ONE BY ONE

 

 

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

 

Reviews:  ANXIOUS PEOPLE & ONE BY ONEAnxious People Goodreads

Author: Fredrik Backman

Publication Date: September 8, 2020

Publisher:  Atria Books

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reviews:  ANXIOUS PEOPLE & ONE BY ONEOne by One Goodreads

Author: Ruth Ware

Publication Date: September 8, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery/Scout Press

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Author: Laura Silverman

Publication Date: September 1, 2020

Publisher:  Margaret K. McElderry Books

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

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

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

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

 

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

Author: Evie Dunmore

Publication Date: September 1, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Author: Adrienne Young

Publication Date: September 1, 2020

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

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

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

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

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

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

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