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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

Mini Reviews: RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE

Mini Reviews: RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIERed, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
four-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on May 14, 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends...

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

Review:

Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue is honestly the romance book I didn’t know I needed in my life until I started reading it.  I was looking for a light, fluffy, and fun read when I requested this one and it was exactly what I was hoping for.   When I started reading, I realized Red, White & Royal Blue pretty much has all my favorite things all rolled into one story. There’s a generous helping of enemies to friends to lovers, fake relationships, and sassy but supportive friends and family, with a side of politics and royals thrown in for good measure.  It was truly the perfect recipe for a book that I devoured in just over a day.

I absolutely loved the premise of having Alex Claremont-Diaz, the First Son of the United States, fall in love with Prince Henry of Wales.  It just immediately opened the door for so many entertaining possibilities, from the romance itself, to the media frenzy it was sure to generate, and to the potential political fallout it could create on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  The premise was made even better by the fact that both Alex and Henry were just the two most precious young men on the planet.  Alex is hilarious, while Henry is soft, but put them together and their banter is full of wit and snark, and just flat out adorable.  I felt like I was either smiling or laughing out loud every time the two of them would text or call each other.  The sexual tension between them is also off the charts, even when they’re trying to hate on each other.

There’s also a more serious side to the story as Alex is still figuring out his sexual identity to a degree and as he and Henry worry about what they’re coming out as gay would mean for their families from a political standpoint.  A subplot of the story has Alex’s mother as the first female President of the United States (Can I live in this alternate reality please?!) and she’s up for reelection this year, while Henry is next in line to take the throne and rule his country.  I liked having these very relevant social and political issues meshed in with the light, fluffy fun.

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to Alex’s sister, June, and his best friend, Nora.  These smart, savvy, hilarious ladies at times really stole the show with all the ways they helped try to facilitate the relationship between Alex and Henry.  They were everything I’d want in a sibling and best friend, and if the author wanted to write more books featuring them, I’d totally read them.  (Hint, hint.)

If you’re looking for a fun and flirty read with a side of political drama, be sure to check out Red, White & Royal Blue.  4.5 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews: RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIEThere's Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon
Also by this author: When Dimple Met Rishi
four-half-stars
Series: Dimple & Rishi #2
Published by Simon Pulse on May 14, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The irresistible companion novel to the New York Times bestseller When Dimple Met Rishi, which follows Rishi’s brother, Ashish, and a confident fat athlete named Sweetie as they both discover what love means to them.

Ashish Patel didn’t know love could be so…sucky. After being dumped by his ex-girlfriend, his mojo goes AWOL. Even worse, his parents are annoyingly, smugly confident they could find him a better match. So, in a moment of weakness, Ash challenges them to set him up.

The Patels insist that Ashish date an Indian-American girl—under contract. Per subclause 1(a), he’ll be taking his date on “fun” excursions like visiting the Hindu temple and his eccentric Gita Auntie. Kill him now. How is this ever going to work?

Sweetie Nair is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she’s also fat. To Sweetie’s traditional parents, this last detail is the kiss of death.

Sweetie loves her parents, but she’s so tired of being told she’s lacking because she’s fat. She decides it’s time to kick off the Sassy Sweetie Project, where she’ll show the world (and herself) what she’s really made of.

Ashish and Sweetie both have something to prove. But with each date they realize there’s an unexpected magic growing between them. Can they find their true selves without losing each other?

Review:

There’s Something About Sweetie is the third book I’ve read from Sandhya Menon, and as with its predecessors, When Dimple Met Rishi and From Twinkle, With Love, it left me with a big grin on my face.

I’m a huge fan of the way Menon draws her female characters and Sweetie Nair is no exception. Sweetie is strong, bold, and full of life, and she’s also a talented singer and athlete who’s ready to take on the world.  There’s one obstacle, however, standing in her way…her mother.  Sweetie is overweight, and while her weight doesn’t bother her or her friends, it bothers Sweetie’s mother.  Her mother’s obsession with her weight becomes so emotionally draining for Sweetie, she decides it’s time to implement the Sassy Sweetie Project, where Sweetie is determined to live life to the fullest and do whatever makes her happy.  Sweetie really does love and respect her mother and doesn’t want to hurt her, but ultimately, it’s her life and she has to fight for it.  I really admired her determination to stick up for herself.

Menon does an equally wonderful job with the love interest for Sweetie in this book.  Those familiar with When Dimple Met Rishi will recognize Ashish Patel as Rishi’s younger brother. Ashish is a kind-hearted, soft boy who is in an especially vulnerable spot when the story opens.  His long-time girlfriend has cheated on and dumped him, and he’s so down on himself that he can barely function.  In fact, he’s so off his game and desperate, that he resorts to recruiting his parents’ help in finding him someone to date, and it’s his parents who bring Sweetie into his life.  I love the journey that Sweetie and Ashish begin together. They each have something to prove and I loved how supportive they were to each other and I spent many pages hoping Sweetie would be able to get her mother to back off so she and Ashish could have a chance at a happy ending.

There’s Something About Sweetie is a wonderful read for anyone who enjoys charming romance novels filled with lovable characters, supportive friend groups, and sometimes awkward family dynamics.  This is also a wonderfully diverse read in that both main characters are Indian American and several of their dates actually focus on learning more about their culture and embracing it.  I’d also recommend There’s Something About Sweetie to anyone looking for a book that has a strong focus on self-love and body positivity.  4.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Casey McQuiston

Casey McQuiston grew up in the swamps of Southern Louisiana, where she cultivated an abiding love for honey butter biscuits and stories with big, beating hearts. She studied journalism and worked in magazine publishing for years before returning to her first love: joyous, offbeat romantic comedies and escapist fiction. She now lives in the mountains of Fort Collins, Colorado, with a collection of caftans and her poodle mix, Pepper.

About Sandhya Menon

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