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Review: PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA by Jenn McKinlay

Review:  PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA by Jenn McKinlayParis Is Always a Good Idea by Jenn McKinlay
four-half-stars
Published by Berkley Books on July 21, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction, Romance
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Brittanie at Berkley for inviting me to take part in the blog tour for Jenn McKinlay’s latest novel, Paris is Always a Good Idea.  I had a major case of cover love for this book as soon as I saw it, and I’m thrilled to report that the story itself is as wonderful as the gorgeous cover and can’t wait to share my thoughts on it with you.

 

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Chelsea Martin is in a rut.  She’s all work and no play, and as her sister points out, hasn’t been in any kind of relationship in years.  Seven years ago their mother died of cancer, and it’s like Chelsea stopped living as well.  Things come to a head when Chelsea’s father announces that he is getting remarried. Chelsea is overwhelmed by the news and feels like her Dad is betraying her mom’s memory and basically tells him this, creating a very awkward and tense situation. A heart-to-heart with her sister afterwards convinces Chelsea that she really needs to do some soul searching.  Since the last time she can even remember actually being happy is during her trip to Europe after college, she decides she wants to retrace her steps and see if she can rediscover the Chelsea she used to be.

Paris is Always a Good Idea follows Chelsea on this journey to self-discovery, and wow, what a journey it is!  I don’t want to give away any details because her journey is best experienced knowing as little as possible up front, but I do want to share what I loved most about the story.  Below are some highlights.

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5 REASONS PARIS IS A GOOD IDEA IS A MUST-READ

  1. Wanderlust. If you love traveling like I do and have been missing it fiercely because of the pandemic, Paris is Always a Good Idea is the perfect read for you.  We not only get to travel to romantic and beautiful Paris as the title suggests, but as part of retracing Chelsea’s gap year abroad, we are transported to the lush countryside of Ireland and to an incredible castle and vineyard in Tuscany, in central Italy.  The author does an incredible job of capturing the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of each location and bringing them to life. It’s as close as you can get without your passport and I loved following Chelsea on this journey.

  1. Mamma Mia vibes. Okay, so maybe I’ve watched Mamma Mia a few too many times, but as I was reading this book, I kept thinking certain aspects of it reminded me of Mamma Mia.  No, Chelsea doesn’t go to Greece and no, there’s no love child with three possible fathers, but still, Chelsea does go to Europe hoping to rekindle her heart by tracking down three hot guys she had fallen in love with during her gap year. The search for these three hotties leads to many awkward and hilarious moments for Chelsea, which is where my Mamma Mia comparison comes from. If you’re a Mamma Mia fan like I am, I think you’ll love this book too.

  1. Emotional journey. It’s not all lighthearted fun and games though. Paris is Always a Good Idea also very much focuses on the emotional journey Chelsea takes as she tries to find herself again.  Chelsea has been grieving for the loss of her mother for so many years now that trying to find her way past that grief so that she can live and love again is a tall order.  As much as I enjoyed the humor of those lighter moments as Chelsea looks for her old boyfriends, I really loved having this emotional journey as part of the reading experience as well. It made for an all around satisfying read.

 

  1. Relatable protagonist. Chelsea is definitely a character I found easy to relate to.  So much of what she goes through are things many of us have gone through or probably will go through at some point.  Burying ourselves in our work to avoid troubles in our personal lives, friction between family members, the loss of a parent, or even just feeling like we’ve lost some essential part of ourselves.  She’s also relatable in the sense that she’s messy and flawed. Some of what she says to her dad when she learns he’s getting remarried was downright cringeworthy, but at the same time, the reaction felt very authentic, like drama I could imagine playing out in my own family.

 

  1. Enemies to Lovers. Lastly, and perhaps the most fun reason of all, for all of you romance fans, there’s a fabulous enemies to lovers romance. I don’t want to give away any details on this, so I’m just going to say if you enjoy sparks flying, witty banter, and off the charts chemistry, you’re going to love this book!

 

Paris is Always a Good Idea is an emotionally satisfying read that will fill both your heart and  your need to travel.

four-half-stars

About Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay is the New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author of several mystery and romance series and will be debuting a stand alone romantic comedy in July 2020 entitled PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA. She lives in sunny Arizona in a house that is overrun with kids, pets and her husband’s guitars.

Review: WHAT YOU WISH FOR by Katherine Center

Review:  WHAT YOU WISH FOR by Katherine CenterWhat You Wish For by Katherine Center
Also by this author: Things You Save in a Fire
four-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on July 14, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Katherine Center’s latest novel, What You Wish For, is a beautiful story about love and loss, friendship and “found” family, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a story about overcoming fears, embracing joy, and living life to the fullest.

The story follows Samantha (“Sam”) Casey, an elementary school librarian at a prestigious private school in Galveston, Tx.  Life is pretty good for Sam when we first meet her. She loves her job – the school itself is fantastic with a vibrant, creative atmosphere, and Sam loves interacting with her students and with her colleagues.  She even loves her bosses, Max and Babette Kempner, the beloved founders of the school who also happen to be Sam’s landlords.  Over the years, Sam has come to think of Max and Babette as family.

When tragedy strikes unexpectedly and Max passes away, Sam’s life, both personally and professionally, is thrown into turmoil, especially when she learns that the man hired to replace Max as Principal is none other than Duncan Carpenter, a teacher from her old life that Sam had a mad crush on, so much so that when she realized she had missed her chance with him and that he was marrying someone else, she immediately resigned her position and moved to Texas to get away from his happily ever after with someone else.  When Duncan arrives, Sam is shocked that 1) he doesn’t even recognize her, and 2) he immediately starts dismantling everything about her beloved school that made it so special.

What You Wish For really took off for me from the moment Duncan walked back into Sam’s life. He’s so awful and not at all like Sam has described him to her friends that I, like Sam, was obsessed with trying to figure out what had happened to cause such a radical change in his personality.  I was even more hooked by the story though from the moment Sam and Duncan have their first meeting.  It’s borderline hostile and he clearly doesn’t remember Sam, but even so, the chemistry between them is intense and the sparks are flying.  This was a relationship I was eager to see evolve!

Aside from the relationship between Sam and Duncan, I also just loved all of the secondary characters in this story.  I already mentioned the lovable Max and Babette, but there’s also Alice, the hilarious math teacher who wears math pun t-shirts to work everyday and who is also Sam’s best friend.  Then there is Babette’s adorable grandson, Clay, who is a bookworm and loves to hang out in the library with Sam.  Oh and there’s also an adorable labradoodle named Chuck Norris who will absolutely melt your heart.

The last thing I want to mention is a major theme running through the story that I really loved. It was Max’s life philosophy, which he imparted to Sam over the years anytime he sensed her struggling.  Max believed that no matter what is going on in your life, no matter how scared or stressed you may be, it’s important to always choose joy. That while it may not solve all of your problems, it’s a great place to start.  I thought that was such a beautiful philosophy, and one that is especially relevant right now, with everything that is going on in the world.

What You Wish For is my third Katherine Center novel and she has yet to disappoint.  Her stories are always so moving and filled with unforgettable characters, and they never fail to leave me with a full heart and a smile on my face.  If that sounds like your kind of read, you definitely want to give What You Wish For a try.

four-half-stars

About Katherine Center

Katherine Center is the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away, the upcoming Things You Save in a Fire (August 2019), and five other bittersweet comic novels. Six Foot Pictures is currently adapting her fourth novel, The Lost Husband, into a feature film starring Josh Duhamel, Leslie Bibb, and Nora Dunn. Katherine has been compared to both Nora Ephron and Jane Austen, and the Dallas Morning News calls her stories, “satisfying in the most soul-nourishing way.” Katherine recently gave a TEDx talk on how stories teach us empathy, and her work has appeared in USA Today, InStyle, Redbook, People, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Real Simple, Southern Living, and InTouch, among others. Katherine lives in her hometown of Houston, Texas, with her fun husband, two sweet kids, and fluffy-but-fierce dog.

Review: BEACH READ by Emily Henry

Review:  BEACH READ by Emily HenryBeach Read by Emily Henry
four-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on May 19, 2020
Genres: Women's Fiction, Romance, 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..

 

 

 

 

 

Emily Henry’s new novel, Beach Read, is a book you don’t want to judge by its cover.  The cover is adorable of course and I love it, but it definitely gives off a vibe that this is going to be a fun, fluffy read to enjoy while you’re lounging in the sand.  Beach Read is so much more than that though – it’s a beautifully written, multi-layered story with realistic and complex characters that will tug at your heartstrings the entire time you’re reading. I love a book that takes me on an emotional journey, and Beach Read made me laugh, it made me cry, and just ultimately had me fully invested in these characters and their lives from start to finish.

One of my favorite parts about Beach Read is that both protagonists are writers.  January Andrews is a romance writer and is an ace at writing novels where true love wins and they all live happily ever after.  Her belief system when it comes to love and romance is driven by her parents, but when her father dies, she learns something about him that shatters her view of him and of love and romance.  Not only is it devastating to her personally, but it has given her a wicked case of writer’s block.  With a book deadline looming and an agent hounding her relentlessly, January retreats to her father’s second home, a beach house located in a remote but charming small town.  It is here that she runs into our second protagonist, Augustus (Gus) Everett, who is living in the beach house next door and who coincidentally is also a writer whose specialty is literary fiction. And if that’s not enough to entice you, he also just happens to be January’s main rival from her college writing program.  January is not a fan of Gus’s at all and can’t imagine anything worse than having to live next door to him all summer while trying desperately to make her deadline.

I was sympathetic to January right away.  She’s going through so much because of the losses she has suffered and now she has to deal with the tension with Gus on top of it.  But, boy do these two have chemistry!  It’s off the charts honestly and I love how much the actual writing process plays a role in how their relationship evolves from rivals/enemies to friends and maybe more.  At first they’re just trading witty, sarcastic barbs, often about each other’s preferred fictional genre, but then they kick it up a notch and revisit their old rivalry with the ultimate challenge:  January has to write a book that doesn’t end happily ever after, while Gus has to write a romance novel.  Bring it!

I don’t want to say much more because I don’t want to spoil anything but the story takes a more emotional turn as Gus and January both get out of their comfort zones and write something so different and challenging. It becomes a way for both of them to work through their pain and struggles, because it’s not just January who is dealing with loss. Gus is as well.  It’s these painful and personal journeys that add all of those wonderfully complex layers that took Beach Read well beyond the fluffy fun I was expecting.

Beach Read is, without a doubt, one of the most wonderful and heartwarming books I’ve read so far this year.  The writing is gorgeous, the story just so easy to get immersed in, and the characters are unforgettable. This was my first time reading Emily Henry but it definitely won’t be the last!

four-half-stars

About Emily Henry

Emily Henry writes stories about love and family for both teens and adults. She studied creative writing at Hope College and the now-defunct New York Center for Art & Media Studies. Find her on Instagram @EmilyHenryWrites.

Review: BIG SUMMER by Jennifer Weiner

Review:  BIG SUMMER by Jennifer WeinerBig Summer by Jennifer Weiner
Also by this author: Mrs. Everything
four-half-stars
Published by Atria Books on May 5, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wow, what a read.  There’s so much to love about Jennifer Weiner’s latest novel, Big Summer, that I hardly know where to even begin. It has everything I’ve come to love and expect from a Jennifer Weiner novel, but then so much more!

The protagonist, Daphne Berg, is such a wonderful character and I loved her from the moment we meet her. She’s smart, resourceful, warm and witty, big-hearted, and she also has a great relationship with her parents, especially her dad, which is always lovely to see.  Daphne has had a life-long struggle with her weight and with her self-image.  She has had to contend with bullying, fat shaming, and learning the very hard lesson that sometimes people who you think are your friends really aren’t. Instead of letting these bad experiences crush her, Daphne takes control of her life and spins those negatives into a very successful business venture for herself as a plus size social media influencer.  Her Instagram account has gained thousands of followers who tune in to watch Daphne embrace her body as it is and encourage others to do the same.  I just loved Daphne’s resiliency in this situation and that she creates this community that’s not only a career for herself, but it also helps others who are struggling to love themselves and their bodies.

Something else I really enjoyed about Big Summer is Weiner’s exploration of what I think is such a relevant theme and that’s forgiveness. One of the story’s many layers focuses on Daphne’s relationship with childhood best friend, rich girl Drue Cavanaugh.  Drue was spoiled and a quintessential mean girl, best known for befriending kids and then promptly discarding them once she lost interest.  She left a trail of hurt and embarrassed classmates in her wake, including Daphne.  No matter how cruel Drue is to Daphne, she keeps coming back for more, until they finally have a huge falling out. That fall out is what ultimately led to Daphne’s social media career and she has never looked back…until years later when Drue unexpectedly shows up, apologizing profusely and begging for forgiveness and for Daphne to be in her wedding.  Daphne is torn – there’s a part of her that wants to tell Drue off all over again because she’s so toxic, but then there’s the other part of her that remembers the good times they had and who wants to believe Drue has changed.  Weiner does an incredible job of exploring the complexities of their relationship and especially of letting us inside Daphne’s head to see just how conflicted she is.  It all felt authentic and their relationship is one I could see many people finding very relatable.

The wonderful characters and the relationship complexities were definitely what I was expecting when I started reading Big Summer.  What I didn’t expect and what really took the story to a whole new level was a huge plot twist that happens about the halfway point of the novel.  I can’t even talk about it without spoilers, but it had me running back to the synopsis to see if I had missed something because it threw me for such a loop.  That’s not a criticism though because as much as I loved learning about Daphne and her relationship with Drue, the surprise plot twist added a layer of mystery to the story that had me flying through the second half of Big Summer. I was desperate to find out what exactly happened and who was responsible.

I’m going to leave it at that, but suffice it to say, I absolutely loved Big Summer.  It’s Jennifer Weiner at her best with wonderful characters and relationships, but also with a mystery twist that makes it unlike any of Weiner’s books I’ve read so far.  If you’re a Jennifer Weiner fan, you’re going to love it and I also think you’ll love it if you’re a fan of mysteries.

four-half-stars

About Jennifer Weiner

Jennifer Weiner is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of seventeen books, including Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, and, most recently, Mrs. Everything. Her new novel, Big Summer, debuted May 5, 2020. A graduate of Princeton University and contributor to the New York Times Opinion section, she lives with her family in Philadelphia. Visit her online at JenniferWeiner.com.

Review: HUSBAND MATERIAL by Emily Belden

Review:  HUSBAND MATERIAL by Emily BeldenHusband Material by Emily Belden
four-stars
Published by Graydon House on December 30, 2019
Genres: Women's Fiction, Romance
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Justine Sha for inviting me to take part in Harlequin Trade Publishing’s Winter 2020 Blog Tour for Romance & Women’s Fiction.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Emily Belden’s latest novel, Husband Material.  

Husband Material is a romantic tale that is filled with both wit and heart.  It follows twenty-nine year old Charlotte Rosen, a young woman who seems to have it all. She lives in L.A. and has a great job working as a social media analyst. Charlotte is not only a rising star at her firm, but she is also a whiz at numbers, algorithms, and programming, and so as a side project, she’s also developing her own dating app in hopes of one day turning it into a big money maker for herself. Charlotte is convinced that she can pull enough data from the internet (social media, etc.) to determine who would be most compatible.  As she is also in the market for Mr. Right, Charlotte is using herself as a test subject to work out the kinks in her app.

Charlotte is all about the numbers and the data. She sees everything in life in black and white, 0s and 1s. Everything has a right and wrong answer…until life throws a curve ball at her in the form of her dead husband’s ashes, which show up on her doorstep in a J. Crew box. Not only is this incredibly awkward because Charlotte hasn’t told anyone in LA. that she’s a widow, but it also exposes old wounds, unresolved issues, and of course the immense grief that Charlotte thought she was moving past. In order to begin the healing process anew, Charlotte has to reopen doors she thought were closed, including rekindling an awkward and painful relationship with her ex mother-in-law, as well as an unexpected one with her dead husband’s best friend.  With these encounters, Charlotte realizes her numbers and data will only take her so far, and that not everything in life is black and white.  There’s a lot of gray, more gray than she ever thought possible.

Charlotte’s growth throughout the story is what really made this book work for me.  I actually found her a little annoying at the beginning because she was just so borderline arrogant about how her skills with numbers were the answer to everything.  The can of worms that the urn showing up opened really turned Charlotte’s life upside down and I liked watching her have to re-evaluate and adapt her view of the world. Even though she annoyed me in the beginning, by the end of the story, I adored Charlotte and was sad to have to say goodbye.

In addition to creating such a complex character who shows so much growth in the story, I also thought Belden did a wonderful job of making Charlotte’s experience of loss and grief feel so authentic. I read at the end that she actually interviewed widows to discuss their experiences and that research really shines through with the range of emotions that Charlotte goes through each day and the unexpected things that can suddenly trigger an emotional reaction.

I also really liked that even though the book dealt with the very serious subject of grief and healing, it still overall felt like a very lighthearted read.  It was entertaining and heartfelt at the same time and was written in such a vivid way that I could easily picture it as a film on the big screen while I was reading.

If you’re looking for a heartwarming story about love, family, and finding a way to move on from the past, Emily Belden’s Husband Material is a great choice.  On sale, December 30, 2019.

 

PURCHASE LINKS:  

HarlequinAmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundKoboGoogle Books

 

SUMMARY:

Told in Emily Belden’s signature edgy voice, a novel about a young widow’s discovery of her late husband’s secret and her journey toward hope and second-chance love.

Twenty-nine-year-old Charlotte Rosen has a secret: she’s a widow. Ever since the fateful day that leveled her world, Charlotte has worked hard to move forward. Great job at a hot social media analytics company? Check. Roommate with no knowledge of her past? Check. Adorable dog? Check. All the while, she’s faithfully data-crunched her way through life, calculating the probability of risk—so she can avoid it.

Yet Charlotte’s algorithms could never have predicted that her late husband’s ashes would land squarely on her doorstep five years later. Stunned but determined, Charlotte sets out to find meaning in this sudden twist of fate, even if that includes facing her perfectly coiffed, and perfectly difficult, ex-mother-in-law—and her husband’s best friend, who seems to become a fixture at her side whether she likes it or not.

But soon a shocking secret surfaces, forcing Charlotte to answer questions she never knew to ask and to consider the possibility of forgiveness. And when a chance at new love arises, she’ll have to decide once and for all whether to follow the numbers or trust her heart.

 

 

 

four-stars

About Emily Belden

EMILY BELDEN is a journalist, social media marketer, and storyteller. She is the author of the novel Hot Mess and Eightysixed: A Memoir about Unforgettable Men, Mistakes, and Meals. She lives in Chicago. Visit her website at www.emilybelden.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram, @emilybelden.