Monday, February 17, 2020

Book Reviews - Soap Operas, Scary Stuff, and Social Connection

I've been traveling for the past few weeks, so my reading has been less of on a theme, and more of what mood strikes me and/or I have along! So, here's what that's been. . .


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Red Letter Days by Sarah-Jane Stratford takes place during the Red Scare. Specifically, it looks at how this impacted the entertainment industry. Phoebe is an American TV writer who unexpectedly loses a role due to an accusation of her loyalties. She decides to head to London as others impacted have, and she connects with Hannah. Hannah is an American woman who puts those who have been unfairly impacted by the scare to work secretly. Prior to reading this, I knew of McCarthyism, but knew nothing of the impact on the entertainment industry, so this was a new exploration of history for me in that regard. With this advanced copy from Berkley, I'm supposed to give you my honest thoughts, and I always do, so I do have to share that there was something missing in this one for me. Because there was so much zoning in on the two women and the development and experiences of their characters, there wasn't as much history. For me, having more of that context around their story would have been helpful. I liked what was shared, but ultimately needed more. However, given this took place in London, I can also see how extensive coverage of what was happening in the United States didn't make sense. Overall, this read took me to a part of history through well-developed characters I haven't read through much, and I appreciated that opportunity.

Her Homecoming Wish by Jo McNally is a book I featured in a blog tour stop last week. Check that out HERE!

Witches: The Transformative Power of Women Working Together by Sam George-Allen  is a collection of ways women find connection and power. What was great was the variance in these stories and the way they showcased certain communities in a different and important way. There were two chapters I especially enjoyed. The first was on beauty bloggers. I loved how she reframed this community on the empowerment it provides by women for women and what make-up can (and should) really mean. The other chapter I really dug was about nuns. It was interesting to see the reframe in this chapter on the power in choosing to live this way as well. Oh, and I also loved how the story began with talking about teen girls. So often this stage of life is known for its angst and awkwardness. This book again reframes the power of this time of a woman's life. For me, this was such an interesting exploration of women. Each chapter was such a fascinating deep dive into a place women have found connection with one another. 

Onto the next ones. . .

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Blog Tour - Her Homecoming Wish by Jo McNally - Review and Author Q&A


Today I'm excited to be hosting a blog tour stop for Her Homecoming Wish by Jo McNally. First off, let me just say I'm generally not a romance reader. It's not because I'm not a fan, it's just I haven't really ever read the genre, had a few preconceived notions and wasn't sure where to start to work through all of that. One of this year's reading challenges I set for myself was to read a mass market romance novel. So, when the opportunity arose, I decided to be a stop on this tour to have a chance to finally see what this was all about.

So, let's talk about the book y'all! 

First up, I have to share the cover. It wouldn't be a romance without it, right?!?!



Oh, and before I give you my review, let me share an author Q&A to help you get to know the voice behind the story!

Q: Did you always want to write for Harlequin?
A: Well, I’ve wanted to write romance novels since I was about ten years old (my first “book” had a heroine named Destiny and horses and a tornado…). But I didn’t actually become aware of Harlequin until I was an adult. Many readers talk about sneak-reading their mom’s Harlequin novels as teens, but my mom didn’t read romance! But once I found Harlequin books, I knew that was where I wanted to be.

Q: Share your favorite memory of reading a Harlequin romance
A: I got distracted by life for a while (it happens, right?) and stopped reading much. I rediscovered romance novels when I got my first eReader, and one of the first books I read was Beach House No. 9 by Christie Ridgway. That story made me laugh and cry and sit on the edge of my seat, and I was hooked on romance all over again. I started devouring series by Susan Mallery and Kristan Higgins, and then I started writing in earnest. And it all started with a Harlequin romance!

Q: What is a recent book you have read that you would recommend?
A: I just finished a reread of Lucy Parker’s The Austen Playbook from last year, and I adored it just as much the second time around. Lucy’s books are always full of sparkling wit, and this is one of the best opposites-attract romances (my favorite trope) I’ve ever read. I can’t wait to read her brand-new book, Headliners. 

Okay, so now let's talk about the actual book.

The story begins with MacKenzie returning to her hometown. Soon after returning, she runs into Danny. Danny was a friend of her brother's, and they were known for being the "bad boys" (I hate that term y'all, but in the context, it's just going to have to work) around town. MacKenzie, on the other hand, was known for being the straight-laced rule follower. Returning back, times have changed. Danny is now Sheriff Dan, divorced with shared custody of his young daughter. MacKenzie is back wanting to "live a little" after a failed marriage. MacKenzie and Danny have to navigate who they once were and who they are now. This means coming to terms with some "stuff" that went down in the past. What I appreciated about this book was that the romance wasn't an all of the sudden thing that happened. Given they're in their late thirties, that makes sense, and it was far more realistic in that regard. As a rookie reader (and a late thirtysomething myself), I didn't expect that, and I appreciated it.

The other piece of this book involved Sheriff Dan's actual job. There is some suspicious activity around opioids occurring in the town. He's determined to figure out what is, so he can protect his community. I liked how this subplot was woven throughout. It added some depth to the story, so it wasn't just all about the romance. This especially added depth to Dan's character as he felt obligated to protect his small community, and it was something that kept me turning the pages, in addition to the budding love between MacKenzie and Dan.

Overall, this was different than what I expected - in a good way. It wasn't entirely unrealistic or cheesy, instead it depicted how a love like this might actually go down. As I owned, this genre isn't generally my jam. However, I found I enjoyed this read, and I'd be interested in venturing in again. I found the characters likable, the dilemmas real, and I became vested in what went down which is all you can ask for in a read!

So, there you have it - my first ride into romance (#seewhatididthere), and I quite enjoyed it!

***
Book Summary:




“You’re all about following the rules now?
“Pity.”

Mackenzie Wallace hopes there’s still some bad boy lurking beneath single father Danny Adams’s upright exterior. Being the proverbial good girl left her brokenhearted and alone in the past. Now she’s back in town and wants excitement with her high school crush—not love. Dan knows their connection runs deep, despite Mackenzie’s protests. But will their new personas work together—especially when Dan’s secret is exposed?

Author Bio:


Jo McNally lives in upstate New York with 100 pounds of dog and 200 pounds of husband – her slice of the bed is very small. When she's not writing or reading romance novels (or clinging to the edge of the bed...), she can often be found on the back porch sipping wine with friends, listening to an eclectic playlist. If the weather is perfect, she might join her husband on the golf course, where she always feels far more competitive than her actual skill-level would suggest.



Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Book Reviews - Remembering a Legend and Future Thrills

Y'all, this was quite the quartet of thrills! I think I'm going to need to turn down the volume for the next round because these were intense AF. Anyway. . .

Night Swim by Megan Goldin was some kind of thrill read y'all. The story first focuses on a podcast. Rachel has achieved fame for her true crime podcast where she revisits cases and has exonerated an innocent man. For the first time, she has decided to take on a trial as it happens. She heads to a small town where a sexual assault case has rocked the community. A high school boy known for his swimming prowess is the alleged perpetrator. Rachel takes on the story of this case seeking to help listeners understand how hard it is for survivors to come forward and all the complexities of a case of this nature. While in town, Rachel is contacted via letter about another case in the town that was never solved. 25 years earlier, Jenny Stills drowned. She knew how to swim, and her younger sister Hannah believes there is much more to her story. In addition to covering the case in the courtroom, Rachel takes on this cold case to finally discover what really happened to Jenny. Rachel does deep dives into both stories as she is committed to finding the truth. This was a thriller that kept me reading. As the secrets come to light, and y'all, there are some huge secret reveals, some common threads in the past and present also come to life. This is a heavy and emotional read given the focus, but it's also a pageturner that I quickly devoured because I needed both cases to be resolved. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this August 2020 release.

You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen was another captivating thriller by this duo. I mean, at this point, I know that's exactly what I get when I see these authors on the cover, and I loved that What I loved most about this one was the slow burn. There were secrets revealed throughout and until the very last pages, and I was so here for that masterful storytelling. This book revolves around Shay. While waiting for a subway, Shay sees a woman jump onto the tracks. Seeing this woman's tragic death, she feels connected and wants to know more. What she doesn't know is that this quest is going to draw her into the world of the Moore sisters, Cassandra and Jane. The sisters have a tight circle of friends and a world that Shay starts to engage in, and from there, y'all, THIS IS SOME KIND OF RIDE. I honestly can't and won't reveal much more about this one because I want you to feel every bump and twist you can in this one. This story is told from multiple narrators in short chapters, so you are constantly being hit with different truths and lies, and that is what makes this one just so, so great. Y'all, I cannot get enough of the thrillers these women put into the universe, and this is another must-read. Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the early look at this March release that is going to for sure have people talking.

As Time Goes By by Mary Higgins Clark was a book I'd bought this summer because it'd been ages since I last read one of hers. I read a lot of MHC when I was in middle school, and she's one of the authors who made me fall in love with thrillers. With her death, I decided I had to move this one to the top of my list. Y'all, her writing was just as captivating as I remembered, and now I want to go back and read even more. This story focuses on Delaney, a TV journalist. In her professional life, she's covering the murder of a wealthy doctor. Accused of his murder is his wife who maintains her innocence. Delaney is determined to find the truth of this story. In her personal life, Delaney wants to find out the truth about her past. She was adopted, and she wants to find out the truth about her birth parents. As you might infer, there are some intersections in Delaney's personal and professional life as she searches for answers. This was a great way for me to remember a legend, and I hope to (re)read more of her "classics" down the road.

Fatal Option by Chris Beakey was a book I'd received access to an advanced copy for ages ago, but way back when I didn't know how to access them. Anyway, enough of my problems, that's not why we're here. So, this book. . . I don't remember the last time I read something where my thoughts on each and every character morphed as I read. The event that begins the story is a phone call. Stephen's teenage daughter Sara calls crying. She needs to be picked up right away. Problem is Stephen has been drinking and isn't in any condition to drive, but he hears his daughter's urgent need for help. On the road, he encounters high school teacher Kieran who is looking for his brother Aidan. Something happens on that road that sets in motion a chain of events. So, what exactly happened? But also what happened before? Oh, and there are additional unsolved crimes in the area that may or may not connect to that one night. Y'all, this is just one secret after another after another. Just when you think you know someone something else is revealed. Oh, and then something else. This was one that kept me reading because I just wanted to know who these people really were, and the reality of this one was that everyone had their "stuff" they were carrying, It was quite the chain reaction of choices and consequences!

Onto the next ones!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Book Reviews, Feels, "Meh" and the Moon

What a round of reads y'all! Two of these had me way up in my feels, another one was an interesting premise, and one was just not what I thought it'd be. Read on, and see what was what.

And Then We Grew Up: On Creativity, Potential, and the Imperfect Art of Adulthood by Rachel Friedman is a book that hit me with a wave of nostalgia and emotion I wasn't unexpecting. That wave was also something I didn't know I needed. The author was once a dedicated violinist. She spent her summer at a fine arts camp, and she had aspirations of doing something big with her talent. Then, plans changed. Now on another road, she is reflecting on what might have been. She also decides to reconnect with other campers who had similar talent and aspirations way back when. Each of their stories is so fascinating as they describe their own paths, and the author also parses out her own lessons and reflections from where they are. As someone who played violin through college, this was a book made for me. I miss playing in an orchestra so much, and this book was affirmation I need to pick my old friend back up even if just for me. This book was just a wonderful reflection that our creativity and art can (and should) evolve. This energy never goes away, and there is power and purpose in finding new ways to channel this in our life. This was so much a book for me. It spoke to the past and present version of me, and I just loved there was something so intentionally dedicated to a world I knew and still know. At times I was teary, other times I smiled, and overall, I left this one with a wave of nostalgia and inspiration I so needed.

File this under: Feels, Nostalgia, For all the kids/adults/humans who have loved theatre, orchestra, band and/or some kind of fine arts in life, Memoir

The Dilemma by B.A. Paris is a book I have a bit of a dilemma (#seewhatIdidthere) about as I write my review. Part of that was my own expectations. Y'all, this was full of hard to digest emotions. The intensity of those were almost too much to manage. Not only that, I really struggled with the choices some of the characters made. It was all very unsettling which also aligned with the suspense of the story, so maybe that was intentional? Anyway, let me give you some plot to work with to help you understand my musings. Livia is having a 40th birthday party. She's dreamed of this party for years, and she's excited the day is finally here. Her daughter won't be able to attend, but this is actually okay with her for reasons that aren't immediately shared, but are slowly unwound. Livia's husband Adam also has a secret to start the story. However, then something happens, and what that secret is and might involve changes in a big way. The story is Livia and Adam each wrestling with these secrets individually and never having a conversation as a coupe. It was so aggravating. Having never read this author, maybe that's how things always are? Regardless, this is an extreme communication breakdown and a thriller built on the danger of secrets. This is one that's going to make you feel a certain kind of way throughout, and if getting frustrated with characters is your jam, this is for you. Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.

File this under: Drama, Secrets, Lies, Communication Probs

Something Like Happy by Eva Woods was a book that made me feel all the feels. I read this as I was traveling, and I was publicly and privately a mess of laughs and tears as I read. This book was absolutely wonderful. The story focuses on Annie who is 35 and struggling with life in so many ways. She's in the hospital visiting her mother who has dementia when she meets Polly. Polly has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. With this, she's decided that she's going to soak up all she can from the life she has left. She also decides Annie is going to come along for the ride. Polly has decided to commit to 100 happy days, and she convinces Annie she needs to do this, too. The story then treks through each day. Polly's positivity is powerful as is Annie's pain, and that's what makes this story so beautiful. Polly refuses to give up on Annie, and as she goes she keeps pushing her friend to live a life that makes her authentically happy. This book was just so beautifully done. Faced with a terrible diagnosis, Polly makes a choice to live. Each day shows how she does this. With this, the story still shows the struggles of her diagnosis which makes it all the more real. This was such a wonderful reflection on the curveballs life can throw us, how we find connection, and what it means to take control of where we're going. I loved this one so very much, and it was just the burst of energy and joy I needed.

File this under: Relationships, Friendship, Reflection, All the Feels, Laughter, Tears

Artemis by Andy Weir was such an intriguing tale. The story focuses on Jazz who is part of a settlement on the moon. She does what she needs to do to get by. Then, she's presented with a high stakes opportunity that would also be a huge reward. In agreeing to do this, Jazz is exposed to all the secrets and corruption and wild, wild underworld of the moon settlement. What I dig about this author is the way he builds settings you've never considered before. The level of detail he puts into this is truly incredible. That said, I almost needed pictures to go along with all that was happening. Because he creates this immersive and totally new experience, it's hard to imagine. Again, it's so well done in that regard, so it's a weird compliment that is a critique. This was never going to be The Martian, and I went in knowing that wasn't going to be the case. This was an interesting enough tale and a good commentary of how new society's and endeavors could bring on a whole new set of challenges and conflicts.

File this under: Space, Scandal, Science Fiction.

Onto the next ones!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Book Reviews - Fantasy, Family, and POSSUMS!

Oh, hey. For this round, it was quite the mix of reads. First off, there was a book about a possum that I obvs loved. Then, there were two about some complicated relationships in two very different ways. Finally, there was a little fantasy from one of my favorite authors. Read on and see what might be your jam y'all!



Appleblossom the Possum by Holly Goldberg Sloan was just an absolute delight of a read! I chose this read for my January reading challenge to read a book about woodland creatures. Y'all show know (and/or already know and this is just a reminder) I love possums, so this book was likely going to be my jam. This was such a wonderful story. The story focused on a family of possums. Mama Possum is teaching her possums (who all have A names they've selected) how to survive in the world. She has rules of what they should and shouldn't do except Appleblossom is so darn curious about the world. She ends up falling down a chimney and is put right into the center of a family. Throughout Appleblossom's adventures, there is an interspersing of facts about possums. They flow in so seamlessly with the story that you almost don't realize you're learning which is a major bonus for kiddos reading. Given my own admiration of possums, I loved the way this book showed them as friendly animals. This also just had the best humor throughout. In illustrations and misadventures, this just had the most wonderful heart. The character of Appleblossom was a delight as she tried to figure out the world around her. Sometimes you just need a "feel good" read, and this was so, so much that.

File this under: Middle Grade, Woodland Creatures, Light-hearted, Fun

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell was just a great book. I love the writing of Rainbow Rowell, and I loved getting to experience that joy I get from her writing in a new genre. If you're not familiar, this is a story that came out of Fangirl. She took a fandom detailed in that book and wrote the source material. This is the story of Simon and Baz, roommates and enemies. They are at the Watford School of Magicks to build their school. Out in the magick school, the threat and evil of the Insidious Humdrum looms. This was just such a captivating set of characters and a wonderful fantasy world that was created. Oh, and the way the relationships evolved was just fantastic! I loved how this one built this world of Simon and Baz, but also was so full of the realest of feels. I'm excited I waited so long to read this one only because I can check out the sequel right now. I want so much more of this story y'all!

File this under: Fantasy and Made-Up Stuff, All the Feels, Love Story

The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao was so different than what I was expecting. The story begins with Gwendolyn's older sister Estella poisoning and killing their entire family. From this gathering, Estella is the only survivor. The story then treks back through what got things to this point. What I thought was going to be a thriller was really a story about the complexities of family and relationships. Estella goes back through her memories as she wonders which event was a tipping point. The stuff that happens throughout is kind of a bummer. There are bridges that have been burned (figuratively), frustrations with love (or lack thereof) and strained relationships. Again, this isn't so much a thriller, but a dramatic trek through stuff in life that really takes a toll on someone. That said, this is a heavy read. It's beautifully written throughout, and the words used painted such captivating pictures. Story aside, that beauty made this one worth the read. Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced copy in exchange for my review.

File this under: Drama, Family, Heavy Reads

Mona in the Promised Land by Gish Jen is a book I read in college for my Women in Literature course. I've also wanted to go back and re-read, and 16 years later, I finally am! Above all else, this book has one of my favorite quotes of all time:


"This is what she thinks later; that there are moments when the zippy narrative of your life lets up, and swampy reflection sinks in. There are moments when you begin to feel ending. Maybe it's just seasonal wear and tear. But there are moments when the inevitable shrinking of the days makes you miss people who have not left you."

For some reason, that quote just always gets me in the feels, and it's just forever with me. Beyond this quote, this is the story of Mona who is navigating identity on many levels. She is navigating what it means to be Chinese American as she wants to honor her history, but also be a part of her present. She's also exploring the Jewish faith. Additionally, she's working through romantic relationships, friendships, and family. Each layer of this story is complex as it's interwoven with the identities of the characters. I'm glad I finally got to go back to this story once more.

File this under: Relationships, Identities, All the Feels

And onto the next ones!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Book Reviews - Stories That Stay With You

If I had to pick an overarching theme for this quartet, I'd say these are stories that really "stuck" with me. Long after I finished I was thinking about what I read and/or telling someone about it. Those were for four very different reasons. Check out why. . . 


Nature's Best Hope: An Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard by Douglas Tallamy was a book that taught me so darn much y'all! I didn't really have any expectations going in, but I was intrigued by the summary. What I quickly found was that I was this was a call to action grounded in so much important information about the world around me. The premise of the book is that the answers to current struggles with insects, plants, and animals caused by humans are best solved in our own backyards. If we each took the time to understand why nature is so important, and we intentionally cultivated a physical space to preserve and protect nature, we'd all be better off. The best part of these solutions is they are all very practical. This isn't about spending exorbitant amounts of money rather it shares simple and easy to cultivate additions to our yards that could go a long way. What I loved about this book was the depth of research, but again, it was explained in my way that someone who didn't know a great deal about this topic could understand. However, as a result of this book, I'm ready to transform my yard, and my husband and I already have some ideas for how we might do that this spring. This is a book for both those who are well-versed in conservation, and it's also for those who are just beginning to learn about what this entails. Ultimately, our livelihood depends on the world around us, and we owe it to those other creatures to get things together. Thanks to Timber Press for the advanced copy. It's one I (unexpectedly) cannot stop talking about!

File this under: Conversation, Nature, Books That Teach You Stuff

Smacked: A Story of White-Collar Ambition, Addiction and Tragedy by Eilene ZImmerman was a powerful memoir about the author's ex-husband's death. Once a goal-oriented and driven lawyer who was financially successful, Peter's life ended due to his secret drug addiction. After his death, Eilene begins to explore what happened. How did she not know Peter's struggles? Why did this happen? What could have been done differently? The story begins with her backtracking through their past. She looks back at moments before Peter's overdose, and she sees new truths. What she realizes is that Peter was going to great lengths to hide his addiction, and she could not have known. However, at the same time, she sees for the first time what he was doing for his addiction. In the other sections of the book, she explores trends around career and addiction. She puts her journalist skills to work, and she does immersive research on the commonality of Peter's struggles. Throughout, she does not try to tell Peter's story and fill in gaps. Instead, she shares what she knows of his story and what she then learns from her research. To me, this gave the story power. She was writing from a place of someone who lost someone they loved and wanted to understand why this happened. This is a powerful and raw story of addiction. Peter's story was incredibly emotional, and the impact was further amplified by the information about the prevalence of this happening. This is an important read to understand the impact of addiction today. Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced look at this February 2020 release.

File this under: Memoir, Emotional Reads, Addiction

First Came Us by Rachel Cullen was a book I have mixed feelings about. Part of that is because the story was just being real, and part of that is because I wanted more of some aspects of the book. The story focuses on the marriage of Jack and Ellie. They appear to "have it all" but then a blast from a poor decision in Jack's past threatens to upend this life. Meanwhile Jack and Ellie's high-achieving teen daughter Sydney is making choices that threaten her future. Part of my struggle was with Sydney's storyline. I wanted her to be stronger, and I didn't want her to just give up on all she'd worked for to get ahead. I found myself frustrated with this storyline, but I can also recognize that these choices are complicated for a teenager. With that, the storyline I really enjoyed involved Ellie's relationship with an elderly woman who came to her yoga studio. She was a driving force behind the story I ultimately wanted more of, as she was a vehicle to encourage Ellie to figure out what she really wanted out of life. She built depth in the story that I craved as I read. This was an intriguing read about the complexities of family, the danger of secrets, and the way we learn to heal together. Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced look at this March 2020 release.

File this under: Family, All the Secrets, Relationships

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid is a book I already want to re-read. Let me explain. This is a book I'm still reflecting on days after I've finished. The story begins with Emira, a young black woman, who is a regular babysitter for the Chamberlain family. One late night, she gets a call asking her to come immediately. She does and takes their baby to a grocery store. While there, a guard accuses her of kidnapping the white baby she is watching. Another shopper films the interaction. Alix, the baby's mother, is upset and wants to do all she can to resolve the pain Emira has experienced. The story from here takes so many different turns. Through each character, there are actions that allow for reflections on race and privilege. The moment in the grocery store is a catalyst for relationships and secrets to be revealed. Through a fictional story, the author explores these topics in such a profound way. She uses the points of view of each character to wrestle with complicated topics. As the reader, you have to then consider each character's motives and actions. Throughout, connections and choices are revealed that continue to change what you believe you know to be true. This is book is brilliant in so many ways. I could not stop reading, and after its last page I continued to reflect on what I just read. Wow, wow, wow.

File this under: BOOKS YOU NEED TO READ RN, Books That Make You Think

Onto the next ones!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Book Reviews - Thrillers, Love and Cruising with the BSC

And just like that, I've got another round of books to share. Here we go!



Husband Material by Emily Belden was a book I reviewed for a blog tour stop. Find out what I thought and get an author Q&A HERE.

File this under: RomCom, Love, Grief, Relationships

The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy is a thriller I have mixed feelings about. The story focuses on the May Mothers, a group of new mothers who have turned online community into IRL community. The group decides to go for a Moms Night Out, although Winnie, a single mom, is reluctant to leave her son Midas. However, the other moms convince her he'll be okay and secure a babysitter for her. However, the night turns to tragedy when Midas is missing. The questions then begin about Winnie, as well as with all the May Mothers. I think my issue with this is that I didn't feel like I got to know any of the characters, so it was hard to feel that suspense and drama in this. I recognize this may have been intentional as the May Mothers really came together by happenstance and also didn't know that about each other. However, it was then hard to only know each of these women on a surface level, and because of that I struggled to follow the plot and remember who was who.

File this under: Thriller, All the Secrets

Babysitters Club Super Special #1: Babysitters On Board was actually not a book I'd read in my BSC prime. In this one, the Pike family is going on a cruise and brings Stacey and Mary Anne along as babysitters. Well, Kristy's stepfather finds out (who is super rich btw, and they mention this all the damn time), and he decides he'll take his family on the same cruise, and bring Dawn and Claudia, too. I'm not really going to review or recap here as that's weird to do with these. Instead, I'll offer some lingering questions and reflections. First off, did we all just have more freedom in the nineties?! There's a part of the story where the cruise docks in Nassau, and the babysitters are allowed to just go out on their own!?!? Then, the same thing happens at Disney World except they also go off with boys they just met?!? It was strange y'all. However, I forever love a super special, and this was always going to be my jam.

The Last Woman in the Forest by Diane Les Becquets was such an intriguing thriller. Also, when you finish this read, be sure to read the author's note and acknowledgments. Her connection to what you have just read amplifies the content in a way that's worth understanding and knowing. The story focuses on Marian who works with rescue dogs. In the course of this work, she falls in love with Tate who is then tragically killed. Upon his death, Marian starts to learn more about him and has questions. Specifically, she wonders if he might be involved in four unsolved murders of young women. Marian reaches out to a retired profiler who once worked with these murders for help. She has to know the truth about Tate, and she believes this man is the only person who can give that to her. Told through flashbacks to her story with Tate, investigations in the present, and the work this profiler has done, this one is a wild ride. Marian wonders if she ever knew this man, and there is a captivating quest to find out who Tate and this murderer were/are, and if they are one in the same. I love a thriller that works with multiple timelines, and this one did that masterfully. Suspense was built as both timelines converged, and it was a wild end!

File this under: Thriller, All the Secrets, Relationships

Onto the next round!

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Book Reviews - The First Four of 2020!

And so begins another year of reading! I'll spare you a long introduction and just get straight to the reviews.

J/k, lolz, I do want to share I'm changing up my Read this book if... section of my reviews. I found those weren't necessarily the most helpful. I'm going to be using some ongoing quick tags to help you get a quick understanding of what I read.



Okay, now the reviews.

The Way We All Became the Brady Bunch: How the Canceled Sitcom Became the Beloved Pop Culture Icon We Are Still Talking About Today by Kimberly Potts was a deep-dive into all things Brady. This isn't the first time I've read a book about the Bradys, and they will always be a love of mine. I mean, y'all, have I told you about the time I MET GREG BRADY!?!


This book really looks at how a show that was on for just five seasons has come to be this incredibly resounding pop culture behemoth. I used to watch the show every morning before school, and I can still get sucked into an episode (or five) today, so I'm obviously the book's target audience. What was different about this book was that it talked about the show itself, both its up and (somewhat well-known) downs/drama. However, it does examine the spin-offs and continued storylines. While I'm very familiar with the original material, I definitely knew little to nothing about these other pieces. This is a well-researched piece on a family that will forever (and I meant that quite literally) be one of America's favorites. I learned some new stuff and also got those nostalgic Brady feels.

File this under: Pop Culture, Nostalgia, The Brady Bunch (doubtful I'll have anything else with this tag, but maybe?)

Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison was a book I reviewed for a blog tour stop. Find out what I thought and get an author Q&A HERE.

File this under: Thriller, Jawdropping Twists, Pageturners, All the Drama

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline was just a good, reliable thriller. This is my second book by this author, and I'm quickly realizing she just knows how to write a great pageturner. She's especially great at having that one big twist, but then continuing with even more twists after that. This story begins with Ellen seeing a "Have you seen this child?" flyer. One of the children bears a strong resemblance to her adopted son. This is something she cannot unsee, and she wonders about the validity of her adoption and if there is more to the story. As a journalist, she begins investigating while also harboring fear her son will be taken from her. As she digs deeper and deeper into the story, she has even more questions about potential deception and concerns about the safety of her family. This is one I read quickly. The premise was admittedly outlandish, but the sensational nature of the story still worked for me and kept me speeding through the drama.

File this under: Thriller, Pageturners, Family Drama

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is a book I've somehow never read. I took a Literature for Adolescents course in college, and we watched the movie, but I've never read the source material. What I find so incredible about this one is that the author wrote this when she was in high school. I mean, WOW. Even 50 years later, that just blows my mind. This is a story that focuses on a group of friends who are greasers. They find camaraderie in their struggle. They have an ongoing feud with socs who are those who have all the privilege. The story primarily focuses on Ponyboy. Initially, it is Ponyboy discussing his friends, his family, love, and their hatred of the socs. However, the story really takes a turn when his friend Johnny kills a soc. For a story about a group of boys who try to be "tough guys" throughout, this will also somehow have you all up in your feels. Specifically, "Stay gold, Ponyboy" is forever a line that just gets me in a certain kind of way. This is such a unique story of hope and wanting more from our current circumstances, and I'm glad to have finally read it!

File this under: Young Adult, All the Feels, Friendship, Classics, Great American Read

Onto the next ones!

Friday, January 3, 2020

Blog Tour - Husband Material by Emily Belden - Review and Author Q&A!



Well, hello there! I'm excited to once again be a stop on a blog tour - Today I'm sharing Husband Material by Emily Belden with y'all. This is a romance/women's fiction read, but this is also a book with all the feels. 

Today, I had the chance to ask the author some questions, and I'll be sharing my review. And again, good news for y'all is this is a book that's out now!

First up is some insight into this author's writing process and this specific book!

Q: When you begin writing a love story, do you know how you want it to end? Or do you decide as you develop the plot?
A: I generally have an idea of how I want things to wrap up, but what I always struggle with is that final sentence. How do you know you’re REALLY there? I often ready my theoretical last sentence out loud, followed by saying “The End”, and if it feels like it has a certain “ring” to it, then I can shut the laptop. If not, then I know it’s not my stopping point. Wrapping up that final thought with a bow on it is super important. It’s what I want when I read a book, at least.


Q: How was it to write about grief, pain and love for the same character?
A: It was new. That’s really the best word to explain it. HOT MESS has so many autobiographical elements to it (i.e., restaurant industry know-how, dating an addict, etc.) but HUSBAND MATERIAL was all unchartered territory for me. I realized right away that in order to write about the grief of losing a spouse/partner, I had to curate a focus group of real-life women like Charlotte and really learn from them to bring the level of authenticity and nuance needed to successfully write the book.

Q: What type of love stories do you like? Or were there ones you looked to as you began writing Husband Material?
A: I like really unexpected love stories. In today’s literary landscape, there’s certainly a formula that is pretty common. So it’s the books that break or stray from that formula that really do it for me. I like stories where it’s not innately clear who the protagonist is going to end up with. Even with HOT MESS there’s a moment where (I hope) the reader is like “OMG WHAT IS HAPPENING” insofar as Allie’s love story goes. Same with Charlotte in HUSBAND MATERIAL.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?
A: I heard a news story on the TV when I was doing dishes at my (former) home in San Diego. It was about a developer who wanted to buy the land a mausoleum was on so they could tear it down and build luxury condos overlooking the ocean. I thought, how crazy if your loved one’s ashes just got mailed back to you one day and the resting place you thought was final, wasn’t. It wasn’t easy, but turned that general premise into a light-side-of-heavy rom-com.

Q: What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
A: Overall, that second chances at love take all different forms. You never know the circumstances someone has found themselves in, so be kind. For Charlotte, I intentionally wrote the first few chapters as if she was divorced--talking about her “first marriage”. Then you find out “Oh, sh*t, she’s a widow,” and all the sudden your emotional connection with her changes. I also find it interesting writing about death. We don’t talk about it in society, especially not in contemporary women’s fiction. A tragic, unexpected death is the crux of this book. Let’s dig in!

***
Now, let me tell you about my own reading experience!

When I read the summary of Husband Material I was immediately intrigued and signed up for the blog tour for the opportunity to delve into this story. 

Charlotte has a secret - She's a widow. Five years ago, she tragically lost her husband. She has since moved on by finding a roommate, job and life where no one knows about her before. It's not that she doesn't think about Decker ever, but she's just trying to get through as she has lingering pain and guilt around this death. Then, all the feels come back when Decker's ashes show up on her doorstep. The mausoleum he was housed in has been impacted by a forest fire, and this means the next of kin must decide what to do now. Being reunited with Decker brings back feelings Charlotte has tried to keep locked away. With this development, Charlotte reconnects with Decker's parents, as well as with Decker's best friend, Brian. 

Having these blasts from the past means Charlotte revisits what life was in the age of Decker. As she does this, a new secret comes out that changes literally everything. This was a romance novel, but it had thriller-esque twists, and I appreciated that. Even more than that, the emotions were so authentically written. While there was some humor throughout, there was also the heart that Charlotte had been through something that had such a profound impact.

What I loved about this book was that it really looks at the themes of grief and loss. These are emotions that are so common, but we don't talk about them enough. And we certainly don't acknowledge that it can take many different forms. This can vary from person to person, but more than that, one person's relationship with the emotion can change as time goes on. This book showcases that through its characters as they're just trying to get through after the unimaginable happens. It also wrestles with the question of what relationships look like through grief. How do these change? Who gets to decide how we feel loss? What do we do when the person who connected us to someone else is gone?

Even though there is a theme of grief and pain, this is also about love. I appreciated how this book showed emotions aren't mutually exclusive. Charlotte wasn't just Decker's death. There was so much more to her. This was Charlotte navigating her relationships, her secrets, and what her ever after was going to be. I'm so glad I seized the intrigue of this one and had this reading experience!

***

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.

Author Bio:
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.


Buy Links:

Social Links:
Twitter: @emilybelden
Instagram: @emilybelden
Facebook: @emilybeldenauthor

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Blog Tour - Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison - Review and Author Q&A!


Y'all, let me tell you how pumped I am to talk about Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison today. This was a wild thriller - beyond wild actually, and I absolutely loved it.

Today is an especially exciting day on the blog as I'm hosting a blog tour stop for the book. With this, I'm going to give you my review, and I'm sharing a Q&A with the author!

Oh, and the best news? This book is out now! So, you can finish reading this post and immediately go off to get this book in your life.

But first, here are some thoughts from the author!


Do you plan your books in advance or let them develop as you write?

Both. Sometimes the story just unfolds, and sometimes I have to relentlessly work on themes and turning points and characters’ points of view. Every book is different, every book has its own unique challenges. I’m always thinking about what’s next, and sometimes even what’s after that. But when it comes to actually sitting down to write, I like to let the story unfold a bit, let it stretch its wings, before I try to lash it to the mast and conform it to my vision.
***

What does a day in the life of J.T. Ellison look like?

It’s rather blissful. It starts rather lazily, with the cats cuddled into my arms and the newspaper on my iPad, then progresses to kicking the lazy beasts out, pouring a cup of tea and handling email. I am not a morning person, so I tend to do business in the morning and writing in the afternoon, when I’m sharper. I’ve always wanted to be the writer who gets up at 5 am to write whilst the birds chirp and the house sleeps, watching the sun rise and running five miles before the rest of the world is awake, but alas, it was not meant to be. You need to go to a concert that starts at ten p.m., I’m your girl. 

***

What does the act of writing mean to you?

It’s a sacred contract with me and a mythical “someone” who might read the words at some point in the future and find them entertaining or moving. It’s sheer magic on my end, creating, and sheer magic on the readers’ end, when they get to experience what was in my head as I was writing. It’s the most incredible mystical experience out there.

***

What did you want to be as a child? Was it an author?
I desperately wanted to be Colorado’s first female firefighter. When that job was taken, I cast about. Doctor. Lawyer. Fighter Pilot. Spy. International business maven. Olympic swimmer. Poet. In the end, being a writer was my only choice. That way, I get to experience all the lives I could have led.

***
Tell us about what you’re working on now.

I’m writing a novel about a destination wedding that goes very, very wrong. It has loose ties to Rebecca, and it is titled HER DARK LIES. 

***

Okay, now, let me tell y'all all about Good Girls Lie!

Good Girls Lie takes place at the Goode School, a prestigious all-girls boarding school in Virginia. The school is known for its strict honor code, and it demands both the best in academics and telling the truth. The story begins with a death as a student's body is discovered at the school. The book then goes back in time to explain how the story got to here. This includes the arrival of Ash, a British student. With Ash's arrival, she learns of the secret societies, hierarchy, and rules (both written and unwritten) that govern the school.

Much of the story is about the dynamics of different students at the school. While there is a strict honor code, there are secrets and lies bubbling below the surface. As the story moves towards the death where things began, suspense builds as to what happened and who might be responsible. What is great about this suspense is how the author plays with emotion to build it. You can see there is some evil and scheming going on, but you can't quite figure out who is responsible. And the person responsible shifts, so one moment you could feel sympathy for one character, and the next, you feel it for another. It was this plot device that kept me guessing throughout. I knew things weren't just happening, but I couldn't quite figure out why. I also found I wanted to believe characters, but because of the way the story was told, I always held onto some suspicions about who was really good and telling the truth.

The twists in this one are so good, and they go until the very last pages. Again, much of this is you don't know who you can trust as a truth-teller. In the school, there is a strong want to fit in, so you have to wonder what lengths people will go to in order to make this happen. Ash also is a character with secrets. She is recently orphaned after the death of her parents, and she comes to the school having changed her name to escape this tragedy. As she finds her place at the school, she interacts with a variety of students finding both friends and enemies. 

With this review, I realize I haven't given a ton of plot details, and that is quite intentional. To walk you through too much gives away the feels you get as each secret and lie is unwound! This is the type of book that makes you gasp when the twists come to fruition. And then just as you think you've got it figured out, there is another curveball that comes into the mix. This is a thriller driven by characters and their secrets, and I just could not get enough. If you want something that embodies a page-turning thriller, look no further than right here!

***

Author Bio: 

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than 20 novels, and the EMMY-award winning co-host of A WORD ON WORDS, Nashville's premier literary show. With millions of books in print, her work has won critical acclaim, prestigious awards, and has been published in 26 countries. Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.

Book Summary:
Perched atop a hill in the tiny town of Marchburg, Virginia, The Goode School is a prestigious prep school known as a Silent Ivy. The boarding school of choice for daughters of the rich and influential, it accepts only the best and the brightest. Its elite status, long-held traditions and honor code are ideal for preparing exceptional young women for brilliant futures at Ivy League universities and beyond. But a stranger has come to Goode, and this ivy has turned poisonous.

In a world where appearances are everything, as long as students pretend to follow the rules, no one questions the cruelties of the secret societies or the dubious behavior of the privileged young women who expect to get away with murder. But when a popular student is found dead, the truth cannot be ignored. Rumors suggest she was struggling with a secret that drove her to suicide.

But look closely…because there are truths and there are lies, and then there is everything that really happened.

J.T. Ellison’s pulse-pounding new novel examines the tenuous bonds of friendship, the power of lies and the desperate lengths people will go to to protect their secrets.