Synopsis “[A] heartwarming fantasy … Christmas enthusiasts will find this hits the spot.” ~Publishers Weekly
A contemporary, holiday fantasy with a new twist on A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life.
Abby Nicholson used to love Christmas. Until she didn’t.
After leaving Winter Glen, the small town famous for its Christmas celebration and her family’s greeting card company, Abby is forced to return to the home she left behind when the unexpected passing of her father thrusts the business into her hands.
Turning her back on the magic of the holiday beloved by her father and the town, she decides to sell the business. Signing the paperwork with the very pen her father used to create it, she is shocked to discover her hometown has become a whole new world.
One where Christmas has vanished!
Now stuck in a place devoid of hope, joy, and the spirit of the season, Abby sees family and friends altered in the most terrible of ways.
Determined to set things right, though unsure how, Abby takes out her father’s pen and begins to draw. When she realizes her art is coming to life, she sets out to recreate the holiday and bring back the most wonderful time of the year.
But some are determined to keep an iron grip on the town and will do anything in their power to stop her..
My Review WRITE CHRISTMAS is a Hallmark Christmas movie that lives in my Kindle. It’s a delightful story full of hope, transformation, and charming characters straight out of a Dickens tale. Abby Nicholson is the heir to the Samuel Nicholson Card Company, her beloved late father. The entire town of Winter Glen was built around the bucolic greeting card company. But the bright-eyed hopeful girl who used to help her father hand-sketch his whimsical, heartwarming designs is all grown up with all of that hope drained from her. With a teen daughter of her own and the father of that daughter proposing to her year after year, she’s jaded and ready to move on. In her words, there are no adventures left to be had in Winter Glen and is ready to sell the company to a big chain and leave town for good.
No one thinks this is a good idea, except Abby, so the town will need to come together to convince her that there is so much more to Winter Glen than she can see. But it will take more than that. Abby needs to rediscover the magic of Winter Glen and Christmas itself, the holiday that the town has embraced more than any other place in the country.
Plot The primary plot centers around Abby, but the story is told like a vivid movie, with a stellar supporting cast who all have their own stories within the story. The author does a brilliant job of creating these fabulous characters that I couldn’t help liking from the first moment they appeared on page. Even Lolo Windberg. Because the story is about growth and second chances, no one thing drives the plot, but rather they all work together to create this magical story of redemption and rediscovering the joy of Christmas, like ingredients in a favorite Christmas cookie recipe. It’s not perfect if you leave even one thing out.
The Characters The characters are what really makes this story work. The plotting unfolds at a steady, but slow pace, but because the characters are larger than life, it’s okay. I’d spend all day with these people. Huston has a way of developing his cast with a word here and a sentence there that make them come to life. From Darla, the town mayor, to Abby, Abby’s mother Stella, her daughter, Chloe, and the man who wants her love, Cameron, to the people who work for her greeting card company, everyone is the star of their own part of the story even as the contribute to the greater tale, and we feel that on every page.
Top Five Things I Loved About WRITE CHRISTMAS 1. Winter Glen. I’m more of a big city girl, but if I ever moved to a small town, it would so be Winter Glen. The town is its very own character in the story.
2. Darla. The quintessential mayor is spunky and seems to always have the right thing to say in a given situation, even though she doesn’t think she does.
3. Abby. Though often morose, it’s easy to understand her disillusionment with both her home town and the Christmas season it embodies. She’s all of us at one time or another.
4. Cameron. His persistence is sweet rather than stalkery. Being the father of her daughter only makes his unwillingness to give up on the woman he loves and the family he wants endearing rather than creepy.
5. Christmas. The best holiday of the year gets a fresh new tale.
Bottom Line A warm pair of socks and a cozy fire wrapped up in an endearing tale.
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Thommy Hutson is a bestselling, award-winning author, screenwriter, producer, and director.
A graduate of UCLA, he began his career co-writing the story for the Warner Bros. animated hit SCOOBY-DOO IN WHERE’S MY MUMMY? He followed that with co-writing the concept and additional material for CHILL OUT, SCOOBY-DOO!
As an author, Thommy crafted a limited-edition coffee table book detailing the making and legacy of horror icon Wes Craven’s 1984 classic A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. A trade version followed from Permuted Press/Simon & Schuster. His novel, the teen thriller Jinxed, (Vesuvian Books) is the first in a trilogy that has been called “A must-read for classic horror fans … Hutson could easily take on the mantle as the next Lois Duncan.” Hutson was named on the
7 Essential LGBTQ Horror Authors for Your Summer Reading Lists.
Thommy wrote the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries original film, A CHRISTMAS FOR THE BOOKS, which was the highest-rated scripted program the night it premiered. He co-scripted the teen thriller INSTAFAME (Lifetime), wrote a screenplay for an audio holiday project, and is in development on a family feature film. In addition, Thommy produced the critically acclaimed feature THE TROUBLE WITH THE TRUTH, an insightful relationship drama starring Lea Thompson and John Shea. He also produced DREAMWORLD, a quirky, romantic dramedy. He has also worked as a staff writer on a Hulu web series.
A member of the Producers Guild of America, a Saturn and Home Media Magazine award-winner, and an aficionado of holiday films as well as teen movies from the 80s and 90s, Thommy continues to develop unique, compelling, and provocative projects across multiple genres for film, television, publishing, and home entertainment.
Synopsis Leena Coughlin is simply eye-candy to her husband Steven’s sky-rocketing career. Steven may be a brilliant cardiac surgeon, but the self-absorbed man is more focused on other people’s hearts—and his own pleasure—than on the emotional heart of his family. He’s a God-like man, after all, saving lives every day. And a man like him has needs. More than Leena can provide.
To fend off the growing loneliness of her marriage, Leena strikes up a relationship with a stranger, Michael Casspi, through a letters-to-prisoners program. Michael was also once a cardiac surgeon. He claimed that assisting his dying wife with suicide was an act of mercy. The state called it murder. Can a man imprisoned behind bars fill Leena’s emotional void?
Focused on their own strained relationship, neither Steven nor Leena has noticed the deteriorating mental health of their college-aged daughter, Joy.
Two men. One woman. And a fragile girl teetering on the knife-edge of depression. But when Michael is unexpectedly released from prison, the precarious balance of all their lives will be dramatically altered forever.
My Review The story is told in four first-person points of view: Leena, Steven, Michael, and Joy. Leena and Steven’s marriage is far from perfect, which is obvious right away from both POVs. The fact that Leena is writing to Michael out of loneliness as he languishes in prison is not a surprise. The opening chapter is Michael’s and it starts with a bang, hooking me almost instantly. As the story unfolds, we find out more about Steven’s extramarital behavior. He seems to love his wife and daughter, though he never has time for them. At least he sees his wife in bed most nights, where he grabs a quickie before going to sleep. But he barely sees his daughter and hasn’t for years. Steven is a famous cardio-thoracic surgeon, in high demand. He believes the material things he provides for his family should be enough. It’s not enough for him, though, because he has a rather active sex life with women who are not his wife. He claims it’s because he needs to blow of steam and doesn’t want to bring his hospital life home, which he views as a safe harbor. But in reality, he likes to do what he considers dirty and depraved things he believes his wife is too good for.
Leena is the long-suffering wife who we all know deserves better. She clearly loves her husband and adores her daughter, yet she’s completely oblivious to everything going on around her. She has no idea her daughter is suffering form mental illness that pushes her to the brink of suicide, nor that her husband has been unfaithful for probably most of their marriage. Shea assumes because he comes home to bang in her in the night, he’s clearly not getting anything on the side.
So much of the story I found problematic, but the author kept me turning the pages, proving she’s an outstanding storyteller. The book could have been a stronger story for me if the author had gotten certain details correct. For instance, Steven, a renowned surgeon, and even Michael for that matter, keep referring to conjoined twins as Siamese twins. That’s not a medical term at all and is actually quite offensive. I cringed every time it was mentioned, which was a lot. There was also a continuity error that yanked me out of the story when Leena is driving her beloved Karmann Ghia through the streets of San Francisco, only to end up in her black Mercedes, which blends in, without ever going home and swapping out cars. There is nothing about a Karmann Ghia that blends in, so this was jarring. And finally, the biggest problem I had was Joy’s mental illness. Throughout the book, everyone, including Joy, blames her father’s lack of presence in her life as the cause of her depression. But this does a disservice to anyone who suffers from mental illness. It is not caused by someone else. The blame game is very dangerous and hurtful, especially to anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide. The thought that if they’d only done more, been more present, etc., they could have prevented it, is a terrible message to send.
Plot The plot centers around Michael’s release from prison, his future beyond his time behind bars, and the relationships between all four main characters. There’s a lot of drama and even more at stake, and the author does a good job of keeping the pacing spot on. As I said, I was riveted to the story and wanted, or rather needed, to find out what happened next, regardless of my issues.
The Characters The characters were all well-developed and deeply flawed. We get deep into each of their points of view, even Steven’s. While it was good to understand what drives a man who has everything to throw it all away for cheap thrills, it didn’t really do much to make me like him, but I think that was never the point. it was an interesting twist I wasn’t expecting, though.
Top Five Things I Enjoyed About A HEART LIFE 1. San Francisco. I loved that my favorite city in the world was the backdrop for these characters. The story is as much a love letter to the City by the Bay as it is anything else.
2. Joy. She was my favorite character. Maybe because I have a daughter the same age or maybe because I could see a lot of my nineteen-year-old sister in her, but she was probably the only truly innocent person in the story.
3. Cliffhangers. Each chapter ended strongly, forcing me to read on. I love when an author can do that.
4. Twists. There were only a few twists that really caught me by surprise, but those are always a treat and I enjoyed them immensely.
5. Storytelling. The author knows how to weave a tale that kept me turning the pages.
Bottom Line A fun, fast read with deeply drawn characters.
Disclaimer I was provided by a copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Fascinated by broken-hearted couples and atypical families, Patricia writes women’s fiction, weaving engaging tales of men and women who create cohesive families where love reigns supreme. She sprinkles her books with intriguing characters who struggle to find balance in life. Whether an unwed teenager, desperate widow, abandoned father, disconnected sisters, or a troubled couple, her characters form relationships impacted by their desire to create a family.
Patricia lives with her husband and two children on the island of Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco, along with three chocolate labs and a rescue terrier mix. When she’s not writing or spending time with her family, Patricia enjoys riding her Friesian horse Maximus, who lives in the Oakland hills with a million dollar view.
Synopsis A teen forger and thief forms a criminal crew from her high school friends (and crush) to perform a series of heists leading to the location of her missing mother in this action-packed contemporary YA novel.
By day, seventeen-year-old Fiona Spangler runs small cons for her ritzy prep-school classmates: getting them out of tests and forging fake hall passes. But by night, Fiona joins her dad on riskier heists: stealing back the clue-filled forgeries her mom scattered across the country before she disappeared. Fiona desperately hopes that her mother will be waiting at the end of the scavenger hunt she left behind.
And they are SO close. Just three more heists remain, but then disaster strikes when Fiona’s dad is captured by the FBI. Desperate to finish the job and save what’s left of her family, Fiona assembles of crew of teen criminals: a master of disguise who can transform into anyone, a talented hacker who only communicates in glares, and a rival con artist with a vendetta against—and possible crush on—Fiona.
All they have to do is perform three nearly impossible heists, solve her mother’s incredibly complex clues, and evade the FBI. Easy, right?
My Review This was a nice diversion from real life, and just what I needed. Seventeen-year-old Fiona is the daughter of con artists. Her entire life has been devoted to learning the craft of the con. A talented artist and impeccable forger, she and her family have been pulling cons as long as she can remember. But when she was ten, her mother disappeared and left clues on how to find her in her forgeries. Fiona and her dad have been working to retrieve the forgeries and the clues so the family can be together again. At least until her father is caught pulling a job. Now Fiona must complete the mission herself. She pulls together a ragtag crew of high school friends, including a tech genius, a former cosplayer turned master of disguise, and her arch nemesis, but charming classmate she may or may not have a thing for,
Plot The story centers around Fiona finding her mother and the heists she needs to complete to gather all the clues to find her mother. The heists were well-planned and executed, and added such an entertaining thread through the book. There is a subtle romantic element with Colin, the son of the FBI agent who arrested her father and a number of twists; some I saw coming, others I didn’t, making this a well-plotted fun read.
The Characters The characters are what really makes this story. Fiona is a fully-engaging anti-hero as a con artist. At no point did I not pull for her. She’s a criminal, but she was so lovable and relatable, I wanted her to succeed at every turn. Her dad, while singularly driven, still clearly loves his daughter and puts her needs above his own. Her best friend Natalie and her tech guru, Tig, are both interesting in their own ways. And Colin, as the potential love interest, is just as complex as Fiona.
Top Five Things I Enjoyed About THE CON CODE 1. Heists. We’ve been rewatching the Ocean’s Eleven movie franchise and I forgot how fun a well-developed con can be.
2. Fiona. She is so dedicated to finding her mom, but her loyalty to her crew at all costs makes her a hero to root for to the very end.
3. Action. The story moves with a lot of action and edge-of-your-seat suspense.
4. Loyalty. Fiona is loyal to her family and her friends and those loyalties are tested, making her even more relatable.
5. The Ending. I wasn’t sure how things were going to end up, but the author did a great job of wrapping everything up in a satisfying ending that wasn’t predictable.
Bottom Line A thrilling escapist read with fantastic characters and lots of action.
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Shana Silver studied creative writing at Syracuse University. She’s been a computer animator, an e-book creator for a major publisher, and now works as a Project Manager in digital and TV advertising where she enjoys telling people what to do. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, young daughter, and the characters she dreams up. MIND GAMES is her debut novel. THE CON CODE comes out in Summer 2020.
Synopsis The Tech sisters don’t date in high school. Not because they’re not asked. Not because they’re not interested. Not even because no one can pronounce their long, Thai last name—hence the shortened, awkward moniker. But simply because they’re not allowed.
In a move that other Asian American girls know all too well, six months after the older Tech twins got to college, their parents asked, “Why aren’t you engaged yet?” The sisters retaliated by vowing that they won’t marry for ten (maybe even twenty!) years, not until they’ve had lots of the dating practice that they didn’t get in high school.
In a shocking war on the status quo, her parents now insist that their youngest daughter, Orrawin (aka “Winnie”), must practice fake dating in high school. Under their watchful eyes, of course—and organized based on their favorite rom-coms. ’Cause that won’t end in disaster.
The first candidate? The son of their longtime friends, Mat Songsomboon—arrogant, infuriating, and way too good-looking. Winnie’s known him since they were toddlers throwing sticky rice balls at each other. And her parents love him.
If only he weren’t her sworn enemy.
My Review I know I’ve said this before, but this time I really mean it. THIS is my favorite book by Pintip Dunn. Unless I’m allowed to have more than one favorite, in which case I choose them ALL. But seriously, this is just the right lighthearted rom-com for these complicated times. It’s full of warm, engaging characters, swoony moments that are solidly of the PG variety, and so much Thai food that my mouth watered throughout. Winnie is the youngest of three girls and has grown up in the shadow of her beautiful, identical twin sisters. And for the most part, she’s been okay with that. She loves them and they adore her. With them in college now, they’re expected to find suitable spouses, sooner rather than later, as is Thai tradition. But because the Tech girls are not allowed to date in high school, Bunny and Ari use that as an excuse for why they haven’t found anyone yet. After all, one needs to date in order to learn how to date. And they use that lack of experience as an excuse. Lesson learned, their parents decide that Winnie will practice date, so that she knows what to do when she heads off to college next year. And she will practice date with longtime family friend and arch nemesis, Mat Songsomboon. It’s clear from the beginning these two will end up together, but how they get there is hilarious, heartfelt, and full of humility.
Plot Winnie and Mat’s relationship drives the plot, but Winnie’s acceptance of her role in her family, the obedient daughter, drives most of the conflict. While Mat and Winnie are now mortal enemies, they share a past that included lazy afternoons, deep friendship, and lots of laughter. That is evident even in their most contentious interactions. The more time they spend together, though, the more Winnie begins to doubt that Mat hates her or that she hates him. In fact, it takes a lot of energy to hate someone, so why put so much effort into someone who doesn’t matter? What I absolutely love about this book is that the author doesn’t take the easy way out and allow unspoken thoughts and rampant misunderstandings to keep her characters apart. Instead, they both share thoughts and feelings, awkwardly, that clears the air far sooner than I expected, and instead the author finds more difficult ways to build conflict. This made the story much less predictable than I anticipated.
The Characters As always, Dunn creates beautifully deep characters with just enough flaws to make them believable and loveable. Winnie, Mat, and the rest are no exception. Winnie’s sisters, though only secondary characters, are nearly as well-developed as Winnie. Her parents, best friend, Kavya, and the new Thai boy, Taran, round out the main cast perfectly.
Top Five Things I Loved About DATING MAKES PERFECT 1. Mat. He’s annoying at times, self-assured, bordering on arrogant, but he is loyal to the end and earns Winnie’s love the hard way.
2. Winnie. Her desire to be the good and obedient Thai daughter but also be true to herself creates a refreshing internal conflict that makes her easy to love.
3. Thai Food. So much of the story centers around Thai tradition and food is as much a part of that as anything else. From meals to treats, the detailed descriptions left me salivating for a bowl of tom yum koong.
4. Parental Love. Even though Winnie is convinced her parents’ love is conditional, they show her that nothing could be further from the truth in the best way possible.
5. Rom Coms. The subtle weaving of some of the best romantic comedies ever made was a bonus I didn’t even know I wanted.
Bottom Line The perfect light, fun read for these extraordinary times.
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Pintip Dunn is a New York Times bestselling author of young adult fiction. She graduated from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with an A.B., and received her J.D. at Yale Law School.
Pintip’s novel FORGET TOMORROW won the 2016 RWA RITA® for Best First Book, and SEIZE TODAY won the 2018 RITA for Best Young Adult Romance. Her books have been translated into four languages, and they have been nominated for the following awards: the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire; the Japanese Sakura Medal; the MASL Truman Award; the Tome Society It list; and the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her other titles include REMEMBER YESTERDAY, THE DARKEST LIE, GIRL ON THE VERGE, and the upcoming STAR-CROSSED and MALICE.
WELCOME TO HICKVILLE HIGH (Hickville High Series #1) by Mary Karlik
Synopsis The Universe has completely dumped on High School senior Kelsey Quinn’s life. Credit card at Nordstrom’s? Deactivated. Honda Accord? Sold. Life in the burbs of Chicago? Gone. And it’s all her sister’s fault. Yep. Drugs, alcohol, and getting caught with the boss’s son was all it took. Dad loses job, family loses money, and the next thing she knows she’s crammed in a cell on wheels for the next two days as they make their way to a dilapidated farmhouse in Texas. But Kelsey doesn’t just leave the good life in Chicago. She leaves the boy who-has-it-all, Drew Montgomery.
Hillside senior, quarterback, Austin McCoy works for Kelsey’s dad at the feed store and helps with the farm chores in the morning. He sees through Kelsey’s surly attitude to the girl whose eyes light up when she’s with the animals. He is determined to help Kelsey see that not only does she love the Farmville life, but that the guy she really wants is him.
Will Austin convince Kelsey he’s the guy she wants? Will Kelsey embrace the simple life and find forgiveness for her sister?
My Review Kelsey Quinn is the epitome of a spoiled, rich teen from the upper midwest moving to smalltown Texas. She hates everything from the weather to the twang in their voices. Her initial observations on her new home, she nicknames Hickville, are judgmental and snobby. About the only thing she thinks might make running the family farm even mildly tolerable is Austin McCoy, local hottie and her new high school’s starting quarterback. But even Austin’s chiseled abs and sculpted biceps will only go so far when she has to get up at the crack of dawn to feed chickens, even before she’s allowed to enjoy a cup of coffee. All Kelsey wants is to survive her senior year in Hillside and return to Chicago and her perfect boyfriend, Drew. Her ideal life is gone, she knows that. No more designer clothes, her own car, or lavish lifestyle. Instead she shares the family pickup truck, wears second-hand store duds, and spends her time doing farm work. But she has her sights set on a big event in Chicago, an annual affair with ballgowns and a semblance of normalcy. Except that costs money her family no longer has. If she wants to go, she’ll need to earn the money herself between schoolwork, farm work, and time in the family’s feed store. Her only option is the diner, the same one where Austin’s mom works that she mocked when she first arrived in town.
The more time Kelsey spends with Austin, the more she begins to question whether she even wants her old life back. Being around him ignites feelings she never experienced with Drew. But Drew is her boyfriend and she doubles down on their long-distance relationship, until she doesn’t. As she’s torn between two worlds and two boys, she learns a lot about herself and does some much needed growing up.
Plot The plot is relatively predictable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. The personalities of the characters and playful banter shake things up. And even though I may have had a pretty good idea how the story would end, I didn’t know how we’d get there. While there weren’t any real plot twists or shocking revelations, the story moves at a good pace and the world building is well done, bringing me into the heart of rural Texas.
The Characters The characters were all really well developed and fully fleshed out. I’m used to first person POV for young adult, but even though this is third-person, I still felt really connected to both Austin and Kelsey. The rest of the characters also felt real and unique. Kelsey’s sisters are very different from Kelsey and from each other, so I’m not surprised to find they each have their own books, and I’m looking forward to reading all of them. Kelsey’s parents came across as some of the most authentic in the genre. They’re more than props or impediments to Kelsey getting what she wants and I loved that they even have their own issues to deal with as well as a minor relationship arc.
Top Five Things I Enjoyed About WELCOME TO HICKVILLE HIGH 1. Forced Change. The complete upheaval of Kelsey’s life provides for so much conflict, the story was fun to read.
2. Humor. The author weaves a lot of humor through some pretty serious topics, bringing lighthearted moments in what might otherwise be a darker tale.
3. Homecoming. Hillside’s take on the homecoming tradition is something to behold.
4. Personal Growth. Kelsey has a lot of growing up to do and she does it with humility.
5. Austin. He’s one of the really good guys out there. Even though Kelsey is a handful, he realizes there’s more to her than just a spoiled rich girl lashing out after being dumped into the Middle of Nowhere, Texas.
Bottom Line A sweet contemporary romance with great characters.
About the Author Mary Karlik has always been a dreamer. When she was a teen, she read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and then sat in every wardrobe in her Nanna’s home, trying to open the door to Narnia. She didn’t find it, but she did discover her voice as an author: one filled with her young adult self, and grounded in her roots as a Texan and her Scottish heritage, nourished by obscure Scottish folklore.
You can find her Texas roots in her YA contemporary romance Hickville series , which has been described as “100% solid storytelling,” and begins with Welcome to Hickville High, a “lovely story about growing up.”
She digs deep into her Scottish roots – there is magic there, she just knows it – for the forthcoming YA epic fantasy Fairy Trafficking series, beginning with Magic Harvest.
She makes her home in the beautiful Sangre de Cristo mountains of Northern New Mexico where she is a certified professional ski instructor, but she also loves visiting Scotland where she is currently studying Scottish Gaelic at the University of Highlands and Islands in Skye. Mary also earned her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, has a B.S. degree from Texas A&M University, and is a Registered Nurse.
Mary currently serves as the President of the Young Adult Chapter of Romance Writers of America and looks forward to raising a glass or two of gin and tonic with her fellow writers every year at RWA’s national convention.
Synopsis In ShannonKlare’s fun and sexy YA novel LastChanceSummer, a teen is shipped off to work as a counselor at a summer camp―only to butt heads with her co-counselor.
Alex is a sheriff’s daughter with a less than pristine reputation. When she’s caught drinking at a party by her dad’s deputy, she’s in deep trouble. With an already incriminating incident in her past, Alex’s parents ship her off to her aunt’s summer camp to work as a counselor.
What’s worse than spending your summer deep in the mosquito-infested woods of Texas?
Being paired with an obnoxious co-counselor who wants nothing to do with you.
Alex is determined to make the best of her summer, even if it means putting up with Grant, who has secrets of his own that he’s determined to protect. Can Alex and Grant put their egos to the side and find the bright side of a summer that neither of them signed up for?
My Review Eighteen-year-old Alex has an attitude bigger than the sun and entitlement issues to give even the most spoiled child a run for their money. The daughter of the town sheriff, she seems to have spent her life breaking the rules for no other reason than she didn’t like them. The only child of two loving parents, she doesn’t really have much to rebel against, except she discovered being a rebel in her small Louisiana town made her more popular, so rebel she did. Until the fateful night in the autumn of her senior year when she, daughter of a law enforcement officer, got into a car with her best friend, who was drunk, and allowed said girl to drive. She’s forced to live with the tragedy of that night, still suffering PSTD as well as the loss of her BFF, though she doesn’t acknowledge her role in it to the extent I believe she should. After spending most of her senior year in rehab after the accident took a toll on both her body and spirit, she’ll be repeating her final year of high school. But first, she’s shipped off to be camp counselor at a summer camp for troubled youth. This should be the wakeup call she needs to see how good her life was until that night, but she wears a giant chip on her shoulder like a badge of honor.
She gets a crash course in what it’s like to deal with her when she comes face-to-face with five fourteen-year-old girls who give her a run for her money when it comes to attitude. But unlike Alex, their lives and attitudes are shaped by vastly different circumstances. These little rebels have a valid cause for their rebellion. As Alex learns how to wrangle them, she’s kept off her toes by her hot counterpart, Grant. He won’t take any of her crap, but he’s really good at dishing it out. A former camper himself, he has his own secrets and dark past. While the attraction between them is evident from the beginning, Grant isn’t like most guys Alex deals with; he doesn’t find her smart mouth or antics endearing. The more they spar, the more they learn about each other, and Alex finally comes to realize that everyone has issues and hers aren’t any more important than anyone else’s.
Plot The primary plot is Alex dealing with her issues and growing up, becoming less self-absorbed, but the romance between her and Grant is a strong subplot. The story moves at a steady pace, but where it really shines is the witty dialogue. From the playful banter between Alex and Grant and the snarky dialogue between Alex and her surly campers, the conversations make this otherwise run-of-the-mill summer romance really sparkle.
The Characters The characters are fascinating, if not all incredibly relatable or even likable. In fact, it took me a good 75% of the book to warm up to Alex. But no one is untouched by trauma of some sort that has shaped their complex natures. From the sassy campers to Grant and Alex, no one is unscathed by their pasts and they all harbor scars that manifest in different ways. But each one is resilient in their own way, and uncovering the secrets that shaped them is what makes this book work.
Top Five Things I Enjoyed About LAST CHANCE SUMMER 1. Consequences. I may not like Alex for most of the book, but she’s never given a pass. The consequences for her behavior are harsh, deservedly so. The author doesn’t baby her, which is refreshing.
2. Grant. I love that he won’t take any of Alex’s bull. Sometimes I wonder why he’s attracted to her, but at no point does he allow her to get away with anything simply because he’s attracted to her. He has his own self-preservation motives for much of what he does.
3. Pranks. Summer camp pranks provided some much-needed lighter moments.
4. Redemption Arcs. I do love a good redemption arc and Alex has a great one.
5. Brie. She’s the most difficult of the campers, but her spirit and spunk were inspiring.
Bottom Line A fun young adult contemporary with stellar dialogue and fascinating characters.
About the Author ShannonKlare is a writer, teacher, reality TV fanatic, and movie connoisseur. When she isn’t writing or daydreaming new plots, Shannon can be found frequenting Starbucks or hanging out with her family. SURVIVING ADAM MEADE is her debut novel.
Synopsis Every wallflower blooms at their own perfect time, but some like quirky Lo, take longer than others.
Lo is a sheltered 20-year-old who loves baking, manga/anime, and octopi. When she spots her college swim team’s tryout flyer sporting her favorite sea creature, an octopus she knows it’s a sign that she must join the Flying Octopi. The only things standing her way are her social awkward nature and the fact that she just learned to swim.
Will Lo find her place to shine or will her social anxiety DQ her dreams?
LateBloomer is a new adult novel that is a cross between Bridget Jones’s Diary, Baywatch and Kuragehime.
My Review This novel was a breath of fresh air. I love everything about it, from the cover, to the devices the author uses to tell Lo’s story, to the characters that populate the pages. At twenty, Lo is socially awkward on steroids and as inexperienced as an adult as she was in middle school. After a near-drowning experience as a child, she promised her mother she would never go into a pool again. But Lo, being Lo, figured the best way to protect herself was to learn how to swim. So through reading books and researching online, she taught herself how to swim. Now she wants to swim on her college’s swim team. She’s awful, but because she’s determined, the coach gives her a chance. When Lo isn’t studying, swimming, or taking care of her little brother, she’s listening to 90s grunge music. Set in 2003, there’s a lot of great music and movie references to take me back nearly two decades.
Lo balances her life the best way she can, by trying to please everyone. Her family is full-on passive-aggressive, giving her the silent treatment if she displeases them. No wonder she has so many issues with developing normal, healthy interpersonal relationships. But she always manages to regain a positive attitude every time she’s knocked down. Along her journey, she falls for moody Martin, and fellow music lover, but he’s got a girlfriend. Still, she can’t stop the way she feels and when Martin and his girlfriend break up, Lo blurts our her feelings in the most Lo-like way, taking their friendship into awkward territory as only she can.
I fell in love with this character as she deals with helping her brother with his problems at school, with her parents’ financial troubles, her own failing grades, and her up and down relationship/friendship with Martin. I enjoyed watching her crawl into her own person. Author L.M.L. Gil has shot to the top of my list of favorite debut authors. I can’t wait to read more by her.
Plot The plot is sort of a wandering tale of Lo’s personal growth, with strong romantic elements, and themes of friendship and being there for others. Lo is quirky, and one of her friends, Nick, calls her weirdo, but she takes it all in stride, knowing she’s always been different from other people. She knows she’s socially awkward, and while she would like to be more like her friends, I love her just the way she is. Lo is endearing and sweet, without ever being annoying. Even her friend Britney says, “If you weren’t so cute, you would be annoying,” and that’s the best description of Lo I can think of. I did find her constant need to apologize somewhat disheartening, but when you understand her family, it makes so much sense for who she is. While the book tends to run long at 525 pages, it’s actually a fast read, told over short chapters.
The Characters We see the characters only through Lo’s innocent eyes. She is such a caring soul, non-judgmental soul, it’s hard to get a true grasp of them, but over time, they all slowly come into focus. They’re all well-developed with rich back stories, even Britney, who at first comes off a bit shallow, but we eventually find out there is even more to her than meets the eye. But Lo steals the show, and one of the things I love most about her, is she is absolutely the last person to see what everyone else knows.
Top Five Things I Loved About THE DIARY OF A LATE BLOOMER 1. Lo. She’s so naive and trusting and wonderful. Her heart is enormous and she loves with everything she is.
2. Swimming. I loved reading about Lo’s time in the pool. I’m not much of a swimmer, but I almost feel as if I could be after reading her story.
3. Nick. It took me a full two-thirds of the book to warm up to him, but once I did, I adored him. He’s an enigma for sure, and I didn’t like the way he treated Lo at first, but the more I got to know him, the more I understood why he is the way he is.
4. Music. Lo spends a great deal of time going to concerts in small venues and if I hadn’t had a couple of newborn twins in 2003, I would have loved to have joined her. That was totally my scene!
5. Ending. So much is wrapped up in the last twenty percent of the book. I cried, I laughed, and I finished feeling completely satisfied.
Bottom Line An adorably fun and unique romance with some of the best characters in the genre! One of my favorite reads of 2020.
About the Author L.M.L. Gil is a writer, a reader, and a dreamer. When she is not writing, editing, or thinking about her next story, she is either in the kitchen testing out a new recipe or snuggling with her fur munchkins reading.
As a glutton, she equates a good novel to a scrumptious dessert, which leaves your heart a little lighter and a smile on your face. She hopes her novels provide a sweet treat without the calories
I hate your floppy hair and your lopsided grin and those laughing blue eyes that always seem to be laughing at me.
I hate that you’re the most popular guy in school and I’m still the girl who sneezed and spit out her retainer on someone at a middle school dance. It’s just such a cliché.
I hate that I’m being forced to tutor you in English and keep it a secret from everyone. Because otherwise it might put our basketball team’s chances at winning State in jeopardy, and even though I hate you, I love basketball.
I hate that it seems like you’re keeping a secret from me…and that the more time we spend together, the less I feel like I’m on solid ground. Because I’m starting to realize there’s so much more to you than meets the eye. Underneath it all, you’re real.
But what I hate most is that I really don’t hate you at all.
My Review My first novel by Kelly Anne Blount will not be my last. I must now devour everything she’s ever written. The story is compelling, but it’s the characters that really stand out to me. Too often, the story is really good, but I don’t particularly like the characters, but I fell in love with both Wren and Fuller from the beginning, which is hard when one of said characters is a giant-ass douchebag. But Blount gives us a glimpse into his life and immediately softens our hearts. No matter what he’s done to Wren in the past, his devotion to his family makes him a hero everyone can root for. And anyone who has ever been bullied by the mean girls can immediately identify with Wren. Dumped by her best friend at a middle school dance after an unfortunately embarrassing situation that was only made worse by one Fuller James, Wren distrusts girls and has a small group of friends in high school. Both are the type of guy friends every woman deserves. Wren hates Fuller James so when she is caught on video engaging in a lunchtime food fight with him, both are hauled into the principal’s office. Captain of the boys state-champion basketball team, Fuller may find his senior year riding the bench instead of being scouted by colleges. Wren is on a smooth track to class Valedictorian and the logical tutor for Fuller. Except she hates him. Loathes him. Would literally prefer to do ANYTHING other than spend one second with Fuller James.
It’s clear from this opening scene that this is going to be an enemies to lovers story, but it’s a delicious path they take to get there. Fuller comes to first appreciate Wren before realizing all those years of making her a punchline prevented him from seeing her inner beauty but the outer as well. Not only does she have legs for days, but eyes he could get lost in. Wren sees another side of Fuller when he stops by her house to pick up some notes. This is a side she can’t fully grasp, but it forces her to realize there may be more to this this arrogant, cocky jerk than meets the eye. The more time they spend together, the more they both realized they’ve completely misjudged each other. If only Fuller hadn’t made that stupid, regrettable bet.
Plot Expertly plotted, most of the story follows a formula that isn’t full of surprises, but the character’s depth and breadth shine through in those moments when the inevitable unfolds. While the plot may not be original, the imaginary friends I made while reading this story react in original ways, bringing a deeper level of enjoyment to a lighthearted romance. The nod the author gives to some of the best romcoms ever, including Say Anything, only made this a tale nearer and dearer to my heart.
The Characters Simply amazing. I have to remind myself they’re not real, and that is the saddest part of this book. Fuller is fully-developed and has the most complete character arc, because frankly, he needs it more than he needs an A in AP Lit. His journey is both honest and organic as he realizes he’s been far too shallow for too long. Wren is so relatable and though she has her own arc, it’s not as significant as she transitions from the victim of bullying to someone who can hold her head high even through new humiliating events. The best part of the characterization is not only being able to see Wren and Fuller through the eyes of each other, since it’s dual first-person point of view, but also in the eyes of their family members. Nothing humanizes someone more than seeing them among loved ones, who not only love them unconditionally, but absolutely won’t take any of their crap.
Top Five Things I Loved About I HATE YOU FULLER JAMES 1. Fuller. He’s perfectly imperfect, making him a flawed hero who’s easy to love.
2. Wren. She’s so complex and completely relatable. I love how she learns to stand up to her bullies.
3. Hudson. Fuller’s younger brother is both hilarious and loyal. The interactions between Hudson and Fuller bring out the best of Fuller James.
4. Gramps. Wren’s basketball loving grandfather is a breath of fresh air and helps show Wren’s devotion to family in a way that would have been harder without him in it.
5. Angsty romance. Just enough angst without being over the top made this a total page-turner for me.
Bottom Line A fun romance with amazing characters and a stellar supporting cast.
About the Author USA Today bestselling author and Wattpad Star Kelly Anne Blount has more than seventy-three-thousand followers on social media. Her Wattpad stories have been read more than twenty-million times. She’s contributed to Tap, Wattpad’s new app for chat-style stories, where her work has been “tapped” more than fifty-million times. She is a writer and reviewer for SpoilerTV, which has allowed her to develop an incredible network of film and TV stars.
Two of her Wattpad works, including Captured (seventeen-million reads), have been optioned for film by Komixx Entertainment, and she is regularly invited to present seminars about social media at author events.
Synopsis Honor Tierney just wants one night with the playboy.
One hot, steamy, meaningless hookup, and then she’ll happily go back to reading her favorite books, studying to be an accountant and writing for the campus-paper-nobody-reads. Too bad she ends up in the wrong bed, with the wrong brother…who gives her the hottest night of her life.
Archer O’Brien just wants to play ball.
Well that, and for his brothers to stop acting out, so he won’t have to worry 24/7. As the oldest O’Brien and team captain, it’s his duty to make sure they don’t drink too much, party too much, or get in too much trouble. But when she walks into his bedroom—mistaking him for his brother—life throws him a curveball.
She’s determined to guard her heart. He’s not giving up.
And when Honor gets assigned to cover the Wolves baseball team, it’s game on.
This new adult sports romance features one hot (and hilarious) case of mistaken identity and a sexy set of brothers guaranteed to make you swoon.
Sometimes, the best mistakes are worth making.
My Review This is the first new adult novel I’ve read by Cookie O’Gorman, and I’m hooked. She took everything I love about her young adult books: quirky, fun characters and angsty romance, and mixed them up with older characters with more independence, but still trying to figure out life. The combination is both heart-warming and hysterical. Honor Tierney is about to finish up college, still a virgin. Baylor O’Brien has the reputation as a ladies man who leaves his partners satisfied. Who better to give her a night she’ll never forget? Unless she accidentally mistakes one O’Brien brother for another, with hilarious results. What follows is two college seniors trying to make sense of one mixed-up night that might be anything but a failed one-night stand. Add a plethora of O’Brien siblings, Honor’s diverse roommates, and more than a few sparks to ignite a series of events that are at times laugh-out-loud funny and gut-punching. While this is Honor’s and Archer’s story, I can’t wait to find out what happens with the rest of this crew! I’m so happy this is the first book in a new series.
Plot This is a straight up romance without any real sub-plotting, but the romance drives the story so well, not much else is needed. The back and forth between what Archer wants and what Honor wants along with misconceptions and assumptions on both their parts drives the bulk of the conflict, with Archer’s siblings contributing the rest. When you put that many alpha males together, all from the same family, sparks are bound to fly. The best dialogue is between the O’Brien siblings.
Characters O’Gorman excels at characters. Honor is equal parts smart, socially awkward, and adorable. The only thing I didn’t really like about her was how little self-esteem she has. And that didn’t really change over the course of the story the way I hoped it would. But her best friend and roommate, Charlie, more than makes up for it with an over-abundance of self-assuredness. She’s the yin to Honor’s yang. Guys fall all over themselves to be with her, except for Archer’s brother, Chase. These two need their own story, stat. Then there’s Rose, the third roommate, who I still haven’t figured out yet, and the O’Brien sister, now a freshman, who rounds out the apartment. Her best friend, June, has it bad for bad boy Baylor, and I’m convinced their story will be the best of the bunch. And above them all is the baseball coach and Mama O’Brien herself, who keeps them all in line while coaching the winningest team in college baseball.
What I Loved About THE BEST MISTAKE 1. Honor. Delightfully awkward and funny.
2. Archer. As the oldest O’Brien, he has a sense of responsibility that keeps him on the straight and narrow as his brothers devolve into drinking, brawling, and general debauchery.
3. Baseball. I miss sports of all kinds during this pandemic life we’re in now, but since it’s baseball season, I really enjoyed the ballpark scenes.
4. The O’Brien Brothers. Each is very different from the other, making for a colorful cast of characters.
5. Charlie. She was my favorite character in the book and I can’t wait for her story.
Bottom Line A fun, fast-paced contemporary romance with plenty of laugh-out loud moments.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
About the Book – Read for Free with Kindle Unlimited Title: THE BEST MISTAKE Series: Southern U O’Brien Brothers Series #1 Author: Cookie O’Gorman Release Date: April 23, 202- Genre: New Adult Contemporary Sports Romance Pages: 219 Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Amazon DE | Amazon IT | Amazon FR
Author Cookie O’Gorman
About the Author Cookie O’Gorman writes YA & NA romance to give readers a taste of happily-ever-after. Small towns, quirky characters, and the awkward yet beautiful moments in life make up her books. Cookie also has a soft spot for nerds and ninjas. Her novels ADORKABLE, NINJA GIRL, The Unbelievable, Inconceivable, Unforeseeable Truth About Ethan Wilder, and The Good Girl’s Guide to Being Bad are out now! She is also the author of NA sports romance, The Best Mistake.
Synopsis Mai Senn knows Anthony Adams is no good for her – no matter how hard she might crush on him. She’s valedictorian; he’s a surf bum. She’s got plans, he’s got his art. Complete opposites in every way. Vinegar and baking soda, they once joked. A chemical reaction that bubbled.
Yeah, they bubbled. Maybe still do.
Good thing Anthony’s got the perfect plan: two weeks to prove just how not good they are together. Whoever can come up with the worst date—something the other will seriously hate, proving how incompatible they truly are—wins.
Like taking a snake-phobe to the Reptile House at the zoo (his idea).
Or a cooking class where they don’t even get to eat the food (her idea).
It’s all about the competition, and it’s meant to help them finally crush their crushes. But it wasn’t supposed to be so hot. Or so fun. And when Mai’s future becomes at stake, will she be able to do the right thing and quit Anthony forever?
My Review I love this book so much. I love the characters, the flirty banter, and just the whole story. It’s an enemies to “lovers” story with a little something extra. Mai is driven. And that’s an understatement. She has a plan for everything, knows what she will do with her life down to the most minute detail, and absolutely doesn’t take risks. There are reasons for this, reasons that make Mai so much more than a one-dimensional character. Anthony is the complete opposite. For his own reasons, he is an inherent risk taker, he has no plan for his future, and lives life in the moment, never knowing what tomorrow may bring. What these two do have in common is an inexplicable attraction to one another that is one part chemistry and one part something neither of them truly understands. With Mai leaving for college soon and Anthony heading out on a quest with no particular plans beyond this, these two need to get each other out of their systems. They agree to a two-week immersion to really prove to themselves and each other why they’re so wrong together. Each plans alternating dates they absolutely know the other will hate, resulting in truly hilarious moments. But instead of pushing them further away, it appears to have the opposite effect. These two couldn’t be more different, but you know what they say — opposites attract!
Plot The author does a great job of plotting the story so it never drags. The “hate” dates add comedy throughout and keep the story from even devolving into a sagging middle section. Instead, the pacing is spot on, and the character development and sprinkling of moments that help us understand the characters’ backstories is never tedious.
The Characters The characters are the best part, and that’s saying something. Mai was hard for me to really identify with it first, but it didn’t take long for me to really get her on a much deeper level. As the only adopted child in her family, she not only looks different than her parents and brother, she feels different. She knows she was chosen, but she also knows she was abandoned by her birth parents. Her need for roots is so understandable, I just wanted to reach out and hug her so many times. Anthony recently lost his father to a short battle with cancer, proving that nothing in life is permanent. He believes in never looking to the future when you can live in the now, because the future isn’t guaranteed. While I’m more like Anthony naturally, rather than through circumstance, I found myself really empathizing with Mai. I was rooting for these two so hard from nearly the first chapter.
Top Five Things I Loved About HOW TO QUIT YOUR CRUSH 1. Mai. She’s so uptight she’s practically a statue, and yet there is so much underlying all of that which makes her easy to love.
2. Anthony. He’s my “live in the moment” soul mate, and I was pulling for him to unwind Mai the whole time.
3. Hiking. I live in Southern California, so hiking is pretty much a way of life here, too, although not nearly as hot as in Phoenix! I loved the trail scenes the most.
4. Chemistry. Mai and Anthony have it in spades and it was raw and refreshing.
5. Witty banter. The dialogue was among the best I’ve read in a long time.
Bottom Line An adorable romance with amazing characters and many laugh-out-loud moments. One of my top reads of 2020 so far.
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Amy grew up loving to read and figured out at an early age that books were magical and necessary. She started submitting her own stories to be published when she was thirteen. Amy is now the award-winning author of nine books spanning young adult, middle grade, and picture books. Titles for Entangled include Announcing Trouble and the companion novel, How to Quit Your Crush. Amy lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and a puppy who is training them. Visit Amy online at www.amydominy.com or follow her on Instagram or Twitter at @amydominy..
Synopsis A boy recently released from jail and the daughter of a prosecutor fall for each other against the odds in this YA novel.
Corey has just been released from jail, and all he wants is a new beginning. But when his former gang comes knocking, Corey agrees to vandalize the home of Kent Hopper, the prosecutor who put him away.
To erase the guilt she carries from getting away with a crime, Tessa spends most of her nights riding her motorcycle. When she catches Corey destroying her father’s car, she doesn’t see a criminal: She sees a way to finally right her own wrongs. So instead of turning Corey over to the police, she convinces her father to give Corey a second chance.
As Tessa and Corey spend more time with each other, it becomes difficult to ignore the pull between them. But they’re both keeping secrets, and when those secrets come to light, they’ll each have to face their demons in order to have a future together.
My Review This story strongly reminds me of Katie McGarry’s books, so if you’re a fan of hers, this is right up your alley. Both main characters are troubled with secrets and dark pasts. Corey is a reluctant gang member, willing to do whatever it takes to keep his family safe, including doing a year in prison. Tessa is the daughter of the D.A. who put Corey in jail. So when the gang decides to take it out on the D.A.’s home and car, they drag Corey into the mayhem. Unable to deal with the guilt of what he did to the man who recommended the lightest sentence possible for his crimes, he goes to the man’s house and admits what he did, shielding the other members from blame to keep his family from the harm they would surely be subjected to if he ratted out the others. Tessa sees something in Corey and asks her dad to give him a second chance. This kicks off a tenuous friendship that evolves into so much more as Corey makes amends by repairing the damage his “friends” did to Tessa’s home. Tessa is hiding her own dark past that is only hinted at through much of the book. While she desperately wishes to confess whatever it is, she keeps finding reasons not to. But this ugly secret compels her to view Corey in a different light than most people do.
I love the characters and the romance. It’s angsty and emotionally deep. The only thing keeping me from giving this five stars is that it takes a long time to really get going. I was a good 30% into it before I was fully invested in the story and the characters. It was easier for me to engage with Corey early on, but I was slow to warm up to Tessa. She almost has too much hidden from the reader to empathize with her. But once I was able to start seeing her through Corey’s eyes, I eventually got on board with her as well.
Plot The primary plot is the relationship between the two main characters, but there are strong subplots involving Tessa’s secret and Corey’s future. Both of these influence their relationship, making them integral to the main plot. There is also minor subplots regarding Corey’s mom’s career, an ex-boyfriend of Tessa’s and Tessa’s dad’s health and her concerns about him.
The Characters I loved Corey instantly, but was slower to embrace Tessa. Both characters are incredibly complex and conflicted, making them intriguing. Tessa’s dad and Corey’s family are warm and provide a nice contrast to the two tortured protagonists. Told in dual first-person POV, we get deep inside both of their heads, allowing us to understand what makes them tick. Rounding out the cast is Tessa’s uncle and her cousin, who also happens to be her BFF, a vengeful ex-boyfriend, and Corey’s crew. The character development is one of the best parts of this book.
Top Five Things I Enjoyed About IF YOU ONLY KNEW 1. A sympathetic gang member. Corey isn’t really an anti-hero since his heart is always in the right place and he never devolves into something darker, but it was still good to see this side of gang activity, to see how good kids get drawn into that life.
2. Corey’s mom. She is so proud of her son despite his time in jail, and she never stops being his biggest fan.
3. Tessa’s dad. Much like Corey, Tessa’s dad grounds her in just the way she needs. Even though he’s a prosecutor, he still manages to see the best in people.
4. Redemption. Both characters have a redemption arc, and that’s one of my favorites.
5. Angsty romance. Another favorite of mine. These two have so much keeping them apart, that the intensity of their love is palpable.
Bottom Line A solid young adult contemporary romance with complex characters.
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
THE GAME CHANGER (Parkwood Mysteries #1) by Jennifer Brown
Synopsis Hollis and Daisy love podcasting about murder cases…But can they solve one?
Hollis Bisbee used to be a big-city crime reporter. Now, she’s a small-town journalist, and she’s bored. She and a young mom, talented baker Daisy Mueller, start the Knock ‘Em Dead podcast—”Where murder and muffins meet!” It’s all fun, games, and baking tips until murder comes to Parkwood.
After a brutal homecoming game loss, the coach of the rival football team is the victim of a hit-and-run in the high school parking lot. The entire town is on edge, and the star quarterback—who happens to be the police chief’s son—may just look the guiltiest of all.
With Hollis’s investigative skills and Daisy’s famous muffins…and in spite of the charming rookie police officer tasked with keeping Hollis out of the way…the podcasting duo sets out to solve their first real case.
This cozy mystery includes a killer free recipe for Daisy’s Cherry Chocolate Chunk Muffins.
My Review OMG! How much do I love this book? Soooooo much! Seriously, this is just the thing I needed to help break up my post-holiday blahs. Hollis Bisbee is a reporter of a tiny newspaper in Parkwood, Missouri. She writes about hotdog rollers and new vacuum stores in the local mall. A former crime reporter in Chicago, to say her job lacks the excitement she’s used to would be a gross understatement. While interviewing the snack bar supervisor at Friday night’s big high school homecoming football game, an altercation occurs on the field between the Parkwood quarterback and the opposing team’s coach. When not long after the game, said coach ends up dead in the Parkwood High parking lot, things get a little sticky for Hollis and her best friend, Daisy, who have a true crime murder podcast that is equal parts macabre and munchies, since Daisy is also the best baker in town and uses the platform to help promote her baking business. And when Hollis discovers the quarterback is also the sheriff’s son, and the death has been ruled natural causes, Hollis has had enough of her feel good pieces and drags Daisy into an investigation that the sheriff, the new local hunky deputy, and her boss, the paper’s editor, can’t catch wind of.
Plot The primary plot is the murder mystery and it’s exceptional. There were so many red herrings, I got to the point where I suspected it was going to be a MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS ending. There are a few minor subplots including Hollis’s job and a budding romance with Office Blue Eyes, but they were just there to round out the main plot. This was such a fun ride, I’m anxiously awaiting more Parkwood Mysteries!
Characters The characters are THE best! I would read anything with Hollis and Daisy in it. They’re both hysterical, witty, charming, and definitely the kind of people you’d hang out with in real life if they weren’t just figments of Brown’s imagination. Maybe I just need to hang out with the author in real life! Hollis is amazing as the spirited reporter who refuses to take no for an answer. Her bff and sidekick, Daisy, is a stay-at-home mom to like 32 kids. Entire scenes are devoted to her chewing out one kid after another as she still manages to carry on a coherent conversation with Hollis. She’s quick on her feet and helps Hollis out more than a few tight spaces. The rest of the cast, including Officer Hopkins, with his muscles and impossibly blue eyes, are just as warm and loveably quirky as Hollis and Daisy. If Hallmark makes this into a movie or a TV show, I’m all in.
What I Loved About THE GAME CHANGER 1. Everything. Seriously, I can’t find any fault with this book. The story, the characters, the writing, everything is top notch.
2. Hollis. She’s funny, smart, endearing, and tenacious.
3. Daisy. The best BFF ever and the type of person we all want in our lives.
4. The Mystery. Really well done. One of the best I’ve read in the genre in a long time.
5. Podcasting. My co-author and I have been toying with the idea of starting a pod cast in the near future, but nothing we come up with will ever be as good as the Hollis and Daisy show.
Bottom Line An absolutely adorable cozy mystery with a sweet romance and some of the best damn characters in the book world.
Disclaimer I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Jennifer Brown is the author of acclaimed young adult novels, Hate List, Bitter End, Perfect Escape, Thousand Words, Torn Away, and the Shade Me series. Her debut novel, Hate List, received three starred reviews and was selected as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a VOYA “Perfect Ten,” and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Bitter End received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and VOYA and is listed on the YALSA 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults list.
Jennifer also writes middle grade novels — her debut novel, Life on Mars, was the winner of the 2017 William Allen White Children’s Book Award. She also writes women’s fiction under the name Jennifer Scott. Visit her at www.JenniferScottAuthor.com Jennifer writes and lives in the Kansas City, Missouri area, with her husband and three children.
Jennifer is available for school visits, workshops, classroom and book club Skypes, and speaking engagements. Contact JenniferBrownYA@gmail.com to book her for your next event!
Synopsis Two sworn enemies start to fall in love through anonymous notes in How to Speak Boy, a fun and charming YA novel from Tiana Smith.
Quinn and Grayson have been fierce speech and debate rivals for years. They can’t stand one another, either in competition or in real life.
But when their AP Government teacher returns their school assignments to the wrong cubbies, they begin exchanging anonymous notes without knowing who the other one is.
Despite their differences, the two come together through their letters and find themselves unknowingly falling for the competition. Before the state tournament, the two of them need to figure out what they want out of life, or risk their own future happiness. After all, what’s the point of speech and debate if you can’t say what’s in your heart?
My Review Quinn is serious, hardworking, and in desperate need of a little fun, but she’s vying for President of the Speech and Debate Club against her arch nemesis, the utterly swoon-worthy Grayson, so fun isn’t on the agenda. She’s as competitive as she is smart, but unfortunately, nothing comes easy to Quinn. She has to work twice as hard as Grayson to be successful, or so she believes. That makes it hard for her to let her guard down around him. Even though he’s adorably perfect. Quinn’s two closest friends, Naomi and Carter, have their own ideas about Grayson. Naomi is pro-romance and Carter is dead-set against it. Apparently Grayson has a reputation of sorts and wants to protect Quinn. But the more time that passes, the more it becomes clear that Carter has an ulterior motive in keeping Quinn and Grayson apart. Underlying it all is a mysterious student who Quinn corresponds with the old fashioned way — pen to paper. With three boys vying for her interests, she’s not sure where to turn or who she can really trust.
Plot The main plot is the romance between Quinn and Grayson, but there are a number of subplots that involve Quinn’s college future, the mysterious letter writer, her speech performance at the state finals, and her relationship with Carter. All expertly weave into the main plot to drive conflict and up the stakes. Although the reader knows who the letter writer is, well, if they read the synopsis, it’s fun watching Quinn try to figure it out. But it also adds an element of wanting to see if they’re just going to tell each other, that made turning the page to see what would happen compelling. While it did take me a good few chapters to really get into this story, because I’ll admit, speech and debate didn’t interest me in the least, once I was invested int he characters, I was all in to the story. So don’t let this aspect of the plot detract you from picking up this really awesome book.
Characters The characters are what I loved most about the book. Quinn is so relatable as an awkward teen who strives to do her best in everything, but keeps coming up short. Her growth comes across as authentic and organic. Her BFF, Naomi is the everything Quinn’s not but wishes she was, making her the perfect sidekick. Carter was a little annoying, but necessary. Not every character needs to be likable, and who doesn’t know at least on Carter? Grayson was adorable as the self-assured son of the the Governor who seems to have everything he’s ever wanted, but underlying it all is a vulnerability that only adds to his attractiveness.
What I Enjoyed About HOW TO SPEAK BOY 1. Quinn. She’s adorkably awkward and utterly endearing. I couldn’t help rooting for her.
2. Grayson. He’s sweet, smart, and hot. The perfect BBF.
3. Quinn’s Mom. I love their relationship. She’s the proper blend of confidant and authoritarian, just what Quinn needs, when she needs her to be.
4. Letter Writing. In a digital world, it was a refreshing throwback to my own high school days.
5. Speech and Debate. Okay, so I’m still not sure I’d ever join this club or find going to these events interesting, but the way the author wrote about these moments, definitely piqued my interest.
What Didn’t Quite Work for Me The story and characters were amazing and I loved the speech angle. But the ending fell flat for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a HFN ending, but I didn’t have quite the bang I was hoping for, what I felt it was building up to. That said, the author wraps everything up in a satisfying conclusion.
Bottom Line A cute contemporary romance with adorable characters you can’t help pulling for.
About the Author Tiana Smith is a copywriter turned novelist who grew up in the Rocky Mountains. When she isn’t writing, she’s chasing after her ninja boy, reading, or binging the Disney Channel. She’d love to be fluent in sign language, but for now she gets by with awkward hand gestures and even more awkward French. She has double degrees in Honors and English from Westminster College but wants to go back to school to be a lion tamer.
THE PRINCESS PROBLEM (Unexpectedly Royal #1) by Christi Barth
Synopsis What girl doesn’t want to wear a tiara? Me. The one who lives in yoga pants and knows she’s not special enough to be a princess.
One minute I’m starting my dream life in NYC, and the next, a man too hot for his own good is banging on my door, telling me that I’m a long lost princess of a country on the other side of the Atlantic.
Not exactly your typical Friday night in the Big Apple.
Suddenly, all of my plans for the future are yanked away. I’m trapped in a life filled with social obligations—and stilettos!—and an uptight royal family I didn’t know existed. They, and the whole rest of the freaking country, have lofty expectations I’m not sure I can meet.
At least the aforementioned sexalicious man, Elias, is my constant shadow, protecting me with his life. The whole situation is overwhelming. So I’ve secretly put him in charge of my happiness, too…and he’s taking my orders very, very seriously.
So seriously, I’m falling for him even harder than the new country I’m coming to…maybe…love.
And that’s a major problem, because he’s crazy about me, too. I may not know all the zillion rules about being royal, but I know one for sure: No way can a princess date her bodyguard…
Each book in the Unexpectedly Royal series is STANDALONE: * The Princess Problem * Ruling the Princess
My Review Kelsey and her big sister Mallory have just moved to the Big Apple, NYC, Manhattan, and are ready to live the dream they’ve been planning and saving up for for nearly a decade. After finally moving into their tiny apartment, they begin to unpack and dive into life in the big city at full steam when a knock on the door changes everything. Kelsey’s world is upended when she’s told she’s the long-lost daughter of the king of a small country nestled near the Italian coastline. A country she’s never heard of. They tell her she was kidnapped as an infant, something that makes no sense to Kelsey, who grew up in a very decidedly middle class family that was perfectly average in every way. She never had even a hint that she was a) adopted or b) kidnapped. None of it makes any sense to her or Mallory. And the fact that she can’t reach her parents, only makes matters worse when government officials from Moncriano want her to return to her home country. Elias, her self-described body guard is as hot as he is foreign, only muddying the waters further.
Kelsey not only needs to navigate royal life, bond with a family she’s never known, come to terms with her past, but also decide in two weeks if she’s ready to embrace her true identity and give up the only way of life she’s ever known. Yeah, no pressure there.
Kelsey must embrace her true roots or not. That’s the heart of the story. But the romance with Elias is a strong subplot. Her journey throws a lot of obstacles in her way, not the least of which is getting to know her royal family. With her birth mother having already died, her father, the king, is struggling with embracing the daughter he believed gone forever. She has a brother for the first time ever, but also an older sister who seems to hate her. The fact that Elias is her subject as well as her employee makes any relationship completely off limits. Which of course only makes the sparks fly hotter.
My biggest problem with this book is that Kelsey seems to take it all in stride. The fact that she’s willing to just go with the hot stranger without verifying anything for herself, that she’s not more distraught over her past and secrets withheld from her, ate away at me at a low level as she meets her “real” family. She mentions a few times in passing that her parents weren’t kidnappers, but this should have been driving some serious low-level angst in everything she does. Instead, less than 20% in, she’s snogging her security detail in the garden instead of having an identity crisis of epic proportions. But if you can overlook this for the sake of convenience, it’s a lighthearted take on what it’s like to be unexpectedly thrust into royal life, like a grown-up THE PRINCESS DIARIES. It’s definitely a fun, fast read.
The characters aren’t terribly deep, but they are fun, and not stereotypical. Kelsey is delightful as the reluctant royal and her sister, Mallory, is hysterical as her partner in crime. I love Kelsey’s loyalty to Mallory as well as her sense of duty to both her families. Elias is honor-bound and full of principle. Princess Genevieve is so relatable as the older sister whose entire life has been shaped by Kelsey’s kidnapping and is struggling with yet the latest upheaval in her relatively short life. Prince Christian is adorable as the loving older brother who has no idea how to interact with his youngest sister. I was totally pulling for a Christian/Mallory side romance. The rest of the characters are there to provide humor and conflict and do their jobs well. There really isn’t a whole lot for any of them to overcome on a deep level, leaving this more plot-based than character-based and that’s perfect for a romantic comedy.
What I Enjoyed About THE PRINCESS PROBLEM 1. Royalty. Sure, Americans don’t have our own royalty, in fact if anything we’re anti-royal since our whole country was founded on bucking the monarchy, but it’s still fun to get a behind-the-scenes reminder of why being a princess would suck on almost every level.
2. Elias. Not only is he yummy to look at, but his sense of duty and honor makes him nearly irresistible.
3. Christian. He walks a fine line between the duties of heir to the throne and that of an adoring older brother with class, humor, and intense hotness.
4. Mallory. Kelsey is her sister. She always has been and she always will be, regardless of Kelsey’s royal status. I love how nothing changes for her when it comes to her little sister.
5. Politics. I’ll admit, I didn’t really expect that in this story, but it plays into everything, although with a light touch by the author. It adds intrigue that would otherwise be missing.
Bottom Line A super fun, lighthearted royal romance.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author USA TODAY bestseller Christi Barth earned a Masters degree in vocal performance and embarked upon a career on the stage. A love of romance then drew her to wedding planning. Ultimately she succumbed to her lifelong love of books and now writes award-winning contemporary romance.
Christi can always be found either whipping up gourmet meals (for fun, honest!) or with her nose in a book. She lives in Maryland with the best husband in the world.
Synopsis Isabel has one rule: no dating.
–for the other person.
She’s got issues. She’s got secrets. She’s got rheumatoid arthritis.
But then she meets another sick kid.
He’s got a chronic illness Isabel’s never heard of, something she can’t even pronounce. He understands what it means to be sick. He understands her more than her healthy friends. He understands her more than her own father who’s a doctor.
He’s gorgeous, fun, and foul-mouthed. And totally into her.
Isabel has one rule: no dating.
It’s never felt better–
–to consider breaking that rule for him.
My Review There are few young adult contemporary romances that really make me think in a new way, but SICK KIDS IN LOVE did just that. My own three children suffer from an autoimmune disease that is nowhere near as severe as what Ibby and Sasha have, but it does impact their lives, since it affects what they can eat, something they do three times a day. It was refreshing to read about teens who live a life in spite of, as well as under the constant influence of, a chronic illness. Add to that both main characters are Jewish, and this is a story unlike anything else I’ve read. I’ll admit that I was worried at first. I mean the title leaves a lot open-ended. How sick? Will one or both of them die? But I’m pleased to report, without spoiling anything since the author has freely admitted this publicly, NO ONE DIES!
Isabel has rheumatoid arthritis, requiring her to get regular fusions. At one of these visits, she meets Sasha, a charming boy with gaucher disease. The two flirt, but Ibby has a no-dating policy for reasons that become clear about mid-way through the book. Her father is chief physician in the same hospital, so she spends a lot of time there, not only visiting him, but volunteering one day a week. This creates a collision course between Sasha and Ibby, sooner rather than later, and an instant friendship develops. It’s clear Sasha wants more, but Ibby holds firmly to her no-dating rule. But the more time they spend together, the more obvious it is that she feels more than just friendship for this boy. Witty banter and obvious chemistry gets the reader rooting for these two to end up together. But Sasha and Ibby have deep issues they’ll both need to overcome if they can be more than friends.
Plot The heart of the story is the relationship between Ibby and Sasha. Feelings develop slowly, though the attraction is immediate. The friendship flourishes because they have more in common than just their respective illnesses. But there are also huge differences that drive most of the conflict. Ibby is rigid and deeply wounded. Sasha is easy going and eager to please. This makes things between them seamless at first, but ultimately comes between them. There is a HUGE twist I never saw coming that turns Ibby’s world upside down. It could have become a cliche, but instead the author uses it as a catalyst for Ibby to see her flaws in a new light rather than turning it into a huge angsty situation creating drama for the sake of drama.
Characters The characters are so deeply drawn and real in every sense. Ibby has deep wounds, the origins of which are revealed slowly. She’s forced to face the reasons she refuses to date as her feelings for Sasha grow, but her transformation isn’t complete for a long time. In fact, like all humans, she continues to be a work in progress through the end. We learn that Sasha is more than just a light-hearted guy who lets everything roll off him. One of the best ways the author lets us inside the minds of her characters in a story told from a single point of view is through Ibby’s high school newspaper column. She asks people around her a variety of questions and we get to learn who they are through their answers.
What I Loved About SICK KIDS IN LOVE 1. New York City. Both kids live in the city in small apartments and take the subway to get around. The setting is as much a part of the story as the characters.
2. Sasha. I love his outlook and positive attitude and the way he’s honest, open, and caring.
3. Ibby. She’s had so much to deal with in her short life, and while she lets it get to her at times, she’s determined to rise above it.
4. Reality. The author paints a portrait of the daily lives of those living with a chronic illness, neither romanticizing it in any way, nor making it more depressing than it needs to be. This is life for so many Americans, and it’s an honest portrayal of their normal.
5. Friends. Ibby’s friends, all healthy teens, play various roles in her journey. Their responses to her illness and her relationship with Sasha give readers an opportunity to see how our responses as healthy people impact those with chronic illness without coming across as preachy.
Bottom Line An honest, heartfelt story of teens who are anything but average, doing their best to live average lives.
About the Author Hannah Moskowitz wrote her first story, about a kitten named Lilly on the run from cat hunters, for a contest when she was seven years old. It was disqualified for violence. Her first book, BREAK, was on the ALA’s 2010 list of Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, and in 2013, GONE, GONE, GONE received a Stonewall Honor. 2015’s NOT OTHERWISE SPECIFIED was named the YA Bisexual Book of the Year. She’s also the co-author of GENA/FINN with Kat Helgeson and has contributed to several anthologies. She lives in Maryland with several cats, none of whom are violent.
Synopsis This spinoff of The Replacement Crush featuring Amy and Toff is sure to melt your heart.
Shy bookworm Amy McIntyre is about to compete for a dream scholarship, and the only way to win is to transform from sidekick to the heroine of her own life. But that level of confidence has never come easy.
The solution? A competition coach. The problem? The best person for the job is the guy she’s secretly crushing on…local surfer celebrity Toff Nichols.
He’s a player. He’s a heartthrob. He makes her forget basic things, like how to breathe. How can she feel any confidence around him?
To her surprise, Toff agrees to help. And he’s an excellent teacher. Amy feels braver—maybe even brave enough to admit her feelings for him. When their late night practices become less about coaching and more about making out, Amy’s newfound confidence wavers.
But does Toff really like her or is this just another lesson?.
My Review Another home run by one of my all-time favorite young adult authors, Lisa Brown Roberts. In fact, THE BOOKWORM CRUSH is her best to date. This spinoff of THE REPLACEMENT CRUSH features Dallas’s best friend Toff, aka Flipper, and Viv’s best friend, Amy. Amy is on a mission to win a social media contest and meet her idol, romance author Lucinda Amorrato. Amy totally bombs it, literally and figuratively, on her first challenge, and it’s Toff to the rescue. He helps her escape from the police after her yarn-bombing of a park bench goes wrong. While the two have known each other forever, Toff only sees Amy as Viv’s nerdy book friend, but Amy has crushed on Toff for years. She’s shy and socially awkward, but she’s not a pushover. She reminds me so much of my own teen daughter I instantly loved her. But if she wants to win this contest, she’s going to need some swagger, and no one brings the swagger like Toff. She enlists him to coach her, knowing how dangerous this can be to her heart. Toff has his own demons, though. His father is getting married again. To Viv’s mother. And a much a he loves seeing his father happy again, he isn’t happy about the wedding. He just isn’t sure why.
The more time Toff and Amy spend together, the more Amy realizes her silly crush might just be something more, and the more Toff wonders how he never really noticed Amy before now. She has a fire and a spirit he admires. And when she starts to bring that swagger he so carefully coached, well, he feels things he never felt before. Things that are as exciting as they are confusing.
Plot The main plot is definitely the romance between Toff and Amy, but the contest is a strong subplot as is Toff’s future on the pro-surfing circuit and his coming to terms with his dad’s upcoming wedding. Told in dual POVs, we get deep inside both character’s. Every subplot supports the main plot, building tension, conflict, and complexity, making this more than just a lighthearted romance, though it is definitely that. But the subtle weaving of the subplots into the main plot makes this a story with depth. Each plot and subplot has enough contention and setbacks to keep the story moving and riveting.
The Characters The characters are amazing. These may be my all time favorite young adult characters. Toff is adorable a clueless surfer, albeit a bit of a player, but he never leads girls on. Which is why Amy’s reaction stuns him more often than not. And Amy is everything. Not only is she sweet and shy, but also passionate and driven. When she finds her swagger, she also finds strength and determination, never willing to just settle for whatever her longtime crush is willing to offer her. He love of books and devotion to her favorite author is endearing, but watching her come out of her shell made her someone to root for.
Top Five Things I Loved About THE BOOKWORM CRUSH 1. Amy. She’s funny, passionate, strong, brave, and smart — everything I want in my teen heroines.
2. Toff. He’s cute, funny, easy going, and a little clueless, but adorably sweet. And when he makes the big romantic gesture, he goes big instead of going home.
3. Surfing. I’m no surfer, by any stretch of the word, though I’ve tried it more than a few times. But my former roommate was a surfer and the whole surf culture is like a time warp for me. The lingo, the life, all of it brings back some of my favorite memories from that time in my life.
4. Books. As both a reader and a writer, books are life. The book-centric nature of this story wrapped around my heart and hugged it.
5. Growth. I loved watching both Toff and Amy grow through the story. Amy became the fierce competitor she always was, and Toff learned to accept that life and love evolve.
Bottom Line My favorite LBR novel and the best YA contemporary I’ve read in 2019.
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Lisa Brown Roberts’ award-winning YA romantic comedies have earned praise from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal.
Lisa’s teenaged self tweezed off all her eyebrows, crashed a car into a tree while trying to impress a guy, and accidentally went to prom with someone else’s boyfriend. When she couldn’t fix any of this in real life, she made up imaginary happy endings in her diary.
Not much has changed.
Lisa lives in Colorado with her family and many, many books.
Synopsis Harper Delaney is a newly certified elementary school teacher with the mountain of student loan debt to prove it. Moving back to her claustrophobically small hometown is about as tempting as two week old sushi, but the allure of free rent and a guaranteed summer teaching job are undeniable.
On the hunt for her dream job in San Francisco, Harper just needs to survive the summer without murdering Elijah Monroe. He may have grown into a scorchingly hot fireman, but he’s still her nemesis. Harper gave Elijah her heart when she was sixteen, and never forgave the jerk for not wanting it. Probably for the best, since he’s also her stepbrother.
Elijah still makes Harper’s blood boil and heart race. And he knows it. She’ll wipe that smug smirk off his gorgeous face before leaving town. The only question is if she wants to do it with a kiss or a slap.
My Review I love a good enemies to lovers story, and this was that on steroids. The emotions are intense from the moment Harper meets Eli, the teenage son of her father’s soon to be wife. Sixteen-year-old Harper is uprooted from her beloved San Francisco to a small town in the northern part of the state, where the trees are taller, but the people are more infuriating than what she’s used to. When Harper first lays eyes on Eli, she’s head over heels in love. Before he utters a single word, she determines that he is “the one” for her. Her everything. Until he opens his mouth. The hate/love/hate relationship begins with sparks that fly through the entire story. Eli’s father died before Eli was born and Harper’s mom abandoned her and her father, leaving both teens with massive scars. Harper suffers from serious insecurities to the point that all Eli has to do is smile at her and she’s suddenly in love with him all over again. Eli is brooding and moody, running hot and cold. The relationship is so fraught, that Harper flees back to San Francisco as soon as she graduates. After college, she returns to the small town, and temporarily moves back in with her dad, stepmom and step-brother, albeit reluctantly, to take a short-term teaching job while she waits to hear about her dream job at a private school in San Francisco. Because, let’s face it, you cannot afford to wait out a job in San Fran without a well-paying job. Not even with a roommate. When Harper returns, old wounds are still festering, and sparks fly even higher when a now grown Elijah is hotter than ever.
The plot is primarily the relationship between Harper and Eli, told both in current times as well as flashbacks to when the two first meet. These two timelines are interspersed, allowing the reader to learn the history of their animosity as the anger and resentment continue to unfold in current day. Underlying the main plot is Harper’s future and whether she’ll stay in nowheresville Weaverton or return to her beloved city by the bay. The romance aspect is very back and forth and became like watching a tennis match after awhile. The conflict is not only driven by intense emotions by both characters, but also the “forbidden” nature of their stepbrother/stepsister relationship.
Even adult Harper suffers from the same insecurities as teen Harper, although she has a better handle on her emotions. Eli is far less brooding, but he’s still got issues and he knows how to get under Harper’s skin, and it soon becomes clear he has insecurities of his own. The characters are the best part of the book, though. They are well-conceived and well-executed, with depth and complexity. My only real complaint is some mild slut-shaming of a young character in the early part of the book. Harper’s internal comments on Athena made it a lot harder for me to warm up to Harper, although I did get there. Part of her judgment, I’m sure, came from her insecurities and seeing this girl as a romantic rival.
What I Enjoyed About TRUCE? HATING ELIJA MONROE 1. The Flashbacks. The history of Eli and Harper’s relationship was key to me understanding who they are now, and why they say and do the things they do. Without those scenes, I wouldn’t have been able to get into either of these characters.
2. Enemies to Lovers. One of my favorite tropes.
3. The Parents. Eli’s mom and Harper’s dad are the sanest people in this story and they are needed to ground their kids and reign in their over-the-top emotions.
4. The Setting. I’m like Harper in that I’m a city girl, but escaping to the small town of Weaverton was a breath of fresh air. The author provides stunning details that makes this fictional town someplace I’d love to visit.
5. Romantic Gestures. I won’t give it away, but there is a scene at the very end that was just so wonderfully romantic it melted my heart. Yay Eli.
Bottom Line An intense hate-to-love romance with strong emotions and in-depth characters.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Amelia Kingston is many things, the most interesting of which are probably California girl, writer, traveler, and dog mom. She survives on chocolate, coffee, wine, and sarcasm. Not necessarily in that order.
She’s been blessed with a patient husband who’s embraced her nomad ways and traveled with her to over 30 countries across 5 continents (I’m coming for you next, Antarctica!). She’s also been cursed with an impatient (although admittedly adorable) terrier who pouts when her dinner is 5 minutes late.
She writes about strong, stubborn, flawed women and the men who can’t help but love them. Her irreverent books aim to be silly and fun with the occasional storm cloud to remind us to appreciate the sunny days. As a hopeless romantic, her favorite stories are the ones that remind us all that while love is rarely perfect, it’s always worth chasing.
THE FIXER UPPER (Echo Springs #1) by Maggie Mae Gallagher
Synopsis Abby Callier is more in love with Shakespearean heroes than any real man, and she’s beginning to wonder if there is life for her outside the pages of a book. It doesn’t help that her esteemed parents tend to view her as they would one of their science experiments gone wrong. On the eve of finishing her dissertation, she escapes her staid existence to live in the house she inherited from her Great Aunt Evie in the small town of Echo Springs, Colorado. Because, let’s face it, when a woman starts comparing her life to horror films, it might be time for a break.
Sheriff Nate Barnes believes in law and order and carefully building the life you want. In his spare time, he has been remodeling his house in the hope that one day it will be filled with the family he makes. But Nate doesn’t like drama or complications and tends to avoid them at all costs. And yet, when Miss Abigail Callier, his newest neighbor, beans him with a nine iron, he can’t help but wonder if she might just be the complication he’s been searching for all along. It doesn’t hurt that he discovers a journal hidden away by the previous tenant and decides to use Old Man Turner’s advice to romance Abby into his life.
Abby never expected her next-door neighbor, the newly dubbed Sheriff Stud Muffin, to be just the distraction her world needed.
The problem is she doesn’t know whether she should make Echo Springs her home, or if this town is just a stopover point in her life’s trajectory. And she doesn’t want to tell Nate that she might not be sticking around—even though she should because it’s the right thing to do, the honest thing—because then all the scintillatingly hot kisses with the Sheriff will come to an abrupt halt. Did she mention that he’s a really great kisser?
My Review Abby Callier uproots her academic life under academic parents and defies them to write her dissertation on English Literature, instead of something more appropriate, in the small Colorado town outside Denver where her great aunt lived. Tiny Echo Springs is the opposite of everything Abby is used to. She plans on finishing her paper, get her doctorate, and sell her aunt’s house. That’s the plan anyway. But things seldom go according to plan. For one, her aunt’s victorian home is filled with an army of tiny porcelain dolls that leave Abby uneasy. So uneasy, she leaves them in the living room while she sets up camp upstairs, far away from the creepy things. For another, her aunt’s neighbor is beyond hot and also the town’s sheriff. The more time she spends with the man she calls Sheriff Stud Muffin, the more she questions her current objectives and the less sure she is of what her next step will be. She takes a job at the local community college and meets a colorful cast of characters. It’s easy to see where the next books in the Echo Springs series will take us.
Plot This is a straight-up romance that follows the typical format of meet-cute followed by all the ups and downs you expect in a contemporary romance. There’s a minor subplot involving a series of break-ins in the small town, but the subplot that really shines is Old Man Turner’s journal that tells a romantic tale that started before World War II between Old Man Turner and Abby’s great aunt. It serves as both a parallel tale as well as backstory.
Characters This was the one part of the story I’m iffy on. Abby’s ovaries “sigh” at the sight of the studly-muffinesque sheriff. And not just once, there is much ovary sighing throughout. And Nate’s declaration that Abby “isn’t like other women” was too cliche. However, the supporting cast saved the story for me. Nate’s bevy of messed-up buddies and punk community college teacher Tessa and her gorgeous, but militant sister, Cybil, drew me in. In fact, if any of these characters are involved in the second book in the series, I’m there!
What I Enjoyed About THE FIXER UPPER 1. Rufus. Nate’s big, lovable, slobbering Great Dane provided some great comedic moments.
2. Tessa. She’s tough, acerbic, and funny. I can’t wait to read her story.
3. Cybil. She’s snark and sour wrapped in a pretty package, and her story is going to be epic.
4. Aunt Evie. The story of her romance with Old Man Turner is heartbreaking and bittersweet.
5. Old Homes. I adore old homes and the descriptions of the two Victorian homes made me want to do a few more renovations around here, much to my husband’s dismay.
Bottom Line A decent romance with a stellar supporting cast.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Maggie grew up listening to Cardinals baseball and reading anything she could get her hands on. She remembers her mother saying if only she would read the right type of books instead binging her way through the romance aisles at the bookstore, she’d have been a doctor. While Maggie never did get that doctorate, she graduated cum laude from the University of Missouri-St. Louis with an M.A. in History.
Maggie is a bestselling and award-winning author published in multiple fiction genres. She also writes erotic romance under the name Anya Summers. A total geek at her core, when she is not writing, she adores attending the latest comic con or spending time with her family. She currently lives in the Midwest with her two furry felines.
Synopsis Leanne Strong hates June eighth even though it’s supposed to a day for celebration. Fifteen years ago on that date, baby Leanne was purported to be miraculously healed of a spinal cord defect after her mother prayed to a religious mystic who was later elevated to sainthood. Since Leanne’s unexplained cure, thousands of people gather in her small town every year to celebrate her miracle–a miracle she doesn’t remember but still accepts as real–most of the time.
When teen pitching phenom Braeden Dalisay moves into the house across the street from Leanne, he harbors a chip on his shoulder even larger than his athletic talent. Forced to spend the summer in the same law office, he and Leanne carry on a working relationship that vacillates between stormy and silent. After Leanne finds out that Braeden’s sister, Emeline, recently passed away, the reason for his behavior becomes clear. Emeline Dalisay was a girl who didn’t get a miracle.
Time softens Braeden’s anger, and he and Leanne eventually draw closer. But when he and his family are hit with another traumatic event, he pulls away, the unfairness of life a deep wound. Leanne wants to help Braeden and his family heal as much as she wants a relationship with him. More than that, she wants a miracle for Braeden.
My Review Leanne Strong is the recipient of a verified miracle that she has zero recollection of. And while she’s grateful for the life she has, she hates being “Miracle Girl” and all the celebrity that goes with it. For that reason, she’s sworn off dating until she’s in college, far away from where anyone knows who she is or her miracle status. But when the Dalisay’s move in across the street, Braeden and and his sister, Sami, challenge everything Leanne believes about herself and her miracle. She wonders if she’s been ungrateful, even as she struggles to be what everyone expects her to, someone she doesn’t believe she is. Spending the summer working in her dad’s law firm, she spends more time with Braeden, who is also making a few extra bucks between baseball games. What starts off as a tense relationship soon blossoms into more, until Sami gets sick and threatens everything Leanne understands about herself, faith, and what it means to believe in something more than yourself.
The main plot revolves around Leanne’s relationship with her miracle girl status. She initially wants nothing to do with it. She’s just a regular girl with no recollection of what happened that night 15 years before. In fact, she can’t recall a time when she wasn’t the way she is now. She knows she’s expected to be so much more to others looking for their own miracles, but she feels inadequate when it comes to providing them with the inspiration they feel they so desperately need. With the help of Sami, Braeden, her family, and a priest, she comes to realize that memories aren’t required to appreciate the life she’s been given. There are also strong subplots involving her relationship with Braeden and her own faith.
Characters Leanne is so relatable as an ordinary girl with extraordinary expectations. She knows that the world wants more from her than she’s able to give and struggles with this burden through much of the book. Braeden is the perfect, somewhat brooding, foil for Leanne’s positivity, but they have more in common than either of them realizes. These two navigate a tenuous romance amidst all the drama, providing some of the most heartwarming moments. The rest of the characters wonderfully round out the cast, particularly Leanne’s dad’s office staff.
Top things I LOVED About MIRACLE GIRL 1. Sami. Even after everything she’s lost, Sami is a perpetually positive force and impossible to ignore.
2. Faith. It’s an underlying theme centered around hope and gratitude, so perfectly incorporated that even those who don’t profess any faith will enjoy this book.
3. Leanne. She’s one of my favorite young adult protagonists of 2019. She’s grounded in a way that is both because of and in conflict with her miracle status.
4. Braeden. The pitching phenom is as sweet as he is hot, but with a brooding undertone that adds to his swooniness.
5. Miracles. Always there, and a main part of the plot, it’s really not about the miracle itself, but how the recipient copes with her worthiness.
Bottom Line An inspirational story about faith, first love, and refusing to allow others to define you.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Jennifer DiGiovanni is the author of contemporary and light fantasy novels for teens. When she’s not reading or writing, she likes to try new sports and activities, from archery to ballroom dancing, all in the name of book research.
Synopsis It was never easy for Cassie and her mother, struggling to make ends meet in their tiny apartment in The Bronx, but they had each other and that was enough. When her mother dies suddenly from an aggressive form of cancer, Cassie is forced to finish high school in California while living with the wealthy family of her mother’s closest friend—a women she never knew existed.
Living with the Stantons is the complete opposite of what she’s used to—the massive house, a father figure, and Cody, the spoiled, insanely good-looking son with the bedroom across the hall.
Broken with grief and struggling to fit in, Cassie meets Mila, a female powerhouse that helps her cope with a hidden past, the overwhelming present, and a shared experience no one should have to endure—a nightmare they both thought was over.
Warning: Although this book is classified as Young Adult, I recommended it for mature readers due to explicit language.
My Review EVERYTHING I KNEW TO BE TRUE is a powerful story about finding your inner strength even when everything around you seems to be falling apart. When Cassie’s mom dies of cancer, she moves from New York, the only home she knows, to the west coast to live with a family she barely remembers, a family that is not her own. Barely scraping by in New York, Cassie’s new life in Northern California couldn’t be more different, from the large sprawling homes to the intact nuclear family she comes to live with, including Cody, a boy from her childhood who has blossomed into a serious heartthrob with a room across the hall from hers. As she adjusts to a new life that does not involve wondering how they’re going to pay the bills, she is also thrust into high school drama she is totally unprepared to handle. Her east coast upbringing has given her a hard outer shell and the wit to hold her own, but only on the outside. Inside she’s crumbling from grief and feeling like a fish out of water. With the help of Cody, his parents, and new friends, she tenuously navigates her new world until secrets from her past and a cruel event at a party turn her world upside down once again, leaving her wondering if everything she thought was true is really just one more lie.
Plot The story is about Cassie learning who she is and coming to terms with the truths she discovers about herself, her family, and life itself. But it’s also about friendship, family, revenge and romance. The author weaves everything together in a well-plotted tale with a few surprises.
Characters I love Cassie. She’s snarky thanks to her childhood in the Bronx, strong, but not immune to the crap high school throws at you. Mila is hysterical as the new friend with a verbal stream of consciousness, and Cody is adorable as the quasi step-brother/love interest that creates a lot of the best conflict in the story. Cody’s parents and Cassie’s guardians are everything she needs and what we hope all parents would be. The antagonists are bit more stereotypical, but also different enough that I wasn’t always sure what to expect from them.
What I Enjoyed About EVERYTHING I KNEW TO BE TRUE 1. Mila. She is the vibrant colorful yin to Cassie’s dark and withdrawn yang
2. Cassie. It took me a little bit to warm up to her, but once I did, I absolutely loved her spunk.
3. Cody. Completely swoonworthy.
4. Surprises. There were a few twists I didn’t see coming that helped keep my interest when I felt the story was slowing down a bit.
5. Revenge. A dish best served deliciously cold.
Bottom Line A sold young adult tale with interesting characters who are easy to root for.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Rayna York grew up with hippie parents that liked to adventure, so being the new kid was always a challenge. Where change was the norm, books were her constant–a way to escape. As an adult, many careers came and went, but writing has always been her passion. Everything I knew to be true is her first published novel.