Thanks to partners NetGalley and Forever for the digital ARC of Sajni Patel’s First Love, Take Two in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on September 21!
I absolutely loved Sajni Patel’s The Trouble with Hating You, so when I saw her new book, First Love, Take Two was available, I requested it immediately! This is a great follow-up, a steamy, second-chance romance that builds on the first book’s events but doesn’t rely on them. (I think you could read this one even if you haven’t read book one.)
Here, Preeti Patel is trying to embrace an arranged marriage with Yuvan. He checks all the right boxes: he’s part of her conservative, Indian community, and his parents are close with hers. He’s successful, as is she, and this seems like the perfect match. But she has absolutely no chemistry with him.
Preeti has been the subject of gossip before, six years ago when she had an interracial relationship with Daniel Thompson. When her father’s sisters found out that she was dating outside the culture and the race—Daniel is Black—they set the full force of community shaming upon her and her family. Daniel’s parents were no more accepting of her, and so Preeti broke off their relationship.
Since then, Preeti has built a successful career as a doctor—she’s almost done with her residency—has taken care of her parents, and has made every effort to fly under the radar of the gossip mongers. All of that has kept Daniel from the forefront of her mind and heart . . . until her friends and his sister conspire to throw them together once more.
This book does a great job dealing with a number of serious issues: anxiety and racism and touch aversion and, above all, both the blessing and curse of being part of a close-knit community. As a doctor, Preeti deals with heartbreak—miscarriage, death, and the expectations of her patients’ families—and more and more, she’s feeling overwhelmed by expectations both at work and in her personal life.
Watching Preeti and Daniel work through their relationship to support each other is fantastic: this is such a wonderful, second-chance romance, filled with a deep backstory and nuanced characters. As always in a romance series, I love seeing Liya and Jay from book one, and I have high hopes that there will be at least one more book involving Liya and Preeti’s friend group.
First Love, Take Two is a worthy, steamy, beautiful follow-up to The Trouble with Hating You.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Harlequin Books for the digital ARC of Jean Meltzer’s The Matzah Ball in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on September 28th!
I think that Jean Meltzer’s The Matzah Ball may be my favorite holiday read . . . ever? It’s such a beautiful balance of the notes of a romantic comedy (with a great emphasis on the comedy) and more serious content.
Here’s the premise: Rachel Rubenstein-Rosenblatt is the child of a prominent rabbi, and the position of her parents in the Jewish community means that she has been very aware—since she was a kid—that she needs to be on her best behavior at all times. She’s also, secretly, the best-selling author of Christmas-themed romances. You can see the problem.
Real-life romance has never been her thing, and she traces that challenge back to a horrible trauma at her Jewish summer camp when Jacob Greenberg, her first boyfriend, betrayed her.
Then, Jacob comes back into her life in the strangest of ways. He’s an event planner who normally works out of Europe, but he’s in New York to put on the ultimate, Hanukkah-themed event: The Matzah Ball. For true success, he needs the public approval of a pillar of the community, so he approaches Rachel’s father for his support, bringing him back into Rachel’s proximity.
The way this all spins out is great fun, but underlying it all is another of Rachel’s secrets: only her closest friends and family know that she is living with myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (Meltzer talks in her Author’s Note about why the more medical name is more appropriate). Seeing the way Rachel’s ME affects her life, her choice of profession, and her relationships anchors the extravagance of the romantic comedy in daily reality, and as Meltzer develops those parts of Rachel and Jacob’s histories, what could be an over-the-top rom-com becomes a poignant, nuanced love story.
Go ahead and start the holiday season early and pre-order Jean Meltzer’s The Matzah Ball today!
Thanks to Partners NetGalley and Crown Books for Young Readers for the digital ARC of Jeff Zentner’s In the Wild Light in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on August 10, 2021.
Like his earlier, brilliant The Serpent King (like this book, a five-star read for me!), Jeff Zentner’s In the Wild Light begins with a strong sense of place, set firmly in the Appalachian town of Sawyer, Tennessee. Cash Pruitt is sixteen and, above all else, loves his Mamaw and Papaw, who raised him after his mother’s death, and his best friend Delaney Doyle, a genius. Cash and Delaney were first drawn together as the children of addicts, and now each offers a safe place for the other.
Delaney has gained some moderate fame in the scientific community after discovering a mold that kills bacteria and that shows great promise for the healthcare industry. When she’s offered a full ride to a private boarding school, she’s desperate to escape her circumstances, but she doesn’t want to do so alone. So, she convinces the school to also provide a full scholarship for Cash.
Cash is torn between his friendship and his loyalty to his grandparents, particularly Papaw, who is dying slowly of emphysema. Ultimately, though, they convince him to grab this opportunity, and so he and Delaney move to Connecticut and become students at Middleford Academy.
Those are the bare outlines of the plot, but they don’t reveal what makes this book special.
First, Zentner is an absolutely beautiful writer, and the book is filled with gorgeous prose as Cash works through who he is and who he wants to be and how to stay true both to himself and to those whom he loves.
Beyond the writing are the characters. The tenderness between Cash and Papaw is one of my favorite things—they love each other so much, and that love is beautiful and heartbreaking and present on every page of the novel. Delaney is brilliant and strong and also fragile, someone who has survived abuse and neglect and is now ready to step into her full potential, but not alone. Watching the way the all support and challenge each other is a lovely, moving reading experience.
Cash is so smart and so sensitive, but he’s also a teenager, one who has left his family and his hometown to step into another world filled with rich people who’ve lived lives he can hardly imagine. He’s not naive, just inexperienced, and so he’s fully aware of the risks that he’s taking while also hoping to make those he loves proud.
I can’t recommend In the Wild Light enough. Just be sure to have a box of tissues by your side. This book earns every tear.
Thanks to Partners NetGalley, Book Club Girls, and William Morrow Books for the digital ARC of Brina Starler’s Anne of Manhattan in exchange for an honest review. The book will be released on Tuesday, June 1.
I love a good retelling, and I love, love, love L. M. Montgomery’s classic novel Anne of Green Gables. My best friend and I read every L. M. Montgomery book, and we watched the 1980s adaptation with Megan Follows more than once. So when I saw that Brina Starler had a romance retelling coming out in June, I requested it immediately.
Anne of Manhattan is a contemporary retelling focused on Anne and her long-time enemy Gilbert Blythe who has been the bane of her existence since they first met, right after she moved to Green Gables on Prince Edward Island, adopted by siblings Marilla and Matthew. He immediately drew her ire by getting her in trouble with the teacher and by calling her “Carrots.” Ever since, they have been rivals at school, each vying to be the best, and while they circle each other because of their friend group, Anne can’t get over her bad feelings.
So, when—in the book’s present day—Anne is out with her friends Diana and Philippa at a bar in NYC and unexpectedly sees Gilbert across the room, she has mixed feelings. He’s from home, but he’s her enemy; he’s her enemy, but they shared that kiss . . .
What ensues is an enemies-to-lovers story of Anne and Gilbert in their last year in college, complete with flashbacks to their childhoods back home, which inform so much of their current relationship. I loved it! I re-read Anne of Green Gables a few years ago via audio (the edition narrated by Rachel McAdams is fantastic!), and I adored the graphic novel adaptation by Mariah Marsden and illustrator Brenna Thummler. This, while quite different, captures the same magic, the same bittersweet longing of the original story (with, of course, a complete emphasis on the romance—the original novel has a wider lens).
My one hesitation—and this is not a fault of the novel but is just an issue with me—is that I was a little uncertain how I felt about sweet Anne and Gilbert being at the center of such a steamy novel. I ended up being okay, but the first super-steamy scene was not entirely comfortable for me (and I’m usually totally fine with open-door romance!). Just know that this is definitely a retelling that embraces all of the conventions of its genre.
So, if you love Anne of Green Gables OR great, enemies-to-lovers romances, watch for Brina Starler’s Anne of Manhattan, coming out on June 1!
Thanks to Partners NetGalley, Let's Talk Books, and Sourcebooks Casablanca for the digital ARC of Xio Axelrod’s The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes in exchange for an honest review. The book was just released on May 4, so I’m thrilled to join the Book Tour to highlight this fabulous novel.
Toni Bennette is content with her recurring gig at a rundown bar in Philadelphia—it gives her a chance to sing and play but doesn’t push her (much) to be the center of attention. Her dream is to go into music production, and so she uses her talents to gain entrance in recording studios and to make connections behind the scenes.
Sebastian Quick is a sort of facilitator for the up-and-coming, all-female band The Lillys, and he’s struggling with the increasingly toxic relationships within the band. Seb, Candi, and Lilly formed the band, drawn together by a passion for music and by sheer talent. But Candi’s dedication to the lifestyle is spiraling, and Seb—who has assigned himself a job as her keeper—has been drawn into that downward trajectory, endangering the future of the band when they’re on the cusp of true success.
Toni and Seb are drawn together through a series of accidental meetings, and as the narrative unfolds, it flashes back on their shared childhood and on Seb’s betrayal of their dreams. Now, as The Lillys take steps to salvage their chances for greatness, Toni is drawn definitively back into Seb’s life, and he has to deal with the mistakes he made in the past.
This second-chance romance is more than just a romance. Axelrod builds a rich history for Toni and Seb, one that looks at the way the past can inform who people become, the temptations that cycle through people’s lives over and over again, and the ways that characters can seek redemption for past mistakes. I really appreciated the rich characters, the complexity of the book’s structure—that slow unveiling of the full story, and the vivid descriptions of music and what it means to these characters. As a reader, I was propelled forward by the plot but also by the way that easy, initial judgments are made more complex as the book continues, the ways that the characters surprise the reader and each other.
The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes brilliantly balances heavy and light content, some serious stories with a lovely romance. This is also the first book in Xio Axelrod’s The Lillys series, and I can’t wait to read about the other characters in the band!
Thanks to Partners Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for the digital ARC of Amy Suiter Clarke’s Girl, 11 in exchange for an honest review. The book is out today!
Elle Castillo is a true crime podcaster who investigates cold cases. A former social worker with her own history as a victim of crime, Elle chooses a different serial killer for each season of her podcast, determined both to rejuvenate the investigation and to focus attention on the victims.
Now, in season five, Elle decides to focus on The Countdown Killer. TCK’s first known victim was 20 years old. Three days after kidnapping her, he kidnapped a young woman who was 19. The body of the first victim was revealed seven days after she was taken. TCK is methodical, obsessed with numbers, and incredibly careful, leaving only very particular details for the police to investigate. He continues with his countdown, kidnapping and killing girls in order until one of his victims escapes. This is the 11-year-old girl, and though she recovers, she’s unable to provide any clues about TCK’s identity. His countdown ends, and most people think he’s dead. But Elle doesn’t agree.
Elle is in the midst of the season when she gets a tip from someone who thinks he knows who TCK might be. When she arrives at the caller’s apartment, she finds him dead, and there’s some indication that it might be his message to her that caused his death.
So, that’s the premise of the book, and I found that to be intriguing enough. What I really enjoyed about this one, though, is not this bare outline of the plot. Elle is a great protagonist: we know that her work as a podcaster and investigator is based on her desire to help people in ways she couldn’t always manage as a social worker. She also consults with the police, offering her investigative skills to help them uncover clues. She has a strong web of found family and friends—her husband Martín is a forensic investigator (he sometimes appears on the podcast); she also has a close friend Sash, and though Elle and Martín can’t have children, Sash’s daughter Natalie is like a part of their family. The sense of community support, of the ways that Elle has reached out—though she’s not close with her biological family—to make connections is lovely.
The style here is also great: the first part is told in alternating chapters, with transcripts of podcast episodes providing the background of TCK through interviews and Elle’s narration, and then the other chapters focusing on the current course of Elle’s investigation.
Though there were some twists and turns of the plot that I predicted, there were also some great surprises. Amy Suiter Clarke’s Girl, 11 is a strong, compelling, and thoughtful thriller that I’d recommend to readers looking for a balance of plot and character.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Gallery Books for the digital ARC of Sarah Morgenthaler’s Enjoy the View in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, January 19.
Sarah Morgenthaler’s Moose Springs, Alaska series has been one of the joyful reads of 2020 for me. Beginning with The Tourist Attraction and continuing with Mistletoe and Mr. Right, Morgenthaler has built a world centered on authentic friendship, gentle humor, and adorable animals. In books one and two, the central relationships reveal characters’ complexities and quirks, and the love happens *because* the characters understand each other, even when they don’t agree.
Book three, Enjoy the View, is a gorgeous cap on the trilogy. Easton Lockett, a well-established character from the previous books, is a gentle giant, a skilled mountain man, and a faithful friend. He and his twin sister Ash are anchors for the friend group who populates the earlier stories. In this novel, his meet cute with River Lane, a 30-year-old movie actress-turned-director, happens when he insists on helping the lone woman walking by the side of the road with her suitcase. When he discovers that he ruined the film shoot for her documentary about Moose Springs, he’s drafted into preventing other helpful Moose Springs citizens from interrupting her stroll by the side of the road . . . and then, eventually, into guiding her and her film crew in climbing Mount Veil, the daunting Old Man that looms over Moose Springs.
River is independent, dedicated to rehabilitating her career, and obsessed with climbing. As she and Easton journey up the mountain, they come to understand each other and to find a mutual affinity for climbing, risk taking, and nature. But can they, at their cores, find common ground when Easton is so firmly attached to his home and River is determined to find success in Hollywood?
As in the previous books, I love the conflict—never fully resolved—about just how good tourism might be for the small town of Moose Springs. The exploration of its pros and cons is thoughtful and avoids easy answers. I also appreciated Morgenthaler’s vivid descriptions of mountain climbing, both the perils and the triumphs, and of Easton and River’s growing feelings for each other.
Enjoy the View would work as a stand alone, but I would highly recommend beginning with book one and doing a deep dive into the isolated world of Moose Springs.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Gallery Books for the digital ARC of Marissa Meyer’s Instant Karma in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, November 3!
Marissa Meyer is an auto-buy author for me. I absolutely love her fairy-tale inspired Lunar Chronicles series and stand-alone novel Heartless, and her original take on superheroes in the Renegades trilogy is amazing. So, when I saw that she had a YA rom-com coming out, I instantly requested it.
Instant Karma is so much fun. It has a clever premise: sophomore Prudence Daniels has had a frustrating last day of school plagued by an unreliable partner and a low grade on their final project. So, she’s thrilled to go out with her twin brother Jude (yes, all five kids in Prudence’s family are named after songs by The Beatles) and her best friend Ari for a relaxed evening and some karaoke. After Prudence takes a bad fall and passes out, she wakes up with a strange new ability: she can make karma strike in the moment.
Prudence, who has a strong sense of responsibility and of right and wrong, has no patience for people who defy rules. So, if someone is putting gum under their table or not picking up their dog’s poop or just being unkind, Prudence is thrilled to have the ability to make sure that person suffers, just a little bit.
She can’t however, totally enjoy her new ability because she’s still trying to bring up that final grade. And, since her science teacher is (in Prudence’s eyes) totally unreasonable, he insists that teamwork is the one skill she most needs to learn. She’s still stuck, therefore, with unreliable partner Quint . . . who may not be quite the person she thought he was.
Meyer’s touch with magic is light here, but this book is a perfect addition to her catalog of YA books. I love the array of characters who round out Prudence’s life, and Prudence herself (while sometimes frustrating in her lack of self awareness) is a nuanced, thoughtful character. This book is perfect for anyone wanting a sweet, fast-paced read with an emphasis on first love . . . and lots and lots of Beatles references.
Thanks to Partner Edelweiss for the advance copy of Tessa Bailey's Tools of Engagement, out September 22, 2020.
Tools of Engagement is the third book in Tessa Bailey's Hot and Hammered trilogy. This one is about Bethany Castle, the older sister of Georgie (book 1 protagonist) and friend to Rosie (book 2 protagonist). Bethany is the decorator and stager for her family's house-flipping business, but she wants to do more, to be involved in the actual flip. She's afraid, though, of doing anything that's less than perfect.
She has been drawn, since the moment they met in book 1, to Wes Daniels, a construction worker who's just been hired by her brother. She and Wes pick at each other nonstop, bickering constantly. Wes is a younger man, a drifter, who came to town to care for his five-year-old niece when his half-sister had to leave. Wes takes a chance on Bethany, quitting his job in seconds to join her in the house flip that she hopes will prove her worth. And then they sign up for a reality tv show . . .
This book is super steamy, and I like both Bethany and Wes a lot. There's something that fell a little short for me--I wasn't completely swept away--but I enjoyed watching these characters take a risk on each other. Overall, this is a solid enough contemporary rom com.
Thanks to Partner Edelweiss for the digital ARC of Suzanne Park's Loathe at First Sight in exchange for an honest review. The book is available now for purchase.
Suzanne Park's Loathe at First Sight, which I read as part of a buddy read with @thechicklitbookclub, is a rom-com that defies that label. Though there is a romance, for me, it fades into the background; though there is comedy, this is a book with some serious messages.
Melody Joo has started a new job as a video game producer at Seventeen Studios, a company centered on superstar CEO Ian McKenzie. Almost immediately, she faces a backlash from her officemate, Asher; intern Nolan (Ian's nephew); and Ian himself. After she makes a joke about creating a videogame featuring male strippers and fully clothed female warriors ends up becoming the company's next project, Melody's life takes a sharp turn. While she's expecting (sadly) some amount of misogyny and discrimination since (1) she's a woman and (2) she's Korean-American, she's NOT expecting the level of vitriol she gets from online trolls.
After she's doxxed, the threat levels increase. Along with her work life, Melody has a lot going on. She's maid of honor for Jane, a true bridezilla, and is managing her relationship with her parents, who pressure her constantly to get married. When the threats from work start bleeding into her personal life, Melody is unable to ignore them.
While the romance here is sweet, for me, it wasn't the star of this book. Watching the way Melody deals with such horrible misogyny and racism and with the challenges she faces as a woman of color in the video game industry was sobering and thought provoking. Yes, there are moments of great comedy--Melody is sarcastic and, at times, filterless, which makes for some great dialogue--but the most compelling angle was that of her journeys in this challenging workplace.
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.