Many thanks to Celadon Books for the ARC of Alex Michaelides's The Fury, which will be out on January 16.
The book begins with a murder on an isolated island in Greece, a story told by a screenwriter named Elliot Chase, and a group of people bound by the most tenuous of threads—their allegiance to ex-movie star Lana Farrar.
Chase peels back his story in layers, gradually revealing its origins in an unplanned meeting with Lana at a party, delving into her childhood and the ways it reflected his own, and circling around the answers to the questions about the murder: who is the victim? who is the murderer?
This was a fast read for me, and while it didn't bring about the same shock I felt during the twists and turns of The Silent Patient, it was still a compelling enough read.
Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for the digital ARC of Ashley Winstead's Midnight Is the Darkest Hour. The book will be published on October 3!
For years, since her friendship with Everett began, Ruth has waited for their sin to catch up with her. Drawn together by their crime, Ruth—confined by her father’s role as her small Louisiana town’s judge and confessor—and Everett—an outcast whose fate was cemented by his father’s evil—find refuge, affection, and understanding in each other, which brings them comfort as they ride out the end of their teenage years together.
And then a skull is found in the swamp. Suddenly, the peril of discovery that has been looming over her life arrives at her doorstep. Everett now only visits Bottom Springs in the summer, so Ruth has sought refuge and her parents’ approval by stepping tentatively into their vision for her: no college; marriage to a hometown boy; a family; and a fundamentalist Christian lifestyle. But when Everett returns, Ruth feels pulled again to a different way of living.
As the investigation speeds up, Winstead reveals the truths of Ruth’s past and present in alternating passages, revealing some secrets she’s kept and some that have been kept from her.
Midnight Is the Darkest Hour was my first book by Winstead, and wow, was it compelling. I didn’t want to stop reading! The non-chronological structure of the novel creates twists and turns, solving one mystery only to uncover another. The role of books and reading in Ruth and Everett’s characters, and in their relationship, made my heart happy. Most of all, I loved watching Ruth work through her vision of who she wanted to be in the face of her parents’—and the town’s—oppressive expectations. What a satisfying read!
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Bloom Books for the digital ARC of Lucy Score’s Things We Left Behind.
Things We Left Behind is the final book in Lucy Score’s Knockemout trilogy: this one returns to the small town to focus both on the second-chance AND enemies-to-lovers romance of Lucian, a successful businessman, and Sloane, the town’s librarian.
Lucien and Sloane had a strong friendship and almost-love story when they were teenagers until a falling out ended their relationship. Now, they’re brought together only by their mutual friends, Knox and Waylon and Nash and Lina (the couples from the first two books of the series), sniping at each other during every encounter.
Of course, their chemistry is there from the beginning, and their mutual past is revealed through flashbacks that are interspersed through the novel, while they’re desperately trying—in their present—to uncover the source of peril that has plagued the community from book one.
Several subplots enrich the book: Sloane is mourning the death of her father, who was also a mentor for Lucian; Lucian is running his business, employing several characters from previous novels; Sloane is working to help an innocent woman win her freedom from prison; and more. I didn’t mind these little offshoots from the main plot, as they all serve to flesh out who these characters have become. There were two plot developments that I didn’t care for, but they’re in spoiler territory, so message me if you’re interested!
Overall, I found this to be a satisfying, steamy romance and a solid conclusion to the plot that had been developing throughout the trilogy: fans of Knockemout will, I think, be pleased.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and St. Martins Press for the digital ARC of Erica Bauermeister's No Two Persons. The book will be published on Tuesday!
It’s easiest to explain Erica Bauermeister’s No Two Persons through its premise: the book is a series of interconnected short stories centered around a book called Theo. Bauermeister’s novel begins with Alice, the author of Theo, exploring the origins of the book, which are connected to her own life, though it’s not completely autobiographical. Each new section explores the presence of Theo in the life of someone new—the artist who designs the cover, the assistant of the literary agent who discovers it, and myriad readers.
Through the short stories, characters reappear—we see Alice more than once—weaving a tribute to the power of books in our lives, the ways that they can change the way that we see ourselves, each other, the world.
The writing here is just gorgeous, and we see enough of Theo to have an idea of a book, though this isn’t completely a book-with-a-book situation (so there are no long passages of Theo building into the inclusion of the book in its entirety). Instead, it’s the idea of this novel, of the way it’s one thing for Alice and another thing for each person who comes into contact with it, that captures our attention.
The title comes from a quotation about no two persons experiencing a book the same way (and there’s a great story at the end from Bauermeister about the origins of the quote), and the way Bauermeister brings life to that concept resonated.
There’s deep empathy here, a nuanced understanding of the fact that we can only know the smallest part of the lives of most people we know but also a strong message that empathy can—and should!—arise from even that limited knowledge.
I think that anyone who’s a reader, anyone who has seen the way a book can touch someone deeply, anyone who has the urge to share a book with someone they know, will love this book.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Berkley Romance for the digital ARC of Amy Lea’s Set on You in exchange for an honest review. The book is out today!
Amy Lea’s debut novel, Set on You, begins at the gym. Crystal Chen is a fitness influencer whose body positivity has earned her a huge instagram following, sponsorships, and a career as a physical trainer. She has good friends and loves her family, despite their concerns that her career isn’t stable.
Scott Ritchie enters her life with an act of theft. Yes, he steals her preferred squat rack at the gym. What begins with loathing slowly begins to change as Crystal admits first her attraction to Scott and then his other positive qualities. Since she’s coming out of a relationship with a man who betrayed her trust, however, she’s hesitant to start something new . . . particularly since Scott also just broke up with his girlfriend.
What I liked most about this one was the consideration of Crystal’s dedication to body positivity and her shifting understanding of what that phrase means to her and to her followers. She wants to be someone who is constantly confident and proud of her body, despite the dismissive and nasty comments she regularly receives. But is that constant confidence realistic? What is the best way to handle comments that tear her down?
Set on You will appeal to a variety of readers and is perfect for fans of enemies-to-lovers romances. It’s a fun, sweet, thought-provoking romance.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Atria Books for the digital ARC of Rebecca Serle’s One Italian Summer in exchange for an honest review. The book is out on March 2!
Rebecca Serle has a beautiful touch with magical realism. Whether it’s dining with special people—alive and dead—in The Dinner List or a five-year journey forward in time in In Five Years, Serle uses these magic premises to wring truth from reality.
She performs that same magic in One Italian Summer. The premise here is (relatively) simple to explain: Katy is grieving the death of her mother and decides to take the trip that they had planned together. She tells her husband that she’s not sure she can be with him anymore, boards a plane, and takes the solo vacation she and her mom, Carol, have been dreaming about for years.
Carol had spent time in the small town of Positano and yearned to show Katy everything she loved about it, so Katy vows to follow the itinerary her mother had set up. Soon, she begins to enjoy small moments in a way she hasn’t been able to since her mother fell ill.
Then, one day, Katy sees her mother. Yes, she’s much younger, but it’s her. And suddenly, Katy feels as if she has a second chance to get to know her mother in a way she never had, to forge a friendship with the woman she loved so much.
Serle explores Katy’s grief, her hope, and her joy so vividly here. There’s laughter, some romance, vivid descriptions of food, and an amazing sense of the Italian landscape. One Italian Summer is a gorgeous, moving book. I absolutely could not put it down.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the digital ARC of Sophie Sullivan’s How to Love Your Neighbor in exchange for an honest review. The book is out today!
Sophie Sullivan’s How to Love Your Neighbor is the sequel to Ten Rules for Faking It (check out my review here). That book was the story of Chris and Everly, and this new one focuses on Chris’s brother Noah Jansen who is trying to make a clean break from the toxicity of his father and his company. As part of his fresh start, Noah has bought a house that he loves . . . though it’s missing a pool. His plan? To buy the property next door, raze the house, and put in the pool. The only problem is that his neighbor doesn’t want to sell.
That neighbor is Grace Travis. She’s trying for a new beginning, too. Grace is almost done with design school, she’s almost made a break from her neglectful and manipulative mother, and she’s got a brand-new home that she inherited from the grandparents she never knew. This home, of course, is the one that Noah wants to buy.
This is a fun, sweet romance. It begins as enemies to lovers, though the “enemies” part doesn’t last long. Instead, Noah and Grace pretty quickly realize that they should be friends. Noah brings on Grace to help design his house, and as they start to know each other, they realize how much they have in common and the type of support they can offer each other.
While this one didn’t quite have the depth of Ten Rules for Faking It, I absolutely enjoyed watching Noah and Grace’s relationship develop, and I recommend How to Love Your Neighbor—and whatever Sullivan writes next—to romance fans.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital ARC of Emma Lord's When You Get the Chance in exchange for an honest review. The book is out Tuesday, January 4!
When You Get the Chance is my second book by Emma Lord. (I loved You Have a Match and have Tweet Cute on my shelf to read ASAP.) Yes, she’s now an auto-read author for me.
This one focuses on Millie Cooper, a super-extroverted, self-described way-too-much actress who has big dreams of Broadway and has put in the work to make that a real possibility. After she learns that she’s gotten into an amazing pre-college program for her senior year, she’s ecstatic . . . until she shares the news with her dad and he’s decidedly NOT as ecstatic.
What ensues is Millie’s desperate attempt to actualize her dream into existence. First, she gets the help of her best friend and next door neighbor Teddy, an expert at geocaching and (as he says) human caching. Teddy does some research and, after the two delve into Millie’s dad’s LiveJournal from college (hello, the 90s!), begins unraveling the central secret of Millie’s life: her mother’s identity. When her dad was 20, Millie’s mother dropped her off with her dad, and that was the end of her mother’s involvement in her life. But Millie hopes that if she can find her birth mother, she’ll be on Team Millie and help convince her dad that moving across the country to this pre-college program is the right move.
The search for Millie’s mom leads to three likely candidates and the second part of Millie’s plan. She happens upon an internship with a Broadway management company where one potential mom candidate works. The only problem? Millie is vying for the internship with her nemesis: Oliver. Oliver is the manager of their fine arts school’s musical theater department, and he and Millie are *always* at odds with completely different visions for what the program should look like. So, when Georgie, the woman in charge of the internship, gives Millie and Oliver two weeks to compete and prove themselves before choosing a winner, it means that the mortal enemies have two weeks of forced collaboration, as well.
The setup is worthy of any Broadway musical, and references to shows—and especially Mamma Mia!—abound. For anyone who’s a fan of musicals, there are plenty of allusions here to feed your Broadway-loving soul. Sometimes, I have to work to get past premises like the “meeting-three-candidates-who-might-be-my-mom” kind of story, but when cast in the light of Broadway, I suspended my disbelief and just gave into the ride. Because Emma Lord has such a fabulous sense of character and because, in Millie, she created such an empathetic, realistic character, that ride is a great one. Though the plot here is so much fun, it’s watching Millie go through some pretty rough self-reflection that is the real strength of this book. Yes, there are beautiful friendships (seriously: this author REALLY understands friendship), some fun romance, and compellingly complex family dynamics (Millie’s relationships with her dad and her aunt Heather are strong anchors for the plot), but it’s Millie’s coming of age story that made me love this book so much.
Now, on to Tweet Cute.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and St Martin's Press for the digital ARC of Tracey Garvis Graves’s Heard It in a Love Song in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on November 9!
In Tracey Garvis Graves’s Heard It in a Love Song is a lovely tribute to second chances.
Layla and Josh are recovering from failed marriages. Layla left her ex after years of mental games, financial conflict, and adultery. Josh and his wife have separated because they’ve just grown in different directions, united only in their love for their young daughter.
The two meet when Josh is doing the daily school drop-off at Layla’s school, where she’s the music teacher. She took the job out of necessity, after the realities of her marriage made her dream of being a musician an unsustainable choice.
Now, she’s slowly finding her love of playing, singing, and performing again, finding her confidence again, just when she’s meeting Josh.
This is a lovely, patient romance, and Graves develops Layla and Josh vividly as individuals and friends before their romance truly emerges. It’s a fabulous choice, one that makes each character vivid and that lets the reader understand the way they’ll work together before it happens.
The novel alternates between Layla’s and Josh’s points of view, and that structure works well to let us see their different perspectives on life, love, and friendship, and to watch as their perspectives begin to move toward the other’s.
Thanks to partners NetGalley, Putnam Books, and @lovearctually for the digital ARC of Vanessa King’s A Certain Appeal in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on November 2!
I love retellings of Jane Austen novels, so when I saw that there was a Pride and Prejudice retelling coming, set in the world of New York burlesque shows, I was so excited!
Vanessa King’s A Certain Appeal met all of my expectations. Liz Bennet (called Bennet by her friends) is stage kitten at Meryton, a burlesque venue where she works with her best friends, including Jane (here, he’s her best friend and roommate and a singer in the burlesque). The performers find out that Meryton is up for sale and have high hopes that one of their own can buy it . . . with the help of a kind man named Charles. But some people are more skeptical than supportive, including Charles’s best friend Will Darcy.
Just the premise demonstrates the creativity with which King takes the building blocks of Austen’s novel and shifts them—just a bit—to our contemporary world and this setting, in particular. She ramps up the steam and the chemistry between Bennet and Darcy and modifies the subplot with Wickham to suit the modern situation, too.
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the burlesque element, but I absolutely loved it. Every moment of the burlesque is a celebration of individual women, of their joy in their bodies, and of their power over their own sexiness. There’s tons of banter, too, which I also enjoyed, and then King deepens that element, too, showing how banter can be both inviting and standoffish.
Bennet herself is clever and confident, but she’s also still recovering from a betrayal related to her work as a designer. She sees, in the changes at Meryton, a chance to recapture her passion for her career, but she’s also fragile in a way that’s masked by her onstage presence and her quick wittedness.
Will Darcy is completely fabulous, and I loved the secondary characters so much (the relationship between Jane and Charles is just dreamy). Fans of Pride and Prejudice will love this, but I’d also recommend Vanessa King’s A Certain Appeal to anyone who just loves a good, super-steamy romance.
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.