Category: book review

Book Review: The Tragedy of Dane Riley, by Kat Spears

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Dane Riley’s grasp on reality is slipping, and he’s not sure that he cares. While his mother has moved on after his father’s death, Dane desperately misses the man who made Dane feel okay to be himself. He can’t stand his mother’s boyfriend, or the boyfriend’s son, whose favorite pastime is tormenting Dane. Then there’s the girl next door: Dane can’t quite define their relationship, and he doesn’t know if he’s got the courage to leave the friend zone.

Dane is an interesting character! He’s sad, but he’s so thoughtful and introspective about everything—and, while I don’t necessarily agree with some of his conclusions, I can see where they make sense to him, in the middle of the shadows where he is.

His mother comes across as clueless and insensitive, but I loved the reveal about her boyfriend. I like Ophelia, too, but she and Dane were both totally oblivious to each other’s interest, which was frustrating. I have to say, I didn’t care for the ending. It left things feeling unresolved, so that was definitely not a plus, but this book dealt with depression and grief in a way that draws the reader into Dane’s head, so they can understand exactly how he’s feeling.

Kat Spears thinks being a teenager sucked, so now she writes about it. The Tragedy of Dane Riley is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The House Guests, by Emilie Richards

Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

TitleThe House Guests

AuthorEmilie Richards

Genre:  Fiction

Rating:  4.5 out of 5

In the wake of her husband’s sudden death, Cassie Costas finds her relationship with her teenage stepdaughter unraveling. After their move to historic Tarpon Springs, Florida, Savannah hates her new town, her school and most of all her stepmom, whom she blames for her father’s death. Cassie has enough to contend with as she searches for answers about the man she shared a life with, including why all their savings have disappeared.

When Savannah’s rebellion culminates in an act that leaves single mother Amber Blair and her sixteen-year-old son homeless, Cassie empathizes with the woman’s predicament and invites the strangers to move in. As their lives intertwine, Cassie realizes that Amber is hiding something. She’s evasive about her past, but the fear in her eyes tells a darker story. Cassie wonders what the woman living under her roof is running from…and what will happen if it finally catches up to her.

This book wasn’t what I expected—in a good way! I enjoyed both Cassie’s and Amber’s viewpoints and stories, but I found Savannah more than a touch annoyingly selfish and oblivious (although there was character growth, thankfully). The friendship that developed between the two women was believable and realistic—no insta-best friends here.

The unraveling of the two mysteries was well-done, leaving the reader intrigued and curious, with no dumping of information to overwhelm the senses. I think the best part of the story was the Greek family and culture layered in, not to mention the descriptions of food. The author juggled all the different plotlines fantastically, bringing them all together into one tidy and fascinating package.

Emilie Richards is a bestselling author from Florida. The House Guests is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/MIRA in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous, by Suzanne Park

Image belongs to Sourcebooks Fire.

Sunny Song’s Big Summer Goals:

1) Make Rafael Kim my boyfriend (finally!)

2) Hit 100K followers (almost there…)

3) Have the best last summer of high school ever

Not on Sunny’s list: accidentally filming a PG-13 cooking video that goes viral (#browniegate). Extremely not on her list: being shipped off to a digital detox farm camp in Iowa (IOWA??) for a whole month. She’s traded in her WiFi connection for a butter churn, and if she wants any shot at growing her social media platform this summer, she’ll need to find a way back online.

But between some unexpected friendships and an alarmingly cute farm boy, Sunny might be surprised by the connections she makes when she’s forced to disconnect.

That was an entertaining read. The obsession with social media was almost too much for me—please, people, live your actual life—but I enjoyed Sunny’s growth from living and breathing for her followers and likes to actually looking around and interacting with people.

The writing was solid and the description of Iowa was vivid and well-done—I assume, as I’ve never been there—and I could almost feel the heat. I wasn’t quite sure what Sunny would decide at the end, so that was fun, too. She showed a lot of character growth, but it was done gradually and believably, making this an enjoyable read.

Suzanne Park was born and raised in Tennessee. Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Sourcebooks Fire in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Abduction of Pretty Penny, by Leonard Goldberg

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Press.

Joanna and the Watsons are called in by the Whitechapel Playhouse to find Pretty Penny, a lovely, young actress who has gone missing without reason or notice. While on their search, the trio is asked by Scotland Yard to join in the hunt for a vicious murderer whose method resembles that of Jack The Ripper. It soon becomes clear that The Ripper has reemerged after a 28-year absence and is once again murdering young prostitutes in Whitechapel.

Following a line of subtle clues, Joanna quickly reasons that Pretty Penny has been taken capture by the killer. But as Joanna moves closer to learning his true identity, the killer sends her a letter indicating her young son Johnny will be the next victim to die. Time is running out, and Joanna has no choice but to devise a most dangerous plan which will bring her face-to-face with the killer. It is the only chance to protect her son and rescue Pretty Penny, and save both from an agonizing death.

This is the first book in this series I’ve read…and I’m not sure I’ll read more. Solid writing and interesting characters, but it just didn’t keep my attention. I was never that invested in what happened to Pretty Penny—I didn’t feel a connection to her at all—and the POV was very distant for the other characters, so I felt like I was watching a TV show, not actually involved. And, frankly, I felt like the resolution—despite the Jack the Ripper mystery—was a bit of a let down.

Leonard Goldberg is a physicist and professor of medicine The Abduction of Pretty Penny is his newest novel, the newest installment in the Daughter of Sherlock Holmes series.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Death on the Night of Lost Lizards, by Julia Buckley

Image belongs to Berkley.

Hana Keller and her tea-leaf reading grandmother are used to finding the perfect savory treats to pair with a delicious cuppa at her family’s tea house but when a local professor is killed, she uncovers a serving of suspects instead…

Hana Keller is getting ready for a lovely holiday season. She decides to host a tea at her apartment for her closest friends. During the cozy get-together, one of Hana’s friends gets a call that a murderer is on the loose and that the women should be careful. Hana soon learns that Sandor Balog, a professor of Hungarian Studies at the local college, has been viciously killed.

Hana gets one of her visions that she is going to be pulled into the professor’s death somehow. When Erik, her handsome detective boyfriend, finds several suspects at the Tea House, Hana knows she must now investigate. And when the wrong man is arrested, things come to a boil and Hana finds herself in the path of the real killer.

I enjoyed this read! The characters and setting—a Hungarian family-owned tea house—is unique, and I kind of want to hang out with these people. Actually, this book almost made winter and lots of snow sound appealing…which is saying something, for a lifelong southerner.

To me, the murderer wasn’t glaringly obvious, which is great, as “mysteries” where the culprit is clear are boring to read. Hana and her circle of people are fun and people I genuinely would like to spend time with. Definitely read this!

Julia Buckley lives in the Chicago area and teaches high school English. Death on the Night of Lost Lizards is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Berkley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Time for Murder Is Meow, by T. C. LoTempio

Image belongs to Beyond the Page Publishing.

When her TV series is canceled, struggling actress Shell McMillan considers it a blessing in disguise. A beloved aunt who recently died left her a pet shop in her will, and she sees it as the perfect chance to walk away from Hollywood and make a fresh start in the sleepy town of Fox Hollow.

But adjusting to small-town life won’t be easy, as Shell realizes when the head of the museum board is found murdered not long after Shell had a very public argument with her. And when the new kid in town is fingered for the crime, she’ll have to rely on her own wit and pluck and the kindness of strangers to get herself off the hook.

Desperate to exonerate herself and catch the real culprit, Shell begins digging into the lives of the local residents, and she quickly discovers that the victim had no shortage of enemies. As the suspect list grows and time runs short, Shell and her cats will have to claw their way out of danger—and it’s meow or never . . .

This was an okay read, the beginning to a series I won’t be reading any more of. I’ve read some enjoyable cozy mysteries featuring pets, but this one…well, for one thing, the cats are too humanized. I’ve had cats my entire life, and I have yet to have one point at something. Repeatedly. Talk back, yes, but actually point at things? No.

The characters were also just so-so to me. Shell has a tendency to completely overreact to things, and that she got so angry at the museum board for not wanting to sue her aunt’s memorabilia was a little too over-the-top to me. This just wasn’t a good fit for me.

T. C. LoTempio lives in New Jersey. The Time for Murder is Meow is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Beyond the Page Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Warsaw Orphan, by Kelly Rimmer

Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

TitleThe Warsaw Orphan
Author Kelly Rimmer
Genre:  Historical fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

In the spring of 1942, young Elzbieta Rabinek is aware of the swiftly growing discord just beyond the courtyard of her comfortable Warsaw home. She has no fondness for the Germans who patrol her streets and impose their curfews, but has never given much thought to what goes on behind the walls that contain her Jewish neighbors. She knows all too well about German brutality–and that it’s the reason she must conceal her true identity. But in befriending Sara, a nurse who shares her apartment floor, Elzbieta makes a discovery that propels her into a dangerous world of deception and heroism.

Using Sara’s credentials to smuggle children out of the ghetto brings Elzbieta face-to-face with the reality of the war behind its walls, and to the plight of the Gorka family, who must make the impossible decision to give up their newborn daughter or watch her starve. For Roman Gorka, this final injustice stirs him to rebellion with a zeal not even his newfound love for Elzbieta can suppress. But his recklessness brings unwanted attention to Sara’s cause, unwittingly putting Elzbieta and her family in harm’s way until one violent act threatens to destroy their chance at freedom forever.

I’ve read a number of books about World War II, but I’m not sure I’ve ever read one set in Warsaw. With the different points-of-view, the reader sees what life is like inside the ghetto, but what it looks like outside the ghetto, too. This was an engrossing read, and although not a light or happy one, there were some glimmers of light peeking through.

I recommend this read, for illustrating a slightly different aspect of the World War II tragedy. The characters are believable and I was invested in what happened to them and how they learned and grew from their experiences.

Kelly Rimmer is a bestselling author. The Warsaw Orphan is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Stepsisters, by Susan Mallery

Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

TitleThe Stepsisters
AuthorSusan Mallery
Genre:  Women’s fiction
Rating:  3.8 out of 5

Once upon a time, when her dad married Sage’s mom, Daisy was thrilled to get a bright and shiny new sister. But Sage was beautiful and popular, everything Daisy was not, and she made sure Daisy knew it.

Sage didn’t have Daisy’s smarts—she had to go back a grade to enroll in the fancy rich-kid school. So she used her popularity as a weapon, putting Daisy down to elevate herself. After the divorce, the stepsisters’ rivalry continued until the final, improbable straw: Daisy married Sage’s first love, and Sage fled California.

Eighteen years, two kids and one troubled marriage later, Daisy never expects—or wants—to see Sage again. But when the little sister they have in common needs them both, they put aside their differences to care for Cassidy. As long-buried truths are revealed, no one is more surprised than they when friendship blossoms.

Their fragile truce is threatened by one careless act that could have devastating consequences. They could turn their backs on each other again…or they could learn to forgive once and for all and finally become true sisters of the heart.

I’m actually kind of surprised I finished reading this. The rather dramatic opening scene was solid, but I took an almost instant dislike to Sage, which took a while to turn into acceptance. I didn’t care for Cassidy at all. She was too whiny and dramatic for me.

I liked Daisy and sympathized with her struggles, but I can see how growing up with her would have been difficult. She always has to be right and watching her being doted on by her father probably wasn’t easy to take, either. Sage’s “careless act” was more of a “deliberate and ruthless act” than anything and would be almost impossible for anyone to forgive, much less someone she had such a tenuous family relationship with.

Susan Mallery is a bestselling author. The Stepsisters is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/MIRA in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Legends of the North Cascades, by Jonathan Evison

Image belongs to Algonquin Books.

TitleLegends of the North Cascades
AuthorJonathan Evison
Genre:  Fiction        
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Dave Cartwright is already living on the edge, with a blue collar job he hates that barely pays the bills, a house on the verge of foreclosure, a failing marriage, and the recurring memories of three tours in Iraq. His only bright spot is his sometimes too-wise daughter, Bella, who sees and understands much beyond her years. When the unthinkable occurs, Dave makes a seemingly over-the-top decision to move with Bella to a cave in the wilderness. As they embark on this compelling and challenging backcountry adventure, Bella’s reality takes an unforeseen turn, retreating into the ancient world of a mother and son who lived in the cave thousands of years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. What unfolds amidst the struggle to survive is a meditation on both the perils of isolation and the human need for connection.

I’m not 100% sure what I think about this book. Excellent writing and the setting was vivid and vibrant, but…honestly, I finished the book and thought “What was the point?” I felt sympathy for Dave and his struggles—and I actually agree with him about wanting to shut the world out because of the toxicity and hate—but we didn’t get to see his moment of epiphany.

The ending was very abrupt, and I didn’t even care if Dave lived or died. I cared about Bella, yes, but what was the point of her flashbacks into the ancient past? Why did they even happen—and how? No answers, sadly.

Jonathan Evison is a bestselling author. Legends of the North Cascades is his newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Algonquin Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Best Books I Read in May (2021)

In May, I read 29 books, bringing my total for the year to 107 books. I actually DNFed nine other books, which is an usually high number for me. However, I also read some fantastic books in May. Actually, it’s too hard to narrow it down to three, so I’m going to go over a bit.

The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman, by Julietta Henderson. This started off a little bit slow, but it ended up being so, so good! Norman is an awesome character, and I loved his mom and her struggles, too.

New Girl in Little Cove, by Damhnait Monaghan. I was enchanted with this from the very beginning. The setting is just as much a character as any of the actual people in this story, and it was so vividly described I could almost see it.

The Summer Seekers, by Sarah Morgan. I loved all three main characters of this and couldn’t put it down!

The Girl in His Shadow, by Audrey Blake. This historical set when women in England couldn’t practice medicine was engrossing—and mildly infuriating—but so good.

Lady Sunshine, by Amy Mason Doan (review forthcoming). I ended up being completely sucked into this novel from the very beginning. It was so unexpected, yet so riveting and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened.