Thursday, July 2, 2020

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner

Big Summer
by Jennifer Weiner
Published May 5th 2020 by Atria Books

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the “nothing short of brilliant” (People) Mrs. Everything returns with an unforgettable novel about friendship and forgiveness set during a disastrous wedding on picturesque Cape Cod.

Six years after the fight that ended their friendship, Daphne Berg is shocked when Drue Cavanaugh walks back into her life, looking as lovely and successful as ever, with a massive favor to ask. Daphne hasn’t spoken one word to Drue in all this time—she doesn’t even hate-follow her ex-best friend on social media—so when Drue asks if she will be her maid-of-honor at the society wedding of the summer, Daphne is rightfully speechless.

Drue was always the one who had everything—except the ability to hold onto friends. Meanwhile, Daphne’s no longer the same self-effacing sidekick she was back in high school. She’s built a life that she loves, including a growing career as a plus-size Instagram influencer. Letting glamorous, seductive Drue back into her life is risky, but it comes with an invitation to spend a weekend in a waterfront Cape Cod mansion. When Drue begs and pleads and dangles the prospect of cute single guys, Daphne finds herself powerless as ever to resist her friend’s siren song.

A sparkling novel about the complexities of female friendship, the pitfalls of living out loud and online, and the resilience of the human heart, Big Summer is a witty, moving story about family, friendship, and figuring out what matters most.

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5 Stars
Daphne Burg has figured out her life since college, she's no longer the sidekick friend that gets pity dates or spends all her time trying to satisfy others. She has a successful, growing career as a plus-size Instagram influencer and is leading a life that she loves. Making up with her old best friend, Drue Cavanaugh, was not on her list of things to do, but her wedding is the talk of society and she wants Daphne to be her Maid of Honor. She thinks she's above the gas lighting and manipulation, but when the celebration at the Cape takes a turn Daphne must figure out what matters the most.

I was completely surprised by this book, like many others said the blurb has you go in fairly blind and it was an unexpectedly fun read for me. Jennifer Weiner takes readers on a journey of self exploration, friendship, family, and mystery. It's the perfect women's fiction beach read with just the right amount of suspense to keep you interested. Big Summer is not the chick-lit you fear it might be, this book had everything I want when I'm escaping the world for a bit.

Daphne is such a great character, even if she needed to go through some major personal growth in this novel. I love that she was plus-size, really enjoyed the Instagram influencer side of the story, and her romantic entanglement is quite entertaining. Her inner child comes out and I think Jennifer Weiner did an excellent job of capturing how much your formative years really do shape you and affect you later in life, especially when your former best friend is a woman like Drue. Their interactions felt so authentic, as did all of the secondary characters, I could picture this entire book playing out. Plus, the mystery plot was quite intriguing and totally new from Jennifer Weiner. I don't want to give more away, but you've got to read this book.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

California Girls by Susan Mallery

California Girls
by Susan Mallery
Published: February 26th 2019 by Mira Books

The California sunshine’s not quite so bright for three sisters who get dumped in the same week…

Finola, a popular LA morning show host, is famously upbeat until she’s blindsided on live TV by news that her husband is sleeping with a young pop sensation who has set their affair to music. While avoiding the tabloids and pretending she’s just fine, she’s crumbling inside, desperate for him to come to his senses and for life to go back to normal.

Zennie’s breakup is no big loss. Although the world insists she pair up, she’d rather be surfing. So agreeing to be the surrogate for her best friend is a no-brainer—after all, she has an available womb and no other attachments to worry about. Except…when everyone else, including her big sister, thinks she’s making a huge mistake, being pregnant is a lot lonelier—and more complicated—than she imagined.

Never the tallest, thinnest or prettiest sister, Ali is used to being overlooked, but when her fiancĂ© sends his disapproving brother to call off the wedding, it’s a new low. And yet Daniel continues to turn up “for support,” making Ali wonder if maybe—for once—someone sees her in a way no one ever has.

But side by side by side, these sisters will start over and rebuild their lives with all the affection, charm and laugh-out-loud humor that is classic Susan Mallery.

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5 Stars

It only takes one week for Finola's picture perfect marriage to implode, for Zennie's maybe to dump her, and for Ali's fiance to send his brother to do his dirty work. One week, three sisters, three relationships. Like all sisters, there is love and there is competition and there are hard feelings from their unconventional upbringing with their highly disapproving mother. Forced to face their own issues, the sisters discover that to start over they first have to work together.

"Finola told herself they weren’t deliberately cruel, they were just young and thoughtless. At least she hoped they were because otherwise the next generation was going to be a disappointment."

Filled with love, laughter, and heart, California Girls was the Susan Mallery read I didn't know I needed. It's women's fiction at it's best, with the three sisters uncovering their identities and learning how to be sisters again. It's about facing the past, facing the now, and making futures that rely on them finally standing on their own two feet. It's a bit heart-wrenching I admit, I cried a lot, especially with Ali's chapters, but it's also so heart warming. I love a good family story and this is the sort of romantic family story that I want to reread over and over.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

Chosen Ones (The Chosen Ones, #1)
by Veronica Roth
Published April 7th 2020 by John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The first novel written for an adult audience by the mega-selling author of the Divergent franchise: five twenty-something heroes famous for saving the world when they were teenagers must face even greater demons--and reconsider what it means to be a hero . . . by destiny or by choice.

A decade ago near Chicago, five teenagers defeated the otherworldly enemy known as the Dark One, whose reign of terror brought widespread destruction and death. The seemingly un-extraordinary teens—Sloane, Matt, Ines, Albie, and Esther—had been brought together by a clandestine government agency because one of them was fated to be the “Chosen One,” prophesized to save the world. With the goal achieved, humankind celebrated the victors and began to mourn their lost loved ones.

Ten years later, though the champions remain celebrities, the world has moved forward and a whole, younger generation doesn’t seem to recall the days of endless fear. But Sloane remembers. It’s impossible for her to forget when the paparazzi haunt her every step just as the Dark One still haunts her dreams. Unlike everyone else, she hasn’t moved on; she’s adrift—no direction, no goals, no purpose. On the eve of the Ten Year Celebration of Peace, a new trauma hits the Chosen: the death of one of their own. And when they gather for the funeral at the enshrined site of their triumph, they discover to their horror that the Dark One’s reign never really ended.

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4 Stars

I haven't picked up a dystopian-like novel in a long time, I've outgrown the draw of teen heroes, but when I heard that Veronica Roth had something for adult readers I knew I had to have it. Chosen Ones doesn't start like you'd think though, we're thrust right into an Earth post-war, the four Chosen Ones have won, it's ten years later and they are facing a different kind of battle. From the perspective of Sloane we follow the four friends as they figure out what's next, struggle with PTSD, and live in a world that views them as heroes. Sloane is unsettled though and with the ten year anniversary comes a new threat. Kidnapped into an alternate universe, the parallels to Earth are uncanny and they too have a Dark One to defeat.

I liked Sloane a ton, so even in the slow start of Part One I was sucked into Chosen Ones right away. I loved that Veronica Roth was making readers think about what it really means to have been chosen, what that life looks like for a hero. The five characters, Sloane, Matt, Esther, Ines, and Albie, all have different post-Dark One experiences and I thought we'd be getting a story about what it means to look up to those expectations, especially in a world that is still very similar to our current one. Roth initially mentions the racism Matt experiences while being considered the true Chosen One, Esther has turned this into a money making opportunity, we see snippets of drug abuse in Albie, we know Ines and Sloane have severe PTSD, but then all of that is tossed to the side as we fall into Part Two. Did I love Part Two and Three? Yes. I loved Sloane's story and her battle in Genetrix, but I feel like a great relevant story was just there waiting to be written and Roth dropped it in favor of the more captivating, fun plot. I really enjoyed the book, but I also think I would have loved the book we didn't get to read.

Part Two and Three are like entirely separate novels from Part One, suddenly we are thrust into Genetrix and Sloane is not the young hero she once was. She is hardened, she does not have patience, and she doesn't put up with false niceties. While there are other characters along for the ride, not only does Sloane's perspective give us a great sci-fi fantasy story, Sloane herself is easily the most interesting character. Her role as a Chosen One is so massively interesting in this new world, especially as truths are revealed and magic begins playing a huge part. Yes, that's right, magic. You get it all in Chosen Ones; heroes, antiheroes, villains, magic, action, and some highly necessary detailed descriptions of a world much like Earth, but also so very Steampunk.

Chosen Ones is a highly entertaining new release from Veronica Roth that introduces readers to a new adult-aged dystopian world. While I have my concerns, I really hate books written by authors that try to be relevant without doing the work, I'm a fan of Sloane and I really want to see where this series goes. This is not the usual heroes trope you're used to and I am here for it.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Review: The Inside Man - Brittney Sahin

The Inside Man
(Dublin Nights #4)
by Brittney Sahin
Published April 30, 2020

They'll do anything for a second shot at forever.

When Cole McGregor entered my life, my whole world changed. My new neighbor was older, gorgeous, and the Irish accent had me swooning. And no matter what, he was always there for me, but only as a friend.

The day I walked out of his life without a trace . . . I'd left not as a young girl with a crush but as a woman in love.

I regretted my decision to leave Cole behind, but I never doubted the reason for my choice--the chance to find my brother even if I also found myself caught up in a shadowy world of danger.

Now, years later, my path has crossed Cole's again, and this time, in his home of Dublin. I've been through so much since I left New York, and I'm not prepared to share my secrets with anyone, not my brother, and especially not Cole.

With Cole stepping into an influential role in the city, one that comes with significant risk as he tries to take down the corrupt from the inside, I'm not sure if I'll ever earn redemption or another chance at love. And with each passing moment, I know one thing for certain--the truth always comes out, and once it does, there'll be no turning back.

The billionaire Irish McGregor family returns in this hot friends-to-lovers romantic suspense.

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4 Stars

Cole and Alessia have known one another forever, but life has separated them and the distance between them seems insurmountable, at least to Alessia. Where she's spent the time covering her path and learning to inhabit her brother Sebastian's life, Cole has spent his looking for the girl, now woman, he can't forget. They never expected for their paths to cross again in Cole's hometown of Dublin and certainly not with the dangers of Sebastian's life threatening them at every turn. Alessia will have to learn how to share her secrets as Cole steps into a prominent role and vows to care for the haunted, beautiful woman he has always loved.

We got to know Alessia briefly in her brother's novel, The Real Deal, and we know going into this novel that she's been through hell so even I, a Brittney Sahin fanatic, wasn't sure the romance we'd get in The Inside Man. Cole loves her from their youth, but Alessia is changed and the world they now have to live in has as well. They operate in a criminal world, attempting to make it safer, but coming across the danger themselves daily. There is bloodshed, secrets, fights, and revenge; worst of all, Alessia has kept the most dangerous secret to herself. The chemistry between them is blazing, but the path to romance is not an easy one for these two.

I may be in the minority, but I didn't love Alessia at all. She is a strong, courageous woman who has been through things and that didn't always translate to the pages. The men are classic men, they're out to protect and love, but Alessia, until much later in the novel, doesn't feel like she stands beside them even though she absolutely has the power to do so. She felt weak and I struggled with that. That said, she and Cole have such a great bond that really grows as the novel progresses and I loved seeing the history between them play out. They're the kind of characters who you instantly know work and that's just nice, especially with all the action going on. I had no doubt that Cole would find a way with Alessia, so I spent more of my time enjoying the fighting, the revenge, and the plotting.

The Inside Man is another action-packed, romantic suspense from Brittney Sahin. The world building in the Dublin Nights series is just incredible and I highly recommend the series.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Review: The Sunday Girl - Pip Drysdale

The Sunday Girl
by Pip Drysdale
Published May 19, 2020 by Sourcebooks

Any woman who’s ever been involved with a bad, bad man and been dumped will understand what it feels like to be broken, broken-hearted and bent on revenge.

Taylor Bishop is hurt, angry and wants to destroy Angus Hollingsworth in the way he destroyed her: Insidiously. Irreparably. Like a puzzle, he’d slowly dissembled … stolen a couple of pieces from, and then discarded, knowing that nobody would ever be able to put it back together ever again.

So Taylor consults The Art of War and makes a plan. Then she takes the next irrevocable step — one that will change her life forever.

Things start to spiral out of her control — and The Sunday Girl becomes impossible to put down.

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5 Stars
Creepy, engaging, and impossible to put down. Pip Drysdale's The Sunday Girl is the revenge you always wish the girls in the books with the bad boyfriends would take, yet it isn't at all as simple as one would like to think. Taylor Bishop is more than hurt by the end of her relationship, her world has tilted off its axis and with it some of her sanity. Desperate to hurt him in a way that damages him as much as he has done to her she begins to take the steps to ruin him. Reputation, money, career, nothing is off the table, but Angus Hollingsworth isn't just a bad boyfriend he's far worse than Taylor even knows. Nothing is off the table as the two start a terrifying battle of wits, one that puts both of their lives into jeopardy with only one winner guaranteed.

I went into The Sunday Girl blind and I am so glad I did, there is nothing more satisfying than reading a novel with a good girl narrator who has slowly and insidiously had darkness poured into her. I had no idea the part that The Art of War would play, no clue the abuse she had taken, and absolutely no hint as to the steps both she and her ex would take to tear one another apart. This isn't just a story of a jilted lover, this is a woman whose life has been taken apart piece by piece and her ex won't let her even get a step up on him, no he has plans to take those puzzle pieces and scatter them, leaving it impossible to put back together.

Taylor seems to be brave, but it is clear she was once a meek girl with no self-confidence that landed a relationship with a man she thought far superior to herself. I really enjoyed the breaks from the warfare to see who Taylor really was and could be without the narcissistic Angus pulling her strings. It is only through some brutal psychological abuse that she drops her sweet side for a mask made of armor. The Sunday Girl isn't all domestic drama though, no things spill over into their careers, their friendships, and their romantic dalliances. No one is spared and it is hard to imagine how life could possibly move forward after the events in this novel.

The Sunday Girl held my attention from start to finish, I could not put it down. It was just twisted enough, just girl power enough, and just unique enough that I could not predict what would happen next. If you love psychological thrillers, this is the next book to pick up. For Book Club fans, there are some excellent guided questions in the back of this novel.
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