Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest List
by Lucy Foley
Published June 2nd 2020 by William Morrow

The bride ‧ The plus one ‧ The best man ‧ The wedding planner ‧ The bridesmaid ‧ The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

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5 Stars

Lucy Foley has gifted readers with a classic murder mystery novel, giving Agatha Christie a modern update with a flashy wedding off the coast of Ireland on the secluded Cormorant Island. Told in a whodunit style, The Guest List follows the bride, the plus one, the best man, the wedding planner, and the bridesmaid, along with a few extra added narrators, as the wedding festivities get underway prior to the discovery of a body. Jules expects perfection for her wedding, it has all been coordinated, but when the alcohol flows all plans go with it. 

I could not put this book down, I read it entirely in one sitting, captivated by the eerie, atmospheric setting of the island. I could not wait to find out just what had created the fear in the guests as the power goes out in the wedding tent. The characters had such unique voices, I loved reading their innermost thoughts about the wedding, the bride and groom, one another. Every character has secrets, desires, and motive. We don't know who is dead, we don't know how they died, we don't know who did it, but we know every single person on the island is holding onto something that could drive them to murder.  Taking place over two festive days, Cormorant Island's own haunting history brings out the worst in everyone. 

The Guest List lives up to the hype and then some. None of my predictions were correct and I spent the last 100 pages in shock. I loved that I never guessed the ending, coming up with ideas was half the fun of reading as Lucy Foley threw twist after twist in. This absorbing, edge-of-your-seat read is easily at the top of my list for excellent reads this year. Every character is compelling, the setting is a character in itself, and well, the mystery is just one you'll have to discover for yourself.

The Wedding Date Disaster by Avery Flynn

The Wedding Date Disaster
by Avery Flynn
Published August 25th 2020 by Entangled: Amara

Hadley Donavan can’t believe she has to go home to Nebraska for her sister’s wedding. She’s gonna need a wingman and a whole lot of vodka for this level of family interaction. At least her bestie agreed he’d man up and help. But then instead of her best friend, his evil twin strolls out of the airport.

If you looked up doesn’t-deserve-to-be-that-confident, way-too-hot-for-his-own-good billionaire in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of Will Holt. He’s awful. Horrible. The worst―even if his butt looks phenomenal in those jeans.

Ten times worse? Hadley’s buffer was supposed to be there to keep her away from the million and one family events. But Satan’s spawn just grins and signs them up for every. Single. Thing.

Fine. “Cutthroat” Scrabble? She’s in. She can’t wait to take this guy down a notch. But somewhere between Pictionary and the teasing glint in his eyes, their bickering starts to feel like more than just a game…
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4 Stars

Hadley Donavan’s life isn’t the rosy world she’s been describing to her family, it’s more cramped apartment, low level job, and single-hood. Not willing to give up the charade she has her best friend along for the ride, masked as her boyfriend for the big family wedding back home. Only problem? His evil twin who is convinced she’s money hungry showed up and seems set on making her suffer. Despite how he drives her crazy, something about him keeps tugging at her.

Time flew by as I enjoyed Avery Flynn’s latest romantic comedy. The Wedding Date Disaster is silly and heartwarming, it was a perfect light read for me that made me forget it all for a little while. Hadley and Will are really the perfect match, their bickering even was a form of flirting. I laughed so much, their antics to get back at one another truly revealed their feelings. I also loved that we got an honest portrayal of family, careers, and how much effort it takes to win someone over that you care for.

The Wedding Date Disaster was an instant win for me, it’s another successful laughter inducing read from the queen of rom-com.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

A Wedding in December by Sarah Morgan

A Wedding in December
by Sarah Morgan
Published October 31st 2019 by HQN Books

From the USA Today bestselling author of The Christmas Sisters comes this funny, charming and heartwarming all new original Christmas novel. This is Sarah Morgan at her festive best!

In the snowy perfection of Aspen, the White family gathers for youngest daughter Rosie’s whirlwind Christmas wedding. First to arrive are the bride’s parents, Maggie and Nick. Their daughter’s marriage is a milestone they are determined to celebrate wholeheartedly, but they are hiding a huge secret of their own: they are on the brink of divorce. After living apart for the last six months, the last thing they need is to be trapped together in an irresistibly romantic winter wonderland.

Rosie’s older sister, Katie, is also dreading the wedding. Worried that impulsive, sweet-hearted Rosie is making a mistake, Katie is determined to save her sister from herself! If only the irritatingly good-looking best man, Jordan, would stop interfering with her plans…

Bride-to-be Rosie loves her fiancĂ© but is having serious second thoughts. Except everyone has arrived—how can she tell them she’s not sure? As the big day gets closer, and emotions run even higher, this is one White family Christmas none of them will ever forget!

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5 Stars
Maggie is the mother of two charming, smart daughters whom she misses terribly. She spends all year looking forward to spending Christmas at the family's cottage in the UK, especially this year when life has kept them apart and has Maggie and her husband keeping a secret. Her youngest, Rosie, is known to be impulsive, but to request the entire to family to come to Colorado for her wedding with two weeks notice is more than Maggie can handle. Terrified of flying and the truth, Maggie's husband manages to get her aboard a plane for the holidays, where they'll join their eldest, Katie. Katie, too, is harboring a secret, and even worse, isn't really there to attend the wedding, but to ruin it. This Christmas isn't turning out like a White Family Christmas at all, but at least there will be snow.

Funny, heartwarming, and romantic, A Wedding in December is a truly wonderful family-focused read by Sarah Morgan. Christmas is just the backdrop to this cozy read, featuring snowmobile trips, sled dogs, family bickering, and three women who just don't know how to handle their secrets or their emotions. I loved the entire White family, I could relate with Maggie, Katie, and Rosie as they tried to tackle the trip. There's also some fantastic secondary characters that brought the story to life, I could hear the characters unique voices in the dialogue. Each of the women's perspectives told their own story, each tied together perfectly to make a cohesive entertaining book.

A Wedding in December was just the read I needed and I am sure it will be one I revisit as the holidays draw closer. Sarah Morgan gives readers a Hallmark Movie-like read, without the unbelievable plot lines and the overwhelming amount of cheer. I absolutely adored this family-themed novel.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Godshot by Chelsea Bieker

by Chelsea Bieker
Published March 31st 2020 by Catapult

Drought has settled on the town of Peaches, California. The area of the Central Valley where fourteen-year-old Lacey May and her alcoholic mother live was once an agricultural paradise. Now it’s an environmental disaster, a place of cracked earth and barren raisin farms. In their desperation, residents have turned to a cult leader named Pastor Vern for guidance. He promises, through secret “assignments,” to bring the rain everybody is praying for.

Lacey has no reason to doubt the pastor. But then her life explodes in a single unimaginable act of abandonment: her mother, exiled from the community for her sins, leaves Lacey and runs off with a man she barely knows. Abandoned and distraught, Lacey May moves in with her widowed grandma, Cherry, who is more concerned with her taxidermy mice collection than her own granddaughter. As Lacey May endures the increasingly appalling acts of men who want to write all the rules, and begins to uncover the full extent of Pastor Vern’s shocking plan to bring fertility back to the land, she decides she must go on a quest to find her mother, no matter what it takes. With her only guidance coming from the romance novels she reads and the unlikely companionship of the women who knew her mother, she must find her own way through unthinkable circumstances.

Possessed of an unstoppable plot and a brilliantly soulful voice, Godshot is a book of grit and humor and heart, a debut novel about female friendship and resilience, mother-loss and motherhood, and seeking salvation in unexpected places. It introduces a writer who gives Flannery O’Connor’s Gothic parables a Californian twist and who emerges with a miracle that is all her own.

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5 Stars
Lacey Mae's mother brought her into the church, the followers believe their pastor will bring the rain, but with his teachings come assignments, assignments that draw Lacey May's mother away. Drawn to the bottle and pursuing a new life with a new man, her mother leaves Lacey May behind, just as her first blood appears. The pastor believes he can bestow fertility upon the land, but the assignments he gives the young girls and boys is beyond what you can imagine. Desperate to hold onto anything she can of her mother, Lacey May turns to her mother's old romance novels and her previous job as a telephone companion. A story of grief, hope, fear, and love, Godshot is Chelsea Bieker's debut novel about a young girl and the resilience all women share.

“I loved watching her. My mother was the sun in a dark room.”

Oh my cult fascinated soul was so happy with this book. Maybe it was due to my familiarity with the landscape in dry Central California, maybe it was the desperation in Lacey May, maybe it was the religious cult story line, I don't know that I can pinpoint it to just one thing, but Godshot absolutely gutted me. It's a coming-of-age story filled with all the fears mother's express for their young girls, all experienced by and told from the perspective of 14-year-old Lacey May. Naive, impressionable, and yet so smart, Lacey May reads exactly as I would expect a 14 year old teen to. She's both young and old at the same time, her experiences beyond her age. The story is a difficult one, this is not the family love you want, and yet it's the truth of many mother-daughter relationships. Her mother has not protected her, she's selfish and yet there's a complexity to her that you only discover by learning about her just as Lacey May does. You come to sympathize with her, even more so with Lacey May, as Chelsea Bieker describes the life they've each been given.

"Whatever's happened to you can either make you beautiful, or it will ruin you forever. You decide."

Okay, yes there's a cult story line and I really enjoyed it, especially from the perspective of the youth. It's the most perfect example of someone taking advantage of age, upbringing, and opportunity. He preys on youth, enforces gender-roles, and teaches to church members that do not have any proper education. Beyond that though, Godshot is about relationships. Lacey May, at just 14, has some incredible experiences with relationships. Her family, her mother's friends, the old and new friends she makes both inside and outside the church, her own with herself. We see her move from childlike relationships to those that serve her, to friendships where she desires more for others, to understanding her own needs and desires. I so loved Lacey May stepping into her own, learning her own powers and strengths, the resiliency in herself, the power in forgiving and loving.

Disturbing, surprising, and as magnificent as the cover it boasts, Godshot is easily one of my top reads for 2020. Chelsea Bieker has written an engrossing, honest novel with distinctive prose. This is a book you do not forget. It now lives on my bookshelf alongside White Oleander.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Safe Place by Anna Downes

The Safe Place
by Anna Downes
Published July 14th 2020 by Minotaur Books
Genre: Suspense, Thriller

Emily is a mess.

Emily Proudman just lost her acting agent, her job, and her apartment in one miserable day.

Emily is desperate.

Scott Denny, a successful and charismatic CEO, has a problem that neither his business acumen nor vast wealth can fix. Until he meets Emily.

Emily is perfect.

Scott offers Emily a summer job as a housekeeper on his remote, beautiful French estate. Enchanted by his lovely wife Nina, and his eccentric young daughter, Aurelia, Emily falls headlong into this oasis of wine-soaked days by the pool. But soon Emily realizes that Scott and Nina are hiding dangerous secrets, and if she doesn't play along, the consequences could be deadly.

Superbly tense and oozing with atmosphere, Anna Downs's debut is the perfect summer suspense, with the modern gothic feel of Ruth Ware and the morally complex family dynamics of Lisa Jewell.

Welcome to paradise...will you ever be able to leave?

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3.5 Stars
Emily has lost it all; her job, her flat, her acting hopes, and finally her family's faith in her. She feels out of options, she needs money, and somehow her old boss holds the key to her future. Scott Denny is a successful businessman and an even more successful career in keeping secrets. He's been watching Emily and she's perfect for a job at his remote French estate. Taking care of a beautiful home and the handsome Scott's wife and daughter sounds like the perfect job, the perfect solution, but there's something lurking under the surface and Emily doesn't realize it until it's too late.

Creepy, atmospheric, and at times quite predictable, The Safe Place is a fast-paced thriller that I zoomed through in one sitting. It was quite a fun read, especially with the alternating perspectives. Emily's would have bored me, Scott's was mysterious, and Nina...she's completely bonkers. Anna Downes engaged me instantly with Scott and Nina's perspectives, especially the flashback chapters. I really liked this book initially, Emily is so gullible, but I knew immediately something was off and I just really wanted to know what it was. I loved the setting, I loved the creepy, big house, and I loved that Emily was enticed with the idea of wealth and freedom without ever noticing she really had none of that.

Like many thrillers, The Safe Place pulls from what's popular in the media right now and that made it fall a bit flat. I so wish Emily had been a more engaging character and I definitely needed more of her past history to understand how she connected so much with Scott and Nina's daughter. While I found it predictable and I wasn't attached to the main character, I found the story suspenseful and interesting all the way to the end. The Safe Place had an excellent set up, but the final execution ended up being too simple and I felt like it was tied up too quickly, it needed just a bit more and it would've pushed my enjoyment and rating just that much further.

Despite it's pitfalls, The Safe Place is the perfect summer domestic thriller read, I only wish I had been reading it next to a gorgeous pool like that featured on the cover.
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