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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Star Bright - Staci Hart

It's finally here!! Star Bright, the first in Staci Hart's brand new Bright Young Things series, is available now. Grab your copy of Star Bright from your preferred online book retailer today!

Stella Spencer has one enemy—her secrets.

The world’s obsession with the Bright Young Things is real. Every lavish party thrown by the most exclusive group in New York is a spectacle, stalked not only by the media, but by the police commissioner, who’s declared war. He’s out to ruin everyone’s good time, starting with uncovering the mysterious benefactor leading the group, thus answering the question on everyone’s lips.

Who is Cecelia Beaton?

And no one knows it’s Stella.

If society finds out the truth, her plans will unravel. And with one smoldering look from a stranger, her carefully ordered world catches fire.

Levi Hunt has one plan—get the story.

His future at Vagabond magazine depends on his ability to do the one thing no one can: infiltrate the Bright Young Things. If he can find out who Cecelia Beaton is, he’ll earn enough notoriety to permanently secure his career.

His dreams are at his fingertips, so long as he doesn’t blow his cover. But one night with the brightest, most brilliant young thing of all, and he knows he’ll have to make a choice.

The job he loves or the woman of his dreams.

Secrets and lies. Love and laughter. And two people with something to hide and everything to gain.

Welcome to the party.

5 Stars

Stella, Z, New York City, and glittering parties. Staci thrusts readers into a creative new series with a clever combining of the Bright Young Things of the past and today’s modernization. Levi Hunt is looking for the scoop on the rich, boisterous affairs, he’s set on uncovering THE Cecelia Burton, it’s his key to success. He’s up to the task, willing to take any risk, until Stella Spencer’s eyes meet his. She’ll reveal to him the beauty and power in the secretive affairs, but not before falling for his lies, not before they’re too entangled to make it out unscathed. Sparkling, descriptive, and oh so fun, Star Bright is just the start of the Bright Young Things.

"You can't have the story and the girl."

Holy writing, Staci Hart! The prose in this novel is just beyond! It’s elegant, descriptive, flowery when necessary, and equally as blunt when the dialogue calls for it. I’m a Staci fan girl, I’ll read whatever she gives us, but this truly is her best work. I could picture every character, every scene, every party playing out before me.

I loved Star Bright so darn much. With jazz playing in the background I dove headfirst into the sequins alongside Levi. He’s a good guy with a chip on his shoulder and a goal in mind, his ill-conceived idea just luckily landed him among the right people, the right girl. I love that Staci gives us a hero to love, but shares his flaws right away too. Stella, in all her wealth and beauty, has a heart of gold. She collects friends, cares generously, and loves hard, albeit naively. You read this with a pit feeling in your stomach, waiting for the other shoe to drop, as readers we know the truth, but it's impossible to not want these two together. Alongside the fated couple are some standout secondary characters, Staci did some incredible world building with them, and I can't wait to see the others in their own novels.

"'...And what a thing to belong to, isn't it?'
'A very bright thing.'
'A very bright thing indeed.'"

Star Bright is a great new series introductory novel and stands out for just how fun and magical it is to read. The first time Levi enters a BYT party he goes down a rabbit hole of feathers and charm and beauty and we go right along with him. I could live in this novel and I highly recommend you accept an invitation to the hottest party of the year, too.

Staci has been a lot of things up to this point in her life -- a graphic designer, an entrepreneur, a seamstress, a clothing and handbag designer, a waitress. Can't forget that. She's also been a mom, with three little girls who are sure to grow up to break a number of hearts. She's been a wife, though she's certainly not the cleanest, or the best cook. She's also super, duper fun at a party, especially if she's been drinking whiskey. When she's not writing, she's reading, sleeping, gaming, or designing graphics.
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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.
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