Monday, June 14, 2021

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

One Last Stop
by Casey McQuiston
Published June 1st 2021 by St. Martin's Griffin

From the New York Times bestselling author of Red, White & Royal Blue comes a new romantic comedy that will stop readers in their tracks...

For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop is a magical, sexy, big-hearted romance where the impossible becomes possible as August does everything in her power to save the girl lost in time.

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5 Stars

Hi, my name is Carlene and I have a big, fat crush on Jane and I think, though I hesitate to say it, that I liked (loved) this book more than Red, White, and Royal Blue. Casey McQuiston saw the sophomore novel challenge and said, let me just show you what I can do. She delivered a perfect coming-of-age, time travel, queer romance novel that was absolutely impossible to put down. I mean, I literally woke up and picked up my phone to keep reading. This is just one of the books of 2021 that I will never stop recommending. It's perfect. Forgive me now for saying perfect so much.

"The hottest girl August has ever seen just took one look at her and said, 'Yikes.' That's it. Today is the day August will finally cry."

August and her band of merry friends are quintessential New Yorkers, from different places and perspectives with their bonds formed through the unique-to-New-York struggle to survive. The world building in this novel is perfection, taking us into modern day subway tunnels and the diners that never seem to change. Then there's Jane, the gorgeous punk girl who gives off 70's vibes, only she really is from the 70's and stuck in time. This would have usually turned me off from the read, but my word I could not put this book down if I tried. August's affections for Jane literally made me the cute watery eye emoji. Their journey to discover just what happened to Jane and what can be done to help is what turns August from a secondary character in her own life into the heroine.

"She kisses her like she's making a reputation."

With the novel's unofficial playlist on and my brain on pause from it's usual "I would never read this type of novel" turned off, I sat down to read One Last Stop and just did not stop. August is awkward, relatable, and totally stumped on answering the question "who are you and who do you want to be when you grow up?". She is just learning, trying to find her place, and New York seems like the place to do that, it's just big enough to get lost in. Except, her roommates become her chosen family and Jane, the Q train, and everyone at Billy's become essential parts of her world. She may not know her career path, but she knows the feeling of magic now. I just loved August, my word she was so relatable. She's a pessimist full of witty batter and I just could not stop highlighting her thoughts. My word can Casey McQuiston write a heroine. Plus, her bisexual, introverted, self-defined friendless, communication failure self is just...honest. She isn't this perfect character who has a perfect move and a perfect love story, but my word does that make this story...that's right, perfect. Jane is, on the other hand, not truly a full main character, but the story ebbs and flows around her, dependent upon her being on the train, on her finding her memories. She's this 70's punk feminist beauty and her desire to give is just gah.

I could probably go on forever, honestly. One Last Step is a longer novel, with a slow start, but the world building had to be there to make this novel work. August, Jane, Myla, Niko, Wes, Isiah, and the entire staff at Billy's are unforgettable. This is the sort of book that you can reread, the romance combined with the unique time travel storyline making it feel like a special sort of home. If you're looking for a romance read, specifically a witty, brilliant queer one, One Last Stop is the book to pick up.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Friends with Benedicts by Staci Hart

Friends With Benedicts
by Staci Hart
Published June 8th 2021

Timing is everything.

Presley Hale and Sebastian Vargas are no strangers to goodbye. Their high school summers were spent wrapped up in each other until she would inevitably go home to California. One season after college, Sebastian finally escaped the little Texas town to travel the world, and they said goodbye for what they thought might be the last time.

Sebastian went one way. Presley went the other.

For the first time in five years, they’re both in town, but the timing is no better than ever. So the only thing to do is what they do best. Keep it casual.

Friends with benefits.

They’ve done it before—doing it again will be easy.

But their hearts don’t get the memo.

When the lines of their arrangement blur, Presley and Sebastian are faced with decisions they’ve avoided for years. And that’s not even their biggest problem.

A small town in danger of failing.

A secret that could tear them apart.

And two hearts that can’t hide anymore.

They’ve shared so many summers, but none compare to what they’ll face.

Timing is everything.

And their time is almost up.

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5 Stars

Presley and Sebastian have a long standing agreement, they share a romance in the summers when Presley is in town. It's been a little over four years though and Presley isn't just in town for the summer, she's calling the small Texas town home. Clad in a pink diner outfit with her daughter and mother in tow, Presley turns to her cousins for help as they find their way back on their feet. She isn't prepared to see Sebastian again, to discover the feelings are still burning strong, to have another summer romance. They've grown up though and this summer becomes their chance to open their hearts and reveal their secrets.

Friends with Benedicts was so darn cute, a lighthearted friends with benefits romance that was just the read I needed. With a small town atmosphere, incredible secondary characters, and a romance that is full of chemistry, I could picture this book playing out right before my eyes. Staci Hart's writing is descriptive, the dialogue is authentic, and the romance feels so real. With Elvis Presley nods and a sassy heroine falling for a heroic male protagonist, plus a stubborn little girl, this book had me laughing through every page. It's sweet and really made for an excellent, quick read. As a long standing Staci Hart fan I really enjoyed the nods to other novels, but it is a standalone as well so don't wait to pick this one up!

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

The Guncle
by Steven Rowley
Published May 25th 2021 by G.P. Putnam's Sons

From the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus and The Editor comes a warm and deeply funny novel about a once-famous gay sitcom star whose unexpected family tragedy leaves him with his niece and nephew for the summer.

Patrick, or Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP, for short), has always loved his niece, Maisie, and nephew, Grant. That is, he loves spending time with them when they come out to Palm Springs for weeklong visits, or when he heads home to Connecticut for the holidays. But in terms of caretaking and relating to two children, no matter how adorable, Patrick is honestly a bit out of his league.

So when tragedy strikes and Maisie and Grant lose their mother and Patrick’s brother has a health crisis of his own, Patrick finds himself suddenly taking on the role of primary guardian. Despite having a set of “Guncle Rules” ready to go, Patrick has no idea what to expect, having spent years barely holding on after the loss of his great love, a somewhat-stalled career, and a lifestyle not-so-suited to a six- and a nine-year-old. Quickly realizing that parenting—even if temporary—isn’t solved with treats and jokes, Patrick’s eyes are opened to a new sense of responsibility, and the realization that, sometimes, even being larger than life means you’re unfailingly human.

With the humor and heart we’ve come to expect from bestselling author Steven Rowley, The Guncle is a moving tribute to the power of love, patience, and family in even the most trying of times.

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5 Stars

No one told me that I would spend the majority of this novel trying to keep tears from spilling over, so I am telling you now. You will need tissues and hugs and a Guncle and a Maisie and a Grantalope in your life after finishing Steven Rowley's latest. It is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, a magical novel about the power of loss and love. It's a story about being a human, where things are scary, hiding is easy, and how embracing it all brings the most joy.

"Would you like a martini?"

"I'm six."

"Is that a yes?"

The Guncle is, without a doubt, in my top ten reads for 2021. This book is everything, not to be cliche, but I really cannot put the right words in place to describe it and why it affected me so much. Uncle Patrick, Gup, Guncle, whatever you want to call him, may be an adult, but this is the story of his coming-of-age. It's the story of his niece and nephew facing an immeasurable loss with the companionship of their guncle, who speaks in quotes and tells long winded stories of a time they can't imagine. He has given up on living life for anyone but himself, he's more like a surly teenager than a famous actor people forgot, but during this summer of loss he discovers the beauty of allowing others in. While he too is lost in his grief, it is through facing it with the kids that he finds joy again.

"Your well is a mountain."

Rowley delivers both a comedy and realistic fiction in one. The Guncle is the kind of book you can recommend to anyone, it features just the right amount of laughs all while covering the serious topics that come with living. This book is beautiful, in all the right ways, and it will have a spot on my favorites shelf forever.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren

The Soulmate Equation
by Christina Lauren
Published May 18th 2021 by Gallery Books

Single mom Jess Davis is a data and statistics wizard, but no amount of number crunching can convince her to step back into the dating world. Raised by her grandparents--who now help raise her seven-year-old daughter, Juno--Jess has been left behind too often to feel comfortable letting anyone in. After all, her father's never been around, her hard-partying mother disappeared when she was six, and her ex decided he wasn't "father material" before Juno was even born. Jess holds her loved ones close, but working constantly to stay afloat is hard...and lonely.

But then Jess hears about GeneticAlly, a buzzy new DNA-based matchmaking company that's predicted to change dating forever. Finding a soulmate through DNA? The reliability of numbers: This Jess understands. At least she thought she did, until her test shows an unheard-of 98% compatibility with another subject in the database: GeneticAlly's founder, Dr. River Pena. This is one number she can't wrap her head around, because she already knows Dr. Pena. The stuck-up, stubborn man is without a doubt not her soulmate. But GeneticAlly has a proposition: Get to know him and we'll pay you. Jess--who is barely making ends meet--is in no position to turn it down, despite her skepticism about the project and her dislike for River. As the pair are dragged from one event to the next as the "Diamond" pairing that could make GeneticAlly a mint in stock prices, Jess begins to realize that there might be more to the scientist--and the science behind a soulmate--than she thought.

5 Stars

Am I a grown adult with daily commitments and an early bedtime that I completely ignored in order to finish this book? Yes. Worth it? 100%. I would do it again. 10/10 would recommend. The Soulmate Equation is the best CLo book I have read in a while. That's not to say they aren't all good, but this one just took it up a notch. A single-mom, a brooding scientist, and a cast of meddling secondary characters make this nerdy love story one of my top romance reads this year.

We've all heard of or have used the dating sites that are out there, but handsome River and his team have created GenitcAlly, a dating app that pairs you with your DNA's best matches. Jess has no time or desire for romance in her life, but a bad day and a run in with the grumpy Americano, who she now knows is River, has her spitting in a test tube for her match. The single-mom sets her match pairing to the highest, not expecting to hear anything, but then she gets called to the matchmaking service's offices. She's got a match. Not just any match, though. A diamond match, 98%, to none other than Americano, or rather Dr. River Pena. With a monetary offer she can't refuse, a load of press commitments, and a crush she won't admit to, Jess agrees to test the match with River for three months.

The cute factor of this novel is just BEYOND. It's a unique, and silly, romance that has chemistry that is off the charts. Jess is such a classic young single-mom who is consumed by work, motherhood, and worries. She treats herself like she's ancient, beyond dating, but thank goodness for her best friend Fizzy and her belief that Jess is deserving and capable of more. Reading Jess' journey into dating and opening up again is just beautiful. She's somehow both cheesy and sultry all at once, while broody Americano unveils a thoughtful, nervous side of himself that pairs perfectly with her. The two are literally a perfect match, even when they have to acknowledge that science may not know it all.

If you're a fan of Christina Lauren and/or love stories, The Soulmate Equation is the romance I recommend you absolutely put at the top of your TBR pile. It's funny, heartwarming, and completely impossible to put down.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Yes, Daddy by Jonathan Parks-Ramage

Yes, Daddy
by Jonathan Parks-Ramage 
Published: May 18th 2021 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A propulsive, scorching modern gothic, Yes, Daddy follows an ambitious young man who is lured by an older, successful playwright into a dizzying world of wealth and an idyllic Hamptons home where things take a nightmarish turn.

Jonah Keller moved to New York City with dreams of becoming a successful playwright, but, for the time being, lives in a rundown sublet in Bushwick, working extra hours at a restaurant only to barely make rent. When he stumbles upon a photo of Richard Shriver—the glamorous Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright and quite possibly the stepping stone to the fame he craves—Jonah orchestrates their meeting. The two begin a hungry, passionate affair.

When summer arrives, Richard invites his young lover for a spell at his sprawling estate in the Hamptons. A tall iron fence surrounds the idyllic compound where Richard and a few of his close artist friends entertain, have lavish dinners, and—Jonah can’t help but notice—employ a waitstaff of young, attractive gay men, many of whom sport ugly bruises. Soon, Jonah is cast out of Richard’s good graces and a sinister underlay begins to emerge. As a series of transgressions lead inexorably to a violent climax, Jonah hurtles toward a decisive revenge that will shape the rest of his life.

Riveting, unpredictable, and compulsively readable, Yes, Daddy is an exploration of class, power dynamics, and the nuances of victimhood and complicity. It burns with weight and clarity—and offers hope that stories may hold the key to our healing.

5 Stars

Powerful men, desperate young adults, and the twisted lies that take them from beside the pool partying to a drug-filled dungeon. Yes, Daddy follows Jonah, an aspiring, but poor writer, as he takes his chance to become the newest hot young thing on famed Richard Shriver's arm. He meets to all of Richard's influential friends, is spoiled with money and clothing, and soon taken on a summer trip he could only dream of before. But what started as a passionate, tumultuous relationship soon turns into a nightmare Jonah could never have imagined.

I am a dark reads lover, most often I love to see a novel from a f'ed up villain perspective, but I also love the journey of an individual into and out of the darkness. Yes, Daddy is one of the darkest, but also provocative, relevant, and heavy novels I have had the pleasure of reading. A work of fiction that captures true-to-life experiences in an honest, gritty way. Jonathan Parks-Ramage doesn't hide away from the raw, harsh truth of evil sugar daddies and the young men they prey upon. It's a me too novel at a time when society still shies away from recognizing that rape and abuse affects young men, too. It also touches on the negative religious upbringings that many LGBTQ+ come from and the continuing fear and self-hatred that follows.

What really works for this novel though, beyond being so relatable, is how Parks-Ramage presents the story. His writing is descriptive and we are given glimpses into the past and present from the perspective of Jonah. His emotions spill from the page, leaving me cringing in horror at times and literally crying the entire last 25% of the book. More than a thriller, Parks-Ramage delivers a gay gothic drama that is both heartbreaking and hopeful. From brazen fun to vicious cruelty, Yes, Daddy is a compelling, powerful read that I cannot recommend enough. If you can handle the darkness, this is the book to dive into.

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