April 6, 2023 · 2:08 pm
Phoebe Walton knows a lot about sex. As the researcher and writer for a fact-based blog on sexuality known as Pom, Phoebe’s site has come under fire from a local politician who finds the frank discussion too controversial for young minds.
As Phoebe tries to stay one step ahead of the aggressive campaign to reveal her online identity, she also struggles with discovering who she is as her senior year in high school unfolds. Julia Whalton’s On the Subject of Unmentionable Things starts out with a terrific hook and first-person narration by Phoebe as she navigates difficult waters — some she’s created for herself and others she encounters through the living of her life. As her small town and friends become increasingly polarized over reaction to her blog, Phoebe debates whether or not she should confess to Pom and the consequences it could bring to her life — both intended and unintended.
Walton doesn’t pull a lot of punches in the story and it’s nice to see a story that addresses human sexuality (teen or otherwise) in a mature, level-headed fashion. There is no shaming of anyone here and Phoebe’s open-mindedness is refreshing. And while the novel steers into a couple of YA tropes like the love triangle (thankfully, quickly resolved though there are implications and ramifications over the course of the novel), it eventually unravels in the final act. Much of this stems from the YA trope of having teens who seemingly know more than adults and act wiser than their years would have you believe.
And yet, the novel is one that manages to touch on taboo subjects without necessarily getting heavy-handed about them.
In the end, like Phoebe, I felt a bit unsatisfied about how some of the events in the story played out. I still think this is a worthwhile read and one that could open some doors to interesting conversations for teens and the adults in their lives.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
February 8, 2023 · 10:06 am
Sophie Sullivan’s A Guide to Being Just Friends feels like a page out of a Hallmark Channel holiday movie — well, minus the snow and season’s greetings.
Following a bad breakup, Hailey has put out her shingle in the business world under the banner of a new, made-to-order salad restaurant. Wes has gone into business with his brothers, trying to escape their domineering father and memories of a bitter divorce between his parents.
When the two cross paths in a meet-cute moment (he assumes she’s the woman he’s been chatting with online at the coffee shop next to Hailey’s salad shop), Wes realizes he owes Hailey an apology. And then, the dance begins as the two decide their lives are just too hectic to date, but they can be just friends.
Except there are things simmering here that could come to a full boil.
Sullivan crafts two protagonists you can easily root for in this romantic comedy. Along the way, there are speed bumps and, given the alternating viewpoints of both our potential romantic partners, this does lead to some frustration in later chapters when the (inevitable) conflict arises.
However, that’s not to say there isn’t a lot here to enjoy. There is, but there were moments I grew frustrated with the story and characters.
The audio version of this works well, though Timothy Andrés Pabon’s narration as Wes tends to come across a bit faster than Stephanie Willing’s does as Hailey. This makes the transitions from one narrator to the other a bit jarring a first, but you will easily settle into the rhythms and voice of each person telling his or her side of the story.
In all, this is a fairly fun diversion and one that I’d recommend if you want a Hallmark Channel-style rom-com.
I received an arc of the audiobook via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
May 6, 2022 · 10:53 am
June and Ryan have been rivals since high school, each trying to one-up the other in a never-ending series of pranks and gotchas. But twelve years have passed since that almost-kiss at graduation and both parties are looking forward to seeing each other as part of the wedding party for their best friend’s wedding.
June wants to rub it in Ryan’s face that she’s part-owner of a successful donut shop in Charleston while Ryan wants to see if the embers that have simmered for June all these years might just combust into something more.
And so begins Sarah Adams’ The Enemy.
What unfolds over the next several hours of this audiobook is alternating passages from June and Ryan’s points of view about driving each other crazy and maybe trying to admit there is more to this relationship than just being rivals. Early on, June comes across as a bit harsh and rough around the edges, but Adams wisely fills in the backstory of what’s led June to this point and her “one date” rule for all men. Ryan, it turns out, is almost too good to be true and if there’s one flaw in this story it’s that we never get any major or minor negative points for Ryan.
Adams knows how to simmer the ever-growing romance between these two, all while keeping the story pretty PG-13 along the way. There’s lots of kissing, pining, and description of Ryan’s abs and arms, but that’s where it ends. Adams wisely leaves some things up to the reader’s imagination. She also doesn’t have these two rush into things, allowing the embers to smolder over the course of the novel. She also manages to put in a few realistic speed bumps to the relationship that are completely grounded in her characters.
All in all, this one is a fun, diverting story that is probably different from my usual reading choices. But it was a nice break from murder, mayhem, spaceships, etc. and it kept my interest for the entire run time.
The audiobook features Connie Shabshab bringing June’s chapters to life and Lee Samuels bringing Ryan’s chapters to life. Both readers give an added layer to their characters, as well as create unique voices for the various other players in June and Ryan’s lives.
If you’re looking for a fun, slow-burn romantic read, The Enemy could be exactly what you’re looking for.
I received a digital audio ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
May 6, 2022 · 10:36 am
Before the lockdown for Covid-19 hit a couple of years ago, I went to the library and checked out a bunch of books that I thought might be interesting. Included in that pile was Katie Henry’s Heretics Anonymous. I was completely hooked on the story and quickly reserved her next novel, only to be equally enthralled by it.
And so it was that Katie Henry went onto the list of authors who I will read anything they publish.
With her fourth novel, Gideon Green in Black and White, Henry has hit a new high. Sixteen-year-old Gideon Green is a retired private detective, content to stay in his room watching noir films on his TV and occasionally coming out to go to school and interact with his dad. When his old friend, Lily, shows up at this door asking him to come out of retirement, Gideon is reluctantly pulled into an investigation that is bigger than either he or Lily imagined and that just might be a pivotal point for him. Continue reading →
March 31, 2022 · 9:09 am
Redshirts was John Scalzi’s homage and love-letter to all the tropes and cliches of the original (and still the best) Star Trek.
With his latest novel, The Kaiju Preservation Society, Scalzi brings the same level of love, homage, and poking fun to monster movies involving large creatures destroying large swaths of our world.
I’ll admit I’m not as steeped in the world of kaiju as I was Star Trek, so I probably missed a lot of the deeper nudges and easter eggs that Scalzi includes in this book. However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy another great offering by one of my favorite writers.
As 2020 begins, Jamie Gray’s professional career is set. Heading into his performance review, Jamie sees great things ahead at his tech company that offers an alternative to UberEats or DoorDash. Jamie is blindsided when his boss not only demotes him but takes away his opportunity at a huge financial windfall that could see Jamie up for the foreseeable future. Instead, he’s offered the chance to be part of the team delivering meals to people.
At first, Jamie is dead-set against it. Then a real-world pandemic sets in and Jamie finds himself unable to find other work and so he begins delivering meals. While delivering one, he meets an old friend from college who needs a guy to “lift heavy stuff.” The pay is great and Jamie jumps at the chance — only to find himself on a plane to Greenland and a whole other universe that includes real-life kaiju creatures like the kind we’ve all seen in movies.
What follows is a fascinating, fun story that, like all good science fiction, brings up more than its fair share of big ideas and world-building. You can be forgiven if you don’t notice that as Scalzi is tickling your funny bone that he’s also engaging your thought processes along the way. In his afterword, Scalzi compares this book to a pop song–an entirely accurate description since a lot of the books will get stuck in your head and pop up when you’re least expecting it.
Overall, this is yet another winner by an author who’s been on a heck of a streak since Old Man’s War debuted all those years ago.
I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
September 17, 2021 · 1:59 pm
Two years ago, Maria Fontana served on the jury of the suspected serial killer, Wyatt Butler. Ending in a mistrial that set Butler free, Maria’s life has been a whirlwind ever since that time as the world won’t stop hounding the jury, demanding to know who the dissenting vote was. When Maria outs herself as the lone juror who voted not guilty, things only intensify.
After a tell-all book by a possibly unscrupulous writer and being put on sabbatical due to her increasing instability, Maria is ready to get her life back on track with her fiancee and her two children. So, she books a cruise and looks forward to a week away and then entering the real world again. Alas, the two-year nightmare isn’t about to end for Maria. Instead, it’s about to get much, much worse.
A series of mysterious deaths on the ship, all connected to Maria and the trial take place. Could Wyatt Butler be on board and is his final target, Maria?
I’ve read and enjoyed the first couple of offerings from Impratical Joker James S. Murray and Darren Warmouth. Those novels weren’t exactly great literature, but they were still entertaining rides into horror. The Stowaway moves away from the horror genre and into the suspense area — and the result is a book that I couldn’t quite become as invested in. The characters are paper-thin and it feels like the suspense strung out a bit too long for my liking. We spend a long time wondering if Wyatt is on the ship, and, if so, where can he be hiding in plain sight. There are some pretty gruesome deaths in here as well — if you’re triggered by young victims in peril, this one might not be for you.
By the time we get to the final revelations and the twists, I’d pretty much guessed a good share of all of them.
This isn’t necessarily a terrible book. It’s just one that disappointed me.
It’s the literary equivalent of a bag of potato chips.
I received a digital ARC of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
August 23, 2021 · 11:26 am
Sally Kilpatrick’s latest novel, Much Ado About Barbecue should come with a warning label that you’re going to crave some good barbecue. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing — unless you don’t have access to good barbecue, that is.
Emma Sutton and Ben Cates have been rivals all their lives. It started in kindergarten when Ben pulled the chair out from under Emma and continued throughout their educational history, including Emma’s underpants winding up on the school flag pole. So, when Emma returns to town after a series of disappointments in her life, she quickly finds the rivalry resuming thanks to Ellery’s barbecue competition. Both families own barbecue joints in town, each praised and respected for differing ways of cooking the meat. Ben has reluctantly embraced using a smoker, while Emma’s family still does whole-hog pit barbecue.
There is a bit more to the rivalry between Ben and Emma than the competition for who has the best barbecue and juvenile pranks. Emma has repressed large portions of junior high school due and she holds a deep secret about possibly raining on Ben’s dream of playing baseball at the next level. Needless to say, these two are probably the last two people you’d imagine ending up together.
And like the main dish of the book’s title, the potential romantic entanglement is one that roasts slowly, marinating in its own rub of family secrets, long-held resentments, and misunderstandings. Along the way, we meet a colorful cast of characters from Jeremiah, the long-time pitmaster as Emma’s family barbecue joint (and a character I’d love to see get his own novel) to Ben’s sister, Shero.
Between family secrets, the slow-simmering enemies-to-lovers story, and a colorful cast of characters (including several familiar faces from previous Ellery novels), Much Ado About Barbecue proves to be another winner from Kilpatrick. Filled with the types of characters you’d expect to me in a quirky small town, Much Ado works much like the barbecue does — as a satisfying, enjoayble meal that left me fully satisfied and yet somehow wishing I had just a bit more room for another bite or two.
Taking a page from Shakespeare (maybe you’ve heard of him), Kilpatrick gives us her spin on Much Ado About Nothing in her quirky creation of Ellery. As with her other novels, Much Ado About Barbecue is a delightful gem and most likely destined to end up on my list of favorite books I read this year.
Add this one to your to-be-read pile, folks. Just don’t do it on an empty stomach.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. No bribing of barbecue was done or needed….
July 26, 2021 · 2:45 pm
Over my course of following the creative output of J. Michael Straczynski, one of his strengths has been the creation of diverse characters who form a connection with his audience. So, the highest compliment I can pay his latest offering Together We Will Go is that it continues that trend in the best possible way.
After suffering the latest in a long string of rejections, writer Mark has landed on his next project — an epistolary tale of a dozen strangers who have decided for one reason or another to end their lives. Renting a bus, Mark places an online ad to find people to join him on his final journey across the United States, planning to culminate the trip by everyone driving off a cliff near San Francisco. Riders earn their spot by agreeing to upload journal entries to a central server and occasionally having the audio transcript of dramatic moments archived and uploaded.
What Mark doesn’t count on is the diverse group of people who will join his cross-country trek and the ways various personalities connect and clash. He also didn’t count on the authorities in some of the states he’s crossing having an issue with a group of people on their way to commit suicide. Continue reading →
May 25, 2021 · 4:15 pm
Andy Weir has been hailed as a new shining star in the science-fiction universe.
The Martian was a character-driven, page-turner that burned quickly by and left you wanting more. Artemis was largely forgettable (so much so that I struggled to recall if I’d read it only a year or so after it was published).
Now, Weir is back with Project Hail Mary — and the result is somewhere in between. While not quite as compellingly page-turning as The Martian, Project Hail Mary has at least lingered with me after the final pages were turned, unlike a certain sophomore novel by Weir.
Ryland Grace is a middle-school science teacher, who wakes up in a stark white room with no memory of how he got there. Grace’s memory slowly starts to return (in convenient chunks at just the right time for the story’s dramatic purposes) and he recalls that Earth is facing an extinction-level event and that he was one of the three people chosen to be sent into deep space to save himself and our planet. Grace’s two colleagues have perished, leaving him to piece together not only where he’s been, how he got there, but also what he needs to do so hopefully save the planet. And he’s also got to make the first contact with a new alien race.
Grace may not seem like the most likely or likable choice to go on a mission to save humanity. And Weir does his best to make Grace a character we can sympathize with and root for. The problem is that I never quite developed the same investment in Grace that I did in Mark in The Martian. Mark was gifted in certain areas, but never came off as smarmy or overly smug, Grace does. I kept wanting to like Grace but I never found myself rooting for him in the same way as Mark.
Which is all well and good. I don’t expect an author to write the same book over and over again. But what I do hope is the author will find a way to engage me across each of his or her novels. Weir did that with The Martian but failed to do so in his last two books. The dilemma that Grace faces is intriguing enough. It’s just there are long stretches of the book when I feel like Weir is trying too hard to prove the science behind his science-fiction and not necessarily engaging the reader.
Project Hail Mary isn’t quite the triumphant return I’d hoped Weir would have. It’s good, it’s (for the most part) readable. But it never quite got its hooks into me in the way I’d hope it would. This one may drop Weir from my list of automatic reads.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
April 6, 2021 · 10:26 am
I’ve never read Jane Eyre, so I can’t speak to how faithful to the original Rachel Hawkin’s updated retelling, The Wife Upstairs is or isn’t. What I can speak to is that sense that this novel never quite connected with me.
Set in Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is on the run from her past. Working as a dog-walker for the city’s elite, Jane meets Eddie Rochester. Eddie’s wife disappeared (along with her best friend) under mysterious circumstances and is presumed dead.
So, of course, these two begin dating and their relationship moves rather quickly from dating to living together to engaged. Jane doesn’t want a big wedding for fear of publicity bringing unwanted questions from her past life, but her old roommate is more than willing to blackmail her to keep those pursuing her at bay. Jane works to keep one step ahead of her past, teasing readers with what it may or may not be for far longer than I had much patience for.
That really sums up my disappointment with The Wife Upstairs. It teases us for far too long (though we know a bit about what Eddie is up to early on) without giving sufficient answers to the questions raised until I’d long since lost most of my interest in Jane. I suppose if I’d cracked open a copy of Jane Eyre at some point in my life, I’d already know a lot of what is revealed in the final third of the book. But that might have ruined some of the “thrill” of discovering all this for myself.
Another issue with The Wife Upstairs is that it attempts to be a domestic suspense thriller without offering much in the way of thrills or suspense. I found myself more relieved to finally be done with the novel than satisfied with the overall reading experience once I turned the final page.
Overall, a disappointment.
I received a digital ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.