Reading Roundup

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It’s not that I have not been reading… I stopped writing reviews when it got to be three weeks before my wedding with much left to do!

I went on an Elin Hilderbrand kick as the weather warmed while waiting for her new novel to come out, re-read a Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door with my daughter Josie, and we are a quarter of the way through A Swiftly Tilting Planet, all childhood favorites of mine the late, great Madeline L’Engle.

And in other news, we are working on installing a Little Free Library outside of our house in Arlington MA.

I will link to these as I add the reviews; from April to August, I read:

In Case You Missed It by Lindsay Kelk (#netgalley) ***
Romance.

The League of Extraordinary Funny Women by Sheila Moeschen ****
Biography. Comedic biographies of funny women in standup, film, movies.

The Romance Recipe by Ruby Barrett (#netgalley) ***
Romance.

Not Your Basic Love Story by Lindsay Maple(#netgalley) ***
Romance.

A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall (#netgalley) ****
Trans period romance with humor, sensitivity, and excellent speculation about how to be your true self in a time period much less accepting than the one we are currently in.

For the Love of the Bard (#netgalley) ***
Young Adult. Theatre camp YA romance.

The Hotel Nantucket by Elin Hilderbrand *****
Nantucket ghost story about a woman who signs on to manage an up and coming property to score a perfect five review from a travel influencer. Especially satisfying because of the appearance of a character from The Blue Bistro, my absolute favorite Hilderbrand novel.

Barefoot by Elin Hilderbrand ***

Nantucket Nights by Elin Hilderbrand ***

The Island by Elin Hilderbrand ***

The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand ***

Golden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand ***

Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand ***

A Summer Affair by Elin Hilderbrand ***

Summer People by Elin Hilderbrand ***

No Funny Business by Amanda Askel (#netgalley) **
Romance. Not my sense of humor, I guess, because I wanted to get to read the stand up sets, in the way Marvelous Mrs. Maisel lets you see the character performing her stand up routines, but overall this romance about stand up comics on the road together did not tickle my funny bone.

Built to Last by Erin Hahn (#netgalley) ****
Romance.

Luck and Last Resorts by Sarah Grunder Ruiz (#netgalley) ***
Romance.

The Reunion by Elizabeth Drummond (#netgalley) **
Boarding school rivals romance. A photographer and influencer cut off by her family proposes a fake engagement to a fellow alum who needs business capital, because the school will pay for the high profile wedding if the Head Boy and Head Girl get married.

The Wedding Season by Katy Birchall (#netgalley) ***
Romance

Sea Glass Summer by Miranda Liason (#netgalley) ***
Romance.

Jadie in Five Dimensions by Dianne K. Salerni
Juvenile science fiction
I was shocked that my daughter selected a science fiction novel to read at the local library, and we both really enjoyed the alternating voices, mystery, and setting, so much we went on to read another book about tesseracts, A Wrinkle in Time.

The Life We Almost Had by Amelia Henry (#netgalley) ***

The Suite Spot by Trish Doller (#netgalley) *****
Romance.

Drunk on Love by Jasmine Guillory (#netgalley) ***
Romance.

Husband Material by Alexis Hall (#netgalley) **
Romance. Did not care for the sequel, focused on a friend’s wedding, as much as the original.

All Fired Up by Dylan Newton (#netgalley) ****
Romance.

Just Another Love Song by Kelly Winfrey (#netgalley) ***
Romance. Sandy scores famous Hank to play at a fundraiser–they haven’t really spoken since their high school relationship.

Booked on a Feeling by Jayci Lee (#netgalley) ***
Romance. I keep opening this egalley, but it scrolls down instead of page to page and I cannot make the print larger so keep closing it to try later.

To Get to the Other Side by Kelly Ohlert (#netgalley)
Romance. I keep opening this egalley, but it scrolls down instead of page to page and I cannot make the print larger so keep closing it to try later.

The Pilot’s Wife (re-read) by Anita Shreve ****
Mystery

Fortune’s Rocks by Anita Shreve ****
Historical. May/December romance set in a large summer home on the NH coastline.

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein (audio) ****
Nonfiction. Not my usual fare. I listened to it for an anti-racist book group I’ve joined, and was disturbed by how much I just don’t know about why there is a wrong side of the tracks, red-lining, and how local, state, and federal governments essentially kept people of color and other “undesirables” in a slavery state and maintained segregated schools.

Dinner for One: How Cooking in Paris Saved Me by Sutanya Dacres **
Memoir. Most of this book is focused on the relationship and what went wrong without juicy details, a little about the food, and finally some recipes at the end. Integrating the narrative with the food would have made for more flow and interest, I think this great premise suffered from oblivious editing.

Ship Wrecked by Olivia Dade (#netgalley) ****
Romance. As epic as others in the series, my favorite part was the reintroduction of past characters through their group chat

A Very Merry Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams (#netgalley) ***
Romance. More shenanigans and love from the usual cast of characters in this next in the series about a group of wealthy Chicagoians and their elite circle. A country music superstar needs to find his muse for his next album, and chases after a one-night stand that he thinks is The One, calling on his book club buddies for help.

Witcha Gonna Do by Avery Flynn (#netgalley) ***
Romance. Charming magical realism enemies to lovers romance.

28 Disastrous Dates A (Mostly True) Humorous Memoir by Poppy Mortimer ** (#netgalley)
Memoir. Poppy recounts dates with many men who portrayed themselves as other than they were and recounts lessons learned along the way.

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner ****
What I thought was going to be a Nantucket wedding hook-up romance featuring a plus-sized influencer turned into a murder mystery — but I loved the writing and voice enough to keep going.

A Cosmic Kind of Love by Samantha Young (#netgalley)
Romance. An astronaut and an events planner fall for one another.

The Rom Com Agenda by Jayne Denker (#netgalley) ***
Romance. Completely predictable but very sweet romance about a man pining for the one that got away who he loves based on her stellar looks. His siblings push him to watch romantic comedy movies so he can make a grand gesture when he comes back, and more often than not, their new friend becomes his default practice date.

One Night Stand After Another by Amanda Osen (#netgalley) **
Erotica. Plot what plot? Not enough story between the blow by blow by blowjob details.

The Getaway by Emily March (Lake in the Clouds #1) (#netgalley) **
Women’s fiction. Mom finally puts her foot down when her very privileged children refuse to stop their infighting. I didn’t enjoy the entitlement and couldn’t relate and put this one down at 32% complete.

Meet Me Under the Mistletoe by Jenny Bayliss (#netgalley)
Romance. Currently reading

Under the Influence (#netgalley)
Romance. I keep opening this egalley, but it scrolls down instead of page to page and I cannot make the print larger so keep closing it to try later.



Out of the Blue by Jason June

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Out of the Blue by Jason June

June, Jason. Out of the Blue. HarperTeen, 2022. ISBN 978-0063015203. 384 pp. $17.99

***

Merperson Crest is on a coming-of-age journey on land to help a human and earn his return to the sea — if they choose to return after experiencing the wonders of twenty-first century Los Angeles. When Crest, who goes by Ross on land, runs into recently (unceremoniously) dumped Sean, it seems their mission is to help Sean win back his ex, and Crest/Ross becomes a willing participant. Of course, there are rules: no human can find out Crest/Ross’s true nature, and if they return to the sea before the month is up, they will have to remain on land forever. Rules, of course, were made to be broken, amirite?

An accidental reveal at the Hollywood Walk of Fame results in a surprising plot twist that I didn’t see coming–well done on author Jason June, it’s difficult to pull a fast one on someone who has been reading YA romance for 35 years. The writing was a little disappointing overall. Although well-plotted using Sean’s film-making interests and Crest’s time constraints to lay out an agenda, there was a LOT of drama: characters yelling and screaming for emphasis or to TELL us emotion instead of conveying and revealing through action. There was consent in the sexual scenes, but also snapping towels and ass-smacking and a violent outburst from another student.

I’m lumping this into magical realism rather than fantasy, but the worldbuilding for under the water and in the Blue was nicely done, simple and complete. Sometimes the merperson lingo or oceanic references were a little too much, and sometimes, Crest’s/Ross’s dissing of human consumption and environmental concerns struck a didactic note (though I am by no means in disagreement with Crest/Ross’s assessments.

I especially appreciated the diversity of the cast; straight people are the anomaly and like L.A., the book is peopled with real people in all colors, shapes and sizes, and it’s mostly NBFD. I wanted to care more about Crest/Ross and Sean than I did, but the ending definitely tugged at my heartstrings. Like most fake-dating tropes, the characters of course come to care for one another (and are wildly attracted!). When they act on their instincts, it’s developmentally appropriate and safe.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #OutOfTheBlue via #NetGalley

Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke

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Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke

Radtke, Kristen. Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness. Pantheon, 2021. ISBN 978-1524748067 352 pp. $30

*****

Seek You is a masterful narrative of a lifetime of loneliness that is compared to a kind of condition that goes in and out of remission, and it’s a wonderful metaphor.

Part memoir, part history, Radtke examines loneliness through biology, sociology, psychology, art and pop culture, citing a number of studies, articles and books that document and examine our longing to connect, and why it’s so difficult. The prose is poetic if detached as she details hideous science experiments, gun violence, chat room lechers, depression, and abuse.

About a third of the way through, Radkte likens loneliness to being underwater: the weight of a sinking body, the inability to move with ease, the muted sounds… and the series of drawings that follow are poetic in their composition and pacing, culminating in a wave that washes everything away for the next chapter. It’s quite brilliant and arresting.

Fitting the theme of the book, the palate is predominantly blacks and blues, grey, purple and lavender that even on white backgrounds and with pops of mustard and salmon, feels murky and dark. The colors match the somber tone and steady march of the text.

The book is meticulously documented with a list of citations at the end.

The League of Extraordinarily Funny Women: 50 Trailblazers of Comedy by Sheila Moeschen

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The League of Extraordinarily Funny Women: 50 Trailblazers of Comedy by Sheila Moeschen

Moeschen, Sheila. The League of Extraordinarily Funny Women: 50 Trailblazers of Comedy. Running Press Adult, 2019. ISBN 978-0762466641 232 pp. $20

*****

I just finished binging The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, and have been wondering who she was based on and who her real-life influences were besides Lenny Bruce and Moms Mabley. While neither question is addressed in this collective biography, it was a nice transition from the the show.

Self-proclaimed comedy nerd Sheila Moeschen presents this browseable, humorous and highly readable overview of fifty famous female comics: their start, their breakout roles, their signature jokes, their often! acclaimed and award-winning work, their influences, and for some, their legacy. Ladies are grouped by ten in no particular order in each section: intellectual comics, character comics, controversial comics, misfit comics, and trailblazers. The book showcases Lucille Ball, Phyllis Diller and Moms Mabley; Gilda Radner, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy; Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling and Amy Poehler, among others.

Each section opens with an overview to introduce the category, and includes additional names that couldn’t included with full bios due to limited space. Icons are mixed in with up & comers. The cast of characters is refreshingly diverse by age, location, ethnicity, and sexuality. Best of all, while occasionally partners are identified, most of the bios focus on career only, and the merit of the woman’s achievement.

Moeschen is quick with a quip and funny in her own right, and so are YOU, evidenced by the YOU that is the last person listed in the book under the “Extra Extraordinaires” block that lists even more funny women in the final chapter, and the afterword reiterates to the reader no, really! YOU are funny, too!

No sources are cited, and a short, non-annotated reading list follows. A timeline and index are lacking, and would be helpful to include if there is indeed, a sequel.

The Emergency: A Year of Healing and Heartbreak In a Chicago ER by Thomas Fisher

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The Emergency: A Year of Healing and Heartbreak In a Chicago ER by Thomas Fisher

Fisher, Thomas. The Emergency: A Year of Healing and Heartbreak In a Chicago ER. One World, 2022. ISBN 978059323067 pp. $27

****

ER doc Tom Fisher intersperses his dispatches from a South Side Chicago ER during the pandemic with letters to patients, colleagues and family regarding issues around healthcare in America. A Black doctor who grew up in the community he serves, he uncovers many injustices in the system from inequitable treatment of VIP and uninsured patients to systemic racism to failure of treatment of medical issues that develop into untreated chronic then terminal illnesses.

The narrative is short, engaging and fast-paced with most unfamiliar medical terminology explained in context. The epistolary sections are long, dense, well-cited essays, connected to a real person (or composites) from the previous chapter’s shift narrative.

Dr. Fisher operates from a unique perspective, well-versed in not only medical practice, but also policy. The entire book represents a bleak outlook when his own mother can’t get fast-tracked and is one of the many Black patients sent home undiagnosed and in pain; hopefully, this will have some impact with owners, insurers, investors and other key stakeholders to make real, much-needed change.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #TheEmergency via #NetGalley.

Shmutz by Felicia Berliner

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Shmutz by Felicia Berliner

Felicia Berliner. Shmutz. Atria, 2022. ISBN 978-1982177621 272 pp. $27

****

A young ultra-Orthodox woman details her discovery of porn in this fascinating novel about religion, sexuality, and rebellion. Eighteen year old Raizl has always had a head for numbers and gets a dispensation to work as an accounting assistant in a jewelry company, and a scholarship to attend college and take accounting courses. The scholarship comes with a shiny laptop (it’s not clear how she connects to the internet) which is presumably for assignments, and access to therapy.

The Internet is full of people having sex, discovers Raizl. She learns the English words for names of body parts she only knows in Yiddish, and from watching illicit videos it’s a slippery slope to eating bacon and egg sandwiches, cheeseburgers and fries, changing into tight jeans in the restroom at school, and fooling around with boys at the beach. In the midst of this, she has increasing responsibility in the accounting job, increasing belligerence towards her therapist. She shares a Maccabeats video with her little sister, and goes on several dates arranged by the shidduch, eventually accepting a suit from an auburn-haired young man who informs her no computers will be allowed in their home.

Bonus points for clever placement of hamantaschen on the cover. The writing is immediate and both authentic teenager and authentic ultra-Orthodox. Scenes detailed the porn Raizl watches and later, her fantasies, are untitalling for this reader, reduced to observation of the mechanics. The story ends were any good YA novel leaves off: at a launch point for a new beginning of sorts.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #Shmutz via #NetGalley

A Thousand Miles by Bridget Morrissey

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A Thousand Miles by Bridget Morrissey

Morrissey, Bridget. A Thousand Miles. Berkley, 2022. ISBN 978-0593201176 368 pp. $15.99

***

Lots of drama fills this road trip tale about estranged lovers who made a promise ten years ago to retrace their epic travels from Illinois to to a decade after the first trip. Ben unexpectedly calls in this favor when his beloved Gam dies and her house needs clearing out. With some degree of shock–perhaps because of how quickly they fall into their old, familiar banter–Dee agrees to make the journey, since her hiatus lines up with teacher Ben’s summer break. Plus, there’s the matter of the Time Capsule they buried in Ben’s grandmother’s backyard…

Told in alternating voices, the narrative included occasional text exchanges and podcast scripts. The road trip includes obligatory planning the route (and side trips) in a greasy spoon, choosing snacks, and road trip games, including the License Plate game and the classic Truth or Dare that gives the characters space to unload some baggage and relive old memorials, while the ceremonial “recreating the previous road trip” activities they pursue, like bowling, allow them to get closer physically and emotionally.

Morrissey uses classic tropes to her advantage: there’s Hurt/Comfort when Dee gets ill, Forced Proximity in shared hotel rooms, and Only One Bed. After a few kisses and more than 500 miles, brash Dee finally gets up the nerve to ask what went wrong between them, and they resolve their relationship.

Now a podcaster, Ben is often referenced as Name Redacted on her podcast, Did I Forget to Tell You? The wondering why they haven’t talked in ten years while Dee still rewatches the old YouTube videos they made together in high school is an intriguing pull through an otherwise straightforward nostalgic plot. This is a must-read for fans of second-chance romance, and anyone who sometimes lives in their heads, wondering about The One That Got Away.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #AThousandMiles via #NetGalley.

Lease on Love by Falcon Ballard

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Lease on Love by Falcon Ballard

Ballard, Falcon. Lease on Love. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2022. ISBN 978-0593419915 352 pp. $16

****

When misogyny rears its ugly head and Sadie is passed over for a promotion because they went with the boss’s new son-in-law (who has ZERO experience), Sadie’s profanity-laden spouting off leads to her termination. In her wallowing, she decides now might be the time to cheer herself up with online dating (she’s more of a one-night stand type). In one of the best meet-cutes EVER, she sits down for date only to discover the dude in front of her is looking for a roommate, actually. His brownstone is gorgeous and rent is low, so Sadie leaps in and then opts to moonlight as a bartender while she pursues her true passion: floral arranging with local, in-season blooms and found objects as the receptacles.

This is not another NYC 20-something romance. For one thing, Sadie is self-proclaimed supremely annoying. Self-deprecating to a nearly self-abusive fault, she is a bit messy in all aspects of her slap-dash life, has a running verbal diatribe, and is wonderfully redeemed by her warm generosity and humor. Jack, the roommate, is a nerdy gamer reclusive man of mystery who slowly opens up to Sadie, treats her like gold, and intimates he’s interested but just not ready. And shockingly, Ms. One Night Stand realizes A. she wants to bone him and 2. she hasn’t so much as flirted with anyone else in five months because Jack is becoming her everything.

This rom-com has the requisite first kiss… but a more real, welcome, realistic and thank goodness less rare let’s take our time and find mutual satisfaction with consent and patience, and rather than gory details of the first time they have penetrative (it took me like 4 tries to spell that, friends) sex, we glimpse the first time after testing without the condom, and it’s sweet and exquisite and intimate. Obvs, there is the declaration of love, followed by too many secrets, a falling out, and making up–but again, with sweetness and patience and realism.

The diverse supporting characters in this novel are FANTASTIC. Sadie’s ride or die crew are her college suitemates Gemma, a frustrated schoolteacher of Asian descent who wants to make food for a living and Harley, an African-American public defender; and wealthy Nick, who has been hanging around them since college (a nice subplot is his crushing on Harley). They rally whenever Sadie needs something, and befriend Jack (he and Nick have a special bond), even inviting him into the group text chat. The way they all make a family is rich and believable.

There were a few times I found Sadie’s voice a little over the top… and then she redeemed herself by revealing past trauma, or her friends defended her behavior. She was a fully realized, flawed character deserving of love who implements techniques from therapy… and goes back when she needs to do more work.

This was a fast but delicious read, with fun artistic details of becoming a florist and starting your own business and figuring who you are, and who you want to be in your twenties. The cover art feels a little more island-y than Brooklyn, and there was a LOT of drinking (I might be old and judgy) that made me a feel a little out of touch with youth culture, but ultimately this was a very satisfying read.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #LeaseOnLove via #NetGalley.

Private Label by Kelly Yang

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Private Label by Kelly Yang

Yang, Kelly. Private Label. Katherine Tegen Books, 2022. ISBN 978-0062941107 416 pp. $17.99

****

Serene, the daughter of a fashion mogul and intern at her mother’s fashion house, is being groomed to take over the business, much to the displeasure of her mother’s senior designers. Lily Lu has terminal pancreatic cancer, and it’s always been her and har daughter against the world, and the white-bred California suburb where they live.

Lian is a new immigrant from China who faces micro-aggressions and outright bullying at their high school. He starts an afterschool club for students interested in learning Chinese, and Serene joins in the hopes it can aid her in connecting with her estranged father. Although Serene has a boyfriend, she begins to fall for Lian, who becomes her rock when things are rapidly going south.

Both Serene and Lian are coping with what their mothers want for them–and the gap between that, and what they want for themselves. Racism and sexism meld with fashion and Chinese culture to produce a novel with a lot of depth. The alternating point of views work well; the teen voices are authentic and unique. The cover art is lovely. The cancer details are all too real. This is a well-written and timely tale about the immigrant experience that will both tug at your heartstrings and have you cheering for the characters.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #PrivateLabel via #NetGalley.

Salt and Sugar by Rachel Carvalho

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Salt and Sugar by Rachel Carvalho

Carvalho, Rachel. Salt and Sugar.  Inkyard Press, 2022. ISBN  978-1335454331 368 pp. $18.99

***

This young adult novel is Brazilian culinary take on the Romeo and Juliet theme of star-crossed lovers. Larissa Ramires and Pedro Molina are sworn enemies, locked in a generational feud. Once their families were friends, but a decades-long rivalry has led to competing bakeries, one focused on savory, the other on sweet, across the street from one another. Pedro is already an accomplished baker, but wants to modernize some of the recipes, while Lari’s mother is insistent she focus on being the first in the family to go to college and pursue an economics degree–and won’t teach her any recipes or let her set foot in the kitchen.

Pedro and Lari recognize they have a common enemy in a big-box grocery store out to acquire one or both restaurants and agree to work together to fight it; Lari joins Pedro’s cooking club, which provides a lot of free food to community organizations. The forced proximity and united efforts results in feelings, romance, and ultimately, resolution.

This book made me SO hungry. I didn’t know what all the traditional dishes were and enjoying looking them up. The strong sense of community and duty to family helped drive the plot–this wasn’t just a simple enemies to lovers romance. Lari and Pedro were very real, and dialogue and details rang true. While I loved the story, I did find some of the writing repetitive; the editing could have been a little tighter.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #SaltAndSugar from #NetGalley.