Monthly Archives: February 2022

In a New York Minute by Kate Spencer

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In a New York Minute by Kate Spencer

Spencer, Kate. In a New York Minute. Forever, 2022. ISBN ‎978-1538737620 320 pp. $26

***

Franny Hayes is having the worst day of her life when the kindness of a (hot) stranger is captured and uploaded to social media, resulting in a first fabricated and then eventually real relationship. Opposites attract and then keep bumping into each other, with Hayes eventually hiring Franny.

Early reviews have compared this to Nora Ephron’s stories and it checks a lot of boxes: meet cute, resistance then friendship, snappy writing, NYC setting. In a New York Minute is a solid, pitch-perfect, perfectly paced tale and very satisfying romantic comedy with a great happily ever after.

Same Time, Same Place by David Barnett

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Same Time, Same Place by David Barnett

Barnett, Dave. Same Time, Same Place. Sourcebooks, 2022. ISBN 9781728249506 336 pp. $16.99

*****

Daisy and Nate are guards at a social history museum, on opposite shifts. Someone jokes that is would make more sense for Daisy to be on days and Nate on nights, but that’s not how it worked out and it’s for the best: Nate is a warm people person and Daisy is well, a bit curmudgeonly, as she follows an exact protocol each shift. Her reports end up in the circular file and the handoff efforts are met with b=gentle teasing.

Thanks to her observance, though, it’s Daisy who notices objects are disappearing–and returning!–from their displays and wants to not only document it, but solve the mystery. Nate gamely joins forces. In the meantime, their supervisor is much more concerned with a campaign to increase the museum’s visibility and bring in new revenue, while a coworker seems to be setting her cap for Nate just as Daisy’s interest is getting piqued.

Alternating chapters reveal character slowly. Daisy has a past trauma that is just alluded to, while Nate is more open about his abusive childhood: getting beaten up by his boxer father who didn’t seem to understand where the line between in the ring and at home was. It’s clear (to me!) as time passes that in addition to being traumatize, Daisy is on the spectrum. At home, she and her sister are caretakers for their mother, dying of cancer; Nate is caretaker to Ben, his 10-year-old son who is coping with his parent’s divorce and mother’s new boyfriend by hanging on a the street corner with a not-very-nice gang of older boys.

Same Time, Same Place looks at a glance like a romance or mystery novel; it contains elements of both, but ultimately is a more psychological and inspiration tale about flipping the narrative. Both characters suffer from the effect of events in their past that form their identity. Nate comments that “History is just the stories we tell ourselves about what happened to make us what we are. Sometimes the stories are true, sometimes they’re not.” The true denouement is not the museum’s solvency, the artifacts disappearance resolved, or even their attraction, but Daisy coming to the same realization that we don’t have to be our past, which ultimately is what allows their relationship to move forward.

Along the way, Barnett addresses family dynamics, racism (subtly) and modern life in Manchester (UK). Superbly written, he masters the voice of both genders. The clever cover design, a diagonal split of deep blue and sunny yellow, represent the many dualities of the novel: Nate and Daisy’s stories, work shifts, custodial responsibilities, traumatic backgrounds, and tandem voices.

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

The Charmed List by Julie Abe

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The Charmed List by Julie Abe

Abe, Julie. The Charmed List. Wednesday Books, 2022. 304 pp. ISBN ‎978-1250830098. $18.99

****

This magical realism young adult friends-to enemies-to-lovers romance is utterly, well, charming. Author Abe imagines a reality where some small percentage of the population is able to pull raw magic from a source to imbibe food or potions or salves for a little something extra: a boost of confidence with your tea or quicker healing for a rash. Those with magic tend to band together in small communities and those without are oblivious but benefit.

Artist Elie is looking forward to a road trip with her non-magical bestie Lia. the magical convention she and her family will be exhibiting at is near Lia’s relatives and Elie will have a chance to accomplish the goals on her new Anti-Wallflower list. But a prank gone wrong exposes Lia to magic and one of the consequences is Elie now has to make her road-trip with her former bestie, Jack, who has become her worst enemy in the years since he lost his mother and starting licking on her.

Worst of all, Jack has seen the List, has a near-photographic memory and recall, and now has something to hold over Elie. Instead, he seems intent on helping her check off items. Something (magical?) happens on the trip down the California coast: sparks of the friendship they once had and maybe something more?

Abe writes with empathy and honesty about family and friendship, trust and betrayal, trust and vulnerability. The world she imagines and builds feels wholly believable. The beauty of California comes through and Asian-American readers may see themselves in this story.

Supporting characters, like Jack and Elie’s younger siblings (who are best friends like they used to be), and potential customers along the road, have depth and are finely drawn in few words. Even with the tropes of Forced Proximity and Just One Bed, the story is fairly chaste.

While the shift from dislike to attraction seemed pretty fast given how mean Jack was to Elie, and she may have been too quick to forgive, readers who can suspend their disbelief for magic all around us can let that go, too. The Charmed List is a sweet story and a quick read.

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

History Comics: The National Parks by Falynn Koch

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History Comics: The National Parks by Falynn Koch

Koch, Falynn. History Comics: The National Parks. First Second, 2022. ISBN 978-1250265876 128 pp. $19.99

****

This comic panel format history is a fascinating look at the personalities (and egos) behind the creation of the National Park Service. An introduction from William Gwaitney, retired assistant regional director of the National Park Service, sets a passionate tone for the NPS in his introduction.

The book uses two characters, Bigfoot and a bald eagle, to represent the parks and the United States and frame the narrative. They introduce presidents and naturalists, legislators and business tycoons, and famous properties. They also define preservation versus conservation, where they are at odds and where they align.

The system evolved from a single park that straddled two states (Yellowstone) to include all federal parks: national monuments, recreation areas, military sites, urban parks, historic sites and natural wonders. The book also briefs on funding and management, environment and wildlife issues, and Mission 66 in 1966 to address visitor services (entrance fees, parking, and visitor centers).

Missing is coverage of the National Park System going rogue and actively resisting President Trump, the creation of @AltUSNatParkService and it’s 72.9K followers, and the government seeking to overturn laws and protections that keep the parks and their environments clean. Koch does not shy away from the reality of lands being stolen from indigenous peoples, or from dark and tragic parts of our history.

The art is cartoony with a subdued color palette. The characters are slightly caricatured which matches the fun and informal tone of the book. As each park is established, a name and date appear in the panel, culminating with a timeline that covers the establishments of all the parks, from 1851 to 2019. The book concludes with resources for further research (title and author, monographs only).

Informative and enjoyable, this just might inspire junior ranges or at least a road trip to visit your closest park!

Rivals (American Royals #3) by Katherine McGee

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Rivals (American Royals #3) by Katherine McGee

McGee, Katherine. Rivals (American Royals #3). Random House, 2022. ISBN ‎ 978-0593429709 400 pp. $19.99

*****

This next installment of the American Royals series, which imagines a United States where the founding fathers established a monarchy instead of a democracy, features Beatrice as reigning Queen, hosting a major diplomatic event and not making enough time for fiancé Teddy; Princess Samantha stepping up in a major way into her own royal role, in love with a Black Duke who would have to give up everything, and their brother Jefferson who is back with scheming Daphne. Meanwhile, he and Nina are growing to be close friends again.

Romance, drama, international politics modern day court intrigue, unlikely alliances and deep betrayals advance the plot. Least you think it’s all fluff, the series also addresses racism, misogyny, climate change, and media/fame. The writing is excellent, pacing perfect, and I devoured it in one sitting.

The cliffhanger ending promises a sequel that I personally can’t wait for; purchase where the series is popular.

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

The Matchbreaker Summer by Annie Rains

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The Matchbreaker Summer by Annie Rains

Rains, Annie. The Matchbreaker Summer. Underlined, 2022. ISBN 978-0593481554 288 pp. $9.99

***

Paisley is acting like a spoiled brat. Her mother has found romance and is going to sell the family’s legacy, a bird-themed summer camp, to uproot the family and follow the boyfriend she met online to to care for his ailing mother. It feels like the end of the world, as these things do at sixteen. To make life even worse, she discovers her high school’s troublemaker graffiting dragons on the cabins on Camper’s Eve. In spite of selling him out to her mom, who is familiar with Hayden’s antics, his punishment is to fill an unexpected vacancy and become a counselor during the first session, which is geared to 12-15 year olds.

Somehow, Pais ends up entering a pact with her frenemy turned crush to break up her camp director mom and Dave by focusing on his incompetence as an outdoorsman. What he lacks in skill he makes up for in enthusiasm, and comes across as the nicest and most placidest of guys. But when a series of pranks befall Dave that cause discomfort and even harm, the incidents mirror the ill-wishes Pais has jotted in her insecurely hidden journal, so of course all evidence points to her–but she never wanted Dave to actually get hurt or anything. When she gets what she wanted (a breakup) she also loses the respect of the artist rebel she’d come to care about.

The boy-crazy girls act more like high schoolers that middle schoolers, especially best friend Nora. The modern day setting doesn’t quite align with the amount of time the counselors seem to abandon their charges, even if they are teenagers themselves. The short time frame seems very unrealistic for all of the drama, changes of heart and plausibility of the novel.

The ending is predictable–had the plot been spread over an entire summer, I’d have bought it hook, line, and sinker.

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

Wild Love by Lauren Accardo

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Wild Love by Lauren Accardo

Accardo, Lauren. Wild Love. Berkley, 2021. ISBN 978-0593200292 pp. $7.99

***

In this rugged romance, city girl Sydney returns home to the wilderness of Pine Ridge in disgrace, another victim to the “gave up a promising (law) career for a man who ended up cheating on me” theme. The meet cute has to do with her car being in need of repair. She ends up taking over her scattered mother’s failing bookstore (another trope), turning it into a local hotspot and tourist destination that specializes in romance novels that I would LOVE to visit.

Meanwhile, Sydney is wildly attracted to and trying to avoid falling for the bearded hottie she dubs “Mountain Man” who has a pile of baggage—Sam’s been supporting and parenting a former lover through her addiction struggles and needs to present a front that Liv has a support system or she’ll lose her kid.

The novel seems like fluff at first glance, perpetuating stereotypes about calorie counting women, but sucking down beers and chili burgers and still throwing on her running shoes while cleaning up the books develop Sydney into a well-rounded character. Solid female friendships further strengthen the novel as Sydney makes friends with the (shop)girl next door Jorie, repairs her relationship with her mother, and creates a sanctuary for local women. Recommended for larger library collections and romance readers who like their novels trope filled and a little meta.

I received an advance reader review copy of #WildLove from #NetGalley.

By The Book by Jasmine Guillory

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By The Book by Jasmine Guillory

Guillory, Jasmine. By The Book (Meant To Be #2). Hyperion Avenue, 2022. ISBN 978-1368053389 320 pp. $ 15.99

***

In this modern-day Beauty and the Beast retelling, editorial assistant Izzy (Isabella) takes on a client who has promised but not delivered his manuscript when, after a year of emails, she offers to literally stop by his home and knock on his door to ask what’s up with that memoir under contract. Celebrity bad-boy Beau Towers has a reputation for causing scenes wherever he goes, and everyone wants the backstory to why he was yelling at his mother at his famous father’s funeral. Izzy has been in line for an overdue promotion at her publishing house, Tale As Old as Time, so when the opportunity presents itself, she shows up. Grumpy Beau refuses to see her, but his housekeeper/cook enlists Izzy’s help when she sprains her ankle. A conversation ensues, Beau invites Izzy to stay and give him pep talks to help get his book written. She agrees to stay for a day, then the weekend, and before you know it, they’re living together, writing in the library, sharing snacks and binge-watching period television series, remaining carefully boundaried.

The story contains many elements from the Disney version of Perrault’s tale: a smart and fiesty bookish woman who loves her parent(s) dearly; a grouchy beast of a man; a palace with beautiful gardens and off-limits rooms; a smarmy, undermining villain; a slow falling in love. Both Izzy and Beau have their demons to confront, and do so in real, vulnerable ways. Both are people of color, as is the author, so there is wonderful contemporary commentary on the struggles of young Black professionals and tokenism. One of the standout parts of the novel was the details about the writing process and Izzy’s strategies to get Beau producing. I also loved that she was a reader and writer, herself.

Generally, I like my romance novels with a little more heat; love scenes start chastely and then jump to the snuggling after (or waking up together the next morning), giving a sanitized (Disney?) feeling to the story. Still, you’ll be rooting for the characters to get together, even if we don’t get all the down and dirty details.

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

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont

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The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont

de Gramont, Nina. The Christie Affair. St. Martin’s Press, 2022. ISBN 978-1250274618 320 pp. $27.99

*****

I readily admit to being a bit of a lazy reader: I read to escape, I want to be entertained, and I read nonfiction, not mystery, to exercise my brain. I was attracted by the jazz-age cover (those pearls!) and scintillating title, and it took midway through chapter two to realize the narrator was speaking about THAT Agatha Christie, of mystery novel fame. I almost put the book down several times, and am SO glad I stuck with it.

Nan O’Dea is in love with Archie Christie, who has promised to leave his wife for her. When he breaks the news to his wife Agatha, she goes missing for almost two weeks, amid scandal and intrigue (which is amazing for book sales!), and upon her return, does divorce, and both former spouses remarry. This inventive historical novel imagines why Nan, why now, and what happened during those pivotal eleven days. While the narrative gives insight into multiple characters, including the police inspector, it’s all as imagined by Nan (who may not even be a reliable narrator!) The story moves back and forth in time from Nan’s unsavory experience as an unmarried pregnant girl in a corrupted convent and a seductive mistress. The timeline is usually easy to follow (though there are one or two muddled times that took a little re-reading). In the midst of Christie’s disappearance, there is a murder mystery involving two guests near where the author is holed up.

Without giving away too much plot, I will say the voice and story are compelling, the plot brilliantly woven, and the tone reminiscent of Christie herself. Period details seem to be well-researched and the ending is extremely satisfying. I fully expect this to be an Edgar Award contender if not winner this year.

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

Something Wilder by Christina Lauren

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Something Wilder by Christina Lauren

Lauren, Christina. Something Wilder. Simon & Schuster, May 17, 2022 ISBN 1982173408 384 pp. $22.99

****

This departure from Christina Lauren’s romantic comedy oeuvre is an unputdownable adrenaline-fueled rush. In typical fashion, a past flame reappears and the passion is reignited. Lily Wilder, daughter of a famous rancher, expedition leader and amateur treasure hunter, lacks the funds to buy back the old homestead. She was in love once, for five months, with a sweet city boy who returned home to care for his injured mother and never called, wrote, or returned. She fills her time with horses and hookups. Leo Grady, love of her life, shows up ten years later with three friends for a canyon trip she and her friend Nichole are leading, and both Lily and Leo are utterly shocked.

Lily puts on a good (staged) show, following in the footsteps of the infamous bank and train robber Butch Cassidy, with her clients solving puzzles and ciphers as part of the tour. Things go wrong when one of the party reveals he want to treasure hunt the missing fortune for real.

“I feel like we’re in The Goonies,” says one of the characters about halfway through. It’s an apt comparison: there is a property to be saved, a pivotal map, puzzles to be solved, a budding romance, two groups of loyal friends, Reddit-fueled incels instead of the Fratellis, a high speed chase, and a kidnapping and escape. The sparks between Leo and Lily are palpable, and the romantic bits will speed up your pulse as well. The canyons of Wyoming are rendered in wonderful sensory details and the ending is satisfying, if predictable.