Category Archives: review

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

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Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Garmus, Bonnie. Lessons in Chemistry. Doubleday, 2022. 400 pp. ISBN 978-0385547345 $29.00.

*****

Elizabeth Zott, an opinionated, smart, and talented aspiring chemist tries to further her research and runs into male privilege, under-equipped labs, lack of funding, and sexual assault–until procuring beakers from another scientist gets her noticed by Nobel Prize winner Cal Evans. They develop a mutually respectful and lovely relationship, where a rescue dog named Six-Thirty completes their child-free family–until Cal suffers a tragedy and Elizabeth finds herself with a child out of wedlock. The novel centers around how Elizabeth came to star on a popular television show Supper At Six, where each recipe has a foundation in chemistry, sending housewives to the store for sodium chloride and acetic acid. Her deconstruction of cultural norms that hold women back and encouragement of fans to follow their dreams make her both popular and a threat. My most favorite part was Elizabeth’s attempt to teach the dog English vocabulary–and the dog’s narration.

The writing was so absolutely stellar–funny, poignant, infuriating, and magical, peopled with impossible and flawed characters. Modern women will shudder at how little we’ve come since the sixties. The sport of rowing plays a major role, as does chemistry, and these elements elevate the story from a mere romance to something really special. The many accolades are well-deserved; this is a powerful debut novel.

I listened to Lessons In Chemistry via Audible and the narration was crisply delivered with unique voicing for each distinct character. This is a fabulous readalike for fans of science-y books about women overlooked, featuring strong women and research, such as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot or Behave by Andromeda Romano-Lax.

I received a free, advance reader’s review copy of #LessonsInChemistry from #NetGalley.

Will They or Won’t They by Ava Wilder

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Will They or Won’t They by Ava Wilder

Wilder, Ava. Will They or Won’t They. Random House/Bantam/Dell, 2023. 384 pp. ISBN 9780593358979 $17.

****

Pam and Jim. Lorelei and Luke. Nick and Jess. The will-they-or-won’t they television trope involves two characters with #UnresolvedSexualTension that take a loooooong time to hook up (or maybe never do), and it’s related to the Zeigarnik Effect that postulates that people remember unfinished/interrupted tasks better than completed tasks: the interest in unresolved things is higher and keeps us watching (or reading).

Enter Lilah and Shane, who got their big break together (her after years of diligent showing up for auditions, cast in increasingly bigger productions), and him (unfairly!) from a discovery at his day job. Cast as attracted colleagues who never consummate the relationship on the paranormal television show Intangibles, their relationship deteriorates over the course of the show until she ditches in season five for a movie contract. It flops. Invited back for the finale (and unbeknownst to their complicated past), the producers intend for their characters to (finally!) hook up, but can Lilah and Shane make nice between scenes when they can’t seem to stand one another?

This well-told tale moves back and forth in time (spoiler: they didn’t always hate each other) and in the best of enemies-to-lovers fashion, lots of the angst is unresolved miscommunication, not meanness or pettiness or different values systems. The reader needs to suspend disbelief that the issues couldn’t have been solved with one open, honest chat, but it’s par for the course for the trope, and not entirely unrealistic that people don’t enjoy difficult conversations and fear rejection. The story feels light, but is grounded by mental health and body issues. Lilah is the one not into relationships, which is a bit of plot twist. The banter is fun, their connection emotional AND banter-y, and it was hard to put down. Recommended for fans of Once in a Blue Moon by Christina Laurens and Reunion by Kayla Olson (I have not yet read Wilder’s How to Fake it In Hollywood yet, but it’s queued up next in Audible!)

I received a free, advance reader’s review copy of #WillTheyOrWon’tThey from #NetGalley

The Little Board Game Café by Jennifer Page

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The Little Board Game Café by Jennifer Page

Page, Jennifer. The Little Board Game Café. Aria, 2023. 352 pp. ISBN 9781804548349 $16.98

***

This was delightfully and authentically geeky. Emily has always wanted to run a little cafe and jumps on the opportunity when it arises; but the cafe is a failing business due to it’s poor location, and even her delicious baked goods can’t compete with lack of foot traffic. When a local gaming group’s customary meeting place falls through, she finds success in hosting their get-togethers, and learns some fun games in the process. She can’t get a good read on the attractive convener; is he interested in her, or not?

This is a very charming and sweet story that will have you cheering for the underdogs. Sometimes characters venture into stereotypes upon meeting and then settle into more realistic, fully dimensional people. Sure to be fun for foodies, gamers, and fans of cozy reads set in English villages.

I received a free, advance reader’s review copy of #TheLittleBoardGameCafe from #NetGalley.

Play for Me by Libby Hubscher

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Play for Me by Libby Hubscher

Hubscher, Libby. Play for Me. Berkley, 2023. 368 pp. ISBN 9780593547229 $17.00.

****

Not every romance has to involve a book store of bake shop. When the rookie pitcher is too injured to play, trainer Sophie Doyle makes a controversial call on a player that rabid Red Sox fans think cost the series — and costs her the job, as well as her relationship and housing. She finds work at a New Hampshire boarding school where her clients are wrestling with academics and other extra curriculars as well as athletics. Faculty housing is sparse and utilitarian and all-male, but it only takes one almost-glimpse of skin in the shared bathroom for a lock to get installed. Conflict arises when a student who excels at both baseball and piano is pulled in two directions, and music instructor Jonas is as convinced is a prodigy at piano as Sophie is that is a prodigy at baseball. When grumpy Jonas, a former concert pianist, reveals he can barely play, Sophie has physical therapy exercises that may help him limber his hands.

The writing and relationships are excellent. I love both music and baseball, and found the entry point fairly low, readers do not need to know a lot about or be passionate about either to engage with the story and characters. The subplot of Sophie’s dad, struggling with a Parkinson’s diagnosis, adds depth and the other roommates (a gay couple) add color. As might be fitting with a private school setting, the sex is discreet and behind closed doors even though their attraction is evident and encouraged by students.

I received a free, advance reader’s review copy of #PlayForMe from #NetGalley.

Artfully Yours by Joanna Lowell

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Artfully Yours by Joanna Lowell

Lowell, Joanna. Artfully Yours. Berkley, 2023. 336 pp. ISBN 9780593198322 $17.00

****

Opposites attract when an art forger and art critic fall for one another. Nina Finch’s forgeries hang in museums and homes of private collectors. An accomplished painter, she’s been carefully trained by her art school drop-out brother, who is sort of like her art pimp. She’s rather be baking and doesn’t particularly want a life of crime, but it’s funding for a potential purchase of a kitchen and shop in the country. She is working as a parlor maid in the Duke of Umfreville’s estate where one of her fakes hang when his brother, acclaimed art critic Alan De’Ath reveals the painting is fraudulent. When the shocked maid drops the tea service and is summarily fired for being heard instead of seen, De’Ath offers her a job in his motley crue household working with him, which she accepts, all the while trying to figure out how to keep her identity hidden until she can make away with her savings and live a life on the straight and narrow. Instead, the pair are attracted to one another, and he decides to teach her a little about art.

The writing is sublime: lush, evocative detail; rich period vocabulary; impeccably researched late nineteenth-century customs, culture and manners, and fully fleshed out complex characters. For example, instead of simply describing a character’s appearance, Lowell does it in comparison to another person in a way that masterfully adds to their characterization. She masterfully interweaves various subplots of the relationship between Duke of Umfreville Geoffrey and his wife Fanny, his son’s ill health (which parallel’s Alan’s ill health and disability, and the relationship between Nina and her brother, which comes off as controlling and abusive, and references their traumatic childhood. The cat and mouse game adds intrigue without the work of solving a mystery, and the steamy attraction is thoroughly detailed. This worked as a stand-alone novel for me, and made me want to read further in this universe.

I received a free, advance reader’s review copy of #ArtfullyYours from #NetGalley.

The Roommate Pact by Allison Ashley

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The Roommate Pact by Allison Ashley

Ashley, Allison. The Roommate Pact. Harlequin, 2023. 400 pp. ISBN 9780778334248 $18.99

***

Firefighter Graham and nurse Claire are roommates with a joking agreement to embark on a friends with benefits relationship if they are still single at forty; as soon as they voice the option, they suddenly start to notice just how attractive the other is. She’s determined not to fall for a first responder whose life is constantly on the line. When Graham breaks a leg in a minor climbing accident and needs companion care, Claire realizes she cares more than she thought. Voiceless due to getting intubated, she starts sleeping in his bed since he can’t call out if he needs something. Their early communication after the accident is by notes and texts while his voice heals, and then Graham begins unburdening his thoughts and feelings to what he believes to be a defunct email address of Claire’s.

Tension ratchets up when Claire washing Graham’s hair becomes a sensual experience ,and again when he decides to help her with her dating profile. When she brings him to see his parents, there is Just!One!Bed! and of course she gets along perfectly with his well-meaning, match-making parents–and even becomes friendly with his dog. They do consummate the relationship, but the nitty gritty after the hot makeout sessions is left off the page.

Chapters alternate points of view, and Graham’s heartfelt emails are swoon-worthy. The story is well-plotted and well-paced with good character development and sensory writing. This takes place in the same universe as Would You Rather–Claire is the one who tricks Noah and Mia into confessing their feelings, and Graham and Claire’s chemistry is palpable there; and although Noah and Mia appear in The Roommate Pact, it does work as a stand-alone interconnected novel rather than part of a series. Overall, this is a solid hurt/comfort romance with a very satisfying slow burn of friends falling in love.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TheRoommate Pact from #NetGalley through the author’s publicist.

Nantucket: The Ultimate Playground by Tara Moos photographs by Rebecca Love

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Nantucket: The Ultimate Playground by Tara Moos photographs by Rebecca Love

Moss,Tara; photographs by Rebecca Love. Nantucket: The Ultimate Playground. Schiffer Books, 2022. 272 pp. ISBN: 978-0-7643-6476-1. $50.00

***

This coffee table book features photographs of white people in expensive clothes walking exclusive beaches with their beautiful children eating gourmet food on an a prestigious island off the New England coast. Divided into sections, images document treasured sights, tastes to savor, timeless activities, toys, playgrounds and traditions and celebrations. Inspired by a life-changing childbirth experience, the author, a long-time seasonal resident, wanted to capture the famous island with a child’s playful wonder. It didn’t quite land that way for me–I’m not sure this book knows what it wants to be or who it’s for.

At first glance, and from the foreward, the book seems geared to parents taking their kids places on Nantucket, but it’s not really a guidebook, and the activities are also aimed at those young at heart who want to rent a jet ski or charter a boat (maybe while the nanny watches the kids?) Several playgrounds are mentioned–few captions, no addresses. Two little free libraries are mentioned and although the Nantucket Atheneum is referenced twice, it is never disclosed that the Atheneum is Nantucket’s public library, which has a cozy children’s room that is a destination in and of itself; it is simply mentioned as a provider of children’s programs. The only travel guide nod is a list of bike paths–no map, no addresses, not even a starting location in most cases, just a mention of the road the path parallels. There is no index, and a list of locations is alphabetical, rather than grouped by chapter, and is mostly limited to commercial businesses.

While the photos are consistently gorgeous, the content itself feels inconsistent. Captions have varying degrees of detail from several sentences to… none at all. Some images feel like teasers–just a glimpse of the attraction. I wanted to see all of the famous Bartlett Farm, not just pictures of tomatoes and corn. There are lots of lighthouses shown, which are fun to see but don’t really convey “playground.” Isolated stretches of barren beaches and waterways leave me wondering: where are the tourists? There are nods to all seasons, but if these were taken in the off-season, when?

A multi-page spread of dogs has no captions or context–are the dogs of Nantucket? Do they belong to vacationers in pet-friendly places? Or are they family members to the creative partners who produced the book? Same with vintage vehicles: are these familiar sights every season? Or novelties that came over on this year’s ferry? More disturbing than an arrangement of dried tuna tails whose mounting pins seem to stare back at the viewer are multiple pictures of naked baby bottoms that steal the agency from those too young to choose whether their nudity be sold for profit.

Perhaps this will find an audience with fans of the queen of beach reads Elin Hilderbrand: those who can only afford a coffee table book (and not a Nantucket vacation). That said: do art books need to have a purpose beyond just being beautiful or evoking a response, whether it’s nostalgia or envy or longing?

The photography, by islander and portrait/landscape/wedding photographer Rebecca Love, is absolutely breathtaking and #goals, but is too pristine, capturing way more Pinterest-perfect stills than people actually playing. An artist’s statement on the collection would have been a welcome addition. An outtakes section of dropped ice cream cones, sunburned toddlers and crying kids who can’t have what they want at the toy store might have balanced out this perfect collection. Purchase for your coastal AirBnB guests to thumb through and enjoy with a glass of Veuve Clicquot.

The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway by Ashley Schumacher

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The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway by Ashley Schumacher

Schumacher, Ashley. The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway. St. Martin’s Press, 2023. 320 pp. ISBN 9781250840240 $20.00

*****

This was such a sweet book. Madeleine and her dad have been on the Renaissance Faire circuit where her parents met for most of her life. When they arrive at a favorite spot, it’s been overhauled: dirt paths are now gravel, buildings are permanent structures, and everything has a Hollywood sheen. The son of the new owners, Arthur, seems determined to win her over, and dubs Gwen the Princess of the Faire. Reluctantly drawn in, suddenly she is schewing plans with her dad, hanging out with friends, and trying to remember what her mother’s laugh sounded like. Will shaking up her routine make her forget her mother?

This lovely book deals with grief so beautifully, and also addresses body image, budding romance, and LGBTQIA issues (Arthur has two dads). The device of a best friend to Zoom with and a journal provide opportunity for Gwen to process, but so do her conversations with Arthur. This is a great for fans of Well Met who also enjoy coming of age romance.

I received a free, advance reader’s review copy of #TheRenaissanceOfGwenHathaway from #NetGalley.

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

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In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

Lauren, Christina. In a Holidaze. Gallery, 2020. 336. pp. ISBN 978-1982123949. $17.99

***1/2

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren is sort of Groundhog day but set at Christmas. While spending Christmas with her family at their home in Utah, Maelyn Jones makes a last ditch effort pass at her crush of thirteen years… and ends up back on the plan to Utah, stuck in some time loop. Humor, romance, and self-discovery abound.

Book Lovers by Emily Henry

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Book Lovers by Emily Henry

Henry, Emily. Book Lovers. Berkley, 2022. 384 pp. ISBN 978-0593440872. $27.00

In this novel brilliantly plotted like a Hallmark holiday movie (without the Christmas), protagonist Nora, a shark-like NYC literary agent, has lost not one but four boyfriends to the trope of “went out of town on business, met a local girl, saved her family’s business instead of destroyed it, had a complete change of morals and heart and breaks up with her.” The most recent dumping coincides with a late lunch meeting with notoriously grumpy editor Charlie, to invite him to edit author Dusty’s latest manuscript. He passes. Their verbal sparring is foreplay, but neither knows it yet.

Fast forward two years, and Libby, Nora’s sister, pregnant with her third child, wants a babymoon with her big sister and drags Nora off the not-so-charming Sunshine Farms for a vacation, complete with an irresistible checklist that includes hiking, horse-petting, makeovers, baking and camping–elements of a grownup, multiple- week- long slumber party. Special items for Nora include dates with not one, but two, hot local men.

One of whom turns out to be a certain book editor, born and raised in Sunshine Falls, running his mom’s bookstore while his dad recovers from a second stroke… Nora can’t be completely “off” on her vacation, because her best-selling and sensitive author is working on a new novel, featuring a rather bloodthirsty and seemingly irredeemable Cruella DeVil of a film agent whose characterization is hitting a little too close to home for Nora’s taste. When Dusty’s agent goes into labor prematurely, Charlie takes over the book, forcing he and Nora to work together. Meanwhile, Libby is hatching a plot to save the ailing bookshop.

This is a gem of a book from the pacing, the plot, the characters. The voice is pitch perfect. The baggage Nora and Libby need to work through is real and not over the top: their single actress/waitress mom who adored New York and made being broke fun; their dad who abandoned them; Libby’s focus on family and Nora’s on career; their sweet and loving but high stakes sibling relationship which Nora perceives as forcing her into a rescuer role. The subplot of a mini-mystery about what’s going on between Libby and her husband Brendan is a nice little side story.

The banter between Nora and Charlie and Nora and her sister is fun, snarky and just wonderfully written. The attraction between Nora and Charlie is real, palpable and a bit gut wrenching. Motifs are just so beautifully carried through, from Nora and Charlie’s crashing into one another to the analogy of their relationship being like a great book that leaves you with a lingering heartache. NYC and Sunshine Falls are both lovingly rendered in their exquisite gory, run-down, lush and gorgeous details.

I have a stack of ARCS to read, but right now, I’m going to finish the paperback copy of People We Meet on Vacation, because I loved Beach Read, loved Book Lovers, and can’t get enough of Emily Henry right now.

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