Tag Archives: review

Without A Hitch by Mary Hollis Huddleston & Asher Fogle Paul

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Without A Hitch by Mary Hollis Huddleston & Asher Fogle Paul

Huddleston, Mary Hollis & Asher Fogle Paul. Without A Hitch. Harper Muse, 2021. ISBN 9780785258704 384 pp. $17.99

**

Lottie spent most of college planning the wedding of her dreams to her boyfriend, star quarterback Brody–even going so far as to book the campus chapel for their nuptials. Except, instead of proposing, he broke up with her, and instead of using her degree as her parents would like, she’s landed a gig as a wedding planning for an upscale event planning company, and guess who!? becomes a client? Yep – Brody’s new fiance.

The novel takes on getting over heartbreak, finding your path in life, and has wonderful nitty gritty details –some outrageous! of details gone wrong and Lottie swooping in to save the day. The details do become a bit repetitive, and more ruthless editing might have made for a tighter narrative. The southern setting will have appeal for fans of that region, and the not-quite-quarter-life-crisis tone screams new adult genre.

Great title, great cover, but Queerly Beloved was a better (and more diverse) take on the wedding planning industry.

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

If You Ask Me by Libby Hubscher

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If You Ask Me by Libby Hubscher

Hubscher, Libby. If You Ask Me. Berkeley, 2022. ISBN 9780593199442. 368 pp. $16.00

****

In an effort to purge the cheater from her life, she gathers his most treasured belongings and sets them on fire. A hottie firefighter who happens to live two streets over arrives on the scene and then Dez keeps turning up as she gets into various scrapes. As she works through her rage, grief, revenge, and acceptance, the genteel tone of her columns change, she starts to tell it like it is, and her blistering responses go viral.

Violet has a kind of picture perfect life: engaged to a looks-good-on-paper guy, living in a nice house, and on the cusp of having her advice column Dear Sweetie syndicated… when she walks in on her fiance having sex (in their bed!) with the cute tight-bodied neighbor that is Violet’s inspiration for dragging her own butt to the gym. She throws him out (yay, Violet!), recognizes they’ve been going through the motions for some time… and her fiance really isn’t that kind, but is a a little selfish and controlling (on top of the screwing around).

There is a lot to love about this book, starting with it’s not a traditional rom-com, because it brings in issues of infidelity, infertility and bullying with compassion and honesty. The American South adds a layer on to Violet’s personality, the setting, and the plot. The situations are real, and by turns funny and gut-wrenching. I was cheering for her through the whole book, and not just for the potential relationship with Dez, but for herself, her career, her family and her healing. I love novels that incorporate other elements into the narrative, and Sweetie’s advice columns and texts with Dez help flesh out the story.

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

Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick

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Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick

Rudnick, Paul. Playing the Palace. Berkeley, 2021. ISBN 9780593099414 272 pp. $16

****

This laugh-out-loud funny, boy-meets-prince romance between an urban (assistant) events planner–excuse me, event ARCHITECT–and the heir to the throne is a fast-paced romp littered with pop culture nods, product placement and name-dropping, angst, superhero references, social gaffs and outright disasters, and a dash of social justice.

Carter Odgen, pushing 30 and still trying to figure out his purpose, is six months past a bad breakup when the event he’s coordinating puts him face-to-face with his royal Highness Prince Edgar. Carter’s unsolicited hints to help “the blore” (bland + boring) loosen up before his clean water speech leads to a heated moment, but the two are separated by the Prince’s entourage and security team. But! lack of glass slipper notwithstanding, Edgar feels it too and — swoon! –tracks Carter down as soon as his schedule allows. The couple attends Carter’s sister Abby’s wedding as dates, and shortly thereafter, a shirtless post-coital selfie of the two gents posing in Burger King crowns accidentally goes viral, the Queen demands the shenanigans cease, and instead Edgar whisks Carter off to London for a visit, when he nearly turns the live taping of a Great British Baking Jubilee into an international incident. Things are going swimmingly when Callum, Carter’s opportunistic ex, resurfaces for the boy-loses-boy bit, but as with traditional romances, there is a HFN, if not a HEA.

Told entirely from Carter’s point of view, his snarky tone balances perfectly between self-deprecating and self-doubt/self-loathing, and Carter and Edgar grow throughout the novel Supporting characters — the verbose and scathing Queen, his roommates and hangers on, boss Cassandra, Carter’s great(est) aunt Miriam, his loving friends, and especially James, who is introduced to Carter as the prince’s “chief of staff, factorum, and devoted manservant,” (until James reminds Edgar, “For the last time: you are not Batman.”) are wonderfully multifaceted.

In between the jetsetting, public appearances, and kissing, the novel also manages to challenge societal norms, pay tribute to gay rights, champions the environment and childhood illness, without losing its charm. I love this spin on the Cinderella trope (though, not as much as Red, White and Royal Blue, truth be told) and Playing the Palace does not disappoint.

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

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

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The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

Meltzer, Jean. The Matzah Ball. Mira, 2021. ISBN 978-0778312130 400 pp. $28.99

In the Bible, it takes Jacob fourteen years of labor to win his Rachel… in the Matzah Ball, it takes over twenty. A prank-filled summer at Camp Ahava made Rachel and Jacob frenemies then sweethearts, but the fledgling relationship disintegrated into nothing when a publically staged first kiss led to Rachel’s humiliation. A good Jewish girl–daughter of a well-known Rebbe, even–she now moonlights writing very successful Christmas themed holiday romances. She still holds a grudge, years later, against Jacob, who is now a successful event planner and fundraiser, and is back in NYC to pull off a seasonal party for the Jewish population that coincides with a demand from Rachel’s editor for an authentic Hanukkah romance. The Matzah Ball is the hottest–sold out–party in town. Rachel, who lives with chronic fatigue syndrome, agrees to volunteer her time in preparing for the event to score a ticket so she can write her next novel.

The banter throughout (not just between Rachel and Jacob, but between Rachel and Jacob’s grandmother, Jacob and his right hand man Shmuel) and the humor of gentle poking fun at stereotypes strive to balance out the disdain for All Things Jewish Rachel spouts to her (gay) best friend Michael–I found it a little cringe-worthy. I didn’t want Rachel to come off as a self-hating Jew, and at the beginning, for me, she did.

The romance is well-paced, if predictable – but again, I’m not sure I loved how they talked to one another, all the time. All these years later, and they are still keeping secrets and misunderstanding intentions?! I wanted to yell at them to grow up!

I appreciated Shmuel’s definition of beshert–not soulmates, but destiny: a person who exists to complete something you lack. Like you’ve found your missing piece that makes you better than you are, that calls you on your shit. I do think it can be done more respectfully than he conveys happens with his wife, and than we experience with Rachel and Jacob: in one scene, she tells him repeatedly to stop talking. It’s a bit old-fashioned and discomforting.

Still, Melzter’s story has a heart of gold. Her author’s note at the end speaks to finding a balance in her story to appeal to Jews who love Christmas, Christmas celebrators who know nothing about Jewish practices, a sprinkling of Yiddish and halakhah, and appeal for day school kids and Hebrew school b’nei mitzvot alike. In this, she is successful.

I wanted The Matzah Ball to read like The Intimacy Experiment and Get a Life, Chloe Brown had a baby, but it didn’t achieve that level for me. Stronger editing and intimacy more on the page, than off, would have made this a 4 or 5 star book for me.

I received a free copy of #TheMatzahBall from #NetGalley.

Ride with Me by Lucy Keating

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Ride with Me by Lucy Keating

Keating, Lucy. Ride with Me. Clarion, 2022. ISBN 9780358468318 320 pp. $18.99

****

This was a book that made me feel like, dammit, I don’t have enough time to read all the YA novels I’d like to!

Aspirational architect / designer Charlie is saving up to leave this town -and prides herself on her near-perfect ratings on the local rideshare app she works for. When she accidentally runs into the piece of shit that passes for a classmate’s car, Charlie begs Andre to let her pay for the repairs and leave insurance — and app ratingst — out of it. Instead, he suggests she drive him around at his beck and call. Forced into proximity, they become friends, and Andre’s series of trips helps Charlie to see her boring Massachusetts hometown–and him–in new light.

Two subplots don’t feel crowded, because they are so well tied in: Charlie’s idol and possible mentor invites her to take on a project to improve her chances of landing a competitive internship, and Charlie accomplishes not one but two renovation projects, and learns a lot in the process; And, her parent’s oddly undefined relationship and level of satisfaction with their own life and artistic goals serve to further Charlie’s wants, needs, and drives: educational/career, artistic, and romantic become interwoven.

There is so much for me to love as a MA native, as an appreciator of architecture and design and as a fan of YA coming of age stories. The camera app and rideshare app may become dated when and if Instagram and Uber are replaced by the next big thing, but the themes of first love and figuring out your place in the world are eternal.

I read an advance reader’s review copy of #RideWithMe from #NetGalley.

Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

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Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

A TV star’s best acting job is playing a dumb blonde IRL – but online he writes fanfic as a way to rectify the wrongs made by the show’s producers, preferring the book! canon to the tv! canon. He falls for a fellow writer and plus-size cosplayer who doesn’t know he is her online beta reader and BFF… (Fanfic! Cosplay! Bad scripts! Text exchanges! Fanfic with PEGGING! Dyslexia! Body image! The Twitterverse!).

This really was one of the best books I read in 2020 – funny, sexy, real people I cared about.

Dade has a great romance series set in a library, for those of you who entertain such fantasies, and per Aimee Bender, y’all have them (from The Girl in the Flammable Skirt’s story “Quiet Please”: “She has her hair back and the glasses on but everyone has a librarian fantasy, and she is truly a babe beneath.”)

Nothing But The Truth by Holly James

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Nothing But The Truth by Holly James

James, Holly. Nothing But The Truth. Dutton, 2022. ISBN 9780593186503. 304 pp. $17

***

What a wonderful premise: on the eve of her 30th birthday, publicist Lucy Green sips a cocktail confection while she waits for her boyfriend at an LA Bar and wishes for a perfect day: a proposal, a promotion, and successful moving in with her soon-to-be fiance. However: the next morning she wakes up unable to lie, and takes on the patriarchy, women’s restrictive clothing, diets and cheat days and carb counting, the conformity of makeup, her mother’s desire for a grandchild, and utmost honesty in dealing with her relationship and her sensitive and eccentric celebrity clients.

I cheered Lucy in her au natural hair, bohemian sundress and comfy shoes, and settling into a style more her and still socially (careeraly?) acceptable, her ordering a full breakfast and skipping spin class, and felt her rage and pain at having to work twice and hard and be criticized twice as much to get ahead.

Unfortunately, some of the charm is lost in the repetitive railing against bras, heels, food, and mascara. It’s almost redeemed in a successful outcome for allegations of sexual misconduct by the CEO at the PR firm Lucy works for. Is the the Hot Bartender who coincidentally keeps crossing her path inevitably going to be her True Love’s Kiss?

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #NothingButTheTruth through #NetGalley

It’s a Book by Lane Smith

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It’s a Book by Lane Smith

Smith, Lane. It’s a Book. Roaring Brook Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1596436060 32 pp. $17.99

*****

It’s a picture book. It’s a funny book. It’s a controversial book. Why? Because the author drops “the J-bomb.” OK, that’s not why it’s a picture book, but that’s why it’s controversial and also part of the humor. The author resorts to using the lowest form of humor–the pun–a type of word play used by the likes of Shakespeare. But let me not put the cart before the jackass… It’s a Book is a story about a monkey who is trying to read but is constantly interrupted by a techie jackass who doesn’t understand how a book works. The jackass asks if it can scroll, text, tweet, etc. and the monkey tells him, “No, it’s a book.” When the jackass finally sits down and reads the book, he gets engrossed in the story for hours and won’t give the book back until he’s finished. 

Bibliophiles will enjoy this homage to the printed word. The illustrations capture the spirit of the work and the final punchline is delivered with a smile. The controversy only goes to show that language is powerful, especially in the printed form. The author could have chosen a different animal or eliminated the punchline, but then the book wouldn’t have the same impact. Cats are more tech-savvy than jackasses (just look at all the lolcats, and when was the last time you saw a picture of a jackass on a keyboard?), but that punchline would have been REALLY offensive!  ;^)

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

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Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Stiefvater, Maggie. Linger. Scholastic, 2014 (reprint). ISBN 978-0545682794 368 pp. $10.99

****

After defying the odds and restoring werewolf-boyfriend Sam’s humanity, Grace Brisbane dreams of a future far away from the small town of Mercy Falls, Minnesota, and its dark secrets. No longer at the mercy of his animal instincts, Sam struggles to create an identity separate from the wolf pack that represents the only family he has ever known. That bond is soon tested by the addition of the new “recruits,” turned by Sam’s mentor and father figure, Beck, in a final act of desperation to ensure the survival of the pack.

The narrative voices of Grace and Sam are joined in this installment by Isabel, who despite losing her brother Jack to the wolves, is irresistibly drawn to Cole, a bona fide rock star determined to live the rest of his life shrouded in the new found anonymity provided by his lupin alter ego. Together the four must come to terms with their inner demons, and choose a future among humans or wolves. But is the choice really theirs to make? Faced with mounting pressure from parents and police alike, Grace and Sam frantically struggle to control events threatening to tear them apart.

In the much anticipated sequel to her best-seller Shiver, Stiefvater deftly advances the story of her star-crossed lovers, who are no longer fighting to be together, but to remain together. This second book in the series raises the stakes for the central characters as they are confronted with the consequences of their actions, and leaves readers anxiously awaiting the conclusion.

The Virtual Life of Lexie Diamond by Victoria Foyt

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The Virtual Life of Lexie Diamond by Victoria Foyt

Foyt, Victoria. The Virtual Life of Lexie Diamond. Harper Teen, 2007. ISBN 978-0060825638 320 pp.

**

Lexie is a self-proclaimed girl gearhead, here defined not as a car nut or gadget geek, but a computer addict who has forsaken a real life for the Internet. When her mother, a psychologist, is killed in a car accident, Lexie suspects foul play, and is convinced her Mac may have answers. Her dad is too taken with a new girlfriend to pay much attention to Lexie’s crackpot murder theories, so she turns to the ‘net — and some new friends — for assistance. 

To reflect Lexie’s personality and disillusionment with people, the author used a mixed metaphor of the protagonist alternately as an intergalactic anthropologist alien, or a highly evolved computer. This is effective in portraying Lexie’s attempts to be an efficient and stoic observer, but left me wondering, well, which does she feel she is? Lexie is stereotypically solitary for a gamer; there is a fair bit of evidence that those who immerse themselves in virtual life are in fact very social through affinity groups online. 

The writing is well-paced and energetic, but the plot is predictable. The author drops enough hints for the reader to figure out the murdered before the heroine, the popular girl ends up as an ally, and the second the cute surfer boy next door shows up and the narrator says surfer and gearheads are incompatible, you know who her mystery friend webrider is… and that he is interested in her more than platonically.

While the story is unique, and the mix of technology and spirituality dynamic and original, there are so many technical mistakes it is nearly impossible to suspend one’s disbelief at the ghosts in the machine concept. Certainly, there is a lag between manuscript and publication, but the book appears very dates because of the following: Lexie primarily uses email to communicate, not IM; she connects via modem, not cable (a geek girl would be pushing for cable access!), but is able to quickly download a song sent via email, on dialup;  she calls games CD-ROMS; she is delighted with a Game Boy (not the newest Nintendo portable), which she calls an e-toy (they are not Internet enabled); she confuses links with search strings and metatags. Finally, she installs new RAM with the computer on–RAM must be installed with the machine off and unplugged, and you have to ground yourself to avoid any static discharge that could damage the RAM. All of these errors were so distracting and frustrating it was nearly impossible to enjoy the farfetchedness of the story.