Review: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately.

Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.

I received a copy of this title via the publisher. It does not impact my review. 

Serious Moonlight will be available April 16, 2019. 

Serious Moonlight may not have ended up being exactly what I thought it was going to be, but it was still the type of enjoyable, quick read I’ve come to expect from Jenn Bennett.

I thought that the mystery and the historic hotel that Birdie and Daniel work at would play larger roles in the story. I expected a little bit of a creepy vibe, as well. However, the book stays firmly Contemporary in tone. Which isn’t a bad thing at all, I was just expecting something a little bit different. The mystery left a lot to be desired for me. I never really understood why they cared that much about it and it wasn’t until the final “twist” that it made sense why one of them was interested. However, it was a good excuse for Birdie and Daniel to spend time together and get to know each other and have fun, bantery conversations that I quite enjoyed. I definitely shipped them together.

The story wasn’t all cute and lightness, though. Deceased parents, unplanned pregnancies, deadbeat dads, Narcolepsy, depression, suicide, isolation, and abandonment issues are all explored. It was kind of a lot to juggle, but Bennett did a pretty good job of it. I especially thought the inclusion of Narcolepsy was really interesting. I’ve never read a book where a character suffered from that and it involves a lot more than just randomly falling asleep, like I thought.

One thing I didn’t like about the book, however, is the irresponsible view on sex. I think that it had the opportunity to really explore the emotional repercussions of casual sex, but it never really went there. The “advice” Birdie gets from the adult in her life is basically not to take things so seriously. In a book meant for adults I could probably ignore it, but for one marketed to teens, I wish there was a better message on the subject.

Overall, I enjoyed Serious Moonlight. While there were a lot of heavier topics to deal with, at it’s heart it was a cute contemporary romance that I shipped. I really liked Birdie and Daniel together. There were many cute moments between them, including one of the coolest first date experiences I’ve ever heard of. I think fans of more serious YA contemporaries will enjoy it.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars

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Review: Cold Day in the Sun by Sara Biren

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Holland Delviss wants to be known for her talent as a hockey player, not a hockey player who happens to be a girl. But when her school team is selected to be featured and televised as part of HockeyFest, her status as the only girl on the boys’ team makes her the lead story. Not everyone is thrilled with Holland’s new fame, but there’s one person who fiercely supports her, and it’s the last person she expects (and definitely the last person she should be falling for): her bossy team captain, Wes.

I received a copy of this title from the publisher. It does not impact my review.

Cold Day in the Sun will be available March 12, 2019. 

I really enjoyed this book. I’ve really been in the mood for cute contemporary stories lately and Cold Day in the Sun gave me that, plus a little more substance.

Holland is the only girl on the boys varsity hockey team. She’s a great player, but there’s obviously a lot of pressure that comes with her position on the team. A lot of people don’t think she should be allowed to play with the boys and she spends every game trying to prove them wrong. What I thought was an interesting twist on the situation is that there is a girl’s hockey team she could play on. Holland really makes a point of saying her decision isn’t about the girls team not being good enough for her, but that she has always played with her brothers and their friends growing up and she wanted to keep playing with them. While at first I didn’t think it was a good narrative decision for there to be both a boys and girls team, giving Holland a choice really is important to the plot. Other than to satisfy my preconceived ideas, why should she have to justify her decision? Why can’t her explanation be “because I want to”? I liked that this situation challenged my thinking a bit.

Feminism is obviously a strong theme of the story. While it did hit on a lot of important topics, there were a few things that didn’t work for me. Any time someone uses a common, but male-centered expression (like “that takes balls” or “man down”) Holland goes off on them about it. Yes, I understand the reasoning for wanting to correct this kind of rhetoric, but honestly it just comes across a little petty to me. And I don’t think yelling at people when they say it is really the way to get people to change the way they speak.

While there were sexist remarks made about Holland by some people in their community, I loved that her teammates didn’t act like that. None of them seemed to be angry about having a girl on the team, even when she was better than some of them. While a few players were a little over-protective at times, they mostly just treated her like any other player and I liked that. I also really liked her relationship with her brothers and that none of them were threatened by her, either.

And then there is Wes. I absolutely adored him. He is so sweet and I loved how much he supported Holland. Besides hockey, they also share a love for glam metal. I am not really familiar with the music and bands that are mentioned (a lot) so I feel like some of the impact that might have had was a little lost on me, but I did like how they texted each other about it. I absolutely shipped the two of them together and I was glad to see Holland finally wise up when it came to him.

Overall, I really enjoyed Cold Day in the Sun. I liked the characters, the hockey, and the romance – especially Wes. While I didn’t always appreciate the way in which some points were made, I did like that it challenged the way I think about some things and thought it had a good overall message. This was definitely the cute read that I wanted it to be, plus more, and I’m looking forward to reading more from Biren.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

The #1 internationally bestselling author returns with a new novel in the vein of her New York Times bestsellers Pretty Girlsand The Good Daughter—a story even more electrifying, provocative, and suspenseful than anything she’s written before.

What if the person you thought you knew best turns out to be someone you never knew at all . . . ?

Andrea Cooper knows everything about her mother, Laura. She knows she’s spent her whole life in the small beachside town of Belle Isle; she knows she’s never wanted anything more than to live a quiet life as a pillar of the community; she knows she’s never kept a secret in her life. Because we all know our mothers, don’t we?

But all that changes when a trip to the mall explodes into violence and Andrea suddenly sees a completely different side to Laura. Because it turns out that before Laura was Laura, she was someone completely different. For nearly thirty years she’s been hiding from her previous identity, lying low in the hope that no one would ever find her. But now she’s been exposed, and nothing will ever be the same again.

The police want answers and Laura’s innocence is on the line, but she won’t speak to anyone, including her own daughter. Andrea is on a desperate journey following the breadcrumb trail of her mother’s past. And if she can’t uncover the secrets hidden there, there may be no future for either one of them. . . .

I received a copy of this title from the publisher (Thanks William Morrow!). It does not impact my review. 

I always look forward to a new Karin Slaughter book. I used to get a little upset whenever one of her upcoming titles was not a Will Trent book, but I have really enjoyed all of her standalone novels and have learned to appreciate getting something a little different as I wait for more Will. And Pieces of Her was definitely different than anything I’ve read from  Slaughter before. The mystery is not so much a Whodunnit as a Whydunnit. While there are still surprises and suspense, it made the tone of the story different than I expected.

I really liked the use of multiple POVs and timelines. Slaughter utilizes this style so well. It’s one of my favorite things about her writing. I thought the issues were pretty timely, even though one timeline was set 30+ years ago. It shines a light on the corruption of the powerful, as well as the misguided, violent atrocities people commit in the name of social justice. While I liked both of the main characters and timelines, I have to admit I liked the 1980s chapters a little more. While there was maybe a little more action in the present, the real heart of the story happened 30 years before.

She had always believed – vehemently, with great conviction – that the only way to change the world was to destroy it. 

I found the character of Nick fascinating. Horrible, but fascinating. The cult like adoration he managed to manipulate out of people and the  control he was able to hold over them, even when they knew they were being manipulated, was kind of horrifying. Even though they were under his spell (and had an abundance of issues themselves) I really liked Jane and Andrew. In the present chapters, I found Andrea a little hard to understand at times. I am not somebody who should be judging someone for being quiet, but she really took it to extremes. I often wondered if she had some kind of mental disability, but it’s never addressed. However, she was still a sympathetic and interesting character. While the circumstances are different, I really related to the sudden discovery of learning everything you thought you knew about your parent was a lie.

Overall, I really enjoyed Pieces of Her. While it was different than I’ve come to expect from Slaughter, it still had the excellent writing, clever twists, and compelling characters she’s known for. My only struggle with it was how long the chapters were (there are close to 500 pages and there are only 15 chapters, plus an epilogue) which is not my favorite thing, but I’m sure many other won’t be bothered by it. I still definitely recommend this one to mystery/thriller fans and am eagerly anticipating more from Slaughter.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Our House by Louise Candlish

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

On a bright January morning in the London suburbs, a family moves into the house they’ve just bought in Trinity Avenue. 

Nothing strange about that. Except it is your house. And you didn’t sell it. 

When Fiona Lawson comes home to find strangers moving into her house, she’s sure there’s been a mistake. She and her estranged husband, Bram, have a modern co-parenting arrangement: bird’s nest custody, where each parent spends a few nights a week with their two sons at the prized family home to maintain stability for their children. But the system built to protect their family ends up putting them in terrible jeopardy. In a domino effect of crimes and misdemeanors, the nest comes tumbling down.

Now Bram has disappeared and so have Fiona’s children. As events spiral well beyond her control, Fiona will discover just how many lies her husband was weaving and how little they truly knew each other. But Bram’s not the only one with things to hide, and some secrets are best kept to oneself, safe as houses.

I received a copy of this title from the publisher via a Good Reads giveaway and also an e-copy via NetGalley. This does not impact my review.

Our House will be available August 7, 2018. 

Our House is one of my most anticipated books of the summer and while it wasn’t quite what I expected, I definitely enjoyed it.

I really liked the formatting of this novel. Fi tells her side of the story through a popular podcast and interspersed with it are tweets as people listen to the podcast and also excerpts from a document Bram is writing to tell his side of the story. There is also straightforward narration from both their POVs detailing the immediate aftermath of Fi finding out her house has been sold. I thought this style was used really effectively to reveal all the twists and turns throughout the story.

I thought the book was very character-driven and felt like I got to know both Fi and Bram pretty well. I have to say that Bram really frustrated me pretty much the whole book. He just told so many little lies that if he had just been honest about any of them early on then things would have never gotten so out of hand. It was hard not to feel like he deserved what happened to him. Fi was a more likable and empathetic character and I really felt bad for all the things Bram put her through.

While there were some fun twists and turns, I did figure most of them out well before they were revealed. I didn’t really mind that, but it did make it feel unnecessarily long at times. I think the story would have benefited from being a little shorter and a little faster-paced. However, I liked that as I was trying to figure out some of the surprises, it took my attention off of something else that gave the very end of the book a nice twist and that ending is why I’m bumping my rating up a little more than I was originally planning.

Overall, I enjoyed Our House. Though it did feel a little longer than necessary and I did figure out many things before they were revealed, I enjoyed the twists and turns the story took and especially liked the ending. I recommend it to fans of character-driven mysteries, nontraditional formatting, and some unreliable narration. This was my first book by Louise Candlish and I definitely want to check out more from her.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Sweetness can be deceptive. 

Meet Hanna.

She’s the sweet-but-silent angel in the adoring eyes of her Daddy. He’s the only person who understands her, and all Hanna wants is to live happily ever after with him. But Mommy stands in her way, and she’ll try any trick she can think of to get rid of her. Ideally for good.

Meet Suzette.

She loves her daughter, really, but after years of expulsions and strained home schooling, her precarious health and sanity are weakening day by day. As Hanna’s tricks become increasingly sophisticated, and Suzette’s husband remains blind to the failing family dynamics, Suzette starts to fear that there’s something seriously wrong, and that maybe home isn’t the best place for their baby girl after all.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review. 

Baby Teeth will be available July 17, 2018.

The hype for Baby Teeth has been building for months. It’s mostly the reason I’ve kept putting off reading this because I was afraid my expectations were too high. And while it didn’t quite live up to the hype, it was still a pretty entertaining read.

It took me a little while to get into the story. The writing style, especially when it came to Hanna’s POV, took some getting used to. But once I really got into the story and could start to appreciate what a little psycho Hanna was I started to enjoy it. I became invested in the characters and really wanted to see how it would all turn out.

While I enjoyed seeing what crazy thing Hanna would do next, I did think it dragged on a little too long. The same type of things just kept happening again and again and there was a lot of needless description. Towards the end of the book the plot really began to advance and the power struggle between mother and daughter was really compelling to me and then it just abruptly ended. The ending felt more like it was leaving things open for a sequel than properly giving any type of closure to a stand-alone story. I found it disappointing that just when I was really getting into it, it was over.

Overall, Baby Teeth was certainly an entertaining read, but fell short of the hype for me. A little steadier pace and a less abrupt ending would have made it a little better, in my opinion. I don’t know if this book would be for everyone, but I think there are a lot of people who would enjoy it. I could definitely see it becoming a fun, creepy movie.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3 Stars

Review: The Paris Wedding by Charlotte Nash

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Synopsis from GoodReads:

Ten years ago, Rachael West chose not to move to Sydney with high-school sweetheart Matthew. Instead she stayed on the family wheat farm, caring for her seriously ill mother and letting go of her dreams. Now, Matthew is marrying someone else. And Rachael is invited to the wedding, a lavish affair in Paris, courtesy of the flamboyant family of Matthew’s fiancée – a once-in-a-lifetime celebration at someone else’s expense in Europe’s most romantic city.

She is utterly unprepared for what the week brings. Friendships will be upended, secrets will be revealed – and on the eve of the wedding, Rachael is faced with an impossible dilemma: should she give up on the promise of love, or destroy another woman’s life for a chance at happiness?

If you enjoy reading Rachael Treasure and Rachael Johns, you’ll fall in love with this deliciously poignant story about family and friends, and love lost and found.

I received a copy of this title via the publisher. It does not impact my review.

The Paris Wedding will be available June 12, 2018. 

The Paris Wedding was the perfect weekend read. Full of family, love, and self-discovery, I never wanted to put this one down.

Rachael once had plans to go away to school with her boyfriend, Matthew, but when her mother was diagnosed with a rare form of MS, she decided to stay and take care of her. Now that her mother has passed away and she’s feeling adrift, she finds herself longing for Matthew and the future they were supposed to have. Then she receives the invitation to his wedding. The invitation includes a full week of events in Paris, all expenses paid, for her and a guest. She and her best friend, Sammy, decide to go so she can finally have the closure with Matthew she needs to finally move on. However, Matthew doesn’t seem entirely happy with how his life has turned out or about getting married and Rachel begins to wonder if there’s hope for that missed future after all.

To muddy the waters even further, Rachel begins to spend much of her time in Paris with photojournalist Antonio, who is photographing the week’s events as a favor to the bride. There is a slight love triangle, which I don’t usually appreciate, but I didn’t find myself minding it here. It wasn’t actually a huge part of the plot or the main source of drama. That said, I was totally team Antonio. Though he’s very opinionated and can come off a little pretentious and judgmental, he challenged Rachael in a way I think she needed. He was definitely one of my favorite characters in the book.

I really enjoyed the Paris setting, too. While I would be perfectly happy to never leave my apartment, this book definitely had me wanting to go to Paris. I enjoyed the description of not just the scenery, but how the city made Rachael feel. I liked that she learned a lot about herself while she was there, both good and bad. I also liked that she wasn’t transformed by that week alone. It was really just the start of her journey, not the whole story.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Paris Wedding. I liked the characters, the setting, the family dynamics, and the message of self-discovery. There is some cheating in this book, which always brings a book down for me, but it wasn’t really romanticized or the central part of the story. That and a few things being a little too predictable were the only real complaints I have about this book. This is my first book by Charlotte Nash and I know I’m looking forward to reading more from her.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Set in a dangerous near future world, The Book of M tells the captivating story of a group of ordinary people caught in an extraordinary catastrophe who risk everything to save the ones they love. It is a sweeping debut that illuminates the power that memories have not only on the heart, but on the world itself.

One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.

Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.

Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.

As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher. It does not impact my review. 

The Book of M will be available June 5, 2018. 

The Book of M is certainly an ambitious debut. Covering multiple characters, countries, and time in painstaking detail, it explores a new dystopian world where the loss of memories results in dangerous magic.

While I did like the book, I wanted to like it more than I actually did. The pace is pretty slow as the world building is established and it took me awhile to really get into the story. The writing was very detailed and I personally would have appreciated a little less. I thought it made the book much longer than it needed to be. However, it was pretty character-driven and I did feel like I got to know the main characters pretty well.

The story is told in the POV of Ory, Max, Naz, and The One Who Gathers. Ory and Max are married and when Max loses her shadow she decides to leave Ory so she won’t accidentally hurt him. She comes across a group of other Shadowless heading to New Orleans and joins them. Ory is desperate to find her and along the way comes across a group of other Shadowed, including Naz, a former Olympic hopeful in archery who now helps lead the soldiers of her group. Both groups are trying to find out if the rumors they’ve heard about New Orleans are true. The One Who Gathers was once just a man with retrograde amnesia who became connected with the first man to lose his shadow and his memories, but has become something incredibly different. I did think all the POVs were well done. I liked all of the characters, but I never really fell in love with any of them, which made it kind of difficult to really care about what happened to them.

Overall, I enjoyed The Book of M, but I didn’t love it. I liked the characters and how they all became connected. However, I thought the plot was a little drawn out and felt the emotional impact I was supposed to experience missed the mark a bit. While this dystopian tale may not be for me, I think there will be a lot of people that will really like it. I recommend it if you enjoy character-driven novels with a touch of magical realism. I do look forward to seeing what Peng Shepherd writes next.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3 Stars