Review: The Mistletoe Trap (Heart in the Game #2) by Cindi Madsen

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

From the moment Julie sees her best friend, Gavin, in the airport, it’s like no time at all has gone by instead of months and months. No matter how long they’ve been apart, their relationship has always been steady, comfortable, and decidedly just friends. Even though their meddling parents have hung what seems like unlimited amounts of mistletoe everywhere she goes this holiday season, Julie knows some things will never change.

Gavin is well-aware his family’s wanted him and Julie to get together since forever, even though he’s been friend-zoned since they could talk—and he’s been happy to play that role. After all, as the new starting quarterback for the San Antonio Mustangs, he’s got enough on his plate without adding romance to the mix.

But between playing elves in the holiday bazaar to nights spent one-on-one watching rom-coms or soaking in their town’s hot springs, suddenly the “reverse parent trap” they’ve fallen into is actually starting to work. But this could be one scheme where letting themselves get trapped might be way too dangerous.

Each book in the Heart in the Game series is STANDALONE:
* The Wedding Deal
* The Mistletoe Trap

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

What I Liked:

*I love a good Friends to More Romance and Madsen does them well. I really enjoyed Julie and Gavin’s friendship and shipped them to get together.

*Though I thought their parents bordered on rude and over the top sometimes when it came to wanting Julie and Gavin to be together, I did really like how close their families were. It’s nice to see happy marriages and even nicer to see big, happy families. It made me wish my family was as close to another as Julie and Gavin’s are.

*I liked the small town and all the cute holiday traditions.

*While I had some problems with the evolution of their relationship (I’ll get to that), I liked the big, cheesy, romantic gesture at the end. It was cute and made me smile.

What Didn’t Work for Me:

*I’m not a fan of the whole “looking for a casual fling” thing. After Julie breaks up with her boyfriend and he calls her boring, she decides she needs a fling to prove she’s not boring and also improve her bedroom skills. This is kind of a common Romance plotline and I never appreciate it. It made me like Julie a little less.

*I also am not a fan of the Friends-with-Benefits plotline. Though we know that the couple are obviously in love with each other, I didn’t like that they – especially Gavin – chalked it up to just being a new physical attraction and wanted to work it out of their systems and then move on with their friendship. I also didn’t like how either one of them handled the fall out when they realized it wasn’t that simple.

*I thought the book was a little longer than it needed to be. For how little actually happens in the book, it could have been about half the length.

Overall

Overall, I did enjoy The Mistletoe Trap. Though it’s definitely not my favorite Madsen book, it had it’s cute moments and helped put me in the holiday mood. If you’re looking for a Christmas Romance, you should give this one a try.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3 Stars

Review: Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

This story begins with a funeral. One of three brothers is dead, mourned by his siblings. But which one? And how? And, most importantly: why?

William, Brian, and Luke are each born a year apart in a lower middle class Catholic family in 1960s Dublin. William, the eldest, rises to the top of the heap in the film industry as a successful movie producer. Luke, the baby of the family, surprises everyone by morphing into a worldwide pop star. Brian, the compliant middle son, is the eternal adult in the room: the helpful, steady one, the manager of finances and careers.

But none of them is actually quite what he seems. Wounded by childhood, they have betrayed one another in myriad ways, hiding behind little lies that have developed into full blown treachery. With an unnerving eye for the complexities of families, Nugent delves into the secret life of a deeply troubled household and provides stunning insights into the many forces that shape us from childhood.

Hailed by #1 New York Times bestselling author A.J. Finn as “a dark jewel of a novel,” Liz Nugent’s new work of fiction follows three working class Irish brothers, and delves into the many ways families can wreak emotional havoc across generations.

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

Little Cruelties publishes November 10, 2020. 

I went into Little Cruelties expecting a psychological thriller and some suspense. Instead, I think this book is another case where Men’s Fiction should be a genre because if this same story was told with three sisters instead of three brothers, it would definitely fall under the Women’s Fiction category.

The story is told through the first person POVs of three brothers, Williams, Brian, and Luke. The book covers decades and swings around from one year to another in no organized fashion that I could discern. Before each brother’s section of chapters are short excerpts from an unknown brother’s view, discussing the funeral and aftermath of one of the other brother’s death. This is really the only bit of suspense in the whole book, though. The rest of the chapters don’t really even allude to someone being murdered, though they all certainly have the motives for it. We don’t find out which brother is dead until the final chapter and by then I was so fed up with these characters that I hardly even cared.

I always struggle with really character-driven books that feature such awful characters. There’s a small amount of sympathy for them because they had such a dysfunctional childhood, which carried into adulthood, but that excuse really only goes so far. Luke also gets a bit of a pass because of his mental health issues, but William and Brian were just straight up despicable. I didn’t enjoy reading about them and often wondered why I kept going. I think I kept hoping that there would either be redemption arcs or some real suspense would start to build. Neither happened.

Overall, Little Cruelties was not for me. I didn’t really ever care about the characters and I while I’m normally a fan of alternate timelines, the haphazard manner it jumped around here didn’t work for me. I also expected a lot more of a psychological thriller/suspense than family drama. However, I did think the first person POVS were well done and that’s why it’s getting two stars instead of one from me.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2 Stars

Review: Little Threats by Emily Schultz

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Both a taut whodunit and a haunting snapshot of the effects of a violent crime, Little Threats tells the story of a woman who served fifteen years in prison for murder…and now it’s time to find out if she’s guilty.

In the summer of 1993, twin sisters Kennedy and Carter Wynn are embracing the grunge era and testing every limit in their privileged Richmond suburb. But Kennedy’s teenage rebellion goes too far when, after a night of partying in the woods, her best friend, Haley, is murdered, and suspicion quickly falls upon Kennedy. She can’t remember anything about the night in question, and this, along with the damning testimony from a college boy who both Kennedy and Haley loved, is enough to force Kennedy to enter a guilty plea.

In 2008, Kennedy is released into a world that has moved on without her. Carter has grown distant as she questions Kennedy’s innocence, and begins a relationship with someone who could drive the sisters apart forever. The twins’ father, Gerry, is eager to protect the family’s secrets and fragile bonds. But Kennedy’s return brings the tragedy back to the surface, along with a whole new wave of media. When a crime show host comes to town asking questions, believing the murder wasn’t wasn’t as simple as it seemed, murky memories of Haley’s death come to light. As new suspects emerge and the suburban woods finally give up their secrets, two families may be destroyed again.

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

Little Threats publishes November 10, 2020. 

Based on that intriguing synopsis, I expected Little Threats to have a little more mystery and a little more thrills than it actually produced. Unfortunately, I just found it a little – maybe a lot – disappointing.

As I read this book, two words continually came to mind. Pretentious and Familiar. I can’t even count how many thrillers out there revolve around a character not being able to remember some violent and tragic event. It’s a cliché for a reason, though, right? Some books use it really effectively and some not so much. Also, the whole “poor little rich girl” thing. The girls who have every opportunity and advantage rebel against their privilege by doing inane things like shoplifting and drugs and dating bad boys. I’ve read it a hundred times before and I found myself just really bored for so much of the book. And the characters, with the exception of Everett, were truly awful. So much of the story is just them being in their own heads and the writing was so pretentious I couldn’t really take it seriously.

I found the mystery pretty underwhelming, as well. I read some reviews that talked about multiple twists throughout the story and a shocking ending and I didn’t get any of that. I thought it was predictable and completely lacked suspense.

Overall, Little Threats was not for me. I found the plot cliched, the writing pretentious and the pace extremely slow. The book was heavily character focused, which might have saved it if I had cared anything about them. Everett was the one character that came across as sympathetic, but again, this wasn’t enough to turn the book around for me. This isn’t one that I would recommend, but I have seen some good reviews on it, so it might just be me.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2 Stars

Review: Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of I Owe You One, an utterly delightful novel about a woman who ditches her dating app for a writer’s retreat in Italy–only to find that real love comes with its own filters

“As close to perfect as romantic comedies get.”–Jenny Colgan, New York Times bestselling author of The Bookshop on the Corner

Call Ava romantic, but she thinks love should be found in the real world, not on apps that filter men by height, job, or astrological sign. She believes in feelings, not algorithms. So after a recent breakup and dating app debacle, she decides to put love on hold and escapes to a remote writers’ retreat in coastal Italy. She’s determined to finish writing the novel she’s been fantasizing about, even though it means leaving her close-knit group of friends and her precious dog, Harold, behind.

At the retreat, she’s not allowed to use her real name or reveal any personal information. When the neighboring martial arts retreat is canceled and a few of its attendees join their small writing community, Ava, now going by “Aria,” meets “Dutch,” a man who seems too good to be true. The two embark on a baggage-free, whirlwind love affair, cliff-jumping into gem-colored Mediterranean waters and exploring the splendor of the Italian coast. Things seem to be perfect for Aria and Dutch.

But then their real identities–Ava and Matt–must return to London. As their fantasy starts to fade, they discover just how different their personal worlds are. From food choices to annoying habits to sauna etiquette . . . are they compatible in anything? And then there’s the prickly situation with Matt’s ex-girlfriend, who isn’t too eager to let him go. As one mishap follows another, it seems while they love each other, they just can’t love each other’s lives. Can they reconcile their differences to find one life together?

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

Love Your Life publishes on October 27, 2020. 

Love Your Life was pretty classic Kinsella. The story was cute with charming, if sometimes very frustrating, characters.

There was a lot that I enjoyed about this book. The cast of characters and quirky situations they found themselves in made me laugh out loud often. While they all were a little unbelievable, Ava and Matt’s group of friends were definitely my favorite part of the book. I loved the scenes when they were all together and the banter was great. I even though Matt’s awful parents provided opportunity for a lot of humor.

While the friendships were great, the romantic relationship is what I struggled with. Ava and Matt have a whirlwind romance during a one week writing retreat where they’re not allowed to use their real names or talk about their personal lives. They both form a picture of who the other person really is and declare their love by the end of the retreat. They’re thrilled to find out they both live in the same city, but they quickly find out that their real life selves are not anything like what they expected. They forge ahead into a relationship anyways, even though it’s obvious from the start that they are totally incompatible. What really drove me crazy, though, was how Ava tried to pretend like everything was fine.

Have you ever noticed that the people who yell about tolerance the loudest are often the most intolerant people? That was Ava. She came off like she was free spirited and accepting of everything and everyone, but in reality she was very judgmental about anything that differed from what she thought. She also blamed all of the relationship problems on Matt instead of admitting anything wrong on her part. Matt also didn’t help things by refusing to communicate most of the time. I honestly thought this story would end up with them not being together. I even found myself rooting for Ava to wind up with one of Matt’s roommates. However, as this is a Romance, the moral of the story is obviously going to be more about how love can help people change for the better instead of how it sometimes doesn’t work out.

Overall, I had a pretty good time reading Love Your Life, but my frustration with Ava kept me from enjoying the story as much as I wanted to. I loved the group of friends and could have gone on reading much more about them. While the romance did work out for me in the end, the journey there left me more annoyed than anything else. This wasn’t my favorite Kinsella book, but I’ll definitely still be reading more from her in the future.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3 Stars

Review: Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

The author of the “rich, dark, and intricately twisted” (Ruth Ware, New York Times bestselling author) The Family Upstairs returns with another taut and white-knuckled thriller following a group of people whose lives shockingly intersect when a young woman disappears.

Owen Pick’s life is falling apart.

In his thirties, a virgin, and living in his aunt’s spare bedroom, he has just been suspended from his job as a geography teacher after accusations of sexual misconduct, which he strongly denies. Searching for professional advice online, he is inadvertently sucked into the dark world of incel—involuntary celibate—forums, where he meets the charismatic, mysterious, and sinister Bryn.

Across the street from Owen lives the Fours family, headed by mom Cate, a physiotherapist, and dad Roan, a child psychologist. But the Fours family have a bad feeling about their neighbor Owen. He’s a bit creepy and their teenaged daughter swears he followed her home from the train station one night.

Meanwhile, young Saffyre Maddox spent three years as a patient of Roan Fours. Feeling abandoned when their therapy ends, she searches for other ways to maintain her connection with him, following him in the shadows and learning more than she wanted to know about Roan and his family. Then, on Valentine’s night, Saffyre Maddox disappears—and the last person to see her alive is Owen Pick.

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

Invisible Girl publishes October 13, 2020. 

I’m a big fan of Lisa Jewell and oftentimes her books rate among my favorites of the year. Unfortunately, though, I did not really care for Invisible Girl. 

Let’s start with what I did like about this book. Jewell always takes a lot of care with character development and she continued to do it really well here. I felt like I got to know all of the characters. I also thought the three different POVs were used really effectively to create suspense.

While I felt like I got to know the characters, I didn’t really care about most of them. I thought Cate was shallow and judgmental, while she she lived in deep denial about her own life and relationship. I felt sad for what Saffyre went through as a child, but really nothing she did in the present made a bit of sense to me. And honestly I found most of her actions incredibly selfish – and some a big overreaction – and I’m upset that she didn’t face any consequences at all for what she’d done. Owen is the only character that I really felt something for. He made me really sad most of the time – and a few times a little disgusted. For the most part, though, Owen was very misunderstood. While we get to see him come to understand how he has misperceived others and how to work on himself, none of the people who frequently labeled him as creepy got the same education and that kind of disappointed me.

I also wasn’t a big fan of the whole incel plotline. It wasn’t as big a part of the plot as I thought it would be based on the synopsis and I was glad for that. But I felt like I wanted them explained a little bit more. While the people described are obviously hateful, I wondered if there was another side of the coin. It’s like when all people on the political left are grouped together with the far-left and all people on the political right are grouped together with the far-right. Not everyone is an extremist. I didn’t like that celibacy was only looked upon as something weird and creepy and not a valid lifestyle. Though, I do suppose these people are “involuntarily” celibate.

Overall, Invisible Girl just wasn’t for me. It took me well over half the book to really feel interested in the story and even then, I felt like there was a big lack of payoff because I didn’t care about most of the characters. However, I’m still a big Lisa Jewell fan and I will look forward to her next book.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 Stars

Review: In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

In a Holidaze, the quintessential holiday romantic novel by the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners, asks what happens when wishes come true…

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…but not for Maelyn Jones. She’s living with her parents, hates her going-nowhere job, and has just made a romantic error of epic proportions.

But perhaps worst of all, this is the last Christmas Mae will be at her favorite place in the world—the snowy Utah cabin where she and her family have spent every holiday since she was born, along with two other beloved families. Mentally melting down as she drives away from the cabin for the final time, Mae throws out what she thinks is a simple plea to the universe: Please. Show me what will make me happy.

The next thing she knows, tires screech and metal collides, everything goes black. But when Mae gasps awake…she’s on an airplane bound for Utah, where she begins the same holiday all over again. With one hilarious disaster after another sending her back to the plane, Mae must figure out how to break free of the strange time loop—and finally get her true love under the mistletoe.

Jam-packed with yuletide cheer, an unforgettable cast of characters, and Christina Lauren’s trademark “downright hilarious” (Helen Hoang, author of The Bride Test) hijinks, this swoon-worthy romantic read will make you believe in the power of wishes and the magic of the holidays.

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

In a Holidaze publishes October 6, 2020. 

Whenever I am in a book slump, I can always count on Christina Lauren to pull me out. Before I picked this up, I hadn’t been having great luck with the books I was reading, but In a Holidaze definitely broke me out of my rut.

The story ended up being a little different than I thought it would be, though. The synopsis mentions “hilarious disasters” send Mae back to start the day over and over again and I guess I expected a little more hijinks. What sends her back are life-threatening accidents – and not funny ones. And she didn’t “reboot” as often as I expected, either. I thought there would be several reimaginings of the same scene, but this was limited to only one or two specific scenes before that part of the plot was basically left behind and Mae goes on to live several days in a row that we hadn’t seen before. This isn’t really a bad thing as I like how the story unfolded, I just wish the authors would have committed a little more to the hook of the plot.

That said, I enjoyed watching Mae’s week of Christmas vacation unfold. Every year, her family joins a few other families at a cabin to spend the holiday together. They’ve been doing it since before Mae was even born and the week is steeped in tradition. I loved the cast of characters. They were such a fun, close group of people and I would love to have a group like them in my life. Included in that group is Andrew, who Mae has had a crush on for half her life. He’s always thought she had a thing for his younger brother, so he’s always treated her like more of a little sister than potential love interest. When Mae decides the universe is telling her to go for it with Andrew, she lets him know how she feels and a bit of a slow burn romance begins.

I really enjoyed the romantic development between Mae and Andrew. He was just so sweet. It seemed almost impossible that he could be so perfect and I kept waiting for him to do something awful. Thankfully, he is just a really great guy. There was a bit of time where I got annoyed with him for how he reacted to something, but overall I thought he was a great romantic lead and I definitely shipped him with Mae.

Overall, I really enjoyed In a Holidaze. While I wish it had committed to the whole “groundhog day” gimmick a little more, I liked the romance and the family atmosphere of the cabin. While I did like Mae’s journey to becoming a more confident person, I thought the “big lesson” was a little underwhelming and could have done without a passage regarding religion that I found a little offensive. However, Christina Lauren’s addictive writing and the cute romance definitely broke me out of the reading slump I was in and this book is one I would recommend to Romance fans.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: A Path to Redeeming Love: A Forty Day Devotional by Francine Rivers and Karin Stock Buursma

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

This one-of-a-kind devotional based on the timeless classic novel Redeeming Love provides forty days of inspiration–featuring essays from the author on her beloved novel.

A Path to Redeeming Love: A 40-Day Devotional welcomes readers to revisit Francine Rivers’s life-changing story of God’s all-consuming love in an inspiring new way: a personal, 6-week journey through Angel and Michael’s iconic love story.

Following the novel’s key themes–Rejected, Resigned, Rescued, Redeemed, Reconciled, Restored–each daily devotion includes a Redeeming Love story tie-in with an excerpt from the novel; selected quotes from Scripture embodying both the message of the devotion and its theme; and prompts for reflection and activities including Bible study, prayer, journaling, and outreach. Each theme begins with a personal essay from Francine in which she shares stories from her life and her thoughts on Angel, Michael, and God’s unconditional and unending love. A meaningful devotional with depth and heart, this book is a perfect companion to Redeeming Love for its many fans.

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

A Path to Redeeming Love: A 40 Day Devotional publishes October 13, 2020. 

Even though it’s been many years since I’ve read Redeeming Love, it’s a story that has stayed with me. I still find myself thinking about it from time to time and comparing other books to it. I was looking for a new daily devotional when I came across A Path to Redeeming Love and it felt like an obvious choice.

I usually prefer devotionals that involve a little more study – scriptures to look up, questions to answer, etc. While this devotional didn’t have as much as that, it was longer than a lot of other one verse/one page ones I’ve tried and I liked that. Each day starts with an excerpt from Redeeming Love, which is then analyzed in respect to the theme of the day’s lesson. It goes deeper than the book, though, and the lesson digs into several passages of scripture. The verses are all included in the text, but I also liked to look them up separately for more context. Each day ends with a small assignment – memorize a verse, meditate/pray on a subject, reach out to someone who has been an important part of your spiritual journey, etc.

I really enjoyed the devotional. I loved the passages of Redeeming Love and it has really made me want to re-read the book. While the story is obviously a romance, it’s also a parable of God’s love. Rivers mentions that she has received many responses from readers about how they wish they could find a man to love them like Michael loves Angel and she tells them that they can. The selfless, sacrificial way he loves her is the same way that God loves us. I found the daily installments easy to read and understand and often relatable. I definitely recommend this to someone who is looking for new devotional, especially if you were a fan of the book. I’m going to be buying a copy of the devotional for my mother, who is the one who introduced me to Redeeming Love.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: They Never Learn by Layne Fargo

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

From the author of the “raw, ingenious, and utterly fearless” (Wendy Walker, USA TODAY bestselling author) Temper comes a dynamic psychological thriller about two women who give bad men exactly what they deserve.

Scarlett Clark is an exceptional English professor. But she’s even better at getting away with murder.

Every year, she searches for the worst man at Gorman University and plots his well-deserved demise. Thanks to her meticulous planning, she’s avoided drawing attention to herself—but as she’s preparing for her biggest kill yet, the school starts probing into the growing body count on campus. Determined to keep her enemies close, Scarlett insinuates herself into the investigation and charms the woman in charge, Dr. Mina Pierce. Everything’s going according to her master plan…until she loses control with her latest victim, putting her secret life at risk of exposure.

Meanwhile, Gorman student Carly Schiller is just trying to survive her freshman year. Finally free of her emotionally abusive father, all Carly wants is to focus on her studies and fade into the background. Her new roommate has other ideas. Allison Hadley is cool and confident—everything Carly wishes she could be—and the two girls quickly form an intense friendship. So when Allison is sexually assaulted at a party, Carly becomes obsessed with making the attacker pay…and turning her fantasies about revenge into a reality.

Featuring Layne Fargo’s trademark “propulsive writing style” (Kirkus Reviews) and “sinister, of the moment” (Chicago Review of Books) suspense, They Never Learn is a feminist serial killer story perfect for fans of Killing Eve and Chelsea Cain.

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

They Never Learn publishes October 13, 2020. 

I’ve been struggling lately to find books that keep my attention and when I picked up They Never Learn I didn’t have very high expectations. So it took me completely by surprise by how addictive and compelling this story turned out to be.

There have been a lot of #MeToo type of stories to come out over the last couple of years. While it’s obviously an important topic, I have to say I’ve been getting a little bored with it. None of these books have really brought anything new to the table and it feels like reading the same thing over and over again. The Never Learn definitely took a different spin on the subject. A serial killer who targets sexual predators? It was like a feminist Dexter and I was here for it.

The chapters alternate POVs between Scarlett, a college professor/serial killer, and Carly, a college Freshman. I thought the alternating POVs were done pretty well. The story was very character driven and I felt like I got to know them pretty well. There were several twists throughout the book and the first one actually ended up surprising me. I felt a little mad at myself for not figuring it out earlier – in hindsight you’ll definitely see the clues – but I like that it surprised me because it doesn’t happen that often these days. The rest of the twists are a little more subtle and not as shocking, but I thought they were pretty well done. I don’t feel like I can say too much about how the story plays out because it will be too spoilery.

Overall, I really enjoyed They Never Learn. I always enjoy a good serial killer story and I especially liked how it made a #MeToo storyline a little more fresh. While the characters weren’t always very likable, they were compelling and I was invested in seeing how things would turn out for them. This was my first book by Fargo, but I’m definitely going to go back and read her debut book and will look forward to whatever she does next.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: The Switch by Beth O’Leary

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Eileen is sick of being 79.
Leena’s tired of life in her twenties.
Maybe it’s time they swapped places…

When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some overdue rest. Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen.

Once Leena learns of Eileen’s romantic predicament, she proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire. But with gossiping neighbours and difficult family dynamics to navigate up north, and trendy London flatmates and online dating to contend with in the city, stepping into one another’s shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected.

Leena learns that a long-distance relationship isn’t as romantic as she hoped it would be, and then there is the annoyingly perfect – and distractingly handsome – school teacher, who keeps showing up to outdo her efforts to impress the local villagers. Back in London, Eileen is a huge hit with her new neighbours, but is her perfect match nearer home than she first thought?

Ever since reading The Flatshare, I have been anxious to see what Beth O’Leary would write next. I will admit I was a little underwhelmed with the synopsis for The Switch, but it ended up being such a sweet, enjoyable story. I’m going the list route on this one.

What I Liked

-I loved the small town where Eileen lives and Leena comes to stay. It was so cute and the quirky townspeople were the perfect cast of supporting characters. I loved them. I also loved Leena’s friends in London and how they so thoroughly accepted Eileen into their lives. All of the characters were so likable (except, of course, for the couple that aren’t supposed to be).

-I really liked that the older characters were given so much development. I think a lot of the time elderly characters in books that feature a younger generation are kind of caricatures instead of people.

-The romances weren’t quite as central as I expected them to be, but that ended up being ok. They were still very cute. I absolutely loved every single thing about Jackson. He’s a little too perfect to be realistic, but I don’t care. I also loved who Eileen ended up with.

-I really enjoyed the general atmosphere of family and community. I feel like so much of what we encounter today is rooted in hate and division and it was refreshing to see people of different walks of life come together, instead.

-As someone who often feels stuck in life, it was kind of inspiring to see both Leena and Eileen take charge of their lives and make positive changes. I thought both their character arcs were well done and I could’ve gone on reading much more about them.

What Didn’t Work for Me

-One thing that really brought the story down for me was Eileen’s relationship with Tod. She meets  him online and he basically tells her he’s not interested in a relationship, but just wants to sleep with her – non-exclusively – while she’s in London and she’s like ok, sounds fun. This isn’t a new concept or anything in Romance novels, but it’s never a plotline I like. It made me respect her a little less and it honestly didn’t add that much to the story for me. You know almost the whole time that she will end up with someone else and it was a little frustrating how long it took her to realize it.

-Leena’s boyfriend, Ethan, is barely a part of the story for most of the book. She barely even mentions him. It made her dramatics towards the end of the book seem a little out of of left field, to be honest.

-I liked that we got both Leena and Eileen’s POVs, but I didn’t think they needed to change every other chapter. Even though I liked both, I was always disappointed at the end of each chapter when it switched again. I think it would have been just as effective to give several chapters in a row to the same POV sometimes.

Overall

Overall, I really enjoyed The Switch. I loved the characters and the sense of community. I’ve been in a bit of a mood lately where I’ve had trouble finding books that keep my attention, but I found myself always looking forward to picking this story back up again. I’m definitely looking forward to whatever O’Leary writes next.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

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(I had to include the non-American cover because it’s perfect. You’ll understand when you read the book.)

Synopsis from Goodreads:

This is a poignant comedy about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Viewing an apartment normally doesn’t turn into a life-or-death situation, but this particular open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes everyone in the apartment hostage. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers slowly begin opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths.

As police surround the premises and television channels broadcast the hostage situation live, the tension mounts and even deeper secrets are slowly revealed. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people.

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

Anxious People publishes September 8, 2020. 

Even though the Beartown books made me a Fredrick Backman fan for life, this is only my third book from him. I was a little afraid that no other book could live up to my sky high expectations. And while the Beartown books are still my favorites, Anxious People did not disappoint.

Backman has such a way with words. I am continually blown away by his honest – and humorous and sometimes heart wrenching – description of the human condition. There is no other author that can make me want to laugh and cry in equal measure. This story is about depression, anxiety, and desperation. But it’s also about hope, love, and forgiveness. It’s about idiots. It’s about the thoughts we have in our lowest moments and the reassurance that we are not alone. There was one passage that described my teenage self so accurately, that I really wish there were more books like this back then.

“She isn’t traumatized, she isn’t weighed down by any obvious grief. She’s just sad, all the time. An evil little creature that wouldn’t have shown up on any X-rays was living in her chest, rushing through her blood and filling her head with whispers, saying she wasn’t good enough, that she was weak and ugly and would never be anything but broken…In the end you get exhausted from always tensing the skin around your ribs, never letting your shoulders sink, brushing along walls all your life with white knuckles, always afraid that someone will notice you, because no one’s supposed to do that.”
(Quote taken from ARC, may be different in final version.)

The story is very character driven, and there is quite the quirky cast to get to know. I loved how we learned things about each of them, bit by bit. Characters who might come across a little unlikable at first are given context and background that will make you grow to love them instead. There’s even a twist or two that will keep you on your toes. I will say there were a few times where it felt like things dragged just a little and I wanted to get on with the story, but the character development was still definitely worth it. The story is told in a non-linear way, which could have gotten confusing, but I think Backman handled it really well. I loved the excerpts of the witness interviews most of all.

Overall, I loved Anxious People. Backman’s writing was just as wonderful as I hoped it would be. It was honest and relatable and filled with emotion. It was also laugh out loud funny at times. I definitely recommend this one and am looking forward to going back and reading more of Backman’s backlist.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars