Review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

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Synopsis:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Liane Moriarty, author of Big Little Lies, comes her newest novel, Nine Perfect Strangers: Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever? These nine perfect strangers are about to find out…

Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.

Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer – or should she run while she still can?

It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.

Combining all of the hallmarks that have made her writing a go-to for anyone looking for wickedly smart, page-turning fiction that will make you laugh and gasp, Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers once again shows why she is a master of her craft.

I enjoyed Nine Perfect Strangers. I did. I just kind of wished more actually happened in it. The story is extremely character-driven. If you are someone who needs a lot more than intense character development, this might not be for you. Though there were times that I felt it dragged a little too much, I did really grow attached to the characters, so I didn’t mind it as much by the end as I did in the beginning.

I’m going to talk a little bit about the Nine Perfect Strangers:

Frances: A successful Romance author who has had her most recent book rejected. She has also gone through a rather painful and unconventional breakup which has resulted in some stress-related physical ailments. I would say the majority of the chapters were told from her POV. In a book with so many characters, it’s kind of hard to point one out one as the Main Character, but I would say Frances is it. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite love her. She was an interesting character and I definitely wanted to see what happened to her, but I could have gotten a lot less of her and been happy. I did like how everything turned out for her in the end, though.

Tony: A divorcee and retired professional athlete whose dog recently died. Tony is depressed and wants to change. I liked Tony. I enjoyed it him a lot more as the story went on and he began to open up more. I really liked how his life went after leaving Tranquillium House.

Ben and Jessica: A young, newly wealthy married couple. Ben is obsessed with his Lamborghini and Jessica is addicted to plastic surgery.  Their newly rich status and how each responds to it has put a strain on their marriage and they are interested in couples counseling. I have to admit that I liked Ben a lot more than I liked Jessica. I really would’ve liked more POVs from Ben.

Napoleon, Heather, and Zoe: A family that have been grieving a loss for three years and are trying to move on. They each carry some guilt and some secrets. I could take or leave Heather and Zoe, but I really liked Napoleon. He was one of my favorite characters and I wouldn’t have minded some more from him, either.

Carmel: A recently divorced mother of four. Her children are on a trip of a lifetime with her ex-husband and his new wife and she doesn’t know what to do with herself. She goes to the retreat to lose weight, even though she doesn’t really need to. I didn’t really care that much about Carmel, but she was another one I really liked how her life went in the final chapters.

Lars: An incredibly attractive divorce lawyer who is addicted to wellness retreats and is avoiding his longtime boyfriend who wants to have a baby. Lars was pretty much exactly the type of character you would expect him to be based on that description. I liked him and felt we got just enough of his POV.

In addition to the nine perfect strangers, we also get POVs from Masha, the owner of the resort, and her employees, Yao and Delilah. Masha is kind of a brilliant psychopath. She used to be a high-powered executive until she had a major health crisis and had to make some big changes. She opened Trainquillium House to help others change their lives, as well. Or so it seems. Yao is completely devoted to Masha and the message of the resort. I really enjoyed his character arc from beginning to end and he was probably my second favorite character. We only hear from Delilah once or twice and I was fine with that. The resort was a job to her, nothing more, and she definitely hadn’t drunk the Kool Aid (or the green smoothie).

Overall, I enjoyed Nine Perfect Strangers. For awhile I was a little frustrated that it didn’t seem like anything was really happening, but once I got invested in all the characters I was able to appreciate the story for what it was. I do not think this book will be everyone’s cup of tea, but I liked it enough to tip my rating up a bit.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

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Review: My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

From the New York Times bestselling author that “hilariously depicts modern dating” (Us Weekly) comes a sexy romantic comedy about online dating, and its many, many fails.

With a world-famous speaker at their university, Millie Morris and her four woefully single male colleagues make a pact that they’ll all find dates. Unfortunately, Millie has more success helping them make matches online than she does navigating the onslaught of lewd pics in her own feed. But when she creates a fictional name for a new account, Millie finds herself vying for the online attention of a man she sees every day in the flesh.

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

My Favorite Half-Night Stand will be available 12/4/18.

Super cute and fun, My Favorite Half-Night Stand was enjoyable from start to finish.

I absolutely adored Millie and Reid’s friend group. All my favorite parts were when they were all together or group messaging. They were funny, but could also be really supportive. In my younger years, I had a lot of very platonic guy friends and some of the conversations they have in this book reminded me so much of hanging out with my friends and being the only girl in the group. I loved how relatable they were.

I liked Millie and Reid together, too. They had a closer friendship than Millie had with the other guys and I really enjoyed their banter and how they were with each other. I didn’t love their half-night stands, but seeing as that’s the title of the book, I knew what I was getting myself into. The scenes were more graphic than I wanted, but not that bad as it could have been since I was expecting it. And of course, a large part of the target audience will be all about it.

So where it went a little downhill for me was Millie’s absolute inability to talk about anything emotionally heavy and how the online dating storyline was extremely similar to another book I’ve read recently. I didn’t like Millie’s deceit, even though she had good intentions, and I knew that it would eventually blow up in her face. She really frustrated me at times with her refusal to communicate, too. However, I did like that she really learned some lessons and started to grow as a person because of what happened.

Overall, I really enjoyed My Favorite Half-Night Stand. I liked the romance and the humor and the characters. The group of friends is the reason why I’m upping my rating a little bit more than I thought I would originally give it. Christina Lauren fans will definitely want to give this one a try, as will other Romance/Contemporary readers.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: On Magnolia Lane (Blue Ridge Romance #3) by Denise Hunter

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From the bestselling author of The Convenient Groom (now a beloved Hallmark Original movie) comes the final book in Hunter’s Blue Ridge Romance series.

Pastor Jack McReady has secretly carried a torch for Daisy for two long years. She’s a member of his congregation, after all, and she’ll never see him as more than a trusted counselor. Jack’s best friend Noah has taken every opportunity to encourage his lovesick friend, but when Noah catches wind that Daisy has joined an online dating site, he takes matters into his own hands and orchestrates a meet-cute of the most unconventional kind.

Owner of the local flower shop, Daisy Pendleton is content with her small-town life, but she’d sure like someone to share it with. After several disastrous first dates, she’s about to give up—and then she finds a seemingly wonderful man online. Daisy gets to know TJ through a series of messages but finds herself spending more time with Pastor Jack outside of the church at the same time. What she doesn’t know is that her online prospect and Jack are one and the same.

Just as Daisy’s love life starts to look promising, a mysterious woman appears in town. Daisy is faced with a revelation about her family that turns her world upside down, and she looks to both TJ and Jack for help.

Jack must find a way to reveal himself as her online suitor without breaking her heart and losing her trust. As Daisy faces Jack’s betrayal, she’ll have to learn to extend grace to herself, her family, and the man she’s grown to love.

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

On Magnolia Lane will be available November 6, 2018.

I’ve enjoyed the other books in the Blue Ridge Romance series and On Magnolia Lane just might be my favorite of the series.

I found both the lead characters, Daisy and Jack, to be likable. Sometimes I struggle with the likability factor of this author’s female leads, but I really liked Daisy here. She was kind and I felt like all of her reactions to some of the bad things she found out about were reasonable. I really liked Jack, too, though the whole dating site deceit storyline did keep me from really loving him.

Speaking of the dating site, that part of the plot really reminded me of another one of Hunter’s books. In the interest of full disclosure, I only read a couple of chapters of that book before I decided it wasn’t for me. I have to admit that while it didn’t ruin the book for me or anything, I really didn’t like it any better here. In a different book, I probably would’ve been ok with the male lead being a little dishonest about being the online suitor. I got that he wanted her to get to know him without the Pastor title she associated with him. BUT, I feel like as a Pastor he should’ve handled it better. I have a really hard time excusing his deceit in light of his occupation.

Which brings us to the message of forgiveness. Even though we have a tendency to place certain people on pedestals, everyone is just human and fallible. It’s only by grace that we are forgiven. This is a really easy truth to accept until you’re faced with being betrayed by someone you care about. In addition to Jack’s deceit, Daisy finds out things about her parents that was hard to get past. I found myself in a similar situation over the past year so I found this very relatable and it’s probably the biggest reason this is my favorite book of the series. It made me realize I still have a little ways to go when it comes to forgiveness, too.

Overall, I enjoyed On Magnolia Lane. It was a quick, easy read that I flew right through. I liked the characters and the message of forgiveness and grace. I believe this is the last book in the Blue Ridge Romance series and I thought it ended well. I recommend it to fans of Contemporary Christian Fiction.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Hot Winter Nights (Heartbreaker Bay #6) by Jill Shalvis

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Who needs mistletoe?

Most people wouldn’t think of a bad Santa case as the perfect Christmas gift. Then again, Molly Malone, office manager at Hunt Investigations, isn’t most people, and she could really use a distraction from the fantasies she’s been having since spending the night with her very secret crush, Lucas Knight. Nothing happened, not that Lucas knows that—but Molly just wants to enjoy being a little naughty for once . . .

Whiskey and pain meds for almost-healed bullet wounds don’t mix. Lucas needs to remember that next time he’s shot on the job, which may be sooner rather than later if Molly’s brother, Joe, finds out about them. Lucas can’t believe he’s drawing a blank on his (supposedly) passionate tryst with Molly, who’s the hottest, smartest, strongest woman he’s ever known. Strong enough to kick his butt if she discovers he’s been assigned to babysit her on her first case. And hot enough to melt his cold heart this Christmas.

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

I’ve really been in the mood for cute romances lately and Hot Winter Nights definitely fit the bill.

I liked both Molly and Lucas. I thought they really complemented each other well and made a good team. I thought they got together, physically at least, a little more quickly than I would’ve liked, but I did definitely ship them together. I enjoyed their banter and how they had each other’s backs. I also liked how Molly’s physical disability was portrayed. Though she had some struggles, she didn’t let it keep her from doing the things she wanted.

There were a couple of things I found a little odd. One thing I’ve noticed about this series is that all the chapters are titled with hashtags and for the life of me I can’t understand why. Social media is not really a part of the story at all and I just don’t get the hashtags. Speaking of social media, though, I also recognized a lot of the funny one-liners from Molly’s friends or the elderly elves were actually from memes I’ve seen on Pinterest. Other than those small things, the only thing I didn’t really like about the book were that there were a few more sexual scenes than I care to read, but from reading other Shalvis books I kind of expected it so it didn’t really hinder my enjoyment that much.

Overall, I enjoyed Hot Winter Nights. I thought it was a cute romance with likable lead characters. I liked that the investigation plotline brought a little bit of action and suspense, as well. I definitely recommend this one to Romance fans, especially fans of Jill Shalvis.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars

Review: Intercepted (Playbook #1) by Alexa Martin

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Marlee thought she scored the man of her dreams only to be scorched by a bad breakup. But there’s a new player on the horizon, and he’s in a league of his own…

Marlee Harper is the perfect girlfriend. She’s definitely had enough practice by dating her NFL-star boyfriend for the last ten years. But when she discovers he has been tackling other women on the sly, she vows to never date an athlete again. There’s just one problem: Gavin Pope, the new hotshot quarterback and a fling from the past, has Marlee in his sights.

Gavin fights to show Marlee he’s nothing like her ex. Unfortunately, not everyone is ready to let her escape her past. The team’s wives, who never led the welcome wagon, are not happy with Marlee’s return. They have only one thing on their minds: taking her down. But when the gossip makes Marlee public enemy number one, she worries about more than just her reputation.

Between their own fumbles and the wicked wives, it will take a Hail Mary for Marlee and Gavin’s relationship to survive the season.

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

Guys, I loved this book! When I read Deanna’s review on it I knew I had to read it, but I still wasn’t quite prepared for how fun and addicting it would be. I never wanted to stop reading it. I read it in about 24 hours and that included having to take breaks for sleep and work.

I really enjoyed Marlee. She was quirky and funny and very likable. She did frustrate me every now and again, but for the most part I thought she was relatable and I loved being in her head. I also really liked her dad, her boss/friend Brynn, and her best friend Naomi. I even enjoyed the “Wicked Wives” and all the catty, mean girl drama they created. I also think it’s a fun tidbit that the author’s husband used to play football so she spent several years as a Football Wife and I have no doubt some of that over-the-top behavior is inspired by real life events.

And can we talk about Gavin for a moment? He was pretty darn perfect. He was so sweet and protective and I just adored him. I spent the whole book waiting for him to do something awful because no guy can be that perfect, right? Well, he never does anything awful, but he does do some stupid things towards the end of the book. While part of what he did kind of made sense to me (not that I thought it was ok, but I understood his thought process), his total obliviousness to how much he hurt Marlee was not at all consistent with his character and I didn’t like that he had to basically become a different person for a few chapters to create the necessary drama to move the plot forward. However, he does redeem himself and I’ll love him forever. (And that’s not a spoiler, because this is a Romance and we all know how it’s going to end.)

While I did very much enjoy the relationship between Marlee and Gavin, there was one aspect I was really missing. They had a one-night stand several years before when Marlee was on a break from her relationship with longtime boyfriend, Chris. We’re told a lot about how great all the physical parts of that night were (yes, I know this is a Romance, but I would’ve liked a little less graphic content), but I would’ve loved a flashback to what brought them to that. How did they meet? What was their initial connection like? When they meet again and Gavin starts pursuing her pretty hard once she breaks up with Chris it made it feel like it was just based off of physical attraction. Which didn’t make sense either because Gavin kept talking about how amazing Marlee was, so obviously he knew more about her from their one night together and I just would’ve liked to have seen that.

Overall, I just really enjoyed Intercepted. It’s been awhile since I had so much fun reading a Romance. I liked Martin’s writing style and even all the hashtags. Not all of them were golden, but for the most part I thought they added a good bit of humor. I also liked Marlee’s journey to becoming her own person and being able to recognize that being in a relationship can’t “fix” you. It was refreshing to have a Romance portray being in love as a good part of your life and not being your whole life. I recommend this one to Romance fans and I will definitely be reading more from Martin in the future.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: The Similars (The Similars #1) by Rebecca Hanover

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

When six clones join Emmaline’s prestigious boarding school, she must confront the heartbreak of seeing her dead best friend’s face each day in class.

The Similars are all anyone can talk about at the elite Darkwood Academy. Who are these six clones? What are the odds that all of them would be Darkwood students? Who is the madman who broke the law to create them? Emma couldn’t care less. Her best friend, Oliver, died over the summer and all she can think about is how to get through her junior year without him. Then she comes face-to-heartbreaking-face with Levi—Oliver’s exact DNA replica and one of the Similars.

Emma wants nothing to do with the Similars, but she keeps getting pulled deeper and deeper into their clique, uncovering dark truths about the clones and her prestigious school along the way. But no one can be trusted…not even the boy she is falling for who has Oliver’s face.

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

The Similars will be available January 1, 2019. 

I thought that the concept for The Similars had potential. Unfortunately, it failed to live up to it for me.

I think the idea of cloning is very interesting. It brings up so many ethical questions. Some of those issues were brought up in the course of the book, however I didn’t think it was handled well. Instead of actual discussions and honest questions, it was treated like so many hot button topics are these days: with the two sides yelling their opinions at each other and not having an open mind about it at all. I get enough of this in real life, I don’t really want it in my entertainment. The author also tried to draw parallels between cloning and illegal immigration that I felt was a bit of a stretch.

I didn’t really love any of the characters. The story is told through Emma’s first person POV, so I felt like I got to know her pretty well, but character development was really lacking for everyone else. Emma was likable most of the time, though. The Similars are easily the most interesting characters of the book, but only a little bit of time is spent getting to know any of them. I didn’t really get on board the romance. Even though it was obvious what was going to happen, I still felt like it just kind of happened out of the blue.

There are two reveals towards the end of the book that I felt were supposed to be twists, but they were both things I suspected pretty early on in the story. Even though they didn’t surprise me at all, I think they have potential to provide some interesting paths in the coming books.

Overall, The Similars was just not for me. Despite an intriguing premise, the lack of character development, somewhat messy writing, and forced political overtones made this a book I was just getting through, rather than enjoying. As of right now, I’m not interested in continuing the series. I am by no means the target audience for this book, though, so those that are may find this a much better read than I did.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2 Stars

Review: The Sweet Gum Tree by Katherine Allred

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Synopsis from GoodReads:

This is a suggestive romance (love scenes are not graphic). Sweet tea, corn bread, and soup beans—everyday fare for eight-year-old Alix French, the precocious darling of a respected southern family. But nothing was ordinary about the day she met ten-year-old Nick Anderson, a boy from the wrong side of town. Armed with only a tin of bee balm and steely determination, Alix treats the raw evidence of a recent beating that mars his back, an act that changes both of their lives forever.Through childhood disasters and teenage woes they cling together as friendship turns to love. The future looks rosy until the fateful night when Frank Anderson, Nick’s abusive father, is shot to death in his filthy trailer.Suddenly, Nick is gone—leaving Alix alone, confused and pregnant. For the next fifteen years she wrestles with the pain of Nick’s abandonment, a bad marriage, her family and friends. But finally, she’s starting to get her life back together. Her divorce is almost final, her business is booming, and she’s content if not happy — until the day she looks up and sees Nick standing across the counter. He’s back…and he’s not alone.Once again Alix is plunged into turmoil and pain as Nick tries to win her love, something she resists with all her strength. Only one thing might break the protective wall she’s built around her emotions—the truth about Frank Anderson’s death. But when that truth comes out and those walls crumble, neither Alix nor Nick is prepared for the emotional explosion that could destroy as well as heal.

First of all, I want to say thanks to Brandie for putting this book on my radar! I never would have picked it up if I didn’t know how much she loved it.

-Almost all of my GoodReads friends that have read this either marked it as 5 stars or 1 star, so I wasn’t really sure what to think going into it. After reading it, I think I understand. It’s incredibly easy to get sucked in by the lovely writing, strongly developed characters, and overwhelming emotion of the story. However, if you start to pick apart some of the little things with it, I can see how quickly that rating might go down. For me, the good outweighed the bad, but of course I still have to point some things out.

-There is a lot of cheating in this book and it was handled so oddly. With little exception it was met with either apathy or almost instant forgiveness. It just didn’t feel very realistic. And cheating in books always brings my enjoyment level down a tad.

-There was also a lot of sex. None if it was graphic, which I appreciated. But, it just felt like a little much. There were passages like, “We made love. And then we made love again. And then we made love again. Oh, and then we made love again….” Like, it just didn’t add anything to the story.

-The story is told in Alix’s first person POV in an omniscient style. (It’s eventually revealed she’s writing all this in a journal.) I didn’t mind this for the most part, but almost every chapter ended in some type of ominous warning about the next chapter which I thought was kind of cheesy. Especially because most of the time, things didn’t really play out as ominously as expected.

-Lack in communication caused pretty much every conflict in the book and that’s kind of one of my pet peeves.

-Ok, I’ll focus on the positive things now. The characters in this book were pretty great. They are real and flawed and relatable. Yes, they all made stupid decisions from time to time, but they all found some redemption, as well, which I really liked. I especially loved Alix’s grandfather, The Judge.

-I really enjoyed the small town, southern setting. It was jut the right amount of descriptive writing for me. And speaking of the writing, it really was quite beautiful, as well as addicting.

-The romance was kind of epic. I loved seeing Alix and Nick grow from childhood to adulthood. I really believed in their love and wanted them to be together. They had a ton of obstacles they had to overcome, most of them of their own making, but it was such a wonderful slow burn to them actually being together. I liked that it wasn’t easy and that they had to work at it. After everything they went through I would’ve been disappointed if their happily ever just simply happened.

Overall, I really did enjoy The Sweet Gum Tree. It was completely addicting and I could hardly put it down. While I did obviously have some issues with it, I thought it was beautiful and emotional and I can’t stop thinking about it. I will definitely be reading it again in the future.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars