REVIEW – Neon Girls: A Stripper’s Education in Protest and Power by Jennifer Worley

The premise of this book had me interested from the jump – a nonfiction account of a grad student who becomes a stripper to help pay her way through school. There’s SO MUCH MORE to this, and it’s probably not what you’d expect.

I found myself rooting for these ladies throughout their entire journey. They unionize! They stand up for their rights! They stand up for each other! They’re empowered and empowering.

I learned so much from this book – from the politics of strip clubs to the intricacies and hurdles to forming a union.

Thank you Harper Perennial for sending me an ARC of this book!

REVIEW – Dark August by Katie Tallo

Dark August is a gritty mystery thriller with a relatively isolated vibe for the first chunk of the book. Our main character Gus receives word that her last living relative has died, and she heads back home (leaving behind a pretty pathetic life) to take care of her great-grandmother’s estate. When she uncovers clues from a cold case her late mother was working on, Gus quickly begins an investigation of her own that leads to some dark and twisty places.

There was one part of the mystery that seemed like more of an afterthought, but overall this book was good. It builds slowly and you do wonder where the heck it’s going to end up, but STICK WITH IT. This book surprised the heck out of me in the last 50 pages or so. It’s not often a book catches me off guard, but I have to give credit when a thriller is able to pull a fast one on me.

Dark August should definitely be on your summer thriller tbr!

Content warning: mentions of rape, domestic abuse, suicide, mild animal abuse.

Thank you Harper Perennial for sending me an ARC of this book!

REVIEW – This Is Major by Shayla Lawson

{Available June 30, 2020} This book was not written for me. This is a statement of fact, not a criticism. I think it’s important that we read books not meant for us – books that were written with someone else in mind. This Is Major is a series of essays by Shayla Lawson, where she details her own experiences and opinions on feminism, race and racism.

One essay examines the term “black girl magic” and how it can be used both negatively and positively. The history and horrific racism that eventually led to the creation of the “photo that broke the internet” is incredibly interesting – and incredibly heartbreaking and infuriating. You know the photo (it involved champagne).

I did so much Googling throughout the course of this book so I could see a picture that Lawson was referencing, or hear a song that she mentioned. (Yes, I looked up Freaky Friday on YouTube, and yes, I wish I could get those few minutes of my life back.)

Highly recommend This Is Major to any reader looking to diversify their reading and broaden their worldview.

Thank you Harper Perennial for sending me an ARC of this book!

REVIEW – The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni

When Bert Monte receives a mysterious letter in the mail (it’s gilded and it’s in Italian) she quickly learns she has inherited a noble title and a castle in the Alps overlooking a small village. Sounds like a grown-up Princess Diaries, right? Not exactly…

This book starts off strong. There’s an ominous vibe right from the beginning – even Bert mentions a sense of impending doom and considers throwing the letter away. But, she doesn’t. And we get to learn the secrets of the Montebianco family.

At first it’s like a dream come true – a whirlwind trip to Italy on a private jet, a stay in an opulent hotel, instant wealth, prestige. But, something’s not right. If you’re a thriller reader (and if you read the synopsis of this book) you probably have some theories in mind, even as you read this review. I mean, we’ve all read books about rich families with deep dark secrets, literal skeletons in their closets, you know the drill. Trust me when I tell you – with The Ancestor, you DO NOT KNOW THE DRILL. You couldn’t POSSIBLY even begin to imagine what you’ll uncover throughout the course of this book.

I’m not going to even begin to explain what happens here, because I think going in as blind as possible will just make the reading experience better. I can tell you this: the castle has major Beauty and the Beast vibes. The story of the Montebianco family is dark. There are some horrific parts, some incredibly gruesome parts, and some deeply sad moments. There’s a paranormal element here. You might be able to piece some things together near the beginning (I did – somewhat). But then you’ll end up down a path you didn’t expect.

This book isn’t going to be for everyone. It gets weird (especially in the last quarter of the story). The first half was a real slam dunk for me, and the last bit…wasn’t so much. My overall feelings about this book are positive – I read it in the course of a day, partly because the writing flowed so easily and partly because I just had to find out what was going to happen next.

REVIEW – Always the Last to Know by Kristan Higgins

{Available June 9, 2020} Always the Last to Know is a perfect summer read. We follow the Frost family – parents Barb and John and sisters Sadie and Juliet. When John suffers a stroke, the Frosts come face to face with issues and uncovered secrets that will test their strength as a family.

Told from different perspectives (mostly Sadie and Barb, with some chapters from Juliet and a few chapters from John) Higgins is able to give each character a distinct voice and personality. Always the Last to Know felt very realistic for a family drama – it covers some tough topics but never feels heavy. The characters deal with their issues in very authentic ways, often using humor (and oh boy, did this book make me laugh!)

None of the Frosts are perfect – you’ll be rooting for a character in one chapter, and wanting to yell at them in the next. But that’s what makes this book so good. It’s a lighter family drama without a lot of baggage. There are some sugary sweet moments, but they don’t feel forced.

Thank you Berkley for sending me a NetGalley ARC of this book!

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – Death by Auction by Alexis Morgan

This was a really enjoyable cozy that focuses almost primarily on the murder mystery at hand (the town takes a backseat in this one). When a dead body is found in the parking lot at a military fundraiser, Abby finds herself in the middle of yet another murder investigation.

The worst part? She ends up playing host to the prime suspect (who also happens to be her tenant’s ex-wife). This is a classic whodunit style story – with a fun cast of suspects and a “you’re the investigator!” feel.

Thank you Kensington Books for the NetGalley copy of this book!

REVIEW – The Second Home by Christina Clancy

{Available June 2, 2020} The Second Home is a family drama that starts with a life-changing summer on Cape Cod – the effects of which ripple out for 15 years before coming to a head when Ann, Poppy and their adopted brother Michael see each other again after more than a decade apart.

The characters in this book are rich and developed, each having a distinct personality. All three siblings have heartbreaking stories, in their own way. The paths they each end up taking align perfectly with their personalities, and there’s nothing incredibly surprising here.

I’ll be honest – these character-driven, family sagas aren’t my usual cup of tea, but I found myself really loving this story and dying to know where they would all end up. I think this will be a very popular book this summer – it would be a great beach/vacation read for those who want something a bit heavier and in-depth.

Content warning: there’s a pretty descriptive and upsetting rape scene in this book.

Thank you St. Martin’s press for the digital ARC of this book!

REVIEW – The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield

“The boy is my greatest joy. We strengthen each other. We are one, inseparable.”

This is probably one of the most incredible WWII stories I’ve ever read. I’ll admit, I was hesitant to pick this up – not because I didn’t want to read it, but because life is weird and difficult right now and I wasn’t sure I wanted to dive into something so heartbreaking. This book is nonfiction, but it reads like fiction most of the time – the writing flows easily and the people Dronfield writes about leap off of the page. I loved reading about each family member – while the story is primarily about Gustav and his son Fritz, we do get a glimpse into what life during the war was like for the rest of the family. They all end up on different paths, and some endings are horrific.

“It took strength and character to share and love in a world where selfishness and hate were common currency.”

I was right, this book is incredibly heartbreaking. But it’s also joyful. And hopeful. The love between Gustav and Fritz kept them going. Their resilience is inspiring and, at times, it’s almost unbelievable. Their bravery was just one small factor in their eventual survival – they also experienced incredible luck (which is so hard to say, given the circumstances) and they ended up building a small community of friends within the camps who lifted them up and pushed them through. This book examines the absolute worst of humanity but also highlights some of the best. The sacrifices people made (and were willing to make) for the good of the cause. The danger they put themselves in to save others.

“No matter what occurred in the world, no matter how near danger might be, life went on, and what could one do but live it?”

Something that I feel is glossed over sometimes when it comes to WWII books – nonfiction and fiction alike – is what the survivors experience once they are back home and safe. Even though Gustav and Fritz survived many years in unimaginable, cruel conditions, they still struggled when it came time to rejoin society and get “back to normal.” There truly was no normal after WWII for many survivors, and the trauma and pain of those years in the camps impacted the rest of their lives.

Thank you Harper Perennial/Harper Books for the ARC!

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – Botched Butterscotch and Marshmallow Malice by Amanda Flower

I recently read two cozies from the same series – Botched Butterscotch (a novella) is Amish Candy Shop Mystery #4.5, and Marshmallow Malice is #5.

Botched Butterscotch is a novella tucked in the middle of a cozy mystery series – Bailey runs a candy shop with her grandmother. She donates some treats to a local fundraiser, but things quickly turn sour when the box of donated cash and checks is emptied.

This was such a sweet (I couldn’t help myself…) little story! My first experience with the Amish Candy Shop Mysteries certainly won’t be my last. This is pretty short – I read it in one sitting. It was nice to have a short glimpse into a series I haven’t read, and a lot of ground was covered in a short amount of time! I highly recommend this either for fans of the series, or for anyone interested in checking the series out (it’s a nice way to get a feel for the writing and the characters without dedicating time to an entire book).

Marshmallow Malice picks up right where Botched Butterscotch leaves off. Bailey is the maid of honor (and cake expert!) for her boyfriend’s mom’s wedding. There’s some drama at the ceremony when an uninvited guest crashes the wedding and tries to put a stop to things. When the wedding crasher ends up dead the next morning, Bailey works to solve the murder. This has just the right balance of fun and seriousness – I love learning about the Amish community and the writing feels purposeful throughout the entire story.

Thank you Kensington Books for the NetGalley ARCs!

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – Proof of Murder by Lauren Elliott

Bookshop owner Addie finds herself helping appraise rare and old books for a local estate sale, in a rumored-to-be-haunted house. When a dead body turns up in a seemingly locked room, Addie has to clear her name and try to track down the killer.

This was such a fun read! Addie’s a great character and I loved how well the murder mystery was tied in with books and literature. There’s a little bit of a ghost element here too, which made it extra fun (and chilling at times!)

Feeling a little like Sherlock Holmes himself, I figured out who the culprit was a bit before the reveal – which, to me, can be the mark of a good mystery. The author gives enough clues that you might be able to solve the mystery along with the main character, but nothing was so obvious that I felt like it was a “no duh.” I had my suspicions, but I wasn’t totally sure until the end.

Thank you Kensington Books for the NetGalley ARC!