REVIEW – Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan

This book is DARK. Full stop. It has a very strange and surreal vibe the entire time, like everything is smudged and dirty and unsettling. At the very least, Langan does a great job of putting you right into this suburban neighborhood (smack in the middle of summer, and there’s a heat wave…it’s just SO uncomfortable).

Good Neighbors is set in the near future in a seemingly perfect suburban neighborhood. I won’t give too much away, but there’s a sinkhole (complete with weird smells!) and a child dies and it turns into a modern-day (or future…) version of The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. There’s an uncanny valley element to this book – there’s nothing supernatural in the story but it doesn’t feel entirely realistic. All of the characters are exaggerated and irrational (however, maybe that’s not so far-fetched after all…) and the commentary about the “mob mentality” is jarring and scary.

One character, in particular, is absolutely psychotic and terrifying (and not even in a fun way). The entire book reminded me of The Regulators by Stephen King (although minus the gratuitious horror and violence).

This would be a great choice for a book club because there’s so much to discuss (although it’s a tough book to rate!)

Content warnings: child abuse, brief mention of rape, brief mention of drug use, brief mention of suicide, murder-suicide

Thank you Atria Books for the ARC!

REVIEW – The Forever Girl by Jill Shalvis

What a fun little read! The Forever Girl has a great balance of lighthearted, funny moments and heavier, heartfelt, emotional moments.

Maze, Walker, Heather and Cat are siblings of the heart. Cat’s parents fostered Maze, Walker and Heather a number of years ago. Their time together as kids was short-lived due to an unimaginable tragedy, but they have stayed in touch over the years. With Cat’s wedding weekend approaching, she takes the opportunity to force everyone back together to see if they can rekindle the strong bond they once had.

Although the events of this book are somewhat predictable (let’s say “reliable” – it’s a much more positive way of putting it!) it’s still a good read. There’s also a small amount of steam in this story that I wasn’t expecting!

Thank you Bibliolifestyle and William Morrow for the free book!

REVIEW – Lie, Lie Again by Stacy Wise

Lie, Lie Again is a popcorn-y contemporary novel (don’t call this a thriller!) about three women all in varying stages of life.

We follow a (very) young wife and mother of two, a teacher in her mid-20s dealing with some very uncomfortable feelings about her friend’s husband, and a 30-something professional with a lot of secrets. In fact, all three women have secrets that they want to hide. Some are more sinister than others.

This went in a direction that I wasn’t necessarily expecting, but the ride was fun.

Thank you Get Red PR for the ARC!

REVIEW – Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Oh boy, do I have mixed feelings about this book. Some of the chapters were really engaging and interesting to me, and others…there are some incredibly unlikeable characters in this book (which honestly is probably the point – women don’t need to be likable to be valid).

I did really enjoy the format – we follow 12 different women in groups of three. Each woman is related closely to her own group of three, and all 12 women tie together in some way or another at the end. Some connections were stronger than others, but Evaristo did a great job of making everything click.

The very end bumped this from a three to a four-star read for me.

Content warning: drug use, suicide, slut shaming, rape, domestic abuse, child abuse, manipulative relationship, infidelity, racism.

REVIEW – The Bakeshop at Pumpkin and Spice by Donna Kauffman, Kate Angell and Allyson Charles

What a lovely little fall book! This was right book, right time for me. I was looking for something cozy and lovely to read in the midst of horrific and thrilling October books, and this fit the bill.

The Bakeshop at Pumpkin and Spice includes three shorter stories: Sweet Magic, Love Spells Disaster and Sweet On You. These all tie in together in some way – they all take place during the same relative time span, leading up to the town’s annual Halloween parade. And in each story, we get to visit Bellaluna’s Bakeshop – a cozy spot in Moonlight, Maine, that has a reputation for helping people fall in love.

There’s a touch of magic at work here (magic cookies? Sign me up!) and, honestly, a bit more steam than I anticipated (this was a pleasant surprise). If you’re more interested in closed-door/fade-to-black romance reads, worry not – this is steamy but relatively tame.

Thank you Kensington Books and Goodreads for the giveaway win!

REVIEW – Dear Martin by Nic Stone

“Long story short, I tried to do a good deed and wound up on the ground in handcuffs.”

Dear Martin has been on my want-to-read list for a while, and I was finally compelled to pick it up when I decided to pre-order the sequel, Dear Justyce. I regret not reading this sooner, but i’m so glad I finally gave it a shot.

We meet Justyce, a high school senior navigating his way through the school year. Justyce attends a prestigious private school and has some pretty insanely wealthy friends and classmates, despite being from a “rougher” (see: poorer, blacker) part of town. I had a vague idea of what the plot of this book would be, but I was actually pretty wrong. An event at the very beginning of the book starts to shake what Justyce thought he knew about racism in this country, and what he perceives as the “right” vs “wrong or bad” kind of Black people.

“Yeah, I grew up in a rough area, but I know I’m a good dude, Martin. I thought if I made sure to be an upstanding member of society, I’d be exempt from the stuff THOSE black guys deal with, you know? Really hard to swallow that I was wrong.”

After the incident at the beginning of the book, Justyce starts studying the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and keeps a journal that’s comprised of letters written to Dr. King. We alternate between these letters and chapters that detail what’s going on at school and in Justyce’s life. Stone includes some incredible discussions that take place between Justyce, his classmates and one of their teachers – I think these are some of the most powerful parts of the book because they will likely remind readers of conversations they have had, things they have said or things they have heard other people say.

“Prosecutor actually referred to me as a ‘career criminal’ at the hearing. I think that was prolly the moment I gave up. Why try to do right if people will always look at me and assume wrong?”

We’re also introduced to Quan and get to know him a bit better, which sets us up for the next book. I’m really looking forward to reading more about Quan’s story.

I would love to press this book into the hands of every high schooler and educator in America (at least at first – honestly, everyone should read this book). There are so many layers to this book and so many complex concepts but Stone does a great job of making this book very accessible for readers of all ages.

REVIEW – Beach Read by Emily Henry

“When the world felt dark and scary, love could whisk you off to go dancing; laughter could take some of the pain away; beauty could punch holes in your fear.”

Beach Read is a much heavier rom-com than you’re probably expecting. After the death of her father reveals some uncomfortable secrets, January heads to the shores of Lake Michigan to stay at her father’s second home and work on writing her latest novel. When she encounters her “rival” Augustus Everett, their feud quickly blooms into friendship (and more).

There’s so much to love about Beach Read. The interactions between January and Gus feel realistic. Their relationship progresses at a steady pace – not so fast that it feels insta-lovey, but quick enough to keep the plot moving. There’s a lot of sadness in this book, and it’s dealt with in an authentic way.

There are also some delightfully funny bits! I loved Pete and her book club. I loved the early donut “non-date.” Ultimately, Beach Read is cute but not TOO cute, you know?

Content warning: breast cancer, death of a parent, infidelity, brief mentions of abuse.

REVIEW – Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

Mrs. Everything was such a lovely surprise. We follow two sisters – Jo and Bethie – throughout the span of their lives. This book covers decades – from the 1950s to present day. We are there to witness Jo and Bethie grow up, go to college, navigate friendships and romantic relationships, and ultimately figure out who they want to be.

The sisters take opposite paths – Jo, the rebel, becomes a wife and mother. Bethie, the “good girl,” ends up on a meandering journey through life, complete with heavy drug use and a lost sense of self.

In the background, we get snippets of how Sarah, Jo and Bethie’s mother, navigated her own path. Sarah clings to tradition, and becomes something of an introvert after the passing of her husband. Her relationship with her daughters is complex and sad.

And the men in this book? Most are pretty awful, but a few are good.

It’s actually incredible how much Jennifer Weiner was able to cram into this book. Maybe it’s a little exaggerated, but the story is good, the characters are memorable, and there’s a lot of emotion tucked into every page.

Content warning: sexual abuse/assault, rape, homophobia, disordered eating, drug use, death of a parent, abortion, cancer.

REVIEW – Only When It’s Us by Chloe Liese

Okay, maybe i’m convinced. Contemporary romance might just be for me – and i’m officially on the Chloe Liese/Bergman Brothers bandwagon. Willa and Ryder’s story is fun and compelling. Willa is a spitfire – and can honestly be kind of a jerk most of the time. Ryder is just a fluffy marshmallow. He’s a bit closed off, but he’s also been dealing with hearing loss after a severe illness a few years prior.

Ryder’s family is THE BEST. I want to hang out with them. I want to live with them. I want to celebrate holidays with them. They’re fun and sweet and hilarious. Also, Willa’s mom is badass and such lovely character.

Yes, there’s a decent amount of steam in this book (as a newer/more casual romance reader, I don’t have much to compare it to). And yes, Liese has PERFECTED the slow, agonizing build, but the payoff is more than worth the wait and the “JUST KISS ALREADY” moments.

Something I think is really worth noting because it impressed the hell out of me: the interactions in this book feel so real and authentic. Liese has perfected the use of dialogue in a contemporary setting without making it feel forced or stilted. It’s funny and emotional and well-rounded.

Romance fans or romance skeptics – I urge you to give this one a shot!

Content warning: cancer, death of a parent.

REVIEW – Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West

Saving Ruby King is a heavy book for a debut, and Catherine Adel West pulls it off seamlessly. When Ruby King’s mother is shot and killed, we follow Ruby, her best friend Layla, and both of their (very different) fathers.

Through flashbacks and present day, we learn a number of long-buried secrets that have plagued both families (some for decades). What stood out most to me throughout the story was how the cycle of abuse impacts multiple generations of one family, how the abused can become abusers themselves, and how that can ripple throughout an entire community.

Content warning: domestic abuse, self-harm, brief mention of sexual abuse.