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.

REVIEW – Lily Rose by Deborah Robinson

Lily Rose is a debut novel based loosely on the author’s real life experiences. The premise intrigued me and while this book is pretty interesting, it might be a little too matter of fact for the story presented.

We start with Jeff, a teenage girl living in Kentucky. She’s very naive and VERY materialistic. I’m not sure if we’re meant to dislike her from the start, but it’s hard to sympathize with her.

We skip ahead to meet Lily Rose, a young girl that’s been adopted by very loving parents. Tragedy strikes Lily Rose at a young age, and she spends her teen and adult years coping.

What I found difficult about this book: the time period is VERY hard to nail down. We know that our “present” day is 30-some years before the chronological beginning of this event (meeting Jeff as a teen) but we don’t have a concrete decade to refer to when it comes to attitudes about…well, everything. The pacing is also a little inconsistent, until you realize that the story has jumped ahead a few years at some points.

There are a lot of “rich people problems” in this book. One character comes from a relatively privileged background, ends up inheriting a fortune and marries rich. The other acquires a substantial amount of money prior to graduating high school and, surprise surprise, marries rich.

And maybe the toughest part: Lily Rose doesn’t really seem to have her own voice. She seems naive, even as an adult. When someone tells her something is right or something is wrong, she just shrugs and believes them. She’s a little bit like a cardboard cutout that’s becoming sentient.

There’s a great story at the heart of Lily Rose, but the execution is a little off.

Content warnings: mention of suicidal thoughts, brief mention of abortion, parental death, toxic relationship/marriage, infertility, domestic abuse.

Thank you Emi Battaglia PR and Skyhorse Publishing for sending me a finished copy of this book.

REVIEW – Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

I had such high hopes for this book (despite the mixed reviews I was seeing). What would have happened if Hillary never married Bill? According to this book, Hillary’s life still would have pretty much revolved around Bill Clinton anyway.

What worked in Sittenfeld’s American Wife is exactly why this one fell flat for me. American Wife is based on real people, but the characters themselves are fictional. You know it’s about “that First Lady” but they have different names, slightly different histories and it’s all very much “based on” without being an attempt to rewrite history. Maybe explicitly naming Hillary was the point, here. Maybe this book would not have captured attention without it.

What should have been a book championing Hillary’s accomplishments (and those that “could have been” in an alternate universe) really just becomes a book where Hillary’s life is propelled and hindered by the men around her. And the inclusion of the-orange-one-who-must-not-be-named and the subsequent plot around THAT character was just unforgivable.

If you’re looking for an empowering book about Hillary, skip this one and read something by the woman herself.

REVIEW – Louisiana Lucky by Julie Pennell

“Her sister’s words from the night before echoed in her mind again. It’ll only get worse from here. At this moment, perhaps for the first time, it felt true. She felt raw, as if life was scraping her along without her consent.”

What would you do if you won the lottery? It’s fun to think about, right? In Louisiana Lucky, we meet three sisters who are struggling – Lexi is trying to plan a wedding on a shoestring budget and an unreliable, inconsistent paycheck. She’s also desperate to impress her future mother-in-law, and can’t seem to make a connection. Callie is working as a reporter for the local newspaper, which is trying (and failing) to gain more readers. She’s working to break a big story, but keeps getting derailed by the paper’s desire for more “fluff” content. Hanna is a mother of two just trying to keep it together. She and her husband have been working to renovate their home for years but, with two unexpected pregnancies, their finances have been allocated elsewhere.

These women have pretty much had enough. When they get together for their traditional junk food and lottery ticket night, they finally win the jackpot. Problems solved, right? Well…as you might imagine, winning millions of dollars isn’t the instant fix the sisters think it will be.

Louisiana Lucky is a cute summer read. It’s predictable, but fun. You’ll find yourself rolling your eyes at some of the decisions the sisters make but you’ll also root for them.

Thank you Atria Books for sending me a copy of Louisiana Lucky!

REVIEW – Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan

{Available August 18, 2020} How far would you go to protect your child? Or someone else’s child? Little Disasters primarily follows Liz, a pediatrician, and her friend Jess, a stay at home mom of three. When Jess brings her youngest to the ER one night, Liz quickly suspects something sinister at play and takes action. As Jess’ life begins to unravel, we learn that everyone has their dark secrets to hide.

Phew. This book is pretty dark and disturbing. I’m not usually too bothered by books that feature child abuse (wow, that sounds bad. What I mean is that i’m not overly sensitive. Hopefully someone else gets it!) but this one just felt so REAL. Little Disasters is really a book about motherhood, which isn’t something that I have personal experience with. I’d assume that some mothers would really struggle to get through this one, but some might also be able to relate to some of the dark and terrifying thoughts that can occur in the minds of new mothers who are struggling to connect with their babies.

Although the synopsis might make you think this is a thriller, it’s really a domestic drama that examines the struggles and secrets of a handful of people and families. And it’s disturbing just how many adults fail in this book – fail to communicate, fail to care for children, fail to own up to their mistakes.

Little Disasters is an uncomfortable read but it’s good. I would just caution readers before picking this up – be prepared to be sad and angry and disturbed.

Content warning: child abuse/neglect, traumatic birth experience, PPD, OCD, alcoholism, infant death/SIDS

Thank you Atria Books for providing me with a NetGalley ARC of Little Disasters!

REVIEW – With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

“And if everything else goes wrong, a little squeeze of lime and a bottle of hot sauce ain’t never hurt nobody.”

I don’t typically read YA so this was a touch outside of my comfort zone – but i’m so glad I picked it up! Emoni is such a great character – she’s strong and mature but still felt like an authentic 17-year-old. She is juggling a lot of things – senior year, a toddler, starting to care for her abuela, a job and increased responsibilities in her culinary class at school.

I loved that this book was set in Philly (okay, so i’ve only been once but I immediately fell in love with the city). Nothing in this story felt forced or unrealistic to me – Emoni’s journey throughout her senior year had the perfect balance of ups and downs to make for a compelling story that still felt plausible. I also loved that Emoni wasn’t perfect – yes, she’s a great mother and has more responsibility on her shoulders than the typical teenager, but she also still makes mistakes that you’d expect from someone in high school and sometimes lets her stubbornness get in the way of her success.

I’d be an idiot not to talk about Elizabeth Acevedo. Acevedo isn’t just a writer, she’s an artist. Her writing is effortless, smooth and vivid. And she transfers her talents to her main character. Emoni doesn’t just cook, she CREATES. She has an innate ability to discern which flavors will work together and how an already amazing dish can be elevated to new heights. I loved the way food was incorporated throughout this story – it’s clearly a key part of Emoni’s life, but it doesn’t dominate the narrative. Her love for cooking is wedged perfectly between her love for her friends and family.

{very slight spoilers start here!}

There’s a romantic subplot here that I wasn’t a huge fan of – I liked the pairing of the two characters, but I felt that it wasn’t necessary in the story. However, i’m also a grumpy old thirty-something and I think I would have appreciated the romance a bit more if I were in the intended age group for this book. For what it’s worth, I loved Malachi’s character and I loved the way he was included – slowly at first, before becoming a more integral part of Emoni’s life.

REVIEW – Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis

“I know, deep down, I am made of strong stuff. Rebuilt with it, at least, the way we all are, over the years, with age and experience, skin thickening, heart softening, patched up double in the places prone to breakage. A sum of all the things that have hurt us, scared us, sheltered and delighted us.”

Dear Emmie Blue was not at all what I expected – it ended up being so much more. I thought this was going to be a cute little rom-com about a girl who has had some bad luck over the years. This book gets a little dark. And it’s much sadder than I thought it would be.

“I’m scared of the loneliness that swamps me sometimes, so much I feel like I can’t breathe.”

Oh, Emmie. You just want to hug her. Be her friend. Help her sort through her feelings and tell her everything is going to be okay. It takes a few chapters for us to learn her entire backstory, but it’s heartbreaking. You want to slap the people who have hurt her, and keep her in a happy little bubble forever.

“Maybe home isn’t a place. It’s a feeling. Of being looked after and understood. Of being loved.”

Can we talk about Emmie’s work friends for a minute? The parts with Fox and Rosie are some of the funniest and most joyful bits of the story! Rosie is the friend we all need in our corner. And speaking of friends, LOUISE. I won’t say much, but I loved Louise so much. Despite the underlying sadness, there are a lot of heartwarming moments in this book, and I didn’t think anything felt forced. Some might find the ending a little cliche, but I felt that it was the perfect conclusion to this part of Emmie’s story.

Content warning: difficult/manipulative parent/child relationship, narcissistic parent, sexual assault of a minor.

Thank you Atria/Emily Bestler Books for the finished copy of Dear Emmie Blue!

REVIEW – Well-Behaved Indian Women by Saumya Dave

{Available July 14, 2020} Well-Behaved Indian Women kicks off with two proposals set approximately 30 years apart. Nandini and Ranjit live in India and are ready to begin their arranged marriage and move to the United States. As we move forward to present-ish day, their daughter Simran becomes engaged to her long-time boyfriend, Kunal.

This is a delightful novel primarily focused on the relationship between mothers and daughters across generations – what’s different and, most importantly, what stays the same. Nandini, Simran and Mimi are complex female characters (yay!) each dealing with their own hopes and dreams (and problems). I found Simran to be incredibly relatable (her inner dialogue had me cracking up and nodding my head more often than not!) and I was in awe of Nandini’s strength and Mimi’s conviction.

Well-Behaved Indian Women provides a glimpse into Indian-American/Hindu culture, customs and family dynamics. The story is endearing and funny, but also touches on topics like racism, sexism and double standards (especially in the context of marriage and the workplace). The complexities of marriage are a central theme here – particularly the sacrifices that many women feel they need to make to contribute to a successful partnership.

Content warning: brief mention of miscarriage and sexual harassment.

Thank you Berkley for providing me with a NetGalley ARC of this title!