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.

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!