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!

REVIEW – The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

“She hadn’t realized how long it takes to become somebody else, or how lonely it can be living in a world not meant for you.”

The Vanishing Half has been receiving a LOT of hype in the book world lately. The book explores the lives of twin sisters who run away from home (and end up going in different directions). Desiree and Stella are light-skinned black girls from Mallard (no, the town can’t be found on a map). When we meet up with the twins 14 years after they have left home, we find out that Desiree married a very dark-skinned black man, and Stella has been passing as a white woman for years.

“You could never know who might hurt you until it was too late.”

What we learn about their lives and families is incredibly fascinating. We get the perspectives of a handful of characters in this book – each having their own experiences with and ideas about race, racism and identity. These relationships are COMPLICATED. This book probably won’t end the way you expect (and I love it). There are things here that never come to a head or get resolved and it’s honestly better that way – the fact that Bennett didn’t feel the need to wrap everything up in a nice little bow is refreshing.

REVIEW – The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

“I am aware of my limitations. I’m not warm, i’m not especially kind. but I can be strong.”

Okay PSA: This is NOT a thriller. It seems that it was marketed as one, but it’s more of a domestic drama/mystery. If you go into this book knowing it’s not a thriller, odds are you’ll enjoy it.

“We have issues because we care too much.”

I had a LOT of feelings over the course of reading this book – at first, I was annoyed that it was primarily based on conflict between two people who are really terrible at communicating. But oh boy, did I end up LOVING this! It’s so entertaining and unexpected.

The story is sad but oddly heartwarming in some places, and it feels fairly realistic (maybe a slightly exaggerated bit of reality). It’s fascinating and nuanced. And I am officially on the Sally Hepworth bandwagon!

REVIEW – The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

“That’s right, she was the bitch who broke the pretty blond boy’s heart, live on the JumboTron.”

The Proposal was a case of right book, right time for me. I was in desperate need of something light and fun and this was the perfect choice! I loved the relationship between Nik and Carlos. Nik’s friends are an absolute delight and Carlos’ family dynamics are perfect. Sure, this gets a little cliche at times, but romcoms are pretty formulaic and reliable.

This was my first book by Jasmine Guillory, but I intend to eventually read the rest of the books in The Wedding Date series.

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!

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 – Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

“They’re all on the same page, even if that page is in the middle of an ongoing story with an uncertain end.”

My experience reading Dear Edward felt like I was constantly teetering on the edge of a cliff, just waiting to tip over. This book is INTENSE, but it’s subtle. Alternating between the ill-fated flight’s path and our “present-day” journey with Edward, the build-up throughout this book is incredible.

The airplane chapters gave me massive anxiety – I’m already nervous about flying in general, and the mundaneness and personal examination of a handful of passengers just felt a little too real (but this is a testament to Napolitano’s writing. It’s…amazing.)

“It feels unkind that they are shoving their emotions at him when his own sadness and fear are so vast that he has to hide from them.”

The post-crash chapters felt so real, and so raw. You just want to reach into the book and hug Edward. Being 12 is hard enough – when you pile an unimaginably tragic loss on top of that, it’s excruciating. I didn’t find this book OVERLY emotional (but a part near the very end got me) and I think part of that is due to the fact that Edward seems numb for a lot of the story, and we’re really experiencing things through his eyes. Napolitano also covers how the crash and aftermath impacts the people around Edward – most notably his aunt and uncle, and their neighbors.

Oh, and the principal was my favorite character by far!

“So much could be solved, she thinks, if we simply held hands with each other more often.”

REVIEW – Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan

“Life was always easier, reflected Issy, when you were carrying a large Tupperware full of cakes.”

Oh, I read this book at exactly the right time! I was looking for something lovely and snuggly and heartwarming, and this fit the bill perfectly. When Issy is laid off from her job, she decides to purchase a space to start a bakery. She quickly learns that it’s not as easy as just making yummy cakes – but with a little bit of help and a lot of work, it turns into something wonderful.

I loved the characters in this book – although they might be a bit stereotypical (the feisty best friend, the bitchy newcomer with a heart of gold, the “good guy,” the “bad guy”) they fit well into the story. This book made me laugh out loud multiple times, which is always a sign of a great read.

This was my first Jenny Colgan book, and I can’t wait to read more!

REVIEW – The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

This book was a rollercoaster of emotions for me, but not in the way you’d think. It started off heartbreaking and lovely. There were a few moments, even in the midst of Lydia’s grief, where she had a sense of humor and made me chuckle. The good? Lydia’s grief felt realistic. It didn’t feel forced or too over the top (or that she “got over it” too quickly). It was easy to put myself in her place and imagine that i’d think and do some of the same things.

The parallel timeline is gut-wrenching – at first. I felt so bad for Lydia, and how she felt torn between two worlds. But some things just aren’t right…and it almost felt like it could have been too easy for Lydia to choose one world over the other. I did feel that this was a bit long – there were moments that seemed repetitive.

This would have been a four-star read for me if not for that ending! It felt cliche and just…that Lydia deserved…well, maybe not “better” but something a little less obvious.