The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

Pub Date: September 7, 2021

Source: Print ARC + e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Atria!)

Summary: Dev Deshpande has always believed in fairy tales. So it’s no wonder then that he’s spent his career crafting them on the long-running reality dating show Ever After. As the most successful producer in the franchise’s history, Dev always scripts the perfect love story for his contestants, even as his own love life crashes and burns. But then the show casts disgraced tech wunderkind Charlie Winshaw as its star.

Charlie is far from the romantic Prince Charming Ever After expects. He doesn’t believe in true love, and only agreed to the show as a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate his image. In front of the cameras, he’s a stiff, anxious mess with no idea how to date twenty women on national television. Behind the scenes, he’s cold, awkward, and emotionally closed-off.

As Dev fights to get Charlie to connect with the contestants on a whirlwind, worldwide tour, they begin to open up to each other, and Charlie realizes he has better chemistry with Dev than with any of his female co-stars. But even reality TV has a script, and in order to find to happily ever after, they’ll have to reconsider whose love story gets told.

Every year there are a few standout releases that really set the book world on fire with all the buzz and excitement they generate. The Charm Offensive, a debut pitched as Red, White, & Royal Blue (one of my all-time FAVORITE novels) meets One to Watch, was one of those releases. When I received a review copy, it was all I could do not to ignore the world and dive into one of my most anticipated books of the year. …but when the time came to read it? I absolutely DID ignore the world to dive in.

Dev Deshpande has been a lifelong fan of the reality dating show Ever After. So much so, that after college he managed to score a job working as a producer for the show and for the past six years has made it his job to create fairytale romances for the lucky couples. His own love life, however, it about as far away from a fairytale as a person could get: he recently broke up with his boyfriend, also a crewmember, and the new season of Ever After will bring them face-to-face for the first time since they separated.

Charlie Winshaw is a tech wunderkind, a millionaire several times over, and movie-star gorgeous. It’s no wonder he was brought on as the newest Prince Charming. Behind closed doors, however, Charlie is an anxious disaster, overly awkward, emotionally distant toward the women with whom he’s meant to find True Love, and clearly doesn’t want anything to do with Ever After. With his job – and the show’s future – on the line, Dev is on a mission to help Charlie build a connection to the women, any of the women. The more time they spend together however, it becomes clear that it’s Dev who has more chemistry with Charlie than any of the female contestants.

Calling it right now: The Charm Offensive is a Top Read of 2021 for me. I absolutely loved everything about this one, the story, the characters, the fact that Ever After remained a part of the novel throughout the entire book. Inclusion and diversity is off the charts. I giggled, I swooned, I teared up. In the opening of this post I mentioned I originally wanted to immerse myself fully into this book and avoid the real world – and I did. I planned on savoring it over a long, holiday weekend. In reality, I inhaled this book in a single sitting.

Don’t sleep on this one or wave it away because everyone and their brother is reading it. Believe the hype. Give in to the hype. You won’t be disappointed. And this is a debut, y’all – I am beyond excited to see what Alison does next!

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer

Pub Date: August 31, 2021

Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Wednesday Books!)

Summary: Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of her more famous brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft. But she has all the wits, skills, and sleuthing inclinations of them both. At fifteen, she’s an independent young woman–after all, her name spelled backwards reads ‘alone’–and living on her own in London. When a young professional woman, Miss Letitia Glover, shows up on Sherlock’s doorstep, desperate to learn more about the fate of her twin sister, it is Enola who steps up. It seems her sister, the former Felicity Glover, married the Earl of Dunhench and per a curt note from the Earl, has died. But Letitia Glover is convinced this isn’t the truth, that she’d know–she’d feel–if her twin had died.

The Earl’s note is suspiciously vague and the death certificate is even more dubious, signed it seems by a John H. Watson, M.D. (who denies any knowledge of such). The only way forward is for Enola to go undercover–or so Enola decides at the vehement objection of her brother. And she soon finds out that this is not the first of the Earl’s wives to die suddenly and vaguely–and that the secret to the fate of the missing Felicity is tied to a mysterious black barouche that arrived at the Earl’s home in the middle of the night. To uncover the secrets held tightly within the Earl’s hall, Enola is going to require help–from Sherlock, from the twin sister of the missing woman, and from an old friend, the young Viscount Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilwether!

Back in 2011 (coincidentally it was on my birthday that year!), I reviewed The Case of the Missing Marquess, the first book in the Enola Holmes series. I picked up the book on a whim during a sick day in bed when I wanted something entertaining and light – this book was just the thing. Enola Holmes, the headstrong, whip smart 14-year-old sister of the Holmes brothers, has been left to her own defenses after her mother mysteriously disappears. What followed was a wonderfully fun romp and I quickly ate up the following books.

My love for the series held strong through the years and the books became a favorite go-to recommendation of mine during my bookseller days; I pushed them onto young and old readers alike. When Netflix announced they were adapting the series into a live-action movie, I was thrilled. And when I found out Nancy Springer was delivering unto the world a seventh volume…I was beside myself. After all these years Enola was coming back.

This new volume, Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche, might have arrived years after the last book, but it wastes no time in bringing the reader up to speed, courtesy of a quick recap from Sherlock. Now 15, Enola has come to something of a truce with her brothers and she even assists Sherlock on his own cases. When Miss Letitia Glover arrives at Sherlock’s door seeking help, it’s Enola who comes to her aid. The Earl of Dunhench, Tish’s brother-in-law, has hastily sent a note claiming Tish’s twin sister has died. Between vague explanations, extremely shady death certificates, and Tish’s own sisterly intuition, she’s convinced Felicity is still alive. But where is she? And could the Earl’s first wife have also met a sinister end? To investigate further, Enola must do what she does best: go undercover. But she won’t be on her own: Sherlock is also on the case along with familiar faces from previous novels.

If I was thrilled to see the return of this series, I’m even more delighted to say it lives up to the spirit of the previous books. It felt as though I was right back in the swing of things, right alongside old friends. The humor, the Victorian atmosphere, the delightful vocabulary, it was all there as though there hadn’t been a decade between books. Sherlock’s helpful recap absolutely had a hand in getting me caught up, but once I returned to Baker Street, everything came rushing back.

Although Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche is the seventh installment, newcomers to the series can jump right in rather than starting at the beginning. Though, be warned, once you read this one you WILL want to go back and devour the rest! Witty, exciting, highly entertaining, this book is every bit as great as the previous volumes and I’m so glad it’s here.

Currently.

READING: Tonight I’ll be finishing Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche – a surprise follow-up to 2010’s conclusion of the Enola Holmes series. Sherlock and Mycroft’s younger sister can hold her own against her brothers! I first discovered these books years ago (the first came out in 2006) during a day where I was home sick in bed; they’re the perfect escapist reads. Easy and quick, but highly entertaining. With the Netflix series, I suppose there was renewed interest, thus this latest book, no complaints here!

WATCHING: Lately, shows haven’t been much of a priority apart from being used as background noise. Law & Order and Bones have been keeping me company during the workday.

LISTENING TO: Podcasts have been my go-tos lately, with The Daily, Fresh Air, and NYT’s Book Review on heavy rotation. A highlight of my week is always Wednesday’s episode of Office Ladies!

LOVING: Meal subscriptions! After MUCH hemming and hawing I finally took the plunge with Hello Fresh – the menus all look fantastic. I’ll be getting my first box in a few days and can’t wait!

LOOKING FORWARD TO: Maybe it’s me, but I haven’t been taking any time off; WFH life is so relaxing and quiet that I honestly never think of it. HOWEVER! I’m sitting on quite a bit of vacation time and I know summers/end of the year tend to get hit hard, so I decided to start taking a day here and there – I’m taking a long weekend next week and am thrilled! Also, our tiny book club is getting together for the first time since February 2020 next weekend!!!! SO EXCITED.

EATING: I could have saved Hello Fresh for this one! Technically I haven’t eaten this *yet* but earlier in the week I won a giveaway for a variety pack of salads from a local business and am honestly a bit more delighted and giddy than anyone should be to win salad. AND this weekend is both Picklesburgh and Vegfest here in Pittsburgh – lots of good eats this week!

WEARING: Because of rain, the past few days have been gloomy and gray – and a little cooler temperature-wise. I’ve broken out some of my sweaters and boots and ahhh, gimme all the fall vibes please and thank you.

ENJOYING: Honestly, just this week period. I wouldn’t have thoughts so on Monday, but this week was full of wins for me.

Dark Roads by Chevy Stevens

Dark Roads by Chevy Stevens

Pub Date: August 3, 2021

Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!)

Summary: The Cold Creek Highway stretches close to five hundred miles through British Columbia’s rugged wilderness to the west coast. Isolated and vast, it has become a prime hunting ground for predators. For decades, young women traveling the road have gone missing. Motorists and hitchhikers, those passing through or living in one of the small towns scattered along the region, have fallen prey time and again. And no killer or abductor who has stalked the highway has ever been brought to justice.

Hailey McBride calls Cold Creek home. Her father taught her to respect nature, how to live and survive off the land, and to never travel the highway alone. Now he’s gone, leaving her a teenage orphan in the care of her aunt whose police officer husband uses his badge as a means to bully and control Hailey. Overwhelmed by grief and forbidden to work, socialize, or date, Hailey vanishes into the mountainous terrain, hoping everyone will believe she’s left town. Rumors spread that she was taken by the highway killer—who’s claimed another victim over the summer.

One year later, Beth Chevalier arrives in Cold Creek, where her sister Amber lived—and where she was murdered. Estranged from her parents and seeking closure, Beth takes a waitressing job at the local diner, just as Amber did, desperate to understand what happened to her and why. But Beth’s search for answers puts a target on her back—and threatens to reveal the truth behind Hailey’s disappearance…

There is a miles-long stretch of Canadian wilderness known as the Highway of Tears where over 80 women, many of whom were Indigenous/First Nations, have been brutally murdered. Since the 1970s these killings have occurred and yet the cases remain unsolved to this day. Chevy Stevens, a Canadian herself, grew up knowing never to hitchhike, never to wander alone, and it’s this highway that inspired her new novel, Dark Roads.

For Hailey McBride, Cold Creek is home, it’s all she’s ever known. After her mother passed away when Hailey was five, she became her father’s shadow – literally in some cases, as she learned everything about the unforgiving land around them. She learned how to repair bike chains, pick locks, hunt and fish and live off the land – but a dangerous curve at high speeds left her an orphan at 16. Now she’s living with her aunt and little cousin…and her aunt’s new husband, Sherriff Vaughn.

A summer romance with a new girl in town ends in tragedy and Hailey disappears, vanishes into the mountains. Though Hailey hopes the town – namely, her uncle – come to the conclusion she’s run off, circumstances leave the Cold Creek residents to believe instead that the highway killer claimed another victim.

The following year, another new girl arrives: Beth, the older sister of Amber, Hailey’s first love. Having given up pursuing a law degree, Beth is now seeking answers and closure, following in her little sister’s footsteps as she searches for the truth about what happened the previous summer. But the closer Beth gets, the more her life is in danger.

I’m going to be up-front here: having had a few novels under my belt prior to Dark Roads, I reached the conclusion that Chevy’s books are really hit-or-miss for me. My introduction to her work – pre-blogging! – was such a disappointment that I swore off any other books. Thankfully I didn’t listen to myself, because my next few reads were fantastic thrillers that I wholeheartedly enjoyed! So when I learned she was releasing a new novel, and one inspired by such a horrific event, I knew I would be reading it. And you know what? Going in, I thought I had another winner: the opening is told through the eyes of the victims and instantly set the tone for what (I had hoped) was to come.

Unfortunately, those moments of brilliance were few and far between. While this wasn’t necessarily an issue for me – I enjoy YA thrillers – Dark Roads read very much like a YA novel, rather than Adult, due to Hailey’s POV. Even when Beth appears, though at 21 she’s not much older. Not a problem for me, but I’m sure other reads would be put off by the younger feel. Instead my issue was with Vaughn. I get it, he’s bad. A creep. He pervs on girls and takes photos in various states of undress, has hidden cameras placed throughout his house and other areas in the town; he has a serious grudge with one of the town boys for reasons I never understood. It’s clear Dark Roads wants the reader to view Vaughn as a villain – and he is, don’t get me wrong, but he’s so over-the-top I was surprised he was never described with a twirly little mustache. He views himself as the capital L Law in Cold Creek and heaven help anyone who goes against his word. He throws around his authority, makes BS arrests, pulls punches (literally), and gets away with it because he can. He needed to dial it back SEVERAL notches; I don’t think I read a single scene with him where I wasn’t rolling my eyes.

The main chunk of the novel was more survivalist tale than murder mystery but it’s yet another part of the story that didn’t add up. Yes, Hailey grew up learning from her father, but all of Cold Creek grew up in those mountains. Hunting and fishing is a religion to that town. It didn’t make sense that she was able to camp out in the woods for an entire year without being found. There’s actually a photo of her cabin pinned up in the local restaurant! Beth, a city girl, manages to print out some maps and stumble upon Hailey’s campsite, but men who have lived their entire lives in that town couldn’t?

My biggest gripe though, was the big reveal that wasn’t. Much like the real-life Highway of Tears, the murders in Dark Roads have been going on for decades. Yep once the truth comes out..? One murder was explained and that was it, the rest – numerous women brutally killed – were all but forgotten by the author. Not by this reader, though. I wanted answers, I wanted an explanation. I wanted something, anything, more than a quick throwaway line about drug smuggling. Talk about a letdown.

Although Dark Roads was an extremely readable book – and will make a great addition to final, lazy days at the beach – I was left with more questions than answers. The big bad couldn’t have been more cartoony and the reveal was nothing but a quick wave of the author’s hand, don’t look too closely or you’ll see all the holes poking through the plot. That said, while the majority of the book didn’t quite do it for me, the prologue and epilogue were both beautifully written and I wish the entire novel had been THAT instead. Also, the dog makes it to the end of the book alive. I was extremely nervous when Wolf was introduced – this book is about a decades-long hunt for a ruthless serial killer after all – and none of the early reviews I read mentioned him. But I’m please to say Wolf survives.

my latest library haul.

MYTHOLOGY by Edith Hamilton

Edith Hamilton’s Mythology succeeds like no other book in bringing to life for the modern reader the Greek, Roman, and Norse myths that are the keystone of Western culture–the stories of gods and heroes that have inspired human creativity from antiquity to the present. We meet the Greek gods on Olympus and Norse gods in Valhalla. We follow the drama of the Trojan War and the wanderings of Odysseus. We hear the tales of Jason and the Golden Fleece, Cupid and Psyche, and mighty King Midas. We discover the origins of the names of the constellations. And we recognize reference points for countless works of art, literature, and cultural inquiry–from Freud’s Oedipus complex to Wagner’s Ring Cycle of operas to Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra. Praised throughout the world for its authority and lucidity, Mythology is Edith Hamilton’s masterpiece–the standard by which all other books on mythology are measured.

Back when I was a bookseller, Mythology sold like hotcakes, even decades after its 1942 release. It wasn’t until last month when my book club discussed Jennifer Saint’s Ariadne that I fell down a mythology rabbit hole and haven’t yet climbed back out. I had originally planned on grabbing whatever copy was available at my library – until I saw this gorgeous illustrated 75th anniversary copy.

RAZORBLADE TEARS by S.A Cosby

Ike Randolph has been out of jail for fifteen years, with not so much as a speeding ticket in all that time. But a Black man with cops at the door knows to be afraid. The last thing he expects to hear is that his son Isiah has been murdered, along with Isiah’s white husband, Derek. Ike had never fully accepted his son but is devastated by his loss.

Derek’s father Buddy Lee was almost as ashamed of Derek for being gay as Derek was ashamed his father was a criminal. Buddy Lee still has contacts in the underworld, though, and he wants to know who killed his boy.

Ike and Buddy Lee, two ex-cons with little else in common other than a criminal past and a love for their dead sons, band together in their desperate desire for revenge. In their quest to do better for their sons in death than they did in life, hardened men Ike and Buddy Lee will confront their own prejudices about their sons and each other, as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys.

This novel has been taking the book community by storm, a highly anticipated follow-up to last year’s Blacktop Wasteland. Last month I was taking a drive, something I started doing on my lunchbreaks as I was getting some serious cabin fever since I’m still WFH. I had been listening to an episode of Fresh Air and Cosby was a guest. His interview, combined with heaps of praise from readers resulted in this #bookstagrammademedoit library grab!

OLYMPUS, TEXAS by Stacey Swann

The Briscoe family is once again the talk of their small town when March returns to East Texas two years after he was caught having an affair with his brother’s wife. His mother, June, hardly welcomes him back with open arms. Her husband’s own past affairs have made her tired of being the long-suffering spouse. Is it, perhaps, time for a change? Within days of March’s arrival, someone is dead, marriages are upended, and even the strongest of alliances are shattered. In the end, the ties that hold them together might be exactly what drag them all down.

Small towns, family drama, I’m HERE for it. Even better: Swann straight up said this is her riffing on Greek gods and myths. Very relevant to my interests right now!!

APPLESEED by Matt Bell

In eighteenth-century Ohio, two brothers travel into the wooded frontier, planting apple orchards from which they plan to profit in the years to come. As they remake the wilderness in their own image, planning for a future of settlement and civilization, the long-held bonds and secrets between the two will be tested, fractured and broken—and possibly healed.

Fifty years from now, in the second half of the twenty-first century, climate change has ravaged the Earth. Having invested early in genetic engineering and food science, one company now owns all the world’s resources. But a growing resistance is working to redistribute both land and power—and in a pivotal moment for the future of humanity, one of the company’s original founders will return to headquarters, intending to destroy what he helped build.

A thousand years in the future, North America is covered by a massive sheet of ice. One lonely sentient being inhabits a tech station on top of the glacier—and in a daring and seemingly impossible quest, sets out to follow a homing beacon across the continent in the hopes of discovering the last remnant of civilization.

Though Appleseed‘s sheer size (clocking in at just shy of 500 pages) and massive scope and more than a little intimidating, this book sounds fascinating. ALSO, there’s a 100% chance this caught my eye because of its title. For several years I was a Johnny Appleseed nerd.

CARRY ON by Rainbow Rowell

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen. That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here — it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

An oldie! But now the trilogy is complete and ready to be binged. This grab was entirely due to book club: several of my friends are big fans of this series and their gushing and love for these books gave me FOMO!

Ghosts, Murder, ..Slack?? 3 mini-reviews

OPHIE’S GHOSTS by Justina Ireland | May 18, 2021 (Thank you, Balzer + Bray!)

Georgia, November 1922. One night Ophelia learns two painful truths: her father was murdered by a band of white supremacists and she has the ability to see ghosts. Without her father, Ophie and her mother must leave the home they knew and head north to Pittsburgh where they’re taken in by an old aunt and three awful cousins. Luckily Mama has managed to secure a position at Daffodil Manor – along with a position for Ophie, though it means she can no longer attend school. At Daffodil Manor, Ophie discovers it’s not just the house that’s haunted by memories of the past, but those still living in it as well.

I went into Ophie’s Ghosts expecting a fun, Middle Grade read full of historical tidbits and ghosts. While I did get the ghosts and historical aspect, I also got much more: there’s a surprising heaviness to this book that caught me off guard. Death, racism, and classist attitudes are all very much at the forefront of this book. This isn’t a house haunted by Casper; there are soldiers who returned home only to turn to the bottle, a romance doomed from the start, discussion on being able to pass for white.

Interspersed throughout the novel were quick chapters told from the perspective of the train, the city of Pittsburgh, Daffodil Manor itself. The writing in these chapters was nothing short of sheer poetry and I inhaled each one (for obvious reasons, Pittsburgh’s chapter was especially near and dear to my heart, though, again, the writing was a thing of beauty: “Pittsburgh was a resilient, rough-and-tumble city. His arms were forged of steel, his backbone was the railroad, and in his veins was the coal that powered them both.”) While I absolutely loved these chapters, I do feel they had an altogether different feel than the rest of the novel and, at times, felt like two totally separate books.

Ophie’s Ghosts was a very quick read, though one with a hidden depth to it that I had not anticipated, but welcomed. I was able to pick up on the big reveal early on, but I’m not sure if younger readers would have guessed at it. While this is my first novel of the author’s, if her YA books are anything similar to this, I have a feeling we’re going to be fast friends.

THE THERAPIST by B.A. Paris | July 13, 2021 (Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!)

After a whirlwind long distance romance, Alice and Leo have decided to move in together. Leo lucks into the perfect house in a gated community and the pair set about with renovations, excited to make this house a home. As Alice gets to know her neighbors, however, she learns a devastating truth about her house: it seemed to good to be true…and, unfortunately, it was. The previous owner had been brutally murdered and the man deemed responsible, the husband, might have been innocent.

As Alice digs deeper into the mystery surrounding Nina’s death – and she feels such a strong connection to her after losing her own sister named Nina – she begins to wonder about the community she’s found herself in. And the boyfriend she realizes she hardly knows.

Behind Closed Doors was not only a 5-star read, but one of my top reads of 2016. Since then I have been gobbling up each new release, eager to recapture the brilliance of that debut. But each time I’m painfully letdown; I don’t know if a deadline was looming or what, but The Therapist was so lackluster, so repetitive – neighbors came to the door, Alice answered the phone, Alice had coffee with neighbors, the doorbell rang again announcing more neighbors had arrived. If her follow up novels to Behind Closed Doors hadn’t all been steadily going downhill, I honestly wouldn’t have believed this one was written by Paris. The few intriguing bits (could there really be someone else in the house at night when Alice believes she’s alone? Who really was Nina?) had me reading to the end, but gosh, I hate it say that I think this is where I part ways with the author.

SEVERAL PEOPLE ARE TYPING by Calvin Kasulke | August 31, 2021 (Thank you, Doubleday!)

Your skin is your safety suit! Your skin is my safety suit! Your skin is my suit!” Gerald is a mid-level employee of a New York PR firm, a firm that’s suddenly all-hands-on-deck after a poisoned batch of dog food has been linked to the deaths of several Pomeranians. Somehow, someway, Gerald has found himself trapped within Slack, unable to return to his body and unable to get assistance from Slackbot. To his colleagues, Gerald appears to be taking serious advantage of working from home – but his productivity is suddenly through the roof. It helps when you no longer have any sense of time or need for sleep.

Still, he does have a body…somewhere out there in the world, and miraculously convinces Pradeep, a coworker, to look after him. Until he’s able to escape Slack. Hopefully.

Years ago, back in 2008, I read Douglas Coupland’s JPod and instantly developed a love of office-set novels. The moment I heard about Several People Are Typing, not only set at the workplace, but told entirely through Slack messages, I pounced. So odd, so funny, totally gimmicky – but in a good way! I completely ate this one up and tore through it in a sitting (made super easy by its method of storytelling.) Though there are absolutely consent issues with one of the romances, I had a fantastic time with this book. Readers not entirely over WFH life and conducting business over messaging apps will be sure to have a great time as well. An excellent debut and I’m very excited to see what the author does next!

mini review: Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Doubleday!)

Summary: One day, the mother was a mother but then, one night, she was quite suddenly something else…

At home full-time with her two-year-old son, an artist finds she is struggling. She is lonely and exhausted. She had imagined – what was it she had imagined? Her husband, always travelling for his work, calls her from faraway hotel rooms. One more toddler bedtime, and she fears she might lose her mind.

Instead, quite suddenly, she starts gaining things, surprising things that happen one night when her child will not sleep. Sharper canines. Strange new patches of hair. New appetites, new instincts. And from deep within herself, a new voice…

“One day, the mother was a mother, but then, one night, she was quite suddenly something else.”

And thus begins a strange, surreal little novel that’s been making waves throughout the book community this past month, for better or worse. A woman, known only throughout the novel as the mother (& later, Nightbitch – a word I’ve been typing so frequently my phone now recognizes it), once held her dream job as an artist in a gallery and had a fantastic husband. Then the son arrived and with him, the mother’s dream life took a backseat. Being a working mother – toting an infant around a late night gallery showing was untenable in the long run – wasn’t in the cards and the decision was made for her to stay home and raise the child while her husband, also unnamed, bounced from hotel to hotel each week earning a sizable paycheck.

Resentment gave way to anger and rage and on the night in question, when the mother became something else, she discovered her more animalistic nature began to take over. She could have sworn her teeth were sharpening. Those pink little buds lining her torso? The husband would wave them away as moles, but the woman knew better. There were times she even felt the little wag of a long forgotten appendage. Clearly she was becoming a dog.

I honestly don’t know what to think about this book other than it’s definitely something. There will be people who love it and people who hate it, those who can peel away the layers of some deeper symbolism while others are just bewildered – though I think we’re all in agreement that MLMs are cults.

There were moments where I genuinely enjoyed this book and raced through scenes, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that this novel, in total less than 260 pages, took me three days to read. I’m glad I experienced this though I can’t see myself ever returning.

Also, major warning for very graphic depictions of animal cruelty and death.

August Releases I Can’t Wait to Get My Hands On!

Happy August, friends! Today The Pretty Good Gatsby turns 10, what!! It’s a new month with new releases and I really had a hard time narrowing it down to just 12 to share today – at one point I had a list of 24 eek! To make it easier for me, I didn’t include titles here that I already have early copies of (Enola Holmes, looking at you~)

For generations, Rich Gundersen’s family has chopped a livelihood out of the redwood forest along California’s rugged coast. Now Rich and his wife, Colleen, are raising their own young son near Damnation Grove, a swath of ancient redwoods on which Rich’s employer, Sanderson Timber Co., plans to make a killing. In 1977, with most of the forest cleared or protected, a grove like Damnation—and beyond it 24-7 Ridge—is a logger’s dream.

It’s dangerous work. Rich has already lived decades longer than his father, killed on the job. Rich wants better for his son, Chub, so when the opportunity arises to buy 24-7 Ridge—costing them all the savings they’ve squirreled away for their growing family—he grabs it, unbeknownst to Colleen. Because the reality is their family isn’t growing; Colleen has lost several pregnancies. And she isn’t alone. As a midwife, Colleen has seen it with her own eyes.

For decades, the herbicides the logging company uses were considered harmless. But Colleen is no longer so sure. What if these miscarriages aren’t isolated strokes of bad luck? As mudslides take out clear-cut hillsides and salmon vanish from creeks, her search for answers threatens to unravel not just Rich’s plans for the 24-7, but their marriage too, dividing a town that lives and dies on timber along the way.

THE PEOPLE WE KEEP by Allison Larkin | August 3

Little River, New York, 1994: April Sawicki is living in a motorless motorhome that her father won in a poker game. Failing out of school, picking up shifts at Margo’s diner, she’s left fending for herself in a town where she’s never quite felt at home. When she “borrows” her neighbor’s car to perform at an open mic night, she realizes her life could be much bigger than where she came from. After a fight with her dad, April packs her stuff and leaves for good, setting off on a journey to find a life that’s all hers.

As April moves through the world, meeting people who feel like home, she chronicles her life in the songs she writes and discovers that where she came from doesn’t dictate who she has to be.

SO WE MEET AGAIN by Suzanne Park | August 3

When up-and-coming investment banker Jess Kim is passed over for a promotion, laid off in a virtual meeting, and then overhears why (“she’s already being overpaid anyway for a woman” and “Asians are worker bees, not someone who can drum up new deals”) she delivers an “eff you guys” speech and storms out of the building. Not sure what’s next, she moves back home to Tennessee with her domineering Korean mom, who tries to set her up with her pastor’s son Daniel Choi, an M&A lawyer by day and a successful video game streamer by night. Turns out he’s swoony and smart, not the awkward preacher’s kid she remembers. With his help, Jess launches a Korean cooking YouTube channel focused on easy meal prep for busy professionals.

All is going well until her mom walks on the show mid-live recording and argues about cooking technique. While she hates being berated by her mother in front of the world, it actually works in their favor—they go viral!

Soon her cooking channel becomes an actual media company and brand. When a client is suddenly interested in buying Jess out, she finds herself sitting across the table from the very investment firm she quit not so long ago. But there’s just one other problem: Daniel, the guy whose been helping her and that she’s been falling for, is the firm’s new general counsel.

BILLY SUMMERS by Stephen King | August 3

Billy Summers is a man in a room with a gun. He’s a killer for hire and the best in the business. But he’ll do the job only if the target is a truly bad guy. And now Billy wants out. But first there is one last hit. Billy is among the best snipers in the world, a decorated Iraq war vet, a Houdini when it comes to vanishing after the job is done. So what could possibly go wrong?

How about everything.

YOURS CHEERFULLY by AJ Pearce | August 10

London, November 1941. Following the departure of the formidable Henrietta Bird from Woman’s Friend magazine, things are looking up for Emmeline Lake as she takes on the challenge of becoming a young wartime advice columnist. Her relationship with boyfriend Charles (now stationed back in the UK) is blossoming, while Emmy’s best friend Bunty, still reeling from the very worst of the Blitz, is bravely looking to the future. Together, the friends are determined to Make a Go of It.

When the Ministry of Information calls on Britain’s women’s magazines to help recruit desperately needed female workers to the war effort, Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help. But when she and Bunty meet a young woman who shows them the very real challenges that women war workers face, Emmy must tackle a life-changing dilemma between doing her duty and standing by her friends.

THE KING OF INFINITE SPACE by Lyndsay Faye | August 10

Meet Ben Dane: brilliant, devastating, devoted, honest to a fault (truly, a fault). His Broadway theatre baron father is dead—but by purpose or accident? The question rips him apart. Unable to face alone his mother’s ghastly remarriage to his uncle, Ben turns to his dearest friend, Horatio Patel, whom he hasn’t seen since their relationship changed forever from platonic to something…other. Loyal to a fault (truly, a fault), Horatio is on the first flight to NYC when he finds himself next to a sly tailor who portends inevitable disaster. And who seems ominously like an architect of mayhem himself.

Meanwhile, Ben’s ex-fiancé Lia, sundered her from her loved ones thanks to her addiction recovery and torn from her art, has been drawn into the fold of three florists from New Orleans—seemingly ageless sisters who teach her the language of flowers, and whose magical bouquets hold both curses and cures. For a price.

On one explosive night these kinetic forces will collide, and the only possible outcome is death.

THE SHOW GIRL by Nicola Harrison | August 10

It’s 1927 when Olive McCormick moves from Minneapolis to New York City determined to become a star in the Ziegfeld Follies. Extremely talented as a singer and dancer, it takes every bit of perseverance to finally make it on stage. And once she does, all the glamour and excitement is everything she imagined and more–even worth all the sacrifices she has had to make along the way.

Then she meets Archie Carmichael. Handsome, wealthy–the only man she’s ever met who seems to accept her modern ways–her independent nature and passion for success. But once she accepts his proposal of marriage he starts to change his tune, and Olive must decide if she is willing to reveal a devastating secret and sacrifice the life she loves for the man she loves.

THE BOOKSELLER’S SECRET by Michelle Gable | August 17

In 1942, London, Nancy Mitford is worried about more than air raids and German spies. Still recovering from a devastating loss, the once sparkling Bright Young Thing is estranged from her husband, her allowance has been cut, and she’s given up her writing career. On top of this, her five beautiful but infamous sisters continue making headlines with their controversial politics.

Eager for distraction and desperate for income, Nancy jumps at the chance to manage the Heywood Hill bookshop while the owner is away at war. Between the shop’s brisk business and the literary salons she hosts for her eccentric friends, Nancy’s life seems on the upswing. But when a mysterious French officer insists that she has a story to tell, Nancy must decide if picking up the pen again and revealing all is worth the price she might be forced to pay.

Eighty years later, Heywood Hill is abuzz with the hunt for a lost wartime manuscript written by Nancy Mitford. For one woman desperately in need of a change, the search will reveal not only a new side to Nancy, but an even more surprising link between the past and present…

THE DATING PLAYBOOK by Farrah Rochon | August 17

When it comes to personal training, Taylor Powell kicks serious butt. Unfortunately, her bills are piling up, rent is due, and the money situation is dire. Taylor needs more than the support of her new best friends, Samiah and London. She needs a miracle.

And Jamar Dixon might just be it. The oh-so-fine former footballer wants back into the NFL, and he wants Taylor to train him. There’s just one catch — no one can know what they’re doing. But when they’re accidentally outed as a couple, Taylor’s game plan is turned completely upside down. Is Jamar just playing to win . . . or is he playing for keeps?

LIGHTNING STRIKE by William Kent Krueger | August 24

Aurora is a small town nestled in the ancient forest alongside the shores of Minnesota’s Iron Lake. In the summer of 1963, it is the whole world to 12-year-old Cork O’Connor, its rhythms as familiar as his own heartbeat. But when Cork stumbles upon the body of a man he revered hanging from a tree in an abandoned logging camp, it is the first in a series of events that will cause him to question everything he took for granted about his hometown, his family, and himself.

Cork’s father, Liam O’Connor, is Aurora’s sheriff, and it is his job to confirm that the man’s death was the result of suicide, as all the evidence suggests. In the shadow of his father’s official investigation, Cork begins to look for answers on his own. Together, father and son face the ultimate test of choosing between what their heads tell them is true and what their hearts know is right.

THE RIVIERA HOUSE by Natasha Lester | August 31

Paris, 1939: The Nazis think Éliane can’t understand German. They’re wrong. They think she’s merely cataloging art in a Louvre museum and unaware they’re stealing national treasures for their private collections. They have no idea she’s carefully decoding their notes and smuggling information to the Resistance. But Éliane is playing a dangerous game. Does she dare trust the man she once loved with her secrets, or will he only betray her once again? She has no way to know for certain . . . until a trip to a stunning home on the French Riviera brings a whole new level of peril.
 
Present Day: Wanting to forget the tragedy that has left her life in shambles, Remy Lang heads to a home she’s mysteriously inherited on the Riviera. While working on her vintage fashion business, she discovers a catalog of the artworks stolen during World War II and is shocked to see a painting that hung on her childhood bedroom wall. Who is her family, really? And does the Riviera house hold more secrets than Remy is ready to face?

THE SECOND MRS. ASTOR by Shana Abe | August 31

Madeleine Talmage Force is just seventeen when she attracts the attention of John Jacob “Jack” Astor. Madeleine is beautiful, intelligent, and solidly upper-class, but the Astors are in a league apart. Jack’s mother was the Mrs. Astor, American royalty and New York’s most formidable socialite. Jack is dashing and industrious—a hero of the Spanish-American war, an inventor, and a canny businessman. Despite their twenty-nine-year age difference, and the scandal of Jack’s recent divorce, Madeleine falls headlong into love—and becomes the press’s favorite target.

On their extended honeymoon in Egypt, the newlyweds finally find a measure of peace from photographers and journalists. Madeleine feels truly alive for the first time—and is happily pregnant. The couple plans to return home in the spring of 1912, aboard an opulent new ocean liner. When the ship hits an iceberg close to midnight on April 14th, there is no immediate panic. The swift, state-of-the-art RMS Titanic seems unsinkable. As Jack helps Madeleine into a lifeboat, he assures her that he’ll see her soon in New York…

Four months later, at the Astors’ Fifth Avenue mansion, a widowed Madeleine gives birth to their son. In the wake of the disaster, the press has elevated her to the status of virtuous, tragic heroine. But Madeleine’s most important decision still lies ahead: whether to accept the role assigned to her, or carve out her own remarkable path…

May Releases I Can’t Wait to Get My Hands On!

Happy May, friends! Long time no see! I took several months off from the blog – I just checked and the last post was back in February, eek – but I’m thrilled to be jumping back in. And what better way to return than by sharing the books of May that have caught my eye. Also, is it just me or has 2021 seriously been bringing it with the releases?? I swear, each month has me swooning!

PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir | May 4

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish. Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it. All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species. And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

GREAT CIRCLE by Maggie Shipstead | May 4 *Thank you, Knopf, for a review copy*

After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There–after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes–Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.

A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian’s disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian’s own story, as the two women’s fates–and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times–collide. 

COMING HOME TO SEASHELL HARBOR by Miranda Liasson | May 4

Hadley Wells swapped her dreams of saving the planet for the glamour of Hollywood. But when a very public breakup reveals cracks in her not-so-perfect life, she returns to her hometown to reassess what it is she truly wants. Unfortunately, Seashell Harbor has some trouble of its own—including the first man to ever break her heart.

A serious injury forced footballer Tony Cammareri into early retirement—now he’s determined to reboot his life with a splashy new restaurant venture. He knows better than to expect a happy reunion with Hadley, but he’s determined to make up for the way things ended between them. Yet when Tony and Hadley end up vying for control of the town’s future, they find themselves once again on opposing sides. As their rivalry intensifies, they must decide what’s worth fighting for—and what it truly means to be happy.

THE GIRL WITH STARS IN HER EYES by Xio Axelrod | May 4

Growing up, Antonia “Toni” Bennett’s guitar was her only companion…until she met Sebastian Quick. Seb was a little older, a lot wiser, and he became Toni’s way out, promising they’d escape their small town together. Then Seb turned eighteen and split without looking back.

Now, Toni B is all grown up and making a name for herself in Philadelphia’s indie rock scene. When a friend suggests she try out for the hottest new band in the country, she decides to take a chance. She’s in for a surprise when one of the decision-makers turns out to be none other than Seb. Toni can handle it. No problem. Or it wouldn’t be if Seb didn’t still hold a piece of her heart, not to mention the key to her future.

HOUR OF THE WITCH by Chris Bohjalian | May 4

Boston, 1662. Mary Deerfield is twenty-four-years-old. Her skin is porcelain, her eyes delft blue, and in England she might have had many suitors. But here in the New World, amid this community of saints, Mary is the second wife of Thomas Deerfield, a man as cruel as he is powerful. When Thomas, prone to drunken rage, drives a three-tined fork into the back of Mary’s hand, she resolves that she must divorce him to save her life.

But in a world where every neighbor is watching for signs of the devil, a woman like Mary–a woman who harbors secret desires and finds it difficult to tolerate the brazen hypocrisy of so many men in the colony–soon finds herself the object of suspicion and rumor. When tainted objects are discovered buried in Mary’s garden, when a boy she has treated with herbs and simples dies, and when their servant girl runs screaming in fright from her home, Mary must fight to not only escape her marriage, but also the gallows.

ARSENIC AND ADOBO by Mia P. Manansala | May 4

When Lila Macapagal moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup, her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She’s tasked with saving her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant, and she has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Nora Ephron romp to an Agatha Christie case.

With the cops treating her like she’s the one and only suspect, and the shady landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out and resell the storefront, Lila’s left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network, her barista best bud, and her trusted Dachshund, Longanisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block…

OUT OF THE SHADOWS by Emily Midorikawa | May 11

Queen Victoria’s reign was one of breathtaking social change, yet roles for most women remained rigid and narrow. The “angel in the house” rarely expressed an opinion, and certainly not one that challenged the status quo. But not so within the social sphere of the seance–a mysterious, lamplit world dominated by enterprising women whose apparent ability to move between the realms of the dead and the living rewarded them with otherwise unthinkable fame and power. Such talents allowed them to cross rigid boundaries of gender and class, and to summon unique political voices–voices capable of reaching some of the era’s most famous personalities, including even Victoria herself.

Out of the Shadows, which draws on original diaries, letters, and memoirs, tells the stories of six such visionary Victorians. The clairvoyance of Kate, Leah, and Maggie Fox, three sisters from upstate New York, inspired some of the era’s best-known female suffrage activists and set off an international séance craze. British performer Emma Hardinge Britten left behind a career on Broadway for the life of a “trance lecturer,” whose oration on the death of Abraham Lincoln was celebrated by tens of thousands. The meteoric rise of Victoria Woodhull, born into poverty in Ohio, took her from childhood medium to Wall Street broker to America’s first female presidential candidate. And Georgina Weldon, whose interest in spiritualism nearly saw her confined to an asylum, went on to become a favorite of the press and a successful campaigner against Britain’s archaic lunacy laws.

PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION by Emily Henry | May 11

Poppy and Alex. Alex and Poppy. They have nothing in common. She’s a wild child; he wears khakis. She has insatiable wanderlust; he prefers to stay home with a book. And somehow, ever since a fateful car share home from college many years ago, they are the very best of friends. For most of the year they live far apart—she’s in New York City, and he’s in their small hometown—but every summer, for a decade, they have taken one glorious week of vacation together.

Until two years ago, when they ruined everything. They haven’t spoken since.

Poppy has everything she should want, but she’s stuck in a rut. When someone asks when she was last truly happy, she knows, without a doubt, it was on that ill-fated, final trip with Alex. And so, she decides to convince her best friend to take one more vacation together—lay everything on the table, make it all right. Miraculously, he agrees. Now she has a week to fix everything. If only she can get around the one big truth that has always stood quietly in the middle of their seemingly perfect relationship. What could possibly go wrong?

MARY JANE by Jessica Anya Blau | May 11

In 1970s Baltimore, fourteen-year-old Mary Jane loves cooking with her mother, singing in her church choir, and enjoying her family’s subscription to the Broadway Show Tunes of the Month record club. Shy, quiet, and bookish, she’s glad when she lands a summer job as a nanny for the daughter of a local doctor. A respectable job, Mary Jane’s mother says. In a respectable house.

The house may look respectable on the outside, but inside it’s a literal and figurative mess: clutter on every surface, IMPEACHMENT: Now More Than Ever bumper stickers on the doors, cereal and takeout for dinner. And even more troublesome (were Mary Jane’s mother to know, which she does not): The doctor is a psychiatrist who has cleared his summer for one important job—helping a famous rock star dry out. A week after Mary Jane starts, the rock star and his movie star wife move in.

Over the course of the summer, Mary Jane introduces her new household to crisply ironed clothes and a family dinner schedule, and has a front-row seat to a liberal world of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll (not to mention group therapy). Caught between the lifestyle she’s always known and the future she’s only just realized is possible, Mary Jane will arrive at September with a new idea about what she wants out of life, and what kind of person she’s going to be.

LONG LOST by Jacqueline West | May 11

When Fiona’s family moves to be closer to her older sister’s figure skating club—and far from Fiona’s close-knit group of friends—nobody seems to notice Fiona’s unhappiness. Alone and out of place, Fiona ventures to the town’s library, a rambling mansion donated to the town by the long-dead heiress. And there she finds a gripping mystery novel about a small town, family secrets, and a tragic disappearance.

Soon Fiona begins to notice strange similarities that blur the lines between the novel and her new town. And when she looks for the book again, it’s gone. Almost like it never existed. With stubbornness and a little help from a few odd Lost Lake locals, Fiona uncovers the book’s strange history. It’s not a novel, but the true story of an unsolved century-old crime filled with clues to the mystery. Lost Lake is a town of restless spirits, and Fiona will learn that both help and danger come from unexpected places—maybe even the sister she thinks doesn’t care about her anymore.

A TRAIL OF LIES by Kylie Logan | May 11 *reviews of books 1 and 2*

Jazz Ramsey is just getting used to the idea that her on-again-off-again beau, Nick, might actually be a permanent fixture, when she gets an alarming call in the middle of the night from his mother, Kim: there’s a dead man in her backyard. Kim has a long history of drinking and a vivid imagination, so when Jazz’s human remains detection dog, Wally, finds no evidence of a body, Jazz thinks she can breathe easy.

But when the body of a middle-aged man, Dan Mansfield, is discovered in a nearby park, and a photo of Nick and his mom is found in his pocket, Jazz has to admit that something isn’t adding up. Kim claims not to know who Dan is, but the cops find out soon enough: he’s a recently paroled convict who served thirty years for murder. And when Jazz traces his crime back to a bar fight with an antiques dealer, she ends up with more questions than answers.

Meanwhile, no one wants her poking around–not Nick’s mom, nor the Motorcycle-riding ex-con she connects to Dan, nor Nick himself, who seems worried about Jazz’s safety, but also about what she might find. But Jazz has never been one to take no for an answer, and she won’t give up now–even if it means risking her own life.

LAST SUMMER AT THE GOLDEN HOTEL by Elyssa Friedland | May 18

In its heyday, The Golden Hotel was the crown jewel of the hotter-than-hot Catskills vacation scene. For more than sixty years, the Goldman and Weingold families – best friends and business partners – have presided over this glamorous resort which served as a second home for well-heeled guests and celebrities. But the Catskills are not what they used to be – and neither is the relationship between the Goldmans and the Weingolds. As the facilities and management begin to fall apart, a tempting offer to sell forces the two families together again to make a heart-wrenching decision. Can they save their beloved Golden or is it too late?

Long-buried secrets emerge, new dramas and financial scandal erupt, and everyone from the traditional grandparents to the millennial grandchildren wants a say in the hotel’s future. Business and pleasure clash in this fast-paced, hilarious, nostalgia-filled story, where the hotel owners rediscover the magic of a bygone era of nonstop fun even as they grapple with what may be their last resort.

ROSALINE PALMER TAKES THE CAKE by Alexis Hall | May 18

Following the recipe is the key to a successful bake. Rosaline Palmer has always lived by those rules—well, except for when she dropped out of college to raise her daughter, Amelie. Now, with a paycheck as useful as greaseproof paper and a house crumbling faster than biscuits in tea, she’s teetering on the edge of financial disaster. But where there’s a whisk there’s a way . . . and Rosaline has just landed a spot on the nation’s most beloved baking show.

Winning the prize money would give her daughter the life she deserves—and Rosaline is determined to stick to the instructions. However, more than collapsing trifles stand between Rosaline and sweet, sweet victory.  Suave, well-educated, and parent-approved Alain Pope knows all the right moves to sweep her off her feet, but it’s shy electrician Harry Dobson who makes Rosaline question her long-held beliefs—about herself, her family, and her desires.

Rosaline fears falling for Harry is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Yet as the competition—and the ovens—heat up, Rosaline starts to realize the most delicious bakes come from the heart.

LAST CHANCE BOOKS by Kelsey Rodkey | May 18 *Thank you, HarperTeen, for a review copy*

Don’t you just love the smell of old books in the morning? Madeline Moore does. Books & Moore, the musty bookstore her family has owned for generations, is where she feels most herself. Nothing is going to stop her from coming back after college to take over the store from her beloved aunt.

Nothing, that is—until a chain bookstore called Prologue opens across the street and threatens to shut them down.

Madeline sets out to demolish the competition, but Jasper, the guy who works over at Prologue, seems intent on ruining her life. Not only is he taking her customers, he has the unbelievable audacity to be… extremely cute. But that doesn’t matter. Jasper is the enemy and he will be destroyed. After all—all’s fair in love and (book) wars.

OPHIE’S GHOSTS by Justina Ireland | May 18 *Thank you, Balzer + Bray, for a review copy*

Ophelia Harrison used to live in a small house in the Georgia countryside. But that was before the night in November 1922, and the cruel act that took her home and her father from her. Which was the same night that Ophie learned she can see ghosts.

Now Ophie and her mother are living in Pittsburgh with relatives they barely know. In the hopes of earning enough money to get their own place, Mama has gotten Ophie a job as a maid in the same old manor house where she works.

Daffodil Manor, like the wealthy Caruthers family who owns it, is haunted by memories and prejudices of the past–and, as Ophie discovers, ghosts as well. Ghosts who have their own loves and hatreds and desires, ghosts who have wronged others and ghosts who have themselves been wronged. And as Ophie forms a friendship with one spirit whose life ended suddenly and unjustly, she wonders if she might be able to help–even as she comes to realize that Daffodil Manor may hold more secrets than she bargained for.

THE INVISIBLE HUSBAND OF FRICK ISLAND by Colleen Oakley | May 25 *Thank you, Berkley, for a review copy*

Piper Parrish’s life on Frick Island—a tiny, remote town smack in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay—is nearly perfect. Well, aside from one pesky detail: Her darling husband, Tom, is dead. When Tom’s crab boat capsized and his body wasn’t recovered, Piper, rocked to the core, did a most peculiar thing: carried on as if her husband was not only still alive, but right there beside her, cooking him breakfast, walking him to the docks each morning, meeting him for their standard Friday night dinner date at the One-Eyed Crab. And what were the townspeople to do but go along with their beloved widowed Piper?

Anders Caldwell’s career is not going well. A young ambitious journalist, he’d rather hoped he’d be a national award-winning podcaster by now, rather than writing fluff pieces for a small town newspaper. But when he gets an assignment to travel to the remote Frick Island and cover their boring annual Cake Walk fundraiser, he stumbles upon a much more fascinating tale: an entire town pretending to see and interact with a man who does not actually exist. Determined it’s the career-making story he’s been needing for his podcast, Anders returns to the island to begin covert research and spend more time with the enigmatic Piper—but he has no idea out of all the lives he’s about to upend, it’s his that will change the most.

THE KINGDOMS by Natasha Pulley | May 25

Joe Tournier has a bad case of amnesia. His first memory is of stepping off a train in the nineteenth-century French colony of England. The only clue Joe has about his identity is a century-old postcard of a Scottish lighthouse that arrives in London the same month he does. Written in illegal English—instead of French—the postcard is signed only with the letter “M,” but Joe is certain whoever wrote it knows him far better than he currently knows himself, and he’s determined to find the writer. The search for M, though, will drive Joe from French-ruled London to rebel-owned Scotland and finally onto the battle ships of a lost empire’s Royal Navy. In the process, Joe will remake history, and himself.

ONCE UPON A PUPPY by Lizzie Shane | May 25

Connor Wyeth has a plan for everything. But when he adopts Maximus, an unruly Irish wolfhound mix, he gets more than he bargained for. If he doesn’t act fast, the big dopey mutt is going to destroy his house. The only person Max ever listens to is the volunteer who used to walk him at the shelter—a perennially upbeat woman whose day job is planning princess parties for little kids. Connor couldn’t ever imagine that she’d be able to tame such a beast as Max, but he’s desperate enough to try anything.

Deenie Mitchell isn’t looking forward to spending more time with uptight, rules-oriented Connor—no matter how attractive he is. But when her sister announces her engagement, Deenie realizes he’s the perfect person to impress her type-A family. When she learns he needs a plus-one for his law firm’s work events, an unlikely alliance is formed. But as they play the perfect couple, the friendship—and the feelings—that are forming start to feel all too real. Opposites may attract, but can the man with a plan for everything and the misfit who makes her own rules ever find common ground?

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Pub Date: February 2, 2021

Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Minotaur!)

Summary: Finlay Donovan is killing it . . . except, she’s really not. She’s a stressed-out single-mom of two and struggling novelist, Finlay’s life is in chaos: the new book she promised her literary agent isn’t written, her ex-husband fired the nanny without telling her, and this morning she had to send her four-year-old to school with hair duct-taped to her head after an incident with scissors.

When Finlay is overheard discussing the plot of her new suspense novel with her agent over lunch, she’s mistaken for a contract killer, and inadvertently accepts an offer to dispose of a problem husband in order to make ends meet . . . Soon, Finlay discovers that crime in real life is a lot more difficult than its fictional counterpart, as she becomes tangled in a real-life murder investigation.

Finlay Donovan once had it all: the perfect husband, two adorable kids, a gorgeous house, and a budding career as a novelist. Now she’s newly single, her ex ran off with the real estate agent, the kids are chaos on legs, and Stephen suddenly fired the nanny. Sending your 4-year-old to school with her freshly-shorn hair duct-taped back onto her head is not the sign of a woman who has her life together. As for her career, the more left unsaid, the better.

With a deadline already come and gone (and her advance right along with it), Finn heads to Panera to meet her agent in a last-ditch attempt for one more delay. As she’s discussing her haphazard, cobbled together plot, a woman at a nearby table hears bits an pieces…and mistakenly assumes Finn is a hitwoman for hire. As she leaves she slips Finn a note – a target and a sum with more zeros than she’s seen in a long time. But she wouldn’t be crazy enough to actually go through with it, right? Especially not once she learns about the ties to the mob. Then again, all those zeros..

I’ll be honest, going into this book I wasn’t that impressed. I was most definitely not a fan of Finlay’s ex-husband and the new fiancée was more a caricature of Mean Girl stereotypes than anything. Review after review – from several VERY trusted friends – praised Finlay Donovan is Killing It so I knew to tough it out and keep reading. And I’m so glad I did. Once the story really got going and the plot took off, I was hooked and couldn’t look away.

When the man she (honestly) never really intended to kill (scout’s honor!) winds up dead in the back of her minivan, Finn realizes she in way over her head. With her newly-rehired nanny back in the ring (for a 40% cut, of course), Finn has to somehow solve a murder, write a bestseller, AND dodge referrals from more prospective…clients who also have problems they would like Finn to dispose of. As if the hitwoman hustle isn’t bad enough, Finn uses the details as inspiration for her novel – and her agent loves it.

With wacky hijink after wacky hijink, Finlay Donovan is Killing It felt like an old-timey classic rom-com/mystery. I could easily see stars like Audrey or Cary filming a movie similar to this – and honestly, I would absolutely watch a movie version of this book. It’s funny, it’s engaging, the story is totally bonkers in an I NEED TO KNOW MORE way. I’m so glad this isn’t just a standalone, there were several plotlines I wanted to explore further (I mean, the potential for a love triangle was right. there.) and that ending…!! I honestly gasped and knew right then and there that I needed book two in my life, stat. Unfortunately I’ll be waiting a while, but I’ll be here, grabby hands at the ready.