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.

3 mid-week mini-reviews

Happy hump day, friends! To get through this mid-week slump, I want to share mini-reviews for three recent – and very different – reads!

KARMA MOON by Melissa Savage | January 19, 2021 (Thank you, Crown Books for Young Readers!)

Karma Moon’s life changes with one phone call. A phone call from Netflix. For 11 days, her dad’s team of ghost hunters will explore the Stanley Hotel (yep, that one!) and if they capture actual paranormal evidence, there will be a docuseries with their name written all over it. Though she’s a firm believer in everything woo-woo, even going so far as to consult her trusty Magic Eight-Ball when things look grim, her dad’s a bit more of a skeptic, but as the time begins to run out on their Netflix deal, everyone’s hoping for those hauntings.

I’m a big fan of Middle Grade reads and Karma Moon was a quick-paced, intriguing story – definitely up my alley with the paranormal angle! I can see this working as a read-along with a parent: there are references for younger readers (Scooby Doo, the Jonas Brothers) while plenty of sneaky catches for adults (The Shining/Stephen King, Poltergeist, Harry Houdini). It’s also not all fun and games as Karma is dealing with real-life heartbreak: her mother recently packed several suitcases and took off, happily running around on a beach with her new boyfriend. The not-so-paranormal ending will ensure younger readers can sleep with the lights off but still provide heavier topics for discussion.

FAYE, FARAWAY by Helen Fisher | January 26, 2021 (Thank you, Gallery Books!)

After losing her mother at 8, Faye discovers, at 36 and with two young daughters of her own, that she suddenly has the ability to travel back in time. See her mother again, spend time with her and get to know her as a woman rather than a parent. Each trip back to the present, however, is like grieving all over again – and she’s unable to confide in her husband who will clearly feel his wife has lost it. Faye, Faraway was pitched as a heartfelt read and I completely agree.

That this novel was a one-sitting read is a testament to Fisher’s skill as a writer of what would otherwise be a fairly farfetched plot. I was completely caught up in Faye’s story and longed for the moments when she would venture back to the 70s. That said, I admit I wasn’t as into the present day plot: Faye’s husband has suddenly had a calling to the church and is looking to become ordained. Scenes with him mainly focus on Faye’s lack of faith and how a minister’s wife wasn’t her calling. I also struggled a bit with the loose rules regarding time travel. Faye interacts with her younger self, has conversations with people, leaves things behind. Unlike every single other book or movie I’ve come across, her actions have no effect on the present day. Still, this was a really lovely read and I’m looking forward to more of Fisher’s work!

FIRST COMES LIKE by Alisha Rai | February 16, 2021 (Thank you, Avon!)

Jia Ahmed is a YouTube beauty blogger whose make-up tutorials are viewed by millions. Dev Dixit hails from Bollywood royalty and is now looking to make it big with an American tv show. For the past year Jia has been exchanging DMs and texts with Dev and now finally has the chance to meet him in person…only he doesn’t recognize her. As Jia quickly learns, she’s been catfished. For an entire year. And one quick paparazzi snap forces the two together, whether they like it or not.

I’m brand-new to the Modern Love series, this being the third book, but quickly got up to speed. Fake dating is my most favorite romance trope, so from the start I was sold, but by the middle of the book it began to slow and by the end I was feeling every one of its 400+ pages. After the two are photographed together, their completely innocent pose is seen as decidedly not-so-innocent by both their families and VERY quickly an engagement is announced – immediately followed by a marriage. Despite the agreement to pretend to be in a relationship, Jia and Dev are never seen out in public together, so that angle was a bit pointless. I also had to roll my eyes as there was drama and miscommunication thrown in during literally the final chapters in a botched attempt to heighten the tension. Something interesting worth noting, it’s never explicitly stated, but Jia and one of her sisters both suffered from an unnamed illness, her sister still recovering from the aftermath. I’m not the only reader to read between the lines and wonder if this was meant to be COVID.

The Heiress Gets a Duke by Harper St. George

The Heiress Gets a Duke (The Gilded Age Heiresses #1) by Harper St. George

Pub Date: January 26, 2021

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

Summary: American heiress August Crenshaw has aspirations. But unlike her peers, it isn’t some stuffy British Lord she wants wrapped around her finger–it’s Crenshaw Iron Works, the family business. When it’s clear that August’s outrageously progressive ways render her unsuitable for a respectable match, her parents offer up her younger sister to the highest entitled bidder instead. This simply will not do. August refuses to leave her sister to the mercy of a loveless marriage.

Evan Sterling, the Duke of Rothschild, has no intention of walking away from the marriage. He’s recently inherited the title only to find his coffers empty, and with countless lives depending on him, he can’t walk away from the fortune a Crenshaw heiress would bring him. But after meeting her fiery sister, he realizes Violet isn’t the heiress he wants. He wants August, and he always gets what he wants.

But August won’t go peacefully to her fate. She decides to show Rothschild that she’s no typical London wallflower. Little does she realize that every stunt she pulls to make him call off the wedding only makes him like her even more.

As a ‘new money’ family, the Crenshaws are already outcasts in London society. Worse still, they’re American, bold and brash with seemingly little regard for how to conduct themselves in polite company. Particularly that elder daughter, August. With a name like that, it’s little wonder why the girl acts the way she does, spending more time working through the financial records for her father’s company than securing a husband. She’s in stark contrast to her younger sister, Violet, yet when the Duke of Rothschild is all but forced into a quick marriage, it’s August he finds captivating.

After years of squandering away the family fortune, the previous Duke of Rothschild has passed away. Unfortunately, so too has his eldest son. Evan is left to pick up the pieces, overseeing a crumbling estate with the weight of the world on his shoulders. In secret Evan has taken up prizefighting as a means to bring in what little income he can, though it’s not enough. Never enough. In order to save not just his family, but the families who live on the estate, Evan needs to marry someone wealthy. And fast. With Mother and Papa Crenshaw salivating over rubbing shoulders with nobility, they eagerly arrange a marriage for their youngest daughter – and it’s her protective nature over her sister that leads August directly into the path of Evan.

The Heiress Gets a Duke is the first in a new series, The Gilded Age Heiresses, and a book I wholeheartedly enjoyed! What I noticed right from the start – and played a major part in my delight – was that each chapter heading featured a quote. And not just any quotes, but quotes from figures like Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Benjamin Disraeli. The book opens with a line from none other than Queen Victoria herself. Needless to say, I was hooked from the get-go. From the very first page it’s evident this isn’t your typical historical romance: one of the first scenes is an underground, Fight Club-esque boxing match. The mysterious fighter known only as the Hellion is undefeated, and August has a front row seat to his latest win – and the two share a kiss. Not one to go around kissing strange men, August is more than a little surprised by herself, even moreso later on when she realizes the man she kissed is to be her brother-in-law.

The romance in The Heiress Gets a Duke was fantastic and I was there for the ride. Violet has a sweetheart back home in New York, a man she intends to marry. But why would Mother settle for a lawyer for a son-in-law when she could have a Duke? Despite Violet’s protests, the marriage is arranged and August takes it upon herself to have a frank chat with Evan, a chat that leads him to realize she’s the sister he truly wants. From there, it’s 300 pages of back-and-forth banter and bickering (which I took great pleasure in!), ultimately leading to the happily ever after all historical romance readers know lies at the end of their books.

If the book focused solely on the romance this would have easily been a favorite read of the month for me. Unfortunately, the sideplot left me wanting – and honestly, I found myself skimming quite a bit. It deals with a solicitor who was in charge of the family’s finances and now he’s missing and the debts keep piling up…I hate to say it, but I didn’t really care about this part of the book. I just kept turning the pages until I got back to Evan and August’s romance. Thankfully this was just a minor sideplot though, and didn’t take away too much from my enjoyment of this one!

The Heiress Gets a Duke is a great start to a new series, and a series I am definitely excited to continue! A minor sideplot bored me a bit and had me skimming, but I was completely engaged where it mattered. The two leads were excellent and intriguing, the romance kept me glued to the page, and the secondary characters were a delight – VERY much looking forward to the next book and following that couple’s story!!

mini-review: The Project by Courtney Summers

The Project by Courtney Summers

Pub Date: February 2, 2021

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

Summary: Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died, Lo’s sister, Bea, joined The Unity Project, leaving Lo in the care of their great aunt. Thanks to its extensive charitable work and community outreach, The Unity Project has won the hearts and minds of most in the Upstate New York region, but Lo knows there’s more to the group than meets the eye. She’s spent the last six years of her life trying—and failing—to prove it.

When a man shows up at the magazine Lo works for claiming The Unity Project killed his son, Lo sees the perfect opportunity to expose the group and reunite with Bea once and for all. When her investigation puts her in the direct path of its leader, Lev Warren and as Lo delves deeper into The Project, the lives of its members it upends everything she thought she knew about her sister, herself, cults, and the world around her—to the point she can no longer tell what’s real or true. Lo never thought she could afford to believe in Lev Warren . . . but now she doesn’t know if she can afford not to.

Though it wasn’t her debut, 2018’s Sadie was the novel that put Courtney Summers on the map for me and made me an easy fan. Since then I’ve been eagerly awaiting her follow-up and three years later it’s here. Unfortunately – and I can’t believe I’m starting a sentence with that word – The Project just didn’t live up to expectations for me.

Alternating narration between two sisters, Lo, an assistant at an up and coming magazine, and Bea, the older sister who sought solace in The Unity Project after the death of their parents, the story dives into the world of this group – and its leader. To the world The Unity Project looks like a fantastic community outreach program, but Lo knows there’s more to it that lurks beneath the surface. When a distraught father runs into the magazine’s office one day convinced that the Project is directly to blame for his son’s death, Lo takes it upon herself to dig into the group. And, if she’s being honest, try to find the sister she hasn’t seen in years.

Past/present timelines, a mysterious cult, The Project had my name written all over it. I read this in December and just one month later – four weeks later – I’m having a hard time remembering details. Once the secret baby plot was introduced I started skimming and didn’t stop until I had reached the end of the book. I’m left questioning my high praise of Sadie now. This is such a lackluster, BLAH review that I hate to even call it a mini-review – more like a handful of thoughts – but I’m so disappointed with The Project. It was such a highly anticipated read for me and fell flat. I do know the book will find its fans, but there was nothing special here; it was so middle of the road, like a made-for-tv movie.

Outlawed by Anna North

Outlawed by Anna North

Pub Date: January 5, 2021

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

Summary: In the year of our Lord 1894, I became an outlaw.

The day of her wedding, 17 year old Ada’s life looks good; she loves her husband, and she loves working as an apprentice to her mother, a respected midwife. But after a year of marriage and no pregnancy, in a town where barren women are routinely hanged as witches, her survival depends on leaving behind everything she knows.

She joins up with the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang, a band of outlaws led by a preacher-turned-robber known to all as the Kid. Charismatic, grandiose, and mercurial, the Kid is determined to create a safe haven for outcast women. But to make this dream a reality, the Gang hatches a treacherous plan that may get them all killed. And Ada must decide whether she’s willing to risk her life for the possibility of a new kind of future for them all.

It’s the early 1890s America, an alternate version where a devastating sickness tore through the country and was viewed by many as a cleansing from God. The few who remained were expected to go forth and multiply, rebuilding the nation in His image and it is that ideal that has carried through the generations to Ada, a teen who is looking forward to her wedding day and becoming a mother.

A year later with no pregnancy, Ada’s sent from her husband’s family’s home. In Fairchild, a woman’s worth is directly related to how many children she has – and how quickly she can conceive. Outlawed offers an interesting stance on 19th Century women: premarital sex is fine, just not too often; if a girl sleeps with a boy too many times and doesn’t become pregnant, well word will quickly spread – and with it any chance of finding a husband. However, once a woman has children, all the power transfers to her. “A woman with three children could divorce her husband and she would probably find another man to marry her – she never said as much, but I knew that was why Mama had waited until after she had Janie and Jessamine to leave our daddy and bring us to Fairchild, where the old midwife had recently left town. A woman with four children could do as she pleased, marry or not, and I knew that was one reason no one spoke ill of Mama when she chose not to take another husband after Bee’s daddy left.” As the daughter of the town’s midwife, Ada is given some leniency, but even that has its limits and the sheriff’s protection can only go so far before fingers begin pointing Ada’s way. Barren women are labeled witches, blamed for miscarriages, deformities, illness.

Taken in by a convent of similarly-labeled women, Ada works at transcribing books. One book in particular catches her eye: Mrs. Alice Schaeffer’s Handbook of Feminine Complaints. While Ada learned a great deal under her mother’s tutelage, she wants to know more, wants an understanding of why she cannot have the children she so desperately wanted. It is while reading this book that Ada comes to the conclusion that she must find this woman, learn from her – and possibly find a cure. To reach Mrs. Alice Schaeffer, however, Ada must find a way to her town. And to do that, she must find the Hole in the Wall Gang, a band of outlaws led by the infamous Kid.

Outlawed is a book I wanted to read from the moment it first appeared on my radar. Hailed as The Crucible meets True Grit and featuring a queer, feminist gang, I was immediately curious and jumped right in the moment I was able to get a copy of my own. For a good portion of the novel it lived up to my expectations: Ada’s taken in by the Hole in the Wall Gang – and discovers many of them are like her, unable to have children and thus deemed a witch, or left their homes on their own accord. There’s at least one lesbian couple in their group and the Kid comes across as nonbinary. They’re all naturally wary of bringing an outsider into their ranks and Ada must prove her worth. And with Ada’s arrival comes the Kid’s most daring plot yet: a robbery that, if the gang could pull it off – and make it out alive – could provide them all (and others like them) with the safe haven they’ve been searching for.

I will say that while I did enjoy the story, the characters – namely the members of the gang – all meshed into one. I adored Lark, a fellow thief, but the gang’s members: Cassie, Elzy, News, Texas, I truly couldn’t tell them apart even after spending an entire book reading about them. I knew Elzy was tall. That’s…about it. Normally I love a big, full cast, but here they lost their individuality and became one unit. Tex could have easily stood in for Cassie or News in certain scenes and I would have been none the wiser.

The other downfall to this one was the ending. I spent the book following Ada’s story and wanted to see her reach her end goal, only to be left wanting. I was completely captivated by the feminist take on Westerns that Outlawed promised and had an overall great time reading this one. I just wish it would have had a different ending, though I’m sure other readers will absolutely love how Ada’s journey ended.

weekly wrap-up 1/3

• Happy New Year! This is the first wrap-up of 2021 and I’m so excited to see where the blog goes this year. Last year blog posts fell to the wayside in favorite of instagram, but I realized I missed it and am eager to get back into the swing of things.

• Choosing the first book of the year is always rough; for the past few I’ve stuck with Terry Pratchett. Good, solid reads that will set the year off on the right foot. This year I went with a library book instead (an overdue library book, oops!) The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher is fantastic and has me glued to the page – a hole in a wall of a bizarre museum leads to an even more bizarre – and terrifying – world. Worlds?

• I believe I mentioned this at some point last year, but one of my quarantine projects was to introduce myself to old movies. A sub-project was watching certain actors’/actresses’ entire filmography (or as many as possible, since I know there are some films – particularly from the early days of filmmaking and Hollywood that have been lost to time). Well one of those actors I chose was Charlie Chaplin. Last night I watched City Lights and I absolutely loved it! I genuinely laughed out loud several times and would happily watch it again!

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

THE LIAR’S DICTIONARY BY ELEY WILLIAMS should have been a top read of 2020 for me – and certainly was one of my most anticipated 2021 releases! It had a plot seemingly tailormade for me: a present/past storyline following two employees (one in the present day, the other in Victorian London) of a company that publishes dictionaries. The disgruntled former employee decided to make up his own words and pass the off as genuine – and for over a century he succeeded. Now the current employee is tasked with uncovering all of the erroneous words, while also preparing the dictionary for an online upload as well as dealing with threatening prank calls. I really wanted to love this one but it was just dull.

MY TOP READS OF 2020 surprised me. I thought I had a pretty awful year of books, but it turned out I read some pretty wonderful things! I split this list into two sections: 2020 releases and pre-2020 & rereads.

My Top Reads of 2020

It’s hard to believe 2020 has actually ended, we made it through the the other side. While my reading definitely took a noticeable hit, I surprised myself when looking back – I read some really wonderful books!

2020 RELEASES

WHEN YOU SEE ME by Lisa Gardner | pub date: January 28, 2020, read: January 16, 2020

Over the past few years I’ve learned that Lisa Gardner is a solid writer. Much like my go-to authors for comfort reads and brain candy novels (Harlan Coben – you’ll see him later on in this list, Steve Berry, Michael Crichton), Lisa has knocked it out of the park with her work. Whenever she has a new release, I know I’m in for a good time, and When You See Me was no different. A deceased serial kidnapper has left a digital bread crumb trail that leads to a tiny mountain town in Georgia and the team quickly learns something is seriously capital w Wrong.

A GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO MURDER by Holly Jackson | pub date: February 4, 2020, read: February 4, 2020

This YA novel took the book community by storm and I’ve been so-not-patiently waiting on the sequel! Everyone in Fairview knows the story of Andie Bell, the pretty and popular senior who was brutally murdered by her boyfriend Sal Singh…who then killed himself before he could officially be convicted. Five years later, Pippa has decided to do her senior project on the effect social media played in the case, though she has an ulterior motive: she doesn’t believe Sal was guilty. • my review

THE SUN DOWN MOTEL by Simone St. James | pub date: February 18, 2020, read: February 18, 2020

In a year that saw some really fantastic reads, Simone was a clear stand-out and is one of my auto-read authors for a reason. Though her earlier releases have been great, it was 2018’s THE BROKEN GIRLS, that truly put her on the map for many readers. It took two years for a follow up, but it was so worth it. Bouncing between New York in 1982 and 2017, The Sun Down Motel follows two young women: Viv, 20, with dreams of becoming an actress; and her niece Carly, obsessed with the story of her aunt’s disappearance three decades earlier. Broke and with nowhere else to go, Viv found herself in Fell, a barely-there town that had once had grand visions of becoming a tourist hot spot after an amusement park was announced. The park never amounted to anything, but by then the Sun Down had already been built, its rooms anticipating the flood of families that never arrived. I mentioned in my review that this would definitely be appearing on my Top Reads list and, sure enough, here we are. • my review

YOU NEVER FORGET YOUR FIRST by Alexis Coe | pub date: February 4, 2020, read: February 28, 2020

As Jonathan Coulton once sang, “Washington came first and he was perfect.” …well, not quite. When I first learned of this bio – the first written by a female – I couldn’t pounce fast enough. Coe rips into male historians and writers who came before her, stating they were so wrapped up in pointing out Washington’s manliness that they glossed over key parts of his life, opting for a good story instead of the truth. This slim bio – 206 pages with an additional 50 of notes, bibliographies, and an index – gave a good overview of a full life, covering Washington’s birth to his death and was a refreshing take on a subject I’ve read a good deal about. I secretly hope she’ll continue and release a bio for each president. • my review

THE HAPPY EVER AFTER PLAYLIST by Abby Jimenez | pub date: April 14, 2020, read: April 5, 2020

You couldn’t go anywhere in the book community this year without hearing praise for this novel – and rightly so! A young widow, a singer whose music career is on the rise, and thr puppy who comes between them; what’s not to love? I knew this was a good one when I read it right after a Harry Potter re-read (which would normally be a death blow to any book – how could you possibly follow Harry?) and not just liked it, but gave it a full 5 stars! Abby is a rom-com darling and HEAP only solidified her status as a genre favorite. Her next is due out in April and I can’t wait! • my review

HOME BEFORE DARK by Riley Sager | pub date: June 30, 2020, read: June 1, 2020

What Abby Jimenez is to rom-com Riley Sager is to thrillers. From the snowy day in 2018 when I was trapped inside and read Final Girls, Riley has been an auto-read author (though not without his misses, looking at you, bizarro ending of Lock Every Door). Home Before Dark pulls Riley onto a slightly different path and I was more than happy to follow. Twenty-five years ago, the Holt family fled Baneberry Hall in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Ewan Holt’s account of the twenty days spent in the house instantly shot to the bestsellers lists, and in each interview, article, and Oprah appearance, he and his family repeated the horrors they faced. Two and a half decades later, Maggie is now 30 and has learned she’s inherited the House of Horrors. A surprise to her, as she assumed her parents got rid of it ages ago. Despite her mother’s insistence she not return, Maggie heads back to Baneberry, determined to finally get the answers she’s been searching for. Unlike her parents – and millions of readers worldwide – Maggie didn’t believe a single word of the book. Her father wanted to make his big break as a novelist and this is how he did it. Unfortunately for Maggie, the longer her stay at Baneberry Hall, the more she learns her father’s book held far more truth than she originally thought. • my review

OPEN BOOK by Jessica Simpson | pub date: February 4, 2020, read: June 22, 2020

I never watched Newlyweds, I didn’t listen to her music. In fact, my entire knowledge of Jessica Simpson was the tuna/chicken fiasco. Imagine my surprise when this book came out and I honestly couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. She references Wuthering Heights and Lord Byron. Her business savvy is unreal. She is NOT the ditzy blonde she was made out to be and at one point in the book she talks about her divorce – she and Nick didn’t have a prenup and there was a battle over how much $$ he would walk away with. Eventually she agreed to pay what he wanted and assured her dad that she’d make it back…to which she added that she did “give or take a billion.” If ever there was a micdrop moment! (Also, John Mayer is every bit as gross and disgusting as I always believed.) I never expected to read this one, but once I started I couldn’t put it down – and I HIGHLY recommend the audio. Jessica does the narration and it’s so perfect.

A BURNING by Megha Majumdar | pub date: June 2, 2020, read: June 26, 2020

Jivan is a Muslim living in India’s slums. Though she has dreams and aspirations to move up in the world, her life changes when a careless Facebook comment leads to accusations of terrorism. An opportunistic gym teacher falls under the spell of a right-wing political candidate. An outcast (who totally stole the show for me!) can provide the alibi Jivan is seeking – but at what cost? This debut packed a powerful punch in barely 300 pages. Despite its size, I was completely captivated by this story and these characters, particularly Lovely, and I would be over the moon to read her own story! • my review

THE GREAT GATSBY: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL adapted by Fred Fordham, illustrated by Aya Morton | pub date: June 30, 2020, read: August 1, 2020

Gatsby needs no introduction or blurb summarizing the story. I’m a die-hard fan and will read any and every iteration of the book. Aya Morton’s artwork here was absolutely breathtaking, the soft watercolors set the stage and I sunk right back into the world I love so much. • instagram musings

THE LAST MRS. SUMMERS by Rhys Bowen | pub. date: August 4, 2020, read: August 11, 2020

When Georgie’s best friend Belinda inherits an old house, the pair go traipsing off to Cornwall to take a look around at the property. While it’s been years since Belinda set foot in the village, others have never left and soon Georgie finds herself caught up in a tale of childhood crushes, possibly-murdered first wives, and downright creepy housekeeper. Like Lisa Gardner, Simone St. James, and Harlan Coben, Rhys Bowen is an auto-read author – and I’m especially delighted to have discovered her. She does have some standalones, but her series are numbering into the upper teens! These historical mysteries are perfect for long winters and rainy spring weekends.

I’LL BE THE ONE by Lyla Lee | pub. date: June 16, 2020, read: August 12, 2020

Skye Shin has heard it all. Fat girls can’t dance. Shouldn’t call attention to themselves. But Skye dreams of joining the glittering, intense world of K-pop, and to do that, she’s about to break all the rules that society, the media, and even her own mother have set for girls like her. When Skye nails her audition in an internationally televised competition searching for the next K-pop star, she’s immediately swept into a whirlwind of countless practices, shocking performances, and the drama that comes with reality tv. What she doesn’t count on are the highly fat-phobic beauty standards of the Korean entertainment industry or her sudden media fame and scrutiny. With her new friends (and an unfairly cute celeb model), Skye sets her sights on becoming the world’s first plus-size K-pop star by winning the competition without losing herself. • my review

THE OFFICE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE GREATEST SITCOMS OF THE 2000S: AN ORAL HISTORY by Andy Greene | pub. date: March 24, 2020, read: August 15, 2020

How cruel to discuss this book mere hours after Netflix removed The Office, haha! The show has been having a resurgence, particularly lately given it’s THE show to quarantine binge and with excellent podcasts like Office Ladies doing recaps and behind the scenes looks. I can easily get through a 300-, 350-page novel in a sitting, no problem, but a nonfic that’s nearly 450 pages? Unheard of…until now. Granted, the style makes it incredibly easy to tear through, but that I still managed to knock this one out in a single go is very impressive to me. Moments and scenes in the show that make me cry managed to make me cry on paper. The love the entire cast and crew had for this show is so evident and I couldn’t put this one down.

WHISPERING PINES by Heidi Lang & Kati Bartkowski | pub. date: September 1, 2020, read: August 30, 2020

If that GORGEOUS cover doesn’t pull in readers, then the actual story definitely will! After Rae’s father vanished last year (Rae’s convinced he was taken, but no one believes her), the family makes a new start in the town of Whispering Pines. Unfortunately for them, nothing about Whispering Pines is normal. By now, the locals are used to children disappearing – and later returning in a zombie-like state with their eyes (!) removed (!), but this time Caden can’t look past it. As the son of a ghost hunter, Caden is used to his fair share of the weird and unexplained. But now his own brother is gone – and Caden suspects he knows the truth behind the missing kids.

YORICK AND BONES by Jeremy Tankard and Hermione Tankard | pub. date: May 12, 2020, read: October 9, 2020

This Middle Grade graphic novel was a completely random library grab one day when I wanted something quick and light. Yorick is a skeleton who has just been dug up after a few hundred years of sleep. Bones is the dog who did the digging. I was genuinely caught off guard by how much I enjoyed this one, it’s clever and engaging – I laughed out loud SEVERAL times and now I need more.

HEAD OVER HEELS by Hannah Orenstein | pub. date: June 23, 2020, read: October 21, 2020

Avery Abrams was at the top of her game and a shoe-in for the Olympics. Until a disastrous injury instantly changed her life. Her gymnastics career was over and she was left to watch her best friend move into her spot, head to the Olympics, marry a coach, and ultimately find a new cushy job as a tv commentator. Seven years after her life’s dream was crushed, Avery is facing a new disaster: a break-up with her football star boyfriend leads Avery to return home to Massachusetts, where the only job she can find is working as a coach alongside another gymnast she knew a lifetime ago.

PRE-2020 RELEASES/RE-READS

RUN AWAY by Harlan Coben | pub. date: March 19, 2019, read: January 4, 2020

I know I’m always in for a good time when I sink into a Harlan Coben novel. What initially started out as a father’s search for his drug-addicted daughter quickly spiraled into a tale of a cult, a 23andMe-esque site, and a hired hit man tasked with murdering seemingly random men. Totally bonkers, but SO fun.

HALF A HARRY POTTER BINGE by J.K. Rowling

In April I decided the best place to spend quarantine would be at Hogwarts and I began a series re-read: Sorcerer’s Stone (read: April 4), Chamber of Secrets (April 7), Prisoner of Azkaban (April 19), and Goblet of Fire (May 10). This final books are much more time-consuming, but I’d like to devote a few weekends to them this year.

RED, WHITE, AND ROYAL BLUE by Casey McQuiston | pub. date May 14, 2019, re-read: July 3, 2020

I fell head over heels for this one when I initially read it in 2019 and was thrilled to recommend it for a book club read in 2020. Our prompt was a re-read and we were all so eager to revisit Alex and Prince Henry. I actually enjoyed my re-read so much my rating bumped up from a 4-star to a full 5!

LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER by Roald Dahl | pub. date: September 1953, re-read December 20, 2020

I spent a lot of time with short stories in 2020, something I rarely do. 2020 seriously zapped my attention span, and I struggled to read for a good portion of the year. Instead of full-length novels I turned to the shorts. Lamb to the Slaughter is a favorite of mine and one I love to revisit. It’s clever and funny and quick, all excellent qualities when I can’t tolerate more than a few pages at a time. Plus it has one of my favorite murder weapons of all time: a frozen leg of lamb!

MORE ENOLA HOLMES by Nancy Springer

I know these books have found a new set of readers thanks to the Netflix series, but if you haven’t read them yet, you’re missing out. Enola Holmes is the estranged, younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock – but every bit as capable of solving mysteries. Earlier in the year I read The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (February 2) and The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (February 12) but highly recommend them all.

CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE by Tomi Adeyemi | pub. date: March 6, 2018, read: March 3, 2020

This YA fantasy series is another that took the world by storm – but it wasn’t until my book club that I finally sat down with the first book. All the awards, the praise, it’s all completely deserved. And if you’re one of the (seemingly very) few people who haven’t yet read this one, don’t let its size intimidate you! It reads VERY quick, not just because it’s an action-packed novel, but because it’s told through the eyes of three characters and many scenes are told and retold from different viewpoints.

THE LONG WALK by Stephen King | pub. date: July 1979, read: April 13, 2020

Stephen King played a major role in my 2020 reading and, honestly, I’d be okay with him playing a major role in my reading every year. The Long Walk was another book club pick; a former coworker of ours has such high praise for this book, so the choice to read this was an easy one. The Long Walk is just that: a long walk made by 100 boys. Only, this is Stephen King we’re talking about, so you know it’s not a nice, leisurely stroll. Instead, there are rules, one of which is that walkers can’t stop. They also can’t drop their speed. If the rules are broken, there are warnings. After three warnings, well, there’s a reason only one boy can be declared the winner.

ME by Elton John | pub. date: October 15, 2019, read: June 1, 2020

I honestly don’t remember why I grabbed this audiobook – I believe at the time I was still waiting on Open Book and was looking for another gossipy celeb memoir? Regardless, it was such a fantastic pick! Elton narrates and does a great job. This was one of those fascinating reads where I would opt to handwash the dishes instead of loading the dishwasher just so I could spend more time listening!

FIRESTARTER by Stephen King | pub. date: September 29, 1980, read: October 31, 2020

The last of the Kings in this post. There’s no time like Halloween for a Stephen King and Firestarter was one I hadn’t read before. The Department of Scientific Intelligence (aka “The Shop”) never anticipated that two participants in their research program would marry and have a child. Charlie McGee inherited pyrokinetic powers from her parents, who had been given a low-grade hallucinogen called “Lot Six” while at college. Now the government is trying to capture young Charlie and harness her powerful firestarting skills as a weapon. Immediately after finishing I watched the movie – Matt got caught up in it right along with me! So, so good. Like, ‘one of my favorite King novels’ good. • instagram musings

LITTLE GIRL LOST by Drew Barrymore | pub. date: January 1, 1990, read: November 22, 2020

Firestarter kicked off a Drew Barrymore deepdive and I tore through this memoir she published when she was 14. Born into Hollywood royalty, Drew inherited not just the acting gene, but also the family’s predisposition to addition. She was knocking back 6-packs cigarettes at 8, pot by 11, and coke put her in rehab (for the first time) at 13. It was like a trainwreck, I couldn’t look away or stop turning the pages.

LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders | pub. date: February 14, 2017, read: December 4, 2020

I might have been three years late to the party, but I couldn’t be happier to have (finally) arrived. Lincoln in the Bardo caught me off-guard and took my by surprise, becoming a novel that wholly captivated me and will be one I’ll be thinking on for quite some time. It’s haunting, quiet, brooding, and devastating. I absolutely loved every moment spent with it and when it was finished I wanted to flip right back to page one and start over again. I read some really great reads in , but this is by far one of the top reads, if not my favorite. • my review + instagram review

ROYAL JELLY by Roald Dahl | pub. date: 1960, read: December 20, 2020

And, lastly, another short story from Roald Dahl. I flipped to this one at random one evening when the title caught my eye. Unlike Lamb to the Slaughter, I hadn’t previously read Royal Jelly, but was curious if it featured bees. LITTLE DID I KNOW! A husband and wife are struggling to get their new baby to eat…until the husband has an idea. Dark and macabre and weird, perfectly Dahl!

The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams

The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams

Pub Date: January 5, 2021

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

Summary: Mountweazel nthe phenomenon of false entries within dictionaries and works of reference. Often used as a safeguard against copyright infringement.

Peter Winceworth is a lexicographer in Victorian-era London, toiling away at the letter S for a multi-volume Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Secretly, he begins to insert unauthorized fictitious entries into the dictionary in an attempt to assert some artistic freedom.

In the present day, Mallory is a young intern employed by the same publisher. Her task is to uncover these mountweazels before the dictionary is digitized. She also has to contend with threatening phone calls from an anonymous caller. Why, she wonders, is the change in the definition of marriage so upsetting to the caller? And does the caller really intend for the publisher’s staff to burn in hell?

When I was younger I had a massive dictionary that was my pride and joy. This thing was huge and could have easily been incorporated into a workout routine to produce fantastic results. When I received it I made a goal to read it cover to cover – like a book. While that goal never came to fruition, I did spend countless hours poring over its pages, randomly pointing at new words to learn and work into my vocabulary. When I first came across THE LIAR’S DICTIONARY it sounded like a book written just for me: a past/present story set in the office of a dictionary publisher and the worker who learns that – oh my! – a former employee from generations ago had inserted his own made-up words into the dictionary!

Mallory is a young intern at Swansby’s Dictionary where she spends her days hurriedly eaten her hard boiled eggs and being plagued by threatening phone calls from an anonymous caller. Heaven knows why someone would choose a dictionary publisher of all business to target, but Mallory has been on edge, jumping whenever the phone rings. To get with the times, Swansby’s has made the decision to digitize their (still unfinished) dictionary, only it’s been discovered that a past employee had made up several words. Mallory’s tasked with finding these mountweazels and removing them before the dictionary goes online.

In the 19th Century, Peter Winceworth is a lexicographer for Swansby’s. In a seemingly heartless twist of fate, Peter oversees the S words – and is afflicted with a pronounced lisp. The irony is not lost on the crueler employees who delight in taunting and teasing Peter. …unbeknownst to the rest of Swansby’s however, Peter does not actually have a lisp, it’s all an act and now that act is appearing to catch up with him.

THE LIAR’S DICTIONARY could not have started off on a stronger foot – I was already highlighting passages in the preface! Unfortunately, as the novel wore on, it became a bit dull and I am beyond disappointed to say that. This sounded like a book tailormade for me! I was there for 19th Century London, I nodded enthusiastically to Peter’s words (relectoblivious (adj), accidentally rereading a phrase or line due to lack of focus or desire to finish) and honestly would happily read a book compiling his work (“Sometimes he just improvised little fictions in the style of an encyclopaedic entry. To this end, he made up some fourteenth-century dignitaries from Constantinople and a small religious sect living in the Japanese Alps.“) In the present day, I was intrigued by the threatening calls Mallory was receiving and her internal struggle over whether or not she should be fully out – her girlfriend Pip is out to everyone while Mallory is more selective; Pip is just a roommate as far as her coworkers and the general public are concerned.

So what went wrong? How did it take me two full weeks to read a book that was less than 300 pages? I…don’t really know. The author’s bio at the end of this book mentions membership to the Royal Society of Literature and it’s evident. She’s clearly a lover of words and the wordplay abounds in these pages…unfortunately to the detriment of plot and storytelling. I am glad I pushed on – there really are wonderful turns of phrase and beautifully written passages – but more than once I entertained the idea of abandoning this one altogether, namely during a chapter where there was a multi-page scene involving physical violence to a bird. It’s not until a few chapters later that it’s revealed the bird was choking on something and the commotion was an attempt to save its life. I wish this would have been immediately revealed or, better yet, left out entirely. I’m not sure if it was meant to be humorous, but it didn’t sit well with me at all and would have easily been a deciding factor in abandoning the book if I hadn’t decided to just start skimming the rest.

I do think THE LIAR’S DICTIONARY will be a pretty polarizing novel, already I’ve come across multiple early readers who abandoned it early on, while others are hailing it as a work of genius. I wanted to be floored by this one, wowed by it, but I enjoyed the thought of what it could be more than what it actually is.

weekly wrap-up 12/27

Good morning! It’s the final weekly wrap-up of 2020 and I know I’m not the only one ready to put this year behind me. This will be a quick wrap-up as my Christmas was spent at home.

• I had mentioned before that I turned to bread baking during quarantine but only recently realized I tend to lean more toward savory loaves (like my absolute favorite: my jalapeno cheddar) rather than sweet. After paging through a Zingerman’s Bakehouse cookbook I realized I had everything on hand to make their Somodi Kalács, a Hungarian cinnamon swirl bread. YUM, YUM, YUM!

• One of my quarantine projects (other than carbing it up) was to introduce myself to old movies. I’ve been having an absolute blast this year and my most recent was Meet Me in St. Louis.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Normally when a new month approaches I do a single post featuring the upcoming titles I’m looking forward to. WELL. January is bringing its A game and I ended up doing a week long series instead! Check out the January Releases I Can’t Wait to Read: Mysteries, Romances, Contemporaries, Sci-Fi/Fantasies, and Historicals.

January Releases I Can’t Wait to Read – Historical!

Here we are, the final day of a week of January releases – and my favorite genre! I originally planned on having this post go live on Christmas, but decided to hold off a day, so here we are. If you missed any days this week, I shared Mysteries, Romances, Contemporaries, and Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Today we’re ending on a high note with the Historical releases I can’t wait to get my hands on.

ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT by Tara Johnson | January 5

With her stammering tongue and quiet ways, Cadence Piper has always struggled to be accepted. After the death of her mother, Cadence sets her heart on becoming a nurse, both to erase the stain her brother has left on the family’s honor and to find long-sought approval in the eyes of her father. When Dorothea Dix turns her away due to her young age and pretty face, Cadence finds another way to serve . . . singing to the soldiers in Judiciary Square Hospital. Only one stubborn doctor stands in her way.

Joshua Ivy is an intense man with a compassionate heart for the hurting and downtrodden. The one thing he can’t have is an idealistic woman destroying the plans he’s so carefully laid. When the chaos of war thrusts Cadence into the middle of his clandestine activities, he must decide if the lives at stake, and his own heart, are worth the risk of letting Cadence inside.

Everything changes when Joshua and Cadence unearth the workings of a secret society so vile, the course of their lives, and the war, could be altered forever. If they fight an enemy they cannot see, will the One who sees all show them the way in the darkest night?

OUTLAWED by Anna North | January 5

In the year of our Lord 1894, I became an outlaw.

The day of her wedding, 17 year old Ada’s life looks good; she loves her husband, and she loves working as an apprentice to her mother, a respected midwife. But after a year of marriage and no pregnancy, in a town where barren women are routinely hanged as witches, her survival depends on leaving behind everything she knows.

She joins up with the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang, a band of outlaws led by a preacher-turned-robber known to all as the Kid. Charismatic, grandiose, and mercurial, the Kid is determined to create a safe haven for outcast women. But to make this dream a reality, the Gang hatches a treacherous plan that may get them all killed. And Ada must decide whether she’s willing to risk her life for the possibility of a new kind of future for them all.

OUR DARKEST NIGHT by Jennifer Robson | January 5

It is the autumn of 1943, and life is becoming increasingly perilous for Italian Jews like the Mazin family. With Nazi Germany now occupying most of her beloved homeland, and the threat of imprisonment and deportation growing ever more certain, Antonina Mazin has but one hope to survive—to leave Venice and her beloved parents and hide in the countryside with a man she has only just met.

Nico Gerardi was studying for the priesthood until circumstances forced him to leave the seminary to run his family’s farm. A moral and just man, he could not stand by when the fascists and Nazis began taking innocent lives. Rather than risk a perilous escape across the mountains, Nina will pose as his new bride. And to keep her safe and protect secrets of his own, Nico and Nina must convince prying eyes they are happily married and in love.

But farm life is not easy for a cultured city girl who dreams of becoming a doctor like her father, and Nico’s provincial neighbors are wary of this soft and educated woman they do not know. Even worse, their distrust is shared by a local Nazi official with a vendetta against Nico. The more he learns of Nina, the more his suspicions grow—and with them his determination to exact revenge.

NICK by Michael Farris Smith | January 5

Before Nick Carraway moved to West Egg and into Gatsby’s periphery, he was at the center of a very different story-one taking place along the trenches and deep within the tunnels of World War I.

Floundering in the wake of the destruction he witnessed firsthand, Nick delays his return home, hoping to escape the questions he cannot answer about the horrors of war. Instead, he embarks on a transcontinental redemptive journey that takes him from a whirlwind Paris romance-doomed from the very beginning-to the dizzying frenzy of New Orleans, rife with its own flavor of debauchery and violence.

An epic portrait of a truly singular era and a sweeping, romantic story of self-discovery, this rich and imaginative novel breathes new life into a character that many know but few have pondered deeply. Charged with enough alcohol, heartbreak, and profound yearning to paralyze even the heartiest of golden age scribes, Nick reveals the man behind the narrator who has captivated readers for decades.

WHAT COULD BE SAVED by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz | January 12

Washington, DC, 2019: Laura Preston is a reclusive artist at odds with her older sister Bea as their elegant, formidable mother slowly slides into dementia. When a stranger contacts Laura claiming to be her brother who disappeared forty years earlier when the family lived in Bangkok, Laura ignores Bea’s warnings of a scam and flies to Thailand to see if it can be true. But meeting him in person leads to more questions than answers.

Bangkok, 1972: Genevieve and Robert Preston live in a beautiful house behind a high wall, raising their three children with the help of a cadre of servants. In these exotic surroundings, Genevieve strives to create a semblance of the life they would have had at home in the US—ballet and riding classes for the children, impeccable dinner parties, a meticulously kept home. But in truth, Robert works for American intelligence, Genevieve finds herself drawn into a passionate affair with her husband’s boss, and their serene household is vulnerable to unseen dangers of a rapidly changing world and a country they don’t really understand.

YELLOW WIFE by Sadeqa Johnson | January 12

Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Brown was promised her freedom on her eighteenth birthday. But when her birthday finally comes around, instead of the idyllic life she was hoping for with her true love, she finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half-Acre, a jail where slaves are broken, tortured, and sold every day. Forced to become the mistress of the brutal man who owns the jail, Pheby faces the ultimate sacrifice to protect her heart in this powerful, thrilling story of one slave’s fight for freedom.

FIND ME IN HAVANA by Serena Burdick | January 12

Cuba, 1936. As her family struggles to recover from the Cuban Revolution, Estelita’s own world opens when she’s “discovered” singing in Havana nightclubs. At fifteen, her dreams to travel to America come true with the invitation to sing at the Copacabana. There, she begins a whirlwind romance with Chu Chu Martinez, a handsome actor she later marries. But when Chu Chu forbids her from performing, Estelita takes their daughter, Nina, and escapes to Hollywood.

Big Sur, 1966. Nina Rodriguez grew up enamored by her mother’s beauty and glamour. She still doesn’t understand how her vivacious mother could have died so quickly from influenza and suspects a more sinister plot pointing to her mother’s most recent romance. When Nina finds herself repeating her mother’s destructive patterns with men, she looks to the lessons of her mother’s past to find a new way forward.

THE LAST GARDEN IN ENGLAND by Julia Kelly | January 12

Present day: Emma Lovett, who has dedicated her career to breathing new life into long-neglected gardens, has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime: to restore the gardens of the famed Highbury House estate, designed in 1907 by her hero Venetia Smith. But as Emma dives deeper into the gardens’ past, she begins to uncover secrets that have long lain hidden.

1907: A talented artist with a growing reputation for her ambitious work, Venetia Smith has carved out a niche for herself as a garden designer to industrialists, solicitors, and bankers looking to show off their wealth with sumptuous country houses. When she is hired to design the gardens of Highbury House, she is determined to make them a triumph, but the gardens—and the people she meets—promise to change her life forever.

1944: When land girl Beth Pedley arrives at a farm on the outskirts of the village of Highbury, all she wants is to find a place she can call home. Cook Stella Adderton, on the other hand, is desperate to leave Highbury House to pursue her own dreams. And widow Diana Symonds, the mistress of the grand house, is anxiously trying to cling to her pre-war life now that her home has been requisitioned and transformed into a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. But when war threatens Highbury House’s treasured gardens, these three very different women are drawn together by a secret that will last for decades.

LANA’S WAR by Anita Abriel | January 12

Paris 1943: Lana Antanova is on her way to see her husband with the thrilling news that she is pregnant. But when she arrives at the convent where he teaches music, she’s horrified to see Gestapo officers execute him for hiding a Jewish girl in the piano.

A few months later, grieving both her husband and her lost pregnancy, Lana is shocked when she’s approached to join the resistance on the French Riviera. As the daughter of a Russian countess, Lana has the perfect background to infiltrate the émigré community of Russian aristocrats who socialize with German officers, including the man who killed her husband.

Lana’s cover story makes her the mistress of Guy Pascal, a wealthy Swiss industrialist and fellow resistance member, in whose villa in Cap Ferrat she lives. Together, they gather information on upcoming raids and help members of the Jewish community escape. Consumed by her work, she doesn’t expect to become attached to a young Jewish girl or wonder about the secrets held by the man whose house she shares. And as the Nazis’ deadly efforts intensify, her intention to protect those around her may put them all at risk instead.