The Second-Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street by Cory Putnam Oakes

The Second-Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street by Cory Putnam Oakes
Pub. Date: August 18, 2020
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Amulet Books!)
Summary: Twelve-year-old Willow Ivan’s family has run the Hotel Ivan for four hundred years. Through thick and thin, they’ve held on tight to their title as the Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street. That is, until the Hauntery—a corporate chain of haunted hotels—moves in down the street. As the Ivan’s business fades, so do their ghostly staff. And Willow begins to worry that The Ivan’s days are numbered.

Then Willow meets Evie, a Hauntery ghost who’s forced to play the part of a Spooky Little Girl even though she longs to be a Terrifying Phantasm. So when Willow offers her a job at The Ivan, Evie accepts—but she doesn’t tell Willow that she’s still working for The Ivan’s competition, for fear of losing her new job and friend.

Together, the girls come up with a plan to save The Ivan. But with The Ivan ghosts already fading and Evie’s secret threatening to come out, will it be too late?
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

For four hundred years the Hotel Ivan has been ranked the Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street. Unfortunately, a new hotel moves in, the Hauntery, a nation-wide chain of haunted hotels…and each one consistently receives 5-star ratings. How long can a tiny, family-run operation last against a corporate giant?

As if hotel woes weren’t enough for Willow to worry about, she’s left to pick up the pieces after her mom’s sudden death six months ago. Her father fell into a deep depression, leaving Willow to run the hotel nearly on her own. Bills have been going unpaid, deliveries weren’t being made, and – worst of all – some of the staff have begun fading, eventually they’ll leave this world for the next.

Evie’s family have recently been hired at the Hauntery. Much to Evie’s chagrin, she and her cousin are tasked to be the Spooky Little Girls, decked out in pigtails and frilly dresses, beckoning patrons to come play. What Evie would much rather do is be a frightening Phantasm – and she suddenly gets her shot after a chance encounter with Willow leads to a job. What Willow doesn’t know, however, is that Evie also works for the competition…and Evie is in no rush to confess.

The Second-Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street was an absolute delight from the very first page. Willow’s world is one where ghosts are not only a part of everyday life, they’re big business. The ghosts on the Hotel Ivan’s staff have been there decades – some have been around for centuries, unlike the Hauntery who runs their chain with laser precision. They have handbooks and uniforms, roles each character needs to play, and going off-script results in a swift termination. They’re the corporate bigwigs gunning for the small mom-and-pop inn, but the Hotel Ivan isn’t going down without a fight.

On the surface The Second-Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street sounds like a fun, light-hearted read – and it certainly is! But it also has a few surprises up its sleeve. Topics like mental health and depression are addressed as Willow’s dad all but becomes a shell of his former self with the death of Willow’s mom. He does zero parenting, lets the staff run the hotel, skips out of the therapy appointments Willow sets. There’s also an issue I’ve never seen come up before: truancy. When Willow’s mother died, Willow took it upon herself to keep the business running, and that meant school was no longer part of the equation. And her father’s despair is so great, he doesn’t even notice. Willow doesn’t allow herself to deal with her own grief – twelve-years-old and running a business.

I was also completely and pleasantly caught off guard by a pair of hotel ghosts: Leo and Alford, a married couple. And Leo has a drag persona, Leonata. So fun and just part of the story, rather than an Important Talking Point.

The Second-Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street is a total delight from the start: a David and Goliath story with ghosts. There’s witty wordplay, an LGBT ghost couple, and fun callbacks to horror tropes. It’s also a story with a hidden depth and tackles heavy topics like depression and grief. I tore through this one in no time and look forward to what the author does next!

Sunday Things.


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10 style trends that will be everywhere this fall via Forbes. I’m on board with some of these (athleisure! fashion statement masks!) while I wouldn’t touch others if you paid me (leather Bermuda shorts, just typing that had me gagging).

• For the first time ever, The Oprah Magazine cover will not feature Oprah. Instead, the September 2020 issues will showcase Breonna Taylor.

• As if the world needed another reason to love Garth Brooks: he removed himself from the CMA Entertainer of the Year. He’s already won the award a whopping seven times, more than any other nominee, and decided to step down to let the next generation of Country artists take over.

• Asking the important questions: what’s the best human brain alternative for hungry zombies?

How Hemingway felt about fatherhood

Our image of dinosaurs was shaped by Victorian popularity contests

• No one should be surprised by where these professors fall: Defense Against the Dark Arts teaches ranked by competency

Cowboy Bebop soundtracks are now on Spotify.

weekly wrap-up 8/1

• This will be a short post today thanks to a somewhat quiet week, but I wanted to say HAPPY AUGUST! Y’all, this year is flying by.

• I took off Thursday due to a surgery Matt was having and deciding…well why not take off more time. The company I work for has been really phenomenal and have been urging people to take time off to relax and recharge – even if we can’t go on actual vacations. And that’s what I’ll be doing until the 10th. We’ve got some home projects that need done and have a few things going on this coming week (a new stove is being delivered, a roofing company is coming on Monday to give some estimates) so sadly this time off won’t be 100% relaxation but that’s okay!

• As I’m typing this post, I have these chocolate zucchini brownies in the oven and they smell amazing!

• Book-talk: I’m currently reading The Great Gatsby graphic novel and shared some of the gorgeous artwork in my IG stories! I’m also making my way through Kiss My Cupcake, a rom-com featuring two rival business owners. Fun and fluffy – perfect staycation reading!

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
While last week featured a handful a posts, this week has been pretty quiet. Just one post went up: Sunday Things: cowboy romance novels, another recipe I’m looking forward to trying, idk some girl named Taylor Swift released a new album.

THIS WEEK ON INSTAGRAM
Again, also a quiet one where the previous week was nonstop: Gatsby!

Sunday Things

• Yesterday was National Cowboy Day and bookstagram showed up with all the cowboy romance recs! The two in my photo are part of Carly Bloom’s Once Upon a Time in Texas series, fairytale-inspired stories!

• I love cooking shows and channels, both to watch and leave on for background noise. A few days ago I was watching Struggle Meals and this Summer Corn Chowder looked SO easy and delicious!

• On Friday, Amazon released Radioactive, a Marie Curie biopic starring Rosamund Pike – here’s the trailer. Y’all, I don’t know what rock I’ve been hiding under, but this is the first I’m hearing of this film!

Did Billionaire Tobacco Heiress Doris Duke Get Away With Murder?

• A little reading update: I’m nearly finished with the audio of Becoming Queen Victoria and yesterday started a novel I’ve been itching to get to for a while, Heiress Apparently. This is one I highlighted earlier in the week. It doesn’t release until December but sounded so fun I couldn’t wait any longer!

• Have you listened to folklore yet???

weekly wrap-up 7/25

• Whoa, long time no see! I just went through old posts to see when the last weekly wrap-up was and…yikes, December!

• Last weekend I took the pups for a lovely, long walk and the very next day there were Facebook posts going around about a bear in the neighborhood. The first sighting was TWO STREETS AWAY. So, yeah, there weren’t many walks this past week ha! This morning though, we woke up nice and early and convinced Matt to tag along – the whole family went and I’m hoping to make it our morning routine going forward. Especially since we’re going to remain at home for the foreseeable future. Starting the day off with a walk will be perfect.

• I mentioned in this week’s Sunday Things post that my library has opened up interlibrary loans again. That miiiight have led me to go a bit request-happy and I’m thrilled that some of them have arrived! I’ve still got a few more currently in transit, but once they all get here I’ll do a library haul post – so excited for these picks!

• ALSO mentioned in that same post (and again in my Recently Added post) was my current Queen Victoria phase. I ended up grabbing the audio of Becoming Queen Victoria and have been tearing through it.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT THIS WEEK
I’ve started a new feature: Sunday Things, something very similar to What’s Making Me Happy and The Saturday Six. This first edition included bits and pieces like how I’m craving sweater weather, a new favorite YouTube channel, the comeback of a fantastic band, I bought something from a Facebook ad, and more!

I shared eight books I’ve Recently Added to my To Read list. There’s a mix of backlist titles, new releases, and a few upcoming novels.

I also shared my thoughts on Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall, a novel that’s getting a ton of buzz. I love a good fake relationship but this one dragged on a good hundred pages too long.

THIS WEEK ON INSTAGRAM
Despite last week being a pretty heavy IG week (for me – four posts!), this week has been quieter: my quarantine project was cleaning out my wardrobe and I gushed over my love of dreamy, summertime florals that make my think of storybook cottages and fairytales.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
Pub. Date: July 7, 2020
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Sourcebooks!)
Summary: Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.
Genre: LGBT, Contemporary Romance

A few decades ago Luc’s parents were household names worldwide: his father, a rock star; his mother, a one-hit wonder who’s still comfortably living off the royalty checks. Now his dad is aiming for a comeback as one of the hosts/team leaders on a singing competition show…and he’s hoping for another chance to get to know the son he walked out on over twenty years ago.

While Luc is perfectly content to continue working for a dung beetle nonprofit and failing at relationships, his father’s reemergence in the spotlight also puts a spotlight on Luc. And it’s a less-than-favorite light. With his drunken escapades splashed on the front pages, Luc needs to do some image PR – and fast before he loses more dung beetle donors.

Enter Oliver. A perfectly bland, perfectly boring lawyer who’s an ethical vegetarian and regularly changes his sheets, Oliver is just the ticket: a few fake dates is exactly what Luc needs to clean up his spoiled reputation. Unfortunately fake-dating can feel an awful lot like real-dating…

Fake relationships is my ultimate trope. I love it. If there’s a fake relationship in a book, chances are I will absolutely read it. Boyfriend Material was no different: the moment I first heard about it I knew it needed to be in my life ASAP.

Let’s start off with the good, mmkay? The representation. Just about every single main character is LGBT. Luc and Oliver are gay as are two of Luc’s closest friends. Luc’s ex is now dating their token (in their words) straight friend. Rounding out the group is a Muslim lesbian couple. Apart from the one bestie, all the straight characters take a backseat in this novel which was refreshing to see.

The humor was also great – several times I caught myself actually laughing aloud. Luc’s mother was also an absolute delight and completely shone in any scene she was in. And how can I pass up a career at a dung beetle nonprofit.

And, disappointingly, that’s where the good ends. I wanted to rip my hair out every time Luc or Oliver “broke up” with the other, only to go crawling back hours later. They fed off the other’s drama and I was not having it. I can deal with one over-the-top, climactic, break-up scene before the couple realizes they’re Meant To Be and live happily ever after. In Boyfriend Material I honestly lost count the number of times they called it off – the last time I truly thought it was for good as the end of the book was drawing to a close and they still hadn’t gotten back together.

Luc’s dad, that entire storyline, was another downfall of this novel. The book could have benefited from a hundred or so pages cut…and this would have been just the part to get the ax. It added nothing to the story (apart from further drama), led to a big cancer reveal, then led to a nope, it’s not cancer reveal. The reader is then left to decide whether the dad lied about his diagnosis or if he truly believe he had cancer. Yawn.

While Boyfriend Material had a lot of good within its pages, it was outweighed by the bad, by the meh, by the eye-rolling. There were genuinely funny moments that had me giggling, but the unending drama between Luc and Oliver – the countless break-ups, the arguments through bathroom doors and constantly pushing the other away because of feelings made this book feel every single one of its 400+ pages.

Recently Added.

Happy Monday, friends! Quarantine life has been brutal to my TBR stacks – so many phenomenal books are coming out this year and with all the time I’ve been at home I’ve done some serious deep-dives into backlist titles.

Today I wanted to share 8 books I’ve recently added to my To Read list.

Becoming Queen Victoria: The Tragic Death of Princess Charlotte and the Unexpected Rise of Britain’s Greatest Monarch by Kate Williams

Toward the end of the eighteenth century, monarchies across Europe found themselves in crisis. With mad King George III and his delinquent offspring tarnishing the realm, the English pinned their hopes on the only legitimate heir to the throne: the lovely and prudent Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince of Wales and granddaughter of the king. Sadly, those dreams faded when, at age twenty-one, she died after a complicated pregnancy and stillbirth. While a nation grieved, Charlotte’s power-hungry uncles plotted quickly to produce a new heir. Only the Duke of Kent proved successful in his endeavor, with the birth of a girl named Victoria.

Writing with a combination of novelistic flair and historical precision, Williams reveals an energetic and vibrant woman in the prime of her life, while chronicling the byzantine machinations behind Victoria’s struggle to occupy the throne—scheming that continued even after the crown was placed on her head.

Upon hearing of the death of her predecessor, King William IV, Victoria—in her bold first act as queen—banished her overambitious mother from the room, a simple yet resolute move that would set the tone for her reign. The queen clashed constantly not only with her mother and her mother’s adviser, the Irish adventurer John Conroy, but with her ministers and even her beloved Prince Albert, all of whom, in one way or another, attempted to seize control from her.

By connecting Charlotte’s sad fate to Victoria’s majestic rule, Kate Williams lays bare the passions that swirled around the throne—the court secrets, the sexual repression, and the endless intrigue. The result is a grand and satisfying tale of a woman whose destiny began long before she was born and whose legacy lives on.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been on a Queen Victoria kick and this bio looks fascinating.

The Body in the Garden by Katharine Schellman

London 1815. Though newly-widowed Lily Adler is returning to a society that frowns on independent women, she is determined to create a meaningful life for herself even without a husband. She’s no stranger to the glittering world of London’s upper crust. At a ball thrown by her oldest friend, Lady Walter, she expects the scandal, gossip, and secrets. What she doesn’t expect is the dead body in Lady Walter’s garden.

Lily overheard the man just minutes before he was shot: young, desperate, and attempting blackmail. But she’s willing to leave the matter to the local constables–until Lord Walter bribes the investigating magistrate to drop the case. Stunned and confused, Lily realizes she’s the only one with the key to catching the killer.

Aided by a roguish navy captain and a mysterious heiress from the West Indies, Lily sets out to discover whether her friend’s husband is mixed up in blackmail and murder. The unlikely team tries to conceal their investigation behind the whirl of London’s social season, but the dead man knew secrets about people with power. Secrets that they would kill to keep hidden. Now, Lily will have to uncover the truth, before she becomes the murderer’s next target.

London’s upper crust, roguish navy captains, murder! Sign me up!

I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee

Skye Shin has heard it all. Fat girls shouldn’t dance. Wear bright colors. Shouldn’t call attention to themselves. But Skye dreams of joining the glittering 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.

She’ll challenge thousands of other performers in an internationally televised competition looking for the next K-pop star, and she’ll do it better than anyone else.

When Skye nails her audition, 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 pop entertainment industry, her sudden media fame and scrutiny, or the sparks that soon fly with her fellow competitor, Henry Cho.

But Skye has her sights on becoming the world’s first plus-sized K-pop star, and that means winning the competition—without losing herself.

I am here for any and all K-pop books.

Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbitt | September 8, 2020

When Jake Green opens a mysterious box containing a severed finger, he accidentally summons a grim reaper intent on dragging him to the Eternal Void (yes, it’s as fatal as it sounds). Now Jake is running for his life. Luckily, he has a knack for talking to ghosts, which just might help him survive long enough to reach the Embassy of the Dead and plead his case.

With the help of a prankster poltergeist and a dead undertaker, Jake dodges fearsome undead creatures, discovers his own ghostly abilities, and gets excused from the school field trip due to a terrible (and made-up) bout of diarrhea. But the Embassy has its own problems, and Jake must be very careful where he places his trust–in both the living and the dead. With a plot that zips and a colorful cast of characters, this delightful new series delivers laughs and shivers in equal measure.


This Middle Grade series sounds like a blast – plus it releases on my birthday!

Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade | October 6, 2020

Marcus Caster-Rupp has a secret. While the world knows him as Aeneas, the star of the biggest show on TV, Gods of the Gates, he’s known to fanfiction readers as Book!AeneasWouldNever, an anonymous and popular poster. Marcus is able to get out his own frustrations with his character through his stories, especially the ones that feature the internet’s favorite couple to ship, Aeneas and Lavinia. But if anyone ever found out about his online persona, he’d be fired. Immediately.

April Whittier has secrets of her own. A hardcore Lavinia fan, she’s hidden her fanfiction and cosplay hobby from her “real life” for years—but not anymore. When she decides to post her latest Lavinia creation on Twitter, her photo goes viral. Trolls and supporters alike are commenting on her plus-size take, but when Marcus, one half of her OTP, sees her pic and asks her out on a date to spite her critics, she realizes life is really stranger than fanfiction.

Even though their first date is a disaster, Marcus quickly realizes that he wants much more from April than a one-time publicity stunt. And when he discovers she’s actually Unapologetic Lavinia Stan, his closest fandom friend, he has one more huge secret to hide from her.

With love and Marcus’s career on the line, can the two of them stop hiding once and for all, or will a match made in fandom end up prematurely cancelled?


Olivia is a bookstagram darling right now and her upcoming title sounds SO good!!

Heiress Apparently by Diana Ma | December 1, 2020

Gemma Huang is a recent transplant to Los Angeles from Illinois, having abandoned plans for college to pursue a career in acting, much to the dismay of her parents. Now she’s living with three roommates in a two-bedroom hovel, auditioning for bit roles that hardly cover rent.

Gemma’s big break comes when she’s asked to play a lead role in an update of M. Butterfly filming for the summer in Beijing. When she arrives, she’s stopped by paparazzi at the airport. She quickly realizes she may as well be the twin of one of the most notorious young socialites in Beijing. Thus kicks off a summer of revelations, in which Gemma uncovers a legacy her parents have spent their lives protecting her from—one her mother would conceal from her daughter at any cost.


First off, a disclaimer: I received an early copy of this one. ..and I can’t wait to dive in. This is the first in a “YA series following the fictionalized descendants of the only officially recognized empress regent of China.” UM YES.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones | January 5, 2021

In Baxter Beach, Barbados, moneyed ex-pats clash with the locals who often end up serving them: braiding their hair, minding their children, and selling them drugs. Lala lives on the beach with her husband, Adan, a petty criminal with endless charisma whose thwarted burglary of one of the Baxter Beach mansions sets off a chain of events with terrible consequences. A gunshot no one was meant to witness. A new mother whose baby is found lifeless on the beach. A woman torn between two worlds and incapacitated by grief. And two men driven by desperation and greed who attempt a crime that will risk their freedom — and their lives.


2021 releases already what?? I’m a total sucker for a gorgeous cover.

The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams | January 12, 2021

Mountweazel n. the phenomenon of false entries within dictionaries and works of reference. Often used as a safeguard against copyright infringement.

Peter Winceworth, Victorian lexicographer, is toiling away at the letter ‘S’ for Swansby’s multi-volume Encyclopaedic Dictionary. His disaffection compels him to insert unauthorised fictitious entries into the dictionary in an attempt to assert some sense of individual purpose and artistic freedom.

In the present day, Mallory, a young intern employed by the publisher, is tasked with uncovering these mountweazels before the work is digitised. She also has to contend with threatening phone calls from an anonymous caller. Is the change in the definition of ‘marriage’ really that upsetting? And does the caller really intend for the Swansby’s staff to ‘burn in hell’?

As these two narratives combine, both Winceworth and Mallory discover how they might negotiate the complexities of the often nonsensical, relentless, untrustworthy, hoax-strewn and undefinable path we call life.


Another disclaimer: I have an early copy of this one as well. This is being described as “laugh-out-loud” funny which is fine by me! Books about words, books about made-up words, I’m HERE for it.

Sunday Things.

• Have you ever purchased anything through a Facebook ad? Normally I totally ignore them, but this time I couldn’t resist. I am obsessed with my new Love Thy Neighbor sweatshirt from The Happy Givers!

• Grand Central Publishing is hosting a The Heir Affair read-a-long on Facebook! It’s open to the public – go join! – with discussions taking place from July 20-31.

• Back in March at the start of our lockdown, I shared what I was watching on youtube (and eesh it didn’t age too well, hello there, Bon Appetit). There’s another channel I’ve been coming back to: Absolute History. They have several series, from running an Edwardian farm to inventions that shook the world. Originally I put an episode on just for background noise…and ended up watching the show instead of what I planned on doing! I’ve been binging their Victorian Pharmacy episodes and they’re so fascinating!

• Still in a Victorian mood, I ended up doing a deep-dive on Queen Victoria’s wiki page and clicking around from link to link, from her children to their children to various ruling houses of Europe. Nerd alert, but I can lose hours on Wikipedia!

• A day after announcing they would be opening to the public, my library reversed their decision and I don’t blame them one bit. (Honestly, I would have stuck with curbside pick-up and their e-catalog if they did decide to move forward.) What’s exciting now is that they’re doing interlibrary loans! They had put those on hold these past few months and now it’s back and I am THRILLED! I might have gone a little request happy this week, whoops!

• Via NPR: an interview with the (former Dixie) Chicks. I couldn’t be happier that they’re back!!

Joanna Cole, author of The Magic School Bus has passed away.

Smithsonian scholars reflect on the legacy of Civil Rights icon John Lewis

• Y’all, I am craving sweater weather. These temps in the 90s have me longing for chilly, foggy mornings spent on the porch sinking into good reads.

Not Like the Movies by Kerry Winfrey

Not Like the Movies by Kerry Winfrey
Pub. Date: July 7, 2020
Source: e-ARC via publisher (Thank you, Berkley!)
Summary: Chloe Sanderson is an optimist, and not because her life is easy. As the sole caregiver for her father, who has early onset Alzheimer’s, she’s pretty much responsible for everything. She has no time—or interest—in getting swept up in some dazzling romance. Not like her best friend Annie, who literally wrote a rom-com that’s about to premiere in theaters across America…and happens to be inspired by Chloe and Nick Velez, Chloe’s cute but no-nonsense boss.

As the buzz for the movie grows, Chloe reads one too many listicles about why Nick is the perfect man, and now she can’t see him as anything but Reason #2: The Scruffy-Bearded Hunk Who’s Always There When You Need Him. But unlike the romance Annie has written for them, Chloe isn’t so sure her own story will end in a Happily Ever After.
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Picking up where Waiting for Tom Hanks left off, Not Like the Movies plunges readers back into small-town Ohio. This time, however, instead of following rom-com-obsessed Annie, the sequel tells the story of Annie’s best friend Chloe. Unlike her bestie however, Chloe is most definitely not obsessed with love stories or big grand gestures and is absolutely, positively, 100% not involved with her boss, Nick. Unfortunately for Chloe, Annie has followed her screenwriter dreams and her source of inspo? Chloe and Nick…or, rather, Zoe and Rick.

As the movie premiere draws closer, Buzzfeed and other pop culture-y sites churn out listicles stating why Rick is the ultimate dreamboat and bearded boyfriend the world needs, rumor mills start spreading stories of a star-crossed, coffee-scented romance, journalists begin flooding Chloe’s inbox with interview requests. As if being hounded by the press wasn’t bad enough, Chloe has more personal matters at hand: her dad’s battle with Alzheimer’s is worsening by the day and her flighty twin brother has suddenly reappeared back in town. Annie might be convinced there’s a Happily Ever After for everyone, but Chloe isn’t holding her breath.

Waiting for Tom Hanks was one of my top reads of 2019, one of the six books out of the 200 I read that earned that coveted 5-star rating. (Okay, so maybe the eight references to Frasier helped, but still!) It was super cute and fun with all the ’90s movie tropes a girl could want. So naturally when the follow-up was announced it went straight to my TBR list.

If Waiting for Tom Hanks was the girl-meets-celebrity-and-they-fall-madly-in-love story, Not Like the Movies takes more of a girl-and-boy-fight-against-love approach. Everyone, from the customers at the coffee shop to their closest friends are all but shouting at Chloe and Nick to get together, that it’s obvious they’re in love and meant to be. Chloe, though? She doesn’t do ‘meant to be.’ Marriage is not in her future. While she might secretly admit she’s attracted to Nick, she barely has time for herself let alone a committed relationship with feelings. And if that means she’s stuck with casual hook-ups at Mikey Danger’s pizza box-littered place, well then so be it.

When Chloe isn’t resisting her feelings for Nick, she’s facing family issues. A large part of the novel is spent at her dad’s care facility and these scenes were hard. Moments where he was convinced a nurse stole his watch only for it to later be found at the back of the fridge were tough, but the scenes were he had a stretch of clarity were heartbreaking. He knew what was happening and that inner struggle was so hard to read. Chloe’s brother didn’t make those scenes any easier; he shows back up with his boyfriend and expects everything to be hunky dory. Chloe was the one taking care of their dad, footing the medical bills when she could no longer keep him at home. The one time she does ask for help, for a night off, he falls asleep and their dad ends up in the hospital. This entire plot was hard to swallow and I could have easily done without it.

While Not Like the Movies is lacking in ’90s rom-coms, it does have desserts. Holy cow does it have desserts. And cheesy ’80s bops. And classic sitcoms. I would absolutely hang out with Chloe at her place and watch Welcome Back, Kotter while demolishing an array of scones and pie all day long.

Not Like the Movies is sure to please readers of Waiting for Tom Hanks who have been itching for more. Favorite characters from the first book return for the sequel and it has that same quirky charm. Since finishing I have been jamming out to all the ’80s pop playlists and if the temperature wasn’t currently hovering in the mid-90s, I would be baking up a storm.

The Marriage Game by Sara Desai

The Marriage Game by Sara Desai
Pub. Date: June 9, 2020
Source: e-ARC via publisher (Thank you, Berkley!)
Summary: After her life falls apart, recruitment consultant Layla Patel returns home to her family in San Francisco. But in the eyes of her father, who runs a Michelin starred restaurant, she can do no wrong. He would do anything to see her smile again. With the best intentions in mind, he offers her the office upstairs to start her new business and creates a profile on an online dating site to find her a man. She doesn’t know he’s arranged a series of blind dates until the first one comes knocking on her door…

As CEO of a corporate downsizing company Sam Mehta is more used to conflict than calm. In search of a quiet new office, he finds the perfect space above a cozy Indian restaurant that smells like home. But when communication goes awry, he’s forced to share his space with the owner’s beautiful yet infuriating daughter Layla, her crazy family, and a parade of hopeful suitors, all of whom threaten to disrupt his carefully ordered life.

As they face off in close quarters, the sarcasm and sparks fly. But when the battle for the office becomes a battle of the heart, Sam and Layla have to decide if this is love or just a game.
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Layla Patel returns to her family’s home, tail between her legs. Not only did she walk in one her boyfriend with two ladies, but her reaction made its way to the Internet. As if that wasn’t enough of a gut-punch, she was fired. With no job and nowhere to stay, Layla went back to her parents’ arms – and their restaurant. Determined to make a fresh start, Layla decides to go into business for herself, putting her recruitment consultant know-how to good use. Unbeknownst to Layla however, her father uploads her marriage resume to an online dating site, hoping to find his daughter a husband.

Not much frightens Sam Mehta. After all, when you’re the CEO of a corporate downsizing company, thick skin and a no-nonsense attitude are a must. When he finds an available office for rent above an Indian restaurant, it seems perfect. Unfortunately a miscommunication results in his new landlord’s daughter also moving on in to the space. Once potential suitors begin responding to Layla’s profile, Sam realizes this is a win-win: he’ll play the dutiful chaperone and help Layla find a husband. No more yapping dog in the office, no more hideous furniture, no more Layla.

It’s no wonder Sam does MMA with his buddies at 5am every day. If my sole job was to tell people they were fired I’d want to be able to throw a punch or two too. Sam has an ulterior motive, however. His latest contract could be huge…and give him the revenge he’s been seeking. His younger sister had been married to a doctor – Sam’s mentor. Not long into the marriage Nisha was found at the bottom of a flight of stairs (with no memories other than the belief it was her husband who pushed her). Now bound to a wheelchair, Nisha’s a shell of her former self and Sam’s awash with guilt. He walked away from a promising career in medicine; if he couldn’t save his own sister, how could he possibly be expected to save others? Now, however, it looks as though the hospital is in seriously need of downsizing…and Sam knows who’s first on the chopping block.

I don’t have much more to say other than The Marriage Game was so fun. The food! The Bollywood references! The disastrous dates! I was here for every single moment and would 100% watch this as a movie. Sam and Layla had amazing chemistry and their banter was excellent (to the point where I read their solo scenes a bit faster because I wanted to get back to them together in the office, together interrogating a CIA spy or bodybuilder).

There’s a cast chock-full of POC characters and I really can only think of one or two white characters – and they were relegated to the background. If there’s one tiny disappointment I had with The Marriage Game, it’s that there was a secondary romance involved that seemed like it was being set up for a potential sequel. Everything seemed to wrap up with that here, but I would still love to revisit these characters!

With its pages bursting with characters and food and the best banter scenes, The Marriage Game had me tearing through it. This was such a fun read – the only downside was my stomach was growling the entire time!