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June mini-review round up!

Burntown by Jennifer McMahon | April 25, 2017

As a child, Eva watched as her father Miles created the most marvelous inventions in his workshop. Little machines and knickknacks, clockwork animals, but there was one that stood apart from the rest. Built from blueprints rumored to have been stolen from Thomas Edison himself, Miles constructed a machine that had the ability to communicate with the dead. Unfortunately for Miles, someone had been watching his family a little too closely for a little too long and before Eva knew it, she was all alone in the world.

It’s no secret that I absolutely adore Jennifer McMahon! Her books are always fab and often creepy enough for me to only read them in broad daylight – with every light on (I also highlighted her novels in a GoodReads Recommends post). We were even lucky enough to score her for a giveaway in a #HistoricalFix chat! So to say I was looking forward to Burntown is something of an understatement. I hate to say it, but this one just didn’t live up to what I’ve come to expect from McMahon’s novels and that’s such a disappointment.

Eva, now Necco, went from living with a band of women who eat fire and have visions to living in a car with her boyfriend (she later learns he’s the son of a pretty high profile political player). There’s a high school student who can’t believe it when a girl in college starts flirting with her, only to realize too late she was just a pawn for a guy who sells drugs (the oh so super hot college girl? turns out she’s the drug dealer’s girlfriend and they were only using her as a way to bring in some new customers, if you will). Finally, there’s a lunchlady who dreams of becoming as obese as possible and has crafted an elaborate circus inside her apartment. The big baddie is a man in a chicken mask. Burntown was just too odd and all over the place, part drug scene, part crime novel, part paranormal. I hate to say it but this one did NOT work for me.

Thank you to Doubleday for providing me with an ARC!

Single-Minded by Lisa Daily | June 27, 2017

Alex met Michael in Kindergarten and immediately started planning their wedding. Now 31, the two have a beautiful house and careers they love – they seem to have the perfect life, right? Alex certainly though so until the media lets her in on a little secret: Michael, a sportscaster for ESPN has been carrying on an affair with a college basketball player. Suddenly the life Alex thought she knew is crumbling around her and the husband she thought she’d grow old with is now her ex-husband.

Okay, so this sounded like such a breezy summer read. On the second page Alex learns that Michael is gay and you’d think she’d be upset right? …she really doesn’t have much of a reaction apart from being offended that the media believes she’s a man since Michael is gay and married. This is the guy she’s been in love with since she was 5 years old! Instead they throw a divorce-slash-coming out party where Michael dons a ‘pink sparkly tiara’ and leather pants and is about as stereotypical as you can imagine. Immediately Alex’s two besties (AND Michael) launch into a plan for finding the perfect guy and there’s a ridiculous checklist of ‘types’ Alex is required to date and/or sleep with before settling down again. Fireman, yogi, quarterback. It’s absurd.

Thank you to Thomas Dunne Books for providing me with an ARC!

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill | September 3, 2013

I went into the office super early on a Saturday to get some work done and wanted an audiobook to pass the time. There were a few requests I put in that weren’t available yet, so I began browsing and All Our Yesterdays caught my eye: a standalone + time-travel?? YES PLEASE!

Em is imprisoned in a top secret military base where she has instructions – written in her own handwriting – on how to prevent the creation of a time machine that could utterly destroy the world. With each failed attempt, however, she’s led back to her bleak present inside her cell where a sadistic doctor inflicts torture. Since she was a child, Marina has loved her best friend James, a science genius from a VERY well-known family. One night James’s world is turned upside-down and Marina vows to do everything in her power to protect him. If only she knew who was truly to blame..

I don’t have a whole lot to say here apart from the fact that this one was really intriguing and fun! I think Em is from four years in the future..?? Though I love me a good audio (and this one was great), I wonder if I missed out on a few crucial details that would have stuck out to me in writing. Still, this one was really enjoyable and I’m thrilled that Cristin has a new book out!!

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston | January 3, 2017

I. Love. Nonfiction. Back in January, I highlighted this one is my nonfiction novels of 2017 I needed to get my hands on and have been on the waitlist for the audio since then! The second my turn came I pounced and ended up spending the better part of a day outside doing yardwork because I was so caught up in this story!

A rumored El Dorado-like city, the most venomous snake in the world, a deadly disease where the only known treatment could also kill you. There’s also a really interesting history of bananas and how they came to America! Tell me that doesn’t scream my name.

Though I own several of Preston’s novels, the only other book of his I’ve read is another nonfiction, The Monster of Florence. Seriously, if you’re into intense, gripping, fascinating stories that read like fiction, check him out. Both books were excellent and I’m really looking forward to his actual fiction novels!

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Second Chance Season by Liora Blake

Second Chance Season by Liora Blake
Pub. Date: June 20, 2017
Summary: Garrett Strickland is unapologetically country, fiercely loyal, and perfectly happy with his job at the Hotchkiss Co-op. Garrett is all about living in the present and not dwelling in the past—even if he was once on his way to a lofty agricultural sciences degree that would guarantee the brightest of futures, only to end up back home when his old man died, leaving behind a debt-ridden family farm that was impossible to keep afloat. After that, it was easy to see why dreaming big wasn’t worth the heartache. And until he crosses paths with a city girl who’s hell-bent on kick-starting her own future, he’s sure that good enough is just that.

Cara Cavanaugh is ready for more from life, even if that means changing everything; including dumping her boyfriend of ten years, turning down a lucrative job at a major newspaper, and leaving behind the upscale suburbs of Chicago where she grew up. Now, she just has to pray that temporarily relocating to the middle of nowhere in Colorado will be the first step in building a career as a freelance journalist—all she has to do is prove she’s got what it takes to make a name for herself. Unfortunately, her tony country day school is as close to “country” as she’s ever been. But when a goodhearted guy who looks like he just stumbled out of a country music video offers to help, she ends up falling hard…and discovering that the perfect story is a love story. And it’s theirs.
Genre: Contemporary Romance

When Second Chance Season showed up at my door I was more than intrigued: I’ve been eager to read more contemporary romance novels and this one featured one of my favorite tropes, a couple that are total opposites in every way possible. I all but threw aside the other novel I had been reading just so I could dive into this one!

When Cara Cavanaugh gives up her cushy journalist position to go freelance, it naturally comes as a surprise to her parents. When she breaks up with her politically powerful boyfriend-almost-fiance and moves from her plush life in Chicago to middle of nowhere Colorado to write a piece on the changing agricultural business, her parents think she’s completely lost her mind. Even still, Cara throws caution to the wind and piles her belongings in a storage pod to be shipping to her new home sweet home for the next eight weeks.

Although Garrett Strickland is a country boy through and though, he wanted to make something of himself and was well on his way to earning his degree when he received the news that his father passed and left him with a horribly rundown farm – and a massive debt. While the thought of selling the family home was crushing, Garrett knew what had to be done and now makes a living working at the town co-op. It’s far from the life he envisioned for himself but Garrett’s content. That is, until a Lexus hybrid with out-of-state plates rolls into town.

I’m going to keep this one relatively short: I loved this book. A lot. As in tore through it and when I wasn’t reading it I was counting down the time until I could get back to it. Prior to Second Chance Season showing up in the mail I had never heard of Liora Blake before and now that I have…look out! She has a sizable backlist (along with another Grand Valley novel – Second Chance Season is actually the second in the series) and I couldn’t be more excited!

I’ve noticed that with a lot of New Adult and contemporary romance novels the actual plot takes a backseat to the bedroom. That isn’t so with Second Chance Season. Liora Blake created an amazing cast of characters who feel totally true to life (even the gun-toting, ex-military, backwoods survivalist nut who only appears in one scene). From the locals in Hotchkiss to the socialites in Chicago, these characters felt real. Grand Valley itself also felt incredibly authentic with its mix of generations-old farmers and ranchers living alongside new up-and-comers who gave up their high profile (and high paying) careers to try their hand at wine or beer.

Don’t let my praise of the setting fool you though – there’s definitely romance here. While it’s not exactly instalove, I’d say there’s certainly instalust between Garrett and Cara and I couldn’t wait to see their relationship unfold, knowing all the while that Cara’s time in Hotchkiss was finite. Once her story was written she’d be on her way home. Initially they both accept that this fun summer fling has a deadline – and that’s okay – until they realize they’re truly falling for each other.

One thing I want to point out is the fact that Cara is older. She turns 28 in the novel and Garrett is 25 – being older than Matt, I absolutely loved this detail!

Blake’s Grand Valley series is one where each book follows a different couple. I’m dying to go pick up a copy of the first book now! The couple in that novel is heavily featured in Second Chance Season and they were among my favorite characters, so I’m super interested in seeing their backstory! At the end of Second Chance Season there was an excerpt from the third book and UGH the wait for it will be an absolute killer. It seems to take place at pretty much the same time as Second Chance Season and I’m curious to see how much of a presence Garrett and Cara have.

There are times when it seems publicists know my taste in books better than I do. I wouldn’t have come across Second Chance Season on my own and am thrilled it reached my door. I’m totally hooked and can’t wait to read, not only the first book in the series, but the rest of Liora Blake’s novels! Second Chance Season is by far one of my favorite books I’ve read this year and once I’ll be revisiting often. If you like true, authentic settings and a beautifully crafted cast of characters, do yourself a favorite and pick up a copy.

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weekly wrap-up 6/25

• A certain someone turned 3 months old this week! If you came to my house you would legit think we had a baby – teething rings, baby gates in pretty much every room/hallway, you name it. WELL. One night after work I was in the kitchen and heard Nacho up against the gate between the kitchen and dining room. (The gates aren’t an issue at all for Bay btw, she just hops right over them haha.) I didn’t think anything of it and went back to making food…only to hear a little thud behind me. So much for the baby gates! He’s able to hop onto both couches, climb up the stairs.. he’s growing too fast :(!

• I’ve been hearing about Sawbones for months now and finally decided to listen to an episode one night. I’m hooked! This podcast is hosted by a husband (the comic relief) and wife (a doctor) and they explore all kinds of odd and interesting medical bits from history. For more podcasty goodness, head over to my post from October where I discussed 4 podcasts I love!

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? I honestly wasn’t sure what to think of Chloe Esposito’s Mad, the first in a contemporary/action/chick-lit series, but I was pleasantly surprised! Alvie has just been fired from her job and kicked out of her apartment by her roommates – as it happens, her twin sister Beth desperately needs to talk to her and invites her for a vacation at Beth’s Italian villa. What should be a fun, carefree holiday quickly spirals out of control once Alvie assumes Beth’s identity. A shocking body count and the mafia come into play too. Totally over-the-top and absurd, but this was fun.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said for The Breakdown. The latest from B.A. Paris was my most anticipated read of 2017! I loved Behind Closed Doors and couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one. …it was awful.

Indian Summer by Marcia Willett
A quiet English village and uncovered secrets that threaten to tear families apart. Does Marcia know me or what?? I have never heard of this author before (she has over 20 novels!) but that one sentence and the book’s slim size are definitely calling my name. Thank you, Thomas Dunne Books!

Hello, Sunshine by Laura Davis
Back in April I received an ARC of this one and the hardcover looks beautiful! While I wasn’t a huge fan of Eight Hundred Grapes, this new novel sounds REALLY intriguing: a lifestyle blogger with a hit YouTube cooking show and several bestsellers (and one gorgeous husband) seems to have it all. Until a secret is revealed. You know I love me some secrets!! Thank you, Simon & Schuster!

Single-Minded by Lisa Daily
Another novel I received as an ARC and another that sounds fantastic. The moment Alex met Michael in Kindergarten she began planning their wedding. Now at 28, the two are indeed married with a beautiful house and great careers. Then Michael drops a massive bombshell: he’s gay. This has beach read written all over it. Thank you, Thomas Dunne Books!

The House of Dreams by Kate Lord Brown
Bouncing between 2000 and the 1940s, this novel tells the story of a celebrated painter, a young journalist, the real Casablanca, and a rescue mission during WWII. All of this screams my name! Thank you, Thomas Dunne Books!

The Diplomat’s Daughter by Karin Tanabe
In the months after Pearl Harbor, Emi – the daughter of a Japanese diplomat – finds herself in an internment camp in Texas. While there, she meets the son of German-born parents who were unfairly arrested, and soon a romance forms between the pair. Internment camps aren’t usually seen in WWII historical fiction and I’m especially curious about the secondary setting: Japanese-occupied Shanghai. There seems to be a LOT going on in this book (there’s also Emi’s first love, a Jewish man who goes through his own unspeakable horror during the war) but it sounds really engrossing and potentially heartbreaking. Thank you, Washington Square Press!

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when my most anticipated read of 2017 was a huge letdown.

The Breakdown by B.A. Paris
Pub. Date: July 18, 2017
Source: e-ARC via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!)
Summary: Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside―the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped.

But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby.

The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt.

Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…
Genre: Psychological Suspense

Behind Closed Doors was not only one of my Top Reads of 2016, it’s one of my favorite books period. It was absolutely horrifying – particularly because it could (and does) so easily happen – and I was unable to look away or get it out of my thoughts. A year later I’m still recommending it. Naturally when I heard about the follow-up I began counting down the days until it was in my hands (and fangirled hard over it in my post about the mystery/suspense novels of 2017 I needed to get my hands on).

Despite promising her husband she won’t take a shortcut through the woods on her way home, Cass does exactly that, knowing all too well how tricky the road can be to navigate during a storm…but it’ll shave a good chunk of time off her trip. Halfway down the road she sees a car pulled off to the side, its lights on. Cass debates stopping, but one too many crime dramas has her convinced this is all a setup, she’ll be robbed, shot, left in a ditch somewhere. Besides, the woman didn’t look up or flag her down as Cass drove by; she obviously already called a tow truck or someone to come to her aid. It isn’t until the following morning that Cass learns the devastating news – the woman had been brutally killed and, worse still, Cass actually knew her.

As the days following the murder turn into weeks, Cass can’t seem to get the woman out of her head. Her guilt slowly gives way to paranoia as she begins receiving mysterious phone calls. When she answers, she doesn’t hear anyone on the other end, but she knows there’s someone there. Things get even worse as Cass starts to forget little, everyday things: where did she put her car keys, what gift had been agreed upon for her friend’s birthday. Being so busy a lunch date with a friend is forgotten seems trivial, but for Cass, it could lead to something bigger. Cass’s mother passed away from complications due to dementia (something Cass has kept from her husband) and as her insignificant mishaps build (a baby stroller arrived that Cass doesn’t remember purchasing – not to mention she and Matthew don’t have any children) she fears she’s headed down the same path.

All of this sounds really thrilling, right? Unfortunately, The Breakdown was a huge letdown. I’m actually a little surprised this novel and Behind Closed Doors were written by the same author. Because of the VERY tiny cast of characters, it’s obvious from the start what’s going on, despite Paris’s weak attempts at tossing in a few red herrings. There were scenes and sentences that were so juvenile I contemplated abandoning the book completely. While I’m glad I didn’t, I can’t say The Breakdown ever really picked up steam.

Early on Cass quits her job as a teacher (the book opens in the summer while Cass is on break) and from there, her days are literally spent either a) asleep after popping prescription meds or b) out shopping to avoid being in the house alone. That’s it. There are a few lunch dates with her bestie thrown in, but apart from that, Cass does nothing. The chapters read more like a series of reactions Cass has to the phantom caller or a neighbor walking by her house. Not once does she think to actually do something about her fears. Instead, she swallows pills and sleeps the day away until Matthew comes home. Even things that would seem to be common sense (like checking her calendar where her lunch dates, appointments, etc have been penciled in) goes right over her head.

The one thing The Breakdown has going for it is that it’s an extremely quick read, largely aided by the fact that the final few chapters seem to be entirely written out in texts. Texts that rehash everything that has happened in the novel to that point. This was unnecessary, aggravating, and a cheap copout to wrap up the book.

For my most anticipated read of the year to turn out to be such a dud is SO upsetting. Behind Closed Doors was a phenomenal read, yet it’s The Breakdown that feels more like a debut with its weak twists, juvenile writing, and an all too predictable plot. While I’m fine with awful characters that have zero redeeming qualities, a lack of common sense is something I absolutely cannot tolerate, though I suppose there wouldn’t be a book had Cass demonstrated some level of intelligence. I’m so disappointed with this one and I’m hoping B.A. Paris will be back to form with her next novel. If you’re looking for a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat ride, The Breakdown is not it.

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An Italian villa, the Mafia, and a stolen identity.

Mad by Chloe Esposito
Pub. Date: June 13, 2017
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Dutton!)
Summary: In this compulsively readable debut, set between London and Sicily over one blood-drenched week in the dead of summer, an identical twin reveals the crazy lies and twists she’ll go through to not only steal her sister’s perfect life, but to keep on living it.
Genre: Contemporary, Beach Read

As children, Alvie and her twin sister Elizabeth were practically inseparable. Though it was clear from the start Beth was their mother’s favorite (she got a fancy helmet while Alvie got a trip to the hospital after crashing their scooter when they were 8, in a school Christmas play Beth had the coveted role of Mary…while Alvie was the back end of a donkey), the sisters nevertheless stuck together. As they grew older, however, it quickly became apparent that Beth was born to shine, whereas Alvie developed a taste for arson and shoplifting.

Two years after Beth’s fabulously over-the-top wedding to a ridiculously wealthy Italian, they still have yet to speak to one another. That is, until Beth begins e-mailing Alvie, begging her to come for a visit. As Alvie has just been fired from her dead-end job (and kicked out of her awful apartment – all in the same day), she really has no reason not to leave London. What awaits her in Italy, however, is unlike anything she had ever imagined.

Mad is the first in Esposito’s Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know Trilogy and was, well, totally bonkers. Seriously. Alvie and Beth swap identities (initially Alvie is okay with it – Beth has a closet bursting with designer labels and a personal hairdresser on speed dial). Little does Alvie know the real reason Beth wanted to switch places. That hunky millionaire husband of hers? He not only has ties to the mafia, but he’s in deep with a lost Caravaggio. He just needs to close the deal and he’ll be a few million dollars richer – naturally it would go for triple the amount at auction, but, hey, it’s on the FBI’s watch list after being stolen a couple of decades earlier. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Beth wants out of that life, but in order to make a new start with her baby, she needs Alvie. Unfortunately for Alvie, she doesn’t realize that she’s meant to die. Whoops. With each chapter the body count grows – the mafia doesn’t play around, folks.

Though it’s not entirely believable, Mad is surprisingly fun. It’s an extremely quick, totally easy-breezy read that’s absolutely perfect for an afternoon spent lounging by a pool. Alvie is definitely not a likable character (and I could have done without all of the sex scenes – at one point, Alvie mentions that in the past few years she’s sleep with over 300 men), but Mad read like a cheesy made-for-tv movie and I am all about that life. While this book won’t be making any Top Ten lists, it was highly entertaining and I’m actually looking forward to the next!

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weekly wrap-up 6/18

• I took a teensy break from the blog last week, so this wrap-up will be short and sweet! A VERY happy Father’s Day to all you papas out there – do you have anything special planned? My brother’s birthday is next week, so we’re doing a joint Father’s Day/birthday get together this afternoon.

The Light in Summer by Mary McNear
Stick a dog in a book and there’s a good chance it’ll be in my hands. This guy’s name is Murphy and his owner, Billy Harper, is coming to terms with her past, the arrival of a new man to Butternut Lake, and the return of her son’s disappeared-before-he-was-even-born father. This is a total summer, beach read and I’m eager to dive in! I’ve read another book in this series and enjoyed it, so I’m pretty excited to see where this one goes. Thank you, William Morrow!

Everything Must Go by Jenny Fran Davis
Flora has fallen hard for Elijah, so when he tells her about a hippie Quaker academy where he’ll be teaching next year, she practically tosses aside her elite prep school to hightail it for life on a farm. The only problem? When Flora arrives, Elijah doesn’t show up. This one sounds super fun and seems to be an epistolary novel – told solely through letters, e-mails, diary entries, etc. Thank you, Wednesday Books!

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken
Centuries ago Prosper’s ancestor made a pact with a demon. …and then broke it. Shockingly, the demon isn’t the type to forgive and forget and now he’s taken up residence inside Prosper. Okay, so I really don’t know much about this one but what I do know sounds REALLY fun. Thank you, Disney-Hyperion!

The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke
This has been getting some SERIOUS buzz and I’m not surprised – it sounds awesome! 1988 East Berlin, time travel, dark magic. Yep, count me in! Thank you, Albert Whitman Company!

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weekly wrap-up 6/11

He’s lucky he’s cute. This week Nacho (and Bay totally went along with it too, that traitor!) decided the best time to play is in the middle of the night. So, yeah, not a lot of sleeping has been happening for ANY of us ha.

• Remember when I mentioned one of my friends was hired by my company? WELL, later this month another will be starting too! We all used to work together and I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am that three of us will be together again. Another friend submitted a resume and I put in a good word for him with the Big Boss, so fingers crossed! We’re busy enough to where we’re mostly at our desks all day, so it doesn’t leave much room to actually see them, but you know, IMs and e-mails and lunch dates. Just the idea that my besties are a few feet away makes the day SO much better ♥

• Last April I shared a SUPER simple (and vegan!) recipe for a Thai cucumber noodle bowl. It’s still one of my go-tos and I love how customizable it is. Have some tofu on hand? Toss it in! Not a fan of chickpeas? Throw in peas or carrots instead! Matt’s grandparents winter in Florida and now that they’re home we got together for dinner. Everyone brought a dish and this was mine – I’m THRILLED to say it was a huge hit!

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? Gail Godwin’s Grief Cottage wasn’t the ghost story I thought it would be (the summary is VERY misleading), but it was such a richly detailed, broody, atmospheric novel that I didn’t mind one bit! This book is the definition of slow – don’t go in expecting action-packed scenes – but, again, I’m the kind of gal who loves sinking into a novel and going through the characters’ day-to-day lives. Bonus points for having an absolutely perfect cover, too!

It’s been a while since I’ve done a GoodReads Recommends post but this week I featured contemporary romance titles! A dog, an online friendship, and a fake girlfriend. All of these are calling my name.

Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules for Spying by Amanda Hosch
An aunt is arrested for leading a smuggling ring. Another aunt shows up demanding to see the family’s private museum. Mabel hasn’t seen her parents in days. Something’s definitely fishy and Mabel, armed with her self-written spy handbook, is determined to get to the bottom of it. Thank you, Capstone!

Zinnia and the Bees by Danielle Davis
You know things are bad when a colony of bees that mistake your hair for a hive is the least of your problems! Detention for yarn-bombing a statue – on the last day of school, a brother who mysteriously vanishes, poor Zinnia is having a monster of a bad day. This one has a touch of magical realism and I am swooning already. Thank you, Capstone!

Odd & True by Cat Winters
Like I need a reason to get all grabby-hands over a new Cat Winters book! A magician’s curse, a monster-slaying mother, Tru grew up hearing her sister’s stories, but now she wonders if they were less fact and more comfort: a bout of polio as a child left Tru permanently disabled. Then Odette suddenly reappears after two years, brandishing weapons and tales of horrific beasts. Historical, paranormal, sisters…this has my name all over it!! Thank you, Amulet Books!