mini review: Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE PEOPLE WE KEEP by Allison Larkin | August 3

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

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

SO WE MEET AGAIN by Suzanne Park | August 3

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

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

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

BILLY SUMMERS by Stephen King | August 3

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

How about everything.

YOURS CHEERFULLY by AJ Pearce | August 10

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

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

THE KING OF INFINITE SPACE by Lyndsay Faye | August 10

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

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

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

THE SHOW GIRL by Nicola Harrison | August 10

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

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

THE BOOKSELLER’S SECRET by Michelle Gable | August 17

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

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

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

THE DATING PLAYBOOK by Farrah Rochon | August 17

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

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

LIGHTNING STRIKE by William Kent Krueger | August 24

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

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

THE RIVIERA HOUSE by Natasha Lester | August 31

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

THE SECOND MRS. ASTOR by Shana Abe | August 31

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

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

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

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

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

PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir | May 4

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

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

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

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

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

COMING HOME TO SEASHELL HARBOR by Miranda Liasson | May 4

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

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

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

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

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

HOUR OF THE WITCH by Chris Bohjalian | May 4

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

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

ARSENIC AND ADOBO by Mia P. Manansala | May 4

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

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

OUT OF THE SHADOWS by Emily Midorikawa | May 11

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

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

PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION by Emily Henry | May 11

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

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

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

MARY JANE by Jessica Anya Blau | May 11

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

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

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

LONG LOST by Jacqueline West | May 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROSALINE PALMER TAKES THE CAKE by Alexis Hall | May 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE KINGDOMS by Natasha Pulley | May 25

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

ONCE UPON A PUPPY by Lizzie Shane | May 25

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

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

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Pub Date: February 2, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.