Review | The Unhoneymooners

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

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Olive Torres has always considered herself unlucky. Case in point: both her stalled career and non-existent love life.
Her twin sister Ami, however, has spent her life winning at everything.  Case in point: her entire wedding has been financed by a series of internet contest wins.

The day of Ami’s wedding to Dane is running smoothly and the only thing Olive is dreading is spending the day with Dane’s brother, Ethan, the biggest jackass she knows.

The day quickly falls apart when the entire wedding party gets food poisoning from the seafood buffet (yep, it was a contest win).  The only two people to skip the buffet are Olive and Ethan, and they watch in horror as chaos erupts …as well as bodily fluids.

The only thing Ami and Dane can do is stay home to recover, which means they’ll miss out on their all-expenses-paid honeymoon in Hawaii.

What kind of romantic comedy would this be if the newlyweds didn’t offer the trip to their maid of honor and best man, who happen to be sworn enemies?

Olive and Ethan put aside their differences (even though they’re not even sure what those actually are) for a free vacation in paradise.
What are the odds that Olive, who accepted a job offer while waiting to board the plane, would run into her future boss who just so happens to be staying at the same resort?
And that Ethan’s ex-girlfriend would be there too, with her new fiancee who looks like a greasier Norman Reedus?

Of course hilarity ensues as Olive and Ethan pretend to be newlyweds to keep up appearances and are stuck spending way more time together than planned.  Between paintball, snuba, and a trip up the coast; the two get to know each other and realize they’re not sure why exactly they’ve hated each other for three years.

Has Olive’s luck finally turned around …or is her bad luck waiting on her back home in Minnesota?

This was my first Christina Lauren novel.  I’ve heard so much about the writing duo and there was something about this book description that lured me in even though I’m not the biggest reader of contemporary romance.  I was not disappointed!

The Unhoneymooners is the perfect romantic comedy with great humor, likeable characters, and charming tropes that aren’t eye roll inducing.  The relationship doesn’t feel forced, the banter between Olive and Ethan feels natural, and the situations they find themselves in are entertaining as hell.  I needed a cozy read on a freezing cold day indoors and this was compulsively readable!

I recommend The Unhoneymooners to readers who enjoy contemporary fiction/romance and comedy.
(Also, why hasn’t anyone in Hollywood filmed this particular rom com yet?)

Review | Death in Her Hands

Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

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Death in Her Hands is my first Moshfegh novel and it did not disappoint!

“It would be a very strange thing to see, some old woman in her dusty coat grasping Death in her hands and whistling into the forest.”

72-year-old Vesta is walking through the woods with her dog when she finds a very matter-of-fact note on the ground:

“Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.”

Yet there is no body to be discovered in the forest.  The lonely widow wanders home, thinking of the note she found.  Who was Magda?  Who is the anonymous note writer?  Vesta’s imagination runs wild as she decides to write down her interpretation of the lives of these two people unknown to her and hopefully make contact with the writer to solve the mystery.

This is a book you could read in one sitting!  The tension is high, Vesta’s loneliness and isolation are almost palpable, and her imagination leads to some dark places as readers discover her past and watch the mystery consume her.

Death in Her Hands is a brilliant psychological thriller that readers will certainly be divided on due to an ending that is open to interpretation.

Thanks to Edelweiss and Penguin Press for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  Death in Her Hands is scheduled for release on April 21, 2020.

Review | The Body Double

The Body Double by Emily Beyda

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An unnamed woman has the chance to leave her dull existence as a movie theater employee in a small town for the unique opportunity to move to L.A. and work as the body double for the troubled celebrity Rosanna Feld.
Rosanna has been out of the spotlight for almost a year; no one has seen or heard from her since her rumored nervous breakdown.

The details are handled by a man named Max on behalf of Rosanna.  Our unnamed narrator signs a three year contract that cannot be broken; in exchange for her appearances around the city, she’ll receive $100,000 the first year and more the following, with a rent-free L.A. apartment.   The catch is that once her contract is up, she cannot return to her previous life/identity and instead forge a new one.

“I will slip into the role of Rosanna like warm bathwater. I will find a new self, a better self to take the place of whatever it is I’ve lost.” *

Her arrival in L.A. is nothing as she expected.  Our narrator spends months locked (literally) in her small apartment wearing Rosanna’s clothes, eating only the foods Rosanna eats, all while studying footage to prepare for a public debut.

When Max determines she’s ready to be Rosanna, our narrator is caught up in the lifestyle and fame but nagged by the unanswered questions of what caused Rosanna’s breakdown and where she is now.  Is the careful and calculating Max her one true ally or is he a danger to Rosanna and her body double?

An intensely sloooooow burn, The Body Double offers readers a lonely narrator whose isolation and obsession spiral into a dark mystery.  The sense of unease kept me reading but I had the end figured out almost immediately.  Since readers have no idea who the MC was in her previous life (very vague information about parents and foster care is given), it was tough for me to understand her motivations or care about what was happening to her.

This was just an okay read for me but if you’re a fan of slow burn mystery/thriller/noir-vibe novels, this is one you may want to consider.

Thanks to Doubleday and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Body Double is scheduled for release on March 3, 2020.

*Quote included is from a digital advanced reader’s copy and is subject to change upon final publication.

Review | The Roxy Letters

The Roxy Letters by Mary Pauline Lowry

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Twenty-something Roxy is a sometimes vegan living in Austin, Texas with a messy love life and a job behind the Whole Foods deli counter that barely covers her mortgage.
Struggling financially, she makes the decision to allow her ex-boyfriend Everett to move in and pay rent.

Through a series of letters that Roxy writes to the mostly absent Everett to whine about his late rent and (for reasons unknown) keep him updated on her daily life, readers learn of Roxy’s cringe-worthy attempts at romance, her hatred for Lululemon and her meth cooking neighbors, and annoyance that Everett appears to have joined some sort of sex cult.

Does this sound eccentric and charming?  Like a rom-com you’d like to watch with girlfriends?  Yes, that’s what I thought, too. But the delivery was absolutely annoying in my opinion.  This character is writing long letters to her ex-boyfriend (who is never around and is obviously using her for a cheap place to stay) explaining her embarrassing sexual encounters, crush on a drummer, new friendships, and plot to take down Lululemon.  It’s trying too hard to be funny and relatable.

It was cringe-inducing by the 10% mark and as I approached 30% it had turned into a hate read so I admittedly gave up at the half-way mark.  I just didn’t care to know any more about Roxy or what happened to her or why in the hell she was still writing letters to her ex.

I think my dislike for the book is a combination of things, including the format and the attempt to make Roxy a flawed but relatable character.  I love a charmingly quirky character but didn’t find that in Roxy unfortunately.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Roxy Letters is scheduled for release on April 7, 2020.

Review | Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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I absolutely loved Ng’s previous novel Everything I Never Told You.  It devastated me in the best possible way, sharing the story of a family with a quiet intensity and powerful writing.  So when I heard she was releasing Little Fires Everywhere, I was thrilled.  But then I worried it wouldn’t live up to the expectations I had after being knocked off my feet by her last.  Now I wish I hadn’t waited two years to read it because it did not disappoint!

Shaker Heights, the picture perfect suburb outside of Cleveland, is home to the Richardson family.  Elena is a reporter born and raised in the area, her husband is a successful lawyer, and they have four teens close in age.  Elena has always played by the rules and has created the life she meticulously planned with a fulfilling career and a big family.

So how does she find herself standing on the sidewalk in her bathrobe watching her house burn?

It begins with Mia Warren, an artist and single mom who arrives in Shaker Heights with her teenage daughter Pearl.  They’ve moved around the country countless times in Pearl’s life as Mia goes from one project to the next.  This time is supposed to be different:  Mia has promised it’s time to finally settle down.  As luck would have it, Elena Richardson has a home to rent in the area for a bargain price.

The four Richardson teens quickly become enamored with the new tenants.  Mia is a rule breaker, unlike their own mom, and Pearl is mature beyond her years.  Pearl is fascinated by the Richardson family and their predictable lives.

When close friends of the Richardsons start the process of adopting a baby found outside a fire department, a surprising custody battle begins when the biological mother returns.
At the same time Elena and Mia find themselves on opposing sides of the battle, Elena begins a search into Mia’s past after discovering a photo of her tenant in a museum.

As Elena finds secrets in Mia’s past, she becomes even more determined to see her friends adopt the baby they’ve been caring for — but it will come with devastating consequences to the life she has so carefully planned.

Little Fires Everywhere is another incredible novel by Ng exploring the intensely complicated bonds of family and both the vulnerability and power of motherhood.

“To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once.”

Compelling and compulsively readable, I recommend Little Fires Everywhere to readers who love contemporary fiction and family drama.

Review | The Road to Jonestown

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn

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The Road to Jonestown is a comprehensive look into the life of Jim Jones and the events that led to the deaths of 900+ people in the jungle of Guyana.

Growing up in a dysfunctional family in a religious community formed the foundation for the rest of Jones’s life.  He found socialism in his teens and soon found a way to spread his message with religion.

Without giving you a book report, I’ll just say that this book is incredibly detailed and shows readers the gradual shift Jones made in his preaching to turn his congregation into devoted followers who wouldn’t question his word.  The members of Peoples Temple went from simple church services to communal living, handing over their paychecks and social security to “the cause”, in an effort to feed and clothe the less fortunate.  In return, their every need was taken care of by the church.

Ultimately, the most fascinating aspect for me personally is a topic we return to several times throughout the progression of the book:

“One major source of contention remains, and they debate it among themselves, or with interviewers who they hope might offer some fresh perspective: Was Jim Jones always bad, or was he gradually corrupted by a combination of ambition, drugs, and hubris? There is no definitive answers: Jones was a complicated man who rarely revealed all of his often contradictory dimensions to anyone.”

What was it about Jim Jones that motivated 900+ people to leave behind their lives in America for the jungle of Guyana and eventually take their own lives?
This book offers chilling insight into Jones’s passionate beliefs and eventual decline into complete and total paranoia that led to the heartbreaking mass suicide and complex government investigation.

I highly recommend The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple to readers who enjoy American history and true crime.

 

 

Review | The Death of Bees

The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell

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Sisters Marnie and Nelly bury their mom and dad in their backyard on Christmas Eve.  It’s no great loss for the girls;  they’ve basically been on their own for years anyway thanks to the drugs and alcohol always in the apartment.  So when their parents die, they know they can’t report it because they’ll be separated.

Fifteen-year-old Marnie is street-wise and willing to do what it takes to keep her and her sister together.  Younger sister Nelly is quirky and naive to many situations but emotionally mature beyond her years.

Their elderly neighbor Lennie realizes the girls are on their own and takes them under his wing, helping as much as he can though he isn’t certain where their parents have gone exactly.  It isn’t uncommon for them to leave the girls for weeks at a time, but as months pass he begins to suspect this time they won’t be returning.

Questions begin around the neighborhood as their dad’s nosy drug dealer comes around to collect, the school becomes concerned with Nelly’s absences, and their estranged grandpa shows up to make amends.

The Death of Bees was a surprising read for me.  The sisters are beautifully written characters, from Marnie’s fierce protectiveness yet hardened emotions to Nelly’s quirky eccentricities and heightened vulnerabilities.
I appreciated the honesty of their heartbreaking circumstances and frustrating failures of the system (school/welfare/social).

This book manages to be dark and hopeful at the same time, introducing us to three fascinating characters in alternating voices with a fascinating look at both the powerful bonds and failures of family and society.

I recommend The Death of Bees to readers who appreciate dark, contemporary coming-of-age stories with quirky well-developed characters.

Review | Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

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I am several years late to the podcast game.  I just had a baby… six years ago.  The time it takes us to bounce back and re-join society is different for every mom. Mine was five-ish years. So I’m just now discovering all of these true crime podcasts, not to mention listening to Beyonce’s Lemonade in its entirety for the first time. (Umm, yes, seriously. Don’t give me that look. I don’t need your judgment.)

Anyway, I started listening to podcasts about six months ago and one of the first I subscribed to was a true crime/comedy called My Favorite Murder, hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark.
I was immediately pulled in by these two women chatting about some chilling murder cases while managing to throw in some humor and advice along the way. Listeners can essentially feel like they’re joining their girlfriends for a long lunch, discussing murder and adding in some hilarious asides along the way.

I was thrilled to find out the ladies behind the podcast had teamed up to write an autobiography/memoir.  Karen and Georgia share personal stories from childhood to present and offer a candid look into their struggles with depression, eating disorders, and drug/alcohol addiction.  They also share how they met and bonded over their mutual love of true crime and developed the podcast.
Their conversational tone makes this compulsively readable (and I’m certain just as enjoyable on audio!), I love the humor that shines through these tough topics, and I appreciate the hilarious advice they give to their younger selves and offer to readers/listeners.
Big take aways:  Women support women,  don’t be afraid to share your vulnerabilities, and most of all: f*#k politeness!

If you’re a fan of My Favorite Murder (Heyyyy Murderinos!) and/or humorous memoir, check out Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered.

Review | The Familiar Dark

The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel

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Life hasn’t been easy for Eve Taggert.  She grew up poor in the hollers of the Missouri Ozarks with a cruel mom hardened at a young age by life.  Eve and her brother Cal were determined to make a better life for themselves and by most accounts, they’ve succeeded.

Eve was only eighteen when she had her daughter Junie and it changed her life for the better.  She stopped drinking and made the decision to raise her child with all the love and attention she was denied.
Cal, now a police officer, remains a supportive older brother, helping Eve and Junie out and spending time with them regularly.

Eve is looking forward to ending her shift at the local diner when Cal arrives to deliver the worst news a mother can hear:  Junie and her best friend Izzy are dead.  Their bodies were discovered at a nearby playground.

In the days following Junie’s murder, Eve’s grief turns to determination.  She vows at a press conference she will find the person who killed Junie and Izzy and she is going to tear them apart.

“I thought about all the press conferences I’d seen over the years, parents trotted out for missing kids, killed kids, abused kids. Everyone feels sorry for those parents, those mothers, until they don’t. Until the mothers don’t cry enough or cry too much. Until the mothers are too put-together or not put-together enough. Until the mothers are angry. Because that’s the one thing women are never, ever allowed to be. We can be sad, distraught, confused, pleading, forgiving. But not furious. Fury is reserved for other people.  The worst thing you can be is an angry woman, an angry mother.” *

The media, stunned by Eve’s unexpected outburst, packs up and leaves town for the next story.  Eve navigates a complicated relationship with Izzy’s parents over their shared tragedy and looks to her mother in an odd way for help.  The qualities she despised in her mom are now the very qualities she needs in order to find the truth and an unexpected but tenuous bond is created.
Distrustful of the sheriff, Eve begins her own investigation which leads her back through the dark hollers and into a maze of small town secrets.

The Familiar Dark is a thriller filled with so much heart, I couldn’t put it down.  As a mom, I related so much to Eve and her determination to find justice for her daughter.  I was fascinated by her relationship with her mom.  This mystery delivered some unexpected twists but it’s greatest strength, for me personally, was the authenticity of the characters and the bonds created by women doing everything they can for their children.

I highly recommend this novel to readers who love a character-driven mystery with heart.

Huge thanks to Dutton and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  The Familiar Dark is scheduled for release on March 31, 2020.

*Quotes included are from a digital advanced readers copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

Review | Revolver Road

Revolver Road (Harper McClain #3) by Christi Daugherty

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Crime reporter Harper McClain is working for a Savannah, Georgia newspaper in dire financial straits and hiding out on Tybee Island after an anonymous call six months ago warning her that someone wants her dead.

Fortunately for the struggling paper, McClain has a front page story that can distract her from her personal drama.

Popular musician Xavier Rayne walked out of his Tybee mansion after midnight for a walk on the beach and never returned.  Two of his bandmates and his actress girlfriend report him missing, sending the media into a frenzy.
While the police believe it’s a clear-cut case of accidental drowning, Harper believes there’s more to the story after gaining the trust of Rayne’s friends.  They claim he’s left unexpectedly before and expect him to return in time to go on tour …but then his body is discovered a mile off shore with two bullet holes.

As Harper digs into the musician’s life, the threats on her own life return.  Her anonymous caller is back, warning her that she needs to investigate another old case to figure out what’s coming.  Harper has two murders to solve or she could be next.

I started this book on the same day I realized it’s actually the third in a series.  In the past, I could never get myself to start a series in the middle, but over the last couple years I’ve learned to live read dangerously.  I’m interested enough to go back and read the first two books but there’s enough back story here that I didn’t feel lost along the way and think it can be read as a stand-alone.

Readers can easily piece together that Harper’s mom was murdered years ago and the case is still unsolved.  The threat on her own life seems to be tied to her mom’s murder, which she has been trying to solve for years.  We learn the relationships between characters with ease and how the past led her to her career in crime reporting.

Harper’s personal life takes the spotlight in this story and the mysterious death of Xavier Rayne sort of simmers on the back-burner.
I felt like the trust of Xavier’s friends was too easily earned by Harper.  They didn’t want to talk to the media and yet they’re calling the reporter to help them in the aftermath because she brought them some food and cigarettes once?  Meh, it’s a little weak.
The atmosphere, however, is spot-on.  I’ve spent a lot of time in Savannah and on Tybee Island and the descriptions are accurate, seamlessly drawing readers in to the story and location.
While the Xavier Rayne case was a bit flimsy and the truth not very shocking, the show-down between Harper and the killer stalking her was an exciting end to the novel!

Thanks to Minotaur Books and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  Revolver Road is scheduled for release on March 10, 2020.