Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner

Release Date - April 7, 2020

At 15, JL Markham's life once surrounded her best friend Aubrey. The pair did everything together. High school is changing them. Aubrey's spending time with a crowd that mocks JL. JL's becoming hooked on a senior, Max, who has the bad boy persona, which doesn't matter to JL, but it seems others are dead set on branding her a "Jezebel" like the butterflies she raises.

Butterflies are the only things bringing her a sense of calm at the moment. Her mother's mental health issues and her father's extended business trip are tearing the family apart. JL's had enough, and Max's news that as soon as school's over, he's hitting the road just as Jack Kerouac did. It's up to JL to decide if she's staying or joining him.

I have mixed feelings on this book. Part of me loved it. JL is endearing. Her coming-of-age story is told between past and present. It's easy to see just how much her lack of truly responsible parents weigh on her. Having the influence of a boyfriend adding to the mix seemed genuine, and I liked him. He may be a bad boy and make some stupid mistakes along the way, but he's also shaped by his family dynamics. I was rooting for those two from the start.

The exotic butterflies play an important role in this book. They're what keeps JL grounded. As a result, there can be quite a bit of butterfly info tossed in. I found it pulled me out of the story. I'm also not as fascinated with butterflies as JL was in the story. That aspect ended up feeling like a science lesson to me.

I found myself quickly skipping past the butterfly chapters to get back to the family dynamics. I needed to know what JL would decide and why.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Master Class by Christina Dalcher

Release Date - April 21, 2020

Master Class is the most engrossing, irritating novel I've read in a while. Don't get me wrong. I did love it, but I also became so angry as I read it. What made me so angry? The fact that this novel isn't too far off things that happened in the past. I'd never heard of this dark part of history. Thanks so much to Berkley for allowing me to be part of their blog. I'm delighted to share this book with Roundtable readers.

It's not the world we know anymore. Women have their fetuses tested in the early stages of pregnancy to determine if it's worth carrying them to term. Children take tests to check their "Q" levels. Children with high Q's go to the best schools. Those who score low get sent to low-tier schools in the Midwest. Teachers are tested and teach children at their approved level.

It's a world where children with behavioral issues or challenges with learning don't take a teacher's time away from the smarter children. It's a world that Elena Fairchild questions. One of her daughters has a high Q while the other's is slipping. Test days cause panic attacks. When Elena's youngest does poorly and is put on the yellow bus headed for Kansas, she's not okay with it. She's a mother and will do whatever it takes to get her daughter back.

I couldn't help but question if Betsy Devos was the model for the head of the Department of Education. If she wasn't, I'd be shocked. The similarities seemed clear to me. The story is packed with characters you'll love and others that you'll hate. Elena's husband baffled me. I just could not see falling for him. It was hard to find any redeeming qualities in that scum.

My heart broke for many other of the characters who were forced to watch their children get carted away. Or, the children who were tested despite being clearly terrified on the test days. It was those characters I attached to and wanted to keep reading to see if there would be any type of justice by the end of the book.

This administration makes me think that things that happen in this book really are not that unbelievable. I've seen neighbors post things in local forums about wishing the slower students could be removed from the school systems in order to cut costs. I've seen people question why the smarter children aren't just grouped together in their own schools. Clearly, people do think like this.

This is a great story. I was hooked. This was my second Christina Dalcher novel, and it won't be my last. The writing is fluid and draws you in. It's easy to become attached to the characters. When you reach the ending, you'll be left craving time to digest the plot and how we are always one step from making horrible mistakes like those found in these novels.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Summer Villa by Melissa Hill

Release Date - April 28, 2020

Thanks to Harlequin for bringing The Summer Villa to my attention and inviting me to be part of the blog tour. I want so much to be part of this book's gorgeous setting. Melissa Hill brought Italy to life in this book.

Annie, Colette, and Kim all met during a life-changing getaway to the Amalfi Coast in Italy. Since that meeting, they've become true friends. Kim's bought the villa where they stayed and is about to debut La Dolce Vita for the first time. She's asked her good friends to return to celebrate the villa's remodel.

Back then, Kim was escaping her controlling parents' demands that she marry a stranger to form an ideal arrangement for their needs. Annie was escaping a life of frustration and sorrow. Colette needed to refresh as her mom's caregiver after a cancer diagnosis. Italy proved to be exactly what they needed.

Now, all three are back and still dealing with life's hurdles. Kim's villa is gorgeous and could be the talk of the town, only someone seems to have it out for her and will do anything to keep her from opening. Annie's business is in ruin due to a deceptive employee. Colette is battling with infertility. Getting away seems to be exactly what these women need, but events of the past threaten to destroy them.

The Summer Villa's setting is gorgeous. I wanted to be dining in the restaurants, sipping the limoncello, and smelling the salty air. The characters didn't do as much for me. The switches from "Then" to "Now" were often jarring and pulled me from the story. There was also the jumping between Kim, Annie, and Colette to add to the time frame switches. It made it hard for me to connect with the characters and form any kind of bond.

I wanted to love this story, but in the end, it was just a book I had a harder time finishing. I'm glad I did as the ending picked up, but the challenge to get there wasn't ideal.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The New Husband by D.J. Palmer

Release Date - April 14, 2020

If you've never been to Lake Winnipesaukee, it's a gorgeous lake surrounded by small towns with museums, churches, and historic buildings dotting the shores. Wolfeboro is the town I am most familiar with, and it became what I envisioned as I read The New Husband.

When her husband disappears, Nina Garrity is left to pick up the pieces. The assumption is that Glen fell into the lake while fishing. He may have hit his head, which explains the blood on the boat, but his body's never been recovered. It's been two years and Nina's growing fond of the new man in her life. Simon Fitch, a local teacher, is perfect. He's great with her children, and he's devoted to her. He has plenty of money to buy her things and assures he she doesn't have to work.

The problem is that Nina's daughter doesn't get along with Simon and seems determined to drive a wedge between them. Getting Maggie to accept that her father's gone and that Simon is exactly what the family needs is Nina's goal. Maggie's equally determined to prove that Simon is not the man her mom thinks he is.

Here's another story that I read in one sitting. It made for another late night, but it was worth it. While I found Nine naive several times, I loved Maggie's strength and determination. As secrets are revealed and the reader starts to see what's really happening, you'll be on the edge of your seat. There's a lot of tension, plenty of chills, and characters that you can't help but cheer on for one reason or another.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Closer You Get by Mary Torjussen

Release Date - April 21, 2020

Ruby is crazy about her boss, and he's equally crazy about her. They make a plan to tell their spouses they're leaving. They're going to start a new life together. Ruby packs her important belongings, tells her husband it's over, and heads to their meeting point. Harry never shows up.

The weekend passes and Ruby still hasn't heard a word from Harry. She has no home to go to for now, so she heads to work Monday morning to see what's going on. There, she learns her job has been terminated. Harry and his wife are off on vacation to celebrate his wife's pregnancy. Ruby's heartbroken and alone.

Ruby has two choices, start a life on her own or return to her verbally abusive husband. She cannot handle more years of being criticized and controlled. She manages to find a small apartment and starts a job search. Before long, she realizes that someone is following her. Someone is sending her cryptic notes attached to photos of herself in different situations. She has no idea who is doing it or why, but she's clearly being targeted by someone who has no intentions of letting her start anew.

I never found the mystery regarding who Ruby's stalker was to be difficult to solve. It's kind of clear throughout the story. I hoped for a twist, but it never happened. It's exactly who I pegged it was from the start.

The story is told mostly from Ruby's point-of-view, though Harry's wife takes a more prominent role in the second half of the book. I actually liked her character more for the most part.

The Closer You Get was a fast read. I started it and read it the same day as I wanted to see how everything played out. While the ending was predictable, I still found it to be very entertaining. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Truths I Never Told You by Kelly Rimmer

Release Date - April 14, 2020

I am extremely grateful to Graydon House for recommending Kelly Rimmer's Truths I Never Told You. I wasn't sure I was going to love this book after I started it. A few chapters later, I was fully engaged with both Grace (past) and Beth (present) and proceeded to read it in one sitting.

Beth is a new mom. Society seems to expect all new moms instantly adore and love their children. Beth doesn't find it as easy. Her son seems to  be a stranger and she doesn't feel that immediate bond. The only thing she thinks she's any good at is breastfeeding. Everything else is hard. She has a hard time sleeping. She keeps her feelings bottled up. She's withdrawing from her family. As a licensed therapist, she is not about to admit she's suffering from postpartum depression.

When Beth's dad's dementia and heart disease worsen, it's clear that he needs to go into a nursing home. Beth offers to clean his home, and what she finds is stunning. Her normally organized father has locked away a tremendous mess of trash and paintings in the attic. Those paintings seem to tell a story, but Beth is struggling to figure it out. She knows her mom died in a car accident, but these letters paint a different story. Asking her dad gets her nowhere.

Grace married a man her parents did not approve of. In a small home with minimal income, Grace is doing everything she can to keep her family together. Each new addition to their family draws her deeper and deeper into a dark hole she seems unable to get out of. One day, she disappears completely.

Truths I Never Told You is women's fiction told in history and more modern times. It's also mystery  involving Beth's father, Grace, and a mystery woman Maryanne. The story touches on the times. Some of the story takes place in the 1950s when women were meant to stay home and be moms and not have careers. There's also the aspect of postpartum depression that even today is misunderstood by so many. I loved how the story portrayed it with great honesty and even painful detail. I definitely needed the Kleenex, but I'm so glad I read it!

Friday, April 10, 2020

April Harlequin Blog Tour

April's highlighted Harlequin romances are all delightful. I'm not sure I could pick one favorite out of the three. All were equally engaging and left me feeling so satisfied.

Melissa Senate's Wyoming Special Delivery is the second book in the Dawson Family Ranch series. Jilted bride Daisy Dawson never expected to go into labor after the baby's father fails to show for their wedding. She's lucky Harrison McCord drove past and helped delivery her son. What she doesn't know is that this guest is at the Dawson Family Ranch with news that the Dawson's will not appreciate.

The setting in this story was only part of the reason I loved it. I sympathized with Harrison, but I could also see the Dawson's point of view. It's easy to feel for both sides. While the reader knows from the start how things could easily be resolved, you get to watch Daisy and Harrison's relationship build and evolve. I loved it.

In Brenda Jackson's Seduced by a Steele, Mercury Steele is furious when he sees his stolen Corvette ahead of him in traffic. He calls police while following the thief. He never expects that the "thief" actually purchased the car and is in a tough situation. Sloan Donahue left her family home after refusing to bow to her parents' demands that she marry the son of family friends. She refuses to marry a man she doesn't love and who admits if they marry, he will have a mistress on the side.

When Mercury gets to experience her father's controlling behavior first-hand, he knows he will do whatever it takes to help her. This bachelor has no intention on falling in love, but his heart seems to have other ideas.

While I did have a few issues with some of the things Sloan's dad did, I still loved this story. I couldn't imagine a man being able to manipulate others so easily. Despite that, the flames between these two are obvious from the start. If you want a heated romance, read this one.

Growing up without a family, Milly is taken by her half-sister even if that half-sister treats her horribly. Her sister, Brooke, is a celebrity who uses Milly to get away from the paparazzi from time to time. This time, plans go awry when the car they're in crashes. The driver and Brooke die, but Milly was dressed in her sister's clothing and jewelry, so the hospital staff mistake her for Brooke. She comes out of her coma more than a  year later with no idea of who she is. She has a husband who clearly doesn't seem to like her, a lavish lifestyle, and not a single memory regarding her past.

Amnesia story lines were so overdone in the past that I never look forward to them. That said, this one worked for me. I really enjoyed seeing Milly cautiously embrace the unfamiliar lifestyle. I loved seeing Lorenzo fall in love with the woman he thinks is his wife but really isn't.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Hide Away by Jason Pinter

Release Date - March 1, 2020

Rachel Marin ran from her former life for reasons only she knows. Her new life in Illinois has her working hard and keeping her children safe. This single mom is probably as tough as they come, and very few know her real story.

When the mayor turns up dead, Rachel knows it's not the suicide others believed. She's going to prove it. The two detectives on the case are not thrilled with the novice sleuth and wonder if she may know it was a murder because she was involved. Rachel has to stay two steps ahead if she's going to solve the crime, keep her children safe, and prove her innocence.

While I found Hide Away to be hard to put down, I also wondered very often why a mother whose children were her main concern kept putting herself in harm's way. It seemed a little unbelievable that given all her kids had experienced that she'd constantly be late to return home. The "mom" in me didn't believe that would happen. If my kids and I had experienced all they did, there's no way I'd be leaving them with one nanny after the next.

In the end, I liked the pacing and mystery aspect, but I struggled with the main character. I didn't love her and felt she made some horrible judgment calls. I did, however, adore the two key detectives and hope that the series focuses equally on them. I want to see more of them.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Keep Me Afloat by Jennifer Gold

Release Date - March 3, 2020

Abby Fisher never planned to return home, but she's a marine biologist and her grant money ran out. She's home and needing to start over. The problem is that five years ago, she left her town after her marriage ended and her life was in shambles. Returning home isn't ideal, but she has no where else to go.

Back at home, five years has clearly changed her and those she loves. Her parents aren't the same. Her friends have moved on and are starting or trying to start families after building careers. She's still dreaming of a job that puts her out on the ocean and also pays a regular income. All of this starting over isn't going to be easy when she can't seem to let go of her past.

Keep Me Afloat drew me in. It's told in past and present. You get to meet Abby and her friends. You fall in love with her coastal town. You also slowly start to see what happened to change her life. Part of it ends up being a surprise that I didn't see coming.

I found myself needing a few Kleenex as I reached the end of the story. It's touching, emotional, and completely addicting. I loved every minute of my trip to this coastal town and found myself longing for some of the espresso concoctions Abby got to enjoy. This is a fantastic story for the current self-isolation that many of us are experiencing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Book Blog: We Didn't Ask For This by Adi Alsaid

Special thanks to Inkyard Press for inviting Roundtable Reviews to be part of the book tour for We Didn't Ask For This. The message in this story is one I have very strong feelings for, and it's a current event most people are aware of. If you know who Greta Thunberg is, you'll understand the importance. Look for Adi Alsaid's novel on April 7th.

Marisa Cuervas has one goal. She wants people to take the importance of helping to save the oceans seriously. To do so, she gets a few friends to join her in a lockdown. Each of the friends and Marisa chains themselves to a school exit/entrance. Until Marisa's demands are met, no one will be allowed in or out.

This act angers some students. It's the one night of the school year that they're allowed to take over the school. It's a night where some students see their plans for the evening go awry. From the boy who finally has the courage to reveal his feelings to his crush. One hopes to prove she's just as good as the male athletes. One hopes to throw the party to end all parties. One is ready to defy his father and prove he excels at his true passion - improv. A new girl simply wants to make her first friend.

As the evening goes on, Marisa's message may get lost if she doesn't come up with a way to keep it on track. Some students are ready to do whatever it takes to get the doors open. Others simply turn their focus on how to make sure she doesn't ruin their plans. Her goals at getting others to hear her concerns for the ocean may not leave the impact she hopes.

Based on the description, I thought I'd love We Didn't Ask For This. I've seen the photos of plastics found in fish and whale bellies. I know there are main water sources in countries that are drying up and leaving towns without water. I know all about the pollution the world is experiencing. I was right there cheering Marisa on.

As the story progressed, I found myself wondering how she kept pulling it off. She and her friends were chained tightly to prevent anyone from being able to use bolt cutters, yet then could use a bucket as a toilet, sit up and get down from a stool she provided. That didn't seem possible given how tightly they were supposedly chained.

There were sections of the story that dragged on for me. I simply struggled to keep reading. While each character was fleshed out with the narration and details, I still needed to keep a list of names and background. The switches back and forth from one character to the next took me out of the action and had me refreshing myself as characters switched back and forth. When the parents entered the picture, I did chuckle a bit as I probably would have been one of the parents asking the school why they were dragging their feet.

In the end, the story, despite it's strong message, didn't connect with me. I read it simply out of feelings that I needed to for the blog rather than feeling compelled to find out how it ended. That's never a great sign.

The Road to Christmas: A Sweet Holiday Romance Novel by Sheila Roberts

Release Date - September 20, 2022  Sit down and explore the holiday season through four sets of eyes in Sheila Roberts' latest holiday...