Review: Carrie Soto Is Back

Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pub Date: 8/30/2022

Thank you to Random House for the free advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. 

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: In this powerful novel about the cost of greatness, a legendary athlete attempts a comeback when the world considers her past her prime—from the New York Times bestselling author of Malibu Rising.

Carrie Soto is fierce, and her determination to win at any cost has not made her popular. But by the time she retires from tennis, she is the best player the world has ever seen. She has shattered every record and claimed twenty Grand Slam titles. And if you ask Carrie, she is entitled to every one. She sacrificed nearly everything to become the best, with her father, Javier, as her coach. A former champion himself, Javier has trained her since the age of two.

But six years after her retirement, Carrie finds herself sitting in the stands of the 1994 US Open, watching her record be taken from her by a brutal, stunning player named Nicki Chan.

At thirty-seven years old, Carrie makes the monumental decision to come out of retirement and be coached by her father for one last year in an attempt to reclaim her record. Even if the sports media says that they never liked “the Battle-Axe” anyway. Even if her body doesn’t move as fast as it did. And even if it means swallowing her pride to train with a man she once almost opened her heart to: Bowe Huntley. Like her, he has something to prove before he gives up the game forever.

In spite of it all, Carrie Soto is back, for one epic final season. In this riveting and unforgettable novel, Taylor Jenkins Reid tells her most vulnerable, emotional story yet.

Review: Carrie Soto may sound familiar to you as you met her briefly in Malibu Rising. Carrie has an affair with Nina Riva’s tennis star husband, Brandon Randall (fyi this isn’t a spoiler)! Carrie Soto Is Back explores the world of tennis, ageism, family, and vulnerability. Overall, I loved this one and it deserves all the stars! I adored the relationship that Carrie has with her father/coach, Javier. I loved that TJR shows the up and downs in their relationship along with overcoming difficult situations. To some readers, Carrie may come off as a cold-hearted bitch, but given that she’s under the public’s eye and every move she makes is scrutinized, it doesn’t surprise me she is the way she is. What I love the most is that we get to see Carrie’s character grow and change throughout the story. I liked how it’s mostly told through Carrie’s perspective, but there is also tidbits of sportscaster commentary and articles to break it out. One aspect of the novel I loved the most was the fact that TJR touched upon how society views women aging. There were so many incredible quotes I ended up tabbing. Highly recommend picking this one up if you’re a TJR fan!

Review: Scandalized

Scandalized by Ivy Owens
Publisher: Pocket Books
Pub Date: 8/23/2022

Thank you to Ivy Owens for the free advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. 

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Exhausted and on deadline with a story that could make or break her career, investigative journalist Georgia Ross is on the verge of a meltdown when a cancelled flight leaves her stuck in the airport overnight. But when a familiar face appears—the older brother of her childhood friend—and offers help, Gigi seems to have caught a break.

Alec Kim is handsome, humble, and kind—exactly the sort of man that Gigi has forgotten existed after her own painful heartbreaks. An evening of reconnection followed by a night of no-strings-attached passion with Alec feels like a gift—that is, until Gigi finally realizes that their childhood connection isn’t the only reason he seems so familiar to her.

Alec is determined to prove to Gigi that he is truly the man she thinks he is, even if it means coming clean about his fame—and his family’s connection to the story Gigi’s been working so hard to break. But as their feelings for each other grow deeper, Gigi and Alec must navigate a new reality…one where both of their hard-won careers are put directly in the path of an international scandal.

Review: Scandalized has been one of my most anticipated summer reads! This romance novel contains childhood friends to lovers, insta-love, first crush, secrets, and fame. The author addresses a heavy topic of sexual assault. She addresses the topic in a sensitive way that is pertinent to the storyline. I liked this book! I usually don’t like insta-love in books, but this one worked so well especially within the span that Alec and Gigi are together. I loved the way that the author built the connection between Gigi and Alec. Their chemistry was off the charts! The writing style is fast-paced and kept my interest from the beginning. Definitely recommend fellow romance readers to pick this one up! I’m looking forward to reading more from Ivy Owens.

Review: I’ll Be You

I’ll Be You by Janelle Brown
Publisher: Random House
Pub Date: 4/26/2022

Thank you to Random House for the free finished copy and PRH Audio for the free audiobook copy in exchange for my honest review. 

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Two identical twin sisters and former child actors have grown apart—until one disappears, and the other is forced to confront the secrets they’ve kept from each other in this twisty suspense novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Pretty Things.

“You be me, and I’ll be you,” I whispered.

As children, Sam and Elli were two halves of a perfect whole: gorgeous identical twins whose parents sometimes couldn’t even tell them apart. They fell asleep to the sound of each other’s breath at night, holding hands in the dark. And once Hollywood discovered them, they became B-list child TV stars, often inhabiting the same role.

But as adults, their lives have splintered. After leaving acting, Elli reinvented herself as the perfect homemaker: married to a real estate lawyer, living in a house just blocks from the beach. Meanwhile, Sam has never recovered from her failed Hollywood career, or from her addiction to the pills and booze that have propped her up for the last fifteen years.

Sam hasn’t spoken to her sister since her destructive behavior finally drove a wedge between them. So when her father calls out of the blue, Sam is shocked to learn that Elli’s life has been in turmoil: her husband moved out, and Elli just adopted a two-year-old girl. Now she’s stopped answering her phone and checked in to a mysterious spa in Ojai. Is her sister just decompressing, or is she in trouble? Could she have possibly joined a cult? As Sam works to connect the dots left by Elli’s baffling disappearance, she realizes that the bond between her and her sister is more complicated than she ever knew.

I’ll Be You shows Janelle Brown at the top of her game: a story packed with surprising revelations and sharp insights about the choices that define our families and our lives—and could just as easily destroy them

Review: I’ll Be You is the second book I’ve read from Janelle Brown. This psychological thriller dives into former child actor lives, twins, strained relationships, and secrets. Overall, I really enjoyed this one! From the first page, I had no idea where the story was going to go. The twists and turns of each page has me curious what the end game was going to be. This is definitely a character driven story and it is a bit of a slow burn. I really loved that not only we got read perspectives from the twins (Sam and Ellie), but there were also now and then chapters within each perspective. I mostly listened the audiobook which Julia Whelan and Kate Rudd narrate. I loved their narrations which helped me get invested in the story further. The only part I wasn’t sure how I felt was the ending, but I won’t mention any spoilers. The author discusses a lot of heavy subjects in this book so read with care if you decide to pick up (I won’t list them here as some of the subjects may be spoilers). Highly recommend picking up I’ll Be You if you like twisted thrillers!

Review: The Undertaking of Hart & Mercy

The Undertaking of Hart & Mercy by Megan Bannen
Publisher: Orbit Books
Pub Date: 8/23/2022

Thank you to Orbit Books for the free advanced listening copy on Libro.fm in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Hart is a marshal, tasked with patrolling the strange and magical wilds of Tanria. It’s an unforgiving job, and Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder his loneliness.

Mercy never has a moment to herself. She’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son Undertakers afloat in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest.

After yet another exasperating run-in with Mercy, Hart finds himself penning a letter addressed simply to “A Friend”. Much to his surprise, an anonymous letter comes back in return, and a tentative friendship is born.

If only Hart knew he’s been baring his soul to the person who infuriates him most – Mercy. As the dangers from Tanria grow closer, so do the unlikely correspondents. But can their blossoming romance survive the fated discovery that their pen pals are their worst nightmares – each other?

Review: The Undertaking of Hart & Mercy is a fantasy romance book that explores loneliness, family pressure, unexpected friendship, and contains an enemies-turned-lovers trope. I was initially intrigued by this book because of Helen Hoang’s review. I went in knowing very little about the book and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Though the fantasy romance is a bit morbid, it such a sweet and beautifully written story. I loved seeing Mercy and Hart’s relationship grow throughout the story. I also adored the side characters in this book that made it funny and heartfelt. Highly recommend picking up the audio as both narrators did a phenomenal job making the story engaging!

Review: The Second First Chance

The Second First Chance by Mona Shroff
Publisher: Harlequin
Pub Date: 8/2/2022

Thank you to Harlequin for the free advanced copy on NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: The Second First Chance is a big, wonderful, messy love story about family, heartbreak, strength and courage. It shows us that sometimes what we want is what we least expect, and that everything we need is often right in front of us.

Strength comes in many different forms.  

Riya Desai and Dhillon Vora grew up together. Sharing secrets, hiding in their tree house, they were playmates, best friends and later—as teenagers—almost something more. Until the devastating house fire that ripped them apart, claiming the life of Dhillon’s father and Riya’s big brother, Samir. Riya and Dhillon have barely spoken since that terrible night, but they both made big decisions based on that fire.

Riya has chosen to fight fire with everything she’s got, but it’s not easy. As the only female firefighter and one of the only people of color at her fire hall, she has to prove herself over and over. Plus, she’s hidden her career from her family.

Dhillon wanted to heal things, so he became a veterinarian. When a chance encounter with a rescue dog throws Riya and Dhillon together again, he’s furious at her career choice. After what happened to them, how can she run into fires on purpose? For Riya, Dhillon’s anger is unacceptable: How can he not see that she’s protecting others from the very losses they both experienced?

Review: The Second First Chance is the first book I’ve read from Mona Shroff. This romance explores family dynamics, resilience, moving on, and being true to yourself. The largest theme of this book has to deal with grief and moving on from a traumatic event. Riya and Dhillon’s families, being next door neighbors, experience loss the day their respective townhomes catch on fire. Riya loses her older brother, Samir, while Dhillon loses his father. This was one really heavy, emotional, and heartfelt read that deserves all the stars. Other heavy subjects the author addresses in this story are pet death, fire injury, car accident, sexual harassment, and medical content. The author does an incredible job showcasing how deeply complex each of the main characters are and how their pasts and feelings are slowly revealed. I also really loved the way the author showed sibling bonds among the families and how important that is along with tying into the Hindu tradition of Rasksha Bandhan celebrating the special sibling bonds between brother and sister. I highly recommend The Second First Chance to anyone who loved Things You Save In A Fire and The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo. If you do read this, please read with care.

Review: Some of It Was Real

Some of It Was Real by Nan Fischer
Publisher: Berkley
Pub Date: 7/26/2022

Thank you to Berkley for the free finished copy in exchange for my honest review. 

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: A psychic on the verge of stardom who isn’t sure she believes in herself and a cynical journalist with one last chance at redemption are brought together by secrets from the past that also threaten to tear them apart.

Psychic-medium Sylvie Young starts every show with her origin story, telling the audience how she discovered her abilities. But she leaves out a lot—the plane crash that killed her parents, an estranged adoptive family who tend orchards in rainy Oregon, panic attacks, and the fact that her agent insists she research some clients to ensure success.

After a catastrophic reporting error, Thomas Holmes’s next story at the L.A. Times may be his last, but he’s got a great personal pitch. “Grief vampires” like Sylvie who prey upon the loved ones of the deceased have bankrupted his mother. He’s dead set on using his last-chance article to expose Sylvie as a conniving fraud and resurrect his career.

When Sylvie and Thomas collide, a game of cat and mouse ensues, but the secrets they’re keeping from each other are nothing compared to the mysteries and lies they unearth about Sylvie’s past. Searching for the truth might destroy them both—but it’s the only way to find out what’s real.

Review: Some of It Was Real is a contemporary novel combines an element of mystery with a touch of romance. This book explores psychics, secrets, troubled pasts, and strained relationships. The author addresses heavy topics such as animal and family illness, death, grief, and panic attacks/disorders. I went in with knowing very little about the book except that it sounded interesting from the little blurb I read.This was five star read! I loved the alternating chapters and cat-and-mouse game between Sylvie and Thomas. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to unravel the mysterious pasts of famous psychic, Sylvie, and Thomas, a LA Times journalist, trying to expose her as a fraud. I liked how the story progressed their personalities developed and the way each of them came to their decisions at the end. I also liked how the big twist was revealed and that the author took a different approach with the ending which totally threw me off course in a good way. Highly recommend listening to the audiobook! I loved that narrators brought the main characters to life and got me more engaged with the story. FYI this story may not be for those who want a cute HEA (happily every after), but still highly recommend picking up!

Review: The Bodyguard

The Bodyguard by Katherine Center
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pub Date: 7/19/2022

Thank you to St.Martin’s Press and MacMillan Audio for the free advanced copies on NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: She’s got his back.
Hannah Brooks looks more like a kindgerten teacher than somebody who could kill you with a wine bottle opener. Or a ballpoint pen. Or a dinner napkin. But the truth is, she’s an Executive Protection Agent (aka “bodyguard”), and she just got hired to protect superstar actor Jack Stapleton from his middle-aged, corgi-breeding stalker.

He’s got her heart. 
Jack Stapleton’s a household name—captured by paparazzi on beaches the world over, famous for, among other things, rising out of the waves in all manner of clingy board shorts and glistening like a Roman deity. But a few years back, in the wake of a family tragedy, he dropped from the public eye and went off the grid.

They’ve got a secret. 
When Jack’s mom gets sick, he comes home to the family’s Texas ranch to help out. Only one catch: He doesn’t want his family to know about his stalker. Or the bodyguard thing. And so Hannah—against her will and her better judgment—finds herself pretending to be Jack’s girlfriend as a cover. Even though her ex, like a jerk, says no one will believe it.

What could possibly go wrong???
Hannah hardly believes it, herself. But the more time she spends with Jack, the more real it all starts to seem. And there lies the heartbreak. Because it’s easy for Hannah to protect Jack. But protecting her own, long-neglected heart? That’s the hardest thing she’s ever done.

Review: The Bodyguard contains a faking dating trope along with themes of family, stalking, authenticity, healing. I absolutely loved this book and it deserves all the stars! I loved that everything was through Hannah’s perspective and we got to see her personality and emotions be revealed throughout the story. Jack was the perfect love interest for her and loved learning more about him and his family as well. I really loved the growing relationship between Hannah and Jack and especially their emotional intimacy. The author does touch upon some heavy subjects which I think needs to be stated in the beginning of the book: death of a parent, death of a siblings, cancer, gun violence, and suicidal attempt. I admire that Katherine was able to not only discuss heavy subjects but include moments of lightheartedness as well. High recommend picking this one up if you’re a fan of Katherine Center and/or looking for a sweet romance!

Review: The Lioness

The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Double Day Books
Pub Date: 5/10/2022

Thank you to PRH Audio for the free audiobook copy in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Tanzania, 1964. When Katie Barstow, A-list actress, and her new husband, David Hill, decide to bring their Hollywood friends to the Serengeti for their honeymoon, they envision giraffes gently eating leaves from the tall acacia trees, great swarms of wildebeests crossing the Mara River, and herds of zebra storming the sandy plains. Their glamorous guests—including Katie’s best friend, Carmen Tedesco, and Terrance Dutton, the celebrated Black actor who stars alongside Katie in the highly controversial film “Tender Madness”—will spend their days taking photos, and their evenings drinking chilled gin and tonics back at camp, as the local Tanzanian guides warm water for their baths. The wealthy Americans expect civilized adventure: Fresh ice from the kerosene-powered ice maker, dinners of cooked gazelle meat, and plenty of stories to tell over lunch back on Rodeo Drive.

What Katie and her glittering entourage do not expect is this: A kidnapping gone wrong, their guides bleeding out in the dirt, and a team of Russian mercenaries herding them into Land Rovers, guns to their heads. As the powerful sun gives way to night, the gunmen shove them into abandoned huts and Katie Barstow, Hollywood royalty, prays for a simple thing: To see the sun rise one more time. A blistering story of fame, race, love, and death set in a world on the cusp of great change, The Safari is a vibrant masterpiece from one of our finest storytellers.

Review: The Lioness is the first book I’ve read from Chris Bohjalian. This historical thriller takes place in 1964 where a luxurious African safari turns deadly for a famous Hollywood star and her entourage. Overall, I enjoyed this one and it was a five star read! The writing sucked me in from the beginning and I didn’t know where the story was headed. I liked the various perspectives and that each perspective had present day and flashbacks before the trip to get a better understand of the relationships among all the characters. After a chapter or two, I ended up switching from the audiobook to the physical book which I’m glad I did. I’d recommend reading the physical book to get a better reading experience as there are multiple characters to keep track of and love that there’s a character list in the beginning which helps the reader. I really loved that the author’s writing style kept me engaged in the story the whole time. I was surprised to learn from the author that Benjamin’s perspective was the hardest to write. The Lioness will become a series and Chris is an executive producer which I am super excited about! Highly recommend if you love action-packed thrillers!

Review: The House Across the Lake

The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager
Publisher: Dutton
Pub Date: 6/21/2022

Thank you to PRH Audio for the free audiobook and Dutton for the free advanced copy on NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Casey Fletcher, a recently widowed actress trying to escape a streak of bad press, has retreated to the peace and quiet of her family’s lake house in Vermont. Armed with a pair of binoculars and several bottles of liquor, she passes the time watching Tom and Katherine Royce, the glamorous couple who live in the house across the lake. They make for good viewing—a tech innovator, Tom is rich; and a former model, Katherine is gorgeous.

One day on the lake, Casey saves Katherine from drowning, and the two strike up a budding friendship. But the more they get to know each other—and the longer Casey watches—it becomes clear that Katherine and Tom’s marriage is not as perfect and placid as it appears. When Katherine suddenly vanishes, Casey becomes consumed with finding out what happened to her. In the process, she uncovers eerie, darker truths that turn a tale of voyeurism and suspicion into a story of guilt, obsession and how looks can be very deceiving.

With his trademark blend of sharp characters, psychological suspense, and gasp-worthy surprises, Riley Sager’s The House Across the Lake unveils more than one twist that will shock readers until the very last page.

Review: I’m huge Riley Sager fan so so was excited to hear his latest novel, The House Across the Lake, is releasing this summer! The House Across the Lake is a psychological thriller that explores stalking, former actor life, toxic relationships, and secrets. I had mixed feelings about this book. When I was first reading, I was a bit concerned about not liking the book because it had the overhyped trope of an unreliable female narrator. I like that Riley Sager’s writing style always keeps me engaged even if I feel unsure about the story. This is a definitely a slow build and character-driven story. I found the last third of the story to be the most interesting even though I’m not a fan of paranormal thrillers. I loved the twists and turns he provided and they were ones I wouldn’t have guessed. I ended up rating this 3.5 stars and rounded up to 4 stars. One thing to note is that I would definitely recommend reading the physical or the ebook. I wasn’t a fan of the audiobook narrator that was chosen as I felt the voice felt older than the narrator in the book. If you loved Riley Sager’s previous books or are a fan of psychological thrillers, you may want to check this one out.

Review: I Kissed Shara Wheeler

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pub Date: 5/3/2022

Thank you to Libro.fm for the free advanced listening copy in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Chloe Green is so close to winning. After her moms moved her from SoCal to Alabama for high school, she’s spent the past four years dodging gossipy classmates and a puritanical administration at Willowgrove Christian Academy. The thing that’s kept her going: winning valedictorian. Her only rival: prom queen Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect progeny.

But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes.

On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers she’s not the only one Shara kissed. There’s also Smith, Shara’s longtime quarterback sweetheart, and Rory, Shara’s bad boy neighbor with a crush. The three have nothing in common except Shara and the annoyingly cryptic notes she left behind, but together they must untangle Shara’s trail of clues and find her. It’ll be worth it, if Chloe can drag Shara back before graduation to beat her fair-and-square.

Thrown into an unlikely alliance, chasing a ghost through parties, break-ins, puzzles, and secrets revealed on monogrammed stationery, Chloe starts to suspect there might be more to this small town than she thought. And maybe—probably not, but maybe—more to Shara, too.

Fierce, funny, and frank, Casey McQuiston’s I Kissed Shara Wheeler is about breaking the rules, getting messy, and finding love in unexpected places.

Review: I Kissed Shara Wheeler is third book I’ve read from Casey McQuistion. This queer young adult romance novel explores small town life, unexpected friendships, and high school life. Overall, this was a decent read, but it wasn’t for me. If this wasn’t our book club pick, I probably would have skipped this. I found that Casey McQuiston’s writing style isn’t for me and I’m not much of a young adult reader so please take my review with a grain of salt. The storyline was cute and it gave me 90s romcom vibes, but it’s present day and a queer story which was refreshing. I felt that the story had so much potential, but the main parts that didn’t work for me were the reveal and the ending. After the reveal, I couldn’t really get myself to be engaged with the rest of the story. If you liked Casey McQuistion’s other books, you may enjoy this one.