Review: The Celebrants

The Celebrants by Steven Rowley
Publisher: G.P. Putnam
Pub Date: 5/30/2023

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: The night after one of their own is tragically taken away from them, a group of seven college friends form a pact: a promise to reunite every few years to throw each other “living funerals,” constant reminders that life is worth living, if not for them then for their late friend.

Now, twenty-eight years into the hard-worn lines of adulthood, their “funerals” only remind them of all the opportunities they missed. But when one member of the old gang receives an unexpected diagnosis, the pact takes on new meaning, and each friend is forced to confront old secrets, and weigh their now-middle-age lives against the idealistic dreams of their youth.

A deeply honest tribute to selfhood and the people who keep us going, The Celebrants, coupled with Steven Rowley’s signature humor and heart, is a moving tale about the false invincibility of youth, and all the beautiful ways in which friendship can transcend our deepest losses.

Review: The Celebrants was one of my most anticipated spring reads! I’ve been a fan of Steven Rowley’s work since Lily and the Octopus. The Celebrants is a touching story about a group of five college friends who make a pact to throw each other “living funerals” after one of them dies tragically. As they approach middle age, their reunions remind them of missed opportunities, but when one member is diagnosed with a terminal illness, they are forced to confront their secrets and the idealistic dreams of their youth. As I started reading The Celebrants, I braced myself for the tough subjects that the novel explores: suicide, drug abuse, death, cancer, and terminal illness. Despite the heavy themes, I was touched by the heartfelt nature of the book. I found myself crying at the end, which is an extremely rare occurrence for me when it comes to books, and wanted to hug Steven Rowley after reading it. I admired how the author was able to capture emotion, heart, and humor into the story despite the heavy topics. The character development was impressive and I appreciated the thought put into each character, as well as the chapters that delved into their past and present. Although the book started off slow, the ending was worth the wait. I highly recommend this book to Steven Rowley fans, but please read with care.

Review: The True Love Experiment

The True Love Experiment by Christina Lauren
Publisher: Gallery Books
Pub Date: 5/16/2023

Thank you to Gallery Books for the free advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Felicity “Fizzy” Chen is lost. Sure, she’s got an incredible career as a beloved romance novelist with a slew of bestsellers under her belt, but when she’s asked to give a commencement address, it hits her: she hasn’t been practicing what she’s preached.

Fizzy hasn’t ever really been in love. Lust? Definitely. But that swoon-worthy, can’t-stop-thinking-about-him, all-encompassing feeling? Nope. Nothing. What happens when the optimism she’s spent her career encouraging in readers starts to feel like a lie?

Connor Prince, documentary filmmaker and single father, loves his work in large part because it allows him to live near his daughter. But when his profit-minded boss orders him to create a reality TV show, putting his job on the line, Connor is out of his element. Desperate to find his romantic lead, a chance run-in with an exasperated Fizzy offers Connor the perfect solution. What if he could show the queen of romance herself falling head-over-heels for all the world to see? Fizzy gives him a hard pass—unless he agrees to her list of demands. When he says yes, and production on The True Love Experiment begins, Connor wonders if that perfect match will ever be in the cue cards for him, too.

The True Love Experiment
is the book fans have been waiting for ever since Fizzy’s debut in The Soulmate Equation. But when the lights come on and all eyes are on her, it turns out the happily ever after Fizzy had all but given up on might lie just behind the camera.

Review: The True Love Experiment is the sequel to The Soulmate Equation. Felicity “Fizzy” Chen, a successful romance novelist, realizes she has never experienced true love despite preaching about it in her books. Connor Prince, a documentary filmmaker, proposes a reality TV show where Fizzy falls in love to save his job. Fizzy agrees only if Connor meets her demands, leading to the production of The True Love Experiment. As the show progresses, Fizzy begins to wonder if she too could find love, and realizes it might be closer than she thought. The True Love Experiment is a contemporary romance novel sets in LA and delves into the themes of friendship, reality dating shows, and intentions. This has become my all-favorite CLo book with so many tab-worthy quotes!!! 🤩The character development for both Fizzy and Connor was well-done and the alternating chapters between them were enjoyable. The supporting roles of River, Jess, and Juno from The Soulmate Equation were also great to see along with the introduction of new fun characters such as Natalia, Stevie, Ash, and the Heroes to name a few. Despite the main characters’ flaws, the story explores their past and their journey towards making better choices for themselves. The slow-building relationship between Fizzy and Connor, from opposites to friends to secret lovers, was beautifully executed. Overall, I would highly recommend The True Love Experiment for fans of CLo and those who enjoy swoon-worthy MCs! 😍

Review: Her Good Side

Her Good Side by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Pub Date: 5/30/2023

Thank you to Penguin Teen for the free advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. 

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Bethany Greene, though confident and self-assured, is what they call a late-bloomer. She’s never had a boyfriend, date, or first kiss. She’s determined to change that but after her crush turns her down cold for Homecoming–declaring her too inexperienced–and all her back-up ideas fall through, she cautiously agrees to go with her best friend’s boyfriend Jacob. A platonic date is better than no date, right? Until Saylor breaks up with said boyfriend.

Dumped twice in just two months, Jacob Yeun wonders if he’s the problem. After years hiding behind his camera and a shocking summer glow up, he wasn’t quite ready for all the attention or to be someone’s boyfriend. There are no guides for his particular circumstances, or for taking your ex’s best friend to the dance.

Why not make the best of an awkward situation? Bethany and Jacob decide to fake date for practice, building their confidence in matters of the heart.

And it works–guys are finally noticing Bethany. But things get complicated as their kissing sessions–for research of course!–start to feel real. This arrangement was supposed to help them in dating other people, but what if their perfect match is right in front of them?

Review: I love Rebekah’s romance books and was excited to hear that she’s releasing her young adult debut, Her Good Side. This YA contemporary romance contains fake dating, late bloomers, self discovery, and friendship. This was my first read of 2023 and I thought it was a cute read. I loved the budding relationship between Bethany (a star basketball player who wants to be chef) and Jacob (a skater boy/want to be filmmaker) who decide to fake date for a homecoming dance. Bethany and Jacob’s families and friends were all wonderful supporting characters and really loved how the author showed healthy relationships among them. I also really liked the dimension that the author gave to each character. I also thought it was pretty cool that Bethany loves Chef Evie’s show (Evie is from Cowboy to Remember). Definitely recommend picking this one up if you’re looking for a fun high school romance read!

Review: Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not by Julie Soto
Publisher: Forever Pub
Pub Date: 7/11/2023

Thank you to Forever for the free advanced copy & LibroFM for the free advanced audiobook copy in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Ama Torres loves being a wedding planner. But with a mother who has been married more times than you can count on your fingers, Ama has decided that marriage is not the route for her. But weddings? Weddings are amazing. As a small business owner, she knows how to match her clients with the perfect vendor to give them the wedding of their dreams. Well, almost perfect…

Elliot hates being a florist, most of the time. When his father left him the flower shop, he considered it a burden, but he’s stuck with it. Just like how he’s stuck with the way he proposed to Ama, his main collaborator and girlfriend (or was she?) two years ago. But flowers have grown on him, just like Ama did. And flowers can’t run off and never speak to him again, like Ama did.

When Ama is hired to plan a celebrity wedding that will bring her business national exposure, there’s a catch: Elliot is already contracted to design the flowers. Things are not helped by the two brides, who see the obvious chemistry between Ama and Elliot and are determined to set them up, not knowing their complicated history. Add in a meddling ex-boss, and a reality TV film crew documenting every step of the wedding prep, and Ama and Elliot’s hearts are not only in jeopardy again, but this time, their livelihoods are too.

Review: Forget Me Not is Julie Soto’s debut. This contemporary romance contains second chance romance trope, takes place in the wedding planning industry, strained relationships, and small business life. Ama Torres loves planning weddings but has decided that marriage is not for her due to her mother’s history. Elliot is a florist who inherited his father’s flower shop but is not passionate about it. When Ama is hired to plan a celebrity wedding where Elliot is already contracted to design the flowers, their complicated history and obvious chemistry put their hearts and livelihoods in jeopardy, especially with the interference of two brides and a reality TV film crew. I liked the plot of the book, but the execution was lacking. While Ama’s present-day perspective was interesting, Elliot’s character development in present day seemed to be lacking. Ama’s behavior and her admiration for her ex-boss, Whitney, were also irritating. Although Elliot’s past POV was helpful, it would have been better if this was shown as flashbacks in both perspectives instead of just Elliot’s. I felt that the ending was too rushed. Ama and Elliot’s present-day chemistry seemed forced and not well-developed. The reason for their past breakup and present day reconciliation didn’t make sense as to how they planned to move forward or resolve their issues. Overall, I had mixed feelings about this book and wasn’t my cup of tea.

Review: Yours Truly

Yours Truly by Abby Jimenez
Publisher: Forever
Pub Date: 4/11/2022

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Dr. Briana Ortiz’s life is seriously flatlining. Her divorce is just about finalized, her brother’s running out of time to find a kidney donor, and that promotion she wants? Oh, that’s probably going to the new man-doctor who’s already registering eighty-friggin’-seven on Briana’s “pain in my ass” scale. But just when all systems are set to hate, Dr. Jacob Maddox completely flips the game . . . by sending Briana a letter.

And it’s a really good letter. Like the kind that proves that Jacob isn’t actually Satan. Worse, he might be this fantastically funny and subversively likeable guy who’s terrible at first impressions. Because suddenly he and Bri are exchanging letters, sharing lunch dates in her “sob closet,” and discussing the merits of freakishly tiny horses. But when Jacob decides to give Briana the best gift imaginable—a kidney for her brother—she wonders just how she can resist this quietly sexy new doctor . . . especially when he calls in a favor she can’t refuse.

Review: Yours Truly features Briana (Alexis’s best friend in Part of Your World) and her new coworker, Jacob. This contemporary romance contains a fake dating trope and explores healing, family drama, moving on, and anxiety. Overall, I liked this book, but not as much as I loved Part of Your World. I loved the budding relationship and banter between Briana and Jacob. The dual POVs were great and it was interesting to read how each character was trying to handle or move on the current situations they were in and their struggles. I also really loved the side characters as well especially Jacob’s family members. It was great getting a glimpse into what Alexis and Daniel were doing from Part of Your World as well. The only part that didn’t work for me was the ending which I won’t spoil. Though I knocked it down a star, it was a four star read for me and I’d definitely recommend this to anyone who loved Part of Your World.

Review: The Soulmate

The Soulmate by Sally Hepworth
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pub Date: 4/4/2023

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: There’s a cottage on a cliff. Gabe and Pippa’s dream home in a sleepy coastal town. But their perfect house hides something sinister. The tall cliffs have become a popular spot for people to end their lives. Night after night Gabe comes to their rescue, literally talking them off the ledge. Until he doesn’t.

When Pippa discovers Gabe knew the victim, the questions spiral…Did the victim jump? Was she pushed?

And would Gabe, the love of Pippa’s life, her soulmate…lie? As the perfect facade of their marriage begins to crack, the deepest and darkest secrets begin to unravel.

Review: The Soulmate is the fourth book I’ve read from Sally Hepworth. Gabe and Pippa’s dream home on a cliff in a sleepy coastal town has become a popular spot for people to end their lives. Gabe has been talking them off the ledge until he fails to rescue a victim who he knew, raising questions about whether she jumped or was pushed and causing their seemingly perfect marriage to unravel. This thriller explores themes of marriage, betrayal, secrets, and compliance. This is one of those books were the outcome may feel predictable from the start, but the way the story dives into why it happened the way it did with twists makes this an entertaining read. The author’s writing style kept me hooked. I liked the alternating perspectives between Pippa and Amanda (the victim) and the author’s use of “before and after” chapters for each character added depth to the story that I found helpful to keep with the pacing of the storyline. I found that I liked Amanda’s chapters more because the author sheds light on the motives behind her actions. Though Pippa’s chapters were necessary for the progression of the story, I found her character to be quite frustrating due to the acceptance of her husband’s behavior. Overall, The Soulmate was 3.5 stars for me, but I rounded it up to 4 stars.

Review: What Have We Done

What Have We Done by Alex Findlay
Publisher: Minotaur
Pub Date: 3/7/2023

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: A stay-at-home mom with a past. A has-been rock star with a habit. A reality TV producer with a debt.Three disparate lives. One deadly secret.

Twenty five years ago, Jenna, Donnie, and Nico were the best of friends, having forged a bond through the abuse and neglect they endured as residents of Savior House, a group home for parentless teens. When the home was shut down―after the disappearance of several kids―the three were split up.

Though the trauma of their childhood has never left them, each went on to live accomplished―if troubled―lives. They haven’t seen one another since they were teens but now are reunited for a single haunting reason: someone is trying to kill them.

To survive, the group will have to revisit the nightmares of their childhoods and confront their shared past―a past that holds the secret to why someone wants them dead.

It’s a reunion none of them asked for . . . or wanted. But it may be the only way to save all their lives.

Review: What Have We Done is the second book I’ve read from Alex Finlay. This thriller dives into troubled pasts, secrets, friendship, and revenge. Three former friends, who were once residents of a group home for parentless teens, are reunited after 25 years due to someone trying to kill them. Despite their accomplished but troubled lives, they must confront their shared past and revisit the trauma they endured in order to survive and uncover the secret behind the attempts on their lives. I enjoyed the multiple perspectives in this book! Jenna’s viewpoint stood out to me the most, but I also appreciated the humor and insights from Donnie and Nico’s perspectives. This is one of those thrillers that I found to be wildly entertaining and completely different from Alex Finlay’s last book, The Night Shift. However, I’d recommend going in know that the book may not be entirely realistic. The twists kept me guessing until around 70% of the way through the book and even then, the journey to discover who the culprit kept me second-guessing myself and I couldn’t guess any of the smaller mysteries to the subplot which made it an enjoyable read. The ending, particularly the epilogue, felt a bit too neatly resolved, but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. This was a solid four stars for me. I’d recommend picking this up if you’re looking for an action-packed and entertaining thriller!

Review: The Bandit Queens

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff
Publisher: Random House
Pub Date: 1/3/203

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Geeta’s no-good husband disappeared five years ago. She didn’t kill him, but everyone thinks she did–no matter how much she protests.
But she soon discovers that being known as a “self-made” widow has some surprising perks. No one messes with her, no one threatens her, and no one tries to control (ahem, marry) her. It’s even been good for her business; no one wants to risk getting on her bad side by not buying her jewelry.

Freedom must look good on Geeta, because other women in the village have started asking for her help to get rid of their own no-good husbands…but not all of them are asking nicely.

Now that Geeta’s fearsome reputation has become a double-edged sword, she must decide how far to go to protect it, along with the life she’s built. Because even the best-laid plans of would-be widows tend to go awry.

Review: The Bandit Queens is Parini Shroff’s debut. This contemporary/mystery novel explores themes of women’s rights, revenge, toxic relationships, and social class. Unfortunately, this book didn’t work for me. The plot of this book sounded very intriguing but the execution was poorly done. I guess this book could be described as dark humor with extremely heavy subjects done in very poor taste. The author address heavy topics throughout the story: abuse (physical & emotional), alcoholism, rape, gaslighting, animal cruelty to name a few. The beginning of the book is super slow and barely anything happens. At first I was thinking of DNF’ing it but decided to power through it to see if it got better and it didn’t. The dialogue felt odd and didn’t really flow well with the story. I understand that India has its good and bad parts, but I think she should have showed a more balanced view of the country, didn’t bash on a particular religion, and didn’t heavily rely on the stereotypes then this could have been a powerful novel. Definitely pass on this novel as there are other great books out there from Indian authors.

Review: How to Sell a Haunted House

How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix
Publisher: Berkley
Pub Date: 1/17/2023

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Every childhood home is haunted, and each of us are possessed by our parents.

When their parents die at the tail end of the coronavirus pandemic, Louise and Mark Joyner are devastated but nothing can prepare them for how bad things are about to get. The two siblings are almost totally estranged, and couldn’t be more different. Now, however, they don’t have a choice but to get along. The virus has passed, and both of them are facing bank accounts ravaged by the economic meltdown. Their one asset? Their childhood home. They need to get it on the market as soon as possible because they need the money. Yet before her parents died they taped newspaper over the mirrors and nailed shut the attic door.

Sometimes we feel like puppets, controlled by our upbringing and our genes. Sometimes we feel like our parents treat us like toys, or playthings, or even dolls. The past can ground us, teach us, and keep us safe. It can also trap us, and bind us, and suffocate the life out of us. As disturbing events stack up in the house, Louise and Mark have to learn that sometimes the only way to break away from the past, sometimes the only way to sell a haunted house, is to burn it all down.

Review: How to Sell a Haunted House has been one of my most anticipated 2023 reads! This horror book explores themes of family secrets, strained relationships, puppetry, and troubled pasts. Overall, I enjoyed this one! All the characters are deeply flawed and it was interesting to learn more about each one. I’ve always thought that puppets were creepy, but Grady Hendrix definitely took the puppet creep factor to another level which blew my mind. I loved how complex the story was and how the subplots came together. I also couldn’t guess any of the twists in this one which made reading this fly by. Highly recommend picking this one up if you’re a Grady Hendrix fan or love horror books!

Review: Exes & O’s

Exes & O’s by Amy Lea
Publisher: Berkley
Pub Date: 1/10/2023

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Romance-novel connoisseur Tara Chen has had her heart broken ten times by ten different men–all of whom dumped her because of her “stage-five clinger” tendencies. Nevertheless, Tara is determined to find The One. The only problem? Classic meet-cutes are dead thanks to modern dating apps. So Tara decides to revisit her exes in hopes of securing her very own trope-worthy second-chance romance.

Boston firefighter Trevor Metcalfe will be the first to rush into a burning building but the last to rush into a relationship. Love just isn’t his thing. When his new roommate Tara enlists him to help her reconnect with her exes, he reluctantly agrees. But Tara’s journey is leading him to discover his own new chapter.

The more time they spend together, the more Tara realizes Trevor seems to be the only one who appreciates her authentic, dramatic self. To claim their happily-ever-after, can Tara and Trevor read between the lines of their growing connection?

Review: Exes and O’s is the second book in The Influencers series and can be read as a standalone which features Tara (Crystal’s older sister) and Trevor (Scott’s best friend/former roommate). This contemporary romance novel contains forced proximity room-ance. I enjoyed this one! I loved the storyline and loved how funny, tender hearted, and swoon worthy this was. It was wonderful to see Tara’s growth throughout the book. I also loved the depth of Trevor and why he acts the way he does. Tara and Trevor’s chemistry is a sweet slow burn and love how the author builds up their chemistry. Highly recommend picking this one up! Now I can’t wait for Mel’s story!