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 Comeback Summer

The Comeback Summer by Ali Brady
Publisher: Berkley Pub
Pub Date: 5/9/2023

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Hannah and Libby need a miracle. The PR agency they inherited from their grandmother is losing clients left and right, and the sisters are devastated at the thought of closing. The situation seems hopeless—until in walks Lou, an eccentric self-help guru who is looking for a new PR agency. Her business could solve all their problems—but there’s a catch. Whoever works with Lou must complete a twelve-week challenge as part of her “Crush Your Comfort Zone” program.

Hannah, whose worst nightmare is making small talk with strangers, is challenged to go on twelve first dates. Libby, who once claimed to have period cramps for four weeks straight to get out of gym class, is challenged to compete in an obstacle course race. The challenges begin with Hannah helping Libby train and Libby managing the dating app on her sister’s behalf. They’re both making good progress—until Hannah’s first love rolls into town, and Libby accidentally falls for a guy she’s supposed to be setting up with her sister.

Things get even more complicated when secrets come to light, making the sisters question the one relationship they’ve always counted each other. With their company’s future on the line, they can’t afford to fail. But in trying to make a comeback to honor their grandmother, are they pushing themselves down the wrong path?

Review: The Comeback Summer is the second book by author duo Ali Brady. Inheriting their grandmother’s struggling PR agency, sisters Hannah and Libby are desperate to save it when eccentric self-help guru Lou offers them a lifeline—with a catch. Both sisters must complete daunting personal challenges as part of Lou’s “Crush Your Comfort Zone” program, but secrets and romantic entanglements threaten not only their progress but their relationship as well. As they strive to honor their grandmother, the sisters must confront the question: Are they on the right path? I absolutely adored the premise of The Comeback Summer and appreciated the distinct personalities of each sister. I found myself drawn more to Libby’s perspective and storyline than Hannah’s. Libby’s inner monologue and challenges were well-developed and I felt they could have made a complete book on their own. On the other hand, Hannah’s challenge seemed somewhat sidelined and her love interest, Josh, really bothered me due to his underdeveloped character. The conflict between Hannah and Josh felt unresolved towards the end which was a bit strange. I enjoyed Libby’s ending much more. Overall, I would recommend this book to those who loved the author duo’s previous work, The Beach Trap.

Review: Jana Goes Wild

Jana Goes Wild by Farah Heron
Publisher: Forever
Pub Date: 5/2/2023

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Jana Suleiman has never really fit in—everyone always sees her as too aloof, too cool, too perfect. The one time she stepped out of her comfort zone she ended up with a broken heart and a baby on the way. Aaaand lesson learned . Now she’s a bridesmaid for a destination wedding in Serengeti National Park, and almost everyone she knows will be there. Her five-year-old daughter. Her mom. Her friends. Even her potential new boss. And of course (because who doesn’t love surprises!) her gorgeous-but-not-to-be-trusted ex.

Fortunately, Anil Malek is a great dad, even if Jana hasn’t quite forgiven him for lying to her all those years ago. Determined to show he has no effect on her whatsoever, she and the bridesmaids concoct a go-wild list to get Jana through the week. Sing karaoke? Sure. Perform their high school dance routine in front of strangers? Okay. But the more she lets down her guard, the less protection she has against her attraction to Anil. And Jana soon realizes it’s one thing to walk on the wild side . . . and quite another to fall for her ex all over again.

Review: Jana Goes Wild is the fourth book I’ve read from Farah Heron. Jana Suleiman attends a destination wedding in Serengeti National Park, where she encounters her charming ex and father of her child, Anil Malek. As she completes a go-wild list with her bridesmaid friends to prove she’s moved on, Jana realizes that letting her guard down might lead to falling for Anil once more. I was captivated by the vivid descriptions of Tanzania and delighted to see Kamila and Rohan from Kamila Knows Best as supporting characters. However, I struggled to connect with Jana’s character and felt that Anil’s personality was underdeveloped. I would have appreciated more insight into their chemistry and relationship outside of their shared parenting responsibilities, gossip/rumors, and the quick summary of their past. Exploring each of their perspectives or contrasting past and present chapters could have added depth to the story. I also would have enjoyed seeing more positive interactions with their child. Overall, I had mixed feelings about this book and second chance romances usually don’t resonate with me.

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: The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise

The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise by Colleen Oakley
Publisher: Berkley
Pub Date: 3/28/2023

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Twenty-one-year-old Tanner Quimby needs a place to live. Preferably one where she can continue sitting around in sweatpants and playing video games nineteen hours a day. Since she has no credit or money to speak of, her options are limited, so when an opportunity to work as a live-in caregiver for an elderly woman falls into her lap, she takes it.

One slip on the rug. That’s all it took for Louise Wilt’s daughter to demand that Louise have a full-time nanny living with her. Never mind that she can still walk fine, finish her daily crossword puzzle, and pour the two fingers of vodka she drinks every afternoon. Bottom line — Louise wants a caretaker even less than Tanner wants to be one.

The two start off their living arrangement happily ignoring each other until Tanner starts to notice things—weird things. Like, why does Louise keep her garden shed locked up tighter than a prison? And why is the local news fixated on the suspect of one of the biggest jewelry heists in American history who looks eerily like Louise? And why does Louise suddenly appear in her room, with a packed bag at 1 a.m. insisting that they leave town immediately?

Thus begins the story of a not-to-be-underestimated elderly woman and an aimless young woman who—if they can outrun the mistakes of their past—might just have the greatest adventure of their lives.

Review: The Mostly True Story of Tanner and Louise is the second book I’ve read from Colleen Oaklay and I enjoyed this! This contemporary romance has an element of mystery, friendship, female power, and finding your way. Tanner Quimby, a 21-year-old with no money or credit, takes a job as a live-in caregiver for an elderly woman named Louise Wilt. Although Louise does not want a caretaker, the two women eventually form an unlikely bond. However, strange things start to happen, including Louise’s involvement in a heist, and the two women embark on an adventure together. This book gave me major Thelma and Louise vibes and I’m here for it! Their intricacies were fascinating to me and the author’s ability to capture their distinct mannerisms was impressive. The book’s structure, with sections dedicated to before, during, and after Tanner and Louise’s journey, as well as intermittent commentary from Louise’s adult children, was effective in pacing the story which I appreciated. The only part I didn’t like was that it felt slightly lengthy. The audiobook narrator really brought the story to life for me which made this a compelling read. Definitely recommend picking this one up!

Review: The Love Wager by Lynn Painter

The Love Wager by Lynn Painter
Publisher: Berkley Romance
Pub Date: 3/14/2023

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Hallie Piper is turning over a new leaf. After belly-crawling out of a hotel room (hello, rock bottom), she decides it’s time to become a full-on adult.

She gets a new apartment, a new haircut, and a new wardrobe, but when she logs into the dating app that she has determined will find her new love, she sees none other than Jack, the guy whose room she’d snuck out of.

Through the app, and after the joint agreement that they are absolutely not interested in each other, Jack and Hallie become partners in their respective searches for The One. They text each other about their dates, often scheduling them at the same restaurant so that if things don’t go well, the two of them can get tacos afterward.

Spoiler: they get a lot of tacos together.

Discouraged by the lack of prospects, Jack and Hallie make a wager to see who can find true love first, but when they agree to be fake dates for a weekend wedding, all bets are off.

As they pretend to be a couple, lines become blurred and they each struggle to remember why the other was a bad idea to begin with.

Review: The Love Wager is the second book in the Mr. Wrong Number series which can be read as a standalone. This book features Jack (Olivia’s older brother) and his love interest, Hallie (the wedding bartender). Hallie Piper tries to become an adult after leaving a hotel room, and while looking for love on a dating app, she finds Jack, the guy whose room she left. They agree not to pursue each other romantically but become partners in their quest to find true love, often meeting for tacos after their dates. However, things get complicated when they make a bet to find true love first and pretend to be a couple at a wedding. The Love Wager features friends-to-lovers and fake dating tropes. I love the way that Lynn Painter successfully develops the growing friendship between Jack and Hallie with delightful texting banter and sizzling chemistry. The narrators chosen for the audiobook were perfect and kept me engaged in the story. This book is an entertaining, lighthearted, and enjoyable read. I can’t wait to read more from Lynn Painter!

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!