Five Stars for Firekeeper’s Daughter

Firekeeper’s Daughter

By Angeline Boulley

A 5⭐️ Book Review

Firekeeper’s Daughter has been on my TBR list since my Book of the Month order this summer. I can’t believe I waited this long to read it!

This book wasn’t what I expected, but I’d heard great reviews. Because of the cover, I thought it would be more of a fantasy read, but you know what happens when you judge a book by its cover, right? Luckily, the real story here was so much better than I expected.

Daunis Fontaine is a dutiful daughter. She balances her life between her hometown and the Ojibwe reservation with respect and honor as she cares for her family and friends. Having opted not to go away for college, she is putting her dreams of studying science to the side in order to help others.

But all isn’t well in her community or with Daunis. Her mother, Grace Fontaine, still grieves for Daunis’s father, Levi Firekeeper Sr., who she was unable to marry when she got pregnant with Daunis because of her age (16) and her parents’ misgivings about Grace being with an Ojibwe man. By the time Grace returned home, Levi had found another woman, who bore him a son, Levi Jr. Despite the familial tensions, Daunis and her half-brother remain close, even after their father’s death.

That is not all. There’s an epidemic of meth in the community, and Daunis loses a loved one in a shocking event because of addiction. That leads her to work with the FBI and on her own mission to find out what’s killing her loved ones. The story weaves together culture and gender roles and social issues in a way that feels simple, but is filled with complexity beneath the surface.

I opted to listen to this book despite having a beautiful copy on my shelf. While I will say I felt like it was a little long in parts, every chapter contributed to the story. I rooted for Daunis and felt such satisfaction – and sadness – in the end. This is a well-deserved 5-star book for me!

A Winning Hand Against the Ace of Spades

Ace of Spades

By Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

A 5⭐️ Book Review

Sometimes a book sits on my TBR for a long time because I know my expectations are so high that I don’t want to ruin them by reading it. Anyone else?

Luckily, Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé exceeded my expectations and more. This book is amazing, and I was shocked to learn that this is the author’s debut novel. It’s smart, socially aware, and engaging, and I’ve continued to think about it since I finished yesterday. All of that equals a great book in my opinion!

Devon and Chiamaka are seniors at Niveus Private Academy. They both have high hopes for their futures, but Aces wants to dash all those dreams to the side. This anonymous bully knows their secrets, and isn’t afraid to tell. Devon, a quiet musician who is determined to fulfill his mother’s wishes of going to college, and Chiamaka, an overachieving It Girl who considers popularity as important as her college applications, are desperate to confront Aces, so these polar opposites join together to bring the masked texter down.

This book has been marketed as Gossip Girl meets Get Out, and I can see the parallels in so much of the plot. With race, sexuality, social status, and money factoring into all parts of this story, Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé created a world where you don’t know who to trust or what to believe, and then she brought it all home to an incredibly satisfying ending.

I listened to this one on audiobook but am glad have the lovely hardcover to add to my collection. Isn’t the cover great? The audio was amazing, and I would love to see Devon and Chiamaka’s story brought to screen.

P.S. If you read this one, be sure to read the Author’s Note at the end. It’s fantastic!

Found Family in The People We Keep

The People We Keep by Allison Larkin

A 5⭐️ Book Review

So many people recommended The People We Keep by Allison Larkin, and I’m mad that I took so long to pick it up. This book is so good!

Teenage April is lost, physically and emotionally abandoned by her parents, adrift in her relationships with boys, and desperate to use her music to make a statement. As she tries to escape from her past and from her mistakes, she meets a collection of characters who teach her about the world – some lessons are good, and some not so good. But what she finds along the way adds to her strong sense of survival.

I can’t give away too many details except that this is a love story of friendship and found family, and an amazing one at that. I loved the nuanced characters, how they drive the plot to this story, and the outcome is so satisfying without being at all saccharine. Ms. Larkin has written a winner with The People We Keep!

Another Five-Star Read from Chandler Baker

The Husbands by Chandler Baker

A 5⭐️ Book Review

I love a good neighborhood storyline. In a perfectly luxurious enclave of suburban households, there’s always something amiss. Add a few devious housewives, and I’m hooked.

That’s probably why I flew through The Husbands by Chandler Baker. This is my second book by Ms. Baker, as I read and loved Whisper Network a few years ago.

Nora isn’t a particularly likable protagonist. She’s a bit needy and has somewhat of a victim mentality, but those flaws are realistic and are valuable to the plot. She clearly loves her husband Hayden, but she resents that he is rarely an active participant in their daily family life. When she and Hayden take a trip to see a potential new house in the idyllic Dynasty Ranch subdivision, Nora sets her sights not just on the perfect new upgrade to their living conditions, but also an upgrade to their marriage.

“Every home in Dynasty Ranch has neat lawns. Every home is sixty-three feet apart. Every home is a model home, perfect, a promise of domestic bliss. The American Dream. The white picket fence.”

The perfect model homes come with a price tag, but be that Nora thinks she’s willing to pay, but as she digs deeper into the lives of her newfound friends – The Real Housewives of Dynasty Ranch – she discovers that what she thought she’d be paying is so much more.

The Husbands is Stepford Wives turned on it’s head, with husbands who willingly bare the same amount of household duties as their overworked wives; with husbands who remember kids’ play dates, lunch money, and class parties; with husbands who revere their wives and welcome you into their homes with fresh-pressed juice and five-course meals. But is that the husband Nora really wants?

I loved this book! It hits all the high points of a domestic thriller with complex relationships, seemingly idyllic lifestyles, and a battle for control. It’s a slow burn novel, one that immersed me into Nora’s life. On the heels of her brilliant Whisper Network, Chandler Baker has written another twisty novel that pits expectations against reality, friend against friend, and women against men.

Good Reading with Illicit Intent

Illicit Intent

By Debbie Baldwin

A 5-Star Book Review

I love stories and movies in which seemingly unconnected storylines and characters come together over the course of the main plot. It’s so satisfying when the connections become apparent. That’s why I enjoyed Illicit Intent by Debbie Baldwin so much, in addition to the amazing chemistry between her characters, particularly Miller “Tox” Buchanan and Calliope Garland.

This installment of the Bishop Security series weaves together a grand art heist, a financier’s wrongdoings, and a lot of steam between Tox and Calliope. I really enjoyed the characters and their rapport, as well as the interactions between Tox and his brothers of Bishop Security. The plot and subplots art fast-paced and intricate, making for a great read!

Thank you to Debbie Baldwin for my gifted copy of Illicit Intent and the other books in her series: False Front and Buried Beneath. I can’t wait to read them!

And as a bonus? My Fire Pet and Fantasy candles from Serpent and Flame add just the right amount of color-coordinated glitter to this post! Fire Pet is a blend of saffron, ginger, amber and a dash of lemon with warm, spicy and citrus notes while Fantasy is sweet and earthy blend of red currant, sandalwood and citrus. I love them!

That Disappointing Summer

That Summer

By Jennifer Weiner

A 3-⭐️ Review

I’ve tried to write this post without spoilers, but there is a significant plot point that I must include.

I feel like I missed the content warnings that should go alongside That Summer by Jennifer Weiner. This book was a real struggle to read because of its focus on rape, the aftermath of trauma, and the #metoo movement. I was taken aback when I continued to read this one, like, “How did I miss that this one is about rape?”

As you can see from the photo, I’m a big fan of Weiner, but this one missed the mark. I miss the books of Weiner’s previous years: Good in Bed, Little Earthquakes, Who Do You Love, and others.

I am a survivor of sexual assault, and Diana’s story did resonate in parts. But it wasn’t for me. Maybe it’s because I am a survivor, or maybe it’s because I just didn’t connect with the other characters. 

Like all of Weiner’s books, That Summer features interesting characters on a trajectory toward growth. Daisy seemed like a character of convenience, and her daughter Beatrice didn’t play enough of a role; neither did Danny, Daisy’s brother. Everything wrapped up a little too easily, despite Weiner’s vague Coda. It wasn’t without merits, but this one just wasn’t for me.

What book took you by surprise in a good or negative way recently?

A Darker Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone

By Leigh Bardugo

A 4-⭐️ Book Review

I fully recognize that this is probably an unpopular opinion, but here it is: I liked Shadow and Bone, but I didn’t love it.

Let me say this, I know that the Grishaverse fandom is strong, and I get it. I understand how people could ship Alina and Mal. I see the appeal of the Grisha. I definitely appreciate the world-building in this book.

But it just felt a bit flat to me. I wanted more of Baghra and Genya. I wanted more of the Darkling. And I definitely wanted more steam from Alina and Mal.

This book is good, but it wasn’t a 5-star read for me. It’s a “very happy to have read” because I’m glad I know the story now, but it’s not at the top of my list. Maybe that’s because I read it so slowly and have been in a heavy mindset for the past few weeks.

Have you read Shadow and Bone or another Grishaverse book? I have several recommendations that I should read the Six of Crows duology. What do you think?

Love, Comment, Subscribe – A RomCom for 2021

Love, Comment, Subscribe

By Cathy Yardley

A 5-⭐️ Book Review

What happens when an up-and-coming beauty influencer and a nerdy gamer reconnect from high school to bring fresh content for their YouTube channels? Sparks fly and subscribers love it, that’s what!

Lily Wang – aka EverLily – is hyper-driven and focused on hitting the 6 million subscribers mark on her YouTube channel so she can secure a deal to create her own palette and join the ranks of other popular beauty influencers. She lives and breathes by her rigid content calendar and her Social Blade stats. But her numbers aren’t moving as quickly as she planned and a chance encounter with frenemy Daisy, a Flapper-esque YouTuber with an enviable YT channel, forces Lily to rethink her strategy.

Enter Tobin Bui – aka GoofyBui – whose Lord of the Rings tribute video has just gone viral. Lily and Tobin were part of the Nerd Herd at Ponto Beach High a decade before, and their friends consistently bet on whether the pair would either hook up or throttle each other. Tobin is smart, cute, and funny, but his impulsivity and jokester persona doesn’t vibe with Lily’s carefully curated look. Tobin has his own problems: he’s creatively blocked now that he has to surpass the numbers for his gone-viral video, his parents don’t understand his job, and nothing his agents bring to him feels right.

Lily rarely speaks to Tobin now, but when she’s backed into a corner, she reaches out and pitches a collaboration, six videos across their channels. Will they be able to turn their beauty and gamer personalities into videos that people want to watch? Of course. With a lot of our-of-the-box thinking, compromise, and sexual chemistry.

Love, Comment, Subscribe is a sweet romcom with a ton of heart. Author Cathy Yardley’s book isn’t just about YouTubers finding love. She builds the relationship between Lily and Tobin by crafting internal and external tension for her characters, whether it’s their mutually felt pressure to succeed, or Lily’s desire to finally be popular and not part of the Nerd Herd, or Tobin’s own battle to earn a living at what he loves without compromising his morals. This tension and pressure is what pushed the book to a 5-star rating for me as I could so very much relate to those struggles.

Love, Comment, Subscribe is a 5-star for other reasons, too. Here are a few more things a loved about this book:

  • The diversity of the characters. Lily and Tobin are Asian American protagonists, which is refreshing to see in romcoms, as is the LGBTQIA representation by characters like Asad, Mikki, and Chrysalis.
  • The YouTube/influencer environment. I don’t watch much YouTube unless I’m researching something for work, and I’d be hard-pressed to name any famous beauty influencers. But, I enjoyed reading about what it’s like to be in this sphere.
  • The high school Nerd Herd/popular kids trope. The throwback scenes gave me Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and Can’t Buy Me Love vibes, both of which are two of my favorite high school movies.
  • Tobin’s arc as a carefree prankster with a heart of gold.
  • The steam between Lily and Tobin. This is a romcom that does it right. There was just the right amount of steam to be realistic for the plot.
  • The cameos by Lily and Tobin’s high school friends. I wanted more of Emily, Josh, and Asad, just to name a few, so I’m thrilled to know that Ms. Yardley is writing a Ponto Beach Reunion series! Gouda Friends will be released in March 2022 and will focus on Josh and Lily’s friend Tam.

Thank you to Cathy Yardley and InkSlingerPR for the opportunity to read and review Love, Comment, Subscribe! Pick up this book today!

Discovering a Torch in the Night

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

A 5⭐️ Book Review

A Torch Against the Night continues the story of Laia and Elias, two strong-willed protagonists who are bound together by a sense of right and duty. In this follow-up, author Sabaa Tahir continues to weave her tale of An Ember in the Ashes, a story of high-fantasy, Rome-like intrigue, and magical jinn while holding on to the power of family, honor, and love.

While Laia and Elias continue the search for her brother, Darin, we also get to better know Helene Aquilla, the Blood Shrike and Elias’s oldest friend. I liked reading Helene’s point of view as she battles two unbearable choices: to follow the Emperor’s orders and kill her best friend or to deny her role as Blood Shrike and see her family slaughtered. With magical secrets attached to each of these characters, this book is driven by their wants and needs, as well as an action-packed plot. I really enjoyed this follow-up and am looking forward to reading the third and fourth Emberling books.

Loving GUP: A Beautiful Book

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

A 5⭐️ Book Review

The Guncle was a mainstay on Bookstagram this summer, and there’s a good reason for that. This book by Steven Rowley is just delightful, a real five-star read. Or, in Patrick’s case, maybe five martinis?

Patrick O’Hara walked away from Hollywood after his hit TV show ended several years ago and now lives a quiet life in the desert of Palm Springs. That’s how he likes it, as he’s still mourning the death of Joe, his lover from many years ago. But then, when Sara, his best friend and sister-in-law, dies, Patrick must care for his niece and nephew while his brother Greg deals with his own health issues. What is a Golden Globe-winning actor supposed to do with two kids under 10 who are grieving for their mother?

The answer comes in the form of funny shenanigans, pool floats, and a grumpy Aunt Clara, along with a new dog Marlene and a pink Christmas tree in July. Maisie and Grant help GUP (Gay Uncle Patrick) heal his own losses as much as he does theirs. This book is full of heartwarming, tender moments as Patrick realizes what’s important to him and learns how to live with the ghosts of his beloved friend and lover. The Guncle is a real treat to read because of the witty dialogue and fun antics of a whole host of characters. I highly recommend this one!