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?

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!

Switching Lives

The Seven Day Switch by Kelly Harms

A 4⭐️ Book Review

Do you remember Freaky Friday? I’m old enough to remember the Jodie Foster movie, as well as the more recent Jamie Lee Curtis/Lindsay Lohan remake. Neither movies were my favorite, but it’s a cute concept.

The Seven Day Switch takes that concept and puts two overstressed, misunderstood suburban moms against each other. Wendy excels in her work as a productivity consultant but can’t get her husband or kids to take out the trash. Celeste is a stay-at-home-mom who makes organic bento box lunches and hand-sews outfits for her pre-teen while trying to connect with the other moms in the neighborhood. After a sangria-filled night at the softball park, Wendy and Celeste wake up in each other’s bodies. Hilarity, misunderstandings, and realizations ensue.

I enjoyed this read. While fairly predictable, there were some really touching moments between these two moms as both realize that neither one has a lock on parenting. In the end, the book solidified its message that everyone struggles, no matter what their outside life looks like.

As a mom of three teens/pre-teens with a pretty stressful job that I love, I could relate to a lot of this book. Busyness is definitely a challenge, and I find myself looking at social media wondering how those other moms are doing everything so well while I’m over here dealing with mounds of self-doubt.

Finding Embers in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

A 5⭐️ Book Review

When an author builds a world of light and shadows, builds characters with morals and emotions, and creates a plot of twists and thrills, that author has written a great book.

Sanaa Tahir is one of those authors. I greatly enjoyed reading the first book in her An Ember in the Ashes series because of the intricate world-building, the flawed but richly drawn characters, and the plot that turned in directions I wasn’t expecting. I especially enjoyed how the book shifted between Laia’s and Elias’s points of view, and I could sense the foreshadowing for the rest of the series. However, Ms. Tahir surprised me several times in this book, so I don’t doubt that there are more surprises to come.

I was in a bit of a reading slump, but when I finally sat down with this book, I tore through 300 pages in 24 hours. I am very much looking forward to reading A Torch Against the Night and the rest of the series.

A Return to Three Pines

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny

A 5⭐️ Review

After taking us to Paris in All the Devils Are Here, Louise Penny brings us back to Three Pines in The Madness of Crowds, the 17th installment of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. I was so glad to open this beautiful edition and experience a return to the alluring Canadian village of Three Pines. Meeting the residents again was like coming home, a true sign of a great series for me.

But all is not well in Three Pines. The characters are cautiously tiptoeing out into a post-COVID-19 world. The pandemic has done to these characters what it has done to us in reality. There is fear and trepidation and a keen desire for a return to “normal,” despite a question of whether normal will ever exist again.

As the mystery unravels, Gamache shows his wisdom and gentle power, his love for his family and friends, and his innate drive to be morally good. Starting with his assignment to guard Professor Abigail Robinson to his vehement disgust against the woman’s claims of what society “needs,” Gamache battles with his own internal moral compass and watches his loved ones, especially his dear son-in-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir, do the same.

This book is about what fear can do to people. It is gorgeous and haunting and a little too real. I wanted to savor every page but also rush to read the ending. Reading a story about a post-pandemic reality was difficult for me as it felt too real at times, but Ms. Penny is a master storyteller who has created characters and settings that move me. As always, I was amazed by her ability to turn a phrase, describe a character, and unpack a mystery in a way that felt like magic. I hope that all will be well in Three Pines for many more books in the future.

Violence and Vengeance

Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby

A 5⭐️ Book Review

Razorblade Tears has been all over my Bookstagram feed for the past two months. I enjoyed this book because of the emotional story, but I have to admit that it took me longer than usual to read this one. The violence and desperation that S. A. Cosby describes is truly heartbreaking.

The book is centered on two fathers, Ike and Buddy Lee, and their deeply complicated relationships with their sons. Ike is a Black man who changed his life after his prison release but never connected with his son, Isiah. Buddy Lee, who is white, has tried to drink away his own criminal past and troubles with his son Derek. But when Isiah and Derek are shot and killed, leaving their young daughter Arianna and a mysterious story about a friend named Tangerine, Ike and Buddy Lee join together to seek vengeance against their married sons’ murderers. The fathers, both engulfed in grief, must face their assumptions about each other and their sons in order to move forward.

Razorblade Tears takes you on a journey about race, sexuality, and family. It’s a story where there are no winners, no heroes, but it’s also a story about hope and love. Mr. Cosby’s writing is descriptive and lyrical, but sparse and brutal at the same time.

Reading this book was hard. As a parent, I cannot imagine losing a child, and I ached for the losses felt by Ike and Buddy Lee. This is the most violent book I’ve read in a long time, and it felt like I was watching a movie as I read each page.

Unwind: A Book Review

Unwind by Neil Shusterman

A 4⭐️ Book Review

The first book in the Unwind Dystology by Neil Shusterman is a quick, but disturbing read. I can’t say that I loved this book, but it was a good read, one that I’ll be thinking for quite awhile.

Unwinds are children. Some are marked for Unwinding from before their births, and some are designated as Unwind for various reasons as they grow older. Be a troublemaker like Connor? Unwind. Be a ward of the state without enough musical talent like Risa? Unwind. Be the 10th child in a religious family dedicated to tithing 10% like Lev? Unwind.

And what is an Unwind? Simply put, an Unwind will be harvest for parts. Eyes, hearts, lungs, appendages. All taken from Unwinds and grafted into people who are considered more deserving.

None of these teenagers know each other at the start of the book, but Connor’s actions set in motion a journey to run from the harvest camps and launch a course for each of them to discover who they are, Unwind or not.

This book is heavy. While weaving together the story of Connor, Risa, and Lev, Shusterman addresses abortion, the soul, and body autonomy, all topics that are relevant and worldly now in 2021. I’m impressed by Shusterman’s ability to build a dystopian world layered with foundations of our own realities and bring the hard questions to life.

We Are the Brennans

We Are the Brennans by Tracey Lange

A 5⭐️ Book Review

I love family-focused novels. Family relationships are so complicated, and a good writer brings those stories to life. Tracey Lange is one of those authors. We Are the Brennans is an amazing novel. On the surface, it’s a story about one daughter’s return home after a self-imposed exile. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a story about secrets and duty and loyalty, striving for more and living in the roles others have placed on you, and finding your family beyond your bloodlines.

I loved the multiple points of view in this novel, especially how Lange shifts the POV by using dialogue from chapter to chapter. The characters are well-formed and nuanced, and I found myself rooting for all of the Brennan siblings.