The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

I’m not sure about you, but I just can’t believe this summer break is already ending. My oldest son is already in his second week of 8th grade, my daughter starts 5th grade tomorrow, and my youngest boy starts Pre-K next week! Needless to say, we’re heading back to the school/sports/dance/Scouts/clubs daily grind in full force. I really can’t complain though, because this summer was such an amazing time for me- fun visits with family, short travel trips, and plenty of time for reading! I discovered so many awesome reads this summer and I’ve now made it 3/4 of the way through my Goodreads Reading Challenge (75 books in 2019).

This past weekend, we had one last hurrah out of town so I chose The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren as my pick for a poolside read and my goodness, it was SO good! Lighthearted, funny, witty, and so charming, I just couldn’t put this one down.

Olive Torres is the unlucky twin, while her sister Ami seems to have everything going for her- a great job, an optimistic personality, and a super hot soon-to-be husband, Dane. Meanwhile, Olive just got fired from her job, has no dating life, and has been stress eating. However, during Ami and Dane’s wedding, everyone comes down with a disgusting bug thanks to the seafood buffet, except for Olive and her nemesis, Dane’s brother, Ethan, who happens to despise (and avoid) buffet food.

Ethan may be gorgeous, but he’s also smug, arrogant, and he and Olive can’t stand each other. They’ve spend the past couple of years hating each other, in fact, and avoiding each other when at all possible. However, when the entire wedding party gets violently ill, Ami and Dane insist that Olive and Ethan go on their honeymoon trip to Maui. What could go wrong, right? A free all-inclusive vacation….Olive and Ethan wouldn’t even have to spend any time together, right? From the get-go, I was hooked on their story and couldn’t get enough!

This was such a fun, light read, and I enjoyed every second of it! Both Olive and Ethan were just likeable characters and their mishaps and journey in Hawaii made me laugh out loud. The ending was wonderful and I finished my weekend with a smile. Don’t you just love when a good book does that?

Anyway, if you’re looking for a super great read to finish out this summer, The Unhoneymooners is the perfect choice! Its filled with lots of funny moments, but also a lot of heart.

5 out of 5 stars for The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren which is out now and available everywhere!

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It’s Been a FIVE STAR Summer, Y’all! Cemetery Road by Greg Iles

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I just have to tell you all- this has been the BEST summer for reading in a LOOONNNNGG time. As I cruise through my TBR list, I keep discovering gem after gem, and I cannot be more excited about my most recent read, Cemetery Road by Greg Iles. Iles is a famous NY Times bestselling author, and although I’ve often heard of his bestselling Penn Cage novels (including Natchez Burning), I didn’t decide to pick one up until seeing this cover for Cemetery Road. Isn’t it just so beautiful and haunting? I’d just finished a quick light read, too, so it was the perfect time to start this nearly 600 page stand-alone crime thriller.

Marshall McEwan (one of my favorite literary names to date) has returned from his prestigious journalism job in Washington D.C. to his hometown of Bienville, Mississippi to help with his family’s 150-year old newspaper. Marshall’s father, a well-respected journalist in his own right, has Parkinson’s and is steadily declining, but this is just the beginning of Marshall’s problems. Returning to his hometown means confronting a past filled with devastating heartbreak and tragedy, and the constant reminders of all that has happened in Bienville and what could’ve been. Marshall’s childhood love, Jet Talal, is married to his former best friend Paul, the son of Max Matheson, one of the most powerful members of the Bienville Poker Club. The Poker Club has held a vice grip on the town for generations and is willing to anything to make sure their interests are understood and adhered to in “their town.”

On the night before the consummation of a deal for a Chinese paper mill that will bring economic salvation to the community, a well-respected archaeologist ends up dead. It sure doesn’t look like an accident, not with the gash to head and the unlikely location where the body was found, even if there is pressure on the coroner to determine so. Problem is, Buck Ferris was Marshall’s mentor and a great friend, and he is not willing to let Buck’s death go uninvestigated. This puts a WHOLE lot of people at risk, and not to mention threatens the deal with the Chinese mill that Bienville so desperately needs.

My two favorite elements of this book were the city of Bienville and Marshall’s character. Some towns, especially those with such a rich and complicated history, become the main character in the lives of those who inhabit it…the economic situation, the disparity of the haves and have nots, and the rich history of generations of friends and enemies. Bienville was so vivid in my mind, and Marshall’s character was the perfect mix of a man trying to live up to a level of consistent morality while grappling with human failures that lead a chain of reaction affecting so many people.

This book was filled with so much mystery and intensity, that I stayed up two nights to finish it, holding my breath and worrying (and hoping) intensely for these fictional characters to have a positive outcome. The danger was palpable and gritty, and just SO DANG GOOD. The implications of our decisions and those before us are so magnified in Cemetery Road, and I loved every minute of it! I’ve already added all of Greg Iles’ books to my list and I cannot wait to read them. The writing is phenomenal, the characters are deeply complicated and nuanced….it just doesn’t get better than this!

5 out of 5 stars for Cemetery Road by Greg Iles, which was published in March 2019 and is available for purchase here.

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

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Isn’t this the creepiest cover? It fits my newest read, Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter, perfectly! For me, Karin Slaughter books are reserved for those days when I’m feeling particularly brave because her works are NOT for the faint of heart. She’s a masterful thriller writer, but almost too good, because some of her books have seriously spooked me….lots of violence, gore, and graphic details!

I have to be honest, this one took me a couple of chapters to get interested, but once I got into the book, I was hooked. I almost gave up on this because I thought the first chapter was a bit dull, so just gloss over this part and know that it gets better soon!

Andrea “Andy” is the protagonist in this story- back in her seaside Georgia hometown after an unproductive few years in New York City, she feels like a failure in life. She works a job as a 911 operator and lives in her mom’s extra bungalow apartment, worrying that she’ll never find her place in the world. On her 31st birthday, Andy goes out for a casual dinner with her mother, when they’re interrupted by a crazed mass shooter. Andy and her mother are witnesses to a double homicide, but then Andy’s mom Laura jumps in to save the day, subduing and killing the shooter. What’s crazy is this- Laura saves the day in such as way that goes viral and leads the world to wonder…how did this seemingly average mom and cancer survivor so effortlessly and militaristically take down the gunman??

After the horrific events at dinner, Andy’s life changes immediately. Danger is constant, and Andy quickly learns that her mother has sooooooo many secrets. Is Laura a good guy? A bad guy? Why does it seem that she’s being followed? Newly paranoid and faced with so many unanswered questions about who her mother really is, Andy begins a wild goose chase that puts so many people in danger, not to mention her own constant risk. Secrets are rapidly uncovered in this total roller-coaster of a book, one of the most intense ones I’ve read so far this summer. Almost 500 pages, this book is a constant gut punch of adrenaline!

I really liked the flashbacks from Andy’s perspective in the present to Laura’s earlier years, as it really allows you to understand where and who she was back then and why she made the decisions she did. I won’t give away spoilers, but I was definitely shocked and disturbed about her early life as well as the lengths she went to while under the influence of the highly charismatic Nick.

Also, I just recently learned that Pieces of Her will be adapted to a TV show, which will appear on Netflix and begins production later this year. Definitely keep an eye out for this! The characters are super well-written so this would make a fantastic series!

4 out of 5 stars for Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter, which was published by William Morrow in August 2018 and is available here.

Run Away by Harlan Coben

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Today I’m super excited to share my thoughts about Harlan Coben’s new book, Run Away, which I really enjoyed! Do you have a go-to author who seems to always put out good books on a regular basis? That’s Harlan Coben for me. Whenever I get notification that he has a new book coming out, I always buy it or put it on hold at the library, even without knowing what it’s about…just because I know it’ll be good. He never lets me down, and this newest one is no exception.

Simon Greene is a successful Manhattan-ite and financial advisor who loves and lives for his family, even his drug-addicted daughter, Paige, who has dropped out of college and is living on the streets with her drug-dealing, good for nothing boyfriend. One day, out of the blue, and after not seeing or hearing from his daughter in some time, he sees Paige, eyes glassed over and playing a guitar for money in the park. Simon tries to connect with her, but she runs away, which leads to a viral confrontation. However, Simon sees the desperate condition his daughter’s in and resolves to do ANYTHING to find her and get her back.

I really enjoyed this thriller because I could SO empathize with a parent’s love for their children and their willingness to do anything to make sure they’re safe. Simon enters a drug-infected, gritty world filled with endless danger, crime, and seedy characters, but he dives into this anyway because he knows his daughter’s life is at stake.

I really loved the supporting characters in the book, such as Ingrid (Simon’s wife), Cornelius, and private investigator Elena, all of whom provided depth and reality to the story. The side story with Ash, Dee Dee, and the Truth cult was an interesting touch, and while I wasn’t sure where it was going for a bit, everything came together nicely.

If you’re a fan of fast-paced thrillers with elements of family and loyalty to the ones you love, you’ll definitely enjoy this one!

4 out of 5 stars for Run Away by Harlan Coben, which was published in March 2019 and is available for purchase here.

 

One of My Favorite Books……EVER.

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“Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are.”

Once every few years, I’ll come across a book that I mentally file away in my favorite books…ever list. Well let me tell you, City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert is so memorable and captivating that it was placed on my favorite list almost immediately. Most of you are already familiar with Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love, but her newest book (published June 4, 2019) will give you a whole new appreciation for this brilliant author.

The book begins with 89 year-old Vivian Morris writing a letter of sorts to Angela, a woman whom we don’t know anything about for 90% of the book, as she looks back on her life over the years. In 1940, Vivian gets thrown out of Vassar College after flunking every single class, something that both disappoints and humiliates her upperclass WASP parents and older brother. Vivian is sent to New York City to live with her eccentric Aunt Peg, who runs a ramshackle but flamboyant theater filled with a whole host of interesting characters.

In New York City, Vivian meets her womanizing uncle Billy, straight-laced and always serious Olive, a gorgeous showgirl named Celia, the glamorous actress Edna, as well as so many other wild and crazy characters and navigates her way through a truly fascinating time in the city. Young, reckless, and full of ambition, Vivian seems to find her place in the theater world and the Big City until a scandal rocks her world and threatens to destroy her life as well as the theater’s existence.

I cannot even express how wonderful ALL of the characters are in this book. Experiencing Vivian’s youthful naivete and excursions in the city was so thrilling and immediately, I LOVED City of Girls. It’s full of so much experience, vulnerability, heartbreak, and self-reflection, while also being humorous, OUTLANDISH, sexy, nostalgic, and poignant.

Aunt Peg is one of my favorite literary characters of all time and I will never forget her.

5 out of 5 stars doesn’t even come close to describing how much I loved this book. Elizabeth Gilbert, you are phenomenal!

If you would like to purchase City of Girls, you can do so here.

A trifecta of FIVE STAR WW2 historical fiction reads!

We’re smack dab in the middle of summer break and I have two thoughts right now- 1) Ohhh how I love summertime! and 2) Why do summer days pass by TEN TIMES as quickly as winter/spring/fall?? The kids have been running around like hooligans for the past month (okay, okay and playing soccer, reading, crafting, and doing a plethora other responsible summer activities) and I have been striking GOLD with my summer reading list!

Today I want to tell you about not one, not two, but three wonderful historical fiction reads. I didn’t have a theme or anything going in to summer break, but it seems I’ve added lots of WW2-centric novels on my list in the past couple of months. So here, ladies and gentlemen, are my three favorites I’ve read this past couple of weeks:

RESISTANCE WOMEN by Jennifer Chiaverini

(Published May 14th, 2019 by William Morrow)

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First of all, if you keep up with book blogs and/or upcoming hot book lists, you’ve heard about this one. Jennifer Chiaverini is a master storyteller and her ability to make history engaging and raw is uncanny (if you haven’t read Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker…do it!). This 604-page book tells the story of real and imaginary characters through the decade leading up to Hitler and the Nazis’ rise to power in Germany as well as through to the end of the war. I have to tell you, without being incredibly political, I found this portion of the book (the first 2/3 or so) the most terrifying and eye-opening, and parallel in some ways to the current climate of division and scapegoating happening here in the USA over the past several years. Hitler didn’t begin his career slaughtering or even calling for the murder of millions of innocent people. He started slowly, first by giving disillusioned working and middle-class Germans an ear to listen to their concerns, and then worked to sow a level of distrust between ordinary citizens and “others”- Jews, women, highly-educated intellectuals, not to mention any non-Aryans and the entire media (the “fake news” of their day, if you will). Hitler slowly wove a web of distrust and hatred which created a climate ripe for the invasion of many countries and the murder of MILLIONS of Jews, soldiers, and everyday citizens.

Resistance Women tells the story of Mildred Harnack and her husband Arvid, both of whom were real resistance champions at a time when speaking up could and often did lead to a death sentence. Mildred, an American, marries her husband Arvid, a German scholar, after they meet in college in Michigan. Mildred falls in love with Germany and sees what the rise of fascism is doing to her new home. We also follow Martha Dodd, the daughter of the US Ambassador to Germany, author Greta Kuckoff, and a young Jewish student Sara Weitz, all with real stories and lives full of promise and conviction.

The bravery these people showed during one of the most tumultous times in world history is mind boggling, beautiful, and awe-inspiring, not to mention heartbreaking and devastating. I won’t give spoilers, but if you don’t already know the stories of the Harnacks and the others, prepare yourself….I promise you won’t ever forget these amazing resistance women!

5 out of 5 stars for Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini which is available to purchase now!

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys

(Published April 3. 2012 by Penguin)

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Although Between Shades of Gray has been on my to-read list for a few years now, I’d hesitated to read it because it’s YA, and I’ve just read too many “blah” young adult novels. So if you’re like me and tend to stay away from YA titles , PLEASE give this one a chance. As soon as I finished this one, I immediately put several other books by this amazing author on hold at my local library. I think I’ll read this one again with my daughter, and although some of the content is disturbing, I remind myself that history is real and we cannot shield our children from the past horrors of the world. This book isn’t problematic in terms of language and though we may skip a couple of paragraphs here and there due to violent content, I am 100% confident my soon-to-be 10 year-old can handle it and appreciate this book’s beauty and tragedy. Also important to note, this book gives a wonderful historical perspective of the Soviet Union, Lithuania and their role in World War II, which was interesting to me as I really don’t know a lot of the details of these countries’ roles in the war.

In this story, Lina is a fifteen year-old typical girl and blossoming artist living in her native Lithuania with her mother, father, and younger brother. Life is normal and quite wonderful, until one night when Soviet soldiers bang on her family’s door and demand everyone pack only what they can carry and then force them onto cramped, disgusting train cars to who-knows-where. This book is SO fast-paced that I felt myself holding my breath and wondering how so many people could even manage having their lives uprooted without a moment’s notice.

We find out that Lina, her mother, and younger brother are being sent against their will, along with thousands of other Lithuanians (their crime simply being Lithuanian, as the Soviets have invaded their country during WW2), to a brutal work camp in the far reaches of Siberia. Lina’s father has been sent to prison,  as was the case for too many innocent Lithuanian men, women, and children. On the cramped journey to Siberia, Lina meets several people from all walks of life and begins a friendship with a teenage boy named Andrius. Their story, and that of their mothers, and Lina’s younger brother are both vivid and heartbreaking. They all work in these work camps for YEARS, and the ending of the book literally made me cry. I was so engrossed in this book, I just read it straight through in a couple of hours and ended up with a major book hangover the next morning.

5 out of 5 stars for Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Also, just FYI, there’s a movie out called Ashes in the Snow which is based on this book, and I am excited to see it.

WHITE ROSE, BLACK FOREST by Eoin Dempsey

(Published March 1, 2018 by Lake Union Publishing)

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Last but certainly not least is White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey, a brilliant Irish author who tells the fictional story of Franka Gerber. It’s a winter night- December 1943 and Franka is venturing into the Black Forest from her family’s once-happiness-filled vacation cabin with a gun and a mission- she’s ready to kill herself and be done with this war once and for all. However, on her way to commit suicide, she comes across a badly injured and unconscious man, connected to a parachute, in a Luftwaffe uniform. A dissenter who abhors the Nazis and what they’ve done to her country, Franka wonders- Should I just leave him here to die? But then, just for a moment, the man wakes up and yells something……in English. Huh?! She immediately believes this man is not who he claims to be and risks her life and safety, abandoning her plan to kill herself in order to rescue this guy and nurse him back to health.

I really loved this book because there was so much mystery woven everywhere. We don’t find out who the man really is until quite far into the book and I found myself guessing incorrectly at every turn. I loved the perspective of the war from a “perfect Aryan” (as she is described by the Gestapo), because Franka could be one of the few people in Germany to live a fairly normal life during the war, if only she’d just marry a Gestapo officer and have tons of Aryan babies. However, we learn this is SO not Franka Gerber. She’s just a regular German who despises what Hitler and the Nazis have done to Germany, and is at a point where she feels that literally everything has been taken from her, so what’s the point of living? Thorughout the book, I  wondered how, unlike Franka, many millions of Germans chose just to try making it through the war, barely more than a generation after The Great War, unaware (out of ignorance or though sheer will and force) of what was happening all around them.

Once we find out who the man is, Franka and the man must determine whether or not they can trust each other, and how they can both meet their objectives before the world crumbles around them more than it already has. This book moves incredibly quickly, and I LOVED the ending. It seems strange in a book with this kind of premise, but I felt it ended just how it needed to. I finished the last page with the belief that we’re all meant to find our place in the world, and that we have a sincere obligation to confront hatred and division whenever and wherever we see it.

5 out of 5 stars for White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey.

 

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

Hi guys! It felt like FOREVER since I last did a book review and then I realized it was back in January! 😱 In my house, we have two levels of busy: regular busy and no-free-days-for-months busy. The last few months have just been nuts, and I am grateful things are slowing down a bit.

Also, the last few books I’ve read have only been so-so. I was beginning to get into a bit of a book rut which is never fun. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to come across An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena. It’s a super fast-pace mystery/thriller whodunit that kept me guessing right up until the very end. It’s about a group of strangers, each of whom are seeking the comforts and relaxation of an upscale boutique hotel called Mitchell’s Inn during a winter blizzard weekend. I have to say, the setting was so great, and I happily imagined myself there…..well, until the first person ended up dead.

After the first night at the hotel ends in tragedy, the guests mourn over a seemingly tragic accident. That is, until another guest ends up dead. At the same time, the hotel loses all electricity and the treacherous winter conditions make venturing outside for help impossible. It seems like there’s a killer on the loose…is there a stranger hiding in the hotel or is one of the guests a murderer?!

Usually with murder mysteries, I get a good idea of what or who’s responsible but with this one I had NO IDEA up until the very last chapter. I LOVED this! The characters were fun and complicated and I loved everyone. I found myself wondering how I would react in a situation like this. We’re all so focused on our phones and easy instant communication that it seems so crazy to think about what I would do if I literally couldn’t get a hold of anyone and had to rely on a group of strangers (one of whom might be a murderous lunatic)!

If you like Agatha Christie inspired murder mysteries, you do NOT want to miss this!

5 out of 5 stars for An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena which is available everywhere!