These Violent Delights (These Violent Delights #1) by Chloe Gong—published 2020—YAL fantasy/retellings—three stars: I have a love/hate relationship with retellings. I have an even stronger love/hate relationship with Romeo and Juliet. So a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in Shanghai during the 1920s sounded torturous. Perfect! There’s even a water monster! And gangs! And Cabaret! A beautifully written first chapter starts the book, and Gong weaves in some of the play’s original motifs like day vs. night and birds. However, I couldn’t handle the fluff between the first chapter’s end and the book’s last twenty-two percent.
Enjoy the View (Moose Springs, Alaska #3) by Sarah Morgenthaler—published 2021—romance—four stars: Have I read the first two books in this series? No. But the cover and the blurb begged me to read it. The beginning confused me, but the storyline drew me in. River, a Hollywood actress who’s looking to make the switch to behind the camera, is on the side of a road hauling a suitcase of rocks on the outskirts of Moose Springs, Alaska, attempting to shoot footage for her documentary when Easton—gargantuan, bearded, and man-bunned—pulls over to offer her help. Furious that her shot is ruined, she enlists him to hold a pizza box sign that will deter other good samaritans from ruining footage. Sparks fly between the two. When the Alaskan Tourism board sidelines her documentary because she can’t get any filming permits signed because Moose Springs hates tourists, she takes her chances and her documentary outside the city limits and up a mountain, with a gargantuan, bearded, and man-bunned Easton as her guide. I had too much fun reading this. Easton and River’s banter was cute. A marmot thinks Easton is its soul mate and follows them up Mount Veil. Once my Libby queue dwindles, I’ll read the series’ first two books.
The Push by Ashley Audrain—published 2021—thriller—five stars: I never would have guessed that my first five-star 2021 read would be a thriller—but holy shit. The Push. Is. Sooooooooooo. Damn. Good. After giving birth to Violet, Blythe is unsettled by her little girl. Violet screams when in Blythe’s arms, and the baby’s father can only comfort the infant. As Violet grows, Blythe has an even harder time connecting with her precocious child, especially once she witnesses a tiny Violet do something maliciously unthinkable. While Blythe’s story unfolds, the story of her own mother and grandmother, both unmotherly women, is told. You will question Blythe’s sanity and capability as a mother. You will cry. At first glance, the novel doesn’t look well written. The sentences are short, but it’s for effect. It even says in the narrative: Before. After. After felt curt, my sentences abrupt and sharp, like every paragraph could hurt someone. There was so much anger on the page, but I didn’t know what else to do with it. This gave me We Need to Talk About Kevin vibes. READ THIS BOOK!
Faye, Faraway by Helen Fisher—published 2021—time travel—four stars: One day Faye, married to an aspiring vicar and the mother of two beautiful girls, steps into an old box, a relic from her past, in her attic to avoid broken glass, and she crash lands in the seventies at her childhood home. Getting the chance to see her mother again, who died mysteriously when Faye was 8, is a balm to Faye’s soul, but the time travel, which she feels like she can’t discuss with her husband, creates a rift in her marriage. Ultimately, Faye has to decide if she’s going to travel back one last time to save her mother or to leave the past behind to repair her marriage. Ohhhhh this book. I loved it so much, but I hated how Faye talked directly to the reader like she was trying to make the reader believe in her story. I believed her. The choice for the time travel portal to be a Space Hopper box was overkill in its blatant symbolism, too. But, damn—that ending had me misty-eyed.
The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon—published 2021—romance—three stars: As an NPR freak, I loved that this book was set at a public radio station, but the storyline is meh. The radio station is floundering and needs a fresh show. That’s where Shay, a self-conscious-about-her-radio-voice producer, and Dominic, a hot-shot newbie who talks about his masters from Northwestern constantly, come in. Their snarky, hate-filled rapport inspires a show called The Ex Talk. As co-hosts, Dominic and Shay pretend to have dated each other (throwing journalistic integrity out the window into the Puget Sound) and explore the ins and outs of dating. I guess it’s a fresh take on fake-enships that run rampant in romances, but it wasn’t a particularly interesting read.
The Project by Courtney Summers—published 2021—YAL thriller—four stars: Is there another YAL thriller writer out there better than Courtney Summers? Summers, once again, writes a solid thriller. Cults? Mystery? Unlikeable characters? Cringe-y storylines? The Project has them all.
Make Up Break Up by Lily Menon—published 2021—romance—three stars: Why do I keep reading romances???? Both love interests meet at a conference in Vegas and have a steamy fling. Fast forward, and the boy’s company moves into an office next to the girl’s company’s office. She’s trying to launch an app called Make Up, and he has a newly successful app called Break Up. She accuses him of stealing her business idea, and, gah. You know what happens next. They make up, then they break up, then they make up.
From Blood and Ash (Blood and Ash #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout—published 2020—new adult fantasy—four stars: Real talk. Yes, this is a four. No, I will not be reading the next book in the series. I’m over fluffy, drawn-out, commercial fantasy juggernauts. The Maiden, Poppy, is the Chosen One. Secluded and veiled, she must wait until the day she can Ascend to save her people. Throw in a secretive, sexy personal guard and vampires and, BAM, you get new adult fantasy dynamite.
This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith—published 2021—contemporary fiction—three stars: The title describes how I feel about the novel after I finished reading it, which is disappointing because it’s peppered with great writing. But the dialogue broke me. As did pumpkin overabundance. As did the whole there’s a therapist-who-rescues-a guy-from-jumping-off-a-bridge-and-then-lies-to-him-about-actually-being-a-therapist-and-then-brings-him-into-her-house-for-the-whole-weekend concept… HE COULD HAVE BEEN A SERIAL KILLER!!!!!!
You Have a Match by Emma Lord—published 2021—contemporary YAL—three stars: Abby gets her DNA tested through an Ancestry-like company as an act of solidarity with her best friend Leo, who is adopted and looking for clues about his birth parents. While Leo’s results are a wash, Abby discovers she has a sister. Her sister, Savvy, reaches out to her, and they try to unravel the mystery of their parents together while they spend time together at summer camp. Lord can write a damn cute story, but this was just too much. Leo and Savvy have known each other forever from attending the same summer camp. And Leo just so happens to be Abby’s best friend? In the book, it says Abby and Savvy’s story sounds like a Disney Channel movie, and it does—or at least a modern-day, Instagram-heavy The Parent Trap. And Savvy’s parents used to be best friends with Abby’s parents, which is THE mystery to be unlocked, but still… And without giving anything away, things were tooooooooo tied together at the end, and Lord, just like she did in Tweet Cute, wrote an unnecessary sugary-sweet epilogue, #deathtoYALepilogues. At least from reading this novel, I can add “Finsta” and “spon con” to my vernacular.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah—published 2021—historical fiction—three stars: I almost DNF’d this book at the 20 percent finished mark, but I kept reading because my bestie in Milwaukee said it had redeeming qualities. She also gave it three stars. The book is set during the Great Depression amidst the Dust Bowl, and Elsa Martinelli. Cannot. Catch. A. Freaking. Break. Sheltered, Elsa longs to go to college and feel pretty. When she breaks her family’s rules, she ends up pregnant and has to marry a man whom she desperately loves, but he doesn’t love her. She moves in with his family and raises their children. When times get even worse, the dust forces Elsa to leave Texas and head to California to save her family. Where do I start? Hannah’s writing style with this was mainstream, melodramatic, lackluster. A drunk Italian husband? Hello, trope. A fiery daughter who resents a mother who bends over backward for her family? Hello, trope. A thin blonde woman who thinks herself ugly and unlovable? Hello, what? (This was one of Milwaukee bestie’s criticisms.) Hannah harps on the drama here to exploit hardship after hardship. I had this same issue with Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. Despite all this, it’s bingeable; otherwise, I would have ranked it two stars.
(All cover art taken from Goodreads.)