Review: Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzalez

Title: Only Mostly Devastated

Author: Sophie Gonzales

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Genre: YA, m/m romance, LGBTQ

Source: bookshop.org

Publication Date: March 3, 2020

Ollie has met the man of his dreams in Will Tavares. Spending his summer at the lake, taking care of his cousins while their mom battles cancer, Ollie meets Will one day and is swept off his feet. Their summer concludes in the perfect night… only to have Will stop answering his texts and totally cut Ollie off. Then, when his aunt grows worse, causing Ollie and his family to move to the same town as Will. But the Will he meets with at Collinswood High is nothing like the sensitive, sweet, caring guy from the summer. This guy is a closeted class clown and not very nice. Ollie decides that he doesn’t have time for Will, but suddenly, Will is everywhere he is., and Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

This book was adorable. I bought it after listening to a livestream with the author, and when she described it as a m/m retelling of Grease, I knew I had to read it. The characters were a joy. Poor Ollie had so much going on in his life: his aunt’s battle with cancer, being an on-call babysitter for his two young cousins, and being uprooted from California to North Caronlina (I think). His new social circle is fraught as he’s immediately adopted by a group of girls, one of whose claws frequently attack Ollie. But he’s a kind, warmhearted guy and sees more than she intends. They soon bond, although the friendship is never all roses.

Will was more difficult to like, but even he had his tender side. He was good with kids and when he was one on one with Ollie, very sweet and sensitive. His fear of coming out and losing his status kept him pushing Ollie away until it was almost too late. Not only does he struggle with his sexuality, but with his future. He’s a basketball player, but didn’t get a scholarship and secretly desires to be… I think it was a nurse (but don’t quote me on that; it’s been a few weeks since I read this and it’s a little hazy). Whatever it was, he feels like he has to keep his professional aspirations a secret from his family along with his sexuality. Gonzales shows the struggles of being in the closet very well, and makes it also clear why Ollie doesn’t want to be involved with that without making either of the characters unsympathetic.

The book has it’s emotional ups and downs and the characters weather them in very realistic ways. I loved how everything worked out and the conclusions. It was a very satisfying read.

Yes. I think this is a great book and fans of Simon Verses the Homosapien Agenda would enjoy it.

Review: Starcrossed by Allie Therin

Title: Starcrossed (Magic in Manhattan #2)

Author: Allie Therin

Publisher: Carina Press

Genre: m/m historical romance, paranormal romance

Source: NetGalley

Publication Date: May 18, 2020

Arthur Kenzie has devoted his life to procuring and protecting supernatural relics from those who would misuse them. But now, his life has a new purpose: loving Rory Brodigan, the cranky and irascible psycometric with phenomenal powers that he doesn’t understand. Rory love Arthur, but he can’t help be confront the truth of their disparate social status and despair over their relationship in the long term

Now, a new relic threatens New York and the safety of not only Rory, but Arthur and his family. Rory and Arthur must use every bit of magic at their disposal to counter the new threat, where old enemies become uneasy allies and Rory and Arthur’s love is put to the text.

I absolutely adored this book! It was wonderful from start to finish. Like last book, Arthur’s uprightness, honor, and love bowl me over. I love a man who is protective of his loved ones while being sensitive and honorable at the same time. However, I must admit, I wanted to shake him a few times. There’s a point where honor begins working against happiness, and he hit it. But even that was fun to read. I just love him.

My love for Rory is no less. Quick to anger, quick to defend himself, and overly humble at times, he’s just easy to relate to. I love his explosive temper and the way he’s willing to fight for himself and his loved ones. I also like that, although he’s afraid of his power, he’s curious about it, too, and can’t help but explore it. His heart is in the right place and he loves and cares for others so much. He’s a perfect match for Arthur.

The plot was intriguing as well. There’s a powerful new relic in town. People are dying, magic is being used to hide the perpetrators, and Arthur seems to be the target. Or is he? I loved the twists and turns the book took, and the ending was very exciting.

The strength of this book is the characters. All of them are well done and intriguing in their own right. I would happily read a book about Jade and Zhang. I would also really like to read about Arthur’s adventures prior to meeting Rory, during the war. Everything sounds so intriguing. I love this book.

I definitely recommend this book and series. It’s especially good for people new to the genre. It’s sexy without being overly explicit, and focuses more on romance and intimacy than sex. The characters are wonderful and the plot is action packed. Get Starcrossed immediately when it comes out; I know I will!

Review: The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh

Title: The Beautiful

Author: Renee Ahdieh

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Genre: YA, horror, paranormal fantasy

Source: Purchase (Barnes and Noble)

Publication Date: October 8, 2919

Celine Rousseau has fled from her life as a dressmaker in Paris to a convent in New Orleans after a traumatic event. Hoping to start a new life, she struggles to find her place in the convent, as her skills as a dressmaker aren’t in high demand. Then, a woman named Odette, commissions her to sew a costume for a masquerade ball. Celine agrees and finds herself swept into a world she’s never dreamed of. Odette is a member of a mysterious underworld called La Cour des Lion, and Celine quickly becomes entangled with them, especially after catching the eye of the leader Sebastian Saint Germane. The two clash and attract each other, an attraction that quickly becomes suspicion when the body of a convent girl turns up on the doorway of Sebastian’s club.

Now, Celine finds herself both a suspect of the murder and the object of the murderer’s obsession. People connected to her start dying, and she’s determined to uncover the truth. The truth, however, comes with a devastating price.

I really liked this book a lot because I loved Celine so much. She’s strong and dark and a little twisted. She’s a misfit that’s not quite trying to fit in as much as find the place where she belongs. When she discovers La Cour des Lion and Bastien, she’s intrigued and enamored and feels very comfortable. She feels her own desire for power is met in Bastien’s, and she fits easily into the world.

I also really liked her friendship with Pippa, another girl from the convent. Celine is hiding a dreadful secret and it’s a heavy burden for her. She’s afraid to open up, but also desperately wants to. I like her tentative overtures of friendship towards Pippa, and how they are met with welcome and understanding.

The setting was amazing, too. The supernatural and New Orleans has been done, but that doesn’t meant it can’t be done again. And Ahdieh does it so well. New Orleans on the cusp of Lent, with the parties and parades and decadence that surrounds the upcoming week. It made me desperately want to be there and experience it in a way I didn’t even get in my reread of Interview with the Vampire. It was just so vivid and rich; I felt like I was there.

My only slight knock to the book is that I was completely confused at the ending. Now, this may not be the book’s fault. I was completely convinced the bad guy was one character, and then it wasn’t… but maybe it was? I didn’t quite get who the antagonist was and what their motives were. I don’t know if I didn’t read closely enough, I wasn’t willing to give up what I thought, or it just really didn’t make sense. I don’t know. But, I ended the book baffled, but pleased I’d read it and looking forward to the next in the series.

If you like atmospheric books with strong female characters, sexual tension, and vampire-like creatures, you’ll enjoy this book. And if you get the ending, let me know, because… I think I need to read it again. Not that it’d be a chore. 🙂

Review: Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown

Title: Modern Girls

Author: Jennifer S. Brown

Publisher: Berkeley Books

Genre: historical fiction

Source: borrowed from Mom

Publication Date: May 1, 2016

Dottie Krasinsky is a modern girl. She’s a bookkeeper in Midtown Manhattan who’s just gotten a promotion, has a steady boyfriend, Abe, with whom she’s madly in love, reads all the latest fashion and home magazines, and has a group of girlfriends with whom she regularly socializes. At the same time, she’s a good Jewish daughter to her immigrant parents on the Lower East Side. However, her life is turned upside down when she finds herself pregnant after a drunken night with a charming and totally unsuitable man.

Rose Krasinsky, Dottie’s mother, has had five children and assumes that she’s done. She’s anxious to get back to her own life of social activism. As a young woman, she’d been on the front lines protesting and rabble rousing and, now, with tensions rising in Europe, she’s ready to get back to it. And then, disaster strikes: at forty-two years old, she finds herself pregnant once again.

Both mother and daughter are in impossible situations and have to navigate a changing world, making choices they never thought themselves capable of.

I am so glad I finally read this book. I kept putting it off as my TBR list grew, but I finally made time for it, and it’s really a gem. As a Jewish person removed from my heritage, I like reading about Jewish families and how they navigate the world. This book was rich with descriptions of Sabbath, food, Yiddish terms, and the Jewish immigrant experience. It also explores the differences between the families on the Lower East side and the more wealthy families in Manhattan and how they navigate being Jewish in the modern world.

Beyond the Jewish aspects, it’s just a great story. I really felt for both Dottie and Rose and loved reading their unique perspectives on life in their voices. To Dottie, at the beginning, her mother is quaint and old fashion, very traditional, and living in the past. When you read from Rose’s perspective, though, you see a woman with strong beliefs and passions who is determined to put her stamp on the world and make it a better place. Like Dottie, she views herself as a “modern woman” who is settled in the new world and navigates through with confidence.

Truth be told, I liked reading Rose more than Dottie, although I did enjoy both POVs. Dottie is so headstrong and determined to fix all her mistakes herself. While admirable, she’s also very young and doesn’t always think things through. Rose was more steady and thoughtful in her decision, although she runs into trouble as well. Maybe it’s just my age showing, but I related more to Rose even though I haven’t had five children while living in a two bedroom apartment.

This book has a vivid setting, wonderful characters, and a gripping story. It was hard to put down and kept me engaged the whole way through.

I recommend this one two levels. One, if you’re Jewish or interested in Jewish life, this is a great book to read and a picture of that life. And, two, if you like reading realistic historical books about the 1930s and see a slice of life, as fraught as it is, then you’d like this book a lot.

Review: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Title: The Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Author: Charles Duhigg

Publisher: Random House

Pages: 375

Genre: Self-Improvement

Publication Date: February 28, 2012

Charles Duhigg is a business reporter who has researched and explained various scientific explanations as to why people form the habits they have. A habit, Duhigg, is a three step process: a cue, a routine, and a reward. All habits can be broken down to these three steps, but, at the same time, there are more complicated steps involved in habit formation and changing habits. Duhigg explains how habits are formed an changed in individuals, businesses, and societies. He explores cases of people with memory loss forming new habits, how businesses have changed their culture, and how movements in society have been influenced by people’s habits. In the end, he offers a four step process for how to form new habits.

I thought this book was great. It was easy to read and understand, and the findings were amazing. I loved the stories and how he interweaves the various stories with researched backed facts. I found myself watching my own patterns of behavior through the eyes of the habit loop. I’m interested in finding ways to use the loop to form new and better habits in my life.

I even found the section on businesses interesting. I thought that part would be boring and irrelevant to my life, but learning how Starbucks shapes its culture and how other businesses focused on one keystone habit to improve their product was actually very interesting. I actually though Starbucks was better at training their employees at customer service than Disneyland is, at least when I worked there. I wasn’t given acronyms and habits to fall back on when a customer complained; I had to wing it and bring the Disney magic all on my own.

If you have any interest in habits and forming and changing them, I think you’d like this book. It’s a great read as we come to the new year and gives plenty of food for thought.

Review: Call it What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer

Title: Call it What You Want

Author: Brigid Kemmerer

Publisher: Bloomsbury YA

Pages: 384

Publication Date: June 25, 2019

Format:: Hardcover

Rob, a popular lacrosse player, used to be at the top of the world until his dad was caught embezzling funds from half the town. Now, he’s a social outcast. To top it off, his father had tried to commit suicide and failed, leaving Rob and his mother struggling to take care of him.

Maegan is an overachiever with the perfect life, until, in a fit of insecurity, she tried to cheat on the SATs, invalidating everyone’s score. Now the subject of ridicule and anger, she isolates herself. Her troubles are added to when her older sister comes home from college pregnant, yet another burden Maegan must shoulder.

When Maegen and Rob are partnered in calculus, neither one is happy, until they form a connection. However, that connection is threatened when Rob unintentionally comes across some money that doesn’t belong to him and passes it on to a needy student. Now, he’s faced with a dilemma: is it wrong to steal from the rich if you’re going to give to the poor? Or can he be a modern day Robin Hood and redistribute wealth to those who are truly in need?

This book was so good. I don’t read a lot of YA contemporary, and if I do, it’s usually queer lit, but this sucked me in. I felt so much for both of the main characters, although I do have to admit that I was a little more sympathetic to Rob. All of his problems he faces before the book begins were out of this control, and I felt so bad for him. However, I related to Maegen a lot more than Rob. I, too, am an overachiever and perfectionist who is trying to live up to a siblings seeming perfection. Both characters were deep and complex and so engaging.

I also liked the struggle Rob faced with taking money and objects from others. On the one hand, he was giving it to people who needed it and trying to make amends for what his father did. On the other, stealing is wrong. I liked his journey to realize what he had to do and what was right.

The ending was a little too quick for me. There was an overarching kind of mystery and problem and it was solved in the last few pages very fast. However, the book and the ending were so satisfying that it didn’t detract from the book at all. This is a great read and if you like YA contemporary, I highly recommend it.

Review: Clockwork Princess

Title: Clockwork Princess

Author: Cassandra Clare

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Pages: 567

Source: Amazon

In the final installment of The Infernal Devices trilogy, the Shadowhunters find themselves in danger from Mortmain. He has created an army of Infernal Devices and all he needs to complete them is Tessa Grey.

Under threat from forces both outside and in, Charlotte Bramwell tries to convince an ever intransigent Consul of the danger. When Tessa is kidnapped, the situation becomes desperate. With Jem dying, Will must go after the woman they both love. And Tessa, at the mercy of Mortmain, must find a strength inside her she never knew she had.

I finally got to read this book! I don’t think I’ve ever had as much trouble getting a book as I have this one. It was insane. That all said, it was totally worth the trouble.

I really like how the love triangle was resolved. This triangle wasn’t as frustrating to me as some others have been just because of how much all the parties loved each other. All they wanted was for the others to be happy and that made it easier to bear. I’m glad it ended as it did. It met my expectations, and then exceeded them, if that makes sense. It was all very satisfactory.

I also liked how the defeat of the villain happened. It was excited and I didn’t see it coming, although maybe I should have. It was very well set up, but not something I’d considered happening.

I also found the relationships to be satisfying. There was one relationship that screamed “pair the spares” to me, but I liked it so much, I didn’t care. Besides, I like it when everyone gets a happily ever after, even when the pairings are unexpected.

So, yeah, I liked this book a lot, although maybe not as much as the other two. I don’t know if it’s because I expected too much or what, but as much as I liked it, I felt the others were more substantial. This one felt a little thinner somehow,and I’m not sure why. But, overall, I’m happy, I’m satisfied, and I am sort of interested in reading more of the world. I’d like to learn more about Magnus, but I’m not sure if I want to read the Mortal Instruments books; I tried when they first came out and couldn’t get into them. I liked this because it was historical. So, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll read more. We’ll see.

Book Review: Hunting Prince Dracula

Title: Hunting Prince Dracula

Author: Kerri Maniscalco

Source: Library

Format: paperback

Audrey Rose Wadsworth is haunted by the Jack the Ripper case and his true identity. Luckily, she is off on a new adventure that will take her mind off of it. Her father has agreed to let her study at a school for forensic medicine in Romania. She and Thomas Cresswell journey together. On the train there, a passenger is murdered with a stake through the heart. Rumors that Vlad the Impaler has risen and is killing again. Audrey Rose and Cresswell find themselves drawn into another puzzle, desperate to solve the murders before they are next.

I enjoyed this book, but found it lacking in some ways. I continue to really like Audrey Rose and her inquisitive drive. I love her desire for independence and her insistence that if she were ever to get married, she be an equal partner. I continue to really enjoy her and Cresswell’s relationship, flirtation banter, and support of one another. And I really liked the new characters, particularly Daciana. The atmosphere of the book is suitably creepy and the castle sounds really kind of amazing.

The mystery, however, didn’t really interest me. I knew Dracula wasn’t behind the killings, because these books aren’t supernatural in nature. There were a few hints as to who the murderer might be, but no real clues. Consequently, the ending seemed quite out of the blue and not in a, “Wow, I never saw that coming!” kind of way. It was more of a, “Huh. Really?”

I will read the next one because the strength of these books is the characters and their relationships. But this one kind of underwhelmed me.

Book review: An Artless Demise by Anna Lee Huber

Lady Kiera Darby and her husband, Sebastian Gage, have returned to London at, perhaps, the worst time for Kiera’s reputation. A group of body snatchers is arrested, accused of killing victims and selling them to medical schools, which stirs up rumors of Kiera’s past once more. To top it off, a young nobleman is murdered in an apparent and Kiera and Gage are called on to investigate.They have to decide whether it was a “burking” like the other murders or something else. While investigating, Kiera gets a letter of blackmail from someone willing to besmirch her name with proof her former husbands involvement with body snatchers. Poor Kiera, pregnant with her first child, has to navigate all this and decide how she will deal with a society all too willing to write her off.

Overall, I really liked this book. I was so happy to get back to the world of Kiera Darby and Sebastian Gage. As always, their relationship is what brings me back to this series again and again. They are so loving, so supportive, and have such great chemistry, it’s a delight to read.

I did find it a little hard to get into, and I’m not sure why. The book starts with what I love best about the series, which is Keira’s supportive family, but something didn’t quite gel at first. I was about a quarter through the book before I felt the action started happening and things came together. Maybe it’s because it’s been awhile since I’ve read the other books and forgot some characters, I don’t know. But once the first murder happen, the writing felt clearer and the action was engrossing. 

The last half of the book moved quickly and a lot of threads came together. And there were a lot of threads to come together. I appreciated the historical research that went into this one in particular and felt I learned a lot I’d never heard of. The last part of the book was hard to put down, and I loved how everything turned out. As always, it left me satisfied and wanting more at the same time.

Four out of five stars