Sunday, June 23, 2024

Tangled Up In You

 


Tangled Up In You- Christina Lauren

Hyperion Ave

Release Date: June 25, 2024

Rated: 📚📚📚📚

Synopsis: She has a dream. He has a plan. Together they’ll take a leap of faith. 

Ren has never held an iPhone, googled the answer to a question, or followed a crush on social media. What she has done: Read a book or two, or three (okay, hundreds). Taught herself to paint. Built a working wind power system from scratch. But for all the books she’s read, Ren has never found one that’s taught a woman raised on a homestead and off the grid for most of her twenty-two years how to live in the real world. So when she finally achieves her lifelong dream of attending Corona College, it feels like her life is finally beginning. 

Fitz has the rest of his life mapped out: Graduate from Corona at the top of his class, get his criminal record wiped clean, and pass himself off as the rich, handsome player everyone thinks he is. He’s a few short months from checking off step one of his plans when Ren Gylden, with her cascading blonde hair and encyclopedic brain, crashes into his life, and for the first time Fitz’s plan is in jeopardy. 

But a simple assignment in their immunology seminar changes the course of both their lives, and suddenly they’re thrown out of the frying pan and into the fire on a road trip that will lead them in the most unexpected directions. Out on the open road, the world somehow shifts, and the unlikely pair realize that, maybe, the key to the dreams they've both been chasing have been sitting next to them the whole time.
____________________________________________________________________

In a departure from their normal books, Christina Lauren does Tangled Up In You, a contemporary riff on Disney's Tangled, a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale. Here Ren is a 22 year-old going to college for the first time. She's lived off the grid her whole life, her parents always keeping her on the farm and isolated from the big, bad world with its evil influences. But they relucantly allow college when Ren gets a full scholarship and Ren's horizons start expanding. She's brilliant but naive, friendly, outgoing, impulsive- kind of like a golden retriever puppy. She wants to experience all college life has to offer, so when her immunology professor gives the class the option to take a DNA test, she does- even knowing her parents wouldn't approve. When it comes back with a match, she has questions and knows her parents won't answer them. So she convinces Fitz to drive her to Atlanta so she can get the answers she needs.

Fitz took a little warming up to, mostly because you know from nearly the start that he isn't who he pretends to be, but you can't quite figure him out. On the road trip I really started to like him because despite how annoying Ren could be, he really started to get why she was the way she was and he couldn't bring himself to deny her the full road trip experience. It was kind of cute watching him try to figure out how to deal with the changing feelings he had over the course of the trip, and his total confusion.

The book is a slower pace than most of Christina Lauren's books, sometimes almost too slow, until the very end when everythig speeds up to the conclusion. There's almost no spicy scenes in the book, Fitz and Ren fall for each other slowly and sweetly. Readers will probably see the twists for the ending coming even if they haven't seen Tangled (have to admit, I haven't) and I thought it was handled very well. 

Regular fans will find this one a change from their normal books, but give it a try. Slow for large parts but I thought the feels at the end paid off. And the grumpy/sunshine vibes through the whole book are delightful

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review



Sunday, May 12, 2024

Paradise Problem

 


The Paradise Problem- Christina Lauren

Gallery Books

Release Date: May 14, 2024

Rating: 📚📚📚📚📚

Synopsis: Anna Green thought she was marrying Liam “West” Weston for access to subsidized family housing while at UCLA. She also thought she’d signed divorce papers when the graduation caps were tossed, and they both went on their merry ways.

Three years later, Anna is a starving artist living paycheck to paycheck while West is a Stanford professor. He may be one of four heirs to the Weston Foods conglomerate, but he has little interest in working for the heartless corporation his family built from the ground up. He is interested, however, in his one-hundred-million-dollar inheritance. There’s just one catch.

Due to an antiquated clause in his grandfather’s will, Liam won’t see a penny until he’s been happily married for five years. Just when Liam thinks he’s in the home stretch, pressure mounts from his family to see this mysterious spouse, and he has no choice but to turn to the one person he’s afraid to introduce to his one-percenter parents—his unpolished, not-so-ex-wife.

But in the presence of his family, Liam’s fears quickly shift from whether the feisty, foul-mouthed, paint-splattered Anna can play the part to whether the toxic world of wealth will corrupt someone as pure of heart as his surprisingly grounded and loyal wife. Liam will have to ask himself if the price tag on his flimsy cover story is worth losing true love that sprouted from a lie.
___________________________________________________________

If you took Christina Lauren's The Unhoneymooners, Samantha Young's The Love Plot, and mixed in Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians series, you'd get a feel for the vibes of The Paradise Problem. In all the best ways. 

Broke students Anna Green and Liam "West" Weston made the unusual choice to get married in order to make it into subsidized family housing while they were in UCLA- despite not knowing each other. They were ships passing in the night during college and Anna thought she'd signed divorce papers when West graduated. He went on to be a Stanford professor, she went on to be a starving artist trying to pay her bills (and her father's medical bills) paycheck to paycheck. 

After getting fired by her sexually harassing 18 year old creeper boss, Anna finds out some surprising truths. She's still legally married to West, and he isn't as broke as she thought. He's heir to a fortune and part of a highly toxic family. Now he needs her help: his sister is getting married and he needs to show up- with his wife.

Anna is a loyal and loving person. She may be an artist and highly creative (and super fun!), but she's also practical. She loves her dad and knows that helping West will get her the money to pay her dad's bills. Plus, she likes West and he's clearly miserable and needs the help. She knows there are plenty of things that could go wrong, but agrees anyway. The more time she spends with West, the more she likes him-and feels sorry for him. The crazy excess of the wedding and West's (mostly) awful family show her money really doesn't buy happiness- or love. 

West has made up plenty of reasons why his family have never met Anna and lots of lies about her to make her 'fit' an image his parents might accept. He's terrified they'll be found out and knows it is all his fault. He has lots of legitimate reasons for not wanting anything to do with his family (especially his father!) and Christina Lauren does a good job of letting us discover new ones throughout the book. You feel the weight of his troubles on him, even before you know what they all are. I loved how Anna supported him, and was so sad for West that it confused him because he'd never just had someone on his side before. 

The Paradise Problem is a fast paced, fun and flirty, enjoyable, and entertaining book that I didn't want to put down. Anna and West have great chemistry that they try to ignore (and are much happier when they stop ignoring!) and they may be my new favorite Christina Lauren couple. 

This is a definite must read for Christina Lauren fans and romance fans!

received an arc of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

   



Thursday, May 9, 2024

Author Interview: Lancy McCall

 I recently got to talk with Lancy McCall, author of Left Turn, about her book and her writing process. Here’s our interview!

 

Lancy McCall


Left Turn follows Alex Tanner, a corporate rising star who meets and falls for Scottish actor Finley McAlister, a celebrity looking to escape the spotlight. What inspired your story? 

I used to travel to and from England on business. When they adapted the Outlander books for TV, I thought, “What would happen if I got on the plane home from London and Sam Heughan sat next to me? What would he say? What would I say?” From there, it just bloomed into this story of a professional woman bumping into a celebrity who changes her life.

 

Alex and Fin live in very different worlds but find common ground. What inspired their characters' interactions and backstories?

Alex’s world came easily to me as we share a common background. I worked for years in her industry and experienced the same things she’s been through.

For Finley, I’ve always enjoyed listening to celebrity interviews where they talk about their craft. Their dedication to acting shaped how I thought Fin would view his world. And I’ve always sympathized with those chased by the paparazzi and the disruption to their lives this must cause.

 

Do you carefully plot out every scene in your books or see where the characters take you? What’s your writing process?

My characters often come to me first. Often, a scene will pop into my head and I wonder about it. What’s going on here? How did they get here? Where did they come from? What’s going to happen next? From there, I flesh out a story about what’s happening to these people and how they will react.


I am an outliner, but it’s a loose outline subject to change. It’s more like a GPS route… I know my destination, and a few stops we’re making along the way, but while I’m driving, I may take an unexpected detour. Then I need to “recalculate the route” and figure out how to get back on track to that final destination.

 


What kind of research do you do and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

As a project manager, I live in this strange world where you must be comfortable moving from the high-level overview down into the details. As a writer, I find it’s the same. You need to keep your eye on the bigger arc and where the story’s going, while also giving enough details to bring that world or those characters to life. When I start a story, there are obvious details I know I’m going to need to research to round out my characters. For example, for Left Turn, I knew ahead of time, I would need to know how movie stars are paid. But once I started writing, I realized I also needed to research how celebrities stay under the radar while traveling. Much of my research occurs while I’m writing, because I want the story to be believable, and if I don’t understand how something happens, how will my readers?

 

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

It’s always amazed me how people perceive the world so differently. I think it’s important to understand that each individual defines success as unique to them, and what you see on the outside doesn’t always reflect how people feel on the inside. Along those same lines, how people measure their success changes as their priorities in life change.

 

Another important concept I wanted to convey is the bias that women encounter in the corporate world. Sometimes it’s in your face and hard to miss, but usually, it’s so subtle, you don’t realize it’s happening until you have distance from it.

And the last theme I wanted to explore was the effect of all the attention we give to celebrities and how destructive it can be. 

 

Is this the first book in the series? If so, when is the next book coming out and what can your fans expect in the next story?

Left Turn is the first book in the Women of Caprock series. This series features interconnected stand-alone novels, each centering on strong women, their careers, and the relationships in their lives.

 

The next book in the series, Code Block, features Claire Broussard, an application developer who’s trying to find her place in a new company and finding her progress consistently blocked by the grumpy operations manager, Noah Raines.

 

Left Turn just became a Literary Titan’s Book Award Winner! Find out more about Lancy McCall and Left Turn at Lancy’s website.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Left Turn



 Left Turn (The Women of Caprock)- Lancy McCall

Kruize Tech Press

Release Date: August 15, 2022

Rating: 📚📚📚📚

Synopsis: She's a rising star in her company with no time for distractions. He's a Hollywood heartthrob longing to escape the spotlight. But when their paths cross, passion ignites and threatens to derail their carefully laid plans.

Alex Tanner has worked hard to get where she is and isn't about to let a charming celebrity distract her from her goals. Finley McAlister is tired of the limelight and just wants a chance to be himself. When he meets Alex on a flight, he's drawn to her confidence and independence.

But their attraction doesn't go unnoticed, and soon they find themselves caught up in a media frenzy. As they navigate the scrutiny of the public eye, they must decide whether to follow their hearts or stay on the path they've worked so hard to achieve.

Left Turn is a captivating tale of love and ambition, featuring strong heroines, gorgeous men, and emotional challenges. It’s the first book in Lancy McCall's Women of Caprock series of interconnected standalones that will leave you breathless and longing for more.
________________________________________________________

Alex Tanner is a work-focused woman who keeps her personal and professional lives very separate- and even among friends manages to stay pretty closed off. In a male-dominated business she has fought her way up the corporate ladder and hasn't had time for anything else. Movie star Finley McAlister loves his work, but doesn't love the in-your-face paparazzi that can come with it. When Fin and Alex find themselves chatting on a cross-Atlantic flight where Alex doesn't seem to know who he is, Fin is reminded what it can be like to have a regular conversation and be treated like a normal person. 

In-flight chemistry turns to friendship and more when Fin stays in Houston and Alex continues to treat him like a normal person despite knowing he's a star. But when the paparazzi start to turn things into a media circus and feelings on both sides make a vacation romance something more complicated, can Alex and Fin take the pressure of their worlds colliding?

I love a fun romance and Left Turn had one of my favorite tropes: normal person and famous person attempting a relationship. What happens when a regular person meets someone famous and they hit it off? When reality invades whatever magical bubble allowed them to meet and fall for each other, can the relationship survive? The fun twist in Left Turn is that Alex doesn't worry about fitting into Fin's Hollywood fame and fortune. She has a career and no intention of giving it up, so it's more a case of: can they make two lots-of-travel-required schedules work? 

McCall also does a great non-preachy job of reminding us that women in a male-dominated work environment still have to fight for their place at the table, and still have to remind men that they have every right to be there. Alex may have the support of her male bosses, but there are a few situations where she still has to stand-up for herself. There's a fantastic scene where Alex deals with her bosses over whether her personal life has anything to do with a promotion that is worth the price of the book all by itself. 

A lovely contemporary he-falls-first romance that I think readers will enjoy.




Sunday, May 5, 2024

People in Glass Houses

 


People in Glass Houses (Harmony #16)- Jayne Castle

Berkeley

Release Date: May 7, 2024

Rating: 📚📚📚📚📚

Synopsis: His name is Joshua Knight. Once a respected explorer, the press now calls him the Tarnished Knight. He took the fall for a disaster in the Underworld that destroyed his career. The devastating event occurred in the newly discovered sector known as Glass House—a maze of crystal that is rumored to conceal powerful Alien antiquities. The rest of the Hollister Expedition team disappeared and are presumed dead.

Whatever happened down in the tunnels scrambled Josh’s psychic senses and his memories, but he’s determined to uncover the truth. Labeled delusional and paranoid, he retreats to an abandoned mansion in the desert, a house filled with mirrors. Now a recluse, Josh spends his days trying to discover the secrets in the looking glasses that cover the walls. He knows he is running out of time.

Talented, ambitious crystal artist Molly Griffin is shocked to learn that the Tarnished Knight has been located. She drops everything and heads for the mansion to find Josh, confident she can help him regain control of his shattered senses. She has no choice—he is the key to finding her sister, Leona, a member of the vanished expedition team. Josh reluctantly allows her to stay one night but there are two rules: she must not go down into the basement, and she must not uncover the mirrors that have been draped.

But her only hope for finding her sister is to break the rules…
____________________________________________________________

When Molly's sister Leona goes missing during an Underworld expedition, Molly and her adoptive moms refuse to accept the official decision that the team is dead. When the team's navigator, Joshua Knight, returns they are sure he has the answers they need to find Leona- despite the fact that he came back psi-burned and with no memory of what happened. Dropping her new business days before the biggest wedding of the year (Guild Boss cameos!) to head into the middle of nowhere and meeting a man who doesn't seem to want anything to do with her might not be the best plan, but it's what you do for family. And it helpfully allows her to forget about the dead body that turned up in her shop the night before.

Molly may be stubborn and determined to walk through green hell to save her sister, but Joshua has a stubborn streak of his own. He's also pretty sure he's not entirely sane anymore. Between whatever happened in the Underworld, his shattered senses, and now living in a murderous house full of mirrors, the only thing he does know is that his home is no safe place for Molly and her dust bunny friend. But of course they do stay, and things get complicated.

Molly is a delightful main character. She knows what she can handle and what can go wrong in the world, but she's determined to have a positive outlook on life anyway. Her talent for crystal art lets her bring positivity and beauty to others but she doesn't ignore life's other aspects. Her moms have made sure that she and her sister Leona can handle themselves and there's nothing flighty about this artistic free spirit! She may have a para-profile that has her thinking she isn't a candidate for a traditional long-term relationship, but as we've seen in other Harmony books, where's the fun in 'normal' anyway?

Joshua isn't really sure what to do with Molly and her approach to things, but to give him credit, he's had a rough month by the time we meet him. He's in full survival mode. But even he can't say no to a Zing chip addicted dust bunny like Newton, so he falls in with Molly's plans and (of course!) it ends up being exactly the right thing to do. I enjoyed Joshua's practical approach to things and the entertaining banter between Joshua and Molly.

If you've read any of Jayne Castle's books before you pretty much know how things will go, and Castle delivers delightfully. Newton, as the new dust bunny on the block, is entertaining and gets his moments to shine. If you're new to the series this is an ok place to start, you can pretty much jump into the world anywhere, and you'll have fun catching up on the rest of the series once you're hooked.

 A fast and fun read for Harmony fans that will leave you ready and waiting for the next one!

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review  





Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The Demon of Unrest


 

The Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War- Erik Larson

Crown

Release Date: April 30, 2024

Rating: 📚📚📚📚

Synopsis: On November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the fluky victor in a tight race for president. The country was bitterly at odds; Southern extremists were moving ever closer to destroying the Union, with one state after another seceding and Lincoln powerless to stop them. Slavery fueled the conflict, but somehow the passions of North and South came to focus on a lonely federal fortress in Charleston: Fort Sumter. 

Master storyteller Erik Larson offers a gripping account of the chaotic months between Lincoln’s election and the Confederacy’s shelling of Sumter—a period marked by tragic errors and miscommunications, enflamed egos and craven ambitions, personal tragedies and betrayals. Lincoln himself wrote that the trials of these five months were “so great that, could I have anticipated them, I would not have believed it possible to survive them.”
 
At the heart of this suspense-filled narrative are Major Robert Anderson, Sumter’s commander and a former slave owner sympathetic to the South but loyal to the Union; Edmund Ruffin, a vain and bloodthirsty radical who stirs secessionist ardor at every opportunity; and Mary Boykin Chesnut, wife of a prominent planter, conflicted over both marriage and slavery and seeing parallels between both. In the middle of it all is the overwhelmed Lincoln, battling with his duplicitous Secretary of State, William Seward, as he tries desperately to avert a war that he fears is inevitable—one that will eventually kill 750,000 Americans.
 
Drawing on diaries, secret communiques, slave ledgers, and plantation records, Larson gives us a political horror story that captures the forces that led America to the brink—a dark reminder that we often don’t see a cataclysm coming until it’s too late.
_______________________________________________________

Erik Larson, known for Devil in the White City and The Splendid and the Vile, among many others, this time takes on Fort Sumter and trying to understand (and explain) the root causes behind the American Civil War.

Americans may think they know the basics: Lincoln got elected, South Carolina seceded, Fort Sumter was fired on, there was a war. But Larson takes us into the deeply human and often tragic months between Lincoln getting elected and the firing on Fort Sumter. Were there moments when things could have been different? When different choices could have caused massively different outcomes?

The surprising truth is that, as Larson shows us, Northerners and Southerners as a whole did not understand each other. And had not for decades-if ever. The Southern aristocrats who made up the politicians most Northerners met with were hot-tempered, extremely proud, and always on alert to having their honor offended at the slightest provocation. And they had largely managed to convince themselves that there was nothing wrong with slavery. So the louder abolitionists in the North became, the more offended the South became. Abolitionists said the institution of slavery was evil, Southerners heard that they themselves were evil.

Add to this hot-heads who had been arguing that Southern states should have separated from the Union for decades, and the situation had been rife for rebellion longer than many were willing to admit. One person who doesn't come out of Demon looking good is outgoing President Buchanan. Buchanan acts oblivious to everything until he can't avoid it any longer (I particularly loved a quote by Georgia representative Toombs who tells Buchanan he's been in the midst of a revolution for over a year, he just hasn't noticed it.). His only goal is to get to Inauguration Day without violence so he can dump the problems on Lincoln and any states that leave happen under Lincoln's watch instead of his. But when South Carolina seceded letters show partying Southerners go to the White House, assuming Buchanan will be happy as well. There's no record of whether Buchanan partied too, but the fact that Southerners in Washington assumed he was on their side did not help issues moving forward. The level that rumors and misunderstandings played in politics of the day was surprising to me.

Reading about the experiences of the people in Fort Sumter itself were some of the most interesting parts for me. Major Anderson, conflicted between his natural feelings for his home in the South and his sworn oath to the US Army (a conflict many military men would have to deal with)- on top of having to make a lot of decisions himself that he shouldn't have had to make, was especially someone I felt for. He knew pretty early on his decisions had the real potential to spark a war if he wasn't careful, and he had almost no feedback from his superiors to help guide him. He was in a no-win situation and I expect plenty of people would have surrended the fort a lot sooner than he did. His sections of the book helped explain a question I never knew I had: what made Fort Sumter so important and such a flash point that we connect it with the start of the war? 

I had a little trouble getting into Demon at first- possibly because when I started it I could only read small sections at a time and I think the beginning of the book would benefit from reading in a large chunk in one sitting to really get into it. There are a lot of people to get to know and some time traveling to get really settled into understanding the 1860 "present" (Larson backs up and gives up some pre-1860 Southern history so we understand where the Southern mindset is and that the idea of seceding isn't something new to them). But once I got settled in the book I really enjoyed it, because there was so much behind-the-scenes history Larson was showing me that I hadn't known about before. As always, Larson uses letters, diaries, and other first-hand accounts to make the events spring to life for the reader- which I love.

While not his best book in my opinion, The Demon of Unrest is an excellent, well-researched book that Larson's fans should enjoy. Full of the drama, pathos, and absolute humanity that draws you into an excellent history book.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

     

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Power and Glory



 Power and Glory: Elizabeth II and the Rebirth of Royalty- Alexander Larman

St. Martin's Press

Release Date: April 30, 2023

Rating: 📚📚📚📚📚

Synopsis: When the Royal Family took to the balcony of Buckingham Palace on VE Day in 1945, they knew that the happiness and excitement of the day was illusory. Britain may have been victorious in a painful war, but the peace would be no easier. Between the abdication crisis, the death of King George VI, and the ascension of young Elizabeth II to the throne, the continued existence of the monarchy seemed uncertain. And the presence of the former Edward VIII, now the Duke of Windsor, conniving and sniping from the sidelines in an attempt to regain relevance, even down to writing a controversial and revelatory memoir, could only make matters worse. Still, the question of whether or not Elizabeth could succeed and make the monarchy something that once again inspired international pride and even love remained.

In Power and Glory, Alexander Larman completes his acclaimed Windsor family trilogy, using rare and previously unseen documents to illuminate their unique family dynamic. Through his chronicling of events like the Royal Wedding, George VI’s death and the discovery of the Duke of Windsor’s treacherous activities in WWII, Larman paints a vivid portrait of the end of one sovereign’s reign and the beginning of another’s that heralded a new Elizabethan Age which would bring power and glory back to a monarchy desperately in need of it.
________________________________________________________

Book 3 in his carefully researched trilogy, "Power and Glory" is Alexander Larman's conclusion to the saga of King Edward VIII and King George VI of England. The first two books followed the death of their father, King George V and the abdication crisis as Edward (David to the family) abdicated his responsibilities to the throne, meaning his younger brother (Bertie in the family) had to become king. It ended up being the best thing that could happen for England, even if the stress and strain of the job probably helped kill him. Book two follows World War 2 and Bertie leading England while David flits around being thoughtless at best, a Nazi sympathizer and possibly quite a bit more. 

Book 3, "Power and Glory" is the immediate aftermath of the war. England is dealing with economic crisis and a shrinking empire, George VI is trying to deal with local crisis as well as the rise of Communist Russia and his own failing health. Elizabeth is growing up, falling in love with Phillip, and marrying him despite some push back. I was saddened by reading exactly how ill George VI was and how much he suffered, but the rest of that part of the story didn't hold my attention too much. What I very much enjoyed was when the story would switch to David and Wallis.

Trying desperately to hold on to some level of power or relevance in the world, David and Wallis try to get the crown to have the former king made a kind of ambassador so he can have social parties and get the government to pay for them (and not pay taxes). Surprisingly, the government declines this offer. So they start trying to see what kind of trouble they can cause.

Probably a tragic-comedy if they weren't so thoroughly dislikable, the detailed research into David and Wallis' actions and how the British government and the Royal family had to deal with them were by far my favorite parts of this book, and I'd recommend it for that alone. If you're interested in Britain post WW2, this is a good place to start. 

As always, thoroughly researched and generally well written, if occasionally given to more "if they only knew then"type of chapter endings than I prefer, Larman's "Power and Glory" is a solid conclusion to his trilogy on the Windsor family and Great Britain and their combined experiences in World War II. 

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review