Review: The Half Sister

The Half Sister

Having not read The Other Woman, Sandie Jones was a new author to me, and this book didn’t disappoint. I went in completely blind, only scanning the synopsis, so I was expecting your more typical over-dramatized psychological thriller. Is the half sister who she says she is? Is she out for some kind of vengeance? Though those questions do come up, this is truly a domestic thriller, by which I mean that it’s far quieter than its genre-siblings.
For me, what tipped the scales from a 4-star to a 3-star is that I often found myself lost in who is who re: Lauren and Kate. While they’re “complete opposites”, they didn’t have distinct voices, so I kept having to rely on context clues: which one has the family, which one is struggling with fertility? It would’ve worked better for me had they been differentiated by their voices.
The end of the book is also a bit cacophonous, which stands in stark contrast to everything before it. It’s so rooted in reality and then, I assume to give us some meaty plot twists, there is a whole potential fake abortion plot that comes from out of nowhere, as well as calling into question the DNA test, which makes no sense. As the author tries to fake us out, so that we don’t see the rather-obvious answer, it all gets rather convoluted.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a softer thriller, as it is an enjoyable read and it doesn’t have much in the way of gruesome details or violence, which is a nice break from the expected.

Review: The Heir Affair

It’s here! The highly anticipated sequel to 2015’s bestselling The Royal We, The Heir Affair is finally making its way into the public. Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan have delivered more of the same– which is to say that while it’s not exactly earth shattering, if you enjoyed the first book in the series, you’ll be chuffed with this follow up.

All of your favorite characters are back, in their full glory, perhaps none more so than the apple of every reader’s eye, Freddie, as well as a few new characters. Most notably, Princess Daphne, who, at first blush, seems rather obnoxious, but then I really grew to like her. No more Bex-Freddie shenanigans… Well… Okay, yes, there is tons of dramz with Freddie. But this time, the scandal isn’t nearly as frustrating as before. This book isn’t quite as ‘fun’ as its predecessor, but it matures alongside its characters. Though Nick is his typical, Manic Pixie Dream Boy-self, he finally lets his hair down (or, at least, what’s left of it), albeit for brief romps, such as in ski gondolas. Surprisingly, one of my favorite elements of this book is the relationship forged between Queen-Grandmother Eleanor and Bex. I love the snarky Queen, and am I the only one who felt badly for her? I mean, yes, she’s a slave to the Crown and forces others to bend to its might and antiquated traditions… But, guys, she’s A SLAVE! TO THE CROWN! The real villain here is Prince Dick, amiright? Ugh. I didn’t like him before and I like him even less here. Oh, yeah, and Clive.

For anyone wondering whether they *have* to have read The Royal We to be able to get into this book, the answer is no. There are plenty of moments where the authors fill you in on what you might have missed. That being said, their recaps serve better as reminders of what you might have read and forgotten in the 5 years between books (no need to re-read). I’d recommend taking the full tour de Lyons, if you’ve not read the first book.

If you had a problem with the length of The Royal We, this one’s even longer. Great, if you’re enjoying the journey (as I did); not so much if you’re just looking to add numbers to your ‘read’ list.

The Ultimate Life is a Journey of Passion and Purpose ...
Rating: 3.5/5 stars, rounded up for Goodreads and NetGalley

Review: Musical Chairs

Musical Chairs

This book isn’t scheduled to be released for a while, but I’m going to do something I’ve never done before and post a pre-review, because this should definitely be on your radar. Stay tuned for my full review, which will be posted on publication day, July 20, 2020. Let me know in the comments if you’re excited to read Musical Chairs, or if you’re already a fan of Amy Poeppel!

Let’s start with: this is not my usual fare. I almost exclusively read and review books with twenty-or early-thirty-something protagonists, often set in urban landscapes, with edgy subject matters and/or a biting sense of wit. Musical Chairs has none of that. Instead, it is a tame book about family dynamics, set in rural Connecticut, with a middle-aged protagonist and zero Millennial angst.  Nevertheless, I genuinely enjoyed this book, which is a testament to Amy Poeppel’s writing. There’s not a ton going on here as far as plot, but the characters are all well-developed and the world feels immediately available for entering and viewing, as flies on the water-dampened walls of Bridget’s home. Usually, I’ve found with novels like this, the details drown out all else, but Poeppel manages the fine balance of detail, dialogue, and action. Her skills are so evident that I plan to go back and read her previous work, Small Admissions.

This will be popular among book club enthusiasts, for its quaint story that opens up larger discussions of what it is to be a middle-aged woman, raising children who are struggling to find their way, taking care of aging parents, and having a life of one’s own romantically and professionally. How does the modern woman navigate all of life’s nooks and crannies (which is what it is here, rather than the cliche ‘ups and downs’)? While this isn’t the book you’d go to for thrills, laughs, or a steamy romance, it is the perfect book with which to curl up on a rainy day.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Pre-order Musical Chairs on Amazon here.

Review: Such A Fun Age

10 Books We Can't Wait To Get Our Hands On In 2020 ...

 

Oookay, so I’m a bit behind the times on this one. Just as it took me a while to finally read Queenie, which I also wound up loving, I was slow to dive into Such a Fun Age. Why? Because honestly, there’s enough divisiveness and racial tension in the world, and quite frankly, I usually look to reading as an escape. For the same reasons, I often pass up heavier literary fiction because my reading time is sort of a meditative thing I do for pleasure. However, these books that take me a bit to decide to actually commit to reading frequently become some of my favorites. See: anything by David Foster Wallace and Julian Barnes, The Secret History, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, etc.)
ANYWAY, let’s focus. Kiley Reid’s debut novel, Such a Fun Age is phenomenal. It does exactly what great contemporary fiction is supposed to do in that it feels effortless and easy to digest, but underneath it lies a cultural commentary which provokes further thought. I love when a book stays with me, and this one certainly has. The story here is simple, without much in the way of action, and focuses on domestic issues, with race, wealth inequality, and societal status all playing a role. It all feels completely believable, and Reid succeeds in creating tension among the characters without having to cram anything down your throat. There’s no ‘bad guy/gal’ here, nor is there a ‘good guy/gal’; instead, the characters are all flawed in their own ways, but we get the sense that each of them is trying to do their best to get by, which is generally the case in real life. So often, authors get trapped in their own story, letting their own emotions get the best of them so that they create one-dimensional characters in order to force their agenda.

Here, I think all of the characters are likable to an extent– maybe because I know so many people who are exactly like Alix and Kelley, as well as Emira and Zara. It was great to see some satirical moments in which Reid subtly calls out the woke folk for their hypocrisy and their use of ethnic friends as a way to gain cultural currency. I think this book really hit home for me, though, because I was raised by an African American nanny, and I have always consistently felt more comfortable around African American people, or a ethnically mixed group of people, than I do around a group of people who are my own race. Why? I have no idea. Maybe it brings back my childhood. Or maybe because I find African American people in particular to be more warm and welcoming of me (just speaking from my own experiences here, not generalizing). I don’t know. But whatever the case may be, I am aware that this is odd, and as I look back on my childhood, I can see how complicated the relationship can become when people are paid to essentially be a part of the family. There’s a commodification of love and care, but also there’s a question as to whether the relationship, forged only as a result of an exchange of money, is made false because of its very nature? Or is it possible that the relationship is real, regardless of the transactional element? I think this book does a great job exploring that, as Emira does truly grow close to Briar and vice versa.

Rating: 4.5/5, rounded up.

Buy Such A Fun Age on Amazon here.

Review: Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating

Image result for josh and hazel's guide to not dating

 

This is my first foray into the duo that call themselves Christina Lauren, and I wasn’t disappointed. Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating is exactly what it claims to be: quirky heroine becomes best friends with the hottie from college, fun and emotional chaos ensues as they attempt to set one another up on blind dates that go poorly, until they realize they’re in love. It’s a simple romantic comedy, which is anything but simple to construct, so kudos to the authors.

Something that really stood out to me about this book is that you could almost feel the authors having fun together as they created their story. Obviously I got a sense of Josh and Hazel, who are both thought out and detailed characters, as I read, but there was also a pervasive sense of the authors. I could see Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings  sitting together, perhaps with mimosas on Sundays, shooting the shit, maybe sharing some anecdotes, and crafting these characters with whom they themselves have fallen in love. Maybe I’m wrong and they’ve just been paired together by their publisher and in reality, they barely speak to one another, working mostly over e-mail exchanges of chapters. In which case, bravo to them, as they’re even more brilliant than I thought.

Aside from that, what kept bouncing through my head were similarities to Helen Hoang’s debut The Kiss Quotient, which was released a mere three months before this. Both books are romantic comedies featuring extremely quirky/conventionally “undateable” lead females, hunky, Korean, men, with that cultural element being a nice little thread throughout. Not that I think there’s any plagiarism here– I’m sure this book was already at the presses when Kiss Quotient was released– but  I think that having read them in such close proximity, it flattened this for me. Both are well written, and I’d actually give the edge to Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Dating as far as writing is concerned. It is slightly more clever and the writers feel more seasoned in this genre, capturing all of the hallmarks of romantic comedy without crossing over into being cliche. This is especially clear in the sex scenes, which is maybe a strange thing to compare, and I’m certainly not a connoisseur of literary porn, but where Hoang’s scenes go too far overboard, Lauren is able to craft a steamy scene that doesn’t make you roll your eyes.

Would I recommend this book to fans of the genre? Absolutely. While it’s not breaking any boundaries, it ticks all the boxes for romantic comedy and would be a nice poolside read. If you’ve read Kiss Quotient, I’d give yourself a little breathing time so this doesn’t feel stale. Unless you were obsessed with that book and want more of the same, now, then have at it.

Rating: 3.5/5

Buy Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating on Amazon here.