Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson


Three women, three lives, and one chance to become a family…whether they want to or not.

Newly orphaned, recently divorced, and semiadrift, Nina Popkin is on a search for her birth mother. She’s spent her life looking into strangers’ faces, fantasizing they’re related to her, and now, at thirty-five, she’s ready for answers.

Meanwhile, the last thing Lindy McIntyre wants is someone like Nina bursting into her life, announcing that they’re sisters and campaigning to track down their mother. She’s too busy with her successful salon, three children, beautiful home, and…oh yes, some pesky little anxiety attacks.

But Nina is determined to reassemble her birth family. Her search turns up Phoebe Mullen, a guarded, hard-talking woman convinced she has nothing to offer. Gradually sharing stories and secrets, the three women make for a messy, unpredictable family that looks nothing like Nina pictured…but may be exactly what she needs. Nina’s moving, ridiculous, tragic, and transcendent journey becomes a love story proving that real family has nothing to do with DNA.




Nina Popkin wants to know about her past.  The death of her adoptive mother sends her on a search for answers about her birth mother and the circumstances of her adoption.  Who does she take after?  Who does she look like?  And the most important question of all—to whom does she belong?  In The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness, author Maddie Dawson explores what it means to be a family and how one woman ends up building her own.

            Nina first meets her sister, a woman that she went to school with, and knew only peripherally.  The meeting does not go as planned, though, and Lindy (birth name: Poppet), has mixed feelings about meeting Nina (birth name: Kate).  Nina just seems so unstable—living in her dead mother’s condo, divorced, and too needy.  Through many attempts, the two decide to work together to find their birth mother and learn the secrets of their past.
            The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness is ultimately a book about creating a family for yourself.  Nina comes to accept her own flaws and the quirks of other people and is able to move forward in her life.  There is a subplot about Nina’s new romance with a newly divorced dad and his two teenage children.  Nina, the love-them-and-let-them-go type, becomes the de-facto mother to the kids and learns that parenting is not as easy as it seems.

            When Nina finally meets her mother, she is surprised to learn that she is a moderately famous musician.  Far from receiving the welcome she expected, Nina is faced with a woman who regrets her life choices and just wants a quiet existence.  While Lindy and Nina pursue answers from their mother, Phoebe, she has to decide how much of her past she wants to reveal.

            The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness had many appealing aspects.  I liked the relationship between Nina and her new boyfriend, the divorced dad, as well as the interactions she had with his children.  His daughter, Indigo, had the most vibrant characterization of anyone else in the book.  She was spirited, and I enjoyed reading about her growth. I also enjoyed Nina’s voice in the beginning of the book.  Her character was full of sharp quips and great personality.

            As the book continued, I became disappointed by the overly dramatic push-pull of the relationships in the book.  Nina was either pulling or pushing her sister, the mother was pulling or pushing the daughters, the teenager was pushing or pulling Indigo.  It was enough to give me whiplash, but it really just made for a tedious middle of the book.  In addition, when the big reveal for the circumstances of the adoption, I realized that there was no big reveal at all.  Most of it had been told in a prologue at the beginning of the novel, and the part that had not been revealed, was underwhelming.

            The theme of making your own family shone through loud and clear, but I wish there had been a little less push-pull and a little more actual drama.



*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina

Monday, October 9, 2017

Royally Roma (The Royals #1) by Teri Wilson


In this charming, modern retelling of the classic Audrey Hepburn film Roman Holiday, a royal prince tries to escape his hectic and rigid life and ends up leading a young graduate student on a chase through the Eternal City.

Julia Costa is too busy trying to complete her PhD while also holding down a full-time job as a private tour guide in Rome to keep up with celebrity gossip. So when she crosses paths with a real, actual prince, she mistakes him for a client and takes him on a daylong tour of the city.

Intrigued by the idea of spending time with someone who obviously has no idea who he is, and delighted at the prospect of a day free of royal obligations, Niccolo La Torre, Crown Prince of Lazaretto, acts on impulse and assumes the role of Julia’s client. He swears to himself that he’ll return to his royal duties after only half a day…but he’s having the time of his life.

Until Julia presents him with the bill. Since he snuck out of the hotel without so much as a dime, he tries to escape, only to discover that she won’t let him out of her sight until he can pay her back. She’s determined to get her money…and perhaps more from the handsome stranger she’s fallen for. 




With a nod toward the classic film, Roman HolidayRoyally Roma by Teri Wilson is a breezy, light-hearted romp through the streets of Rome and other Italian locales.  This sweet confection is the perfect escapist novel.

            Julia takes her job as a tour guide seriously.  A graduate student with a day job taking wide-eyed tourists around Rome, Julia is trying to escape the shadow of a family scandal that nearly ruined her life.  Add a disastrous relationship, and Julia is just trying to make do in the beautiful city she loves.  When a new tour goes terribly wrong, she is determined to stand up for herself and get the compensation she deserves.

            Niccolo La Torre, Crown Prince of Lazaretto, is tired of being the responsible prince.  While his brother recklessly parties and shames the family name as a playboy prince, Niccolo is left to uphold royal responsibilities and please his grandfather, the King.  Niccolo, faced with a schedule as daunting as it is boring, decides that he needs one free day where no one knows who he is.  When he sees Julia in a restaurant, Niccolo decides to pose as Julia’s client.  Now, if only he can make it through the crowded streets without being recognized or found by his princely security detail, Niccolo might just have time to fall in love.

            If you can suspend your disbelief and accept a few flaws, you will enjoy Royally Roma.  There was definitely some insta-love between Niccolo and Julia, though there were a few measly efforts to make the relationship take a while to develop.  It really did not seem realistic that the prince would not be recognized just because he shaved his beard.  And my biggest problem was with the whole reveal of the two characters’ deepest secrets to one another—Julia revealing her family problem and Niccolo revealing his status.  The scene, long awaited, was over so quickly that I was left scratching my head and rereading.  All that build-up for so little drama!

            But really, I did not care all that much about the flaws.  I needed to read a lighthearted book, and Royally Roma delivered.  I would absolutely read other books in the series, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.



*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the bestselling crime writer for years, she’s intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus P√ľnd, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan’s traditional formula has proved hugely successful. So successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job.



This book was a delightful read. It starts out by introducing us to Susan, the editor of the hugely successful Atticus Pund series. Excited to receive the manuscript for what is to be number nine in the series, she dives right into the story that evening. This story is a murder mystery set in a typically idyllic English village. Imagine our (Susan and the reader’s) surprise when we get to the end of the story only to discover that the last chapters are missing. And right when Atticus is about to reveal who was the killer! Figuring out she’ll get the two missing chapters in the morning, Susan outlines her theories of who is the possible killer and there are enough suspicious characters to keep us busy.


 Unfortunately (spoiler alert!), the author Alan Conway turns up dead the next morning. This is where the second murder mystery starts, with Susan trying to find the missing chapters but ultimately figuring out that Alan’s death was suspicious. I won’t go into more detail so as not to spoil it for others but suffice to say, both endings, the fictionalized story and the author’s death were solved to my satisfaction. 


I’m sure this is not the first book with a story within the story but the writing really makes the reader feel as if there were two separate books. They each have a distinctively different writing style with more than half being the Atticus story. The reader ends up getting two great stories/mysteries for the price of one book!




*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Roberta

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo


He was the first person to inspire her, to move her, to truly understand her. Was he meant to be the last?

Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story—their story—at the very beginning.

Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts.




     Upon getting this book, I couldn’t wait to read this book. But upon reading the summary on the back cover I was a little unsure if I would like the story or not. I liked this story, but I had a hard time keeping it straight which character was “talking” at that point in the story. I found I could really get into the story every time I was able to pick it up. I was just a little confused on the characters each time and it would take me a little bit more time to read but I still enjoyed the book, I really liked the characters I found them to both interesting; both whenever they were together and as individuals.
     

     I really liked how the author organized the story and the way she made the story seem reminiscent to One Day (book & movie.) One of the things I do think would have helped me be able to follow the book easier is if there were sections/areas where it was mentioned who was supposed to be “talking” or “remembering.” I really liked the way the 2 characters intertwined over the course of 13 years; I found it an odd number, but figured maybe it could be Ms. Santopolo’s lucky number and that’s why she had written it that way. I really like the way Ms. Santopolo wrote the story, I just think it would have been easier to read if I knew which character was “talking” at that moment. I give The Light We Lost an 8 out of 10 and Jill Santopolo a 9 out of 10.


*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Tiffany

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love


The Crenshaw Six are a small but up-and-coming gang in South Central LA who have recently been drawn into an escalating war between rival drug cartels. To outsiders, the Crenshaw Six appear to be led by a man named Garcia . . . but what no one has figured out is that the gang's real leader (and secret weapon) is Garcia's girlfriend, a brilliant young woman named Lola. 

Lola has mastered playing the role of submissive girlfriend, and in the man's world she inhabits she is consistently underestimated. But in truth she is much, much smarter--and in many ways tougher and more ruthless--than any of the men around her, and as the gang is increasingly sucked into a world of high-stakes betrayal and brutal violence, her skills and leadership become their only hope of survival. 




Lola is a 26 year old from Huntington Park, a predominately Latino lower income city adjacent to South Central L.A. After a drug deal goes bad, she is given two days to find the cartel’s cash and heroin before they kill her. She also inherits or maybe even borderline kidnaps a young girl. 

Turns out that this young girl is in the same situation that Lola was in when she was younger; being pimped out by her junkie mom for a fix. No one knows that she’s the actual leader of the local gang called the Crenshaw Six. She is a boss dealing with being a woman and a minority in a male and while dominated field/city. The story does a great job of capturing real life details. This give readers a truer understanding of a different culture who literally lives only just 10 minutes away from the ‘liberal westside’. 

My only complaint (and I understand that I am only nit picking) is where did the gang name come from given that the street Crenshaw is nowhere near their city of Huntington Park? Other than that, it’s a very well written book from this first time author. You’ll also enjoy this book if you are a fan of Michael Connelly and other writers who base their stories in Los Angeles. Serendipitously, I just started watching a TV drama called Life for which this author happened to be listed as a screenwriter.  


*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Roberta

Friday, September 8, 2017

Just the Thing (The Donnigans #2) by Marie Harte


 FLING MIGHT BE JUST THE THING...

Gavin Donnigan left the Marine Corps a shell of a man, hounded by guilt for deaths he couldn't prevent. But teaching a self-defense class at the local gym brings some stability to his life―along with a gorgeous leggy woman who won't give him the time of day.

Zoe York lost her twin sister to a freak car accident a few months ago. She's been struggling to bury her grief, but it isn't until she signs up for a self-defense class with its distractingly hot instructor that she begins to come out of her shell again. With the memory of her sister telling her to live a little, Zoe decides a fling with buns-of-steel Gavin Donnigan might be just the thing.

Soon they're sparring both in and out of the gym. And for the first time in a long time, each is looking forward to tomorrow.





 Just The Thing is the second book in The Donnigan's Series. If you have previously read Marie Harte's The McCauley Brothers Series, then you will recognize the name as the McCauley's cousins with which they often compete. This book focuses on Gavin Donnigan, which I was really excited about. He's always able to make me smile with his goofiness and charm. He is definitely more than meets the eyes though. Behind those muscles and fun-loving humor, Gavin has some very serious things he's dealing with after being medically discharged from the military. 

In the previous book that focused more on his brother Landon, we saw Gavin falling apart a bit and I was glad that he took Ava's advice and was now seeing a Dr. to help him deal with his PTSD and survivor's guilt. His work at the gym also seems to help him deal with these things. When he is flirting with the feisty girl at the gym and trying to snag a date I couldn't help but smile. I was happy though that Zoe finally came around to giving him a chance. 

They definitely have great chemistry and I liked that they were able to understand each other's grief and help each other to heal. They also have similar a sense of humor, which I thought was wonderful. When Gavin got Zoe involved in the family prank wars... HILARIOUS! That balance of the fun banter and budding romance, with the emotions and heartbreak of the characters loss, made this book a realistic and captivating read. Harte's writing is so genuine and satisfying.

 I can't wait to read the next one! I'm not yet sure if I am hoping it is about Theo (the youngest brother) or Hope (the sister). This book can be read as a standalone if you so wish. 


*I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. April

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi


A story from debut author Abby Fabiaschi that is "as absorbing as it is illuminating, and as witty as it is heartbreaking."

Maddy is a devoted stay-at-home wife and mother, host of excellent parties, giver of thoughtful gifts, and bestower of a searingly perceptive piece of advice or two. She is the cornerstone of her family, a true matriarch...until she commits suicide, leaving her husband Brady and teenage daughter Eve heartbroken and reeling, wondering what happened. How could the exuberant, exacting woman they loved disappear so abruptly, seemingly without reason, from their lives? How they can possibly continue without her? As they sift through details of her last days, trying to understand the woman they thought they knew, Brady and Eve are forced to come to terms with unsettling truths.

Maddy, however, isn’t ready to leave her family forever. Watching from beyond, she tries to find the perfect replacement for herself. Along comes Rory: pretty, caring, and spontaneous, with just the right bit of edge...but who also harbors a tragedy of her own. Will the mystery of Maddy ever come to rest? And can her family make peace with their history and begin to heal?



Upon receiving this book, I couldn’t wait to start reading this book. When I started the first chapter, I was immediately drawn into it. I wasn’t sure what I was reading, the way “Maddy” was explaining about having found the perfect candidate to put into her husband’s and daughter’s life had me a little confused at first. I wasn’t sure if “Maddy” was already dead or if she was sleeping and deciding what she was hoping to accomplish once she died. When I read the summary on the back cover I already knew that she died, but then starting the story, I was surprised at the way it started. While I was expecting the story to start completely different than it did, I was caught up in I Liked My Life already.

 I hadn’t planned to read 4 chapters in one sitting, but I was glad I did. I love how Abby Fabiaschi could draw me in to the story so quickly. I loved how much emotion the author put into each character and could make me feel it just by reading about them and what they were going through. I felt a lot of sadness and uncertainty with “Brady” and I felt a lot of mixed emotions, but sadness and anger the most with “Eve”; I could imagine if I was going through a tragedy like that and trying to move on exactly how I would feel during that terrible time. I really liked how although “Maddy” was dead she still had a lot of emotion and say-so in what was going on with her family. Although “Maddy” had died I was still able to put myself in her shoes and feel the same feelings she did and I was rooting for her just as much as I was for her husband and daughter. I loved how concerned “Maddy” was for them even beyond the grave.



     I liked how involved “Maddy” was in everyone else’s life too not just her husband’s and daughter’s. The way I was wrapped up in I Liked My Life, I felt like it could be an actual movie or something that was happening to someone who was close to me. By the last 2-3 chapters of the book, I was both surprised and happy at the same time. I was surprised because I thought I already knew the details about what had happened to “Maddy” and then it seemed to me like the plot did a 180 degree turn and ended a little different than I thought it would. 

I was happy as well because I thought that although things weren’t as they seemed everything worked out for everyone and it seemed like “Brady” and “Eve” were able to move on and find happiness again. I really liked the way Ms. Fabiaschi separated the chapters. It made it easier to follow along by knowing who which character was speaking or had the spotlight at any given point. I wish more authors would do that, sometimes it gets confusing trying to remember which character is “talking” at any certain point. I think a lot of readers who like Jodi Picoult will enjoy reading this author too. I give I Liked My Life a 10 and Abby Fabiaschi a 10! I can’t wait to read more of her books, I hope they’re all as good as this one was.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Tiffany