The Kinder Poison | Book Review

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Title: The Kinder Poison (#1)

Author: Natalie Mae

Format: Hardcover (own)

Pages: 416

Categories: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance, Politics

Zahru has long dreamed of leaving the kingdom of Orkena and having the kinds of adventures she’s only ever heard about in stories. But as a lowly Whisperer, her power to commune with animals means that her place is serving in the royal stables until the day her magic runs dry.

All that changes when the ailing ruler invokes the Crossing: a death-defying race across the desert, in which the first of his heirs to finish—and take the life of a human sacrifice at the journey’s end—will ascend to the throne and be granted unparalleled abilities.

With all of the kingdom abuzz, Zahru leaps at the chance to change her fate if just for a night by sneaking into the palace for a taste of the revelry. But the minor indiscretion turns into a deadly mistake when she gets caught up in a feud between the heirs and is forced to become the Crossing’s human sacrifice. Zahru is left with only one hope for survival: somehow figuring out how to overcome the most dangerous people in the world.

I read this book in one night. And look at that cover! It might be my favorite cover of 2020 releases so far – it’s simple yet oh so vibrant with all that purple. Brilliant!

My Reactions:

My Attention: read this in one sitting

World Building: amazing world building

Writing Style: flowed from beginning to end

Bringing the Heat: 🔥 there is maybe one scene with some heat

Crazy in Love: argh….Zahru and two brothers…a love triangle

Creativity: I love everything about this world, it’s magic, kingdom, the people in it

Mood: amazed 

Triggers: violence

My Takeaway: Be your own hero!

  • Where do I start? I love Zahru – she’s fun, she’s daring, and kind-hearted. She thinks on her feet and is a good listener (she is a Whisperer who can communicate with animals). She loves her family, her friends and her home. I love her heart.
  • The characters from Hen, her best friend, to the Princes and the Princess – it’s an array of personalities and it was fun getting to know everyone!
  • The action – and there is plenty! There is politics involved with three royal sibling vying for the throne by way of a trial. But the drama between these siblings, my goodness – I love how different they were, how they had different goals and motivations and how confused I was about who would make the best ruler. But there is action to the very end!
  • Zahru is the hero of her story. This is such an inspirational story. Throughout the book people look down on her and though it hurts, she doesn’t let it get her down, she keeps moving forward because the race to the finish never lets up. But she digs deep within her to do the right things no matter what obstacle she is faced with. Her power, being a Whisperer seems weak and everyone tells her so – but her strength is kindness, listening and caring. I like that her strength isn’t magic…it’s connecting with people.
  • The world building is lush and vibrant. I love the magic system and the politics. I enjoyed learning about the history of Orkena and wonder what will happen in the next book.
  • The only thing that bugged me was the love triangle. It reminded me a bit of The Red Queen series and I was hoping it wasn’t going to go there…but there it is. It sets off in motion some events that make me want book two in my hands. But I do hope this triangle is nipped in the bud…we shall see.

This is a fun read with an exciting new world. Zahru comes off as the weakest link but her power and strength gets her through many dangers in this story. This is an amazing debut novel and I look forward to book two!

BLOG TOUR} In the Neighborhood of True by. Susan Kaplan Carlton

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Title: In the Neighborhood of True

Author: Susan Kaplan Carlton

Format: Paperback (gifted for review)

Pages: 314

Categories: Young Adult, Social Justice, Racism, Antisemitism, American Southern History, Religion, Romance, Identity, Historical Fiction

Disclaimer: **I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

A powerful story of love, identity, and the price of fitting in or speaking out.

After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.

Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes. 

Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for a copy of this book and giving me a chance to join this blog tour!

My Reactions:

My Attention: engrossed

World Building: Atlanta, Georgia, 1958

Writing Style: to the point, story was a quick read, flowed wonderfully

Bringing the Heat: 🔥 some make out scenes

Crazy in Love: there is love, but not so crazy

Creativity: I like how this story is coming from a girl who is Jewish and moves from New York to Georgia at a time when racial tensions are high

Mood: contemplative

Triggers: bombing, lynching story, racism, antisemitism

My Takeaway: We have to know history so we don’t repeat it and this story reminds us how are civil rights history isn’t so far in the past. It weighs heavily on our country today.

  • I honestly didn’t know the story about Stone Mountain in Georgia until the Black Lives Movement protests just recently after George Floyd was killed. I learned even more about it in this book through Ruth’s eyes. I also didn’t know about Leo Frank, so this book was eye-opening to me. The setting of the 1950’s south comes through in this story. As a kid I was listening to 1950’s music because that was my parents’ childhood songs and they played it a lot in the house. The description of the clothes, and the way they talked felt authentic. When Max is described as looking like Buddy Holly haha, I had an imagine in my mind right away!
  • This is a coming of age story of a girl who is grieving, falling in love, and wanting to be a Southern Jewish Debutant Belle. But is that allowed? She wants to belong, but if her friends knew she was Jewish, what would they do? She learns the hard way that she needs to pick a side, but which side will she choose?
  • I love how quick and to the point this book is. It’s a fast read, showing this world Ruth is thrust into but…Ruth has moments where she also questions some parts of her life in New York as well. Did she know many black people when she was living in New York? I like that the author reminds us racism is everywhere even if you think it’s not around you.
  • I like Ruth’s family – her mom who is a reporter and tries to get the truth at things and her sisters are awesome. If she didn’t have any true friend, at least she had her sisters! Also her family isn’t perfect. Her grandmother is always pushing Ruth to hide being Jewish, to be a true southern belle and I get it…it starts with family, so her grandma was raised that way with prejudices even though she doesn’t think she is. I have family like that too, so that’s realistic.
  • For a book with heavy topics I think I wanted more emotion to come through. I felt Ruth falling in love, it’s insta-love but it was the 1950’s! People were falling in love and marrying quick back then. Sometimes I felt her grief, but that was shielded by her new life and friends. Ruth is who she is – and she did like the dressing up and shopping. So maybe her being a little shallow at times is why I wanted more emotion.
  • The ending with the bombing felt rushed. That’s a big event! But I think because the story starts off in the court room, I was expecting more courtroom drama? But that was quick.
  • Also – there is no love triangle. It’s hinted in the blurb but, nope.

Though this story takes place in the 1950’s, it is so very relevant today. Here we are in 2020, still fighting racism, antisemitism, sexism and all kinds of hate. I’m glad I learned about a few things in this book like the history of Stone Mountain, Leo Frank and antisemitism in the American South. At the heart of this story is Ruth’s search for her identity and I’m glad to see her choose to fight hate.

ARC Review | More Than Maybe

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Title: More Than Maybe

Author: Erin Hahn

Format: eBook (NetGalley)

Pages: 336

Publication Date: July 21, 2020

Categories: Young Adult, Romance, Music

Disclaimer: **I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

Growing up under his punk rocker dad’s spotlight, eighteen-year-old Luke Greenly knows fame and wants nothing to do with it. His real love isn’t in front of a crowd, it’s on the page. Hiding his gift and secretly hoarding songs in his bedroom at night, he prefers the anonymous comfort of the locally popular podcast he co-hosts with his outgoing and meddling, far-too-jealousy-inspiringly-happy-with-his-long-term-boyfriend twin brother, Cullen. But that’s not Luke’s only secret. He also has a major un-requited crush on music blogger, Vada Carsewell.

Vada’s got a five year plan: secure a job at the Loud Lizard to learn from local legend (and her mom’s boyfriend) Phil Josephs (check), take over Phil’s music blog (double check), get accepted into Berkeley’s prestigious music journalism program (check, check, check), manage Ann Arbor’s summer concert series and secure a Rolling Stone internship. Luke Greenly is most definitely NOT on the list. So what if his self-deprecating charm and out-of-this-world music knowledge makes her dizzy? Or his brother just released a bootleg recording of Luke singing about some mystery girl on their podcast and she really, really wishes it was her? 

Thank you to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for giving me a chance to read this eARC.

More Than Maybe is a cute young adult romance novel and it has a playlist also, which makes it even more fun to read.

Luke Greenly, is popular because of his dad who used to be a part of a famous band back in the day. Now Luke and how twin Cullen have a podcast that has gained them some fans. But that’s not the only thing, Luke also secretly makes music and he has a big crush on a blogger named Vada.

Vada is a music review blogger and is trying to accomplish all her goals when Luke happens into her life. Music brings these two characters together and helps them stay together when things threaten to tear them apart.

  • I like the cutesy, quirky things Vada and Luke would do like send each other links to their favorite music. They both love music and it’s the way to their hearts, but yes…so cute to watch their crush, turn into friendship, then turn again into something more.
  • The music that is mentioned…at least some of them because a few of them I was like…??🤔 I’m too old for some of these newer bands maybe? But yes I was a freshman in high school when Nirvana made it big, so those bands they mentioned are definitely from my youth. And Colorblind by Counting Crows…ahhh memories! Heartaching, heartbreaking memories and goosebumps. So it was that way this book pulled on my heart strings at times.
  • I really enjoyed their growing friendship while they crushed on each other. They were becoming best friends and music tied them together, which is a beautiful thing. It’s cute how Luke is so crazy about Vada.
  • When Luke describes what love is like…I was like…awwwwww. 😍
  • I had a hard time connecting to the characters and I don’t know why. It took me awhile to get into the story – they did grow on me eventually when Luke and Vada started spending so much time together.
  • It’s a slow burn, maybe too slow at times for me but perfect for people who like a easy going romance story like this. There isn’t much angst (I need some angst haha), and the drama in the end is totally fixable and predictable but again, very grand sweet gesture on Luke’s part.
  • Triggers: active shooter drill – it was an “oh wow moment” to me that I was not expecting but such a real thing kids face today.

Overall, this was a cute read and would be perfect for music lovers out there! The mentions of some songs brought back so many feelings and memories for me but in a good way, it made me feel young again. 😅 If you like a slow burn romance between two teens who love music, then you will definitely enjoy this one.

ARC Review | A Sweet Mess

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Title: A Sweet Mess

Author: Jayci Lee

Format: eBook (NetGalley)

Pages: 320

Publication Date: July 14, 2020

Categories: Contemporary, Romance, Foodie, Adult

Disclaimer: **I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

Bake a chance on love. 

Aubrey Choi loves living in her small town nestled in the foothills of California, running her highly successful bakery away from the watch of her strict Korean parents. When a cake mix-up and a harsh review threaten all of her hard work and her livelihood, she never thought the jaded food critic would turn out to be her one-night stand. And she sure as hell never thought she’d see her gorgeous Korean unicorn again. But when Landon Kim waltzes into her bakery trying to clean up the mess he had a huge hand in making, Aubrey is torn between throwing and hearing him out.

When she hears his plan to help save her business, Aubrey knows that spending three weeks in California wine country working with Landon is a sure recipe for disaster. Her head is telling her to take the chance to save her bakery while her heart—and her hormones—are at war on whether to give him a second chance. And it just so happens that Landon’s meddling friends want them to spend those three weeks as close as possible…by sharing a villa.

When things start heating up, both in and out of the kitchen, Aubrey will have to make a choice—to stick it out or risk her heart.

My Sweet Mess is a foodie romance – meaning if you like romance and stories with cooking in it, especially baked goods, then this will be up your alley.

Aubrey is a pastry chef and owns a small bakery in a very small town. A one-night stand with Landon, a well known food critic (except not known to Aubrey), ruins her business when he does an article on her bakery.

To make amends Landon has a plan. Now it’s strictly business between them but their attraction between them is undeniable and gets in the way.

  • Food! I love a romance story with food in it, most especially when it centers around baked goods – since that is my weakness. So I loved all the cooking references.
  • It’s a light-hearted romance and a very quick read. The story comes with its share of timely drama and resolves easily into a happy ever after. It’s a cute ending.
  • I like that it’s main characters are Asian because it’s nice to see more diversity in the romance genre.
  • The story is very predictable. One-night stand, woman’s life is ruined by a man, man comes into save her business, attraction is still there, conflict, resolution – HEA. So…it’s got all the elements but nothing really stood out to make it wow me.
  • I didn’t connect to the characters. Their attraction happens in an instant, which is fine, but when things become a problem and they are back together, things almost fall easily into place. There is no real tension between them, I think I wanted more tension.
  • And this might be the fault of it being a digital arc but some paragraphs were running into each other and I would get thrown off wondering if it was supposed to be a new chapter. So that might just be formatting because it being a digital copy.

Overall, this was a light hearted romance novel with love of food present throughout the story. For me I wish I could connect to the characters more but ff you like a love story about food and falling in love then you will enjoy this one.

ARC Review | The Crow Rider (The Storm Crow, #2)

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Title: The Crow Rider (The Storm Crow, #2)

Author: Kalyn Josephson

Format: eBook (NetGalley)

Pages: 368

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Categories: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance

Disclaimer: **I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

Princess Thia, her allies, and her crow, Res, are planning a rebellion to defeat Queen Razel and Illucia once and for all. Thia must convince the neighboring kingdoms to come to her aid, and Res’s show of strength is the only thing that can help her.

But so many obstacles stand in her way. Res excels at his training, until he loses control of his magic, harming Thia in the process. She is also pursued by Prince Ericen, heir to the Illucian throne and the one person she can’t trust but can’t seem to stay away from.

As the rebel group prepares for war, Res’s magic grows more unstable. Thia has to decide if she can rely on herself and their bond enough to lead the rebellion and become the crow rider she was meant to be.

Thank you to Sourcebooks Fire and NetGalley for giving me a chance to read this eARC.

The Crow Rider is the conclusion to The Storm Crow duology and I think it did a great job tying things up nicely. I really loved the first book because I was introduced to this magical world of magical crows – but I did think the story needed more crows.

We don’t get many more crows in this volume. Res, Thia’s hatched crow is basically the crow we get to know in this series. This time the political stakes are high and Thia has to grow up fast. She’s come a long way from grieving in the first book to now taking a leadership role in this book.

  • Thia gains confidence in this story and she becomes a leader while trying to figure out who to trust. She also has to make the leaders of other kingdoms trust her so that an alliance can take place. So yes Thia comes a long way!
  • There is romance and it is fairly predictable in how it happens but I like that it doesn’t overtake the story.
  • There are a lot of battles in this one. It’s nice to see Res, Thia’s crow finally learn some skills to use the crow powers and magic.
  • Kiva is still there with Thia through the end and she tries to keep Thia on the mission even when she doesn’t agree with Thia’s actions. Their friendship is strong which is good.
  • Even though this story has a lot more battles, at times in the beginning I was a little bored I think because it was pretty much predictable. Thia was going to help save the day with Res as her crow and Ericen at her side, right? Right.
  • I was waiting for more crows again and finally when I realized Res is like THE only crow we get to really know…I let it go and tried to enjoy the story.

Overall, thought I rated this a 3.5 and the first book a 4.5 – I think the duology as a whole is a sold 4 stars. I say that because though everything is predictable, I found the crow magic fun and different. I enjoyed the world building mostly in the first book but I think this was a really good young adult series perfect for young adults (I’m an older adult haha). The ending tied everything up and left me in a hopeful mood which was nice.

Opposite of Always | Book Review

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Title: Opposite of Always

Author: Justin A. Reynolds

Format: ebook (borrowed)

Pages: 451

Categories/Themes: Young Adult, Romance, Time Travel, Death, Illness, Friendship, Family, Black Lead Characters

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.

But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.

Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind.

Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

This is a time travel love story that kind of lost me at time travel. 😕

My Reactions:

My Attention: lost it when the time travel kicked in and that’s a ME thing, it doesn’t make the book bad

World Building: it’s Jack’s world and he is in love with Kate

Writing Style: lots of dialogue, so it moves quick

Bringing the Heat: no heat

Crazy in Love: oh, Jack is crazy in love

Creativity: it got creative with the time travel

Mood: mixed feelings 

Triggers: death, illness

My Takeaway: “almost” is good enough ❤️ because that meant you still had some time with that person

  • Jack is the sweetest kid ever. I love his charming personality, I wanted to protect him from heartbreak. He is a nice guy and he has been in love with his best friend, Jillian, since forever until Kate comes along. But he’s an all around good guy, he’s the average nerdy guy, comes from a nice family and has good friends around him.
  • Friendship is a big deal to Jack and it shows with his two best friends, who are dating, Franny and Jillian.
  • The dialogue between the characters is really good and I could always tell who was speaking because their voices were distinct.
  • Jack is so in love with Kate, it’s the sweetest and saddest thing. And the book cover is the cutest and makes a lot of sense after reading the book.
  • I don’t mind death and illness in a story but darn, the time travel just took me out of it. I thought okay…let’s see what happens, but by the time it starts over again, I felt a disconnect. That’s mostly because I tend to be that way with books with time travel, especially when it keeps repeating itself! I understand why it was in the story though because it shows in each scenario how things could have turned out.
  • This book revolves around Jack’s love for Kate. And because it is a time travel story, his love for her is on repeat. I think it would have been great to learn more about Kate, not so much his love for her because we all knew he was crazy about her.

Unfortunately the time travel aspect made me disconnect from the story. I loved the beginning, where we meet Jack, Kate and all the people that make up his world but after Kate dies (the first time), I lost interest in the story. I think many people will enjoy this sweet love story though, especially if you don’t mind a story with time travel.

BLOG TOUR } She’s Faking It by. Kristin Rockaway

Title: She’s Faking It

Author: Kristin Rockaway

Publication Date: June 30, 2020

SUMMARY:

You can’t put a filter on reality.

Bree Bozeman isn’t exactly pursuing the life of her dreams. Then again, she isn’t too sure what those dreams are. After dropping out of college, she’s living a pretty chill life in the surf community of Pacific Beach, San Diego…if “chill” means delivering food as a GrubGetter, and if it means “uneventful”.

But when Bree starts a new Instagram account — @breebythesea — one of her posts gets a signal boost from none other than wildly popular self-help guru Demi DiPalma, owner of a lifestyle brand empire. Suddenly, Bree just might be a rising star in the world of Instagram influencing. Is this the direction her life has been lacking? It’s not a career choice she’d ever seriously considered, but maybe it’s a sign from the universe. After all, Demi’s the real deal… right?

Everything is lining up for Bree: life goals, career, and even a blossoming romance with the chiseled guy next door, surf star Trey Cantu. But things are about to go sideways fast, and even the perfect filter’s not gonna fix it. Instagram might be free, but when your life looks flawless on camera, what’s the cost?

Excerpt:

From Chapter Two

“Don’t these books make your purse really heavy? There’s gotta be some app where you can store all this information.” 

“Studies show you’re more likely to remember things you’ve written by hand, with physical pen and paper.” She reached across my lap and opened the glove compartment, removing a notebook with an antiqued photograph of a vintage luxury car printed on the cover. “For example, this is my auto maintenance log. Maybe if you’d kept one of these, like I told you to, we wouldn’t be in this predicament right now.” 

I loved Natasha, I really did. She was responsible and generous, and without her I’d likely be far worse off than I already was, which was a horrifying thought to consider. But at times like this, I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake the shit out of her. 

“A maintenance log wouldn’t have helped me.” 

“Yes, it would have. Organization is about more than decluttering your home. It’s about decluttering your mind. Making lists, keeping records—these are all ways to help you get your life in order. If you’d had a maintenance log, this problem wouldn’t have caught you off guard in the middle of your delivery shift. You’d have seen it coming, and—” 

“I saw it coming.” 

“What?”

 “This didn’t catch me off guard. The check engine light came on two weeks ago.” Or maybe it was three. 

“Then why didn’t you take it to the mechanic?” She blinked, genuinely confused. Everything was so cut-and dried with her. When a car needed to be serviced, of course you called the mechanic. 

That is, if you could afford to pay the repair bill. 

Fortunately, she put two and two together without making me say it out loud. “Oh,” she murmured, then bit her lip. I could almost hear the squeak and clank of wheels turning in her head as she tried to piece together the solution to this problem. No doubt it included me setting up a journal or logbook of some sort, though we both knew that would be pointless. The last time she’d tried to set me up with a weekly budget planner, I gave up on day two, when I realized I could GrubGetter around the clock for the rest of my life and still never make enough money to get current on the payments for my student loans. You know, for that degree I’d never finished. 

But Natasha was a determined problem solver. It said so in her business bio: “Natasha DeAngelis, Certified Professional Organizer®, is a determined problem solver with a passion for sorting, purging, arranging, and containerizing.” My life was a perpetual mess, and though she couldn’t seem to be able to clean it up, that didn’t stop her from trying. Over and over and over again.

 “I’ll pay for the repairs,” she said.

 “No.” I shook my head, fending off the very big part of me that wanted to say yes. “I can’t take any money from you.” 

“It’s fine,” she said. “Business is booming. I’ve got so much work right now that I’ve actually had to turn clients away. And ever since Al introduced that new accelerated orthodontic treatment, his office has been raking it in. We can afford to help you.” 

“I know.” Obviously, my sister and her family weren’t hurting for cash. Aside from her wildly successful organizing business, her husband, Al, ran his own orthodontics practice. They owned a four-bedroom house, leased luxury cars, and took triannual vacations to warm, sunny places like Maui and Tulum. They had a smart fridge in their kitchen that was undoubtedly worth more than my nonfunctioning car. 

But my sister wasn’t a safety net, and I needed to stop treating her like one. She’d already done so much for me. More than any big sister should ever have to do.

 “I just can’t,” I said. 

“Well, do you really have any other choice?” There was an edge to Natasha’s voice now. “If you don’t have a car, how are you going to work?”

 “I’ll figure something out.” The words didn’t sound very convincing, even to my own ears. For the past four years, all I’d done was deliver food. I had no other marketable skills, no references, no degree.

 I was a massive failure. 

Tears pooled in my eyes. Natasha sighed again. 

“Look,” she said, “maybe it’s time to admit you need to come up with a solid plan for your life. You’ve been in a downward spiral ever since Rob left.” 

She had a point. I’d never been particularly stable, but things got a whole lot worse seven months earlier, when my live-in ex-boyfriend, Rob, had abruptly announced he was ending our three-year relationship, quitting his job, and embarking on an immersive ayahuasca retreat in the depths of the Peruvian Amazon. 

“I’ve lost my way,” he’d said, his eyes bloodshot from too many hits on his vape pen. “The Divine Mother Shakti at the Temple of Eternal Light can help me find myself again.”

 “What?” I’d been incredulous. “Where is this coming from?” 

He’d unearthed a book from beneath a pile of dirty clothes on our bed and handed it to me—Psychedelic Healers: An Exploratory Journey of the Soul, by Shakti Rebecca Rubinstein.

 “What is this?”

 “It’s the book that changed my life,” he’d said. “I’m ready for deep growth. New energy.” 

Then he’d moved his belongings to a storage unit off the side of the I-8, and left me to pay the full cost of our monthly rent and utilities on my paltry GrubGetter income. 

I told myself this situation was only temporary, that Rob would return as soon as he realized that hallucinating in the rainforest wasn’t going to lead him to some higher consciousness. But I hadn’t heard from him since he took off on that direct flight from LAX to Lima. At this point, it was probably safe to assume he was never coming back. 

Which was probably for the best. It’s not exactly like Rob was Prince Charming or anything. But being with him was better than being alone. At least I’d had someone to split the bills with. 

“Honestly,” she continued, “I can’t stand to see you so miserable anymore. Happiness is a choice, Bree. Choose happy.”

 Of all Natasha’s pithy sayings, “Choose happy” was the one I hated most. It was printed on the back of her business cards in faux brush lettering, silently accusing each potential client of being complicit in their own misery. If they paid her to clean out their closets, though, they could apparently experience unparalleled joy. 

“That’s bullshit, and you know it.” 

She scowled. “It is not.”

 “It is, actually. Shitty things happen all the time and we have no choice in the matter. I didn’t choose to be too broke to fix my car. I work really hard, but this job doesn’t pay well. And I didn’t choose for Rob to abandon me to go find himself in the Amazon, either. He made that choice for us.” 

I almost mentioned the shittiest thing that had ever happened to Natasha or to me, a thing neither of us had chosen. But I stopped myself before the words rolled off my lips. This evening was bad enough without rehashing the details of our mother’s death.

 “Sometimes things happen to us that are beyond our control,” Natasha said, her voice infuriatingly calm. “But we can control how we react to it. Focus on what you can control. And it does no good to dwell on the past, either. Don’t look back, Bree—” 

“Because that’s not where you’re going. Yes, I know. You’ve said that before.” About a thousand times. 

She took a deep breath, most likely to prepare for a lengthy lecture on why it’s important to stay positive and productive in the face of adversity, but then a large tow truck lumbered onto the cul-de-sac and she got out of the car to flag him down. 

Grateful for the interruption, I ditched the casserole on her dashboard and walked over to where the driver had double-parked alongside my car. 

“What’s the problem?” he asked, hopping down from the cab. 

“It won’t start,” I said, to which Natasha quickly followed up with, “The check engine light came on several weeks ago, but the car has not been serviced yet.” 

He grunted and popped the hood, one thick filthy hand stroking his braided beard as he surveyed the engine. Another grunt, then he asked for the keys and tried to start it, only to hear the same sad click and whine as before. 

“It’s not the battery.” He leaned his head out of the open door. “When was the last time you changed your timing belt?” 

“Uh… I don’t know.”

 Natasha shook her head and mouthed, Maintenance log! in my direction but I pretended not to see. 

The driver got out and slammed the hood shut. “Well, this thing is hosed.” 

“Hosed?” My heart thrummed in my chest. “What does that mean? It can’t be fixed?”

 He shrugged, clearly indifferent to my crisis-in-progress. “Can’t say for sure. Your mechanic can take a closer look and let you know. Where do you want me to tow it?”

 I pulled out my phone to look up the address of the mechanic near my apartment down in Pacific Beach. But Natasha answered before I could google it up. 

“Just take it to Encinitas Auto Repair,” she said. “It’s on Second and F.” 

“You got it,” he said, then retreated to his truck to fiddle with some chains.

 Natasha avoided my gaze. Instead, she focused on calling a guy named Jerry, who presumably worked at this repair shop, and told him to expect “a really old Civic that’s in rough shape,” making sure to specify, “It’s not mine, it’s my sister’s.”

 I knew she was going to pay for the repairs. It made me feel icky, taking yet another handout from my big sister. But ultimately, she was right. What other choice did I have? 

The two of us stayed quiet while the driver finished hooking up my car. After he’d towed it away down the cul-desac and out of sight, Natasha turned to me. “Do you want to come over? Izzy’s got piano lessons in fifteen minutes, you can hear how good she is now.”

 Even though I did miss my niece, there was nothing I wanted to do more than go home, tear off these smelly clothes, and cry in solitude. “I’ll take a rain check. Thanks again for coming to get me.” 

“Of course.” She started poking at her phone screen. A moment later, she said, “Your Lyft will be here in four minutes. His name is Neil. He drives a black Sentra.” A quick kiss on my cheek and she was hustling back to her SUV. 

As I watched Natasha drive away, I wished—not for the first time—that I could be more like her: competent, organized, confident enough in my choices to believe I could choose to be happy. Sometimes I felt like she had twenty years on me, instead of only six. So maybe instead of complaining, I should’ve started taking her advice.

Excerpted from She’s Faking It by Kristin Rockaway, Copyright © 2020 by Allison Amini. Published by Graydon House Books.

About the Author |

Kristin Rockaway is a native New Yorker with an insatiable case of wanderlust. After working in the IT industry for far too many years, she traded the city for the surf and chased her dreams out to Southern California, where she spends her days happily writing stories instead of software. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her husband and son, and planning her next big vacation.

SOCIAL LINKS:

http://kristinrockaway.com | Facebook: /KristinRockaway | Twitter: @KristinRockaway | Instagram: @KristinRockway 

Buy it HERE:

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The Kiss Quotient | Book Review

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Title: The Kiss Quotient

Author: Helen Hoang

Format: eBook (borrowed)

Pages: 323

Categories: Contemporary, Romance, Adult, Autism, Fake Dating, Asian Rep

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases — a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice — with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan — from foreplay to more-than-missionary position…

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he’s making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic…

So I read The Bride Test before this book and I ended up liking The Kiss Quotient much more!

My Reactions:

My Attention: read in one night

World Building: Silicon Valley

Writing Style: flowed really well

Bringing the Heat: 🔥🔥🔥🔥 – lots of sexy moments in this one

Crazy in Love: in a good way

Creativity: I love the Asperger’s representation and how Stella propositions Michael instead of the other way around (Pretty Woman reversal!)

Mood: love 

Triggers: prostitution

My Takeaway: Get yourself a Michael Larsen. 🤗

  • The autistic representation is fantastic, just as it was in The Bride Test. We get to see how a character with Aspergers, Stella, functions in a social, sexual, physical and romantic relationship with Michael. I appreciate the insight because it makes me understand people with autism better. I can feel Stella’s desire and despair to try and be “normal” in a romantic relationship, and yay for Michael being super patient with her. It’s exactly what she needed in a partner.
  • The whole reverse Pretty Woman thing where Michael is the escort is fun. And HOT. I mean some of the scenes where he is trying to help her be comfortable with sex was like…🔥🔥🔥. I mean obviously he has a 5 star rating so he knows what he is doing, but again…his patience is what got me swooning! ❤️
  • I did like how it went into hot territory with the escort services thing in the beginning and sex lessons to HOLD up..let’s do fake dating. It took their relationship in a new direction where she works on the usually things about a relationship: dating, meeting each other’s family, talking to one another and learning about each other. I enjoyed that!
  • As for the characters, I loved them both. Stella is smart but has her challenges with being autistic. Michael’s story is heartbreaking is drowning in debt because of his father’s mistake but you know how much he loves his family. And speaking of family…my favorite guy from The Bride’s Test, Quan, made an appearance and seriously, I am SO ready to read his book. Give me Quan!
  • If the whole escort service thing is not something you like (because it does mean Michael has slept with a LOT of women) then this book may not be for you. But it’s a job to him until Stella comes along.

I enjoyed this book a lot! The chemistry between Stella and Michael is off the charts but also, it’s a sweet love story as well. It left me feeling happy, which is what I expect a romantic novel to do. Now I’m ready for Quan’s book!

Color Me In | Book Review

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Title: Color Me In

Author: Natasha Diaz

Format: eBook (borrowed)

Pages: 373

Categories: Young Adult, Contemporary, Coming of Age, Black Lives Matter, Bi-racial, Romance, Own Voices

Who is Nevaeh Levitz?

Growing up in an affluent suburb of New York City, sixteen-year-old Nevaeh Levitz never thought much about her biracial roots. When her Black mom and Jewish dad split up, she relocates to her mom’s family home in Harlem and is forced to confront her identity for the first time. 

Nevaeh wants to get to know her extended family, but one of her cousins can’t stand that Nevaeh, who inadvertently passes as white, is too privileged, pampered, and selfish to relate to the injustices they face on a daily basis as African Americans. In the midst of attempting to blend their families, Nevaeh’s dad decides that she should have a belated bat mitzvah instead of a sweet sixteen, which guarantees social humiliation at her posh private school. Even with the push and pull of her two cultures, Nevaeh does what she’s always done when life gets complicated: she stays silent.

It’s only when Nevaeh stumbles upon a secret from her mom’s past, finds herself falling in love, and sees firsthand the prejudice her family faces that she begins to realize she has a voice. And she has choices. Will she continue to let circumstances dictate her path? Or will she find power in herself and decide once and for all who and where she is meant to be?

I’m adding more black authors to my reading lists and I knew I had to read this one because it’s about a girl who is half-black and half-Jewish. This story helped opened my eyes to the struggles someone who is biracial could experience.

My Reactions:

My Attention: had my whole attention

World Building: a girl from Harlem and White Plains, New York

Writing Style: main character has such a strong voice, at times story moved slowly

Bringing the Heat: 🔥- Nevaeh’s love story is sweet 

Crazy in Love: it wasn’t the focus of the story, which was nice

Creativity: beautifully done with poetry from Nevaeh’s voice

Mood: open minded 

Triggers: bullying, racism, divorce, depression

My Takeaway: Nevaeh doesn’t know where she fits in and families, marriage, and people in general – are complicated.

  • I love how layered this story is. Nevaeh is struggling to keep it together while her parents go through a divorce. But she is also having an identity crisis because she feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere. The Black Lives Matter movement has begun and protests have been occurring in the streets of NYC, and she’s living at her aunt’s in Harlem because of the divorce. Living with her aunt has awoken a desire to know about that part of her.
  • This is an Own Voices story and I respect Neveah’s struggle to accept both sides of her cultures. She’s always been told by her father that she never had to go to Temple…until now. He’s also telling her she is going to have a Bat Mitzvah. So Neveah feels lost with all these changes happening in her life. I felt her stress – I was stressed out for her! I can see why she acted out at times, but I also wanted to sit down and have a talk with her. Neveah expresses herself beautifully with writing poetry which is included throughout this story.
  • Her romance with Jesus is really cute. I liked that it wasn’t the focus of the book, but that he was there for her.
  • The divorce is a big part of Nevaeh’s life and her mom goes through severe depression. I like when Nevaeh finds her mom’s diary and we get a glimpse of how she met Nevaeh’s dad.
  • I love how Harlem comes alive in this story. I can visualize the street, hear the neighborhood and that festival scene was amazing.
  • We see a lot of instances where prejudice and racism are on display in the streets of New York, and so much at her school with that especially one classmate of hers, Abby. 😒
  • Both Neveah’s parents neglected her while they are separated and going through a divorce. Her mom is depressed and is in bed a lot, which is understandable and her dad…wow, her dad is barely there for her! And he takes the side of his new girlfriend? Like what was that? That frustrated me so much but I know it is realistic. I just wished he realized how much he hurt Neveah with his actions. He comes through somewhat in the end for her but other than that…😞.
  • Neveah makes a lot of mistakes and has to check herself at times. People around her are good at telling her things point blank like her aunt, her twin cousins and her best friend, Stevie. She doesn’t always get it right away but that’s part of the struggle she is dealing with.

Neveah is not perfect, she is struggling, but she is also learning so much and most importantly learning to accept the parts of her that don’t feel like her. The characters in this book from Neveah’s mom, Jesus and Neveah experience many instances of racism in this story which is important to see. This book gave me a full experience through Neveah’s eyes and I think that makes it a wonderful Own Voices story.

Winds of Fate (Fated Hearts Book One) | Book Review

My Ratings: ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Title: Winds of Fate ( Fated Hearts Book One)

Author: Lucia Omonobi

Format: eBook (own)

Pages: 224

Categories: Historical Romance

Disclaimer: **I was asked by author to read and review her book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

Leah…
After being duped by her intended, kicked out of her home, and left on the streets of Black Valley, twenty-three-year-old seamstress, Leah Karin signs her life over to her country, Aghi, to relocate to and populate its fledging colony, Luctown. Too late Leah realizes the scheme is filled with lies and injustice. Beaten, bruised and without hope, Leah is prepared to die… but fate has other plans.

Andrew…
All he wanted was freedom. So willingly, Andrew Code trades slavery for exile to the new town. As his team uncovers the lies and deceit of the new town, Andrew remains determined to carve out a life worth living for himself.

In an untamed forest filled with ex-convicts, starving residents, schemers, and murderers, will love and hope conquer all?

I was asked by the author to read and review her debut novel, so as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. I’m always looking for new historical romance novels to read but I admit I read less of them these days since fantasy is my preferred read. But I was very surprised by Winds of Fate.

My Reactions:

My Attention: curious

World Building: fascinating world-building, it is fiction, with different country and town names but it is based on the Louisiana French colonization experiment in the 1700’s.

Writing Style: the story moves quick with a few format issues

Bringing the Heat: 🔥🔥🔥 – it’s a romance novel so it has many steamy parts but between two people that love each other

Crazy in Love: growing, strong relationship and a happy ending

Creativity: very creative use with the historical background of Louisiana

Mood:  surprised

Triggers: sexual harassment, rape, abuse, slavery, death

My Takeaway: Andrew and Leah overcome a lot in their lives and still find a way to fall in love.

  • This is not your run of the mill historical romance set in Britain regaling tales of the gentry class. No, no, no…Andrew is a slave and Leah was once a shopkeeper but both of them took a chance to relocate to Luctown with promises of wealth which turned out to be all lies. Their beginning is not pretty.
  • After the events of how they met, I wondered how these two would even find romance with one another. But quiet Andrew shows day by day that he is a provider and a protector. It helps that he is handsome also. Leah finds herself very much attracted to him as she gets to know him. As for Andrew, Leah helps him in any way she can, rather than let him do all the work. He falls for her too but they basically only have each other.
  • The world-building of Luctown was very detailed. It starts with how the relocated people start off in the town, with their limited amount of money and resources – we see how they either succeed or fail with their new life. Andrew and Leah, succeed by working hard, making friends and being honest, good people.
  • In any romance you want a happily ever after and there is much strife in Andrew and Leah’s lives, especially when the Sheriff propositions Leah to be his whore (hateful man!). It is the main drama in the book, but eventually there is a happily ever after.
  • In the beginning when Andrew and Leah meet, it is gritty and horrifying. They signed up with a bunch of criminals, prostitutes and deserters to relocate to a new town. You can only imagine the things that happen. Is it realistic? Yes and the author added in a note in the back that she was inspired by the French colonization experiment in Louisiana. I did not even know about that so I definitely learned something.
  • I had to remind myself this took place in the 1700’s because some of these mens behaviors are atrocious! I’m just glad Andrew was a good guy!
  • This is a formatting issue with the ebook (at least for me) but there is a space between each paragraph that made my reading experience seem choppy. It threw me off at times. Also there were some dialogue parts towards the end that seemed it was missing some character actions? For example, I didn’t know who was talking. Or that might be part of the paragraph formatting again? I’m not sure.

This is a solid debut novel by an indie author! I thought the world-building was fascinating and I learned something about Louisiana’s history even though the places in the book were fictional. The characters in Luctown all showed some survival skills, they had to because they relocated to a place with less resources than they are used to. I knew Andrew would succeed from the start though! It’s a gritty romance story, but Andrew and Leah show us through hard times, love can flourish.