Tag Archives: contemporary fiction

Relatively Normal by Witney Dineen

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Catriona Masterton's fiancé, Ethan, is Normal.

He plans trips six months in advance and arrives at the airport a minimum of three hours early. He purchases life insurance, luggage insurance, and always opts for the extended warranty. He's responsible, reliable, and would make any woman a wonderful life partner.

In other words, he's the exact opposite of the Masterton clan.

Cat's mother has a kitchen gadget fetish, a father whose best friends are taxidermied field mice, and a super stoner man-child brother who lives--where else?--in the basement. Then there's Nan, her proud Scottish grandmother with a proclivity for profanity and mischief.

What on earth will Catriona's Normal fiancé think when he comes home with her to meet her parents? What will he think when he discovers his soon-to-be in-laws invited Cat's ex to join them for a holiday dinner?

I read the Kindle edition of this book which was (I think) a Kindle freebie.

This was a cute romance. When I started reading it I didn’t have very many expectations for it as it seemed to be one of those overly formulatic romances that are cute and fun but don’t have a lot of substance to it. I was happy to see that this book, though it had plenty of cute and funny moments, also contained some more unconventional characters and situations that I truly was not expecting.

Of course this book wasn’t without flaws. I thought that Cat’s family was really over the top…they are funny and fun but the extreme difference between Cat’s family and Ethan’s family is so extreme that instead of being funny it’s more cringey then anything. It just seems odd that Cat and Ethan have been in a relationship for so long yet they seem like they don’t know each other at all and Cat seemed to know Ethan’s family pretty well, but this was the first time Ethan is meeting anyone in Cat’s family.

But of course the story wouldn’t have been plausible without those factors in place, I just think there should be a more plausible explanation of why these things happened.

Overall, I really enjoyed having something fun and light to read, as so often I read heavier type novels and nonfiction books so this was a welcomed change.

I gave this a four star rating.

Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi

In the spring of her senior year, Donna Parisi finds new life in an unexpected place: a coffin.

Since her father's death four years ago, Donna has gone through the motions of living: her friendships are empty, she's clueless about what to do after high school graduation, and her grief keeps her isolated, cut off even from the one parent she has left. That is until she's standing in front of the dead body of a classmate at Brighton Brothers' Funeral Home. At that moment, Donna realizes what might just give her life purpose is comforting others in death. That maybe who she really wants to be is a mortician.

This discovery sets in motion a life Donna never imagined was possible. She befriends a charismatic new student, Liz, notices a boy, Charlie, and realizes that maybe he's been noticing her, too, and finds herself trying things she hadn't dreamed of trying before. By taking risks, Donna comes into her own, diving into her mortuary studies with a passion and skill she didn't know she had in her. And she finally understands that moving forward doesn't mean forgetting someone you love.

Jen Violi's heartfelt and funny debut novel is a story of transformation-how one girl learns to grieve and say goodbye, turn loss into a gift, and let herself be exceptional...at loving, applying lipstick to corpses, and finding life in the wake of death.

I picked this up at one of my favorite used book stores, I had never heard of it and honestly, I thought it was a memoir (I wasn’t paying too much attention that day I guess). It wasn’t until I actually sat down to read it that I realized that it was a novel, not a memoir.

This was an okay book. I mostly liked it, though at times I felt annoyed at the characters. Donna was an odd narrator at times. She seemed uneven, though as she’s only 18 it does make the novel seem believable. What 18 year old is so secure that she never changes. I did find Donna’s mom and family in general to be unlikable and not quite as developed as I would have liked but it wasn’t a huge problem as a lot of this story is seen between Donna and her mother and those characters were well written.

I gave this a rating of three stars. It was a solid story that was good, but not great.

Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner

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Rachel Blum and Andy Landis are eight years old when they meet late one night in an ER waiting room. Born with a congenital heart defect, Rachel is a veteran of hospitals, and she's intrigued by the boy who shows up all alone with a broken arm. He tells her his name. She tells him a story. After Andy's taken back to the emergency room and Rachel's sent back to her bed, they think they'll never see each other again.

Rachel, the beloved, popular, and protected daughter of two doting parents, grows up wanting for nothing in a fancy Florida suburb. Andy grows up poor in Philadelphia with a single mom and a rare talent that will let him become one of the best runners of his generation.

Over the course of three decades, through high school and college, marriages and divorces, from the pinnacles of victory and the heartbreak of defeat, Andy and Rachel will find each other again and again, until they are finally given a chance to decide whether love can surmount difference and distance and if they've been running toward each other all along.

With honesty, wit, and clear-eyed observations about men and women, love and fate, and the truth about happy endings, Jennifer Weiner delivers two of her most memorable characters, and a love story you'll never forget.

I started reading Jennifer Weiner in my twenties and while I might not love everyone of her novels, I have definitely had fun reading most of them. What I usually enjoy about her novels is that romance is generally not the main focus of the novel and it’s something that I really appreciate about her novels.

Who Do You Love? is the exception, this is a quasi romance novel, though true to form, the romance aspect isn’t quite front and center. Andy and Rachel are each their own characters and their own stories. The time they spend together in this book is actually very minimal, so their romance is slow building and allows the reader to get to know each character independently.

I enjoyed the premise of this story, how can you not appreciate a story about two people who are orbiting one another over the space of thirty years. The two characters are from two different worlds, growing up in two different parts of the country and still they manage to appear in one another’s life over and over again.

I felt like this was a little too slow moving and I am not sure how much I actually enjoyed Rachel and Andy. There were things about each character that didn’t really enjoy. Not enough to say I didn’t enjoy this, but it was enough that I felt this was only a three star read instead of a four star read.

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

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In Brooklyn, eighteen-year-old Deya is starting to meet with suitors. Though she doesn’t want to get married, her grandparents give her no choice. History is repeating itself: Deya’s mother, Isra, also had no choice when she left Palestine as a teenager to marry Adam. Though Deya was raised to believe her parents died in a car accident, a secret note from a mysterious, yet familiar-looking woman makes Deya question everything she was told about her past. As the narrative alternates between the lives of Deya and Isra, she begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind her community.

Over all, 2020 has been a good year for reading. Everything else is pretty crappy but I have been introduced to a lot of new to me authors and have read some truly memorable books. This book is probably the best example of this. This book not only introduced me to a new author but it introduced me to a brand new culture that, to be honest, is severely under represented.

Now, I am going to make a confession here. Sometimes (often) the best books I read are the hardest to write reviews for. When I write reviews I do try to review in a space away from the book so that I try not to let my emotions take over…usually taking a few days away from finishing the book is enough to disengage enough but with this book…I think the scars this left me will always be with me, just below the surface.

This book was brutal and although I’d love to buy like 1000 copies of this and just hand them out to random women I see, I will be the first to say that this book is brutal. It does not shy away from the mistreatment that women in this culture are often subject to. Arranged marriages are the norm. Domestic violence is all to often ignored. It is not graphic, but I found myself having to take a palate cleanser (aka switch to another book) fairly often because it upset and angered me.

It is also claustaphobic. A lot of this book takes place in an apartment in Brooklyn, and in so many ways, the apartment served as a prison, first for Isla and then for Isla’s oldest daughter, Deya. So when and if you choose to read this, make sure you do have something fun to do during breaks and try to get some sunshine. And the ending especially is brutal so definitely plan for that.

I know based on this review it sounds like this is the most depressing misery porn you can read, but I promise you that it doesn’t seem that way when you are reading it. There is hope in this book. There’s characters that you will love and want to fight for and the writing is flawless.

Red, White, & Royal Blue

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First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

I am on the fence about this book. I think I was on the fence about it sense it was published, hence it took me awhile to get around to reading it. I was able to pick it up for my Kindle for cheap, and then it was a pick for a group read on a Discord server I’m a member so I finally ran out of excuses to avoid it.

The first thing I will say is that I enjoyed the romance aspect of it. It was definitely a shake up on the normal royal romance troupe. I also completely appreciated the entire escapism of the story as the presidency went from Obama to the Claremont presidency. (Sorry, I know that last sentence was clunky). As I was reading it, it was definitely nice to be able to escape into the story and pretend that Donald Trump didn’t exist, a deadly pandemic wasn’t killing people at an alarming rate and we weren’t having almost daily police shootings and race protests going on every single day. So it had that going for it.

Escapism only really goes so far though. I don’t know a huge amount of the inner workings of the White House and First Family but it seemed way too lax from the bit I do know. I’m aware that this story is 100% fiction, and there is license to bend things to make them fit into the narrative of the story but I found it kind of annoying (and hence the reason I don’t often read books involving characters that are based on real people or have high profile roles). These are the kind of details that, personally, take me out of the story a bit too much.

The biggest thing however was the writing style. I was never able to put my finger on what was off about it, I even pointed it out to the other people in the group and they agreed but they couldn’t point to it either. It just felt off reading at times, and I found myself skimming over entire sections and then realizing I had no recollection of what I had read and then having to reread it…and then there was the profanity. Now, I’m not a prude. I am perfectly fine to let loose with a eff bomb when the situation requires, but there was one character in particular who did nothing except curse. This was suppose to be a character who was well educated, had a job in the White House working directly with the First Family and all she did was curse. It was excessive, exhausting and completely ruined a character that may have actually been interesting.

I gave this book a three stars, with in my rating system basically means that I liked the book, but I probably won’t recommend it nor will I read a sequel if one is released. If this turns into a movie/series I “might” consider watching it as I think that might be a fun watch.

Book Review: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

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One August afternoon, on the shoreline of the north-eastern edge of Russia, two sisters are abducted. In the ensuing weeks, then months, the police investigation turns up nothing. Echoes of the disappearance reverberate across a tightly woven community, with the fear and loss felt most deeply among its women.

Set on the remote Siberian peninsula of Kamchatka, Disappearing Earth draws us into the world of an astonishing cast of characters, all connected by an unfathomable crime. We are transported to vistas of rugged beauty – densely wooded forests, open expanses of tundra, soaring volcanoes and the glassy seas that border Japan and Alaska – and into a region as complex as it is alluring, where social and ethnic tensions have long simmered, and where outsiders are often the first to be accused.

In a story as propulsive as it is emotionally engaging, and through a young writer's virtuosic feat of empathy and imagination, this powerful novel provides a new understanding of the intricate bonds of family and community, in a Russia unlike any we have seen before.

I read the ebook version of this from Libby.

I went into this book without knowing much about it. I had heard about it and knew the very basics of what it was about but that was the extent. I was definitely impressed and a little intimidated by the sheer number of awards this novel had won or was nominated for.

The book starts out with two preteen girls being kidnapped by a stranger that the girls felt compelled to help to his SUV. As a thank you, the man offers to give the girls a ride home and although they are hesitant, they go with him. The rest of the novel is then told by multiple narrators who, on the surface, are not related at all, but as you dig into their stories, see their connections. Some of the connections appear weak, often the new characters barely registered the kidnapping on their personal radar but each character is connected by going through the process of loss.

Each chapter builds on the novel, but each chapter is a story contained within itself. Each chapter then can be read, and understood, as a standalone story but together each chapter and each character builds on one another and characters intertwine with one another until the conclusion. The chapters are long, and it took awhile to read this between the slower pace and the unfamilarity with the Russian setting/characters but it was worth the extra time to just get lost in the stories, characters, and language.

Rating: Four stars

“It hurts too much to break your own heart out of stupidity, to leave a door unlocked or a child untended and return to discover that whatever you value most has disappeared. No. You want to be intentional about the destruction. Be a witness. You want to watch how your life will shatter.”

― Julia Phillips, Disappearing Earth

Book Review: Good Grief by Lolly Winston

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Thirty-six-year-old Sophie Stanton desperately wants to be a good widow-a graceful, composed, Jackie Kennedy kind of widow. Alas, she is more of the Jack Daniels kind. Self-medicating with ice cream for breakfast, breaking down at the supermarket, and showing up to work in her bathrobe and bunny slippers-soon she's not only lost her husband, but her job, house...and waistline. With humor and chutzpah Sophie leaves town, determined to reinvent her life. But starting over has its hurdles; soon she's involved with a thirteen-year-old who has a fascination with fire, and a handsome actor who inspires a range of feelings she can't cope with-yet. 

I picked up a used copy of this novel as it’s a title that Goodreads likes to recommend to me. After a few pages in however, I realized that I had already read this. Granted, it was many years ago, before I kept track of the books I read on Goodreads. But as it had been so long and I had mostly forgotten the plot I kept reading.

This was an okay story. Not great, not bad but average. Sophie is a nice character to see this story from but at the same time, she’s not super interesting. She has a lot more personality at the beginning of the story when she is in the throes of grief but after she moves away from the home she shared with her husband she starts to lose that personality. I think the intention was for us to see her gradually let go of her grief and to go through the stages of grief but at times it almost felt like the author was ticking off the stages instead of just letting Sophie go through the changes in her life in a more organic way.

Still, this novel was engaging and I liked it for the most part. I would have liked to see some of the secondary characters fleshed out more but for the most part it was a decent read.

Rating: Three Stars

Book Review: Frankly In Love by David Yoon

Two friends. One fake dating scheme. What could possibly go wrong?

Frank Li has two names. There's Frank Li, his American name. Then there's Sung-Min Li, his Korean name. No one uses his Korean name, not even his parents. Frank barely speaks any Korean. He was born and raised in Southern California.

Even so, his parents still expect him to end up with a nice Korean girl--which is a problem, since Frank is finally dating the girl of his dreams: Brit Means. Brit, who is funny and nerdy just like him. Brit, who makes him laugh like no one else. Brit . . . who is white.

As Frank falls in love for the very first time, he's forced to confront the fact that while his parents sacrificed everything to raise him in the land of opportunity, their traditional expectations don't leave a lot of room for him to be a regular American teen. Desperate to be with Brit without his parents finding out, Frank turns to family friend Joy Song, who is in a similar bind. Together, they come up with a plan to help each other and keep their parents off their backs. Frank thinks he's found the solution to all his problems, but when life throws him a curveball, he's left wondering whether he ever really knew anything about love--or himself--at all.

In this moving debut novel--featuring striking blue stained edges and beautiful original endpaper art by the author--David Yoon takes on the question of who am I? with a result that is humorous, heartfelt, and ultimately unforgettable.

I read the ebook version of this that I borrowed from Libby.

The selection that my home library chooses for Libby is impressive, the more I use it. I admit, for the longest time I felt annoyed because it seemed all the newer titles always had a huge waitlist but recently I have been doing a bit of a deep dive into older titles or less popular titles that are available right now. My last few picks have been absolute gems and this one was no exception. It was freakin’ amazing.

On the surface, this seems like a normal YA romance but in a guys perspective but there is just soo much going on and the romance aspect, though, important to the plot and a good chunk of the entire point of the novel but there is so much more about racisim (and not the typical type), classism, being first generation American and even some LGBTQ elements. Oh, and it’ll destroy you, so make sure you have tissues handy. It’s also pee your pants hilarious at times so there is definitely a balance.

Rating: Five stars! I cannot wait for the sequel.

“Humanity’s greatest strength – and also the reason for its ultimate downfall – is its ability to normalize even the bizarre.”

― David Yoon, Frankly in Love

Book Review: In an Instant by Suzanne Redfearn


Life is over in an instant for sixteen-year-old Finn Miller when a devastating car accident tumbles her and ten others over the side of a mountain. Suspended between worlds, she watches helplessly as those she loves struggle to survive.

Impossible choices are made, decisions that leave the survivors tormented with grief and regret. Unable to let go, Finn keeps vigil as they struggle to reclaim their shattered lives. Jack, her father, who seeks vengeance against the one person he can blame other than himself; her best friend, Mo, who bravely searches for the truth as the story of their survival is rewritten; her sister Chloe, who knows Finn lingers and yearns to join her; and her mother, Ann, who saved them all but is haunted by her decisions. Finn needs to move on, but how can she with her family still in pieces?

Heartrending yet ultimately redemptive, In an Instant is a story about the power of love, the meaning of family, and carrying on…even when it seems impossible.

I read the Kindle edition of this.

This is a book I went into blind. I had it on my Kindle, but truthfully I couldn’t remember where I had gotten it (I’m pretty sure it was an Amazon First Reads).

I had a lot of mixed feelings about this title. I really loved some aspects of this, but I had problems with certain things. I will start with the bad, so read with caution as there will be spoilers.

I didn’t like the beginning. The first chapter or two focused on Mo’s mom and Finn’s mom and while I kind of understand why the author chose to open the book this way-it was slow moving and honestly did not do what it set out to do so I think it would have been best to cut the beginning out and just start with the two families heading up to the cabin. There were other ways to introduce the characters. The way this was done here only made me start to lose interest before anything happened.

The second, and biggest thing, that I had issues with was the character of Oz. I hated how he was portrayed, and I hated how most of the other characters related to him. Finn, Finn’s dad and Mo were the only characters that seemed to love him, let alone like him and all the other characters viewed him as a danger to everyone around them. Yes, he had an intellectual disability but he was written as completely flat and didn’t serve any real purpose. It was a problamatic character for sure and was an embarrassment for disabilities in fiction.

Despite those two major things, I kind of enjoyed this novel. Although it wasn’t a unique way of telling the story, Finn was a good character and I did love her observations of all the characters. The accident and the immediate aftermath was exciting. I kind of wish Finn had spent more time on her Mom and Kyle, her sister and her boyfriend and then Oz but instead there was little about the those characters trying to find help.

Rating: three stars

“regret is the most difficult emotion to live with, but in order to have regret, you need to have a conscience: an interesting paradox that allows the worst of us to suffer the least in the aftermath of wrongdoing.”

― Suzanne Redfearn, In An Instant

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

Jade believes she must get out of her neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother says she has to take every opportunity. She has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly-white private school and even Saturday morning test prep opportunities. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Except really, it’s for black girls. From “bad” neighborhoods.

But Jade doesn’t need support. And just because her mentor is black doesn’t mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about the real world and finding ways to make a real difference.

Friendships, race, privilege, identity—this compelling and thoughtful story explores the issues young women face.

I read the ebook version via Libby.

I had never heard of this book before, but I saw it on Libby and it felt like it was the type of book that I should be reading. I am so glad that this was on Libby and it came across my radar as this was one of the best books I have read.

This was YA, but I thought this was one of those stories that would appeal to any age group. Jade was such a great character and I loved seeing how much she grew into herself throughout the book. Jade knew that what kind of person she wanted to be, and she knew where she wanted to go in her life but she didn’t quite know how she was going to get there, and this story explored how Jade grew within herself to understand herself, and the people around her.

This was a perfect read. Five stars.