Review of “Of Literature and Lattes” by Katherine Reay

Reay, Katherine. Of Literature and Lattes. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0785222040 | $16.99 USD | 336 pages | Christian Fiction/Women’s Fiction 

Blurb

Return to the cozy and delightful town of Winsome, where two people discover the grace of letting go and the joy found in unexpected change.

After fleeing her hometown three years earlier, Alyssa Harrison never planned to return. Then the Silicon Valley start-up she worked for collapsed and turned her world upside down. She is broke, under FBI investigation, and without a place to go. Having exhausted every option, she comes home to Winsome, Illinois, to regroup and move on as quickly as possible. Yet, as friends and family welcome her back, Alyssa begins to see a place for herself in this small Midwestern community.

Jeremy Mitchell moved from Seattle to Winsome to be near his daughter and to open the coffee shop he’s been dreaming of for years. Problem is, the business is bleeding money—and he’s not quite sure why. When he meets Alyssa, he senses an immediate connection, but what he needs most is someone to help him save his floundering business. After asking for her help, he wonders if something might grow between them—but forces beyond their control soon complicate their already complex lives, and the future they both hoped for is not at all what they anticipated.

With the help of Winsome’s small-town charm and quirky residents, Alyssa and Jeremy discover the beauty and romance of second chances.

“In her ode to small towns and second chances, Katherine Reay writes with affection and insight about the finer things in life.” —KAREN DUKESS, author of The Last Book PartyFollow-up to The Printed Letter BookshopFull-length small-town romance (c. 86,000 words)Includes Discussion Questions

Review

2.5 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Katherine Reay has frequently been recommended to me by some of my favorite inspirational writers, particularly her Austen inspired books. So, I was eager to give her a try with her latest, Of Literature and Lattes. And while it has a good idea at the heart of it, I just didn’t care for the execution. 

I love the cozy small town atmosphere, and hearing that she has another book set in the same small town is exciting, as I know what I might check out next. And of the characters and storylines, I enjoyed Jeremy and his relationship with his daughter Becca.

However, I never fully felt invested in Alyssa’s story, and there’s a plethora of other characters who I found too hard to keep track of. 

Admittedly this is a bit of an odd book in a genre I don’t read often (small town contemporary), so I think your mileage may vary when it comes to whether you enjoy this one. If you’ve been a fan of this genre in the past or like this author, I think you should make the call for yourself, 

Author Bio

Katherine Reay is the national bestselling and award-winning author of Dear Mr. KnightleyLizzy & JaneThe Bronte PlotA Portrait of Emily PriceThe Austen Escape and The Printed Letter Bookshop. Her first nonfiction book, co-authored with Rebecca Powell, will release February 2020. Katherine’s novels are love letters to books. They are character driven stories that examine the past as a way to find one’s best way forward. In the words of The Bronte Plot’s Lucy Alling, she writes of “that time when you don’t know where you’ll be, but you can’t stay as you are.”

Katherine holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. She then worked in marketing and development before returning to graduate school for a Masters of Theological Studies. Moves to Texas, England, Ireland and Washington left that degree unfinished as Katherine spent her time unpacking, raising kids, volunteering, writing, and exploring new storylines and new cities. Katherine writes full-time now and, as her kids go off to college, she finds the house increasingly quiet. Soon only she and her husband, with dogs Patch and Trip, will live at home outside Chicago.

When not plotting a character’s demise and long journey home, Katherine can be found walking (no longer running) the neighborhood, hanging out with her kids and friends, or – rarely and with great excitement – fly fishing. You can also find her all across social media chatting about life, literature, lattes and the world of books.

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Review of “Family for Beginners” by Sarah Morgan

Morgan, Sarah. Family for Beginners. Toronto, Ontario: HQN, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1335014931 (paperback)/978-1488056666 (ebook) | $16.99 USD (paperback)/$9.99 USD (ebook) | 384 pages | Women’s Fiction 

Blurb

USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan returns with a life-affirming exploration of love, loss, and how families come in all shapes and sizes…

New York florist Flora Donovan is living the dream, but her bubbly optimism hides a secret. She’s lonely. Orphaned as a child, she’s never felt like she’s belonged anywhere…until she meets Jack Parker. He’s the first man to ever really see her, and it’s life changing.

Teenager Izzy Parker is holding it together by her fingertips. Since her mother passed away a year ago, looking after her dad and little sister is the only thing that makes Izzy feel safe. Discovering her father has a new girlfriend is her worst nightmare—she is not in the market for a replacement mom. Then her father invites Flora on their summer vacation…

Flora’s heart aches for Izzy, but she badly wants her relationship with Jack to work. As the summer unfolds, Flora must push her own boundaries to discover parts of herself she never knew existed—and to find the family she’s always wanted.

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

This is my first book by Sarah Morgan, but I’ve occasionally heard her books mentioned by others, and based on my experience with this one, it won’t be my last. This is a heartwarming story about family being about more than blood, with the main characters each finding (or redefining) their place in the family unit. 

I really felt for orphaned Flora who never really felt like she belonged anywhere due to losing her mother at a young age. And the sweet relationship that develops between her and Jack was made even more compelling by the way he begins to welcome her into his still grief-stricken family, leading to an evolving relationship with his two daughters: the younger, Molly embraces her relatively quickly, while the elder, Izzy, does not. 

I enjoyed getting Izzy’s perspective as well, because while it seemed at first to be a story where the daughter has to deal with “dad’s new girlfriend” that she’s hostile to, there’s depth to it, by exploring a revelation about her mother that puts her off balance and has her questioning her identity and place in the family. And the addition of Clare’s perspective as the best friend to Jack’s late wife Becca, while not my favorite parts of the novel, further contextualizes the way they are dealing with grief, as well as the reality of who Becca was. 

I enjoyed this book and its sweet story about family and healing from loss. I recommend this to anyone looking for a cozy, heartwarming contemporary read.

Author Bio

Sarah Morgan is a Sunday Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance and women’s fiction. She has sold over 18 million copies of her books, and her trademark humour and warmth have gained her fans across the globe.  Her books have been translated into 28 languages and have earned her starred reviews from Publishers WeeklyBooklist and Library Journal.

Sarah lives near London, and when she isn’t reading or writing she loves spending time outdoors, walking or riding her mountain bike. She frequently stops to take photographs, much to the annoyance of her family.

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Review of “Meg & Jo” by Virginia Kantra

Kantra, Viginia. Meg & Jo. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0593100349 | 390 pages |
Women’s Fiction

4 stars

While I am still a little iffy about the need for another Little Women adaptation, I am glad if that movie played any role in the timing of the publication of the excellent Meg & Jo. While I’m pretty sure there have been literary updates to Little Women in recent years, this is the first one I’ve read and I’m pretty sure it’s the first targeted to adults, so I was excited about it.

And this is one of those retellings that strikes the perfect balance of capturing exactly what readers loved about the March sisters, while also changing things to suit the change in time period and to suit Kantra’s personal style. The heart of the book is the relationship between the sisters, with particular emphasis on the bond between Meg and Jo. While the bond between Kantra’s versions of them may owe just as much to other literary sisters (Jane and Elizabeth Bennet are name-dropped in comparison to them), I still enjoyed seeing how they rely on each other, and getting hints of the larger family bonds, which it seems will be discussed further in the forthcoming Beth & Amy.

One thing I loved about Jo’s POV was the way it provided further insight into why Eric Bhaer is the right match for her in this version, as the Professor was in the original. I like that they establish a connection, and in spite of some of the obstacles, come together and he proves himself to her, in spite of her doubts about love. And the aspect of him challenging her creatively to pursue her true goals is a thread that I love was kept in the most wonderful and surprising way.

I admit I enjoyed Meg and John’s relationship a bit more without the forced sense of female domesticity and her actually seeming to care about him consistently in spite of the fact that there are some cracks, as opposed to constantly wanting to fit in with her vapid friends, coming off as rather selfish at times. It was nice to see the modern version of Meg who was happy as a mother, but also wondered if something was missing, and there being this question of whether she and John should try to incorporate aspects of their old lives into their current one.

My one complaint is that I feel like the dad was made to be horrible for no apparent reason. I can see him being absent in the prologue, as he’s fighting in the war, like his classic counterpart, but it just seemed odd to turn an otherwise decent family man into someone who apparently all but abandoned his wife, especially when she’s sick and in the hospital. Yeah, he does still have some redeeming features, particularly seen from Jo’s perspective, as she’s “Daddy’s girl,”but it just seemed like kind of a downer on the rest of it, which otherwise felt like a nice tribute to such well loved characters.

This is more or less a delightful retelling of Little Women, and one I think fans of the original will enjoy. However, it stands on its own, and I would also recommend it to fans of a good sister-focused story that also has strong romantic elements as their first experience (but hopefully not their last) with this amazing story.

Review of “The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae” by Stephanie Butland

Butland. Stephanie. 2018. The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2019.

Paperback | $17.99 | ISBN-13: 978-1250217011 | 416 pages | Women’s Fiction

I received an ARC through a Goodreads Giveaway. I have chosen to voluntarily post a review. All opinions are my own.

4 stars

The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae is not something I would ordinariy pick up, but it sounded interesting, so I’m glad I got the chance to read an ARC. While I can’t say it’s made a massive impact on my personal choices regarding the subject at hand, it did give me an intimate picture of what it’s like to be the recipient of an organ, on a couple of different levels, and how it can help in shifting one’s personal worldview.

Ailsa is a compelling and relatable heroine. I too had health issues growing up that required surgery to correct, although they weren’t to the degree where I needed a transplant like she did. However, I could relate to her post-transplant arc as she begins to document her life, carefully analyzing many of her major choices. I also rooted for her as she began to be more spontaneous, not overthinking every choice, which is something that played a role in the current state of her family dynamic.

There was also a great exploration of her love life, both her past with her now deceased former lover, Lennox (mostly through flashbacks) and her current one with Sebastian, an actor and major tabloid fixture, who also happens to have gotten a transplant, in his case his cornea. The flashbacks themselves are well done, and I liked how it highlighted her growth in a relationship as she pursues one with Seb.

The one thing I did want to see a bit better handled was the issue of her weight, particularly in regards to Sebastian’s (apparently) evolving opinions about fat women. For the most part, her weight issues resulting from the steroids she’s taking are handled in a realistic way, but with all the buildup in the tabloid articles that mention her, culminating in a scandalous revelation of Seb’s past expression of opinions on fat women, I felt this is where I could have used more in terms of him atoning, aside from the implication that he’s grown from it.

But otherwise, this is a great book that tackles tough topics in a way that doesn’t feel too heavy handed. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a hard-hitting contemporary.

Review of “The Marriage Clock” by Zara Raheem

Raheem, Zara. The Marriage Clock. New York: William Morrow, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062877925 | 342 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

5 stars

The Marriage Clock is one of the the best books I’ve read in a while, and as Susan Elizabeth Philips promised I would in the blurb feature on the cover, I ended up gobbling this up more or less in one sitting.

I found Leila’s struggles relatable, as while I’m not South Asian or Muslim, I did recently have a tense conversation with some members about my family about why I’m not married, and mentioning the possibility of arranged marriage, which I scoffed at. I also know what it’s like to be told your expectations are too high, and that maybe I’m not giving myself a chance to meet the right person, even if the circumstances aren’t identical.

As such, I enjoyed seeing her growth as she comes to decide what she really wants, even amid some of the intense cultural expectations. And I appreciate that Raheem imbues a lot of humor into a story tackling such intense topics like double standards for men and women, a clash of cultural ideals, and the reasons both for and against arranged marriage discussed by various characters in the novel.

On that note, there are so many characters that I would love to see more of, given that they all feel so fleshed out. The main one is Tania, who is experiencing the difficulty of dating after divorcing her hand-picked husband. Given that things don’t end on as optimistic a note for her, I’d love to see her story and some commentary on the injustice in the way South Asian women in her situation are treated in their communities.

This is a wonderful debut book, approaching some very relevant topics with a lighthearted touch. I would recommend this to all fans of rom-coms or Bollywood movies.

Review of “The Bookish Life of Nina Hill” by Abbi Waxman

Waxman, Abbi. The Bookish Nina Hill. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451491879 | 332 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

4 stars

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill caught my attention with its title, because as bizarrely common as they are (although perhaps a bit less so in contemporaries, I’m not sure), bookish heroines are still catnip to me. And upon reading the blurb and diving in and learning about Nina’s anxiety, and seeing how well (for the most part) it was depicted, I fell in love with her. While there are some small things I can’t relate to, or find more aspirational at this point in my life (such as working at an indie bookstore!), I loved all her little nerdy quirks, and how they extend beyond books to movies and TV shows too.

I also like that she was given a realistic arc for growth with the revelation of a father and other family she never met, and how her now-deceased father’s life choices at first make him seem a bit heartless, but over time, there’s the revelation that he shares more in common with Nina psychologically, and that he may not be the only one in the family who does so. I like that the book ends with his letter to her inspiring her to make better choices, having learned all this.

I did feel like there were some inconsistencies where the romance (or at least the sexual aspects of it) was concerned. I could understand her reluctance to commit, given the way she was raised without both her biological parents present in her life (although not without love, due to the fact that she did have a nanny), but it seemed a little odd to me that after she and Tom slept together, he was the one more eager to call themselves boyfriend/girlfriend, and while she acquiesced to him, she told someone else they weren’t really serious. It did help the overall conflict, in terms of whether her anxiety would interfere with a relationship, but, were it not for her father’s contradictory example, I would have found it completely unbelievable…and as it is, I’m still not completely sold about it.

But this is otherwise a great contemporary read, with compelling characters and lots of moments chock-full of both humor and heart. I recommend this to fans of rom-coms and bookish leads.

Review of “Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune” by Roselle Lim

Lim, Roselle. Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1984803252 | 299 pages | Women’s Fiction/Magical Realism

3 stars

I find myself a bit conflicted upon finishing Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. On the one hand, I really liked the exploration of the complex family dynamics in a Chinese family, and how, through three generations of women, each was fraught with discord between mother and daughter.

And I really enjoyed Natalie’s growing understanding of her mother’s mental health, especially what it means in the context of Asian traditions, where mental health care and Western medicine in general often isn’t given much consideration, with their preference toward more holistic methods like acupuncture.

And given the book’s title, there are many inclusions of recipes from Natalie’s grandmother’s recipe book, along with other lush descriptions of various dishes, leaving me salivating. While I don’t cook myself, I felt the urge to make copies of some of these for further reference, as they all sound amazing.

But the despite the lush food descriptions and the engaging family drama, complete with a climactic “I-am-your-father”-esque (but more bittersweet than dramatic) reveal, there was just something missing that kept me from fully engaging in the story. Perhaps it was the heroine…I just wasn’t fully invested in her life as a person, other than in connection with her mother and grandmother, who were far more interesting, even though they never appear in the flesh.

This one was a bit of a miss for me, but I still found it a good read to take in the elements I did enjoy. And anyone who loves multicultural family dramas with a generous helping of food porn should give this one a try as well, to see if it works better for them.

Review of “Life and Other Inconveniences” by Kristan Higgins

Higgins, Kristan. Life and Other Inconveniences. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451489425 | 428 pages | Women’s Fiction

5 stars

Kristan Higgins has quickly become an author I anticipate new releases from, even if I have yet to truly delve into her backlist. And despite not knowing much about Life and Other Inconveniences beforehand, I was quickly intrigued by the layers of family drama, and upon finishing, struck by how she managed to piece it all together.

The relationship between Emma and Genevieve is the central source of conflict, and I loved how both their respective losses and how they failed to connect with each other, leading to their estrangement, was delved into.

I also appreciate that Emma is trying to provide a more stable environment for Riley, in a similar way to how Genevieve did for her, to the point of even confronting the baby’s father, Jason, and his family in the best way (shame his heartless mother is called Courtney!) And while, in the style of Higgins’ newer books, the romance is not the focus, I liked that Miller, Jason’s cousin, provides a foil for the life of privilege his cousin leads, still spoiled by his parents, and also proves to be a great partner for the more mature Emma as they are both in different stages of the hard road of single parenthood.

There are a complex set of supporting characters, a few of which also get chapters from their perspective. And I found myself surprised by some of the turns the story took when it shifted to these secondary characters, Clive (Emma’s father and Genevieve’s son) in particular. At first, he seems like the standard deadbeat dad and wastrel son who can’t compare to his perfect (presumed dead) brother, so when I found out the secret of Clive’s role in it, I found myself feeling sympathy for him, even if I did not fully forgive him.

This is a beautifully emotional book with such wonderful, well-rounded characters. I recommend this to those who like heart-wrenching contemporaries.

Review of “Marriage Vacation” by Pauline Turner Brooks

Brooks, Pauline Turner. Marriage Vacation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1982100209 | 240 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

3.5 stars

I recently binged Seasons 1-5 of Younger on Hulu, and given the amount of intrigue around the separation of the character Charles Brooks from his wife, Pauline, and the book telling her perspective, I was excited to find out that the book was published in real life as a tie-in with the show. However, given how her character and their relationship was painted from Charles’ side on the show, I was also a bit skeptical.

But for what it is, it’s not bad. Though obviously the words is done by a ghostwriter, the words and storyline feel authentic to what I think Pauline’s perspective was from the brief glimpses of her we were given on the show. And as a book in its own right, it endeavors to talk about the issue of self-discovery and the idea that we might actually be the ones holding ourselves back, and not any external forces, as it appears at the outset.

However, in keeping with Pauline’s worldview for much of her arc on the show, the book culminates idealistically, which is inconsistent with the difficult marital problems addressed earlier on, exacerbated by her leaving. And as a fan of the show, knowing where Charles’ feelings actually lie at the present time, it was awkward to read such a rosy, happy ending.

This presents an interesting catch-22: the book probably won’t mean much to you if you haven’t watched Younger, but it’s much easier to be disillusioned by it if you have. That’s not to say this couldn’t work as a work independent of the show, but I feel like either way, the flaws are there in different degrees.

Review of “Lost and Found Sisters” (Wildstone #1) by Jill Shalvis

Shalvis, Jill. Lost and Found Sisters. New York: William Morrow, 2017.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062448118 | 371 pages | Women’s Fiction

4 stars

I had never read Jill Shalvis before, but had heard good things about her as an author from many of my romance reader friends. Being a bit at a loss as to where to start and wanting to start with a slightly less daunting series, I picked up Lost and Found Sisters, the first in a series that represents her foray into Women’s Fiction territory. As such, I did not expect to get a full sense of how she crafts a romance, and I did not, given that it is the weakest part of this book, in my opinion. However, she did draw me in with a compelling story with relatable characters and a fun small-town setting.

As the title suggests, the relationship between newly discovered sisters is at the heart of the novel, and I felt their building relationship was conveyed beautifully. I love the way Quinn, who has recently faced the loss of the sister she grew up with, tries to reach out to Tilly, who is initially closed off. And while Tilly is troubled by her mother’s death, I loved seeing her walls come down and come to rely on Quinn and worry about her leaving.

And while I wasn’t the biggest fan of the romance, I didn’t mind Mick as a character, especially the greater sense of the community perspective he brought to Wildstone, the way he really loves his mom, and (of course!) his dog, Cooper, who definitely needed more page time.

This is a nice funny book that’s perfect for the idyllic, hot summer days, and one I would recommend to fans of small-town contemporaries, be they in contemporary romance or women’s fiction.