Category Archives: Fiction

After You

Finished After You by Jojo Moyes.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

How do you move on after losing the person you loved? How do you build a life worth living?

Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.

Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. . . .

For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

After You is quintessential Jojo Moyes—a novel that will make you laugh, cry, and rejoice at being back in the world she creates. Here she does what few novelists can do—revisits beloved characters and takes them to places neither they nor we ever expected.”

I was very nervous about reading this because I loved Me After You so much, and I was not expecting there to be a sequel.  And I was excited for the same reason.

In a letter that came with my review copy, Jojo Moyes asked that readers/reviewers keep details to themselves, so this is going to be a pretty flimsy review.  But all you need to know is that I loved Me After You and I loved After You.

This is not Me After You.  But I loved the chance to spend more time with Lou and with her family.  I’m grateful that I got to spend more time with these people and that I got to see how Lou was doing.

Highly recommended.

Days of Awe

Finished Days of Awe by Lauren Fox.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The celebrated author of Friends Like Us now gives us a raw, achingly funny novel about a woman who, after the death of her best friend, must face the crisis in her marriage, the fury of her almost-teenage daughter, and the possibility that she might open her cantankerous heart to someone new.

Only a year ago Isabel Moore was married, the object of adoration of her ten-year-old daughter, and thought she knew everything about her wild, extravagant, beloved best friend, Josie. But in that one short year: her husband moved out and rented his own apartment; her daughter grew into a moody insomniac; and Josie — impulsive, funny, secretive Josie — was killed behind the wheel in a single-car accident. As Isabel tries to make sense of this shattering loss and unravel the months leading up to Josie’s death, she comes to understand the shifts, large and small, that can upend a friendship and an entire life. Heartbreaking and wryly funny, Days of Awe is a masterly exploration of marriage, motherhood, and the often surprising shape of new love.”

I am really drawn to books about grieving and books about friendship.  When I heard about this book, one that is about both? YES PLEASE TAKE MY MONEY.

It read like a conversation with a stranger and I think those can go one of two ways.  The first is that you learn everything, because you’ll never see that person again.  It’s super-intimate and tends to get that way really fast.  The other way keeps you at a remove because you ARE a stranger and it means you have no context.

Days of Awe read more like the second one.

That’s not necessarily a criticism.  I enjoyed Days of Awe and liked Isabel.  I wanted her to be happy (and for her daughter, Hannah, to stop being a brat) and neither of us knew if she could make it.

I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have if I had understood her and her motives a little more.  (It’s 256 pages; this may be part of it.)

Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes

Finished Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes by Jules Moulin.

Summary (from Goodreads):

When a buttoned-up professor and her unbuttoned daughter fall for the same irresistible man, a delightful, subversive comedy begins. . . .

Life isn’t easy for single mother Ally Hughes. Teaching at Brown, her class load is huge and her boss is a menace. At home, she contends with a critical mother, a falling-down house, and a daughter who never misses a beat. Between taking care of the people she loves, teaching full time, and making ends meet, Ally doesn’t have time for a man. She doesn’t date. She’s not into flings. But then she meets Jake, an eager student, young in years but old in soul, who challenges his favorite professor to open up her life, and her heart, to love. It doesn’t work. In fact, his urging backfires.

Ten years later, Ally’s still single. Jake reappears and surprises her in a brand-new role: He’s dating Ally’s now-grown daughter. In this hilarious, heartrending tale, Ally is finally forced to concede (not only to herself) that an independent, “liberated” woman can still make room in her life for love.”

I really enjoyed this book!  It reminded me a little bit of Something’s Gotta Give (but in reverse)—although, if this synopsis gave you pause, you should know that Jake isn’t really dating Ally’s daughter.  It’s not like he’s had sex with both of them.  So that made me feel a little better.

I absolutely loved Ally.  She’s smart and funny (although yeah, I kept reading her as Diane Keaton, but she’s in her early 30s when she sleeps with Jake and then in her early 40s when he pops up again).  I also liked Lizzie (her daughter), although she’s such a young 20s that I kind of wanted to shake her at times.  (But that’s okay.)

And I loved Jake. I loved Jake by himself and Jake and Ally together and everything about this sweet, fun novel.


The Invisibles

Finished The Invisibles by Cecilia Galante.  I received a copy for review from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the vein of Meg Donohue and Jennifer Close, comes Cecilia Galante’s adult debut about the complicated and powerful bonds of female friendship–a compelling, moving novel that is told in both the present and the past.

Thrown together by chance as teenagers at Turning Winds Home for Girls, Nora, Ozzie, Monica, and Grace quickly bond over their troubled pasts and form their own family which they dub The Invisibles. But when tragedy strikes after graduation, Nora is left to deal with the horrifying aftermath alone as the other three girls leave home and don’t look back.

Fourteen years later, Nora is living a quiet, single life working in the local library. She is content to focus on her collection of “first lines” (her favorite opening lines from novels) and her dog, Alice Walker, when out-of-the-blue Ozzie calls her on her thirty-second birthday. But after all these years, Ozzie hasn’t called her to wish a happy birthday. Instead, she tells Nora that Grace attempted suicide and is pleading for The Invisibles to convene again. Nora is torn: she is thrilled at the thought of being in touch with her friends, and yet she is hesitant at seeing these women after such a long and silent period of time. Bolstered by her friends at the library, Nora joins The Invisibles in Chicago for a reunion that sets off an extraordinary chain of events that will change each of their lives forever.

The Invisibles is an unforgettable novel that asks the questions: How much of our pasts define our present selves? And what does it take to let go of some of our most painful wounds and move on?”

This is an interesting concept and, as you know, I am a huge fan of books that feature friendship at their center.

I loved the friends and the idea that your friends from high school can still reunite after years and be there for you, even if you went for years without hearing from them.

However, there’s one big aspect of the book that I had a problem with…except I can’t really discuss it because of spoilers.  (Suffice it to say that a character had an abortion and it was apparently a hugely traumatic thing, something that negatively affected that character for the rest of their life.  And I know women who have had abortions and their lives are fine.  It was a necessary thing, and they don’t have any trauma because of it.)

That felt like a bit of a cheap stunt to me, and it really affected my enjoyment of the book.

Happiness For Beginners

Finished Happiness For Beginners by Katherine Center.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A year after getting divorced, Helen Carpenter, thirty-two, lets her annoying, ten years younger brother talk her into signing up for a wilderness survival course. It’s supposed to be a chance for her to pull herself together again, but when she discovers that her brother’s even-more-annoying best friend is also coming on the trip, she can’t imagine how it will be anything other than a disaster. Thus begins the strangest adventure of Helen’s well-behaved life: three weeks in the remotest wilderness of a mountain range in Wyoming where she will survive mosquito infestations, a surprise summer blizzard, and a group of sorority girls.

Yet, despite everything, the vast wilderness has a way of making Helen’s own little life seem bigger, too. And, somehow the people who annoy her the most start teaching her the very things she needs to learn. Like how to stand up for herself. And how being scared can make you brave. And how sometimes you just have to get really, really lost before you can even have a hope of being found.”

I think I read this book at the perfect time.   I first heard about it when Jamie reviewed it and it seemed so perfect for me. And then I started reading it and it was one of those things where it felt like almost everything applied to me.

(Which is really funny, because it actually didn’t. AT ALL.  For example, there is literally no way I would ever sign up for a wilderness survival course, EVER.)

But the idea of being dissatisfied with your life and wanting to do something drastic to shock yourself out of a rut? Yes. Yes, I get that.

I don’t want to discuss the book itself, because I want you to experience Helen’s journey the way I did: with no idea of what will happen next.

Just know that you really should take that journey with her.

Highly recommended.

Things You Won’t Say

Finished Things You Won’t Say by Sarah Pekkanen.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In this timely and provocative novel, internationally bestselling author Sarah Pekkanen takes us inside a family in crisis and a marriage on the brink after a tragic shooting.

How far would you go to save your family?

Every morning, as her husband Mike straps on his SIG Sauer and pulls on his heavy Magnum boots, Jamie Anderson tenses up. Then comes the call she has always dreaded: There’s been a shooting at police headquarters. Mike isn’t hurt, but his long-time partner is grievously injured. As weeks pass and her husband’s insomnia and disconnectedness mount, Jamie realizes he is an invisible casualty of the attack. Then the phone rings again. Another shooting but this time Mike has pulled the trigger.

But the shooting does more than just alter Jamie’s world. It’s about to change everything for two other women. Christie Simmons, Mike’s flamboyant ex, sees the tragedy as an opportunity for a second chance with Mike. And Jamie’s younger sister, Lou, must face her own losses to help the big sister who raised her. As the press descends and public cries of police brutality swell, Jamie tries desperately to hold together her family, no matter what it takes.

In her characteristic exploration of true-to-life relationships, Sarah Pekkanen has written a complex, compelling, and openhearted novel her best yet.”

This is my first Sarah Pekkanen book, and I am cursing myself for that.  (Have you ever read a popular author for the first time and then been mad at yourself for not reading them earlier? That’s where I am right now.)

This is obviously a very timely novel (police officer accused of acting hastily and gunning down an unarmed teenager in the street; teenager is, not surprisingly, a minority. Officer swears he saw a gun; no gun was found) and so it was very interesting and hard to read (I can’t imagine trying to read this in the aftermath of Freddie Gray, which is our local tragedy).

I was intrigued by all three women, although Lou’s chapter breaks seemed to drag the most. (Although it wasn’t like I rolled my eyes whenever they appeared.)  I might have liked it a little more if I had been able to stay with Jamie the whole time, but I loved all three.

I definitely want to read more of her books.


When Everything Feels Like the Movies

Finished When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid.

Summary (from Goodreads):

School is just like a film set: there’s The Crew, who make things happen, The Extras who fill the empty desks, and The Movie Stars, whom everyone wants tagged in their Facebook photos. But Jude doesn’t fit in. He’s not part of The Crew because he isn’t about to do anything unless it’s court-appointed; he’s not an Extra because nothing about him is anonymous; and he’s not a Movie Star because even though everyone know his name like an A-lister, he isn’t invited to the cool parties. As the director calls action, Jude is the flamer that lights the set on fire.

Before everything turns to ashes from the resulting inferno, Jude drags his best friend Angela off the casting couch and into enough melodrama to incite the paparazzi, all while trying to fend off the haters and win the heart of his favourite co-star Luke Morris. It’s a total train wreck!

But train wrecks always make the front page.”

I’m not sure how I felt about this book.  I didn’t particularly like Jude or his best friend Angela; I didn’t like “love interest” Luke; I didn’t like the setup where everything was like a movie.

(Yes, I get that it’s Jude’s defense mechanism to cope with the fact that he’s bullied every day for being gay and that if he didn’t flip it and see it as his rise to stardom, he wouldn’t be able to handle it.  I get it.)And then I reached the end…I don’t want to discuss it but wow.  Because of the setup where everything was like a movie, the ending was even more shocking and effective than it may otherwise have been.I still don’t feel comfortable recommending it—I barely liked it—but it is a powerful scene.

The Night Sister

Finished The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The latest novel from New York Times best-selling author Jennifer McMahon is an atmospheric, gripping, and suspenseful tale that probes the bond between sisters and the peril of keeping secrets.

Once the thriving attraction of rural Vermont, the Tower Motel now stands in disrepair, alive only in the memories of Amy, Piper, and Piper’s kid sister, Margot. The three played there as girls until the day that their games uncovered something dark and twisted in the motel’s past, something that ruined their friendship forever.

Now adult, Piper and Margot have tried to forget what they found that fateful summer, but their lives are upended when Piper receives a panicked midnight call from Margot, with news of a horrific crime for which Amy stands accused. Suddenly, Margot and Piper are forced to relive the time that they found the suitcase that once belonged to Silvie Slater, the aunt that Amy claimed had run away to Hollywood to live out her dream of becoming Hitchcock’s next blonde bombshell leading lady. As Margot and Piper investigate, a cleverly woven plot unfolds—revealing the story of Sylvie and Rose, two other sisters who lived at the motel during its 1950s heyday. Each believed the other to be something truly monstrous, but only one carries the secret that would haunt the generations to come.”

I am late to the Jennifer McMahon party, but had been hearing for years (literally) about how good and unsettling her books are.  This one, especially, has been getting a lot of buzz in my little circle of actively literate people and when I got an email pitch, I jumped on it.  (Thank you so much!)

One thing you should know going in: this is a creepy, super unsettling book.  Everything’s clear by the end (it’s not one of those books that leaves you with major questions) but up until those points, I spent the book not sure what was real and what was imagination (or deliberately wrong information).  If you enjoy books like that, this is for you.

Now I have to go back and read her backlist. :)

Highly recommended.

The Summer of Good Intentions

Finished The Summer of Good Intentions by Wendy Francis.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Cape Cod summers are supposed to remain reassuringly the same, but everything falls apart when three sisters and their families come together for their annual summer vacation—and they are carrying more secrets than suitcases.

Maggie is the oldest. She feels responsible for managing the summer house and making sure everything is as it always has been. But she’s hurt that her parents’ recent divorce has destroyed the family’s comfortable summer routines, and her own kids seem to be growing up at high speed. Is it too late to have another baby?

Jess is the middle sister. She loves her job but isn’t as passionate about her marriage. She’s not sure she can find the courage to tell Maggie what she’s done—much less talk to her husband about it.

Virgie is the youngest, her dad’s favorite. She’s always been the career girl, but now there’s a man in her life. Her television job on the west coast is beyond stressful, and it’s taking its toll on her—emotionally and physically. She’s counting on this vacation to erase the symptoms she’s not talking about.

The Herington girls are together again, with their husbands and kids, for another summer in the family’s old Cape Cod house. When their mother, Gloria, announces she’s coming for an unscheduled visit—with her new boyfriend—no one is more surprised than their father, Arthur, who has not quite gotten over his divorce. Still, everyone manages to navigate the challenges of living grown-up lives in close quarters, until an accident reveals a new secret that brings everyone together in heartbreak… and then healing.”

I read this book in Baltimore, on my couch (and between work shifts).  That’s maybe not the farthest you can get from the beach setting of the novel, but it’s probably fairly close.  Even so, I definitely felt that I was on vacation.  That’s a pretty magical book, right?

And it was.

I loved all three of the sisters, although probably I overidentified with Virgie (the single one who works in TV news). All three were great, though, and I love how they were what I imagine sisters to be like.  They’re grownups, so they don’t really compete or fight the way that you’d expect when siblings are little.  But while there are definitely family dynamics, they all get along.  (It made me wish I had siblings*.)

This is a fun vacation read, but there’s also a lot of depth there.  There are major issues facing the family, and they are handled sensitively and never feel gratuitous.


* = I have a half-sister; we aren’t close.

The Killing Kind

Finished The Killing Kind by Chris Holm.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A hitman who only kills other hitmen winds up a target himself.

Michael Hendricks kills people for money. That aside, he’s not so bad a guy.

Once a covert operative for a false-flag unit of the US military, Hendricks was presumed dead after a mission in Afghanistan went sideways. He left behind his old life–and beloved fiancée–and set out on a path of redemption…or perhaps one of willful self-destruction.

Now Hendricks makes his living as a hitman entrepreneur of sorts–he only hits other hitmen. For ten times the price on your head, he’ll make sure whoever’s coming to kill you winds up in the ground instead. Not a bad way for a guy with his skill-set to make a living–but a great way to make himself a target.”

I am a huge fan of Chris Holm, and this book absolutely cements that.  I think it’s easily his best book yet, and also easily his darkest and most suspenseful.

I love Michael Hendricks, who is sort of a moral person in an incredibly immoral profession.  Yes, he kills people and yes, he does it for money (and actually essentially extorts it from people who are going to be killed from others) but still.  Still.  He kills horrible people and he saves…okay, he saves slightly less horrible people.  And he’s in love but he walked away from her to keep her safe and also because he didn’t deserve her (see the fact that he kills people for money).

The tension is high throughout but I absolutely dare you to walk away and do something else during the last few chapters.  (And if we’re being honest, I really mean during the last 100 or so pages.)  This book, guys—you need it.

(There’s going to be a sequel, right?)

Highly recommended.