Category Archives: Fiction

Sinful Longing

Finished Sinful Longing by Lauren Blakely.  I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

He’s the inked brother. The one you’re wondering about. The bad boy of the family.
Colin Sloan has a past. He’s done things he’s not proud of, but he’s living differently now. Making changes in his life. Working hard, working out harder, and trying to win over one woman. He’s utterly crazy about Elle Mariano, and though the sex is epic, their friends-with-benefits arrangement just isn’t cutting it anymore. He wants all of her, and is determined to prove he’s what she needs in her life.

Elle is fiery, loyal, and in major lust with Colin Sloan. He’s everything she craves in a man — smart, sexy, kind — and a rock star between the sheets. But his past hits too close to home for her, and the people she has to protect. There isn’t room in her life for a relationship with Colin. Especially when she’s forced to keep a secret that could tear his family apart…

SINFUL LONGING is the third book in the steamy, sexy, suspenseful New York Times Bestselling Sinful Nights series from Lauren Blakely, author of the wildly popular Seductive Nights series…This high-heat, high-stakes romance series follows the Sloan family as each sibling falls madly in love against the backdrop of sin, money, greed, passion, mystery and suspense...”

I haven’t read the first two books in this series, but it’s easy to follow anyway.  (I think it would’ve been better if I had, though, just because of the subplot with Colin’s father’s murder. I’m guessing I’d have a more complete picture if I had read the first two books.)  But the main plot with Colin and Elle? Yeah, that’s easy to love even with no background.

(I think these are more connected books than an actual series, though; it seems like each book focuses on a different member of Colin’s family.)

And I definitely do want to bingeread the first two books (maybe before the last one comes out?) but I’m not sure when that can happen.  I have to say, though, I am going to miss Colin and Elle.  (Colin probably makes a cameo but Elle probably doesn’t.)

Which reminds me, probably my favorite thing about Lauren Blakely’s books is the way that she writes these flawed characters who still fit together so perfectly.  Her books are just amazing, and if you haven’t read them by now, you really should.

This is basically everything I’ve come to expect from Lauren Blakely: hot sex, sweet scenes and now insane amounts of suspense (well, okay, that last one is new).

Highly recommended.


Finished Smoke by Catherine McKenzie.  I received a copy for review from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the internationally bestselling author Catherine McKenzie comes an evocative tale of two women navigating the secrets and lies at the heart of a wildfire threatening their town.

After a decade-long career combating wildfires, Elizabeth has traded in for a quieter life with her husband. Now she works as the local arson investigator in a beautiful, quaint town in the Rockies. But that tranquil life vanishes when she and her husband agree to divorce, and when a fire started in nearby Cooper Basin begins to spread rapidly. For Elizabeth, containing a raging wildfire is easier than accepting that her marriage has failed.

For Elizabeth’s ex-friend Mindy, who feels disconnected from her husband and teenage children, the fire represents a chance to find a new purpose: helping a man who lost his home to the blaze. But her faith is shattered by a shocking accusation.

As the encroaching inferno threatens the town’s residents, Elizabeth and Mindy must discover what will be lost in the fire, and what will be saved.

I am a huge fan of Catherine McKenzie’s books and I think this one might be her best (note: I still have not read Hidden).

Her earlier books have concepts that seem like they’re going to be fluffy, mindless reads but which completely transcend the “guilty pleasure” genre.  They’re smart and well-done and have all the character development you could want.  They’re fun, but they’re not stupid.

This one, though, sounded like a departure from her earlier books.  It doesn’t seem like it will be Serious Literature, but it definitely sounds heavier than her previous novels.  And it is.  There are very real problems (even beyond the fire, which is threatening to destroy part of a town).  But it’s not depressing or maudlin.

Like all of Catherine McKenzie’s novels, this is a must-read.  Recommended.

The Crossing

Finished The Crossing by Michael Connelly.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Six months ago, Harry Bosch left the LAPD before they could fire him, and then hired maverick Defense Attorney Mickey Haller to sue the department for forcing him out. Although it wasn’t the way he wanted to go, Harry has to admit that being out of the game has its benefits. Until Mickey asks him to help on one of his cases, and suddenly Harry is back where he belongs, right in the centre of a particularly puzzling murder mystery. The difference is, this time Harry is working for the defense, aiming to prevent the accused, Leland Foster, from being convicted. And not only does the prosecution seem to have a cast-iron case, but having crossed over to ‘the dark side’ as his former colleagues would put it, Harry is in danger of betraying the very principles he’s lived by his whole career.

This is my new favorite Michael Connelly book.  Okay, yes, I will fully admit that his Bosch novels are my favorites (I love his Mickey Haller ones, too, but nowhere near as much as the Bosch ones) so I was already essentially guaranteed to love it.

But The Crossing is different than the others.  Obviously, since Harry’s now retired, it’s not going to be a police procedural like the others.  But arguably an even bigger change is that he’s helping Mickey (his half-brother) on a case…which is a huge shock.  (It’s not even something he swore he’d never do because it never occurred to him that he’d ever even consider working for a defense attorney.)  But when Mickey swore that his client was innocent, that the real killer is still out there…well, that gets Harry Bosch interested.

Even so—and even when he agrees that DaQuan didn’t do it—Harry almost hates himself for helping the defense.

That alone makes this a must-read…except that it’s not just that; this has everything you’d expect from a Michael Connelly novel going for it.  The story is fantastic and good luck putting it down.

Highly recommended.

Black-Eyed Susans

Finished Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin.

Summary (from Goodreads):

I am the star of screaming headlines and campfire ghost stories.
I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans.
The lucky one.

As a sixteen-year-old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since, the press has pursued her as the lone surviving “Black-Eyed Susan,” the nickname given to the murder victims because of the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above their shared grave. Tessa’s testimony about those tragic hours put a man on death row.

Now, almost two decades later, Tessa is an artist and single mother. In the desolate cold of February, she is shocked to discover a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susans—a summertime bloom—just outside her bedroom window. Terrified at the implications—that she sent the wrong man to prison and the real killer remains at large—Tessa turns to the lawyers working to exonerate the man awaiting execution. But the flowers alone are not proof enough, and the forensic investigation of the still-unidentified bones is progressing too slowly. An innocent life hangs in the balance. The legal team appeals to Tessa to undergo hypnosis to retrieve lost memories—and to share the drawings she produced as part of an experimental therapy shortly after her rescue.

What they don’t know is that Tessa and the scared, fragile girl she was have built a  fortress of secrets. As the clock ticks toward the execution, Tessa fears for her sanity, but even more for the safety of her teenaged daughter. Is a serial killer still roaming free, taunting Tessa with a trail of clues? She has no choice but to confront old ghosts and lingering nightmares to finally discover what really happened that night.

Shocking, intense, and utterly original, Black-Eyed Susans is a dazzling psychological thriller, seamlessly weaving past and present in a searing tale of a young woman whose harrowing memories remain in a field of flowers—as a killer makes a chilling return to his garden.”

Black-Eyed Susans has been recommended for fans of Gillian Flynn and Laura Lippman, and that is a pretty worthy comparison.  (As you know, I love both.)  So my expectations going in were incredibly high.

We go back and forth in time, with Tessa (as a grownup) and Tessie (as a kid, shortly after being rescued).  We don’t ever really learn exactly what happened while she was taken, but the pieces we do know are certainly horrific enough.

Of course, it turns out there’s a lot we don’t know.

This is the kind of book that’s nearly impossible to put down.  I loved the characters and the concept.  Best of all, though, is the fact that we don’t know who or where the threat is coming from—or even if there IS a threat.

This book kept me guessing the whole way.

Highly recommended.

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.