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Book Review: Getting Clean with Stevie Green by Swan Huntley

February 22, 2022 Leave a comment
A digital book cover. There is a blue background with a cartoon drawing of a white woman holding a stack of four pillows in front of her face.

Summary:
At thirty-seven, Stevie Green has had it with binge drinking and sleeping with strange men. She’s confused about her sexuality and her purpose in life. When her mother asks her to return to her hometown of La Jolla to help her move into a new house, she’s desperate enough to say yes. The move goes so well that Stevie decides to start her own decluttering business. She stops drinking. She hires her formerly estranged sister, Bonnie, to be her business partner. She rekindles a romance with her high school sweetheart, Brad. Things are better than ever—except for the complicated past that Stevie can’t seem to outrun.

Who was responsible for the high school scandal that caused her life to take a nosedive twenty years earlier? Why is she so secretive about the circumstances of her father’s death? Why are her feelings for her ex-best friend, Chris, so mystifying? If she’s done drinking, then why can’t she seem to declutter the mini wine bottles from her car?

Review:
I smashed the request button on NetGalley when I read this description. A mixture of quit lit (literature about addiction and recovery) and decluttering? Sign me up! And it did not disappoint. In fact, it surprised me with delightful queer content I wasn’t expecting.

It’s important to know that Stevie’s ex-best friend Chris is a woman. Chris also came out in high school as a lesbian around the time of the scandal that so traumatized Stevie. Stevie has also slept with women, although only the men are mentioned in the description. The only hang-ups about Stevie’s sexuality seen in her circle of family, friends, and even lovers, come from Stevie herself. This is a great example of how addiction can freeze someone’s self-awareness and self-acceptance. Stevie began drinking in high school, and it’s a trueism in recovery circles that you freeze at the age of development you were at when you began drinking until you stop. Then you can begin maturing again. So is it a bit frustrating that Stevie is 37 and kind of acting like a teenager? Yes. But is it realistic? Also yes.

When we meet Stevie she is newly sober and running her decluttering business. I loved the depiction of how Type A Stevie is about her days and routines. This is so accurate to early recovery. One of my favorite parts is how she starts every day by standing in a Wonder Woman pose and saying affirmations to herself repeatedly.

How had I become a woman who chanted affirmations to herself while doing this ridiculous pose? Because it was supposed to make me feel better. I would have done anything to feel better.

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Early recovery really is this incredible moment of being willing to do anything to feel better, and this is wonderfully depicted here.

The scenes with Stevie decluttering with her clients also shine. I’m a fan of decluttering YouTube videos and tv shows, and these gave me the same thrill as watching those. I loved seeing the variety of types of clutter the clients had, their personalities, and how Stevie interacted with them. She also quickly ends up working with her sister, Bonnie, who is also going through it after her boyfriend of 15 years left her for a younger woman. Bonnie and Stevie have great sisterly chemistry, and her addition to the business helps keep the pace moving forward.

Ultimately, it’s only when Stevie fully faces both her past and her father’s death that she can really begin to heal and move on. I thought this requirement hit her in the right way and with the right force. The pacing of this book really was quite good. And while there’s always the concern when reading queer lit that there will be a tragic ending, don’t worry, readers, there’s a happy ever after for Stevie. This is truly a lighthearted queer romance that also tackles the serious topic of recovery. It was like eating a salted caramel ice cream – sweet with just the right amount of savory.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 304 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: The Other Family by Wendy Corsi Staub

February 15, 2022 2 comments
Digital book cover that shows two brick homes side by side with a tree in the middle. Each home shows the silhouette of a person in the window.

Summary:
It’s the perfect home for the perfect family: pretty Nora Howell, her handsome husband, their two teenage daughters, and lovable dog. As California transplants making a fresh start in Brooklyn, they expected to live in a shoebox, but the brownstone has a huge kitchen, lots of light, and a backyard. The catch: its previous residents were victims of a grisly triple homicide that remains unsolved. But all that is in the past and has nothing to do with them, right? Oldest daughter Stacey doesn’t think so. She thinks she’s seen a man watching her with binoculars from a neighboring roof. But will anyone believe her when she has an obsession with true crime, and she’s overheard her mother worrying about her mental state?

Review:
This is a slow burn with most of the action happening at the end. It is told through multiple viewpoints – daughter Stacey, mom Nora, and the man watching the house Jacob. You would think this many viewpoints would remove all surprises, but it does not.

There are a few main conflicts in the book. If you like how these conflicts sound, then you will likely enjoy the read even though it’s a slower burn.

First, there’s Stacey and her mom, Nora. Nora doesn’t like Stacey’s appearance and worries about her psychological state. From Stacey’s viewpoint, she’s just a geekier girl who happens to be into true crime.

Second, there’s Nora and her husband. Their marriage was on thin ice in LA, and they’re hoping the change of scenery to NYC will help. But will it? And who is this Teddy person that Nora keeps secretly calling?

Third, there’s Stacey and her new boyfriend Lennon. He falls head over heels really quickly, but it’s unclear to Stacey if the things he asks for are loving or controlling.

Finally there’s the neighbors down the street who are also Lennon’s moms. His moms seem a bit too pushily friendly to Nora. Is it really just friendship they’re after?

For most of the book, in spite of the watcher, it really reads more like a contemporary women’s fiction. It’s not until the last 10% or so that the thrills come out. They definitely surprised me, but I would have preferred more intensity throughout the book.

If a contemporary women’s fiction covering the types of conflicts described above that ends with a thriller style ending sounds engaging to you, give this one a chance.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 384 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: The Night Train to Berlin by Melanie Hudson

February 8, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A white woman in 1940s clothing approaches a train with steam from the train flowing toward her. Two WWII airplanes are silhouetted in the sky above her.

Summary:
A train journey into the past. A love that echoes through time….

Paddington Station, present day:
A young woman boards the sleeper train to Cornwall with only a beautiful emerald silk evening dress and an old, well-read diary full of sketches. Ellie Nightingale is a shy violinist who plays like her heart is broken. But when she meets fellow passenger Joe she feels like she has been given that rarest of gifts…a second chance.

Paddington Station, 1944:
Beneath the shadow of the war which rages across Europe, Alex and Eliza meet by chance. She is a gutsy painter desperate to get to the frontline as a war artist and he is a wounded RAF pilot now commissioned as a war correspondent. With time slipping away they make only one promise: to meet in Berlin when this is all over. But this is a time when promises are hard to keep, and hope is all you can hold in your heart.

Review:
This book tells two love stories by alternating between the two different timelines – present day and 1944. It strongly hints that present day Ellie and Joe are reincarnations of 1944 Eliza and Alex.

I liked both storylines for the majority of the book, although the 1944 appealed more to me. It had more action and covered a larger period of time. The present day storyline is basically just the day of the night party train and the day immediately after. Because so much more was happening in 1944 with such greater risk to Eliza and Alex, I found myself wanting to skip over the present day to go to the past. Plus, the present day takes on greater meaning the more you get to know Eliza and Alex. For this reason, I think it would have been better to have completely told Eliza and Alex’s story and then end the book with an epilogue short version of Ellie and Joe’s.

There are also two things that I think it’s important to know before picking up the book. First, there is no train to Berlin. The train to Berlin in the title is a metaphor. Eliza and Alex meet on a night train to Cornwall and then later promise to see each other in Berlin alongside the liberating forces. (Eliza as a nurse and war artist, Alex as a war correspondent). But of course the liberators didn’t take trains. There are two trains in this book. One is the train to Cornwall ridden at two different time periods. The other is a train in Europe but its destination is not Berlin.

Second, we do not actually get closure on Eliza and Alex’s story. We never find out exactly what happened to them – either as a couple or how and when they died. There’s a passing mention that Ellie’s grandmother (great-grandmother?) who was friends with Eliza inherited the Cornwall property from her a few years ago. It could be implied that she passed a few years ago or it could be understood to mean something different. The other confusing thing about this is if Ellie is Eliza reincarnated, Eliza passing a few years ago when Ellie is in her 20s at the moment doesn’t make sense for a reincarnation. So there’s a lot of loose ends with regards to Eliza and Alex that are frustrating.

I’m not a complete stickler for total historic accuracy in historic fiction and even less so with a historic romance, but I will mention there was one plot point in particular that was so unlikely given what we know about WWII that it did make me grumpy. I can’t discuss in detail without plot spoiling. Perhaps you would feel more able to give it a pass than me. It comes toward the very end of the book.

So, overall, while I enjoyed the experience of the read right up until the end, I did feel like it could have been a better story with some rearrangement and a less metaphorical title.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 400 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

February 1, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. An aerial shot of a snowy forest with a church in the middle of it. The title is in red over the top. of this.

Summary:
Things have been wrong with Mr and Mrs Wright for a long time. When Adam and Amelia win a weekend away to Scotland, it might be just what their marriage needs. Self-confessed workaholic and screenwriter Adam Wright has lived with face blindness his whole life. He can’t recognize friends or family, or even his own wife.

Every anniversary the couple exchange traditional gifts – paper, cotton, pottery, tin – and each year Adam’s wife writes him a letter that she never lets him read. Until now. They both know this weekend will make or break their marriage, but they didn’t randomly win this trip. One of them is lying, and someone doesn’t want them to live happily ever after.

Ten years of marriage. Ten years of secrets. And an anniversary they will never forget.

Review:
I have a thing for the themes for each anniversary year of marriage. I also have a thing for thrillers about marriages. So when I saw this one incorporating both, I knew I just had to read it. I can’t be the only one this appealed to because I waited for a few months for it at the library. This was definitely a unique and fun take on the thriller about a marriage theme.

The telling alternates between the anniversary letters Mrs. Wright writes to her husband and the present day Mrs. Wright going on the trip with Mr. Wright to Scotland. They are seeing a marriage counselor who suggest a trip away, and Mrs. Wright wins a weekend trip to a converted chapel in Scotland. One of the stronger scenes in the book is the late-night arrival at this Air BNB style home. If you have ever arrived late at night at an Air BNB or other vacation rental where you have to let yourself in and hope it lives up to your expectations, this scene will really set your spine to tingling!

Much as I was enjoying the present day explorations of the spooky getaway, I also really enjoyed the anniversary letters from Mrs. Wright. They were the perfect interlude because very quickly it becomes clear she is keeping something from him. So you end up with two different mysteries. What is going on at the weekend stay? And what is Mrs. Wright keeping from Mr. Wright?

I wasn’t sure at first how I’d feel about the face blindness aspect. But it is a real condition, and I like how the perspective sometimes shifts to Mr. Wright’s. We see how he sees his wife, and how he recognizes her anyway. I also really enjoy how important the title is to the book and how often it comes into play.

Now, this is a thriller so of course there is a twist. It is a major one, and I really wasn’t seeing it coming. I was a bit miffed because it was one of those situations where the only reason I didn’t see it coming was some information was withheld from the reader. But I so enjoyed the process of getting to that point that I ultimately didn’t care.

Overall, this was a fun entry into the thriller category. It delightfully combines a marriage on the rocks with a creepy vacation rental for a new feeling plot.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 297 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

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