B O O K R E V I E W : I’m So (Not) Over You by Kosoko Jackson

I’m So (Not) Over You 
by Kosoko Jackson
Publication Date: February 22, 2022

Thank you to Berkley Romance for a gifted copy of the book!

Aspiring journalist Kian Andrews never understood why his boyfriend, Hudson River, broke up with him just as they were graduating from Northeastern. When Hudson unexpectedly texts Kian, Kian can’t resist meeting him, hoping to find resolution. Instead, Hudson admits he never told his parents they split and begs him to attend a family dinner as his boyfriend.

Kian agrees but finds himself invited to Georgia’s biggest wedding of the year. If Kian goes as Hudson’s plus-one, Hudson promises to introduce him to one of the most prominent magazine editors in the business.

Soon, the fake relationship feels very real, but the class issues that drove them apart are only heightened as the two men navigate the expectations of Hudson’s wealthy family, owners of the Rivers & Valley brewing company.

I love the representation in the book and how it addresses race, class, and sexuality. Kian’s BFF, the newly minted lawyer, no-nonsense Divya is a fun character who delights in giving Kian reality checks. I wish that there had been more backstory about their relationship and circumstances surrounding their breakup. Without this information, it was difficult to understand why a second chance was worthwhile. Also, much of the narration moved via Kian’s inner dialogue, and I think I would have preferred less contemplation and more action. I’m excited that Kosoko Jackson transitioned from writing YA to adult novels and look forward to seeing his future endeavors!

B O O K R E V I E W : If You Ask Me by Libby Hubscher

If You Ask Me
by Libby Hubscher
Publication Date: March 8, 2022

Thank you to Berkley Publishing for a gifted copy of the book!

Violet Covington, aka North Carolina’s most popular advice columnist “Dear Sweetie,” revels in her idyllic life, living with her husband, Sam, in their dream home in a gorgeous neighborhood. However, when she comes home early one afternoon and finds Sam in bed with another woman, she realizes her life was perfect only on the surface.

Full of hurt and anger, Violet’s done with politeness. She strikes a new, take-no-prisoners tone in her column, and her posts quickly go viral. At the same time, her behavior off the job becomes reckless. One night, she drags mosts of Sam’s belongings into the cul-de-sac, dousing them with his expensive scotch before igniting them.

When the fire department arrives to extinguish the blaze, Violet meets Dez, a handsome and compassionate firefighter. While others in Violet’s life try to reign in her newly discovered voice, Dez accepts Violet for who she is. As much as she loves being with him, though, she’s not sure the timing is right or that she can give him everything he wants and deserves.

If You Ask Me has both extremely hilarious moments and poignant moments, some of them in the letters to Dear Sweetie and her replies. As much as this is a romance, it’s also a story of Violet letting loose and finding her authentic voice after realizing she’s been following unspoken rules of behavior and ignoring her own desires. At the same time, she develops more compassion for her true friends. There are also several serious themes, including infertility and racism and privilege in the workplace.

I found the book a satisfying and even inspiring read, though I did wish for more of Dez’s backstory and more communication and less assumption-making on Violet’s part.

This is a great book for readers who like stories of self-discovery and resilience.

TW: infidelity, infertility, miscarriage, drunk driving

B O O K R E V I E W : A Deadly Affair by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie’s novels are always reliably entertaining and exquisitely plotted, but until this book, A Deadly Affair, I’d not read any of her short stories. This collection is built around the theme of love gone wrong.

While I do prefer the full-length mysteries which allow for more character development and elaborate puzzles, these were fun, quick reads featuring Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Mr. Quin, Parker Pyne, and Tommy and Tuppence.

My favorite story, “The Face of Helen,” concerned a beautiful woman Quin and Satterthwaite encounter at the opera who is involved in a love triangle. The mystery is so diabolically clever! I also quite enjoyed “The King of Clubs,” where only Poirot’s little gray cells point to the killer.

It was also interesting to read the short story “A Death on the Nile” which is similar to the Poirot book only in terms of the title as well as an excerpt from Christie’s autobiography about her early love affairs. I didn’t as much care for the two Tommy and Tuppence stories. Either they felt more dated than the others, more reliant on slang, or both.

You can grab this book and read the stories in any order. It’s a great choice if you are looking for a slump-buster or low-commitment mystery!

 

B O O K R E V I E W: The Hated Ones

The Hated Ones
Mike Fiorito
Bordighera Press
Publication Date: October 12, 2021

In this interconnected series of short stories, Mike Fiorito offers a raw, vivid bildungsroman set during the 1970s in Ravenswood Houses project in Queens. Vinny, a third generation Sicilian lives with his parents—a mother who drinks and father who gambles—and older brother, Virgil.

Although his family is poor, crime rampant, and drugs easy to come by, Vinny survives through cunning, a group of loyal friends, and the comfort of music. Vinny’s voice is so authentic, I had to keep reminding myself that the book was a novel, not a memoir.

The book’s title comes from the name of a gang, The Hated Ones: “To be a member you had to be resigned to your death. Death could come in any way. Getting stabbed in the face, shot, or pummeled by a brick to the head.” So resigned, the threat of danger failed to deter Vinny, his friends, or others in the neighborhood from making poor decisions, cruelly hurting loved ones and behaving short-sightedly. Even so, I found it impossible not to root for Vinny, and ended the book hopeful for him.

This is an under-appreciated gem, recommended for those who enjoy coming of age and NYC stories.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Mike Fiorito for including me on the tour and for a gifted copy of the book.

B O O K R E V I E W : Count Your Lucky Stars

Count Your Lucky Stars
Alexandria Bellefleur
Avon Books
Publication Date: February 1, 2022

All Margot Cooper’s friends are in relationships—Brendon and Annie, in fact, are weeks away from getting married. Of course, she’s thrilled for them, but she can’t help feeling left out when they pair off or go to couples yoga.

When the venue for Brendon and Annie’s wedding becomes unavailable at the last minute, they turn to Emerald City Events. Margot is shocked to learn that the event planner is Olivia Grant, her teenage best friend and first love. A week of bliss ended in heartbreak, and they haven’t seen each other in the ten years since. Despite the time and circumstances of their parting, an undeniable electric current passes between them.

Olivia just moved to Seattle after divorcing Brad, her high school boyfriend. When she has to vacate her apartment on short notice, Margot offers her a place to stay. Not only are they living together, they are spending a great deal of time together preparing for the upcoming wedding. Margot has sworn off serious relationships, and one with Olivia seems especially unwise given how much she was hurt the first time she let Olivia in. She can’t help her feelings, though—but will Olivia reciprocate or cast her aside again?

Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur, the final book in the Written in the Stars trilogy, had me laughing out loud (Cat the cat stole some notable scenes) and in tears as Margot and Olivia were thwarted by poor communication, underlying fears, and external obstacles, like the man-child Brad or well-meaning Brendon who tries to set Olivia up. The perspective shifts between Margot and Olivia, who are both sympathetic characters but trying to protect themselves. Like the most satisfying love stories, Margot and Olivia grow as individuals as their relationship develops. Characters from the previous books make cameos, and Bellefleur strikes the delicate balance of moving their stories forward while not diluting the primary narrative.

The very steamy, sapphic Count Your Lucky Stars was one of my favorite romance reads in February! Romance lovers will want to add this to their libraries.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Avon Books for including me on the book tour and providing a gifted copy of the book!