B O O K R E V I E W : The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth

The Younger Wife 
Sally Hepworth
St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: April 5, 2022

Tully and Rachel Aston can’t believe their fifty-something father, Stephen, is dating Heather, a woman younger than them who he met when she redecorated the house he shared with their mother before her dementia became so bad she had to go to a nursing home.

When the couple announce they are engaged, Tully and Rachel are sure Heather only wants to marry Stephen for his money. And their father is so swept up in the romance, he’s determined to divorce their mother to expedite his wedding.

The sisters begin asking questions, trying to uncover Heather’s past. In doing so, however, they also excavate mysteries of their own family, laying bare long-held secrets and seeing family members differently, unearthing truths some want kept buried.

The Good Sister was one of my favorite reads of 2021, so I was so excited to read this year’s The Younger Wife. Like Hepworth’s other books, The Younger Wife has excellent writing, interesting characters, and lots of family drama. I particularly liked the social contagion—how the hint of an idea spread and the characters started seeing evidence for it everywhere. Rachel, a baker, has a suitor who is very into puns which I loved!

Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for sending me an advanced readers copy!

B O O K R E V I E W : Business Not As Usual

Thank you to Berkley Romance and NetGalley for the eARC of Business Not As Usual by Sharon C. Cooper, publishing Tuesday, Tuesday, April 5, 2022.

Dreamy Daniels, assistant to a brilliant software engineer who unfortunately is also a micromanager treating his his employees poorly, can’t wait to start her own non-profit helping female entrepreneurs. She just needs to finish her degree (only one more semester)—and win the lottery!

Dreamy and her grandfather have been playing the same numbers for years, and she’s sure their lucky day is on the horizon. Meanwhile, her charm, vibrant personality, and eclectic style win over those she meets, including Karter Redford, a potential investor in her boss’s company. Although her boss flubbed the meeting, Dreamy salvaged the opportunity.

Karter, son of a famous actor and Hollywood socialite, and successful businessperson himself, knows better than to mix business and pleasure, but he can’t stop thinking of Dreamy. And although Dreamy swore off men after her last boyfriend, she can’t deny the attraction between them. Yet, the two come from radically different worlds.

A light-hearted romance, Business Not As Usual has great representation, a fabulous female lead, and a wonderful cast of secondary characters, including Dreamy’s cousin and grandfather and Karter’s sister, driver, and assistant.

It was difficult to see the impact of class differences on Dreamy’s self-esteem, though Cooper contextualizes it with information from Dreamy’s past. I also had a hard time with Dreamy’s belief in and reliance on the lottery and almost wish that hadn’t been part of the story.

This would be a good option for those looking for a quick, feel-good age-gap romance.

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: 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!