Damnation Creek by Ash Davidson

This was definitely a love it or hate book. I read this for several reasons. Book of the Month Club, Netgalley and a buddy read on Instagram, so I think I have a decent grasp on the thoughts of fellow readers. The opinions have been 50/50 and hard core on either side. I am on the love it side like 5 stars loved it, ugly tears crying in my tea loved it. But I feel like I need to say I also 100% understand why someone wouldn’t like it. There are tough topics. Fighting, controlling male narcissisms, miscarriages, infant loss, environmental issues, gas lighting and more. But the way debut author Ash Davidson walks the reader through these issues with the characters experiences and interpretations was breath taking to me. I found the plot to roll out slowly and there was a lot of logging jargon which made it a little hard to get going at times but again I think the intense details is what made me feel so imbedded in the logging town, it’s people and the collateral damage they suffered.

Rich is a 4th generation logger with his sights set on taking care of his family by logging an area called 24/7. Colleen is his wife and midwife that can’t seem to bring her own children into this world other than her little boy Chub. Rich is a good bit older than Colleen and that may be why he took longer to come around to the truth about the horrific consequences the herbicide spray the logging company was using was doing to their town and the people. Daniel, a past resident and friend of Colleen’s comes back to town doing research on the herbicide and it’s long term effects on the people of multiple generations, past and present. When Daniel brings this issue to the people of the town and the logging companies, Colleen and Rich find themselves on opposites sides of the issue. It’s hard to see truth when that truth can disrupt your whole way of life and way to make a living.

There were so many times while reading I hated who certain characters became and I cried for the ones that didn’t feel like they had a voice. There was so much loss and sadness and hopelessness that I did have a hard time processing but I can honestly say I have not been moved this much by a book in a long time. I will take this story with me and hope I can pull strength from these people I have come to learn so much from.

Thank you Netgalley, Ash Davidson, and Scribner for the ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

The Good Sister was part of my Hepworth binge I mentioned in The Mother-in-Law post and I liked it even better than I did The Mother-in-Law! A favorite of September. This is another mystery thriller and I can usually figure those out pretty quickly but I was shocked (although some would say the title gave away some hints that I missed).

I loved the way the character’s were developed and the way the reader received the backstory. Hepworth used the diary of Rose, the twin sister of Fern to tell us how twisted the girls childhood was and how their relationship came to be what it was. Fern has a sensory processing issue and struggles to cope in the world of the average person but her sister Rose is her closest companion and helps her navigate, sometimes by overstepping and stifling Fern. Fern trust that Rose is honestly the only person that truly knows her, partly because Rose and Fern have a secret that Rose holds over her sister anytime Fern tries to exercise her freedoms. This relationship forms a bond and trust between the twins so deep that they would do almost anything for each other, even alter their own lives and maybe others.

Fern works in a library and does her job well, although a little quirky. One day a gentleman, called Wally by Fern, walks in to use the showers that the library allows the public to use. Fern sees an opportunity in Wally to help her sister accomplish a dream she has taken on. Over time Fern and Wally form a relationship and Fern begins to feel like she’s making some life choices on her own and trusting herself. Rose doesn’t approve of their relationship and starts to intervene causing Fern to question Rose’s sincerity and take a look back at their childhood realizing they may not have remembered it the same way or had the same experiences.

I give The Good Sister 5 stars!! The plot line was unique and the character introductions caused me as a reader to trust the wrong people, which is a pillar attribute of a good mystery right? I’m excited to continue my Hepworth binge and recommend you all jump on this train if you haven’t already, go now.

Thank you Netgalley, Sally Hepworth and St. Martin’s Press for the ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

(While I am fortunate to have a mother in law that I like (and I think likes me) we have all heard the horrible MIL stories right? Sally Hepworth takes this common theme to a whole new level. This was the first Hepworth book I’ve read and then I went on a Hepworth binge, not sorry.

The Mother-in-Law opens with a knock on the door telling Lucy and her husband that Diana, Lucy’s MIL was found dead. The family was surprised but also not shocked because Diana had cancer…except the autopsy showed no signs of cancer but then a found suicide note was found that said she was tired of living with the cancer and had decided to end her life, yet there were signs of poison and evidence of suffocation. From there readers are moved between 2 timelines, one of the future and one of past where we learn the secrets and truths of what seemed like a perfect family.

Diana was a socialite and leader of a non-profit that helped refugee women and mothers. Diana appeared to be living a grand life with a grand house and perfect children, but looks can be deceiving. When Lucy came into the family Diana kept her far enough way that they couldn’t bond and far enough away that Lucy couldn’t really get to know Diana as a person. But as Diana’s life starts to change and she starts to get older and she needs to make some tough choices she finds Lucy to be an ally.

As readers are taken through a who-dun-it plot we are let in on all the secrets this family has and how each member is desperate to fix their mistakes or make a life they thought they deserved, and sometimes at a cost. I did figure it out before we are let in on the ultimate secret of how Diana died but Sally Hepworth is a writer that leads you right to the answer then takes a different turn and it happens from pulling info we already learned but may have over looked back to the surface for the AHA moment.

This was a great mystery, thriller that wasn’t too cozy or too over the top. I love when a mystery is believable mystery and this hit that note for me. I also love when there’s a back ground character that actually plays a significant role but is somewhat overlooked. Tom, Diana’s husband was that for me. I loved his character and I knew that at some point he as going to show us something but I didn’t expect it to be the true character of Diana in the way they loved each other.

I give The Mother-in-Law 4 stars. Character and plot development were on point, the time frame was great and the way background info was shared was also great.

Thank you Netgalley, Sally Hepworth, and St Martin’s Press for the advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Ask Again, Yes is the story of two kids that grow to love each other and eventually become husband and wife but it took years and time and forgiveness from several people to get them to that point. Katie Gleeson and Peter Stanhope’s story started when their NYPD fathers moved to the suburbs and their moms became pregnant at the same making them 6 months apart. That’s where the similarities stop. There were different worlds behind each closed door. Katie’s mom was determined to get to know her neighbors where Peter’s mom wanted nothing to do with anyone and readers eventually learn that Peter’s mom suffered a lot of heartache that led to unstable behaviors. When a childhood injury of leads to an argument between the parents an incident happens so catastrophic that the families don’t speak again for years and there is a rift between Katie and Peter that seems unfixable. But love is a strong bond and relentless in it’s pull to bring true soul mates together. After years of family turmoil and secrets and marriage and children, Peter and Katie come to their own cross roads and in a moment when Peter questions their love Katie reminds him that if ever asked if she would marry him again her answer would be yes.

I saw a ton of pictures and reviews floating around the book world of this book so I was skeptical because when the book doesn’t hold up to the hype it’s disappointing. I did end up liking Ask Again, Yes but it wasn’t my favorite. There seemed to be parts that I couldn’t place their purpose and the plot line was a little drawn out. I did enjoy the character development and the interaction of characters over several years and generations. I gave Ask Again, Yes 3 stars. I would recommend it to certain friends though.

Thank you again to Mary Beth Keane, Scribner Publishing and NetGalley for the opportunity to review this advanced copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

All Pets Welcome by Adele Griffin

I was asked to review the first book in this series, The Beckett List, and I fell in love with it! Actually, I decided to read it to the kids as a read aloud for school and we all loved it. When Algonquin Books reached out and asked me to review book 2, All Pets Allowed, I was thrilled and said YES. When I told the kids I had this opportunity they were so excited as well.

In book one we meet Rebecca Branch, or Becket, and her family as they transition from a life in the city to a life in the country when Becket’s parents move their veterinary practice and family to Blackberry Farm. Here we learn how Becket sees the world and how different she is from her twin brother, Nicholas. We also learn what a BEAUTIFUL ALERT is and how to look for the good and beautiful in life, even when it’s not what we hoped for or expected.

In book 2, All Pets Welcome, readers are taken along as Becket and Nicholas take on the adventure and unexpectedly hard job of owning pets. Becket has been dreaming of a dog but much like everything else in their lives Nicholas doesn’t agree and wants a cat. Turns out after a trip to the animal shelter, they both get their wish. Dibs the dog and Given the cat join the Branch family on the farm. Each kid had their own idea of what pet ownership was going to be and as we all know, it didn’t go according to plan. Dibs is going to need a lot of training and Given is a little more social than Nicholas had hoped. These personality differences led to some hard lessons in patience and acceptance.

We enjoyed so many laughs and learned how to adjust expectation as Becket and Nicholas navigated this new responsibility. We also learned the struggles of making new friends, taking on new responsibilities, working through sibling strife and time management.

I would recommend this sweet, funny, clean, children’s book for all children, either as a read aloud and or for individual reading. I recommend ages up to middle grades for read aloud and mid elementary and above for individual reading. Oh, and I can’t not mention the really cute and sweet illustrations by LeUyen Pham, they really brought the story to life.

Thank you to Algonquin Youth Readers department of Algonquin Books, Adele Griffin, and Netgalley for the opportunity to review this advanced copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

I give All Pets Allowed 4 stars

Mr. Right Across the Street by Kathryn Freeman

Mr. Right Across the Street by Kathryn Freeman was a perfect romance to kick off 2021. I also participated in a read along with One More Chapter. The photo featured was a challenge from the read along . We were prompted to use inspiration from the book to create something fun. I created a mocktail like the one Luke created in his bar.

First and foremost you must read this with a British accent, unless of course you already have a British accent then well, just read it. I am a sucker for a British rom-com, there’s something about the banter between lover’s in British rom-com that reminds me of my beloved southern culture.

Mia is a young techy type living away from home in a small apartment in a new place, escaping a horrible ex when she notices her across the street neighbor who happens to flex his muscles at the same time everyday in perfect line of vision from her at home office. At the insistence of her family Mia decides to venture out and finds her self at a bar that’s tended by none other than Mr. Right Across the Street, Luke. Over time, mistakes, secrets and a unique way of communicating, Mia and Luke find they have more in common than their apartment complex. When Luke first showed interest in Mia she was coy and stand offish, going as far as not giving her number so Luke had to get creative and started leaving messages taped to his window as way to get her attention. Mia reciprocated and they quickly fell into a romance spawned from post it notes.

I loved the romance between Luke and Mia. I found it fun and refreshing, new and not rushed. I loved the way Kathryn drew out the build up for both the reader and the characters. The ending was great including the proposal which was perfect and tied the whole plot up in a perfect bow at the perfect moment. There was so much growth in all the characters, including my favorite character, Stan and the relationship he had with Mia was perfect.

Final takeaway: We can let our past define our future or we can rewrite with new experiences. If we are patient with each other as we learn to trust again the experiences and relationships we gain will be so worth it and satisfying.

Thank you One More Chapter, NetGalley and Kathryn Freeman for the advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

I read Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid for my neighborhood book club but it had been on my TBR for awhile. I felt like it was an easy read in that I read it fast and it held my attention throughout, but it was not an easy read as far as content. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this book at first. We are in a time in our life when it’s uncomfortable to talk about race and how people of different colors interact with each other, the division we are facing and how we got here. This book made me take a look at my interactions with people and how I see the world and how the world sees me. In the book, all of the white people were searching for a way to connect with POC and not always in a genuine way. I felt like the POC just wanted to be left alone of seen as just people.

As for the book itself I thought the plot line was great and interesting. The reader wasn’t given all the information at first but instead little bits at a time as the story unravels. I loved all the characters and hated all the characters. I found Alix repulsive throughout, she was crazy, but at the same time boy was she interesting. The worst part of Alix is how she knew she wrong, in more than one incident yet never admitted to her faults and played the victim that was better than her circumstances. In the end I think every person was wrong at some point whether it was self deprecation or hate or manipulation. My least favorite partnership or character pair was Kelley and Emira. They were never going to work and Kelley was an ass and I didn’t like him at all.

My ultimate takeaway is that Emira was treated poorly by everyone including herself. She was a pawn in everyone’s agenda and Briar, the little girl, was the only person that saw Emira for who she really was. This proves that adults are unable to see the truth in people because of life experiences and prejudice.

I gave Such a Fun Age 5 stars. The courage of Kiley Reid and the beautiful way she shared this story are worthy of this rating.

Live in Love by Laura Akins

Live in Love was a book I found on NetGalley and instantly wanted to read because I love Thomas Rhett, the country singer for those that are not familiar. Several of his songs are like soundtracks to my life and I love that. I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with this whole family. After reading this I truly feel like I could head to Nashville and have dinner with the Akins family like we’ve been friends forever. I borrowed the audio version from my local library and OMG that made the book. I borrowed the audio so I could catch up on NetGalley reads while getting some stuff done, you know accomplishing those new year goals. I didn’t realize that Laura read the book herself and I was so shocked when Thomas Rhett started telling his side of the story. I really think that’s what made reading this book a whole experience, like a few friends sitting around telling our life stories.

I was so inspired by their love and love for others and how much they embraced everyone around them. There was a part of me, the military wife part, that felt some of Laura’s struggles. When she talked about Thomas Rhett being on the road while she was back with kids and the resentment that came with that or when Laura wanted to follow her dream of nursing in a foreign country which meant living apart for awhile, they supported each other and knew sometimes following dreams takes the biggest sacrifices.

I found the format of the book easy to follow, even the part where Thomas Rhett told his part. I LOVED that Laura included pictures of the stories she told and the people in her life, just another way the reader felt brought into “family”.

Thank you Laura and Thomas Rhett for sharing your story and inspiring me to Live in Love. Thank you NetGalley and Random House Publishing for the advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Perfect Guest by Emma Rous

The Perfect Guest by Emma Rous was my first blog tour and NetGalley read of 2021 and also my first Emma Rous book. I want to start with a thank you to Penguin Random House and the publicity team there for letting me join.

Within the first chapter I had major Companion vibes…the orphan coming to live with a family that has a little girl in need of a friend. But then oh man did it take a different turn. Readers are bounced between 1988 and 2019, between Beth Soames and Sadie Langton and told the story of a teenager and women that are both not sure where they belong in the world and what to do next when things don’t work out the way they imagined. They are both brought to Raven Hall and both discovered they had a story to tell about the mansion, but what do these two ladies have in common other than a visit to Raven Hall?

I did struggle with keeping the characters straight, especially in Beth’s point of view because the characters were involved in a murder mystery through the length of the book so I got lost on what “character” in the mystery lined up with the real characters. Although 75% of the book was a back story which bugged me while reading it, the way the author brought it all together in the end was so beautifully written. I LOVE when there is a big aha moment in book and I have to think “oh now it all makes since.”

I rated this a 3 on Goodreads but that was mostly because of the confusion and maybe another reader would not have that issue at all. However, I really enjoyed The Perfect Guest and will definitely read The Au Pair also by Emma Rous.

Thank you again to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Life She Wants by Robyn Carr

My first book of 2021! I had to start it with Robyn Carr. I discovered her thanks to the Netflix adaptation of Virgin River actually but it turned out I already owned a few of her books from the free section at the library, I’ve since collected over 20!! Anyway, to kick off what is going to be a fantastic year in reading I started with The Life She Wants. I really love the multiple series from Robyn Carr but The Life She Wants is a stand alone so sadly the story ends on the last page…unless maybe it doesn’t?

Robyn Carr is one of my favorite authors and one of the reasons for this is the undertone of the romance novel but with substance, by that I mean the other themes that course through her books are well researched and become a vital piece of the story line. Each novel always weaves family with romance and a minor theme of redemption.

In The Life She Wants we follow the story of Emma Shay Compton as she rebuilds her life after a nasty and public divorce from her thief of a husband. Emma returns to her home town after leaving to pursue college and a new life. While Emma was finding herself away from her less than great home life she is betrayed by her lifelong best friend and her boyfriend, Riley and Jock, when Riley becomes pregnant with Jock’s baby. Emma wasn’t excite to return to her childhood area and face the people of her past with the mess of a life she now carried. Finding a job, a place to live, and out run a reputation was hard to do with very few people on her side and very little money. While working a job fit for a teenager she runs into Riley’s brother who becomes an ally and the person that helps Emma rebuild her life.

Emma is always a victim, from being the step child and shunned child in her pieced together family, in her past life with Riley and Jock but also with her husband and the life that turned out to be but despite that she manages to hold her head up and continue forward and that perseverance is what allows her to let people in, drop walls and eventually find the life she desired. Sometimes we have to jump through some really crappy hoops to get to the perfect finish line.

The one character I really struggled with is Riley. I truly wanted to reach through the pages and strangle her!! She was holding a grudge that wasn’t hers to hold and consistently stood in her own way. Yes she got pregnant by her short term boyfriend that she didn’t love but then she shut him out and played the martyr card when she could have had a beautiful co-parenting relationship with Jock. Once she got over that ridiculous grudge she found and accepted love that was always there ..waiting for her to open her heart

While it was a little obvious who would end up with who in the end the story was a still fun to read and engaging. I would have liked to see a little more of Riley and Emma rebuilding their friendship but just knowing there was resolve will have to do.

I gave The Life She Wanted 4 stars, but honestly Robyn Carr could write the phone book and I would give it a 4, her words are just my favorite!