General Fiction (Adult), Southern Fiction

The Southern Side of Paradise (Peachtree Bluff #3) by Kristy Woodson Harvey

The Southern Side of ParadiseThe Southern Side of Paradise by Kristy Woodson Harvey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Out May 7th!

I am crying happy and sad tears right now after finishing The Southern Side of Paradise! Happy tears because it was so fantastic and sad tears because the Peachtree Bluff series has come to a close. I have simply adored getting to know Ansley, Caroline, Sloane, and Emerson first through Slightly South of Simple, then through The Secret to Southern Charm, and finally with The Southern Side of Paradise. I can’t believe it is over!

Now let me just reiterate for those who haven’t read my other reviews for this series. Let’s talk about these covers! Gorgeous, right? If this isn’t the definition of a “beach read” then I don’t know what is! Even my husband thinks they’re beautiful… so there’s that…

Kristy Woodson Harvey takes us back to Peachtree Bluff in the telling of Emerson’s story. When Emerson, the Hollywood starlet, finds herself engaged to her high school sweetheart, a man set on remaining in Peachtree Bluff and keeping his wife there with him, she has quite the dilemma. Does she follow her dream of becoming an Oscar-winning actress or does she give it all up to stay in Peachtree Bluff with the man she loves?

The best thing about this series is that it is such a “feel good” presence. While the sisters fight at times like any good sisters do, in the end they always have each other’s backs. The love the sisters have for each other shines through and makes you feel so warm and fuzzy inside. But don’t get it twisted! There is plenty of drama and enough challenging moments to go around (which keeps the book super interesting).

I devoured The Southern Side of Paradise while sitting poolside in Miami in a day. It was the perfect summer read to enjoy with a strawberry daquiri in my hand and the sun in my face. I cannot recommend this series enough!

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Audiobook Review, General Fiction (Adult), Reese Witherspoon's Book Club

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This Is How It Always IsThis Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reese’s Book Club does it again! What a fabulous, though provoking, and honest story.

This book is incredibly challenging. It challenged my though process. It challenged how I thought I would parent my future children. It challenged how I treat people. It opened my eyes to a social issue that impacts many families, and the strength some parents have to let their children be themselves.

Ask yourself. What would you do if your young child came to you and said they were somebody else? If your young boy wanted to wear dresses and makeup? If he asked you when he would grow up to a be a girl? Would you let her pursue her truth? What would you do if your child was bullied for her choice? Would you keep your child’s gender identity secret for the sake of social acceptance, or would you let your child live freely without hiding?

These are the questions you will ask yourself as you read This Is How It Always Is. Laurie Frankel handles a sensitive topic with grace, and opens the reader’s eye to the difficult choices some parents are faced with for the sake of their child’s happiness. I am not a parent. I have never faced these challenges. But, I found myself asking myself how I would react if I were the parents in this book. And how I would feel if my child weren’t happy in their skin.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Regardless of your morals or beliefs, dealing with transgender children is real life for many families across the world, and this is a must read for everybody to gain some understanding and perspective. I don’t care if you’re liberal or conservative, a Democrat or a Republican. Everybody can learn something from this story.

Please put this one on your list. It is heartbreakingly beautiful and wonderfully honest. I loved it more than I can share. Thank you to Laurie Frankel for writing this gem.

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General Fiction (Adult)

The Farm by Joanne Ramos

The FarmThe Farm by Joanne Ramos

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Out May 7th! Pre-order from Amazon here!

I have such mixed emotions writing this review. I keep wavering between 3 stars and 4 stars and finding it really difficult to land on a rating. Even 3.5 stars doesn’t feel quite right.

The first 80% of this book was a solid 4 stars. It had the makings and potential of a show stopper, with a really unique concept. The idea of women being hired as surrogates and living together contractually at a remote establishment was something completely original. The women bond together over their experiences, their fears, their excitement, their frustration with the facility. And the story was written with what felt like this sinister underlying tone, which left me as the reader waiting for some crazy twist or reveal.

Unfortunately, the weird and suspicious stuff that the author alluded to didn’t end up coming to fruition and the story took a completely different turn than what I was expecting. This was where things started to unravel and I didn’t end up loving the ending. I felt like there were lots of questions left unanswered and the epilogue tried to tie everything together with a neat bow, but it ended up feeling forced and unrealistic in my opinion. And at that point, it started feeling more like a 3 star read for me.

So overall, I really loved the concept and enjoyed the main characters. I appreciated the multiple perspectives, and thought that format worked for this type of story. And there was so many great things happening and so much potential. But when all was said and done, it kind of flopped in the end.

I would still recommend this to many women. Joanne Ramos hits on some interesting content surrounding race and class which was thought provoking. And the topic of surrogacy… where the line is drawn between a surrogate making decisions that affect their body versus the client making decisions that affect their growing fetus… lots to consider here as well. I would read Joanne Ramos’s work in the future.

-I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Joanne Ramos, and Random House Publishing for the opportunity to review.-

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General Fiction (Adult), Thriller

The East End by Jason Allen

The East EndThe East End by Jason Allen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Out May 7th! Pre-order from Amazon here!

What do you picture when you think of a book about The Hamptons? I imagine glamorous parties and sandy beaches and chic fashion. What’s so unique about The East End is that it highlights a completely different view of The Hamptons. It is grungy and gritty and shows the less alluring side of life on the island. But it is real and honest, highlighting the struggles people experience, which I appreciated.

From the Publisher:

After graduating high school, Corey Halpern would love to leave the Hamptons and never look back. He is stuck though, saddled with responsibility for his alcoholic mother, Gina, and his younger brother. So for now, he finds momentary escape by breaking and entering. The night before Memorial Day weekend, he targets the estate of Leo Sheffield, the billionaire CEO for whom he and Gina work. But everything goes awry. Leo arrives suddenly—and he’s not alone. As Corey looks on in stunned horror, he witnesses a fatal mishap…as does another traumatized onlooker. With everything to lose, Leo will do whatever it takes to cover up the truth. Things spiral out of control, however. Pushed to their limits, Corey, Gina, and Leo all hurtle towards climactic showdowns as explosive as the holiday fireworks lighting up the night sky.

What did I really like about this book? As I’ve already mentioned, it showed the struggles people experience in their everyday lives, highlighting vulnerabilities and insecurities. Written from both the perspectives of the rich and glamorous and the poor and working class, I enjoyed the juxtaposition of higher and lower class characters in terms of lifestyle, but seeing how similar their lives were in terms of challenges and personality flaws.

It also had a fantastic hook in the beginning that captured my attention from the start. I wanted to know what would happen next and how the characters would get themselves out of the predicaments they found themselves in.

The things that I struggled with?
1. I felt like there was a lot of redundancy in terms of story line. To be honest, there wasn’t a whole lot of substance but the author managed to stretch out the story across 300 pages. I did feel there were times where the story was continuously rehashed and I ended up losing patience and attention along the way, wishing it would get to the point a little faster.
2. In my opinion, the characters made some awful decisions that didn’t seem super realistic. If they would have just made a different (and more logical) decision in the beginning of the book, everything would have been a lot easier on everybody.
3. I struggled with the “crime” plot holes. Spoiler alert: There would have been a mountain of forensic evidence pointing at all of the main characters, but somehow that wasn’t the case in the end. I found that portion of a story a tad hard to believe.

Overall, although there were some elements that I didn’t care for, I enjoyed Jason Allen’s writing and appreciated the premise of The East End. If you’re looking for a book depicting realistic characters who attempt to overcome their flaws and struggles, this is the book for you.

-I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Jason Allen, and Park Row Books for the opportunity to review.-

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Audiobook Review, General Fiction (Adult), Mystery

Half of What You Hear by Kristyn Kusek Lewis

Half of What You HearHalf of What You Hear by Kristyn Kusek Lewis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The cover of this book is what really caught my attention… because, yes, I do judge books by their covers. So sue me! It had this mysterious appeal that drew me in. Who or what is behind that half open door in the darkness? So onto the library list it went.

I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed. It wasn’t quite as mysterious as I hoped it would be.

The basic premise of the story is that a woman moves to a small town community to help run her husband’s family inn. And it turns into a Desperate Housewives situation where everybody in the small down has a secret. Beyond that, there are a bunch of story lines that branch off in many different directions, which I think may be the reason I didn’t feel completely engaged. There was a lot going on. And while it eventually all tied together, while I was reading I had a hard time committing myself to any one story (let alone all of them).

The one thing I did really enjoy about this book is the gossipy turn Kristyn Kusek Lewis took. There were several times throughout that the author wrote from the perspective of townspeople gossiping in local watering holes or shops about the characters in the larger story. It added a fresh note that I appreciated and enjoyed.

While I didn’t love Half of What You Hear, I liked it enough. It held my interest and I never considered not finishing it as I was reading. I always wanted to know how things would turn out. It just wasn’t a show stopper for me.

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