Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Review: Matchmaking for Beginners, by Maddie Dawson

And I—I am just a damaged object they're all trying to patch up and haul back onto the sales floor. They love me and they will sit with me while I find the necessary prerequisites for their estimation of a happy life: a new job, a new man, a car, and later on, furniture, a house, some babies. I need endless help, apparently.

In the meantime, they say, here's the story we're giving you: California was a mistake. Your life up to now has been a big, blurry mistake, but luckily you're moving on. We caught you just in time.

My California life, my adulthood, quietly folds itself up like a map and tiptoes away. Nobody but me even sees it go.

I really enjoyed this book, and later I realized that the author wrote another novel I also reviewed, The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness. This novel was very different from that one, but still just as good.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Matchmaking for Beginners, by Maddie Dawson
Marnie MacGraw wants an ordinary life—a husband, kids, and a minivan in the suburbs. Now that she’s marrying the man of her dreams, she’s sure this is the life she’ll get. Then Marnie meets Blix Holliday, her fiancĂ©’s irascible matchmaking great-aunt who’s dying, and everything changes—just as Blix told her it would.

When her marriage ends after two miserable weeks, Marnie is understandably shocked. She’s even more astonished to find that she’s inherited Blix’s Brooklyn brownstone along with all of Blix’s unfinished “projects”: the heartbroken, oddball friends and neighbors running from happiness. Marnie doesn’t believe she’s anything special, but Blix somehow knew she was the perfect person to follow in her matchmaker footsteps.

And Blix was also right about some things Marnie must learn the hard way: love is hard to recognize, and the ones who push love away often are the ones who need it most.


Marnie is engaged to Noah, and she meets his "kooky" great-aunt Blix at their engagement party. Blix senses a kindred soul in Marnie: they're both "matchmakers," meaning they know things and they know who might work best together. Despite the fact that their meeting was short, when Blix passes away a few months later, she leaves her Brooklyn brownstone to Marniewho has never been to New York, much less Brooklyn.

Once the New York part of the book starts, it reminded me of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt a bit (which also takes place in Brooklyn)—the brownstone is large and Blix had tenants, which makes Marnie's decision to stay or to sell the brownstone a bit harder, even though her life (and new fianceenot Noah!) is now back in her home state of Florida.

The characters were all very well thought-out here, too, and although I had a feeling how the book would end—Blix kind of predicts it early on, actuallyI still was curious to see how the author would get the characters to that point.

4.5 stars out of 5.
{click here to purchase}

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A Blood Thing, by James Hankins {ends 5/24}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

As he spoke, Pickman allowed his eyes to drift slowly across the mosaic filling the wall opposite him, as he often did when in this room. The colors and connections. The angles and patterns. A seamless web, the labor of a year of his life. It could have been hanging in a museum of modern art, more beautiful by far than anything painted by Jackson Pollock. But where the appeal of Pollock’s work grew from what Pickman perceived to be a chaos barely contained by the edge of the canvas, the beauty of his own masterpiece lay in the fact that the colors and connections and patterns and angles represented order, rigid precision, and efficiency – a study in complex yet flawless perfection. It was stunning in both form and function. It was, by far, his greatest work.


I actually finished this book more than a week ago, but I’m still working out the details in my mind. Wow! The plot of A Blood Thing by James Hankins was so intricate and well thought out, then expertly presented. The beginning of the book had crimes committed that you really hoped couldn’t have been done by the alleged criminal who all the evidence pointed to—but who else would have done it?

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A Blood Thing, by James Hankins
Vermont’s promising young governor, Andrew Kane, is at another public meet-and-greet when a stranger from the crowd slips him a cell phone and whispers, “Keep this with you…keep it secret…you’re going to need it after the arrest.”

Hours later, Andrew’s brother, Tyler, is taken into custody—framed for the brutal murder of a young woman—and Andrew discovers there is only one way to free him: answer the mysterious phone and agree to a blackmailer’s demands. All the governor has to do to make it all go away is compromise everything he stands for and grant a full pardon to a convicted felon. With no better option, he complies. Which is his first mistake…because the stranger isn’t through with him. He has another little condition. Then another. And another. And Andrew has no choice but to play along until he can find a way out of this personal and political nightmare. But he isn’t prepared for what he will face, or how far he will have to go to save his brother and keep his family together.


I can’t wait to catch up on my reading and read this again. Yup. The bad buy’s plan is so intricate and convincing, reading it again will give me another chance to see how it all fits together, while knowing that it does indeed fit.

Someone slips a phone to the governor at a public appearance, and a blackmailer’s plan is set in motion. Every time it seems the governor and those in his family are getting closer to solving and stopping the plan to ruin their lives, they come up to another dead end, or more incriminating evidence against them.

I would definitely recommend this book. I give it 5 out of 5 stars, because I want to read it again. The characters were likable and complex on their own, and the plan against them is truly staggering to unravel.

A Blood Thing will be in stores and online on June 5, 2018.

{click here to pre-order}

Becki Bayley is a school employee looking forward to the summer off to read more and blog at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

Three of my lucky readers will win a hardcover copy of A Blood Thing!

Enter to win via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, May 24th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.

Good luck!

Hardcover copy of A Blood Thing - 3 winners

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Someone to Love, by Melissa de la Cruz {ends 5/16}

"I'm not seeing anyone besides you," Zach says. "And I don't plan to." Does that mean he wants to be exclusive? That he wants to be an official couple?

Couple is such a weird word. Two people who are closely associated, who are of the same sort. I start thinking. Are we of the same sort?

I hope so. I've needed someone to love for so long.

I'm a big fan of Melissa de la Cruz's books, and this was her first "normal" YA book I've read—I say "normal" meaning it wasn't about vampires or other paranormal people. Alex & Eliza was about humans, as well, but it was about Alexander Hamilton and thus set in the past. Someone to Love is set in the present and focuses on a congressman's daughter, and her struggles with bulimia and with acceptance.

Official synopsis:
Constantly in the spotlight thanks to her politician father's rising star, Olivia Blakely feels the pressure to be perfect. As the youngest girl in her class, she tries hard to keep up and to seem mature to the older boy she's crushing on, even as she catches his eye. But the need to look good on camera and at school soon grows into an all-consuming struggle with bulimia.

As Liv works toward her goal of gaining early admission to art school, including taking part in an upcoming student show, her life spirals out of control. Swept up in demands to do more than she's ready for, to always look perfect and to succeed, Liv doesn't know who she is anymore. It will take nearly losing her best friend and even her life for Liv to learn that loving herself is far more important than earning the world's approval.

Olivia is an interesting character. Even though she's already skinny, she binges and purges—her goal weight is 100 pounds, and she weighs about 112 pounds in the beginning of the book—because of her bulimia. She has a crush on a guy at school, Zach, and eventually they start dating, but he's not who he seems. She also is very interested in art, and wants to make a name for herself outside of her congressman father's legacy.

This was not my favorite of de la Cruz's books, but is still a good read, especially if you like reading books about high school students or those who struggle with issues. Olivia is immature but matures throughout the novel, and by the end of it, she's more aware that she has an issue (bulimia) and that it's not healthy for her to continue like she has been doing. She also "finds herself" throughout the book and has a more set career path by the end of it. 

3.5 stars out of 5.
{click here to purchase}

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Someone to Love!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, May 16th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified the next day via email and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Someone to Love, by Melissa de la Cruz

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Book Review: Beautiful Bodies, by Kimberly Rae Miller

Guest review by: Erin Krajenke

"I'm addicted to dieting. I've never meet a diet I didn't want to try. Okay, maybe the Master Cleanse (I imagine there's a lot of heartburn involved), but other than that I would try them all, and I have. Well, most of them. I have eaten nothing but meat, nothing but raw vegetables, nothing but fruit, nothing but juice. I have counted points, calories, and macros; scarfed down all of my meals in a six-hour feeding window; banished gluten and dairy; and had pre-portioned food delivered to my apartment in the wee hours of the morning by elves. I have paid an arthritic old Romanian woman in a dentists' office to sodomize me with a hose, flood my colon with filtered water, and the suck my feces out with the very same hose. All of it in the name of weight loss. Dieting is my only real hobby.”

“…I have come to rely on the structure and hope diets provide as a way of anchoring myself to the world. When there are no rules or promises to life, a diet provides them. When things are at their most stressful, calorie counting is a refuge of control. I am aware that this is very much in line with disordered eating behavior. I have no concept of what ordered eating looks like. I'm not in the slightest bit alone, though; disordered eating has become so culturally ubiquitous that we now have a name for people who are too healthy, relentlessly healthy, people who take every article someone like me writes to heart and adjust their life accordingly. Orthorexia is just one of a long list of new feeding and eating disorders we can now be classified as having."

"…Weight gain and loss is a simple equation: we gain weight because we take in more calories that our body needs to fuel its functioning. We lose weight by expending more energy than we take in as calories in our food. What isn't quite that simple is determining just how many calories each of us needs to achieve our personally, medically, or socially acceptable body - whatever our goal is. Our bodies don't come off an assembly line. Two people of similar weight, height, body shape, and lifestyle can eat the same foods but with vastly different results. Some people require fewer calories than others. Their bodies are models of metabolic efficiency: they seem to hardly need any food at all to function in the world, and if they were to eat the recommended amount of food suggested by governing guidelines, they would actually gain weight. Their body is a great betrayer, who can bump up the needle on the scale in one moderately indulgent weekend.

Then there are a lucky few who have metabolic cycles that essentially burn off excess fuel as it enters the body, regardless of their energy output, people with the coveted "good metabolism" who seem to maintain a slim build regardless of eating habits. Although to be fair, men and women of this type have a harder time building muscle for the same reason that they have a hard time retaining body fat. Most of us are somewhere in between these two, but most of us also feel firmly we're the former. I do."


Initially, I was really into this book. It is part a history on diets which I found interesting, and part memoir which seemed relatable and funny. I liked the book and I liked the author. Her writing style was fun and breezy, but the more I read, I couldn't help but think that she needs to get some serious help: that she has body dysmorphia and that she should not be dispensing health and fitness advice to anyone. She seems to have an addiction to it that is not healthy.

Official synopsis:
Like most people, Kimberly Rae Miller does not have the perfect body, but that hasn't stopped her from trying. And trying. And trying some more. She's been at it since she was four years old, when Sesame Street inspired her to go on her first diet. Post college, after a brief stint as a diet-pill model, she became a health-and-fitness writer and editor working on celebrities' bestselling bios - sugar-coating the trials and tribulations celebs endure to stay thin.

But what is the ideal body? Knowing she's far from alone in this struggle, Kim sets out to find the objective definition of this seemingly unattainable level of perfection. While on a fascinating and hilarious journey through time that takes her from obese Paleolithic cavewoman, to the bland menus that Drs. Graham and Kellogg prescribe to promote good morals in additional to good health, to the binge-drinking-prone regimen that caused William the Conqueror's body to explode at his own funeral, Kim ends up discovering a lot more about her relationship with her own body.


Warm, funny, and brutally honest, Beautiful Bodies is a blend of memoir and social history that will speak to anyone who's ever been caught in a power struggle with his or her own body...in other words, just about everyone.
While I enjoyed the carefree writing style of the author, at times it got to be too much. The personal parts of the story were not told in a linear fashion which made the story feel disorganized and jumbled. She would start to talk about one thing, switch over to something else, and then it was like she forgot that she never made her original point and went back to it many pages later. 

In the beginning of the book, she mentions going to the New York Public Library to conduct research. Nothing comes of that story and she switches over to another topic. Over 100 pages later, she goes back to finish that story in the library. And based on the lifelong struggle she portrays, one would think she is morbidly obese: when in reality, she is 5’6” and for most of the story, has a healthy BMI. The heaviest she admits to being is a size 14, her smallest a size 8, which according to her is still too big. I feel like once many readers discover this, it might turn them off from her struggle and stop viewing her story relatable as she does not really seem to have the weight problem she is portraying. I have to admit that I was feeling for her struggle up until that point. From there, I felt more like she was not qualified to complain about her weight struggles when many people have it significantly worse than her.

Fortunately, towards the end of the story, she seemed to realize being a certain weight is not that important in the grand scheme of things as long as you are healthy and happy and she was able to come to terms with her life and her body which brought her to a more body positive conclusion. This story started out great, took a slump, and then regained itself in the end for me:

"…There are seven billion bodies in the world, and I got this one. It may not be the best one, but it's far from being the worst. It comes from a long line of people who have survived things much more harrowing than social-media bullying…I've gotten the best they had to offer. It's a strong body and a soft body, and while it's not as beautiful as I'd have liked, it's the only one I will ever have, so I'm, working on being thankful for it."

3 stars out of 5.
{click here to purchase}


Erin Krajenke is a chatty Virgo. She is glad warmer weather is finally here so she can enjoy brunch on many of metro Detroit’s outdoor patios.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Love and Other Words, by Christina Lauren {ends 5/8}

It doesn't set off alarm bells in my head, sure, but it doesn't send goose bumps across my skin, either. It doesn't make my chest ache so deliciously I'm nearly breathless. I don't feel urgent, or desperate, or too hot in my own skin because I'm so hungry for him. And in a tight gasp that Sean reads as pleasure, I worry that Elliot is right and I'm wrong andlike alwayshe's taking care of both of our hearts while I flop around, trying to figure it all out. 

I feel my thoughts circling something, the same thing over and over, how Elliot went home after seeing me and broke up with Rachel.

He only had to see me to know, whereas I can barely trust a single feeling I have. 

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Christina Lauren's books—I've reviewed most, if not all, of them. This is their first foray into fiction, since their other books are probably classified as more "New Adult," and it's a great read.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Love and Other Words, by Christina Lauren
Love, loss, friendship, and the betrayals of the past all collide in this first fiction novel from New York Times and #1 international bestselling author Christina Lauren (Autoboyography, Dating You / Hating You).

The story of the heart can never be unwritten.

Macy Sorensen is settling into an ambitious if emotionally tepid routine: work hard as a new pediatrics resident, plan her wedding to an older, financially secure man, keep her head down and heart tucked away.

But when she runs into Elliot Petropoulos—the first and only love of her life—the careful bubble she’s constructed begins to dissolve. Once upon a time, Elliot was Macy’s entire world—growing from her gangly bookish friend into the man who coaxed her heart open again after the loss of her mother...only to break it on the very night he declared his love for her.

Told in alternating timelines between Then and Now, teenage Elliot and Macy grow from friends to much more—spending weekends and lazy summers together in a house outside of San Francisco devouring books, sharing favorite words, and talking through their growing pains and triumphs. As adults, they have become strangers to one another until their chance reunion. Although their memories are obscured by the agony of what happened that night so many years ago, Elliot will come to understand the truth behind Macy’s decade-long silence, and will have to overcome the past and himself to revive her faith in the possibility of an all-consuming love.

We all have that one person from our high school years that we either had a crush on, or whom was our "first love"in Macy's case, that boy was Elliot. She was very close with him when she was in high school, even though she didn't attend the same school as him, but in the present, she hasn't seen nor spoken to him for eleven years. When she sees him at a local coffee shop and realizes that they now live in the same town, her distance is immediately shattered, and her memories cause her to evaluate all of the relationships in her life, including the one with her fiancee, Sean, whom she's only been dating for a few months.

I loved this book—the ending is predictable-ish but how they get there is surprising. The novel is told from two time periods: the present, where Macy is a doctor and about to marry Sean, and the past, where we see Macy growing up with just her dad—her mother died of cancer when she was younger—and where her best friend is Elliot.

Fans of Christina Lauren will definitely enjoy this book, and I'd recommend it for anyone who likes a good love story, as well.

5 stars out of 5.
{click here to purchase}

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Love and Other Words!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, May 8th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Paperback copy of Love and Other Words, by Christina Lauren

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Quick Pick book review: You Think It, I'll Say It, by Curtis Sittenfeld

  • Opening lines: (Gender Studies)
    Nell and Henry always said that they would wait until marriage was legal for everyone in America, and now this is the case—it's August 2015—but earlier in the week Henry eloped with his graduate student Bridget. Bridget is twenty-three, moderately but not dramatically attractive (one of the few nonstereotypical aspects of the situation, Nell thinks, is Bridget's lack of dramatic attractiveness), and Henry and Bridget had been dating for six months. They began having an affair last winter, when Henry and Nell were still together; then in April, Henry moved out of the house he and Nell own and directly into Bridget's apartment. Nell and Henry had been a couple for eleven years.
  • Reason I picked up the book: Curtis Sittenfeld is one of my favorite authors - even though I don't usually read short stories, I knew if she was the author of them then the collection had to be good. 
  • And what's this book about?
  • Curtis Sittenfeld has established a reputation as a sharp chronicler of the modern age who humanizes her subjects even as she skewers them. Now, with this first collection of short fiction, her “astonishing gift for creating characters that take up residence in readers’ heads” (The Washington Post) is showcased like never before.

    Throughout the ten stories in You Think It, I’ll Say It, Sittenfeld upends assumptions about class, relationships, and gender roles in a nation that feels both adrift and viscerally divided. In “The World Has Many Butterflies,” married acquaintances play a strangely intimate game with devastating consequences. In “Vox Clamantis in Deserto,” a shy Ivy League student learns the truth about a classmate’s seemingly enviable life. In “A Regular Couple,” a high-powered lawyer honeymooning with her husband is caught off guard by the appearance of the girl who tormented her in high school. And in “The Prairie Wife,” a suburban mother of two fantasizes about the downfall of an old friend whose wholesome lifestyle empire may or may not be built on a lie.

    With moving insight and uncanny precision, Curtis Sittenfeld pinpoints the questionable decisions, missed connections, and sometimes extraordinary coincidences that make up a life. Indeed, she writes what we’re all thinking—if only we could express it with the wit of a master satirist, the storytelling gifts of an old-fashioned raconteur, and the vision of an American original.

  • Recommended for: Anyone who likes short stories, also anyone who enjoys a good stor(ies) in general.
  • Favorite paragraph: There was a rule Clay's mother had about dessert, which was that she couldn't seek it out but if it landed in front of her, she could indulge; not that it would have made his mother proud, but Clay had the same rule about Jenny.
  • Something to know: I'm a huge fan of Sittenfeld's other books - I reviewed Eligible, and both American Wife and Prep were great.
  • What I would have changed: Nothing.
  • Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. 
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to order on Amazon - it was just released yesterday, on April 24th.
*Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book from NetGalley, for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Book Review: The Welcome Home Diner, by Peggy Lampman

Guest review by: Erin Krajenke


"The past year’s been insane. Sam and I purchased the diner two months after we bought our home. Sam’s eyes, unsullied by my gloomier point of view, unlocked a world of opportunities to me. Through the prism of her vision, I came to imagine the decrepit diner as a canvas on which to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood, our decaying home as a palace of potential delight…We divided the two-story house into separate living quarters. Sam lives on the first level, and I’ve set up house on the second. Each floor is about 1,500 square feet. Enough space so we each have a kitchen, living-dining room area, and a bedroom.

…We purchased the house for three thousand dollars in a land-grab auction, sight unseen, and it’s in dire need of repair. But everything’s relative. All that remains of several other houses on our block – as well as those in the vicinity of the diner – are burned wooden beams to suggest there was once a home, a pile of rubble in front to remind us it has a porch.

…It’s amazing how cheap it is to live in Detroit. We’re betting our dwindling start-up capital will tide us over until we can make an income. We couldn’t have opened the diner without Kickstarter, which is an online way of soliciting folks who may be interested in patronizing entrepreneurial ventures. What a godsend, that money.”


This story pulled me in right away. Not only is the writing style fun and easy, but the story revolves around Detroit and Michigan in general (I live in Michigan), and it takes place in a diner, so there is a lot of food talk which I also love.

Official synopsis:
Betting on the city of Detroit’s eventual comeback, cousins Addie and Samantha decide to risk it all on an affordable new house and a culinary career that starts with renovating a vintage diner in a depressed area of town. There’s just one little snag in their vision.

Angus, a weary, beloved local, is strongly opposed to his neighborhood’s gentrification – and his concerns reflect the suspicion of the community. Shocked by their reception, Addie and Samantha begin to have second thoughts.

As the long hours, problematic love interests, and underhanded pressures mount, the two women find themselves increasingly at odds, and soon their problems threaten everything they’ve worked for. If they are going to realize their dreams, Addie and Samantha must focus on rebuilding their relationship. But will the neighborhood open their hearts to welcome them home?

Honestly, the synopsis on the back of the book (above) makes the book sound cheesy to me. This book was an easy and fun story without much conflict. The conflict and struggle it is trying to suggest isn’t very prevalent in the book and in my mind, a slight misrepresentation of the book. It’s as if the story "must" have conflict.

This story is about two cousins from Michigan who move to Detroit, buy a decrepit house, and open an old-school diner. Throughout the story they mention numerous Detroit and Michigan references (Techno Fest, Belle Isle, and Shinola to name a few) which for me, made the story much more relatable, interesting, and fun. The story is about their journey making a name and a home for themselves in a part of town that hasn’t seen any revitalization yet and detailing the ways they are trying to help the neighborhood, the neighbors, and the city as a whole. It is a nice story and I liked the comradery of all of the characters. It even included many recipes in the back of the book for items mentioned being served at the diner which I thought was fun. In fact, I plan on making the Heartbreaker cookies this weekend. In a way, the story reminded me of a love letter to Detroit.

“I am Detroit. My city is me. Shaped by the grit of our ancestry, we roll onward, rubber burning asphalt, always driving forward. Yesterday we spun out of control. We crashed and we burned, blind to the faces in our rearview mirror, broken glass in the street. But that was then. This is now. And we’re back at the wheel. Time to hustle our jam, here’s my ode, dear D. It’s time for us to shine.” 

Fun Fact: The more I read this story, the more it reminded me of Rose’s Fine Food in Detroit. I contacted the author, and it turns out, that was in fact the inspiration for the story. So after you read it, go check out the diner! Rose’s Fine Food: 10551 E Jefferson Ave, Detroit, MI 48214.

Star rating: 5/5 stars
{click here to purchase}


Erin Krajenke is a chatty Virgo. On a recent trip to Thailand, she discovered the joy of mango sticky rice, the bliss of butterfly pea tea, and the misery of ascertaining a cashew allergy while on a 13 hour flight.

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