Audiobook Review: People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

Title: People We Meet on Vacation
Author: Emily Henry
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: May 11, 2021
Print length: 364 pages
Audio length: 10 hours 46 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased (Kindle); Library (audio)
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Two best friends. Ten summer trips. One last chance to fall in love.

Poppy and Alex. Alex and Poppy. They have nothing in common. She’s a wild child; he wears khakis. She has insatiable wanderlust; he prefers to stay home with a book. And somehow, ever since a fateful car share home from college many years ago, they are the very best of friends. For most of the year they live far apart—she’s in New York City, and he’s in their small hometown—but every summer, for a decade, they have taken one glorious week of vacation together.

Until two years ago, when they ruined everything. They haven’t spoken since.

Poppy has everything she should want, but she’s stuck in a rut. When someone asks when she was last truly happy, she knows, without a doubt, it was on that ill-fated, final trip with Alex. And so, she decides to convince her best friend to take one more vacation together—lay everything on the table, make it all right. Miraculously, he agrees.

Now she has a week to fix everything. If only she can get around the one big truth that has always stood quietly in the middle of their seemingly perfect relationship. What could possibly go wrong?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Beach Read, a sparkling new novel that will leave you with the warm, hazy afterglow usually reserved for the best vacations. 

Poppy and Alex are a delightful pairing in all the right ways. They’re diametrically opposed when it comes to lifestyle and goals. Poppy dreams of travel and freedom; Alex dreams of home and family and being settled. He’s uptight, she’s loose and open. And yet, they bond so tightly that everyone and everything else in their lives are extraneous. So long as they have each other, even if they only see each other during their annual summer trips, then their lives are good.

But something went wrong two summers ago, and they haven’t talked since. And for Poppy, nothing makes sense any more. She has her dream job, working for a high-end travel magazine and basically getting paid to go anywhere in the world and enjoy the hell out of it… but her life has been pretty joyless ever since Alex was removed from the equation.

People We Meet on Vacation is framed around “this summer”, but interspersed chapters take us back to “10 summers ago”, “5 summers ago”, etc. Through these chapters that show past history, we get to experience the depth of Alex and Poppy’s connection, why they mean so much to one another, and get hints of why they are the way they are, as we learn more about their families, their upbringings, and their formative years.

I loved the chemistry and the adorable banter between the two. They’re funny in so many unexpected ways. Any scene that they’re both in absolutely shines.

At the same time, there’s plenty of harder times in the mix as well. Why did their friendship fall apart? Why do they seem to have such a hard time identifying what they want? Why do none of their romantic partners ever work out for them?

The travel segments add crazy fun, as most of their plans end up derailed or taken in unexpected directions, and their random adventures and encounters keep the entertainment value of this novel high.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the masterful Julia Whelan, and it was a delight. I can see why people become fans of certain audiobook narrators. I’ve now listened to more than a few audiobooks narrated by Julia Whelan, and she’s truly gifted. Here, her voices for Poppy and Alex are perfectly tuned to their personalities, and her delivery of their funnier exchanges made me laugh out loud.

I have to admit that it was touch and go for me for the first few chapters. The introduction of Poppy’s best friend, a social media influencer, made me want to duck out, and their discussion of “millennial ennui” was practically the nail in the coffin… but since I really enjoyed my last book by this author (Beach Read), I decided to stick with it. And I’m glad I did!

People We Meet on Vacation is surprisingly insightful for a book with such an upbeat cover and title. It allows its characters to dig into their wants and needs (while also showcasing their outstanding chemistry and dynamics), including introspective moments that give greater depth to the story without ever weighing it down.

This ended up being an excellent audio experience — highly recommended!

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Book Review: Eight Perfect Hours by Lia Louis

Title: Eight Perfect Hours
Author: Lisa Louis
Publisher: Atria
Publication date: September 28, 2021
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

In this romantic and heartwarming novel, two strangers meet in chance circumstances during a blizzard and spend one perfect evening together, thinking they’ll never see each other again. But fate seems to have different plans.

On a snowy evening in March, 30-something Noelle Butterby is on her way back from an event at her old college when disaster strikes. With a blizzard closing off roads, she finds herself stranded, alone in her car, without food, drink, or a working charger for her phone. All seems lost until Sam Attwood, a handsome American stranger also trapped in a nearby car, knocks on her window and offers assistance. What follows is eight perfect hours together, until morning arrives and the roads finally clear.

The two strangers part, positive they’ll never see each other again, but fate, it seems, has a different plan. As the two keep serendipitously bumping into one another, they begin to realize that perhaps there truly is no such thing as coincidence. With plenty of charming twists and turns and Lia Louis’s “bold, standout voice” (Gillian McAllister, author of The Good Sister), Eight Perfect Hours is a gorgeously crafted novel that will make you believe in the power of fate. 

Do you believe in destiny and meant-to-be? If so, Eight Perfect Hours will make your heart happy… and if not, you may find yourself scoffing a bit, but you’ll still be in for a sweet and thoughtful read.

In Eight Perfect Hours, Noelle becomes stuck in a snowy traffic jam on the way home from an upsetting and disappointing reunion. Sad over the memories stirred up, heart-broken over a letter retrieved from a time capsule, Noelle finds herself a teary mess without phone service or charger while stuck on the road — until a (handsome, of course) stranger offers her a warm spot in his passenger seat and the use of his power cord.

As the two wait out the traffic shutdown together, they share stories, dreams, and laughs, and seem instantly connected… but when the roads clear, they say goodbye and go their separate ways.

Noelle has a lot on her plate in her regular life. She dreams of becoming a florist and has a real gift for flower arranging, but she works instead as a cleaner while supporting and caring for her homebound mother. While she has a delightfully hippy-ish best friend, she’s still lonely. Two years earlier, her long-term boyfriend/fiance dumped her when she declined to leave her mother to follow him to an overseas job. At the center of Noelle’s sorrow, though, are her memories of Daisy, her high school best friend who died in a car accident at age 18. Noelle has never gotten over Daisy’s death, and carries around enormous guilt over something she could not have prevented.

After the traffic jam and those eight perfect hours, Noelle’s life goes back to same-old, same-old, until she randomly encounters Sam once again. And once again, their instant connection sparks back to life — but when she suggests that they keep in touch, he’s not so enthusiastic. Still, Noelle and Sam continue to bump into one another or find out that they’re connected in various ways, and eventually, Noelle becomes convinced that the connections between her and Sam can’t possibly just be random.

Is it fate? Were they always meant to meet? What is it that’s brought them together, and what does it all mean?

Eight Perfect Hours is a touching love story that also highlights the devastating and long-lasting effects of grief and guilt. It also presents different views of love: Is settling into a relationship that’s comfortable enough? How much can a person change their life, and if they have the chance, should they? How does someone balance love, individual happiness, and goals with family obligations and commitments?

These are all important questions, and the author gives Noelle great food for thought as she works through all of her issues and finds ways to address the traumas of her past.

As for the romance, while I really liked Noelle and Sam together, I’m not personally a huge believer in destiny and the one perfect soulmate, so bits of the story started feeling pretty farfetched to me. Still, even the more outlandish coincidences are balanced out by explorations of emotional connection, friendship, and purpose, so I could ignore the elements that didn’t particularly work for me.

On a quibbling note, I did feel like the “eight perfect hours” that Noelle and Sam spent together weren’t fleshed out enough. In the moment, while reading about their initial time together, I didn’t get the full sense of how special it was. The connection between them was described through Noelle’s thoughts and reactions, but I didn’t actually see it. I wish this part had been stronger, but their chemistry becomes more obvious over the course of the novel, so this wasn’t a huge issue, more a minor annoyance.

Overall, Eight Perfect Hours is a fast, engaging read about characters who really moved me. If you enjoy contemporary romances, check this one out!

PS – A quick note on the cover: This is NOT a Christmas book (in fact, the snowstorm/traffic jam takes place in March), and I feel like the cover makes this seem like much more of an upbeat holiday book than it actually is.

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Book Review: Cackle by Rachel Harrison

Title: Cackle
Author: Rachel Harrison
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: October 5, 2021
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

All her life, Annie has played it nice and safe. After being unceremoniously dumped by her longtime boyfriend, Annie seeks a fresh start. She accepts a teaching position that moves her from Manhattan to a small village upstate. She’s stunned by how perfect and picturesque the town is. The people are all friendly and warm. Her new apartment is dreamy too, minus the oddly persistent spider infestation.

Then Annie meets Sophie. Beautiful, charming, magnetic Sophie, who takes a special interest in Annie, who wants to be her friend. More importantly, she wants Annie to stop apologizing and start living for herself. That’s how Sophie lives. Annie can’t help but gravitate toward the self-possessed Sophie, wanting to spend more and more time with her, despite the fact that the rest of the townsfolk seem…a little afraid of her. And like, okay. There are some things. Sophie’s appearance is uncanny and ageless, her mansion in the middle of the woods feels a little unearthly, and she does seem to wield a certain power…but she couldn’t be…could she?

Feeling witchy? Cackle is a perfect choice for the spooky month of October!

As Cackle opens, Annie’s life, to be blunt, sucks. Her long-term boyfriend has informed her that their relationship is more friendship than romance — but since good apartments are hard to come by, they keep living together, taking turns on the futon, for five more months. No wonder Annie is depressed and in a rut, especially since Josh was so much the center of her world for all these years that she never developed a friend circle and is now alone and miserable.

Annie finally makes a change in her life, and it’s a big one: She’s moves from Manhattan to the small town of Rowan in upstate New York, where she accepts a teaching job at a local high school and moves into a rented apartment. She doesn’t quite know how to connect with locals and worries that she’s made a terrible mistake… until she meets Sophie.

Sophie is beautiful and kind, immediately taking an interest in helping Annie settle in and offering her unconditional friendship. But why do the townspeople all seem so deferential and even afraid when it comes to Sophie? Sophie takes Annie to her mansion in the woods, showers her with gifts, and offers her a refuge in which to be pampered and recenter her life. And Annie loves it — but is Sophie too good to be true?

Cackle is a fun romp, with some scary/slightly gross moments in the mix, but it stays mostly on the lighter side. There’s a lot of pleasure to be found in Annie’s enjoyment of Sophie’s friendship, even while red flags are popping up everywhere. (There’s also super adorable Ralph, and I’m not going to say any more about him! You need to meet him for yourself.) While it seems clear from the start that Sophie has secrets, Annie remains oblivious for quite a while, and even when she begins to sort it all out, her responses aren’t entirely what I would have expected.

This is an enjoyable pre-Halloween read — not too heavy or serious, some good character development and support of not bowing to others’ opinions, finding one’s true self, and a celebration of friendship. Plus… witches!!

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Book Review: An Observant Wife by Naomi Ragen

Title: An Observant Wife
Author: Naomi Ragen
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: September 14, 2021
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

In this rich and compassionate novel, An Observant Wife, Naomi Ragen continues the love story between newly observant California-girl Leah and ultra-Orthodox widower Yaakov from An Unorthodox Match.

From the joy of their wedding day surrounded by supportive friends and family, Yaakov and Leah are soon plunged into the complex reality of their new lives together as Yaakov leaves his beloved yeshiva to work in the city, and Leah confronts the often agonizing restrictions imposed by religious laws governing even the most intimate moments of their married lives. Adding to their difficulties is the hostility of some in the community who continue to view Leah as a dangerous interloper, questioning her sincerity and adherence to religious laws and spreading outrageous rumors. In the midst of their heartfelt attempts to reach a balance between their human needs and their spiritual obligations, the discovery of a secret, forbidden relationship between troubled teenage daughter Shaindele and a local boy precipitates a maelstrom of life-changing consequences for all. 

In An Unorthodox Match, we were introduced to Leah, a 30-something woman who turns to ultra-Orthodox Judaism after leading a mostly secular life, desperate for meaning and true connection to something greater than herself. As she enters the religious community of Boro Park in Brooklyn, she comes to care for a widowed man named Yaakov and his motherless children.

Here, in An Observant Wife, we follow Leah and Yaakov as the story continues with their wedding and early marriage. Leah has found true love with a good and kind man who loves her back, and she’s found fulfillment by becoming a mother to his young children, whom she loves unreservedly. She’s also made piece with his 17-year-old daugher Shaindele, who in the first book was set on sabotaging the relationship, but has now come to accept and even appreciate Leah’s innate goodness and the joy she’s brought back to their little family.

While Leah is committed to her family and to the complicated rules of behavior that come with with life in the religious community, the community does not truly accept her. Seemingly innocent moments get blown out of proportion and become the fodder for increasingly hostile gossip. When Shaindele is unwise and gets involved in a secret relationship with the black sheep son of a powerful family, the scandal can only be contained by agreeing to a harsh set of decrees from her school principle, but these in turn put Shaindele at risk. And when Leah and Yaakov take a stand to protect her, their entire way of life, as well as their family’s safety, is on the line.

Without going into detail, I will say that once again the author delivers an insider’s look into a world that feels like a completely alien culture. Even as someone raised in an observant Jewish household, I find this setting among the ultra-Orthodox startling and eye-opening. The rules governing every single moment of one’s life seem oppressive and often degrading to me, yet the author does an effective job of conveying how the people within the community find meaning and reinforcement of their faith by virtue of these guidelines for how to live a proper life.

The book perhaps spends too much time on introspection, as we follow the thoughts and feelings of not just Leah, but also Yaakov, Shaindele, and the family’s grandmother, Fruma Esther. It’s interesting to see how they deal with their lives and their religious obligations, but the plot can bog down when there are pages of contemplation and inner turmoil.

The plot takes some dramatic turns, and by the end, I was very invested in the characters’ well-being and their relationships. I did feel that the wrap-up was a little too neat and ideal, but the path to get there was certainly worthwhile.

Overall, An Observant Wife is a fascinating look into a world that can feel like a throwback to an earlier century for a 21st century reader, yet it’s set very much in the contemporary world of the ultra-Orthodox. I really came to care for the characters and could appreciate their devotion to their way of life, even while knowing that the religious elements that would absolute send me running in the other direction if they ever applied to my own life.

This book and An Unorthodox Match are both worth reading — the unusual setting and the memorable characters bring this world and its people to life.

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Shelf Control #286: Sorry I Missed You by Suzy Krause

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Sorry I Missed You
Author: Suzy Krause
Published: 2020
Length: 315 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A poignant and heartwarming novel about friendship, ghosting, and searching for answers to life’s mysteries.

When Mackenzie, Sunna, and Maude move into a converted rental house, they are strangers with only one thing in common—important people in their lives have “ghosted” them. Mackenzie’s sister, Sunna’s best friend, and Maude’s fiancé—all gone with no explanation.

So when a mangled, near-indecipherable letter arrives in their shared mailbox—hinting at long-awaited answers—each tenant assumes it’s for her. The mismatched trio decides to stake out the coffee shop named in the letter—the only clue they have—and in the process, a bizarre kinship forms. But the more they learn about each other, the more questions (and suspicions) they begin to have. All the while, creepy sounds and strange happenings around the property suggest that the ghosts from their pasts might not be all that’s haunting them…

Will any of the housemates find the closure they are looking for? Or are some doors meant to remain closed?

Quirky, humorous, and utterly original, Sorry I Missed You is the perfect read for anyone who has ever felt haunted by their past (or by anything else).

How and when I got it:

I believe this was one of Amazon’s free monthly choices for Prime members last spring, so I grabbed it.

Why I want to read it:

Honestly, I didn’t even remember that I had this on my Kindle until I went looking for ideas for this week’s Shelf Control post! It must have been a spontaneous click on the “buy now” button…

In any case, don’t we all need light, cheery contemporary stories from time to time? I can’t tell from the description whether there is actually supposed to be a ghostly element to the story (I’m guessing not), but it sounds like fun. I like the sound of strangers becoming friends as they look into mysterious messages, and it sounds like it would be a good upbeat read.

IWhat do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
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Have fun!

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Audiobook Review: The Stand-In by Lily Chu

Title: The Stand-In
Author: Lily Chu
Narrator: Phillipa Soo
Publisher: Audible Originals
Publication date: July 15, 2021
Print length: n/a
Audio length: 10 hours 55 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Audible Plus Catalog
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

How to upend your life:
–Get fired by gross, handsy boss
–Fail to do laundry (again)
–Be mistaken for famous Chinese actress
–Fall head-first into glitzy new world

Gracie Reed is doing just fine. Sure, she was fired by her overly “friendly” boss, and yes, she still hasn’t gotten her mother into the nursing home of their dreams, but she’s healthy, she’s (somewhat) happy, and she’s (mostly) holding it all together.

But when a mysterious SUV pulls up beside her, revealing Chinese cinema’s golden couple Wei Fangli and Sam Yao, Gracie’s world is turned on its head. The famous actress has a proposition: Due to their uncanny resemblance, Fangli wants Gracie to be her stand-in. The catch? Gracie will have to be escorted by Sam, the most attractive—and infuriating—man Gracie’s ever met.

If it means getting the money she needs for her mother, Gracie’s in. Soon Gracie moves into a world of luxury she never knew existed. But resisting Sam, and playing the role of an elegant movie star, proves more difficult than she ever imagined—especially when she learns the real reason Fangli so desperately needs her help. In the end, all the lists in the world won’t be able to help Gracie keep up this elaborate ruse without losing herself… and her heart.

The Stand-In is an Audible Original in which an ordinary woman suddenly gets the chance to experience the lifestyles of the rich and famous. It’s a fun Cinderella story, but it helps to suspend disbelief A LOT to truly enjoy it.

When we meet Gracie, she has a job she hates thanks to a boss who sexually harasses her constantly — but rather than making a fuss or going to HR to report him, Gracie tries even harder to blend into the background, dressing dully and using makeup that’s neutral and not the least bit eye-catching. Gracie’s mother, a Chinese immigrant to Canada, drilled into Gracie’s head that she should always try to fit in, not stand out.

But when Gracie is mistaken for Chinese actress Wei Fangli in a coffee shop, her world changes dramatically. Caught on camera by a paparazzo on a day when she’d called in sick, Gracie is fired by her creepy boss and plunges into despair. How will she afford the nursing home her mother needs if she has no income? With her mother’s dementia steadily progressing, Gracie feels the pressures mounting, and none of her daily planners and apps seem to help her get her life under control. (Remember the bit about the planners — this is important later.)

Gracie is approached by Wei Fangli and her super-hot costar Sam Yao with a proposition: Because of their similar looks, Fangli wants to hire Gracie — for a huge amount of money — to be her public double. Gracie will dress and act like Fangli and attend social engagements in her place, allowing Fangli to just focus on her theater performances and otherwise avoid the pressure of a public life.

Against her better judgment, Gracie accepts the offer. She needs that money! But she soon learns that she likes it, too. She gets to dress in gorgeous clothes, live in a luxury hotel suite, and spend lots and lots of time with Sam. Yes, she feels guilty for essentially lying to everyone she meets as Fangli, but she keeps reminding herself that she’s doing it for her mother.

The Stand-In is a fun fairy tale of a story, with echoes of The Prince and the Pauper too. Wouldn’t every “ordinary” person love the chance to walk in a celebrity’s (high-priced designer) shoes? I wouldn’t say the plot is believable — I mean, they can’t really be that identical, can they? But it’s certainly amusing to see Gracie trying to master the art of posing on a red carpet, being photographed from every angle, and speaking as if she’s used to being the center of attention.

There are some interesting ideas too about public personas and what it means to always be on, especially as compared with someone like Gracie who’s been taught all her life not to make waves. Additionally, Grace is a biracial woman living in Toronto who doesn’t speak Mandarin, yet is impersonating a Mandarin-speaking Chinese actress and is also trying to connect with a mother who slips more and more into the language of her youth. Gracie has to deal with issues related to identity and race, on the one hand being seen as Chinese rather than Canadian, yet being seen by Chinese people she interacts with as not Chinese enough.

There’s also a love story, of course, and while it comes across as absolute wish-fulfillment (the sexiest man in the world falling for an ordinary woman!), it does have some very sweet moments of flirtation, sharing secrets and wishes, and making connections. Also, Sam really is a great character, and it’s easy to see how some of his big romantic gestures might make anyone with a heartbeat swoon.

I really liked Gracie’s blossoming friendship with Fangli and the ways in which they end up helping and supporting one another. I wasn’t crazy about the plotline revolving around Gracie inventing a daily planner. While I suppose the point is to show Gracie finding a way to take control of her own life and make a splash as a businesswoman, there’s too much time spent on her figuring out ways to organize her tasks and to-do lists.

Plotwise, The Stand-In really is more romantic fairy tale than real-life contemporary drama. A lot of the developments are ridiculous if you think about them too hard. If you can put aside the need to say “but this could never happen!”, it’s still a fun listen. I would also add my main quibble about the plot — the old “listening through a doorway and jumping to conclusions” romance trope. This makes me batty — a character overhears a conversation, immediately misinterprets what they hear, and then take dramatic action based on this misinterpretation. It’s just so dumb. At least verify what you think you’ve heard!! Sigh… but then where would the drama be?

In terms of the audiobook narration, it’s a treat to listen to Hamilton star Phillipa Soo. This is her first full-length audiobook — you can read more about her experience recording it here. Overall, I think she does a good job voicing the different characters and making them distinct. The one complaint I have is that in dialogue scenes, it can be hard to tell whether Gracie is thinking a response to herself or saying the response to the other person — her voice isn’t actually different for asides, so it does get confusing.

The Stand-In is an Audible Original and is available (free) as part of the Audible Plus Catalog. For those who have access, I recommend giving it a listen. The story is sweet and engaging, and despite the fairy tale-esque twists and revelations, the characters are really special and will stick with you.

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Audiobook Review: The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary

Title: The Road Trip
Author: Beth O’Leary
Narrators: Josh Dylan, Eleanor Tomlinson
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: June 1, 2021
Print length: 398 pages
Audio length: 10 hours 15 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Two exes reach a new level of awkward when forced to take a road trip together in this endearing and humorous novel by the author of the international bestseller The Flatshare.

What if the end of the road is just the beginning?

Four years ago, Dylan and Addie fell in love under the Provence sun. Wealthy Oxford student Dylan was staying at his friend Cherry’s enormous French villa; wild child Addie was spending her summer as the on-site caretaker. Two years ago, their relationship officially ended. They haven’t spoken since.

Today, Dylan’s and Addie’s lives collide again. It’s the day before Cherry’s wedding, and Addie and Dylan crash cars at the start of the journey there. The car Dylan was driving is wrecked, and the wedding is in rural Scotland–he’ll never get there on time by public transport.

So, along with Dylan’s best friend, Addie’s sister, and a random guy on Facebook who needed a ride, they squeeze into a space-challenged Mini and set off across Britain. Cramped into the same space, Dylan and Addie are forced to confront the choices they made that tore them apart–and ask themselves whether that final decision was the right one after all.

In The Road Trip, exes Dylan and Addie are forced into spending time together on a road trip from hell. In sections alternating between “Now” and “Then”, we see the awful hours spent in the car as well as flashbacks to their first days of romance — and most importantly, learn how they went from swooningly in love to completely estranged over the last few years.

Addie and Dylan first meet in the most romantic of settings, a huge villa in the south of France where Dylan is vacationing and Addie is the summer caretaker. There’s an immediate attraction, and within days they’re spending every waking moment together (as well as every night in bed together). Even when they’re joined by a swarm of Dylan’s buddies (including his posh but toxic best friend Marcus), Dylan and Addie are inseparable.

When the holidays are over, they pick up their relationship back in England, but not without hiccups. Addie is a teacher in training, and Dylan is still trying to find himself. He’s a poet, and wants to pursue a graduate English degree, but his domineering, emotionally abusive father wants him to either join the family business or be cut off entirely. On top of this, Marcus wants Dylan by his side constantly and resents Addie’s presence, and does what he can to pry the two apart.

Meanwhile, in the “now” portions of the story, the cramped Mini and its passengers encounter hazards and accidents and a variety of unfortunate escapades they make them later and later to the wedding. The upside of the crowded car and the endless hours on the road is that Dylan and Addie are literally thrown together, and are finally forced to confront the circumstances that drove them apart. Emotions run high, truths are shared, and ultimately, the couple have an opportunity to face the problems that came between them and to admit to the deep love that still exists.

The Road Trip is not nearly as light and fluffy as I’d expected it to be, but it works remarkably well. The “now” side of things is mostly light-hearted and comical — there’s spilled breast milk and a random trucker and an ill-timed pee break and a musty motel room without enough beds… not to mention a mad dash to save the bride from a stalker and getting lost in a faux castle. It can be quite silly, but the more we get to know the characters, the more endearing it all is.

In the “then” parts of the story, Addie and Dylan go through tremendous ups and downs, and these sections are much more wrenching than the “now”. The author gives a sensitive portrayal of two young adults with enormous chemistry and a deep love between them, yet shows that other people and other problems can derail even the most devoted of couples. A love story that starts in a summer villa has the feel of a perfect fantasy romance, but when it has to survive in the real world of jobs and family and unreliable friends, the fantasy elements fall away and the couple’s love faces its hardest tests.

I listened to the audiobook, and it was wonderful. There are different narrators for the Addie and Dylan sections, and can I just take a minute to fangirl over the fact that Eleanor Tomlinson narrates Addie??? Eleanor Tomlinson is the actress who played Demelza in the BBC series Poldark, and she’s wonderful. Her narration gives so much character and expressiveness to Addie. I’m not sure whether I’d have enjoyed it nearly as much in print — the narration is that good!

Overall, The Road Trip is often touching, sometimes very sad, quite a bit silly, and frequently very romantic. There’s a nice mix of serious and fun moments, and the framing of a hellish road trip works very well as a contrast to the sweetness and then sorrow of the earlier days of Addie and Dylan’s relationship.

The characters are all well-drawn and nicely detailed, from leads Addie and Dylan, to an array of supporting characters including sad-sack Rodney, unsteady and mostly unlikeable Marcus, Addie’s wild sister Deb, and the very over-the-top bride Cherry. Their banter and arguments and lighter moments feel very in tune with how they’ve been depicted, and I really enjoyed the time spent with them.

The Road Trip is a great summer read, and I especially recommend the audiobook edition. Enjoy!

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Shelf Control #278: Night Road by Kristin Hannah

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Night Road
Author: Kristin Hannah
Published: 2011
Length: 385 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Jude Farraday is a happily married, stay-at-home mom who puts everyone’s needs above her own. Her twins, Mia and Zach, are bright and happy teenagers. When Lexi Baill enters their lives, no one is more supportive than Jude. A former foster child with a dark past, Lexi quickly becomes Mia’s best friend. Then Zach falls in love with Lexi and the three become inseparable. But senior year of high school brings unexpected dangers and one night, Jude’s worst fears are confirmed: there is an accident. In an instant, her idyllic life is shattered and her close-knit community is torn apart. People—and Jude—demand justice, and when the finger of blame is pointed, it lands solely on eighteen-year-old Lexi Baill. In a heartbeat, their love for each other will be shattered, the family broken. Lexi gives up everything that matters to her—the boy she loves, her place in the family, the best friend she ever had—while Jude loses even more.

When Lexi returns, older and wiser, she demands a reckoning. Long buried feelings will rise again, and Jude will finally have to face the woman she has become. She must decide whether to remain broken or try to forgive both Lexi…and herself.

Night Road is a vivid, emotionally complex novel that raises profound questions about motherhood, loss, identity, and forgiveness. It is an exquisite, heartbreaking novel that speaks to women everywhere about the things that matter most. 

How and when I got it:

I bought a paperback edition about two years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I know Kristin Hannah has been a bestselling author for many years, but I’ve only recently read anything by her, and the two books I read (The Great Alone and The Four Winds) both blew me away. I feel in love with the books, the characters, and the settings, and have been wanting to read more of her books.

This sounds like a dark domestic drama. I love stories involving family secrets and found families. The description does make me a little nervous that the events will be too heartbreaking for my poor tender feelings, but I’m also intrigued to find out more about what happens and how the family is changed over time.

What do you think? Would you read this book? Or are there any other Kristin Hannah books you’d recommend?

Please share your thoughts!


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  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
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Audiobook Review: Beth & Amy by Virginia Kantra

Title: Beth & Amy
Author: Virginia Kantra
Narrators: Janet Metzger, Brittany Pressley, Catherine Taber
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: May 11, 2021
Print length: 348 pages
Audio length: 11 hours 8 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Four sisters face new beginnings in this heartfelt modern take on Little Women by New York Times bestselling author Virginia Kantra.

Amy March is more like her older sister Jo than she’d like to admit. An up-and-coming designer in New York’s competitive fashion industry, ambitious Amy is determined to get out of her sisters’ shadow and keep her distance from their North Carolina hometown. But when Jo’s wedding forces her home, she must face what she really wants…and confront the One Big Mistake that could upend her life and forever change her relationship with Jo.

Gentle, unassuming Beth grew up as the good girl of the family. A talented singer-songwriter, she’s overcome her painful anxiety to tour with country superstar Colt Henderson. But life on the road has taken its toll on her health and their relationship. Maybe a break to attend her sister’s wedding will get her out of her funk. But Beth realizes that what she’s looking for and what she needs are two very different things….

With the March women reunited, this time with growing careers and families, they must once again learn to lean on one another as they juggle the changes coming their way.

The March Sisters audiobooks are a treat — let me tell you why! I enjoyed the first book, Meg & Jo, and I’m happy to be able to report that Beth & Amy is a worthy follow-up.

Note: While I rarely include content warnings in my reviews, I do think I need to mention that this book deals extensively with an eating disorder, so keep that in mind if that’s a triggering subject for you.

Obviously, from the title, the focus of this second book is on the two younger sisters from the world of Little Women, whose stories never get as much attention as Meg and Jo’s. Here, Beth and Amy take center stage, and it’s really fun to see author Virginia Kantra’s take on these sisters’ inner lives.

In these books, the girls are grown-ups, all in their mid-20s to early 30s. And let me just take a moment to dispel any fears, at the risk of being spoilery: Beth lives. So if you might avoid this book in order to avoid the heartbreak of Beth’s death… you’re good.

(And excuse my digression, but this seems like a good time to share one of my favorite Friends moments:)

As Beth & Amy opens, both characters seem to have achieved career success. Amy is living in New York, running her own business designing and selling fashion handbags. Orders are starting to pour in, now that a certain Duchess has been seen with one of Amy’s bags. But she’ll need to expand if she wants to really make her mark, and that’s going to take a cash infusion.

Beth is on tour with country superstar Colt Henderson, having written two songs for him that led to Grammy nominations. But she’s paralyzed by stage fright, and after a particularly awful experience, Colt sends her home to her family to recuperate. It doesn’t help that she’s in a relationship with Colt, and he seems more focused on his tour and his next Grammy than on Beth’s well-being.

The family is reunited for Jo’s wedding back in North Carolina, and it’s here that the sisters begin to reevaluate their hopes, their dreams, and what it looks like to be happy.

As in Meg & Jo, Beth & Amy is narrated in alternating chapters by different narrators, each representing one of the two sisters. This time around, their mother Abby also gets a voice, with a few key chapters of her own woven into the sisters’ story. The audiobook makes this story especially fun, and the narrators bring each character to life in a way that feels fresh and engaging.

I did really enjoy Beth & Amy. I’ve always loved Little Women, and before coming across these books, I would have had a hard time imagining that a modern-day retelling could work. The author does a terrific job of bringing the sisters’ lives and relationships into the 21st century, balancing contemporary issues with the more classic elements of the family dynamics.

I feel invested enough in Virginia Kantra’s vision of the March family at this point that I just wish there could be more! Maybe continue with retelling Little Men and Jo’s Boys next?

Final note: I think these two books are engaging enough to work perfectly fine even if you haven’t read Little Women — though of course, if you do love Little Women, these retellings will be even more fun.

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Book Review: While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory

Title: While We Were Dating (The Wedding Date, #6)
Author: Jasmine Guillory
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: July 13, 2021
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Two people realize that it’s no longer an act when they veer off-script in this sizzling romantic comedy by New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory.

Ben Stephens has never bothered with serious relationships. He has plenty of casual dates to keep him busy, family drama he’s trying to ignore and his advertising job to focus on. When Ben lands a huge ad campaign featuring movie star Anna Gardiner, however, it’s hard to keep it purely professional. Anna is not just gorgeous and sexy, she’s also down to earth and considerate, and he can’t help flirting a little…

Anna Gardiner is on a mission: to make herself a household name, and this ad campaign will be a great distraction while she waits to hear if she’s booked her next movie. However, she didn’t expect Ben Stephens to be her biggest distraction. She knows mixing business with pleasure never works out, but why not indulge in a harmless flirtation?

But their lighthearted banter takes a turn for the serious when Ben helps Anna in a family emergency, and they reveal truths about themselves to each other, truths they’ve barely shared with those closest to them.

When the opportunity comes to turn their real-life fling into something more for the Hollywood spotlight, will Ben be content to play the background role in Anna’s life and leave when the cameras stop rolling? Or could he be the leading man she needs to craft their own Hollywood ending?

Jasmine Guillory’s books are reliably romantic, intimate, and full of unusual characters, and While We Were Dating is no exception.

Our two main characters are Ben, an up-and-coming advertising executive (who, BTW, used to be a backup dancer — hot!), and Anna, an Oscar-nominated actress who needs her next movie to be the big breakthrough that will take her back to the Oscars and send her home with the prize.

When Anna agrees to star in the ad campaign Ben is leading, they’re immediately drawn to one another and develop an easy rapport. But it’s not until Ben offers to drive her all night to reach her family at a Southern California emergency room that they truly connect, spending the long car ride sharing secrets and dreams. Their intimacy becomes physical, and they’re both wildly attracted to one another — but neither imagines that this can be anything but a fling.

Later, Anna’s manager comes up with a plan: In order for the studios to see Anna as a big enough box-office draw to land that next crucial movie contract, she needs to be more in the public eye. He convinces her to go public in a fake relationship with Ben, making sure the paparazzi are on hand to capture their every private-but-public flirtation. Soon, they’re featured in People magazine and are walking the red carpet together, but Ben knows that once the premieres have ended, so will this relationship.

I enjoyed a lot about While We Were Dating. Anna and Ben are both well-developed, flawed people. Sure, they’re super hot, but they’re also vulnerable, each dealing with his or her memories and past painful experiences, cautious about who they trust and who they allow into their lives. They have an easy chemistry together, and their banter is adorable and flirtatious and very down-to-earth.

This author also tends to go outside the societal norms of beauty when it comes to her heroines, and Anna is depicted as both stunningly gorgeous and plus-sized. And honestly, I love that about her.

I’m not a huge fan of “Stars! They’re Just Like Us!” kind of stories, so the Hollywood magic is, if anything, a minus for me when it comes to books featuring glamorous stars and their love lives. Here, though, we see Anna’s family and her roots, her struggle to adjust to her new reality, the invasiveness of the paparazzi, the need to always be “on”, and it makes her feel relatable, even if the day-to-day of her life — with stylists and gowns and borrowed jewels — feels like something from another world.

The books in The Wedding Date series are all loosely connected, but don’t worry if you haven’t read the others. Familiar characters show up, and you’ll be happy to see them if you know who they are, but it’s not at all crucial to know their backstories in order to enjoy While We Were Dating (or any of the other book in the series.) Each book focuses on a new romantic pairing and can stand on its own just fine.

If you’re a fan of Jasmine Guillory’s books, you’ll definitely want to read this one as well. Even if you’re new to this author, this would make a great pick for beach or poolside reading.

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