August Book Reviews
This month I read 4 books - a short story anthology with happiness / mental health representation (Felicity by Divina Gracia), a contemporary romance set in the Scottish Highlands (Kissing Games by Evie Alexander), a psychological thriller that accurately portrays borderline personality disorder (Sweet Baby Mine by Maria Daversa) and a dystopian-esque contemporary thriller (Neighborhood Watch by Kevin Kenealy). Super exciting to see so much great mental health representation!
Short story collection
A girl who feels like she’s running out of time; a boy who’s in love with a name; a crimson room; a special gift; and more.
WE ALL JUST WANT TO BE HAPPY.
Ten short stories about the search for happiness
4.5 stars. I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.
I don’t often like short story anthologies, but this one was great - mental health representation, important themes, and repeating symbolism that lends a cohesiveness to the work. The characterization was strong, which is difficult to do in a short story. The pieces are all fairly short, making it an easy read despite the heavier themes.
I loved the voice (maybe in a biased way, because it reminds me a lot of my voice when I used to write short stories). The only things I would have wanted different would be pushing the narrative one step farther to be slightly less on-the-nose in some places (which is one of those vague, hard-to-specify attributes that is easy to talk about and hard to implement). However, given the authors skill, I have no doubt this will occur in later works as they develop as a writer.
Definitely a well-written, short, and important collection.
Kissing Games by Evie Alexander
Contemporary romance, Kinloch Series #3
She might have made it to Hollywood, but he’s about to show her what she’s missed…
When actress Valentina arrives in Scotland to film Braveheart 2, she’s at breaking point. Driven by demons, she’s worked without a break since she was a teen and can’t stop now. Everyone she loves depends on her. But something’s missing. Despite all the glitter and glamor, she’s never really lived.
Bodyguard Charlie’s lived too much. With looks and charm, he should have it all, but he’s broken. Estranged from his family, sacked from his job, and with nothing left to lose, he flies to the Highlands to help his best friend protect Kinloch castle from a crazy Hollywood film crew. But falling hard for a movie star isn't in his contract.
Valentina’s never met anyone like Charlie. When he suggests she take a holiday from life, she’s tempted to step out of her comfort zone and live a little. He sweeps her into a world of skinny dipping, laughter and blinding passion. But as fun crosses the line into love, disaster bursts their bubble. Can they let go of the past and find a future together? Or is this just a Highland fling?
I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.
I adore this series and the balance of humor, strong characters, and swoony romance. The promise of a HEA, no cheating, etc is a great part of Alexander’s brand.
Kissing Games is another light, easy read with plenty of charm - the Scottish setting, inclusion of previous protagonists as supporting characters, loveable pups, Colombian grandmothers, and more.
I wanted to love this as much as the first book in the series, but found that Valentina and Charlie’s story, while adorable and easy-to-root for, was a bit less gripping than Rory and Zoe’s. That being said, I highly recommend all of them, and can’t wait for the 4th book!
Sweet Baby Mine by Maria Daversa
Psychological thriller, Borderline Personality Disorder representation
How far would you go to save your marriage…who would you sacrifice to keep your husband?
Ana will do anything to hold on to Tony. He’s the love of her life–the Heathcliff to her Catherine, the Rivera to her Kahlo, the Sid to her Nancy. Without him, she’s nothing.
But Ana also has a secret–a youthful indiscretion that never should’ve happened. So, when her estranged daughter, Chloe, calls in the middle of the night to say she wants to come home, Ana must negotiate a web of deceit as mother and daughter share a secret so troubling it could destroy her marriage.
Sweet Baby Mine is a beautiful adult coming-of-age tale of secrets, lies, and betrayals. While rife with intergenerational patterns of mental illness and addiction, at its heart, it’s a story about the enduring love between mothers and daughters, broken promises and their impact on the delicate bonds of marriage, and the eternal spirit of hope and second chances.
Although the narrative is told from the alternating points of view of both Ana and Tony, American expats living in the City of Light, the journey is all Ana’s–a flawed but determined woman who must decide: will Chloe’s return be the catalyst she needs to face down her demons once and for all? And ultimately discover love can survive in the most unlikely of places?
For fans of Liane Moriarty, Jojo Moyes, and Jodi Picoult, Sweet Baby Mine is an intense psychological thriller you can’t put down. A dark literary drama, it’s also perfect for devotees of Colleen Hoover’s heart-wrenching romantic thrillers.
3.5 stars. I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.
First of all, this book does an amazing job capturing not only borderline personality disorder (BPD), but also the ramifications for relationships, family, and future generations (especially when passed on). While Ana wasn’t likable, her actions were all understandable - something that I don’t think is often conveyed in stories of BPD (or other disorders associated with less impulse control). As a clinical psych PhD student, I’ve seen a lot of inaccurate portrayals of BPD, and this may be one of the first to hit all the right notes - kuddos to the author.
In the same vein, however, I personally depend on having likable characters to enjoy the story, even if it isn’t best for the narrative. That being said, if that isn’t a requirement for you, this is definitely a book you should check out.
Neighborhood Watch by Kevin Patrick Kenealy
Dystopian-eqsue, contemporary thriller
When the Caseys move into affluent Ridgeport, Ill. in search of a better life for their newborn Scott, they are surprised to find a book entitled, Ridgeport Welcomes You: Procedures and Guidelines for Happy Living. The book is full of rules and ordinances that citizens must abide by in order to live in their happy neighborhood. Although mom Loretta Casey is hesitant to live by Ridgeport’s strict rules, all that changes when she meets her neighbor Sue Ellen Norris.
Sue Ellen serves on the Neighborhood Watch Committee, overseeing the safety of the town, and Loretta becomes engrossed in Sue Ellen’s addictive personality. But as Loretta’s son Scott and Sue Ellen’s son Matt grow, they discover that Ridgeport is not as perfect as their moms make it out to be. As Scott and Matt form their band of friends, their journeys into the neighborhood woods prove to be much more than just a place of refuge.
I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Overall, this book would have been better condensed. Especially at the beginning, there’s a lot of info-dumping and unnecessary description (e.g., specific square mileages of the towns). Namely, most description should do “work” by characterizing or building tension as well. Some of it is great, and makes it clear that Kenealy hold promise as an author (e.g., describing the old house by saying Loretta wanted an old home and John a fixer-upper not only describes the house but also characterizes them).
I was intrigued to know what happened, so I did finish the book, which is a testament to the plot. That being said, I was disappointed by the ending as well.
For the full version (with spoilers), see my review on Goodreads.
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