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December Book Reviews

I read five contemporary books this month-- three of which I did not finish (DNF), and two four-star books.


Everything Must Go by Camille Pagán (4/5 stars), There Can Only Be Six by Andrea Levesque (4/5 stars), Under The Sweet Gum Trees by Crysta McHenry (DNF), Blind Love by Leon Edwards (DNF), and Abundantly Attractive by Tonwand North (DNF).


Everything Must Go by Camille Pagán

My rating: 4/5 stars.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.


The premise: Laine Francis believes there’s a place for everything—and New York, where her family lives, isn’t her place. But no sooner does the professional organizer’s marriage begin to unravel than her sisters drop another bomb on her: their mother, Sally, may have dementia, and they need Laine to come home.


Laine agrees to briefly return to Brooklyn. After all, bringing order to chaos is what she does best. To Laine’s relief, Sally seems no more absentminded than usual. So Laine vows to help her mother maintain her independence, then hightail it back to Michigan.


Except Laine’s plans go awry when she runs into her former best friend, Ben, and realizes she finally has a chance to repair their fractured relationship. Then she discovers that memory loss isn’t the only thing Sally’s been hiding, forcing Laine to decide whether to reveal a devastating truth to her sisters—and whether to follow her heart when it means breaking her mother’s.


My review: 4/5 stars. Overall, Everything Must Go is a beautifully written exploration of family, love, and memory. The book is shorter, and fairly quick to read, but still manages to achieve thematic depth.


This book is mostly character-driven, mostly for the better. On the positive side, the characters are delightfully complex. Even as relationships change or break, individuals are not vilified as bad people, but rather mismatched in a fundamental way. Often in books, a breakup or falling out is justified by one character's malice, but Pagán is skillful enough to be able to avoid this. Additionally, while I often find plot centered around internal conflict (i.e. having to chose one thing or another) to be tedious and frustrating, it was fitting and well executed here. It was also easy to keep track of the characters, their roles, and their personalities.


On the other hand, and the reason I give this four instead of five stars, is that I would have also liked more to happen in the physical world, either as an extension of the internal conflict, or in addition, For example, I was hoping that Laine would use her organization skills more with her family, which would have also been symbolic in many ways. I also wanted to see more about how her business evolved at the end. These physical conflicts added to the internal conflict but would have taken the rest of the plot to another level.


The handling of dementia was well-done. Initially I was unsure of the use of Sally's POV, but overall I came to appreciate it. I also liked the addressing of the importance of boundaries, how to set them in a positive way, and balancing choosing what is best for you and what is best for others.



There Can Only Be Six (Rose and Compass, #1) by Andrea Levesque

My rating: 4/5 stars.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.


The premise: A new girl in town, a mysterious society, and a dangerous secret…


Harper Fontaine has always preferred keeping to herself. When she’s forced to leave behind her life in NYC to move into her dad’s mansion in a wealthy Rhode Island suburb, she quickly discovers the small town likes to keep secrets of its own. Invited to join a secret society known as “The Order of Six”, Harper has to rely on the help of new friends, without getting too distracted by the alluring bad girl next door, to survive the mysterious group’s trials as the darker history of the seaside town begins to unravel. But the more they uncover, the more Harper questions the Order’s true motives and if they’re even more dangerous than she could have realized.


My review: 4/5 stars. There Can Only Be Six was a well-written, delightfully gay novel that gets better as the story progresses.


It took a bit for me to get into the story. It was hard to tell the setting at first, and I was off-put by the initial string of common tropes (rich, absent parents, large but mysterious organization with lots of power, solving riddles and challenges as a test). However, the romance plot was satisfying without being too spicy, the characters were well-developed, and the ending wrapped up enough while still leaving room for the sequel. I did find myself getting lost in the pages after the first few chapters, and genuinely enjoyed the book. It was also great that the gay subplots weren’t about coming out, hiding it, or struggle.


The other aspect I wish was different- “solving” the clues mostly came from the supporting characters (or stumbling on the answer), with no way for the reader to have a foreshadowed inkling.


All-in-all, however, the novel is delightful, queer, and well-written.




DNF (Did Not Finish)

Under The Sweet Gum Trees by Crysta McHenry

DNF.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.


The premise: Ada Montgomery wants two things in her junior year.

She wants to play her French horn, and she wants Greg Whitmore to fall in love with her.


Ada comes from a dysfunctional home in the small Texas town of Sweet Gum Pass. Her father emotionally abuses her mother, and her sister can’t stand to be around. Ada never felt like she was important.


During the summer, Greg notices her. They begin dating and for the first time, Ada doesn’t feel alone.


She thought she had found her knight in shining armor. Turns out he was just like her father. Her friends try to make her see that this is not acceptable, but because of her upbringing, Ada sees this as normal behavior. Can she learn to love herself and stand up to Greg, or will she follow in her mother’s footsteps?


My review: I couldn’t get very far into this book. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t intriguing enough- in plot or characterization- to make me want to keep reading.


Blind Love by Leon Edwards

DNF.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.

The premise: The story is about an introvert man who struggles with his insecurities and confidence. A man by the name of Harvey Spade is a single man who has a crush on a woman since elementary school. Years later he is asked to look after her when she becomes blind. He meets another woman named Olivia who is his first love. Between the two women, he spends time with them both learning about how to have fun, sex and heartache. Look through the eyes of Harvey as he steers his way through two women finding about himself, experiencing falling in love and sex for the first time, to eventually heartache. Follow his escapades of dating, embarrassing moments, routine medical check up, and a health scare. How can so much happen to one guy in three months. The story is set in Bel Air and Westwood of Los Angeles.

My review: This book relies heavily on stilted sentences and tell-not-show, leaving a jarring and un-immersed experience. The plot was intriguing and I liked the cover, but not enough to put up with the writing style. The writer clearly has talent in developing conflict and characters, I just wish it was carried out differently.


Abundantly Attractive by Tonwand North

DNF.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.

The premise: With an empty fridge, and rent to pay, Liam Perry dreams of finding a rich wife so he can lounge at the poolside, sipping cocktails and doing what he’s good at—looking seductive.


But sometimes the most unexpected encounters can change your life forever.


After a chance collision with a handsome vet leaves Liam not totally against the idea of the future Mrs Perry being a rich Mr Perry a complication arises when his seductive charms hook the eye of the vet’s boyfriend—bigger fish and wealthy businessman, Lawrence Paul. A dark-haired Casanova who’s keen to woo his pants off with champagne and sweet flattery.


As all of Liam’s dreams seem to be coming true, how can he say no?

My review: Maybe I didn’t read long enough for this to change, but the main character is incredibly off-putting— excessive profanity for no reason and no initially obvious redeeming qualities— definitely not someone I care about enough to keep reading about.



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