Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club by Roselle Kim

Thank you Net Galley, for the copy of this!

I really liked this a lot. There were a lot of different aspects-romance (Sophie finding a match for herself despite herself), the emotional abuse Sophie received from her family, career, and friendship. I loved it that the story started with Sophie’s big leap to starting her business and moving into her home (really nice) apartment. It’s not until details start to come out a little later that you realized just what a huge deal that was. And what at first might seem like just mother daughter conflict becomes clear that her family is completely abusive. It was fascinating. I loved it that Sophie’s professional foray into matchmaking lands with her senior citizens. And I adored watching her become friends with these elderly people. I also really liked how easily some of the matches were heterosexual and some homosexual.

I very much enjoyed this book, though I had one stumbling block–I honestly didn’t know if this was magical realism, or more of a metaphor-a way she described how she felt about the matchmaking. I haven’t read any of her other books so I didn’t know if she always wrote this way. It didn’t really make a difference to the story, but I genuinely couldn’t tell if this was set in a world where matchmakers legit saw strings, had strings, had strings cut, etc. (nothing else in the world indicated that it was a fantasy world.)

Very enjoyable and would definitely read more by Kim.

The Secret Life of Albert Entwhistle by Matt Cain

First, Thank you to NetGalley for the advance reading copy of this. This was a 5 star read for me-absolutely delightful. It was like Man Called Ove meets, well, I forget what else.

A man who’s spent his whole career (since he was a teenager) being a postman is told he must retire. Without the routine of that his life looks pretty empty. His crippling shyness has always prevented him from making friends or really any personal connections. The impending retirement seems like a life ender but then in the most heartwarming of ways he begins to make connections. Most importantly, he opens up about who he actually is (it’s not really a surprise) and sees the possibility for love and happiness. Realistically this may not have been the most realistic story. Everyone always says the right thing? Just open up a little and wonderful things happen? But really it was so touching and sweet and you really root for Albert (and rage against the terrible behaviors of the past.) And speaking of the past, don’t skip the afterword with older men recalling gay history. It’s heartbreaking and eye opening and really so recent.

Highly recommend.

The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle by Jennifer Ryan

I loved Ryan’s other books so much, so I was really excited to see she had a new one. And many thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy!
Although this wasn’t my favorite one of her books so far, it was still good. In fact, really good. I found all the information about clothing designing, the fashion industry during the war, and the wedding dress exchanges so interesting. It’s an aspect of WWII that I really hadn’t encountered in any of the historical fiction I’ve read. As for the stories of each of the main characters, they were romantic and feel good. This was really a story of transformation as each of the three main characters really undergoes a personal crisis (brought on by the war) that helps her find her true self, what she wants out of life, and how to reconcile that with her past. In all of Ryan’s books she truly shows how the ordinary British citizen found the extraordinary in themselves as they did their part for the war.
The one thing I didn’t love about this, compared to her others, was that I found the historical details and information a bit clunky. Too much information delivered through dialogue in a way that seemed very unnatural and only existed to educate the reader.

The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox

It’s well past Christmas but this only just came in for me at the library and I had nothing else to read, so… And you know what? It was still delightful to read about Christmassy things and it’s still winter and snowy, so that’s nice. This book was completely ridiculous and predictable and I loved it.

Identical twin sisters, both incredible bakers, one on a tv show when in their hometown at their family’s much loved bakery. The town, Starlight Peak, might as well be Stars Hollow. I mean, town square with gazebo and twinkly lights and everyone knows each other and it’s so small that their bakery just gives every family a free loaf of their special holiday bread on Christmas Eve? Unrealistically charming. After a head injury the twins swap places and of course both find a wake up call to the life she wants, as well as love.

Perfect light holiday fare. And added bonus if you enjoy food or baking or food tv shows, because there are many details of the delicious foods they all bake. Very enjoyable.

French Braid by Anne Tyler

A new Anne Tyler! I was pretty giddy about this. The most recent book of hers felt like a tease-it was good Tyler writing, but somewhat short and unsatisfying. I’m pleased to say, this book was the real Anne Tyler deal. A multigenerational story, slightly dysfunctional family, of course set in Baltimore. Her writing was as good as ever and I wish I could share some specific sentences, but I can’t. In part because I read this on my Kindle (and don’t know how to use any note taking features of it.) In fact, because I read it on the kindle and couldn’t flip through pages I had a bit of a mishap. I read the first chapter and liked it very much, but then it was several days before I could pick it up again. I didn’t remember names or dates from the first chapter, so wasn’t quite sure how it connected to the story I started reading in chapter 2. I ended up reading chapter 1 again after I finished the book, which was kind of neat. Also, knowing nothing going in the entire story and timeline were just a total surprise to me.
One part reminded me so much of Ladder of Years-a woman creating a spare space outside her family home, distancing herself from them (which makes it seem like I yearn for that and I do not.)
Tempting to say “what a bunch of weirdos” about the characters, but they are not terrible people. I loved seeing their quirks (and yes, some frankly weird behavior) and just being swept up in this family story. I think what’s interesting about her books is that there really aren’t any huge exciting plot moments or suspense, I just love her way with words and characterization.

Light Years from Home by Mike Chen

I really like Mike Chen’s books and was really excited to be able to read this via NetGalley. (thank you, Net Galley!)

In this one a family has been deeply affected by their son and father’s disappearance many years ago while on a camping trip. The father returned a couple days later, the son never did. The father maintained they were taken by aliens. The one daughter and mother didn’t believe that at all, but the other daughter has made a career out of tracking potential alien encounters. Because of all this the family has fractured. Now, years later, the son returns from outer space where he’s some kind of amazing alien warrior. Mind blowing! Btw, none of this is a spoiler, it’s all told on the summary and first page. 

So here’s the thing–I did not like this nearly as much as any of his other books. But in reading the author’s afterward I’d have to say my lukewarm response is not due to his writing or anything, just that I didn’t love what this was all about. In the afterward he explains that he very deliberately was writing a story about a family and he definitely achieved that. It’s just that he gives you a taste of what the abducted guy’s life has been like fighting in a big space battle with incredible technology, and that was what I wanted to read more about. I became tired very quickly of the bitchy eldest sister (but who could blamer her?) and her relationship with the younger sister. 

So, while it was well written, it just wasn’t the story I wanted.

*I will say, re: very good writing, having only read the summary and no other reviews, I got to a point in the story where I thought maybe the story was going to be entirely different than I thought (trying not to give anything away here) and Chen had me wonderfully confused and invested in the outcome. 

 

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

This was totally delightful-like a Hallmark Christmas movie. In fact, I’d bet it’s already being turned into a movie. If you like snowy cabins and Christmas traditions and a little romance this book is for you. Best of all, it has a time loop (Groundhog Day) premise. I found out about this from an IG friend who said she liked it a lot, but wished there were more of the repeated days and I agree with that.

Maelyn’s family has spent every Christmas at an idyllic cabin in Utah with her parents’ college friends. This tight group has grown up together and though they are family Maelyn has long had a crush on one of the sons. Now they are in their 20s. This Christmas ends terribly-she hooks up with the brother of the guy she really likes and she finds out the cabin is being sold. She desperately wishes for things to change and poof! she wakes up at the start of the trip.

Pour yourself some hot chocolate and stir it up with a candy cane and get cozy on the couch with this nice easy holiday read.

The No-Show by Beth O’Leary

Read 10/30/21

Thank you NetGalley for the prepub!

I loved the Flatmate and the Switch and was really excited when The Road Trip came in for me at the library. I started it and just read it somewhat half heartedly. I couldn’t get into it, which was really disappointing. Then I saw that there was a new O’Leary coming out in the spring and I could get this copy. I’m delighted to report that The Road Trip must have just not clicked with me, not that she’s suddenly not writing great, because I was immediately hooked by the No Show and I LOVED it.

I will say that one thing that was very fun for me was that I had not read a single thing about this-not a Goodreads description, ad, or other review. I had no idea what was going on and I liked that. I can say this: It’s about 3 women in love with the same man, and he seems like quite a catch (maybe.) (That is clear from the get go.)

This feels like a more ambitious book than her other novels and I think she succeeds.

The Incredible Winston Browne by Sean Dietrich

Read 10/22/21

Absolutely wonderful. It was like The Last Days of Summer + Field of Dreams + A Man Called Ove (with a splash of a fascinating religious cult for a little suspense.)

I really loved everything about this. It was super touching. Winston Browne is the sheriff of a very small town in Florida. It’s modern enough that women could (though don’t unless they want to shock people) wear pants, but also close enough to WWII that the adult characters have served in the war. So, it’s the early 50s in a very rural very small town. Kind of Mayberry like. And they all love baseball and the Brooklyn Dodgers and Winston doesn’t have much policing to do, he’s more like a kindly father to all.Alas, (not a spoiler, it’s in the blurg) he’s dying. It’s kind of nutty that everyone is sad he’s clearly dying of lung cancer, but they all smoke like crazy. Um…connection? Anyway, there’s love and new life and a runaway child from a weird cult and Jackie Robinson and Mark Twain and oh it’s just wonderful.

The Guncle by Stephen Rowley

Read 9/30/21

This book got so much buzz it was almost a turn off, but honestly it was terrific. The only thing I didn’t like about it was the title, which I found stupid, because I find Guncle a stupid term. I went into this thinking it would just be a fluffy fun story, and while it was certainly fun and made me laugh out loud, it really had a lot more going on. The gay uncle in question, Patrick, is a bit of a reclusive star, once famous on tv, now basically in hiding in Palm Springs due to a truly sad tragedy. Meanwhile his brother has a tragedy as well-losing his wife (coincidentally a bff of Patrick’s) and entering rehab for a drug problem. Patrick is the unlikely person chosen to care for his two young children. I liked it that right up front Patrick was skeptical of them being some kind of tv movie cute plot of the cute kids breaking down his cold heart or whatever. Because of course, that’s sort of what is happening, but in a very natural, fun, and sensitive way. All the characters-the adults and children-have a ton of grief to process and how they do is thoughtful and kind and believable. I really enjoyed this and also shout out to caftan life.