All the Stars in Heaven by Adriana Trigiani

starsThis was such an interesting story. I really wasn’t sure which elements were 100% true, and what was completely made up. The author’s note tells us to read it as straight up fiction about some real people, but I had a hard time not just believing it all as 100% real.
The story is about Loretta Young and Clark Gable and their love affair. It’s also about the movie industry in the 1930s and Loretta’s acting career. Such a neat inside look at what movie productions were like then. My favorite part of the whole thing was when Clark and Loretta were filling together in snowy, remote Washington state. All the actors and crew together, eating and living together in a lodge, Clark pitching in chopping wood. It was hard to imagine movie stars of today ever acting like that.
I really enjoyed this as a love story, historical fiction, and nice long saga over time.

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A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas

thornsAn exciting faerie book that felt steeped in traditional elements of storytelling, especially fairy stories, but was sexy and exciting.  Feyre is so poor her family barely survives, yet she is the only one who does anything about it. She’s a hunter and that’s how they manage to live.  One day she shoots a wolf, but it was no ordinary wolf. Feyre is taken into the faerie world where she lives with Tamlin in a court where magic is changing and everyone has a mask fused to his face. It’s mysterious and she knows there is more going on that she is told. This felt very Beauty and the Beast like to me, but then there was much more to it. Political machinations, revenge, and of course a love story. I thought this was marvelous, vividly created, and can’t wait to read the sequel.

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy Reichert

coconutIt’s the premise of You’ve Got Mail + involves a coconut cake and lots of food descriptions-a winning combo for me! I really enjoyed this a lot. No, there was nothing wildly unexpected or surprising about the storyline, but I enjoy a good You’ve Got Mail scenario and I especially enjoyed how this one played out.
Lou is a chef with a fledgling restaurant that is on the cusp of success.  Al is newly arrived from England and is a restaurant critic (for an actual physical paper and writes often enough that it is a full time job that supports him and he goes into the office for a full day. I found all of that most surprising in the whole book!) Lou is a wonderful chef, but after discovering her revolting and smug fiance in a compromising position she’s nutty and cooks the worst meal of her life. Which of course is the night Al is dining at her restaurant. He skewers Louella’s and to say it was bad for business would be an understatement. They meet, they hit it off, and due to a “let’s never talk about work” agreement, each never knows the truth about how they are connected. Until of course it all comes crashing down, as it always does. But meanwhile… the two get to know each other as Lou shows Al around all her cherished favorite spots in Milwaukee, her beloved hometown.  And she does such a good job of it, that she made me want to go visit. And eat at every place she describes. I mean, it just sounds awesome.  And the food descriptions! Sometimes food writing can be a bit too much, but for the most part all the food parts just made me want to eat whatever was being described and I liked how often food showed up in it.  I thought Al and Lou were also genuinely nice people (even if they are fictional) and very likable. I also really liked the timeline of this book. Lou and Al may have hit it off right away, but their relationship develops over many months, and that just seemed more realistic that many romances. Clearly this would make a WONDERFUL movie and rights have probably already been snapped up. Perhaps Amy Adams as Lou?

The Royal We by Heather Cocks

royalThis was highly anticipated, described as a fictionalized version of Will & Kate and looking to be a pretty fun read and it absolutely delivered. It was a surprisingly thick and long story, covering (just like Will & Kate in real life) several years from when they first meet in college, all the way up to the wedding. It’s so beyond anyone’s reality-the luxury and lifestyle of the royal family, that it just is delightfully escapist.  The heroine, Bex (Rebecca) is an American who meets the prince when she goes to study abroad for a year. They hit it off immediately and eventually become a (secret) couple.  There are plenty of details of what it’s like to be in the royal family, the practicalities and rules, as well as how the royal family are not perfect.  This was such a fun book. I loved it and was completely entertained.

*I’m going to edit this having just had a very good book discussion with my friend Melissa. She did not really care for it and I had to say, I agreed with all of her points. So thinking critically about the book-it’s very unevenly written and the pacing is not great. It’s a long book and some years are covered in slow thorough detail, while others fly by, without any particular reason for either. My biggest gripe would probably be that the drama of the story was pretty unnecessary-I think most readers would have been happier with a shorter time frame in the book and more details about that transition to being accepted by the royal family, having a team of people make over your image, and things about that. (Some of that was definitely there, but there could have been more. I can think of at least two major scenes where that was glossed over rather dug into.) I’m still going to give it 4 stars (out of 5, Goodreads) because I was entertained, did find it fun, and loved it when the stuff I wanted was included.

Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances by Maureen Johnson, John Green, & Lauren Myracle

snowMost years I like to treat myself to buying a holiday romance collection. Somehow I missed this when it originally came out and was thrilled to discover it on a table at BJ’s this season.  Unfortunately, despite the promise of three superstar YA authors combined with holiday romance, this was nowhere near as good as this year’s current YA holiday collection, My True Love Gave to Me.

The first story, by Maureen Johnson, I liked the best. It sets up the premise for the interconnected stories (which, by the way I didn’t realize were interconnected because when I bought the book I literally didn’t even bother to read the back description! )It’s Christmas Eve and through a hilarious and bizarre circumstance Jubilee has to get on a train to go to her grandmother’s. A big snowstorm stalls the train on the track stranding everyone in a small town. Other characters on the train-a cheerleading team, a handsome boy-aren’t prominent in the story, but are in the other two stories.  Story #2 by John Green is mostly about two boys and a girl, all best pals, on a quest to go meet those cheerleaders by making their way through the snow to the shining oasis of the Waffle House. Story #3, well, I don’t even know how to describe. It seemed to involve a teacup pig and regret over cheating on a boy. Honestly, I was skimming by that point. I did like how it wrapped up with all the characters from the different stories coming together.

Overall, this was a bit disappointing.

Step Back in Time by Ali McNamara

jojoA perfect time-travel treat! This caught my eye on the library bookshelf and it appears this author writes specifically for me. I was delighted to see she had a couple other books right up my alley, but foolishly left them on the shelf since I was already picking up two others. Anyway, this is not only time-travel, but also romance, and laden with Beatles allusions.

Jo-Jo (yes, almost every character has a name that is from a Beatles’ song or a real person connected to the Beatles) is a go-getter accountant with not much time for fun or love in her life. She does take the time to have a cup of tea from time to time with George, the owner of a record shop that has been in the same place on King’s Road since the early 1960s. While leaving the shop Jo-Jo gets hit by a car in the zebra crossing and…wakes up in 1963.  Throughout the book she wakes up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.  In each place she meets George (who always knows she’s time-travelling), Harry, the guy she’s falling for, and friend Ellie.  Each time she has a different job, is a different age, and manages to have a positive impact on those around her.  But each time she wonders what it is she needs to figure out for herself so that she can make it home again.

In the beginning I felt this suffered from what I call “Forrest Gump Syndrome.” That is when a character is in a time period and the author tries to stuff as many iconic things about that time period into the story, including brushes with people who will be famous (e.g., a lad buying a record and saying someday he wants to own a record shop is Richard Branson.) But I quickly got over it because you know what? It was good fun. And I liked the pattern of Jo-Jo quickly figuring out the time by assessing the tv references, fashion, makeup, handbags, etc.  It was fun that every time she went into a pub the drinks were different (and now I must know what “babycham” is and if I can get some.)  And the fact that the Beatles were so omnipresent in the story was fun because Jo-Jo herself realizes it and starts looking for those things as clues. So it wasn’t like the author was trying to be subtle (and, in fact, at the end she provides a list of every reference.)

The author also says how she was inspired by Quantum Leap, which was a tv show I loved, and yes I could totally see that.  I love time-travel but don’t often read books like this one, and I think it was really fun how she set it up.  I really enjoyed this a lot and even though her other novels aren’t time travel I’m looking forward to them too!

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

islaFantastic! (Or should I say “fantastique”?)  It’s hard to believe that Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door, and Isla and the Happily Ever After are Perkins’s first three books. They are terrific. Though not a series, they are connected by characters and the boarding school in France.  In this one the boy love interest (Josh) was the best friend of the boy love interest in the first book (St. Clair), so there are references to what St. Clair is up to now and how his and Anna’s romance worked out.  Once again we are in Paris with teenagers such as I’ve never known.  This time it is acknowledged (I feel like it wasn’t before) that everyone there is very rich and privileged.  Isla has a French mother and two sisters who also attend/ed the school.  She’s been in love with Josh for a long time and can’t believe when they are finally getting together.  Obstacles include Josh’s apparent desire to get himself kicked out of school and worries about what it might do to Isla’s best friend, a boy with Asperger’s.  A delightful romance and also a wonderful conclusion to the three books as we get to find out what happened to the characters from the other stories.