#BookReview: No Place Like Home by Barbara O’Neal

Twenty Year Old Book Holds Up Well. First off, to be clear: This new (2024) edition is an updated and revised (with apparently *some* new content) version of a book originally released over 20 years ago. So some of you may have already own/ have read this, and I know there are at least some out there who “only read new releases”. But for everyone *else*… this is still a damn good story, 20 years later.

In at least some ways, it is actually a callback to a different era, the era of RENT when friends dying of AIDS was still a major zeitgeist moment and a reality for many, particularly many in urban areas. (I say this because growing up in the exurbs of Atlanta in the era the book was originally published, this just wasn’t a reality that was seen much in my area.) This plotline provides both some of the gravitas of the book – addiction being the primary other source – and the meetcute – the male lead is the brother of the friend dying of AIDS.

The romance side of the book is also well done, granted with a lot of lust and pent up sexual frustration as its start and with quite a bit of bedroom action (not always in the bedroom) throughout – once things get going there. Which, again, will be a turn off for some and a selling point for others.

Ultimately, this is a story of a lot of flawed individuals making their way through life as best they can in the situations they find themselves, and this is where the story particularly shines.

Very much recommended.

This review of No Place Like Home by Barbara O’Neal was originally written on April 13, 2024.

#BookReview: The Trail Of Lost Hearts by Tracey Garvis Graves

Surprise Pregnancy Mars Otherwise Excellent Romance Tale. This is one of those types of romance tales that is going to be divisive in a couple of different ways, but the biggest is that there is a surprise pregnancy around the 50% mark at all. Which comes completely out of the blue – there is not one iota of a hint that this character may be interested in having kids some day *at all*, then *BAM*, pregnant. Which from reading other reviews, even those who *do* have kids don’t always enjoy this particular type of surprise. Much less the childfree or childless.

Outside of the surprise pregnancy though – which *does* dominate the back half of the book, though there *is* some solid character development despite/ through the pregnancy – this was actually a strong book featuring some atypical angles (such as geocaching) and some solid characterization of grief and loss in various forms and through various backgrounds.

Overall a strong tale that perhaps could have been stronger with a different back half, but which many will find perfectly solid as is. Very much recommended.

This review of The Trail Of Lost Hearts by Tracey Garvis Graves was originally written on March 15, 2024.

#BookReview: The Breakup Vacation by Anna Gracia

Racism And Misandry Mar Otherwise Genuinely Fun And Funny Tale. This tale was marketed as essentially an updated Forgetting Sarah Marshall for more Zoomer sensibilities, and that kind of thing absolutely shines through. There is a shit ton of drinking and graphic on screen sex of the XXX damn near erotica level in a tropical location where the main cast has gone to “escape from” – but secretly damn near stalk – an ex of one of them. Ok, close enough to the movie – which, IIRC, MTV Films produced (MTV is also publishing this book).

So many people in the reviews here note misogyny, and many make their cases quite well. And yet there is also quite a bit of misandry here, where even the “good” males are only “good” because they agree with literally everything the females say and don’t genuinely challenge any of their preconceptions.

Even more problematic for me personally was the blatant anti-white racism. Including this line in particular:

“I don’t usually judge people, but when a white person’s like, “My family goes back six generations in Texas”, I’m definitely side eyeing them ‘cuz you know which side of the Civil War they were on.”

My family doesn’t go back “six generations in Texas”, but it *does* go back in the South to the Colonial era before the US even existed. Yes, that’s right – some of my ancestors came in via Virginia, not New York. One of them even died during the Civil War – *defending* the Union, at a battle in northern Alabama. I grew up with the scars of the war criminal terrorist bastard William Tecumseh Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign literally all around me, in the town that is the hometown of both the first female and last slaveholding – same person – US Senator. Her land, as described in her journals, was just a couple of miles from the trailer park I spent the first decade of my life in.

No, Ms. Gracia, you most certainly do NOT know “which side of the Civil War” such a person’s family was on, and to make such a claim is pretty fucking racist.

And yet the misandry and racism, while prevalent throughout the text, only serve to deduct a single star combined, as while prevalent they were also somewhat minor in that it wasn’t on every page. While I know others may claim otherwise, perhaps justifiably, that wasn’t my own experience with the text, at minimum, and I do know other reviewers who will (and I think here did?) 1* a book for any modicum of bigotry, even a single line, I try to judge the work as a whole.

And speaking of judging the work as a whole, this has to be one of the thinnest “romances” I’ve read in quite some time. Indeed, the entire “relationship” is more about the aforementioned damn near erotica sex and happening into each other while one of them is on vacation than anything, and the actual romance elements, such as they are, almost feel tacked on to ensure that it can be claimed to be a romance and satisfy RWA (and potential censors, if this ever becomes a movie) rules rather than actually, you know, building a genuinely romantic story. This was thus the other star deduction, and I can honestly say that across my 1100+ reviews I’ve written since 2018 alone, I genuinely think this is the first time I’ve ever deducted a star for such a reason. That I have here is telling of just how justified I think this reason in this book is.

Finally, the fact that a *fiction* book got 3* from me, given my “subtractive method” of rating where every single book starts out at 5* and I must have specific, describable, and preferably objective-ish reasons for deducting stars, should tell you just how problematic I personally think this book is. I think I’ve given less than a handful of fiction books 3* or less across those aforementioned 1200+ reviews, and yet this book managed to get on that particular list.

If you want a book for a tropical getaway, there are better books out there. If you want a book for a tropical getaway *and agree with the comments these characters make* – which is entirely your right – then yes, this book may be for you. But despite being genuinely funny at times, and despite my own completionist nature when it comes to book series, if I give Ms. Gracia’s books another try it will mostly be down to trying to give *everyone* a second chance at all times. And honestly, I’m not sure at this time that I would do that here.

Not recommended.

This review of The Breakup Vacation by Anna Gracia was originally written on March 5, 2024.

#BookReview: The Messy Life Of Jane Tanner by Brenda Novak

Solid Series Continuation. This is one of those books where you thought the author was doing a trilogy… and yet with the story herein, perhaps the author plans to continue coming back to this rural small western town. Both female leads from the first two books, as well as the male lead from the first book, play prominent roles in this tale as we learn of the mess one of their friends has truly gotten herself in. The ending is perhaps a bit rushed and maybe even, arguably, “tacked on” feeling, as though perhaps Novak had a page target, realized she still needed to wrap up the tale, and squeezed into that target. Still, the tale to that point is solid, and even the mad dash to wrap up the book mostly works within the story told here. Note that for those wishing to avoid all versions of pregnancy tales, this is absolutely one of those – and it absolutely works for the character as portrayed within this tale. Overall a solid tale of its type, but absolutely read the first two books in this series first. Then speculate along with me whether Novak plans to continue this series or not. Very much recommended.

This review of The Messy Life Of Jane Tanner by Brenda Novak was originally written on February 23, 2024.

#BookReview: Pity Pact by Whitney Dineen

Solid Romantic Comedy Builds On Characters From Prior Book. This was a solid romantic comedy – yes, in the Hallmarkie type vein – where two people in Small Town USA suddenly find themselves on the same reality dating show that is being shot not only in their small town, but actually in the country club one of them owns. Both of the main characters here played fairly heavily into the prior book, Pity Party, and it was nice to see some strong character growth from the male lead in particular between the two books. Otherwise, there are yet again some fairly hefty subjects broached here, including high school bullying. There are a few laugh out loud moments – always great in something billed as a comedy 😉 – and I enjoyed that this book was much more directly about our lead couple and the people surrounding them. Yes, including the couple from the prior book. One scene in particular may give the clean/ sweet romance crowd a case of “the vapors”, but to be clear even that scene isn’t actually a sex scene. Overall a fun romance that at least somewhat sets up the next book as well, which I’m very much looking forward to reading. Very much recommended.

This review of Pity Pact by Whitney Dineen was originally written on February 7, 2024.

#BookReview: Pity Party by Whitney Dineen

Strong Hallmarkie Romance, Kid Nearly Steals Show. This is a sunshine/ grumpy romance that also features a single parent, and this is one where the child very nearly steals the book with the focus on her and her antics. Which is normally not my thing, but it works in this particular case. There’s also a “friends with benefits” / “situationship” thing going on, but all “action” is behind closed doors – so be warned, whichever direction you may fall on those issues. Overall this is another small town, hallmarkie style romance, and it absolutely works within that mold. Very much recommended.

This review of Pity Party by Whitney Dineen was originally written on February 6, 2024.

#BlogTour: Principles Of (E)motion by Sara Read

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a strong, layered romance with an atypical lead. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Principles Of (E)motion by Sara Read.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype, Goodreads):

Strong, Layered Romance With Atypical Lead. Up front, I’m a guy that got a degree in a mathematics related field (Computer Science) and because of the quirks of the way I attended college (also, as our lead here, at 16yo,fwiw) I came within just a couple of semesters of getting two other separate mathematics related degrees at the same time. Like our lead, I too had a flash of utter brilliance at that young age (well, in my case I was 20 yrs old) that is now, 20 yrs later, seemingly being realized in the real world. (Damn I wish I had applied for a patent, but I thought nothing of it other than as a paper for a Bachelor’s Degree level class – even if Senior Year.) And yes, like our lead, I’ve also known close friends of that era later struggle with various legal issues. So maybe the book worked so well for me *because* I am in a rare position of having a similar enough background to *really* feel it. Perhaps. But I also think these issues and situations are still prevalent enough and general enough that even if you’ve never been in or near situations with these exact particulars, you’ve been in or around similar *general* situations (strains on parental relationships, lonely, questioning yourself even as a 30+ yr old adult who is “supposed” to “know what you’re doing” by now, etc).

And that is what makes this book particularly great. Yes, it is messy. Yes, it can be convoluted at times. Yes, it may or may not feel particularly “swoon worthy” romantic at times. Hell, there are times when it feels like our lead exists for little more than sex. (That is rare, btw, but yes, “clean”/ “sweet” crowd… you’ve now been warned that this may be a bit racy for your tastes.) But all of this, to me, makes it feel all the more “real”. Because let’s face it, our lives rarely feel any of those things all the time (thank God, really).

And while some may scream at me “But I don’t read romance to feel REAL!!!!! I *WANT THE FANTASY DAMMIT!!!!*”, my argument here is that because this *is* more real, *knowing* that this book fulfills all romance requirements I am presently aware of means that despite the realism, *you still get the fantasy as well*. You still get that happy ending – at least one that works for this couple in this story in this world. You still get that “awww” and that catharsis that everything works out in the end, no matter how shitty and messy it gets in between.

And to me, that makes the story *stronger*. *Because* it was more real and more heartfelt.

This was my first book from this author. It very likely will not be the last.

Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Principles Of (E)motion by Sara Read”

#BookReview: Make A Wish by Nicola Marsh

Solid Introduction Prequel – And Marketing. This is one of the shorter short stories out there at just 22 pages, but it does its job remarkably well – it shows us where our lead characters are just prior to the opening of Marsh’s earlier book Did Not Finish, as well as some of their initial motivations, setting up perfectly to lead directly into that particular book. Which makes it a spot-on prequel. In serving up this book just ahead of the launch of the *sequel* of Did Not Finish, One Star Review, it *also* reminds readers of the story and brings these characters back to the forefront of the mind, which as someone who has read nearly 200 books *since* reading Did Not Finish, was greatly appreciated. As to the actual story within these 22 pages… yes, they are more like an extended scene or two from each of our leads for Did Not Finish than a complete tale of its own here – but it seems that this was never *intended* to be a complete tale of its own, instead being exactly what it is – an “introduction” that also serves as a “reintroduction” to those of us who had already read Did Not Finish. Ultimately, it does everything it needed to do and not anything more, and thus this is actually a successful story. Very much recommended.

This review of Make A Wish by Nicola Marsh was originally written on December 27, 2023.

#BookReview: On The Plus Side by Jenny L. Howe

Lots Of Grand Ideas. No Technical Errors. Plenty Readers May Not Like. This is one of those books that is filled with GRANDIOSE IDEAS it wants to communicate and build an interesting story around. And it does that. There are no glaring technical errors with anything about this book. The plot works within world, the characters are serviceable enough for the genre generally, and the GRANDIOSE IDEAS are all given at least some “screen time”.

All of this noted, there are *several* issues here that individual readers may have problems with, depending on their own experiences.

The book opens with an author’s note about why she doesn’t have a problem with “fat” in the context of this tale + trigger warnings. Ok, there is a lot of discussion on trigger warnings at the front of books in Booklandia, with different people coming down on different sides there. Clearly, Howe has staked her position. Fair enough, but again, some readers may not like this.

Then we get into the various GRANDIOSE IDEAS as we go throughout the actual tale.

Self Acceptance. Noble idea, some may not like the execution of how it is explored.
Family Drama. While a certain family member is written almost as an antagonist… this is going to be one of those “antagonists” that at least some readers are likely going to agree with more than the main character.
“Reality” TV (and the lack of actual reality therein). This is a main driver of the plot, and for the most part works well enough. But there is a lot of social commentary here that I suspect won’t hit as hard for many as perhaps Howe had hoped.

Others get more into spoiler territory, so I’ll not discuss them here. But you get the idea. For at least some readers, this will absolutely be OHMYGODAMAZEBALLSAWESOMESAUCETHANKYOUFORWRITINGTHISMOSTIMPORTANTBOOKEVAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! level. I suspect that for most readers, this book will more likely fall into the “ok” – “good, but a few problems” range. And I do think that its 4.06 average across just over 500 reviews just days before publication (yes, I too read this as an ARC) is both evidence that I am right and, to my mind, roughly where its rating average is likely to pan out over time.


This review of On The Plus Side by Jenny L. Howe was originally written on December 22, 2023.

#BookReview: A Paper Snowflake Christmas by Maddie Evans

Solid Short Hallmarkie Christmas Read. Let’s face it, as we all go into Christmas weekend, every single one of us *knows* we are *going* to need a break from the extended family at some point for at least an hour or two, right? Well, at just about 130 or so pages… this is the perfect book to snatch up this Christmas and read over that very hour or two break you’re going to need anyway. It’s got all the family drama and Christmas magic – and Christmas hijinks – one would expect in such a tale, all wrapped up in such a short story that it really, truly is that perfect little breather from the real world and the real family drama. And bonus, new fans of Evans will get a solid introduction to her overall style…. in which case she has several more books ready for you to grab up with those gift cards so many will be getting. 😉 But seriously, this is jus another excellent tale from a truly strong storyteller. Do yourself a favor and pick it up. Very much recommended.

This review of A Paper Snowflake Christmas by Maddie Evans was originally written on December 18, 2023.