Finlay Donovan is Killing It

by Elle Cosimano
First sentence: “It’s a widely known fact that most moms are ready to kill someone by eight thirty a.m. on any given morning.”
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Content: There is swearing, including some f-bombs, talk of sexual assault, and (of course) death. It’s n the mystery section of the bookstore.

Finlay Donovan’s life is falling apart. Recently divorced, she is spending so much time taking care of her own children that she can’t finish the mystery book she’s supposed to have already had into her editor. Her ex-husband (and his fiance) is no help; he begrudgingly helps her bills when they get too big, but he’s had his lawyer file a motion for sole custody of the kids (even though he doesn’t really want to deal tih the everyday grind of raising them). Nothing seems to be going right.

Then, at a meeting in a Panera with her editor, a woman overhears her talking about the plot of her new book and mistakes her for an assassin. She hires Finlay to off her husband, offeringto pay enough to cover Finaly’s bills for quite a while. Finlay is determined not to dot his (she’s not a killer after all!), but when she’s checking the husband out, he accidentally ends up dead (seriously). Everything goes off the rails after that, with Finaly’s former nanny (who had quit because Finaly’s husband was sexually harassing her) getting in on the deal, and the two of them attempt to figure out who killed the husband while keeping the cops off their trail.

I needed something fluffy that wasn’t a romance, and this definitely delivered. It’s an incredibly smart and funny book, full of twists and turns, while also being a critique of how we look at motherhood and single/divorced moms. It was a lot of fun and the plot was good enough that kept me guessing.

I’m glad there’s a sequel so I can enjoy Finlay some more.

Audiobook: Flying Solo

by Linda Holmes
Read by Julia Whelan
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s swearing, including a couple of well-placed f-bombs. There is also off-screen sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Laurie grew up in a small Main town, and couldn’t wait to get away. She didn’t return often, and once her immediate family moved away, there wasn’t much reason to return. That is, until her Great-Aunt who had no children of her own, passed away. Suddenly, it became Laurie’s job to go through Aunt Dot’s house and get it ready to be sold. Once there, she discovers a wooden duck in a blanket chest, and that starts off a chain of events that leads Laurie to a greater understanding of her aunt. Along the way, she reconnects with her old boyfriend, Nick, who is recently divorced.

I liked that this was a less-than-traditional romance. While it’s still about people falling in love, it features a heroine who called off her wedding because she didn’t feel right about it. She’s nearly 40, she’s she’s a larger woman; Holmes mentions “size18” and “larger body”. Laurie is a woman who knows that she wants to live alone and that maybe being married isn’t for her. She’s bucking societal norms, not doing things the way things are “supposed” to be done. I really really appreciated that. And honestly: it was this embracing of non-traditionalness that made the book a really good one for me.

Whelan is still a delightful narrator; she makes the listening experience super engaging and enjoyable. I will have to listen to her read more! In short: thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Spear

by Nicola Griffith
First sentence: “In the wild wast, a girl, growing.”
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Content: There’s some violence and off-screen sex. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

One of my co-workers sold this to me by saying “It’s Arthurian legends, but gay” and honestly, that’s all it took. Griffith is taking the world of King Artur, planting it in 6th-century Wales, and making one of the knights, Peretur (or Percival) a woman. It’s familiar (to those of us who have gone through Arthurian obsessions), and yet, it’s also new. Making Peretur a woman updates the myth without sacrificing its ancient origins. I adored Peretur, and the journey she went on, from growing up in the wild with her mother to her quest to become a knight of KIng Aruthur. Her kind heart and fierce nature were balanced so well. I felt that Griffiths’ writing gave the book an ethereal quality, making it seem like a story that’s being told around a fire. It’s short, so I felt like Griffiths was able to get to the heart of the matter, without there bieng a lot of extra.

In short, It was exactly everything I wanted from an Arthurian tale.

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting

by Clare Pooley
First sentence: “Until the point when a man dying right in front of her on the 08:05, Iona’s day had been just like any other.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some swearing, including some very well placed f-bombs. It’s in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

Iona has been a magazine advice columnist for 30 years. She has a routine, and she sticks to it She gets up, rides the train into the city and works, and comes home. She is happy with her life the way it is. That is, until the day it all changed. It starts with a man chocking in front of her and spirals out from there: she has trouble at the magazine, she’s “too old” and out of touch. But she also makes connections with these fellow commuters, whom she only knew by the nicknames she gave them. Suddenly , they have names, and problems, and she has a purpose. But it’s not just a book about Iona. While she is the axel on which the wheel of everyone’s lives turns (as was very helpfully pointed out by a inor charaer), it’s also about the lives of the people Iona comes to interact with. It switches perspectives, giving us the background on a few of the characters, as they, too, go through changes.

Oh, I adored this book. I loved Iona – she is a fantastic character, so full of charm and wit and life — but I also loved the way Pooley explores all the little ways that people are and should be connected. It was charming, it was funny, and I was thoroughly touched by Iona and the lives of the others in the book it made I was absolutely delighted by this book, and I wish there were more so it wouldn’t have to end.

The world needs ore Ionas in it, and I hope that maybe I can be one. Someday.

Audiobook: Yerba Buena

by Nina LaCour
Read by: Julia Whelan
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: there is some talk of drug use, some prostitution, off-screen sex, and swearing including f-bombs. It’s in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

Emelie and Sara are two women, both at odds with their life. Emilie has been in college for seven years, changing her major five times, and has yet to graduate. Sara ran away from home at 16, without finishing high school when her best friend (and lover) was found dead in the river. She spent years working her way up from the bottom to become a respected bartender. When she and Emilie first meet, though, it’s an instant spark, but at the time, Emilie is having an affair with the owner of a restaurant. When they do connect, things don’t go well. In fact, that’s the whole point of the book, I think: Emilie and Sara have to become their own individuals before they can successfully become a couple.

I think that’s the whole point of the novel: it’s much less a love story than it is a growing-up story. Both Emilie and Sara have pasts they need to reconcile with and futures they need to figure out. Yes, they are ready for a relationship, but maybe not quite ready enough, which gives the whole book an air of the bittersweet to it. I adore LaCour’s writing and the way she makes characters come alive. It also helped that Whelan’s narration was incredibly engaging.

Definitely a good book.

Audiobook: The Charm Offensive

by Alison Cochran
Read by: Vikas Adam, Graham Halstead & Cassandra Campbell
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s a bunch of swearing, including multiple f-bobms. There are also some steamy scenes. It’s in the Romance setion of the bookstore.

Dav is a producer on this reality Bachelor-eque reality TV show, Ever After. he’s still pretty into the premise: finding that magical fairy tale love. But, when he’s suddenly switched from being the handler for the women to being the handler for their newest “prince, ” Charlie, Dav starts to wonder a bit about this whole “Truve love” thing. Wealthy, tech-giant Charlie is everything Dav is not: sophisticated, handsome, awkward, intense, and on the show just to get a job in tech again. Things start out on the wrong foot between the two fo them, but as the season goes on, they find out that maybe they have more in common than they thought.

I think my favorite trope is when the thing is commenting on the thing while being the thing. In this case, Cochrun comments on the toxicity and overall hetero-ness of reality-TV love shows, while the story is set on a reality-tv love show where two gay men absolutely fall in love. It’s sweet, it’s fun, it’s smart, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The narrators are brilliant and propel the whole book forward, definitely keeping me engaged the whole time. I couldn’t put it down!

Network Effect

by Martha Wells
First sentence: “I’ve had clients who thought they needed an absurd level of security.”
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Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f0bobs. It’s in the science fiction section of the bookstore.
Others in the series:  All Systems RedArtificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, Exit Strategy

Spoilers for the first four, obviously. Although you don’t have to read those to read this, it really does help.

Murderbot has come to Preservation a non-Corporation planet, to live, to figure out what it wants to do and to be Dr. Mensah’s bodyguard. It’s sent on a mission with several people from Preservation, including Mensah’s daughter and brother-in-law, and that’s when things go sideways. They are attacked by a ship as soon as they leave Preservation space, and Murederbot and another team member are kidnapped. The others manage to come along (unfortunately, it means more humans to protect), and the greater plan is revealed: ART’s (the asshole research transport from book 2) crew has been taken by some people who are on a planet that has been compromised by alien remnants, and he wants it back. So, he sent the kidnappers to get Murderbot, because ART knew Murderbot would be able to find and retrieve them for it. Murderbot is not happy about being taken forcibly, but it cares (that’s a strong word) enough for ART that it’s willing to do what ART wants.

That’s basically what happens – sort of – but the real pleasure was having the ART-Murderbot relationship back. It was hilarious and sweet and delightful, and Murderbot would hate all of those words if it knew. There was one point where one of the other characters decided ART and Muderbot were in a relationship, and Murderbot got incredibly angry about that, mostly because it’s true. but, it’s also still a well-plotted book: a mystery to solve, corporation/non-corporation dynamics to explore, a weird planet (gotta love those), and a lot of fun, cranky inner dialogue on Murderbot’s part. U was a little wary that the longer form would dilute some of the charms of these books, but thankfully, II was wrong. It was still just as fun as a full-length novel.

These are such a delight to read.

Audiobook: Olga Dies Dreaming

by Xochitl Gonzalez
Read by: Almarie Guerra, Armando Riesco & Inés del Castillo
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of sex, on-screen and off, a lot of f-bombs and swearing, and one (implied) rape scene. It’s in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

Oh, this one is a hard book to sum up. Olga is a 40-year-old, single, wedding planner whose mother left the family when Olga was 13. Her older brother, Prieto, is a congressman for their Brooklyn district, and a closeted gay man. They’re basically trying to survive and deal with both the gap and the shadow that their revolutionary mother has created. It’s a process – Olga dealing with latent trauma and working with the ultra-rich, and she hits a breaking point when Hurricane Maria hits. As does Prieto. It’s very much a sibling book, a growing up book, a making your own way out of the shadow of your parent’s expectations book.

That doesn’t begin to cover the book, or how it held me spellbound, especially on audio. It was smart, interesting, informative (I did learn a bunch about Puerto Rico’s history), and fascinating. The narrators were all excellent, and I was completely engrossed in the story. I had feelings about the characters, and I wanted to spend more time with them (Mateo is really the best). An excellent book and one I’m glad I took a chance on.

Book Lovers

by Emily Henry
First sentence: “When books are your life — or in my case, your job — you get pretty good at guessing where a story is going.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher
Release date: May 3, 2022
Content: Oh. Well, there’s a LOT of sexytimes. And swearing. It will be in the Romance section of the bookstore.

Nora has grown up in New York, a pair of sisters of a single mother who passed away when she was in her early 20s. She has worked hard, getting a job at a literary agency and working her way up to be a respected and successful literary agent. The problem is that she hasn’t really ever taken time out for her social life. Sure, she has boyfriends, but they never last: inevitably going the “small-town romance cliche” route having their lives changed by a woman they met while on a trip in some small town somewhere. So Nora’s sister, Libby, put together a “small-town romance” checklist, convinces Nora to go to a small town in North Carolina for a month, and proceeds to try to get Nora to have a small-town romance experience of her won. Except, the first person Nora bumps into is Charlie Lastra, an editor from the city who is not Nora’s favorite person.

You probably know where it’s going to go from here. My favorite thing about this — aside from the palpable chemistry betwen Nora and Charlie — is that this is book is perfectly aware of what it is. Henry takes all the small-town romance cliches and satirizes them while absolutely being them at the same time. It made for a smart, fun, thoroughly enjoyable book. And yes, all the sexytimes were very swoon-worthy, adding to the tension between Nora and Charlie. I also liked them as characters, though: Henry gave them each a complex and believable backstory that made them interesting characters to spend time with.

I’ll put it this way: I have enjoyed all of Henry’s romances, but I think this one is my favorite.

Exit Strategy

by Martha Wells
First sentence: “When I got back to HaveRatton Station, a bunch of humans tried to kill me.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series:  All Systems RedArtificial Condition, Rogue Protocol
Content there is some violence and a handful of f-bombs. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

To be honest, I really don’t have anything new to say about Murderbot. This one wraps up the arc that started with book one, as Murderbot meets back up with Mensah and they all take on GrayChris, the corporation that has been killing people to cover their tracks. It still has everything I have come to love about these books: it’s funny, it’s got action, it’s a bit of a heist book, it’s a quick read, and I love it so much.

Seriously: if you haven’t read these yet, do. They’re great.