Posted in First Lines Friday, General Books

First Lines Friday – 15 November

Yayaya, HAPPY FRIYAY, book lovers and friends 😍We’re back with another First Lines Friday! This is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines? Here are THE RULES:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

First lines:

“There was a reason Gavin Scott rarely drank.
He was bad at it.
As in, face-planted on the carpet while reaching for the bottle bad. And too drunk to see in the dark so might as well stay down bad.”

Do you recognize the book these first lines come from?

Okay, okay, calm yourself Loki, mate...

*drumroll please!*

The book is: The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

The first rule of book club:
You don’t talk about book club.
Nashville Legends second baseman Gavin Scott’s marriage is in major league trouble. He’s recently discovered a humiliating secret: his wife Thea has always faked the Big O. When he loses his cool at the revelation, it’s the final straw on their already strained relationship. Thea asks for a divorce, and Gavin realizes he’s let his pride and fear get the better of him. 

Welcome to the Bromance Book Club.
Distraught and desperate, Gavin finds help from an unlikely source: a secret romance book club made up of Nashville’s top alpha men. With the help of their current read, a steamy Regency titled Courting the Countess, the guys coach Gavin on saving his marriage. But it’ll take a lot more than flowery words and grand gestures for this hapless Romeo to find his inner hero and win back the trust of his wife.

Have you read The Bromance Book Club or is it on your TBR?

Posted in Book Reviews, Contemporary, General Books, Romance

Under Locke by Mariana Zapata – #BookReview

Goodreads: Under Locke
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Panda Rating:

He was my boss, my brother’s friend, a Widower, an ex-felon, and a man I’d seen casually with a handful of women. But he was everything that gripped me, both the good and the bad. Worst case scenario if things turned awkward between us, I could go somewhere else. I’d gotten over epic heartbreak before, one more wouldn’t kill me.

After moving to Austin following six months of unemployment back home, Iris Taylor knows she should be glad to have landed a job so quickly… even if the business is owned by a member of the same motorcycle club her estranged father used to belong to. Except Dex Locke might just be the biggest jerk she’s ever met. He’s rude, impatient and doesn’t know how to tell time.

And the last thing they ever expected was each other.
But it was either the strip club or the tattoo shop.
… she should have chosen the strip club. 

It’s official: I’m a big Mariana Zapata fan and I think she’ll be an auto-read (maybe even auto-buy) author from now on. I’m so glad that Jen recommended this to me because I absolutely loved it! I was waiting for the right time to start reading this because past experience has shown me that once I start a Zapata book I won’t want to put it down.

Under Locke was surprisingly not as much of a slow burn compared to her other books; although compared to most other romances, it was still very much a slow burn. I don’t think there’s anyone who does slow burns as well as Zapata and it’s always so damn satisfying when the MCs finally get together. I can safely say that it’s absolutely always worth the wait and this one was no different. Although Dex did grate on my nerves a little bit with his extremely volatile temper and asshole-ish behavior, I pretty much fell in lovelust with him at the same pace as Iris did. Although his attitude does soften as the story goes on (especially towards her), he’s unapologetically himself and while I can see how that can rub people the wrong way, I appreciated that about his character. Can I also say that tattoos + men + me = (almost) guaranteed win? They’re kind of like my Achilles heel? Especially when they’re tall, brooding and totally inked (mega bonus points to Dex for owning his own parlor)!

Unsurprisingly, Iris is the total opposite of Dex. She’s sweet, shy, very innocent and it doesn’t take much to make her blush. She’s a pretty strong and resilient character, and did I mention that she’s also bookish and smart? Iris has been through some pretty tough shit in life that made her have to grow up faster than usual. While she’s only in her early twenties, she comes off as pretty mature and I really admired her character! Is the dynamic between Iris and Dex sounding a little too cliché and tropey right now? Well, maybe it is…but Zapata really does it so well and I wasn’t mad about it! Their chemistry was FIRE and those steamy scenes… Damn, those steamy scenes! 😏 I was doing a lot of swooning while reading this book (lmao).

What I also really loved about Under Locke were the side characters. The friendships that form between Iris and the rest of the artists at the parlor really gave me ‘found family’ vibes and I was here for it! The banter (oh, the banter) between everyone that worked at the store had me genuinely bent with laughter and the scenes that showed Dex relaxing/laughing with the group were also some of my favorites! Iris’ half-brother was another character that really grew on me and I really hope that we get his story because he’s such marshmallow/cinnamon roll and I want to know more ASAP!

Overall, I clearly loved this book and it definitely is a contender for my top Zapata book next to The Wall of Winnipeg and Me and Wait For It. I took off half a star because of some repetitive things some characters did which I found slightly eye-roll inducing. I’ve definitely noticed this repetitive trait in Zapata’s characters in other books too though; so by now it’s not unexpected, it’s just a little eh. But that won’t stop me from reading her books because LOVE 😍

Have you read Under Locke? Are you a Mariana Zapata fan?
Let’s chat in the comments!

Posted in Book Reviews, Crime-Thriller-Mystery, Fiction, General Books

Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager – #BookReview

Goodreads: Last Time I Lied
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Fiction
Panda Rating:

Have you ever played two truths and a lie?

Emma has. Her first summer away from home, she learned how to play the game. And she learned how to lie.
Then three of her new friends went into the woods and never returned . . .
Now, years later, Emma has been asked to go back to the newly re-opened Camp Nightingale. She thinks she’s laying old ghosts to rest but really she’s returning to the scene of a crime. Because Emma’s innocence might be the biggest lie of all…

Holy wow, what a ride! Excuse me while I still try to scrape my jaw up off the floor. I was meant to read this as part of a group read organized by Mel @ My Nights Booked but in typical Dini fashion, I managed to forget that I signed up for it and missed the conversation 😅But I’m so glad I decided to pick it up anyway because once I did I absolutely couldn’t put it down! This is my second Sager book and it’s now clear to me that he likes to throw a jaw dropping twist at the very end of his stories!

I’ve been in a restless reading funk over the last few days, so the pacing of the story was a bit slow for me to start. I initially wasn’t sure that I could resist putting it down for something else, but I kept on and as the story progressed, I quickly found myself hooked and jumping from 20% to 49% to 80% in the blink of an eye! Last Time I Lied was deeply atmospheric–I definitely got all the creepy camp vibes with the many hidden clearings, the legends/myths of Lake Midnight and Camp Nightingale, and the cabins and woods. I did think that it would be more ghost-spooky than mystery-spooky but I’m so glad that it wasn’t because it would’ve taken me so much longer to get through it!

I usually find unreliable narrators really frustrating so I’m surprised that I never felt that about Emma, as she was a very unreliable narrator and her desperation to understand what happened and figure out what was wrong had me often itching with the need to know myself. I was questioning so much of what happened and what was happening as I read because I was constantly questioning Emma’s narrative. Was she actually schizophrenic and hallucinating everything that happened and was happening? Was she the one who actually made the girls disappear? Was everyone playing along with her by making believe that she was okay when she really wasn’t because of some misguided desire to protect her? But then was everyone else guilty as well? I mean I don’t think there was one moment in the story where I didn’t think everyone was guilty because in true Sager style, he makes you question everything and every character he puts before you! I couldn’t settle on whodunit up to the very end and even then it actually wasn’t who I expected.

And I mean, that ending though?! Talk about being completely thrown by it! I really thought I was going to be a bit disappointed with how everything was playing out but I actually barked out loud (with shocked laughter) when Sager threw that final twist because of course everything we learn at the very end had my jaw dropping even further! I really love how Sager is able to take his stories in such unexpected directions–it really makes the whole reading experience so much more exciting. Even though that ending still left me with questions and the strong need to know more, I’m actually pretty satisfied with it. Although I’ve only read two of Sager’s books, they’ve both really been a hit with me and I’m eager to read his others to see if I’ll feel the same way about them.

Have you read Last Time I Lied? What did you think?
Let me know in the comments and let’s chat!

Posted in Book Reviews, Contemporary, General Books, Romance

Fake Date (Dating #2) by Monica Murphy – #BookReview

Goodreads: Fake Date (Dating #2)
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Fiction
Panda Rating:

Working at Bliss, Sarah Harrison deals with all sorts of—interesting clientele. Yet no one sparks her interest more than Jared Gaines, the ultra-rich, ultra-sexy businessman who frequents her shop, buying delicate little “gifts” for the women in his life. But one day, Jared sends her a gift from Bliss. Then another—and another. So when Sarah walks into his office demanding to know why he can’t stop sending her gifts, he makes her an offer she somehow can’t refuse: be his fake girlfriend for the weekend while attending his brother’s engagement party.
Next thing Sarah knows, she’s in San Francisco, pretending to be in love with Jared. Not that it’s a hardship. Once you get the man away from the office, he’s much more relaxed. Sweet. Funny. Even…thoughtful? Oh, and sexier than ever, of course. Their pretend relationship feels very real, very quickly. Soon Sarah’s in over her head. Could what she and Jared share turn into something real? Or is it all actually…fake?

I’m torn between 2.5-3 stars for this. Fake Date was a very easy and quick read that was enjoyable enough for me in certain parts, but it sadly lacked depth/development. I know not all romances need it, but as this sits at almost 400 pages, you’d think there’d be more substance. When I first saw this book I didn’t realise it was part of a series, but it works as a standalone too. I liked where the story was going initially, but the follow through wasn’t quite there. This had a few sexy scenes, but the actual scenes are fade to black or very mildly sexy (imo), but I wasn’t fussed. The build up of tension was great though, and it’s honestly what kept me going (what can I say, I’m a sucker for the angst).

I enjoyed Sarah’s character well enough, although her indecisiveness got to me (literally one minute she didn’t care about Jared’s attention, and the next she’s walking with an extra swing in her step so he’ll notice her sexy hips). She kept repeating until the end that she didn’t like Jared, even after they got together and all her emotions surfaced, and it just became a bit eye-roll inducing. I felt her character wasn’t as well formed as she could’ve been, and that was a little disappointing. I loved her relationship with her siblings and her friends though, and I wanted more of that!

When it comes to Jared… Look, y’all know we love a good grumpy bear of a hero who changes as he lets the heroine chip away at his very high and strong walls, teaching him how to love again, how to be civil to people again, etc. etc. It heightens the tension between characters and gives you all the angsty drama feels, and usually without too much drawn out drama. Unfortunately, Jared was a bit too much of an asshole and he never really changed by the end. We were told by various characters half-way through that he was changing, but we’re never really shown it; and when we do see it, the change was so abrupt that it felt forced. I understand that those walls came up because of the losses he experienced, but I felt that his attitude was entirely OTT. Some of the things he’d say were waay out of line and it angered me that each time he’d say something degrading or rude, he’d need someone to point out what a douchebag he was being and who’d force him to apologise. Like, are you seriously that dense, mate? I liked that Sarah didn’t let him get away with shit, but she’s also not his mother and shouldn’t be continuously reprimanding him for his bad behaviour.

My favorite part about this book is the group of strong supportive women though. This is what every woman needs in their life: friends who tell it like it is without being vindictive or catty, and who support you wholeheartedly. I loved that there were so many women supporting women scenes, even between the would be ‘enemy’. It’s so refreshing and much needed in romances!

Overall, while I’m a little disappointed in how it turned out, I’m still glad I picked this up because the blurb really caught my eye. Will I read the first book of the series? I’m not sure. But I think I’d like to check out book three because Candice’s character really grew on me and I want to hear more about her!

Have you read Fake Date? What’d you think of it?
Let me know in the comments and let’s chat!

Posted in Book Reviews, Chick Lit, Contemporary, General Books, Romance, Women's Fiction

The Ingredients of Us by Jennifer Good – #BookReview

Goodreads: The Ingredients of Us
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Fiction
Panda Rating:

Elle, an accomplished baker, has a recipe for every event in her life. But when she discovers her husband’s infidelity, she doesn’t know what to make of it. Jam, maybe? Definitely jam.
Fed up with the stale crumbs of her marriage, Elle revisits past recipes and the events that inspired them. A recipe for scones reminds her of her father’s death, cinnamon rolls signify the problematic courtship with her husband, and a batch of chocolate cookies casts Elle in a less-than-flattering light. Looking back, Elle soon realizes that some ingredients were missing all along.
After confronting her husband, Elle indulges her sweet tooth in other ways, including a rebound that just leaves her more confused. As secrets from the past collide with the conflicts of the present, Elle struggles to manage her bakery business and maintain the relationships most important to her. In piecing her life back together, will Elle learn to take the bitter with the sweet?

This is kind of hard for me to review because although I really related to the internal struggles and the experience that Elle went through, I also found her character frustrating, the storyline a bit slow, and I found myself wishing that we got more development in the present.

Gold’s writing flows well and is easy to follow. It’s not overly descriptive but it’s laced with emotions; she really knows how to make readers feel what her characters are going through. I enjoyed the recipes that were laced throughout the story, and they highlighted well the importance of baking to Elle’s character. I really want to try some of the recipes because they sound delectable!

The story was told through Elle’s perspective and the story alternates between the past and present with the affair being the main point of reference (i.e. four months after Elle found out; nine years before Elle found out etc.). I’ve come to realise that I’m not always keen on this style, but I know the author was trying to show how Elle & Tom’s relationship developed through the struggles, successes, good times and bad. Sometimes I felt the flashback chapters dragged a bit so I would find myself skimming pages because nothing happened that significantly contributed to getting a better understanding of the story. I think the hardest part for me to read was the day that Elle found out because it was basically a cut/copy of what happened to me, so naturally I became very emotional.

I think one of the main issues I had was that while I empathised with Elle, I also found her character’s insecurity overwhelmed all other aspects of her character. I found her indecisiveness also very frustrating and it honestly filled me up with a lot of anxiety! I also found that I never really trusted Tom but we also really don’t learn much about his character. I think the story would’ve benefited from including his perspective in it, and to give the story a bit more depth. While I absolutely hate cheating, in the end I found myself feeling a bit… sorry for him? There’s clearly a lack of openness between Tom and Elle that basically led to the break down of their marriage, and I wish that we would’ve seen more acknowledgement on Elle’s part especially, that it takes two to tango because a marriage isn’t a relationship with yourself (and that’s not me placing blame on her character at all)!

Judging from the cover of the novel, you’d think this would be a happy and fluffy story, but it really isn’t and is actually quite emotionally heavy; although the ending does provide a glimmer of hope, maybe, for our characters. While it wasn’t a favorite, I did enjoy Gold’s debut and I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next!

Have you read The Ingredients of Us? What’d you think of it?
Let me know in the comments and let’s chat!

Posted in Book Reviews, Chick Lit, Contemporary, General Books, New Adult, Romance

The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker – #BookReview

Goodreads: The Simple Wild
Genre: Contemporary Romance, New Adult

Calla Fletcher was two when her mother took her and fled the Alaskan wild, unable to handle the isolation of the extreme, rural lifestyle, leaving behind Calla’s father, Wren Fletcher, in the process. Calla never looked back, and at twenty-six, a busy life in Toronto is all she knows. But when her father reaches out to inform her that his days are numbered, Calla knows that it’s time to make the long trip back to the remote frontier town where she was born.
She braves the roaming wildlife, the odd daylight hours, the exorbitant prices, and even the occasional—dear God—outhouse, all for the chance to connect with her father: a man who, despite his many faults, she can’t help but care for. While she struggles to adjust to this new subarctic environment, Jonah—the quiet, brooding, and proud Alaskan pilot who keeps her father’s charter plane company operational—can’t imagine calling anywhere else home. And he’s clearly waiting with one hand on the throttle to fly this city girl back to where she belongs, convinced that she’s too pampered to handle the wild.
Jonah is probably right, but Calla is determined to prove him wrong. As time passes, she unexpectedly finds herself forming a bond with the burly pilot. As his undercurrent of disapproval dwindles, it’s replaced by friendship—or perhaps something deeper? But Calla is not in Alaska to stay and Jonah will never leave. It would be foolish of her to kindle a romance, to take the same path her parents tried—and failed at—years ago.
It’s a simple truth that turns out to be not so simple after all.

If you’re like a sweet enemies-to-lovers romance, with a bit of family drama & a few ‘finding yourself & learning about forgiveness’ moments, all set in a beautiful Alaska, then this is for you!

The Simple Wild was a heartwarming, beautifully romantic story set in the Alaskan wild. I don’t know what it is about me and Alaska, but I’ve been low key obsessed with (the idea of) it since I read a book set there a few years ago. Yes, some books romanticize it, and to an extent this was one, but I’m not blinded to the harsh reality Alaskan life. BUT I DIGRESS! I just wanted to say that this book made me fall even more in love with the simple, terrifying, harsh and beautiful place that is Alaska.

What can I say about The Simple Wild other than I loved it?! I’ve already shared how much I love the setting, but the characters and their stories also quickly grew on me. I’ll admit that I wasn’t Calla’s biggest fan at the start. She was a spoiled and entitled millennial who thought life didn’t exist without the internet, and who wouldn’t stop spouting about how expensive everything in her luggage was. It became eye-roll inducing at one point. That said, her character growth was so satisfying to witness! It wasn’t exactly a quick adjustment, but I loved that she slowly let her city girl go, and slowly found her place in the close-knit community in Bangor. If there’s one thing I learned from reading stories set in Alaska, it’s that community and the support you get from it, is a big part of surviving up there. It was great to see her finally realize that it is possible to survive without a full face of makeup and access to internet 24/7. I also enjoyed how her relationship with Wren, her father, also grew and healed. Calla felt a lot of resentment, insecurity and abandonment issues because of his decision to stay in Alaska and her childhood without him, but it was so heartwarming to see both of them let their guards down and be open with each other about their feelings. I’m so glad that they were able to build up their relationship and form a touching father-daughter bond, despite many years of not talking or seeing each other. Wren and Calla’s mother’s story was so bittersweet and heartbreaking.

Then we come to the love interest. Jonah was your typical grumpy mountain man, full with Yeti-styled fashion, with the biggest, warmest heart underneath! He was an absolute cinnamon roll and everyone who told me that I’d love him was SPOT ON! Damn those sky cowboys and their ability to steal your heart! I LOVED the relationship between Calla and Jonah! It was sweet and their progression from enemies-to-lovers was just SO GOOD. The build up was well-paced and wholly satisfying. I loved that Jonah wasn’t afraid to tell it like it is, no matter how difficult it was for Calla to hear. He had zero issues putting her in her place, especially at the start, but I liked that he was also able to admit to his faults if he did wrong. Their banter was hilarious and when she did *that thing* in revenge, I was breathless with laughter; especially because it also resulted in a great ice-breaking moment between Calla and Wren! On the heat scale, I would say this book is on a 2-3 out of 5. There was one mildly explicit sex scene, with other shorter steamier moments, but not much.

“Up here it’s about having enough food to eat, and enough heat to stay alive through the winter. It’s about survival, and enjoying the company of the people that surround us. It’s not about whose house is the biggest, or who has the nicest clothes, or the most money. We support each other because we’re all in this together. And people either like that way of life or they don’t…” 

The reason why I took off half a star was because I felt the end was wrapped up so quickly! It obviously wasn’t an unpredictable story or ending, but I still wish that it was a little less abrupt. I also wished that we got to see Calla interact more with the Alaskan natives because of how big a role they play in certain characters’ (Jonah and Wren) love and respect for Alaska and those who live there! Overall, I really enjoyed this read. I couldn’t put it down and finished it in one (long) night! It was my first Tucker read but it won’t be my last and I’m keen to check out more of what she’s written.

Have you read The Simple Wild? Do you have a thing for Alaska too? 😂 Leave me a comment below and let’s chat!

Posted in Book Reviews, Crime-Thriller-Mystery, General Books, Historical Fiction, Horror, Young Adult

Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1) by Kerri Maniscalco – #BookReview

Goodreads: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1)
Genre: Historical Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Young Adult Fiction

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life. Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

This book has received a lot of love in the community and I think I had pretty high expectations going into it, so I was little bit flummoxed that it ended up being very different to what I expected. That’s not necessarily in a bad way, but I think this might be a big case of it’s not you, it’s me. I mean, I liked it well enough but I didn’t love it. I read this as part of a big group read on Twitter, and they’re continuing on with the series throughout the month but I think I’ll put off continuing it for now.

SJTR was told through the perspective of Audrey Rose Wadsworth, who was smart, fiercely independent and very ahead of the times for that period, and she wasn’t at all shy to show it. I found her rebellious and spunky character refreshing. I love that she was a bit of a nerd, who just wanted to do cool things like autopsies and solve murders, but that she also loved fancy clothes and dressing up. She spends the majority of the story with her uncle, a famous doctor who people think is insane, and Thomas Creswell. Everyone who has read this book seems to have loved Creswell’s character the most. He definitely gave me Sherlock vibes, with his observant deductions and brilliant mind, but I liked that he was also sassy, sarcastic and bold. I felt a little like the romance between Audrey and Thomas was a little insta-love and I wasn’t actually here for it (sorry, please don’t kill me)! I just didn’t feel any spark between them and because of that their romantic interactions fell flat and felt forced! With how quickly the romance evolved between Audrey and Thomas, it was easy to forget the period which this was set in. If it was realistic, half the things that happened with Audrey traipsing around on her own, and especially alone with men, would not have happened. I mean, we’re talking the late 1880s here, so it’s a bit unrealistic. While the more modern tones of the story made it a much easier read than it would’ve been otherwise, I think it also detracted from the whole vibe/setting of the story.

I’ve always had a morbid fascination with the ‘legend’ of serial killers and murderers, and Jack the Ripper is one of the most infamous even until now. While reading, the names of his victims were familiar, but since the last time I went into a spiral binge of reading up on The Ripper was over a decade ago, I didn’t actually remember all the details of what he did to them. So I really enjoyed the fictional liberties that Maniscalco took to develop this story around his legend, while still remaining as close to what happened as possible. I also appreciated Maniscalco’s author’s note that detailed what she took liberties with. That said, I was a little shocked by how easily I deduced who Jack the Ripper was. I won’t say that I figured it out from the very beginning, but it was like a lightning strike moment when I figured it out and I was a little upset that Audrey didn’t see the <b>very obvious</b> clue that was like a big, bright red waving flag in front of her. I ended up wanting to shout at her for the rest of the book because it was SO OBVIOUS and the fact that Thomas didn’t pick up on it when he’s supposed to be a genius who sees everything, was kind of disappointing. I thought the ending was also a bit too rushed, and I was a little disappointed with how it was so… easily resolved and a little too picture perfect happy for such a horrifying story!

Another thing I appreciated was the detail of added photos to some of the chapters. I always find black and white photos a little creepy, even when they’re innocent, and these fit so well with the content of the story. I think only one of them, which I wasn’t expecting at all, gave me a right fright when I was reading this at around 3am on Friday/Saturday, and so I made sure to check the photos ahead of time (during the day!) so I wouldn’t get another shocker. I will say though that this book was a lot darker and more gory than I anticipated, so a word of caution if you’re looking to pick it up and aren’t so good with gore!

I was thinking about going straight into Hunting Prince Dracula, but I’m glad that I didn’t because it would’ve been too much for me. Apparently as I get older my constitution gets weaker LOL I am interested in continuing the series eventually though. So while I did enjoy this thrilling historical fiction, I felt a little too detached from the characters to really fall in love with the story. I’d still recommend it to anyone who likes a thrilling mystery, historical fiction, quirky characters and great banter, as well as a strong female lead ahead of her time.

Have you read Stalking Jack the Ripper? Did it live up to the hype for you? Leave me a comment below and let’s chat!