ARC review: Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett

⭐ Goodreads ⭐ Amazon ⭐ 

Future astrophysicist Zorie is a planner. She plans to attend an upcoming star party with her friend Avani. She plans to avoid her neighbors, the Mackenzies. She plans to help out her mom and stay out of her dad’s way. When her friend Reagan invites her on a spur-of-the-moment camping trip, all of Zorie’s plans are in disarray. Even though she hates disrupting her plans, drama with her parents helps her make the decision to go. The camping trip is nothing like Zorie’d expected – what was supposed to be a girls weekend ends up co-ed and it’s not long before Zorie finds herself stranded in the woods with Lennon Mackenzie, her former best friend turned biggest enemy.

I’ve never been a camper. I’m from Wisconsin, where camping is the thing to do and I’ve never even once slept in a tent. I can’t imagine making the decision to just rough it and hang out in the wilderness for a week, but apparently, this is a thing that people do! More power to them, but it’s not for me. Except… after reading this book, I kind of want to go camping in the middle of nowhere!

Jenn Bennett checked all of my boxes in this cute, swoony romance. We’ve got childhood friends who had a falling out. Enemies-to-lovers. Multiple friendships getting hashed out. Interesting, multilayered characters. Some family drama that is actually properly dealt with and not just swept under the rug. There’s also a healthy discussion of safe, consensual sex, which is always a plus for me (and something that I wish would have been more common when I was an actual Young Adult).

I really and truly loved this book and was legitimately upset every time I had to put it down. Luckily, I had downloaded it to my phone so I was able to sneak in a few pages here and there! I ended up finishing in less than 24 hours, just as I did with Alex, Approximately.

Jenn Bennett is an author to watch and Starry Eyes is sure to be one of my top books of the year.

Final rating: ★★★★★

I received a free advance copy of Starry Eyes from The Fantastic Flying Book Club in exchange for my honest review and participation in this blog tour. Thank you!

This review originally appeared on my Tumblr as part of the Starry Eyes blog tour.

Book review: Before I Knew by Jamie Beck

⭐ Goodreads ⭐ Amazon ⭐

Colby’s life hasn’t been short on tragedy. Her best friend Joe died in a terrible accident and, a few months later, her husband committed suicide. Deciding it’s time for a fresh start, she leaves her life as a lawyer behind and decides to start a restaurant. Hiring Joe’s brother as the executive chef might stir up a lot of emotions, but as a well-known, award-winning chef, Alec couldn’t be a better choice.

In her two years as a widow, Colby hasn’t even attempted another relationship, so she’s shocked when she begins to feel an attraction to Alec. But everything is not as it seems, and both Colby and Alec are hiding their guilt over past mistakes. Can they make a relationship work, or will everything in their past get in the way?

I love romances that start in childhood, especially when it was one-sided and there was a lot of pining. I can say I’m a teensy bit creeped out by the age difference… but what can you do. I also love brother’s best friend romances, and Alec was (and, to an extent, still is) good friends with Colby’s older brother, Hunter. I had expected that I would love this book, but I didn’t.  I really, really, really didn’t.

The beginning of the book wasn’t bad. The pacing was a little uneven, but it had its moments. I liked watching Colby and Alec come to grips with their attraction. There are things in their pasts that make a relationship difficult, but there was always this simmering current of sexual tension running through all of their interactions. Jamie Beck is really good at writing lingering stares, flashbacks, and tension.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the only positive thing I can say about this book.

The book is just… so heavy. I wasn’t expecting that, I wasn’t in the mood for that, and it’s obviously reflected in my rating. We have death and suicide and long-lasting reactions and repercussions and the processing of grief and I just wanted a romance. I expected something light and romantic based on the blurb and the cover — maybe a little bit of depth given the suicide aspect — but this isn’t light and it’s not particularly romantic. This book is only 354 pages but I had to force myself to finish it over the course of four days.

One of my biggest pet peeves in a romance is characters who act like children. You’re grown up enough to have a sexual relationship but you’re not grown up enough to get the heck over yourself and have an actual conversation? Drives me crazy.

Colby was so immature. Honestly, she’s like a petulant child. Yes, she’s lived through some very awful things, but her whole thing about “Alec has a temper so he’s probably bipolar” and “I can’t make compromises ever again because I made too many compromises in my marriage” was so frustrating. Everything Alec does gets compared to everything Mark did. Everything they do together gets compared to everything she and Mark did together.

Colby is so stubborn and hard-headed and nobody really calls her out on it. I guess Hunter gives her a tiny bit of a talking-to near the end of the book, but it’s too little too late. Colby makes decisions that clearly have negative effects on her life (and the lives of those around her) and it’s just like everybody goes along with it because she’s Colby. It’s her life. It’s her restaurant. Nobody can say anything.

One of the things that drove me absolutely crazy was Colby’s insistence that she, a lawyer with literally zero food experience, knew how to develop a menu better than an award-winning chef. That she knew better how to run a restaurant than people with actual restaurant experience. Her hard-headedness was so frustrating and I honestly don’t know how Alec put up with it.

Alec wasn’t a perfect character, but he was a lot better than Colby. At least Alec was a pretty consistent character with clear motivations. What exactly does Colby want? Not a successful restaurant, because she’s always ignoring good advice. Not a healthy relationship, because she constantly sabotages it. Not a healthy relationship with her family, either, because she’s always enabling her mother’s manipulation and making excuses for her horrible behavior.

The writing is fine, but the plot leaves a lot to be desired. I wish I would have enjoyed this more. If I weren’t reading this for my TBR challenge, I probably would have DNFed.

Final rating: ★☆☆☆☆

I received a free copy of Before I Knew from the publisher (via Goodreads).

#killingthetbr: 7 months on shelf

Debut Author Challenge Check-In

As of today, March 29, 2018, I have read three books that count toward this year’s Debut Author Challenge. I hope to read at least nine more before the year is done! One thing that’s really helped me is that the Uppercase Box has been sending YA debuts. I’ve also gotten a bunch of Netgalley approvals, which always helps. The library, in this case, hasn’t actually been that helpful since they’re usually a few months behind on debuts. I also did some pre-orders, but that doesn’t help me yet!

Read so far:

  • I Stop Somewhere by T.E. Carter
  • A Conspiracy of Stars by Olivia A. Cole
  • Frat Girl by Kiley Roache

Not yet read, but next up:

  • Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young
  • The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross
  • The Raging Ones by Krista & Becca Ritchie
  • The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
  • Ink, Iron, and Glass by Gwendolyn Clare

Hoping to read:

  • Always Never Yours by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka
  • You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon
  • Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke
  • Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
  • Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann
  • People Like Us by Dana Mele
  • The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

Have you read any debuts this year? What’s been your favorite so far?

Book review: The Beau & The Belle by R.S. Grey

⭐ Goodreads ⭐ Amazon ⭐

Ten years ago, teenage Lauren was enamored with the handsome law student who rented a room from her parents. Being a true gentleman, Beau never took advantage of the situation or led Lauren on in any way. Still, Lauren’s heart broke as Beau rejected her advances and circumstances beyond their control led to separation without so much as a goodbye.

In the present day, Lauren and Beau are reunited at a party.  Their attraction is electric, but Lauren isn’t going to give in so easily. Even though she knows that Beau was right to reject her all those years ago, she still wants to give him a taste of his own medicine. And even though in her heart she knows that Beau wants her more than anything, her head keeps coming up with reasons why their relationship is a bad idea.

R.S. Grey is one of my favorite authors, but I haven’t loved the last couple books of hers that I’ve read. This one, though, took me right back to that warm, fuzzy place that I’ve come to expect. This book is funny again, something that I definitely noticed was missing from The Fortunate Ones. Lauren is just the right blend of quirky and silly and Beau is the right combination of swoony and gruff.  And the slow burn! I forgot how much R.S. Grey makes you wait for the good stuff! This might be the slowest of her slow burn romances, but I loved it. She’s so good at sexual tension. You could cut it with a knife. Or maybe ignite an entire apartment with it.

I just loved this book so much.

Final rating: ★★★★★

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten books set in another country

Happy Top Ten Tuesday! Today’s theme is ten books that take place in another country, which is always a fun one. (And so fitting for March’s Monthly Motif!) We last did this theme back in July of 2016, so I’m keeping my list to books that I’ve read fairly recently. I’m happy to report that it was much easier to find a list of ten books this time around.

🇪🇸 The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee: Monty is from the UK and travels to Spain, Italy, and France.
🇺🇦 #Prettyboy Must Die by Kimberly Reid: Jake is from the US and most of the book takes place in the US, but at the beginning of the book, he’s on a mission in Ukraine.
🇬🇧 My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows: Jane is the seven-day queen of England!

🇯🇵 Seven Days of You by Cecelia Vinesse: Sophia is living out her last week in Japan as the book opens.
🇳🇵 Completely by Ruthie Knox: As the book opens, Rosemary is in Nepal climbing Mt. Everest!
🇦🇺 Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung: This book tells the story of a Chinese immigrant family in Australia.

🇨🇦 Catch and Release by Laura Drewry: This book is part of a series that takes place at a fishing resort in Canada!
🇬🇧 A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: This book is also part of a series. It takes place in a series of parallel Londons.
🇨🇺 Break of Day by Andie J. Christopher: Carla is visiting her aunt in Cuba when a tropical storm strands her with a surly photojournalist.
🇫🇷 The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry: Dolssa is a young woman who hears the voice of God in Inquisition-era France.

Have you read any books recently that are set outside of your home country?