Friends and Other Liars and My Misplaced Expectations

Friends and Other Liars by Kaela Coble

Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, Feb 6th, 2018

Genre: Adult, Contemporary

Pages: 368

Hmm! I’m pretty torn on Friends and Other Liars, and I think it comes from how I just expected something drastically different. So let me go ahead and explain what did and didn’t work for me, and see what you think!

Loving this cover.

To all my old friends:
So here you all are. Nice to see you can show up for a person once he’s dead.

When Ruby St. James returns to her hometown, it is to the grave of her old friend Danny, a member of a group that was, ten years ago, Ruby’s whole world. The crew made a pact back then: stay together, stay loyal, and stay honest. But that was before all of the lies.

Because even friends keep secrets. They just don’t stay secret for long.

Now Danny has left behind a letter for each of them, issuing one final ultimatum: share your darkest betrayal to the group, or risk it coming out in a trap he has created. When past mistakes resurface, the lines of friendship blurb, and four old friends are left trying to understand what it means to lie to the ones you love best.

Dear Dwayne With Love

So when I heard about Friends and Other Liars, I was immediately on board. It combines SO many things I love: secrets, lies, alternating timelines, multiple POVs, big ensemble cast, big group of friends, someone returning home after a long time away, letters from beyond the grave, BLACKMAIL FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE.

I was SO here for this book.

So… I’m sorry (and surprised) to say I don’t really love it. I expected mystery, suspense, a Pretty Little Liars vibe. Friends and Other Liars is actually, really, a pretty run-of-the-mill contemporary story. Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s just not what I expected, and because I was always waiting for the mystery and intrigue to start, I was left feeling fairly unfulfilled.

I expected dark and twisted, and was given a will-they-or-won’t-they love story.

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

I like the writing. Simple and effective. We have two timelines: now, when the characters are all around 28, and then, which goes through their time in high school.

Narration is first person and switches between three characters, though through the vast majority of both present and former timelines, Ruby is our narrator. I think this is one area where I was a little let down. When the narration first switched, I thought we’d get to see through the eyes of everyone in “the crew,” which is what they call their friend group.

I kept thinking there was a pacing issue, which turned out to be my misplaced expectations. It starts awesome, with Danny narrating his own funeral, and all the characters gathering to receive their blackmail letters. Then it slows way down, with Ruby telling us the story of her and Murphy, her best friend and something of a love interest.

I guess I thought the secrets, the blackmail, would play a bigger part. After the initial excitement, we don’t even hear about them again until about halfway through.

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

This is another disappointment, as the crew is such a huge part of the story, yet most members of the crew get very little screen time. Until halfway through, I barely felt I knew any of the members other than Ruby and Murphy.

I like Ruby. I feel for Ruby, I root for Ruby. The rest of the characters I barely feel I know well enough to judge. Except Murphy, who I don’t love. He treats Ruby terribly, both in present and past timelines, and she pines, and it’s exhausting.

I went in expecting this full and rich friend dynamic, and ended up feeling underwhelmed by it. I wanted a big ensemble, not just Ruby and Murphy.

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

I think this is just one of those times where I, personally, could not connect to what is not a bad book. I just wanted something different, and didn’t know until much too late that I had expected all the wrong things.

*Each of these beautiful photos links to an IG post, show these people some love!*

*I don’t own any of the photos used for aesthetics in this post. Each photo links to where I found it!*

Hearts Like Hers

Hearts Like Hers by Melissa Brayden

Published by Bold Stroke Books, Feb 13th 2018

Genre: Adult, Romance, LGBT

Pages: 233

YAY for an adorable lesbian love story! I adore Hearts Like Hers. Let’s get into it!

Loving this cover, too. So simple, but immediately invokes feelings of summer!

All work and no play has Autumn Primm in the market for a little excitement. Her Venice Beach coffee shop, The Cat’s Pajamas, is her pride and joy. While she doesn’t mind the long hours, she finds herself staring dreamily out the window, imagining the life she’s yet to lead. The time has come to take off the apron and see what the world has in store. 

Kate Carpenter needs to get away. And quick. A small-town firefighter, Kate’s been crowned a local hero for reasons she can’t quite get behind. An open highway and some time off have her fleeing the scene to sunny California to catch her breath and put some distance between herself and the unwanted acclaim. Dreamy Autumn Primm was never supposed to be part of that bargain. What Kate needs is a temporary escape, emphasis on temporary.

Dear Dwayne With Love

So I’ll be real here, basically the lesbian love is what called me to what is otherwise a very run of the mill story. I need more LGBT romances in my life. That said, the premise of Hearts Like Hers actually is very cute. Autumn, bored with her life, has decided to try to become pregnant on her own. Kate is in Venice on vacation, trying to escape a traumatic fire. The two meet and connect and it’s all very adorable.

Something I REALLY love about this is that Autumn owns a coffee shop, and much of the story takes place there, in The Cat’s Pajamas. I LOVE when a book has a place that takes on its own personality, that becomes like another character you can love. I love the coffee shop, and I love all the time spent there. There’s also an ongoing bit about Autumn having to repeatedly hire new help that is funny and adds color.

I also adore that we have a lesbian woman trying to become pregnant on her own. I love any stories surrounding pregnancy, really, but I love any with a “non-typical” family.

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

What I love most here is the brevity. The writing is simple. It’s a very quick and easy read. It’s also short, coming in at 230ish pages, and it’s exactly the right length. I love a book that doesn’t fill up extra pages with nonsense, but uses exactly enough to tell the story.

The pacing is great, also, Once I was about thirty pages in and had a handle on the main characters, I was in and wanted to keep reading.

Also, the sex scenes are super hot and that’s worth mentioning.

It’s set in Venice, too! I may be biased because I’m from LA, but I LOVE that setting!

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

The characters really make Hearts Like Hers for me!

Autumn and Kate are great together, funny and witty, quick and intelligent, and their banter is really great. The way they interact is, for me, the highlight of the novel. We are also given a TON of screen time for their relationship, like the majority of their relationship happens “on camera”, which makes their relationship feel very real and makes it easy to root for.

The side characters are wonderful, too. If anything, I would have liked to see a lot more of them. Autumn has three close friends who support and love her, and I am ALL ABOUT those women friendships.

Also some cool family members: Kate’s brother, whom we love, and Autumn’s mother, whom we love to hate. Both add something special.

I will say that both Autumn and Kate were lacking any discernible flaws, and that didn’t work for me. It made it feel just this side of realistic. Still, I love them and root for them.

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

Hearts Like Hers is a quick, fun, very cute read. I am thrilled to find out that this is part of a series, each focusing on one of the girls (Autumn and her three friends) and I will definitely be looking into the rest!

*I don’t own any of the photos used for aesthetics in this post. Each photo links to where I found it!*

Not Quite Loving The Beloveds

The Beloveds by Maureen Lindley

Published by Gallery Books, scheduled for April 2018

Genre: Contemporary, Adult

Pages: 336

Well, y’all. The Beloveds has me stumped. I wanted to love it, I should have loved it (female psychopathic narrator? Come on). I loved some parts and really, really didn’t love others. So! I haven’t done a pro/con list in some time, here we go.

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

An exploration of domestic derangement, as sinister as Daphne Du Maurier’s classic Rebecca, that plumbs the depths of sibling rivalry with wit and menace.

Oh, to be a Beloved—one of those lucky people for whom nothing ever goes wrong. Everything falls into their laps without effort: happiness, beauty, good fortune, allure.

Betty Stash is not a Beloved—but her little sister, the delightful Gloria, is. She’s the one with the golden curls and sunny disposition and captivating smile, the one whose best friend used to be Betty’s, the one whose husband should have been Betty’s. And then, to everyone’s surprise, Gloria inherits the family manse—a vast, gorgeous pile of ancient stone, imposing timbers, and lush gardens—that was never meant to be hers.

Losing what Betty considers her rightful inheritance is the final indignity. As she single-mindedly pursues her plan to see the estate returned to her in all its glory, her determined and increasingly unhinged behavior—aided by poisonous mushrooms, talking walls, and a phantom dog—escalates to the point of no return. The Beloveds will have you wondering if there’s a length to which an envious sister won’t go.

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

The Writing

I have to say I was drawn in by The Beloveds immediately. Sister stories of all kinds intrigue me, (is there a more complex relationship dynamic than that of one between sisters?) and the book opens immediately with Elizabeth confessing that she has hated her sister from childhood on. That, to me, is compelling. The writing feels almost antiquated, but not in an unpleasant way. I could easily see it happening any time within the last fifty years, which makes the novel feel timeless. It is clever, very witty and sharp. The writing is probably what kept me intrigued through my cons.

Elizabeth/Betty/Lizzie

I am SO here for female psychopathic narrators. With men there seems to always be a sexual element to insanity that I simply cannot get behind. Elizabeth is brilliant, maniacal, manipulative, and completely unaware of how crazy she is. I adore it. I adore her. I can’t help it. She’s COMPLETELY unlikable, so don’t confuse my meaning, but I cannot help rooting for her even when she’s planning murders because she is so damn believable. THAT’S what I need from a narrator. They can be a heinous individual, but I need to believe in their causes and somehow root for them. And this accomplishes that for me. If you need a narrator you can love, Elizabeth is not for you. But I bet she’ll keep your interest.

The Art Gallery

(I almost wrote “Art Dealership”? It’s eleven at night. I’m tired.) For a portion of the book, Elizabeth works at an art gallery with her husband. The way she speaks about art is absolutely gorgeous. I’m a painter and art history nerd, so I may be partial. But this was also part of what makes Elizabeth’s love for her childhood home so believable. She doesn’t love people, doesn’t appreciate them. She loves and appreciates beauty, and it’s so apparent in how she speaks about art.

The House

Pipits! The House, called Pipits, is something really interesting. Elizabeth speaks about Pipits like it’s a lover. Like she’s in love. That sounds crazy but it works for her. The house speaks to her, she talks often about its voice. The house agrees with her, is occasionally disappointed in her. Pipits has personality.

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

The Pacing

About 100 pages in, things nearly come to a halt. From this point, all the way to the end, for me, the book crawls and drags. Many, many pages of “I hate them, they’re in my house, I should be in my house, I must get them out of my house,” to then get to a couple pages of action, and back to the inner monologue. Again, I love the writing. I find Elizabeth’s inner monologue fascinating. Absolutely not for this much of the story, though. The Beloveds takes place over many years, and boy does it feel like it. “Angry Woman Wants Her House” is a good enough premise, but certainly not enough plot. It was all I could do to keep from skimming after a certain point.

The Characters

The peripheral characters have very little life or personality. I am willing to give (only slight) allowances on this, and here’s why. Elizabeth is clearly psychotic. She has no regard for a single other human being. So, I can see how, through her eyes, other characters could be flat. However, I really needed more. Henry, Elizabeth’s brother in law, has at least some dimension. He has anger, he has emotions, he has a hobby. Gloria really has none of this. She’s a complete dud. She’s boring, simple, lacks any discernible personality. For me, it would have been better had Gloria been an actual person, rather than a symbol of everything Elizabeth has wanted but not obtained.

The Total Lack of Closure

Basically, Elizabeth spends a good portion working on one plan to get what she wants. Then a little bit planning her next scheme. Then? Nothing. I mean. Actually nothing. She messes with her neighbors, spends more time angry. I cannot stress this enough: nothing else happens. There’s no real ending, no closure, no sense of anything having really taken place. This is just incredibly upsetting for me, and ultimately my least favorite part of a novel that showed promise.

Each of these gorgeous photos links to the IG post, show these some love!

*I don’t own any of the photos used for aesthetics in this post. Each photo links to where I found it!*

Dear Dwayne With Love

I Love Love Love Dear Dwayne, With Love

Dear Dwayne, With Love by Eliza Gordon

Published by Lake Union Publishing, January 23rd 2018

Genre: Adult, Romance, Fiction

Pages: 380

I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH. I just had to get that out there first and foremost. I’ve been requesting a lot of women’s fiction (does this bother anyone else? Like is general fiction man fiction? Someone please make me feel better about this genre’s title) and I’m loving it!

Wannabe actress Dani Steele’s résumé resembles a cautionary tale on how not to be famous. She’s pushing thirty and stuck in a dead-end insurance job, and her relationship status is holding at uncommitted. With unbearably perfect sisters and a mother who won’t let her forget it, Dani has two go-tos for consolation: maple scones and a blog in which she pours her heart out to her celebrity idol. He’s the man her father never was, no boyfriend will ever be—and not so impossible a dream as one might think. When Dani learns that he’s planning a fund-raising event where the winning amateur athlete gets a walk-on in his new film, she decides to trade pastries and self-doubt for running shoes and a sexy British trainer with adorable knees.

But when Dani’s plot takes an unexpected twist, she realizes that her happy ending might have to be improvised—and that proving herself to her idol isn’t half as important as proving something to herself.

Dear Dwayne With Love

So! I’m not going to lie, I was weary. I very much felt this could go either way, and here’s why. I am just not going to like any story where the idea is “find yourself through weight loss” or, worse, “find validation through weight loss.” I am absolutely not cool with fat shaming, and I know a weight loss story can go there pretty quickly. Thank goodness, Dear Dwayne, With Love is absolutely not like that. Her weight loss is for the competition, and Dani is very confident in her skin both before and after.

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

The characters MAKE this story!

They’re so. effing. quirky. I really feel like I don’t see enough quirky characters in adult novels! It made this so much more fun and such an effortless read.

Danielle Steele (with an e, that’s important to her) is our narrator, and I freaking love her. She’s a little nutty, maybe a lot nutty, and her obsession with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is very prevalent in her adult life. This felt like it could be super sad, especially given her tendency to imagine scenarios in which the two interact, but it’s not. It doesn’t come across as pathetic so much as… delightfully idiosyncratic. You can’t not love Dani.

Dani’s mom is the other real star of the show for me. We only see her through her faxes to Dani, and the fax chapters make me SO happy. She’s obsessed with aliens, grows marijuana, sells magic wands. And OH YEAH, she named all three of her daughters after romance authors. She’s just so solidly hilarious. I adore her.

The male love interest is a litttttttle too perfect for me? I like him for Dani, but I really need my main characters to have flaws and he has not a one. Still, this didn’t hinder my reading, and I swooned over their budding relationship.

Side characters like Dani’s sisters and coworkers are amazing color. And The Rock feels like a character? Because we see so many fake conversations between him and Dani, and I love him too.

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

Dear Dwayne, With Love, pulls off something I didn’t know I would like quite well!

There are many chapters taken up solely by emails, blog comments, faxes, letters to The Rock. I didn’t know I would like these chapters, but I love them! The faxes from Mommy (that’s what they call her) are some of my favorites. The letters to The Rock are fantastic.

Aside from this, the writing is just fun. Easy. Eliza Gordon makes it look easy. It reminds me a little of Sophie Kinsella. The same hilarious but well-written, quirky stories.

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

I wish I read more like this! Dear Dwayne, With Love is fun and fantastic and you should read it.

(You KNOW I wasn’t going to talk about The Rock and not include this picture.)

Each of these photos links to the IG post, show these people some love!

*I don’t own any of the photos used for aesthetics in this post. Each photo links to where I found it!*

Between Me and You, I’m Not Super Impressed

Between Me and You by Allison Winn Scotch

Published by Lake Union Publishing, January 9th 2018

Genre: Adult, Romance, Fiction

Pages: 364

Between you and me, Between Me and You leaves something to be desired.

You see what I did there? I know it’s not funny BUT I CAN’T HELP IT.

Between You and Me

From New York Times bestselling author Allison Winn Scotch comes an honest, touching, and funny exploration of falling in and out of love, told from two perspectives—one rewinding history, one moving it forward—and each with bias and regret.

When their paths first cross, Ben Livingston is a fledgling scriptwriter on the brink of success; Tatum Connelly is a struggling actress tending bar in a New York City dive. They fall in love, they marry, they become parents, and they think only of the future. But as the years go by, Tatum’s stardom rises while Ben’s fades. In a marriage that bears the fallout of ambition and fame, Ben and Tatum are at a crossroads. Now all they can do is think back…

A life of passion, joy, tragedy, and loss—once shared—becomes one as shifting and unpredictable as a memory. As the pieces of their past come together, as they explore the ways love can bend and break, Ben and Tatum come to see how it all went wrong—and wonder what they can do now to make it all right. 

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

I want to start with the writing because this is undoubtedly my favorite thing about this book.

Between Me and You has alternating timelines but with a very interesting take: our two narrators are telling the story in different directions. We have Ben, husband, telling the story from 2016 backward to 1999. And Tatum, wife, telling the story forward from 1999 to 2016. This is what I was most intrigued by even before reading the novel, and it’s what (mostly) kept my interest throughout. I think it could have been a complete disaster, but it is pulled off well and easy to keep track of.

My one problem with the writing is that both stories are told in first person, present tense narration, and they were not different enough. At first, for instance, we read a chapter from a 40 year-old man, immediately followed by a 23 year-old woman, and there’s no notable narration difference. This is just not what I expect going into a double narrative like that, I really need unique voices.

For me there are also some definite pacing issues. It starts off interesting enough, but toward the middle it becomes pretty slow and just kind of blah? This had to do a ton with the characters.

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

Oh. Boy. I wish I could share my notes with you guys. OH WAIT I CAN!

Okay whenever I start a new book I open up a laptop post it and write my notes so I don’t forget as I go. These are my notes for Between Me and You:

So. I mean. It’s not great. There are a lot more, but these are the ones I felt I would share. So characters, here we go.

Tatum. Tatum actually does not bother me. She definitely has some selfish attributes, she puts work before her marriage and sometimes before their child. These things aren’t cute. But she does genuinely love Ben and Joey and she tries so hard. So much of the time she takes the brunt of their issues, even though from my perspective, Ben is a giant douche canoe.

Ben. Well, you can tell from my notes that I’m not a fan. I think a big part of it is that Ben reminds me very much of a very real, very particular type of person. A toxic man baby. One who can’t handle his wife’s success, resents her for it, doesn’t particularly love being a husband or father but blames his wife for not being a better wife and mother. He’s the very stereotypical, mentally vacant husband. Obsessed with himself and how to further his career and jealous of his own wife.

Now, I don’t need to like characters to like a book. HOWEVER. When the book is possibly about reconciliation between our two narrators and I’m yelling, “DON’T GO BACK TO HIM, TATUM. YOU CAN DO BETTER, GIRL.” I am obviously not getting the full beauty of their love/loss of love/possible lean toward getting their love back.

A HUGE theme in the book is grief. Ben loses several people close to him, but we cannot go one. chapter. without hearing about what his dad would be doing. Keep in mind that these chapters are almost all entirely spaced a year apart. So we’re talking over a decade where Ben cannot stop. Of course I don’t expect grief to disappear overnight. What I do expect is that you move on and not let it affect every other relationship in your life.

All of these things made it very difficult for me to enjoy the book, because the entire book is about these two people and their marriage. Their marriage, for me, is not believable, and because of that, I can’t root for them.

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

I so wanted to love Between Me and You. I wanted to root for Ben and Tatum, I wanted to be excited for them. Unfortunately I was mostly bored or actively irritated, and the most emotional I ever was in the story was about an incident involving their dog.