Contemporary Fiction

WELL MATCHED by Jen DeLuca

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

After eighteen years as a single mom in a small town, April is ready for a change. In fact, she’s been planning it for the last decade: when her daughter leaves for college, she’ll sell the house and move into an apartment in the city. She’ll be farther from her younger sister, but closer to work. And it’s not like there’s anything else tying her to this town.

When her sister’s friend Mitch, a high school gym teacher and star of the annual summer Renaissance Faire, begs her to fake being his girlfriend at a family reunion, April sees a perfect opportunity to get some help with the repairs she’ll need to do to sell the house. She’s not sure anyone will believe she’s dating Mitch, what with him being a decade younger and the hottest man who has ever donned a kilt, but all he’s really asking her to do is show up and fake an attraction. Not that that will be difficult. But when she sees how Mitch’s family belittles him, April finds herself leaping to his defense and realizes that her attraction to Mitch might not be that shallow–or one-sided. After an unexpected night of passion, April is left wrestling with her emotions. Because in all her years of practical planning for the future, she never once considered the possibility of falling in love.

With fake dating drama and major communication fails, WELL MATCHED draws out the angst you hope for in a contemporary rom-com. Though kilts are promised (and delivered), the Ren Faire portion of the novel is comparatively small. More accurately, this story is about a divorced single mom finding the courage to let herself love again and a high school gym teacher accepting himself and his value to his community. Each has been devalued by people close to them (the hero by his extended family and the heroine by her ex) and it is through their fake relationship and real friendship that they regain their individual senses of self-worth. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one on the Ren Faire angle alone, I would absolutely put it in the hands of fans of steamy contemporary rom-coms.

THE SURVIVORS by Alex Shulman

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

The police officer finds the three brothers on the front porch of their childhood home. Two of them are battered and bleeding. One of them is clutching an urn. It was Benjamin who made the emergency call, afraid that his two brothers were finally going to kill one another, the culmination of a lifetime of disagreements and tension. But as Benjamin remembers both the immediate past–the earlier hours that led to the police call–and the more distant past of a childhood with his alcoholic parents, he is forced to confront the complexities of their dysfunctional family life and the truth about a long-gone summer day that changed their lives forever.

Told by alternating the past and the present, THE SURVIVORS is a slow boil suspense-driven novel with a literary feel. Though suspense fans may grow frustrated with the novel’s gradual, relationship-centric start, readers who love stories of dysfunctional families will be hooked from the first chapter. Ultimately, the story is one of adults coming-of-age, reconciling with the consequences of their pasts on their futures. I’d recommend it to adult readers (and book clubs) who enjoy literary fiction about family dysfunction.

WE ARE INEVITABLE by Gayle Forman

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Aaron’s family business is going extinct. No one comes into the bookstore anymore. Aaron doesn’t blame them. It’s not just that books are cheaper and easier to get online. It’s that the bookstore itself is crumbling. Shelves are literally crashing to the ground, books scattered in disorganized chaos. And the dinosaurs who run the bookstore–Aaron and his father–have been in a similar condition since a tragedy broke up their family. Aaron has been holding on as best he can, running the business and trying to keep his father sane, but it’s not enough. Their debts will bury them. Although his father won’t entertain the notion, Aaron knows their only chance is to sell to a local real estate shark, even if it means going behind his back. But when Aaron reconnects with his brother’s best friend, he is gradually swept back up into the vibrant and caring community of his small town. As hope begins to blossom around him, Aaron begins to wonder–is it possible to survive when the asteroid has already struck?

This novel is quiet in its heartbreak and loud in its hope. Aaron’s grief rings throughout all of his actions while the undercurrent of love from everyone around him lifts him up until he can see a path forward. It’s a must-read for fans of contemporary fiction, both teens and adults, and will be a wonderful pick for book clubs!

Amazon.com: We Are Inevitable (9780425290804): Forman, Gayle: Books

PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION by Emily Henry

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Poppy has worked hard to create her perfect life. She has a New York apartment, an influencer best friend who takes her along to the fanciest restaurants, and her dream job as a writer at an upscale travel magazine that actually pays her to take ritzy, exotic vacations. So why does she feel such a deep sense of dissatisfaction? Why, when her boss is assigning her a posh gig on Santorini in the Mediterranean, is she wistful for a rainy beach week in a dive bar in Florida?

Simple: Alex Nilsen. She hasn’t spoken to her former best friend and travel partner in two years, not since the disaster on their Croatia trip that made everything awkward between them. When a text of “hey” turns into a conversation that makes her realize how much she’s missed him–and how much of his life she’s missed–Poppy knows this might be her last chance to get Alex back in her life. She turns down the Santorini feature and joins Alex on a budget trip to his brother’s wedding in Palm Springs. But time and memories of Croatia have left a mark on the relationship, and Poppy isn’t sure they’ll be able to restore their friendship. And even if they do, will friendship alone be enough?

True Story: I didn’t plan to buy this book since contemporary rom-coms are hit or miss for me, but when my toddler accidentally bought it on my Kindle, I gave it a whirl. And what a happy accident that was! I laughed so hard through this book. The banter! Loved both the hero and heroine and just enjoyed every minute I spent with them. Fans of the genre, or anyone who enjoys witty dialogue and adults who aren’t afraid to be silly together, pick this one up! Highly recommend it.

GROWN by Tiffany D. Jackson

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Enchanted needs to sing like she needs to breathe. The white girls at her school say she sounds like Beyonce, but that’s only because they don’t know many Black singers. Enchanted’s passion is the classic singers–the ones she and her grandma used to sing along with–Gladys Knight, Aretha, Nina Simone.

When she auditions for Music LIVE, the judges aren’t impressed with her dated sing choice or her timid performance, but 28 year old superstar Korey Fields is. He convinces her parents to let Enchanted tour with him, his newest protege. But there’s a darkness to Korey that Enchanted didn’t see at first, and the whirlwind that she thought would lead her to fame and love instead carries her down into terror, abuse, and ultimately a pool of blood on the floor of Korey’s penthouse.

I cannot adequately express how powerful and moving this book is. Enchanted’s voice is so strong. Even with the immense power her abuser holds over her, even when she is confused and heartbroken and doubting herself, she holds on. She fights when she’s able (and when she isn’t able to fight emotionally, mentally, the author makes it very clear that it is NOT her fault that she is in this situation). And she survives.

And the community around her! Reading this book as an adult and a parent, I wept at some of the scenes where her parents defend her. Jackson incorporates their voices directly through police interview transcripts and minutes of mom group meetings to provide a deeper perspective on how a whole community is affected by and responds to the violent abuses of a powerful man. Not all adults react in a positive way, but many do–from the parents, to the psychiatrist, to the flight attendant who notices something amiss. A reader will come away from this book knowing that there is help out there. That they are not alone in their experiences and they do not need to be alone in their rescue and recovery. As dark as the subject matter is, a reader will come away from this book with hope.

TW: This book could definitely trigger survivors of sexual violence and/or abusive relationships, but FWIW it didn’t trigger me. I think it was the strength of Enchanted’s voice and the knowledge from Chapter One that she will escape–that there will be some form of justice–that kept me from going to a dark place. But every survivor’s journey is different, so definitely exercise caution.

EVVIE DRAKE STARTS OVER by Linda Holmes

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Evvie Drake was leaving Tim. She was literally in the car, her suitcase packed in the trunk, when her phone rang. There had been an accident. Her husband was dead.

One year later, Evvie’s life does not resemble the freedom she imagined she’d find without Tim. Her family and friends think it’s grief, but really it’s something else. Guilt. Guilt for the lack of grief. Guilt that she ever wanted to get away from Tim, who was in everyone else’s eyes, completely and utterly perfect. Guilt for the remote possibility that the universe had known she wanted to escape and had taken the matter into its own hands.

But when she takes in a former all-star baseball pitcher as a lodger, Evvie gradually begins to enjoy life again. Because Dean is full of possibility–new friendship, new project, new distraction. What Evvie doesn’t count on is that in trying to fix Dean’s life, she may have to confront the darkness in her own past and the ghosts Tim left behind.

An engaging contemporary romance, EVVIE DRAKE is a fun read and great book club book for groups that enjoy “women’s fiction.”

THE PERFECT COUPLE by Elin Hilderbrand

Posted on Updated on

The maid of honor’s body washed up on the Nantucket beach the morning of the wedding.  It was the bride who found her.  Needless to say, the wedding was canceled.  Now it is up to the chief and his lead detective to interview the shell-shocked bridal party and figure out what happened.  The simplest explanation, of course, would be that it was an accident.  Girl has too much to drink, goes for a late night swim, washes up on the beach the next morning.  But what about the abandoned kayak that belongs to the father of the groom?  Why does the other bridesmaid seem so reluctant to discuss the MOH’s love life?  Why was the bride on the beach so early in the morning carrying a suitcase?  And where is the best man?  As the investigation unfolds, it becomes clear that everyone has at least one secret and no one is as perfect as they seem.

A character-driven mystery, this novel will appeal to some mystery fans, but also realistic fiction fans who like some good old-fashioned family dysfunction.  In the end, exactly what happened is less important than the complex web of relationships between the characters.  A fast and enjoyable summer read!

A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman

Posted on

Ove is ready to leave the monotony of this life behind.  He is tired of making his morning rounds to insure that all of the neighbors are abiding by the residential association’s rules.  He is particularly tired of dealing with people, most of whom he finds to be incompetent and lazy.  And most of all, he misses Sonja, who has been dead for six months now.  As soon as his affairs are in order, he has resolved to join her.  That is, until some new neighbors move in and drive their vehicle down into the residential area (although the sign Ove installed clearly states that this is a violation of the rules!) and back into his mailbox.  Somehow, the reluctant Ove gets swept up into their lives and reinvested in his community which, as it turns out, needs him as much as he needs them.

This international bestseller is humorous, quirky, feel-good book about the importance of community and relationships.  Engaging and occasionally absurd plot threads propel this story about a diverse cast of unconventional but lovable characters.  I highly recommend it to adult readers of realistic fiction who like humor in their thought-provoking novels.

BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty

Posted on

Jane moved to Pirriwee on a whim. Really, everything she’d done since Ziggy was born had been a whim, not just the frequent moves. But in the small seaside town she immediately strikes up an unlikely friendship with feisty, queen bee Madeline and kind, perfect Celeste, and Jane begins to feel a sense of community for the first time in five years. Unfortunately, not everyone in Pirriwee is immediately friendly to the single mom, and when Ziggy is accused of bullying, the kindergarten moms divide into vicious factions. It would all be somewhat funny, if there weren’t a murder on the horizon. . . .

This book grabbed me not so much from the suspense of impending murder (although there was some of that) but from the suspense in Jane’s and Celeste’s life stories. If you enjoy character driven realistic fiction with a bit of suspense, check it out!

THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US by Charles Martin

Posted on

Hoping to get back home to his patients ahead of a snowstorm, Ben Payne charters a flight from Salt Lake to Denver and, on a whim, invites the bride-to-be that he met in the terminal, Ashley. She needs to get back home for her rehearsal dinner, and Ben can’t help think of Rachel and how special his own wedding was. They fly out with a chatty pilot and his little dog, only to learn mid-flight that the pilot never filed a flight plan, and the plane is only supposed to seat one passenger. Then, over the frozen mountain wilderness, the pilot has a heart attack. Although Ben and Ashley survive the crash, Ashley’s femur is broken, along with several of Ben’s ribs, and altitude sickness makes their predicament worse. With no one knowing where they are, Ben must use the few provisions they have to survive the snowstorm and drag Ashley down the mountain to safety. Throughout their weeks struggling in the wilderness, Ben composes letters to Rachel on his audio recorder, remembering their relationship and coming to terms with the horrible experience that brought it to an end–as well as the knowledge that, should they survive, his developing feelings for the soon-to-be-married Ashley must also end in heartache.

I really enjoyed this novel. The action of the survival-thriller plot neatly compliments the tragic love story told in flashback. Interestingly, though, it is the suspense of the love story–the desire to find out what happened to Rachel, who is implied at various points to be both dead and alive–that really kept me reading. I’m not sure I would enjoy the new film adaptation, which seems to focus solely on the survival plot. But I would recommend this novel to realistic fiction readers who like action-packed love stories. Although it is literary fiction, romance readers may also find this novel satisfying.