Contemporary Fiction

LOVE ON THE BRAIN by Ali Hazelwood

Posted 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.

For exactly one weekend, Dr. Bee Königswasser is thrilled to have gotten a temporary reassignment as the NIH neuroscience representative on a collaborative project with NASA. She celebrates with wild abandon, not only because this is the first big break in her career since she turned down a position working with her cheating ex (and the ex-best friend he cheated with) but because it will mean a three month break from her insufferable boss and his sexist bullshit.

But then she finds out who her NASA collaborator is.

Dr. Levi Ward has hated Bee since their PhD program, for reasons she’s never understood. And from the time she arrives at NASA, he seems to be sabotaging her, messing with her equipment and “losing” her emails. He seems determined to drive her away, but with her career on the line, Bee is more determined than ever to keep things professional. But when their relationship takes an unexpected twist, Bee will have to not only protect her career but shield her heart from the heartbreak she knows is inevitable.

Fans of Hazelwood’s debut The Love Hypothesis will find another, very on-brand Rom Com to fall in love with. She uses the same tropes (enemies-to-lovers, workplace romance, perfect hero who’s been secretly in love with the heroine since forever) and tops it off with her signature, laugh-out-loud STEM banter. One of few novelists in the genre writing in first person, Hazelwood effectively cultivates a distinct voice from her first novel, and while keeping us out of her hero’s head prevents us from becoming as intimately connected to his interior thoughts as a third-person, dual POV romance would, the focus on her heroine allows for a prominent subplot tackling sexism in STEM. A queer BIPOC romance subplot fills out the story and calls attention to the implicit racism in higher education admissions. Highly recommended to fans of the genre and tropes.

BLAME IT ON THE BRONTES by Annie Sereno

Posted 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.

Athena returns to her hometown confident that she can uncover the identity of the mysterious author of classic literature-themed erotica, C.L. Garland. In fact, she has to. The chair of the English department is set to boot her out of academia if she doesn’t publish a book on this sabbatical, and she promised him something spectacular. Unfortunately, her semester away is off to a rocky start, and it’s all Thorne’s fault. She has no idea why her ex moved to her hometown, why he–a wealthy, elitist lawyer and literature snob–bought the little cafe where she would be working part-time, and why no one saw fit to warn her in advance. After their disastrous and hurtful break up, she was hoping she’d never see him again. Now, they’ll be working in close quarters nearly every day, operating under a tenuous truce that might break down at any moment, especially since he seems to disapprove for her hunt for the author of a “low-brow” erotica series. But while Athena may be an open book (for the most part), Thorne has secrets, including a bombshell about the reasons for the catastrophic end to their relationship. And as the hidden parts of everyone’s lives come to light (except the elusive Garland, of course), Athena begins to suspect that her career may be in less danger than her heart.

This book is a light, quick read with just enough of an undercurrent of secret-driven suspense to keep you turning pages without getting bogged down in drama. The characters’ mutual immaturity and reluctance to trust make them a well-suited (and entertaining) pair, and after reading about the cafe’s signature sandwiches, you will be dying for a trip to the bakery. A charming debut, this will be a perfect title to bring to the beach this summer!

FIREKEEPER’S DAUGHTER by Angeline Boulley

Posted 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.

Daunis has always existed in two worlds: the Ojibwe community where her father is from and the community of wealthy white people in Sault Ste. Marie where she lives with her mother. She is part of both but fully accepted by neither.

When her maternal grandmother has a stroke shortly after her uncle dies of a meth overdose, Daunis knows a third disaster is coming. She tries to prevent it by deferring her college admission–pushing off her dream of becoming a doctor so that she can stay close to both of her communities–but her presence isn’t enough to stop a shocking tragedy. With her world crumbling around her, Daunis is swept up into an investigation of drug trade on the reservation as a confidential informant, taking the place of her uncle, who she learns was likely murdered. But even though she isn’t an enrolled member of the tribe, Daunis is an Ojibwe woman, and she has her own agenda for helping the Cherokee FBI agents who have infiltrated her town. She will be searching for the truth to save her people’s lives, while also protecting their culture and traditions from meddling outsiders. Unfortunately, even in the investigation, the line between her identities is blurred, and as her secrets pile up, and the fake relationship she’s developed with the young FBI rookie starts to morph into something real, Daunis realizes that the truth has the power not only to save lives but also to tear them apart.

This stellar novel hits all of the notes for a heart-wrenching YA contemporary, a brain-teasing YA mystery, and pulse-pounding thriller. Boulley immerses readers in Daunis’s communities–from Michigan “Hockey World” to her Ojibwe nation–and crafts a stunningly character-driven mystery that crescendos gradually toward the shocking conclusion. This book satisfies me as a thriller reader and as a contemporary reader, and while thoroughly accessible for its teenage audience, the mature storytelling style and pristine prose makes it a great choice for adult readers, as well. I will add my voice for the clamor of recommendations for this truly exceptional novel.

PART OF YOUR WORLD by Abby Jimenez

Posted 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.

Alexis is the last in a long line of doctors in the Montgomery family, and she’s somewhat of a disappointment. She’s only an ER doctor rather than a surgeon like her brother and parents, and she has refused to take back her cheating, abusive ex who is for some reason still her father’s best friend and golf-buddy. But now that her brother has run off to Cambodia with a wife their parents do not approve of, the responsibility of carrying on the Montgomery legacy falls squarely on Alexis’s shoulders.

Which is why Daniel is such a problem.

It was coincidence that he was the one who saw her car stuck in the mud when she was driving through his small town, but the attraction between them feels more like fate. After only a few visits to his world–so unlike her own–Alexis is falling not only for him, but for the whole community that he helps to care for. He is everything her ex wasn’t: compassionate, respectful, humble–despite his immense talent as a woodworker and cook (and, it needs to be said, lover). But Alexis knew the relationship was doomed from the first time she set foot in that town. Because how could she ever find a home in a world so different from her own?

Although abuse survivors should proceed with caution due to possible triggers, this story depicts verbal and emotional abuse and generational abuse with depth and compassion. A large part of the clash between the hero and heroine’s worlds comes from the different ways that family, community, and tradition have affected who they have grown up to be. In the hero’s small town, everyone lifts one another up as part of a respectful, communal family with deep roots that allow the characters to feel grounded, safe, and part of something larger. In the heroine’s world, however, traditions are used by abusers to control her, to keep her trapped within the structures they have created, and to take away her agency. The two settings become a powerful illustration of this dichotomy and it is not only the relationship but the uplifting community which finally gives the heroine the foundation she needs to begin forging her own path and rebuilding her self-worth. Thematically powerful with a swoony love story, this novel is a must-read for fans of contemporary romance or women’s fiction and would be a great pick for book clubs.

THE NO-SHOW by Beth O’Leary

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.

Valentine’s Day is perhaps the worst possible day to be stood up. Unfortunately, that’s what happened to Siobhan, Miranda, and Jane. They don’t know each other. In fact, they don’t have much in common at all. Siobhan is a life coach who is nursing a broken heart and was looking forward to a night of passion with the hot date she sees every time she happens to be in London. Miranda lives a dangerous life as a tree surgeon and was looking forward to a quiet lunch with her boyfriend. Quiet, charity shop volunteer Jane isn’t planning to date again ever, actually, but was really hoping her friend would show up to the engagement party as her fake date so her coworkers would stop trying to set her up. But Valentine’s Day comes and goes, leaving all three women cursing the name of the man who stood them up:

Joseph Carter.

It’s Miranda who first starts to suspect that there’s something going on with Carter. Whether it’s an unexplained receipt or his mother letting slip the name Siobhan–and the fact that he seems to evade some of her most innocent questions… Could the thoughtful man she’s been seeing all this time really be a cheater? Meanwhile, Siobhan and Jane are finding their resolves to never fall in love again weaken in the face of Joseph’s charms. But there is more going on than any of them can see, and before the next Valentine’s Day rolls around, secrets are going to show up in a big way.

This is a well-crafted, moving contemporary love story about three women and one man all struggling to be true to themselves and their feelings. A heads up: if you are turned off by stories about cheating, you should know first and foremost that there is more to this story than meets the eye (or shows up in the premise on the back cover) but also that the tension throughout the majority of the book surrounding the alleged cheating makes for a stressful read if that’s not your cup of tea. So if that’s you, skip this one and pick up any other of Beth O’Leary’s fabulous books. But I will say as someone who does not like books about cheating myself, the resolution of this story (the whole last third, really) was deeply satisfying, heartwarming, and beautiful. So I do recommend this book to fans of sweet contemporary romance and “women’s fiction” provided that stories about cheating are not a major trigger for you.

FINDING GRACE by Janis Thomas

Posted 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.

Grace knows Louise will come rescue her from the mental hospital. It’s the whole reason she came to New York and stood up on that bridge in her underwear–to get her estranged daughter’s attention. Because the voices in Grace’s head are adamant. Someone is in danger, and this time, it’s the daughter Louise hasn’t seen since she was a baby.

Melanie has been happy in her latest foster home. Happier than she was in any of the others, anyway. Her foster mom is a little weird, but her foster dad is great. And so far she’s been able to hide the messages that come to her through the voice that writes in her journal using her hand. But the latest message sends a chill up her spine and makes her wonder whether it’s finally time to let her foster parents–or at least someone in on her secret.

Because… someone is coming…

This novel sits at an unusual intersection between psychological thriller and contemporary fiction (or “women’s fiction”). The early chapters of the book focus on multigenerational family dysfunction between Louise, her estranged mother, her late grandmother, and the daughter she gave up, while the nebulous and possibly fictitious danger hinted at by the voices in several characters’ heads keeps this thriller from being truly thrilling until well into the second half. As a result, this novel is most likely to find its readers among fans of both contemporary stories of family dysfunction and psychological thrillers who will find the beginning as captivating as the final third.

THE LOVE HYPOTHESIS by Ali Hazelwood

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.

Olive wishes she had actually paused to look at the random guy in the hallway before smashing him against the wall and kissing him. Her intentions were good. Her best friend was walking by, and if she saw her hanging around the lab at night when she was supposedly on a date, she’d know Olive had lied about dating someone. Which means she wouldn’t be willing to date Olive’s ex. Which would be unfortunate because they were clearly meant for each other. But as unfortunate as that situation might have been, it couldn’t hold a candle to the complete and utter disaster of kissing Dr. Adam Carlsen, Known Ass.

Young biologist superstar Dr. Carlsen may be an expert in making Ph.D. candidates cry and occasionally drop out of the Stanford Biology department, but he is for some reason really nice about the kiss. And actually, really nice in general. Not only does he not file a sexual harassment lawsuit, but he actually agrees to keep fake-dating Olive for her friend’s benefit. But neither of them foresees the gossip storm that will overtake them–a Ph.D. student betraying her cohort by voluntarily dating the most hated faculty advisor at Stanford. And even worse than Olive betraying her friends, her heart may be about to betray her.

This book is so, so worth the hype! I read it in a day–and then I read it again! It is swoony and emotional with thoroughly developed characters you can’t help but fall in love with (hero/heroine and secondary), and the science lab world-building is intricate and thoroughly-integrated with the plot. Although it is a workplace romance, it is NOT supervisor-employee (different labs, different projects, different specialties), and the power disparity is immediately and thoroughly addressed. It hits all the right notes for its tropes without feeling like a cookie-cutter romance. This is one of my new favorites and I can’t recommend it highly enough!

LAWLESS SPACES by Corey Ann Haydu

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.

Mimi’s sixteenth birthday isn’t what she’d hoped. She’s not surprised that her mother chooses to go on an impromptu trip with her boyfriend and leave Mimi alone for days. It’s just like her mom. But she is shocked when the news story breaks that her mother is the accuser in a high-profile sexual assault case that’s been all over the news.

Home alone, and unable to get in touch with her mom, Mimi isn’t sure how to handle this news–especially because of how her mom reacted about an incident in Mimi’s life last year, an incident which her mother seemed to think was all Mimi’s fault simply because of how her body is shaped. But as Mimi struggles to navigate these overwhelming revelations–all the while dealing with her own struggles with dating and her body image–she finds a stack of journals in the attic and begins to connect with the journey of the generations of women in her family before her, women who have had struggles that are dishearteningly similar to the sexism Mimi is still experiencing decades later.

Told through Mimi’s poetry, this story is beautifully told, but heavy. There are very few lighter moments in this book that deals with such important but difficult themes. It is a strong, feminist coming-of-age novel that will appeal most to older teens and twenty-somethings who want to immerse themselves in this struggle and come out the other side feeling connected to a community of women–generations of women–who have experienced gender-based violence and discrimination and feeling inspired to join them in the fight.

THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS by Laurie Frankel

Posted 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.

Rosie wanted nothing more than a little girl that she could name after her sister, Poppy, who died of childhood cancer. So when she and Penn decided to conceive their fifth child, she did every superstitious thing imaginable to make sure that this time, that baby would be a girl. Maybe that’s why Claude was the way he was. While his four older brothers played in the mud and crashed toy train sets, Claude wanted to wear dresses and play princess. And when he grew up, he wanted to be a girl.

All Rosie and Penn want–for each of their children–is for them to be happy. And if being a girl will make their youngest happy, they will facilitate that change however they can, even if it means moving across the country to famously-tolerant Seattle. But in a new community, telling the story of Poppy-who-used-to-be-Claude turns out to be complicated, and almost immediately, Claude becomes a secret. He weighs on the family, especially Poppy’s older brothers. Only Poppy seems to have forgotten he ever existed. Unfortunately, secrets can’t stay hidden forever, and in the aftermath, it will take a journey to the other side of the world for Poppy–and Claude–to find themselves.

A beautifully told story with equal doses of humor and heart, THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS captures the emotional journey of parenting a nonbinary child. Despite the family’s unwavering love and support of their child, there are always questions Poppy will have to answer for herself and an undercurrent of uncertainty, Rosie and Penn never quite sure whether they are making too many decisions or not enough decisions or helping in the right ways or the wrong ways–in other words, parenting a nonbinary child is parenting. This is how it always is.

By joining Rosie and Penn in their emotional journey, readers will come to a deeper understanding of the complex challenges of navigating the world as a nonbinary person or an adult who loves a nonbinary child. Its unique perspective makes this novel an important addition to the slowly growing literature that authentically represents the diversity of queer experiences. I highly recommend it to readers of contemporary and/or literary fiction, adult book clubs, and all public library collections.

LOVE AT FIRST SPITE by Anna E. Collins

Posted 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.

Dani does not regret playing paintball in her wedding dress on the day that should have been her wedding. She does regret running into Wyatt Montego, the most intimidating architect at the firm where she works, while drunk at the bar afterward and managing to get paint on his probably-expensive shirt. And of course that wouldn’t have happened if she had realized how self-centered, controlling her ex was before getting engaged to him, buying a house with him, and then suffering the humiliation of being cheated on with their realtor.

But once she sobers up, Dani realizes that the house might provide her with the perfect opportunity for revenge. Since her ex-fiance refused to let her buy the adjacent lot for studio space, she could buy it now and build some giant monstrosity on it to block his view. She could use all her skills as an interior designer to make it exactly the sort of house he’d hate. She just needs an architect to design it. Enter Wyatt Montego. Apparently not bearing any sort of grudge for the paint-on-the-shirt incident, Wyatt stuns Dani by volunteering to design the house for free. Of course they’ll have to keep their relationship professional since they work for the same firm. But that won’t be too difficult since Wyatt isn’t exactly the most personable man in the world (however gorgeous he might be) and there’s no way he could be interested in Dani.

Right?…

This steamy RomCom was tons of adorable fun. The Pride and Prejudice vibe was intentional (several reverences to Bridget Jones) and well-executed, and the Spite House was an original concept with the potential to inspire vengeful glee in anyone who can relate to Dani’s frustration with being constantly undermined by her ex. I highly recommend this novel to fans of the genre and the enemies-to-lovers and workplace romance tropes.