Friday, April 30, 2021

You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria


Reviewed by Ambrea

After a very messy – and highly publicized break up – soap opera star Jasmin Lin Rodriguez is searching for a way to salvage her reputation and create a new plan.  She returns to her hometown of New York City to star in a new bilingual romantic comedy and she also comes up with a new “Leading Lady Plan.”  She decides Leading Ladies do not end up on tabloid covers, Leading Ladies do not need a man to be happy, and Leading Ladies do not rebound with their new costars.  Too bad a casting shake-up pairs her with telenovela darling Ashton Suรกrez and threatens to upend her latest plans.

I’ve actually had You Had Me at Hola sitting on my bedside table for a few weeks.  I bought it on a whim, because I loved the colorful cover and I had a serious craving for a good romantic comedy, and then I promptly covered it up with other books and forgot about it.  I recently rediscovered it and decided to give it a read – and, now, I’m left wondering what took me so long?

As I’ve quickly learned, Alexis Daria is a phenomenal romantic writer.  You Had Me at Hola is a wonderful romance novel – and, even better, it had seriously likable romantic leads.  Jasmine and Ashton are not perfect people, but they’re good people.  When they make mistakes, they do their best to make amends.  They learn, they grow – and, dang it, they actually act like adults with priorities and responsibilities.

I genuinely liked them.  I cared about their problems and their stories, their dreams and aspirations and goals.  I was actually very glad I had the chance to meet them and read their story.

I also enjoyed the way Daria incorporated the threads of her soap opera into the book.  Similar to the Bromance Book Club, which creates a dual storyline with romance novels, You Had Me at Hola dips into Daria’s invented soap opera, Carmen in Charge.  You actually have the opportunity to see Jasmine and Ashton as they work behind the scenes and you can see snippets of this secondary story they’re creating.

It was a very interesting tactic that, I think, sets You Had Me at Hola apart.  It also gave it the distinctive flavor of the 90s rom-com I love so much – like I could seriously envision watching this story in a back-to-back marathon of While You Were Sleeping and You’ve Got Mail. 

Overall, I really enjoyed reading You Had Me at Hola.  I liked the diversity it portrays – Jasmine and Ashton have very different lives and backgrounds – and I liked the sweet, complex romance that develops between the characters.  It had just enough drama and sweetness to keep me hooked, but not enough to give me a toothache.  It’s a fun novel with a solid story and a lovely cast of characters, who I hope I get to see again.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Nevermore: Moyes, Kline, Theroux, Patton, Robson, Pierce

 Reported by Garry

Our first book reviewed this week was the best-selling The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes.  This historical novel is set in the Appalachian region of Kentucky and follows Alice Wright, an English woman who hopes to escape her stifling life.  Things don’t work out quite the way she envisions, and she finds herself stuck in a small town with an over-bearing father-in-law.  When Eleanor Roosevelt creates a traveling library program, Alice leaps at the opportunity, and adventure begins.   This historic fiction novel covers similar themes to The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, and is soon to be made into a major motion picture.  Our reader highly recommends this book and found it touching, inspiring and very well written. 


Next up was The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline, which our reader borrowed digitally through TN Reads.  This historic novel centers on the lives of two young English women who have been sentenced to exile to Van Diemen’s Land – what is now known as Australia.  A third main character is a young Aboriginal girl, Mathinna, the orphaned daughter of an Aboriginal chief, who is adopted by the governor of Van Diemen’s Land, and is treated as a curiosity rather than a human being.  Our reader took particular note of the details of travel on the ship, the prison system in Australia at the time, and how awful both were.  She highly recommends this very interesting book.



Our next reader took a long and winding journey with through South America with Paul Theroux and his The Old Patagonian Express, which she borrowed from TN Reads.  First published in 1979, this written account retells Theroux’s journey from his home in Massachusetts, by train to Texas, then through Mexico into Guatemala and El Salvador.  Journeying further south by both plane and train Theroux makes his way to the small town of Esquel in Argentinian Patagonia.  Along the way Theroux meets and describes the locals and other travelers, sometimes unflatteringly.  Our reader liked Theroux’s somewhat curmudgeonly writing style and his insight into the people he meets along the way. 


Our next book was set on the other southern peninsula – South Africa.  Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Patton was published in 1948 and has become a classic novel.  Our reader initially read this book in high school and recently decided to revisit it.  The story centers on a Zulu pastor, Steven Kumalo and his son, Absalom.  Steven lives out in the country, and is called to Johannesburg to see his ailing sister.  The trip requires him to take 5 trains over 2 days to get to the city.  As well as trying to locate his sister, Steven tries to locate his son, Absalom, who has been arrested for the murder of a white man who was fighting for racial justice.  This novel was written before the system of apartheid was implemented in South Africa, and is a protest against the social structures that lead to the separation of the country along color lines.  Unflinching in its examination of the detrimental effects of systemic racism, our reader found that this novel is as relevant today as it was when she initially read it. 



Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson was the next novel reviewed.  This historical novel is placed in Italy during World War II, and tells the story of Antonina Mazin, a young Jewish girl who lives in Venice.   Antonina wants to become a doctor like her father, but faced with the growing Nazi occupation of Italy, she must leave Venice and hide in the countryside, where she poses as the new bride to Nico Gerardi, a young Italian farmer who had been studying to become a priest before circumstances required him to take over the family farm.  Nico and Antonina must convince the neighbors and local Nazis that they are indeed a young married couple in order to protect their lives.   Our reader really liked this book, and was especially appreciative of the author’s ability to so beautifully picture the village, and noted that while the characters are fictional, the setting and incidents recalled are pulled from reality.  



Also set in World War II, but this time in England, Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pierce was the next book reviewed.  In this historic novel, Emmiline Lake, wants would like to be a war correspondent.  When she lands a position at the London Evening Chronicle, she thinks she is on the road to achieving her dream.  When she arrives, however, she finds her position is that of a typist to the legendary and fierce Mrs. Bird, who rules the advice column with an iron fist.  Our reader loved this sweetly written quick read, and noted how it really does describe what it is like to be in a blitz in England. 


Also mentioned:

Take It Back by Kia Abdoulah

Raft of Stars by Andrew Graff

Machinehood by S.B. Divya

The Angry Wife by Pearl S. Buck

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X Kendi

Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

White Teacher by Vivian Paley

Across the Top of the World by David Fisher 

The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs

Those Who Are Saved by Alexis Landau

When Twilight Breaks by Sarah Sundin

Monday, April 26, 2021

Bone Canyon by Lee Goldberg

Kevin Tipple is an author who keeps readers up to date with news, interviews, and book reviews at his award-winner blog, Kevin's Corner.


Bone Canyon by Lee Goldberg opens a few weeks after Lost Hills and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Homicide Detective Eve Ronin is continuing to be back at work and recovering from injuries sustained during that case. She finally has the cast off her wrist and is grudgingly doing the physical therapy needed to gain strength and mobility in the wrist. She has also been finally released from desk duty. That means she can finally get back on the streets doing her job and she is thrilled with that fact.


It is a hot, muggy morning in the middle of January and her and her partner, Duncan Pavone, are responding to a scene on Hueso Canyon Road in the Santa Monica Mountains. A few weeks earlier, Santa Anna winds created an epic firestorm that roared through the area burning one hundred thousand acres as well as sixteen hundred structures. It also killed.


It also revealed bodies of people who were not killed by the fire. Dumped bodies of the dead that were in the brush before the fire blasted through. Bodies that nobody, other than a killer or killers, knew were there.


Now they have another one. A skull fragment is in the backyard of a home that was spared the worst of the fire. Owned by Sherwood Mintner who states that the backyard has been re-landscaped several times over the years and that the piece -- “part of a forehead, the left eye socket, part of the nasal cavity, and the cheek bone (page six)” -- was absolutely not there before the fire. Homicide Detectives Duncan Pavone and Eve Ronin verify the piece is human in appearance and bring in forensics as his yard is now a crime scene.


It is also not the only piece of bone on the seared and scarred hillside.


It is not the only body out there either.


Bone Canyon by Lee Goldberg is a fast moving and intense police procedural that builds very well on the first book. The ongoing theme for Eve Ronin, who some know as “Deathfist,” continues here in its ongoing secondary story line. It continues to directly and indirectly affect her personal life, her professional life in the Sheriff’s Department and is used by others when it suits them and their agenda.


It also works to humanize her in her interactions with others as she works cases and overcomes obstacles of a personal as well as a political nature.  Plenty of action powers this police procedural as it did with the first book. The tendency by the author to over explain the simplest things that readers of police procedural already know continues here as well.


A highly entertaining book, Bone Canyon is a fun and fast read that builds well on Lost Hills. While it could be read by those readers new to the series, there are many spoilers in the book thereby making it strongly preferable to having read the first before reading Bone Canyon.


For another take on the book, be sure to read Lesa Holstine’s review for Library Journal last October. Lesa also sent me her hardback copy to read as she continues to have more books than closet space. Big time thank you, Lesa!


Bone Canyon

Lee Goldberg

Thomas & Mercer

January 2021

ISBN# 978-1542042710

Hardback (also available in audio and eBook formats)

288 Pages



Kevin R. Tipple ©2021