readclever's reviews
345 reviews

The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes, by Xio Axelrod

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challenging emotional informative reflective sad tense slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

3.0

What happens when an act of luck brings fame when all a singer wants to do is stay behind-the-scenes?

Antonia "Toni" Bennette is a woman on a mission. Make enough of a name to get steady temp gigs, gain some traction to help create a solid music rep, and avoid the spotlight. Sounds easy, right? Not so much when music industry trauma seeps into every corner of childhood, especially parental abandonment and addiction to fame. I really appreciated that Toni had goals, saved for a future, and wanted to walk that dangerous line. Her arc was pretty captivating.

Sebastian "Quick" Quigley is another character all together. As a love interest, he left a lot to be desired. In the eight years since he abandoned Toni, he began to build an industry name and worked as co-creator of the Lillys. Unfortunately, constant refrains of self-loathing didn't really match up to the clear arc that Toni needed him to be on. I couldn't buy him in the romance.

The book is slow to get into with a lot of backstory in the beginning. Yet the power of an all-woman rock band was very, very intriguing. Most well-known leader singers like Debbie Harry front a band with men. The Runaways with Joan Jett are an exception full of issues and traumas of its own. Riot grrl music of the 90s featured a lot more all-women bands but it's been a minute. And Xio Axelrod knows all this when you read the book. Her knowledge and capital power of the industry and genre are extremely helpful in navigating how the Lillys work together.

Overall, I really enjoyed the parts with the band the most. Felt more organic and genuine than the romance. A better genre fit may have been women's fiction with romance elements. Will I read more in the series? Of course! I enjoyed Axelrod's knowledge and skill. The book just needed more tweaking and some removing/reworking of plot points.

Three stars from me. Thank you NetGalley and Sourcebooks Casabalanca for providing an advanced copy for an honest review.

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Anchored Hearts, by Priscilla Oliveras

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adventurous emotional informative reflective sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.5

Thanks to Zebra for the opportunity to review the book for an honest opinion.

The setting, atmosphere, and community really stand out in the story. It's easy to follow how each of the main character's interact and work together, along with other members of the community, as many come from the Cuban diaspora of the 1950s and 1960s. Honestly, the community aspect was one of my favorite. Almost a tropical small town setting.

I also loved the way the Spanish was incorporated. No italics, just an answer or question from the next paragraph or speaker. I want to be immersed in the world. Oliveras did a fantastic job of setting up places like the Navarro dinners and Miranda restaurants. It felt really well done.

For the romance, I was lukewarm. Anamaria was a more developed character than Alejandro and had a stronger arc, I think. Ale felt a bit flat with his constant refrains and unwillingness to bridge old gaps, letting old wounds heal. I wanted more for AM because she knew herself after the couple's first breakup. Finding her voice and efforts. I loved watching her journey. Honestly, his lack of development dropped the book down.

Ending seemed super rushed given the relationship between them. Had Ale been more mature and worked within the romance, the book would have been 4 stars.

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The Countess Conspiracy, by Courtney Milan

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challenging dark emotional informative sad tense slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.0

Normally, I love Courtney Milan's heroines. I could not like Violet. She was so shrouded in self-abuse via thought, which grew tiresome ten pages in. It took her way too long to get some gumption and stop living in the past. Like 75% of the book.
SpoilerIt wasn't just imposter syndrome, but a key part of her personality. Post her father's suicide.

The story spends a lot of time with tangential side plots, often with similar stories, and yet it doesn't help the main thread. Bless Sebastian for loving her. It's not that Violet is prickly, or even unlikeable.I love characters like Jennifer Estep's Gin Blanco. It's the fact Violet does nothing but put herself down. And depends on others to fulfill her needs since she refuses to stop calling herself selfish.

The only saving grace was the last 20% or so. Even with even more melodrama. It felt more like a romance. There's a lot of inconsistency in the writing, how a character mercurial flips traits depending on plot need. And an exorbitant amount of miscommunication and hidden truths.

The miscarriage information in addition to her first husband's sexual assaults were a lot to handle, too. In total, Violet had 19 in 11 years. It seemed like a lot of heroine torture for the sake of it. I struggle with infertility and that number absolutely dropped the book almost a full star. Because it loses impact among all the other melodrama. (And I love me some melodrama. Hello 1990s soaps)

I waddled between 2 and 3 stars. I only came down on 3 because Sebastian was a very well-developed character, very patient, and there were great points in the book. It's a very low 3 stars.

But I didn't enjoy the read and won't ever reread. I usually love the heroines and focus on their arcs when reviewing. I can't in this one. And that makes me sad. I'm sad I couldn't love a popular, well-regarded recced book. Unfortunately, sometimes you can't.

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Galatea, by Madeline Miller

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dark emotional sad tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

2.5

 I wanted to like this story. Galatea, the character, had such potential. But Miller made her far too passive in some ways. I'm not sure if this is meant to be placed in ancient Greece or 1865 Britian.

The ending was sad but well done. There was a lot of emotional resonance. But the lead up felt so empty because the story was so short. There wasn't a real connection beyond her subjugation.

There were too many loose threads at the end to bump it up to 3 stars. I'm not sure how to take this story as an intro to Miller. 

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Holiday Grind, by Cleo Coyle

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5.0

Once again murder strikes around Clare. This time she's caught up with a friend's sad end. Clare and her friends' investigation opened up a lot of doors for possible suspects. Definitely one of my favorite Village Blend mysteries.
The Rising, by Kelley Armstrong

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4.0

Strongest book of the trilogy with a lot more agency for the kids. It didn't feel so ham-fisted at time. I normally love Armstrong's work and I love her Otherworld series especially. Unfortunately, the book felt like the editor may be eliminated some scenes or sections that would have made the ending a little more plausible. I'm hoping the characters end up in another series in the universe at least. To see what they know.
Plum Pudding Murder, by Joanne Fluke

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1.0

I wanted to like Hannah, I really did. But she's too much of a cut-out. This is the second book in the series I've read but I don't think I'll be reading the third. The murder mystery felt contrived, easy to identify the murderer, and the side plots were very thin.

I enjoy cozy mysteries. I find them very appealing in summer heat. And I love one surrounding food. But I feel like Fluke writes a cookbook with non cooking instructions instead of adding a bonus. Cleo Coyle's series has recipes but they're unobtrusive and not smack in the middle of an ending chapter. I hated that about this book. I would have to skip pages in order to continue a story I wasn't even interested in.

The love triangle is boring and useless, honestly. I don't care if Hannah ends up with Norman or Mike since it's clear she's not looking for a real match. She likes the fawning attention, occasional jealousy, and ability to eat out all the time on their dime.

No one in the series is particularly enjoyable since Hannah's cleverness is the key element in Lake Eden life. Got a killer after you? Run away from the people who can help and hope for the best! Need to find an answer, work around the cops--including the one you're dating. It's just too pat and bad writing.

Save yourself and avoid the book and series.