It's time to share reviews of the best ARCs I received this month. The following all received 4 stars or higher.
The Wangs vs. The World- Jade Chang (October 4) - 4 stars
True to its premise, this debut novel takes its readers on a journey. As Charles Wang flees his financial ruin with a road trip across the country with his family on the way to his daughter's house in New York, we witness their dynamics, the ways money has impacted them, and the reality of their dreams. We also see how the family has splintered in the years since the children's mother died and stepmother Barbra entered their lives.
Each family member is selfish in their own way and at first this does not make them the most sympathetic of characters. But as Charles dreams of reclaiming his ancestral land, Andrew attempts stand-up comedy, Grace considers her fashion blog, Saina examines the tatters of her love life, and Barbra examines her place in the family, we see each character grow and in the process, they take steps toward growing closer together. This is a journey well worth watching develop! I was fascinated by Charles and Barbra's recollections about coming to the US from China and how this contrasted with the childrens' experiences as Chinese Americans. Woven through it all is Charles' experience as a self-made man and how it ultimately becomes his undoing. I'll be very curious to see what Jade Chang comes up with next. Certainly an author to watch.
A Fool For You (Foolproof Love #3)- Katee Robert (October 4) - 4 stars
I was excited to see how Robert would wrap up this trilogy. I had a lot of questions about Daniel and Hope's estrangement and wondered how she'd bring them back together. It was best to not ask too many questions (13 years of no talking and then straight to sleeping together?!) and just see where the characters went. My heart went out to Hope and I loved Robert's portrayal of her accident-related disability, especially with how the disfigurement could impact Hope's love life- or at least Hope's fears that it would. Hope and Daniel have a lot of complicated history together and in this light, it makes sense why Hope would inform him immediately about the possible pregnancy. At the same time, Daniel treated Hope horribly after the accident, no matter how he was feeling, and he never quite atoned himself during their reunion. Hope's mom called him out on this thankfully but I wish Hope had gotten angrier with him and that he had to work harder to get her back. Robert is a gifted author so I'm flummoxed as to why this novel was so short because she easily could have fleshed all of this out and further developed the relationship. The ending was abrupt and would have benefited from an epilogue. It would have been nice to see more of Quinn, Aubrey, Adam, and Jules. At the same time, I'm willing to go wherever Robert takes me. On the whole, I enjoyed the ride.
Four Letter Word (Dirty Deeds #1)- J. Daniels (October 4) - 4 stars
Sydney's day has just gone to hell in a handbasket when her best friend calls her with her own bad news: Tori found out her boyfriend is actually married. With nothing keeping her in town, Sydney hops in her car and heads to her best friend's house for a permanent visit. Sydney isn't ready to deal with the demise of her marriage but she is ready for vengeance on Tori's behalf. She calls Tori's former boyfriend and rips into him...only she dialed the wrong number, to her mortification and the guy's amusement. This whole scene made me laugh out loud! Most wrong numbers don't go anywhere but Brian is immediately intrigued by this woman and from there, an unusual friendship develops.
As Sydney gets settled in, she starts to reclaim herself and all the ways she changed to appease her husband. This was wonderful to see. As she and Brian begin to text and talk on the phone, it was clear she needed a safe, unbiased person to talk to as she processed what came of her life. Yes, she had Tori but something about the anonymity of the calls helped her open up. Cheaper than therapy, sure, and there was something undeniably alluring about Brian, who was battling his own demons. They were truly good for one another and I liked seeing the growth that comes out of this pairing. While I usually don't like "my marriage ended yesterday and now I'm falling in love with someone else" plots, this one completely worked for me, perhaps because it took so long for Brian and Sydney to meet in person. Once they do meet, their relationship moves fast and yet it makes sense. At the same time, we know there's a lot Brian hasn't told Sydney and how it could potentially derail everything they've built. I was not keen on Brian's side job (eek!) or the way he refused to open up to Sydney, while also flogging himself for a mistake, but since that's where the plot went, I went with it too and J. Daniels handled the aftermath well. I loved Sydney's friends and how she built a wonderful little community there. I also loved how crossword puzzles played a part in their love story. Brian could win me over with crossword questions any day of the week! I'm very curious about where the series will go next and what other relationships will develop.
From A Paris Balcony- Ella Carey (October 11) - 4 stars
I had never heard of Marthe de Florian before reading A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable a couple of months ago so when I saw this novel was inspired by the very same French courtesan, I couldn't request a review copy fast enough. The novels have a few similarities (main characters dealing with failed marriages) but they veer in vastly different directions in the way they interpret de Florian's life. Sarah comes to Paris to learn more about her ancestor who died tragically after discovering a letter from de Florian to her great-aunt Louisa's husband in her deceased father's possessions. She wants to stay in de Florian's apartment in the hopes of turning up what really happened to her ancestor. The only catch is she has to share the apartment with an artist. Sarah's present day storyline alternates with that of Louisa.
As the story progressed, I became more and more anxious to find out what exactly had happened to Louisa. Was it possible family lore had it wrong? Oh, how I hoped! There was such sadness in how the events of her life played out and how helpless she was in the eyes of society, despite her dreams. One of the more interesting aspect's of Louisa's story was her growing involvement with women's rights. Sarah and Louisa are both in need of a fresh start in their respective time periods and it was interesting to see what constrained them and what could potentially set them free. And call me cliche but beyond the mystery, one of the most interesting part's of Sarah's story was her relationship with Laurent, as she made peace with her past and became open to a new kind of future- and as he did the same. There were some beautiful lines about new possibilities and being free. The novel was strongest with Louisa's story and while Sarah's story was set in Paris but the author brought it all back around in the end.
Rose & Thorn (Ash & Bramble #2)- Sarah Prineas (October 18) - 4 stars
I was completely captivated by Ash & Bramble and curious about where the series would go next. Rose & Thorn picks up decades later with a look at the story of Sleeping Beauty. Rose has been raised under the protection of Shoe. She knows she was born with three curses but she is otherwise naive to the ways of the world. Then one day the spell protecting them is broken and Shoe dies, leaving Rose alone and launching her on a journey to figure out who she is. The people of the City and its Protector have taken a hard line against their old foe Story to the point that no stories are told at all. They're too dangerous. But that's not what Rose and some rebels believe. It's a clash between new and old and all the while Story is at work, leading Rose closer to the spindle that will put her to sleep.
Prineas has fun wielding Story as her villain- it remains such an interesting and compelling premise. She also plays with ideas about gender and power, turning fairy tales on their head in some ways. The latter half of the book is where its strongest, especially once Griff is in the fight of his life. That part was especially moving. I had a hard time putting this down but I was sad that Shoe and Pen (from book 1) didn't get as happily of an ever after as I'd wanted. (Or if they did, it's up to our imagination based on how many years have passed since Ash & Bramble ended.) Readers who read this as a standalone might like it better as a result.
To Love And To Cherish (The Wedding Belles #3)- Lauren Lane (October 18) - 5 stars
Lauren Layne teased us with the promise of Logan and Alexis's story through the first two books in the Wedding Belles series and it was more than worth the wait. I've been so curious about how they met and how on earth Logan has been able to patiently bide his time for Alexis to see him as more than a friend. This was a slow burn and I simultaneously couldn't believe how thickheaded Alexis was or the unsuccessful long game Logan was trying to play. These two were clearly made for each other and watching it unfold was delicious. I couldn't put this book down!
Both characters clearly prized their friendship and they each had respective risks to make. I loved watching Alexis realized she needed to prioritize her personal life, after achieving the success of her business. I loved Logan's realization it was time to make a move with Alexis and to figure out whether he wanted to move back to London to take over the family business. Logan had big stakes in either direction. At the center of it all is the community the Belles have formed- such a lovely tight-knit bond that has grown with each successive book. I'm crossing my fingers Layne will bring us Jessie's story next but either way, I'm feeling happy about the way things wrapped up here.
Disclosure: I received an ARC of The Wangs vs. The World, A Fool For You, Four Letter Word, From A Paris Balcony, and To Love And To Cherish from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I received an ARC of Rose & Thorn from William Morrow Paperbacks in exchange for an honest review.