From Hollywood With Love: The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of the Romantic Comedy – Scott Meslow

Published February 1, 2022

If you can finish the following without hesitation:

Must Love ____

When Harry Met ____

and

If you can’t help but stop channel surfing when Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, or Colin Firth is on the screen…

this is the PERFECT book to get you into a swoon-y state of mind!

From Hollywood with Love is a thoroughly researched and fascinating look behind the curtain of some of Hollywood’s biggest successes in the rom-com genre. It also explores HOW the genre evolved, where it’s been, how it flopped (temporarily) and the rise of the new generation of rom-com, on both the small screen and silver screen. Meslow explores the tropes, good, bad, and ugly, and doesn’t shy from topics like the limited representation we’ve seen up until recent years, the mercurial nature of some of your favorite actors, actresses, directors, and writers (and the will of steel of others!), and how quickly Hollywood can turn on a dime when execs smell a success (or a failure) to be. The book covers quite a bit of ground, from the eighties until today, but never dwells on any one film for TOO long.

The funniest thing I discovered while reading this one is that as big a rom-com fan as I am? SO many movies discussed in this book I haven’t even seen! Heard of them, absolutely. All were chosen carefully, and had some impact on the zeitgeist. What this also led me to realize is I have a LOT of ‘homework’ to do after reading this book to get caught up…AND I am just enough of a movie nerd to thoroughly enjoy this book regardless! One minor point: mention is made of Love, Simon and that the director wanted the film to have a happy ending etc….but NO mention is made that Love, Simon is an adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda…where the ending has already been spelled out. (This probably bugged me since I’m an Albertalli fan and loved the source material). However, if this is the only quibble I had with this book, I’d say Meslow thoroughly wooed me!

So settle in with some popcorn and a box of candy, or perhaps a pint of Häagen-Dazs, crank up Red Rain, and take a journey down rom-com lane…after all, you just KNOW you’ll get a happy ending! 😉

4 stars

Many thanks to NetGalley, Dey Street Books, and Scott Meslow for a gifted copy of this book!

#NetGalley @deystreet @ScottMeslow

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

Published February 1st, 2022 – image courtesy of Random House

Black Cake is a cake full to bursting with fruits, soaked in rum, and browned with sugar (hence the name.)

Sounds delicious, right?

Well, much like a first attempt at a new recipe that JUST misses the mark…Black Cake had all the promise and potential of a five-star delight…but couldn’t quite get the blend right.

Benny and Byron used to be attached at the proverbial hip, brother and sister who happily did everything together. Time and circumstance have led them away from one another, as Benny’s life choices (from the personal to her career choice) have left her a bit ostracized from the family. Byron has taken the ‘right’ path, but still has so many questions about the past, his mother, and how life has led him to this place.

When their mother passes away, both children are summoned to listen to their mother one last time—via audio recording. What they don’t expect to find is not a breakdown of assets, or a traditional will, but that their mother was holding secrets—life-altering secrets—and has chosen to finally share them now. As her tales unfold, Benny and Byron are transported back in time, and a shocking series of events leaves them both reeling. This is not your typical inheritance—and Benny and Byron have choices to make. Will the interesting and unexpected turns of fate bring them closer together, once and for all? Or will their mother’s stunning revelations prove once and for all that the past is MEANT to stay buried?

Black Cake is, if nothing else, a lesson in Identity: what it means to be who you are, how heritage can either define you or hold you captive, and how place and opportunity can shape your destiny. At first, I was deeply wound into Benny and Byron’s story, and was intrigued by these narrators and their differing perspectives. The premise was sound, and I thought by story’s end I would have a firm sense of WHO these two were and who they could become down the line. At first, the book felt balanced: we got small glimpses into mother Eleanor’s life without losing hold of the present-day narrative.

As time went on, however, the central theme of the story became more and more divergent, as character after character was introduced, new locations and complications arose, and the book started to lose focus—and lose my attention. The dramatic ‘twists’ became a bit repetitive, and there was a heavy emphasis on certain themes such as abuse, without any true conclusion. Much like in Of Women and Salt, the moment I started to connect to a new character’s story line, we jumped to another point in time, a new location, or back to present day, and it left me feeling a bit underwhelmed.

Sometimes, you can also tell a lot from an author’s note, and it was clear here that Wilkerson did her research about the time periods, cultures, and professions she explores in the book. Her final words alone confirm that Wilkerson is a strong and gifted writer, and that if the execution of this one had been a bit tighter and a bit cleaner, the emotions could have taken center stage and carried the novel.

While the novel’s through line is purported to be solely Eleanor’s recipe for cake, this book touched on so many other deep themes, without quite giving any of them the depth they needed to sing. I have every confidence this author has more intricate and interesting stories to tell, so I look forward to seeing what she writes in the future—when she hopefully gives her ideas just a LITTLE bit longer to bake.

3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 based on the author’s note alone

Many thanks to NetGalley, Kathleen Quinlan at Ballantine, and Charmaine Wilkerson for a gifted copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

#NetGalley #BlackCake #bookreview #booktwt @randomhouse @charmspen1

A Flicker In The Dark – Stacy Willingham

Published January 11th, 2021

What a sizzling and scintillating debut!

Chloe Davis has been trying to escape her demons since the tender age of 12. See, this is the year that six young women went missing…and one man was deemed guilty for their disappearances. The one man a girl should ALWAYS be able to depend on…Chloe’s own father. From the minute he is put behind bars, life isn’t the same for Chloe and brother Cooper, who cannot escape the ominous cloud of mystery that hovers over them in their tiny Louisiana town. The two struggle to move towards a new normal and Chloe’s mother never quite recovers, carrying a unique burden all her own.

Twenty years have passed and Chloe is deeply embedded in her ‘new’ life. Swoony and safe Daniel has come into her world, and the two are due to be married any day. Chloe is a psychologist now, putting her struggles aside to help others, and one day a teen girl comes to her practice who reminds Chloe of her own teenage self. Is it fate that the two should meet? Flickers of her past quickly ignite into a flame she can’t ignore when the very same girl she counseled turns up missing…just like so many years before. These echoes become a roar that even Chloe’s pills can’t drown out, and when the killer’s actions mirror her father a little TOO closely and a journalist comes a-calling, Chloe starts to question how her father’s reach could extend through prison bars and out into the real world…and exactly how well does she know Daniel? Why are so many patches of her own memory hazy? And could she be so much CLOSER to the crimes than she ever imagined?

My expectations were pretty high coming into this read, but the premise hooked me and I got easily caught in the web of Chloe’s thoughts, which at times was a pretty tangled jumble. Willingham tied past and present together in a clever fashion, straying from the “Now” and “Then” format so many thriller writers lean on and instead having Chloe’s flashbacks or memories appear mid-paragraph, leaving the reader even more baffled as to fact vs. fiction and of course, never knowing whether or not to trust Chloe as a narrator. Add in the requisite pill-popping and muddled thinking, and Chloe’s tale wound every which way, leaving me scratching my head at times and FRANTICALLY flipping pages. This is the first book in a while that I’ve been compelled to pick up (and the first I’ve finished in 3 days in a while as well!) so that’s the hallmark of addictive, keeps-you-guessing writing. I was so sure this would be a 5 star read for me and it nearly was

UNTIL I realized I had guessed the ending…from quite early on, surprisingly (most of all to me!)

This is not to say that Willingham doesn’t hide the truth fairly well, because I think she did a fantastic job, and although my hunch was correct, that didn’t stop me from taking a journey down every open ended path she presented and questioning my instincts over and over. Do some plot elements fall a little too neatly into place? Sure. But I didn’t mind that aspect too much, and I was able to suspend my disbelief without feeling too disappointed.

This book is a little bit serial killer exposition, a little bit unreliable narrator psychological thriller, and a whole LOT of exciting and thrilling writing sure to put Stacy Willingham on the map in the genre. I am already excited for her next book and would wholeheartedly recommend this read to thriller buffs new and old (although newbies might be a bit more shocked by the ending.)

If from a tiny spark may burst a mighty flame…then Willingham is poised to set the genre ABLAZE! 🔥

4 stars, rounded down from 4.5

Many thanks to NetGalley, Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press, and Stacy Willingham for an ARC of this book!

#NetGalley #AFlickerInTheDark #bookreview #Booktwt @svwillingham @MinotaurBooks

2021 Year In Review!

2021 on Goodreads by Various




Unlike last year, I am bound and determined to actually complete my year-end review this year, so…

Here’s the good, the incredible, and the most promising new authors of 2021!!

🥇 5 Star Reads published in 2021 (in alphabetical order) :

Beautiful Country-this poignant memoir from Qian Julie Wang is probably the best and most engrossing I’ve ever read in the genre. Relatable, raw, and beautifully penned.
my review 🌎

Dark Horses-if you thought My Dark Vanessa was dark…this heart-wrenching and tragic work of literary fiction takes it to another level. A stunning debut from Susan Mihalic!
my review 🐴

Every Last Fear-this thrilling debut from Alex Finlay starts with the phrase “They found the bodies on a Tuesday.”…and doesn’t let up until the very last page! my review 🧵🪕

For Your Own Good-Samantha Downing wows again! Does the phrase Homicide High mean anything to you? It will once you finish this trip into dark academia–and make sure you finish your milk! my review 🥛

The Good Sister-The queen of domestic suspense strikes gold with this book about sisters…but is this a standard case of one good and one evil twin? Or could there be something more?? my review 👭

Rock Paper Scissors-is it any surprise an Alice Feeney book got 5 stars from me? This is a twisty tale of a marriage on the ‘rocks’ 😉that will knock your socks off! my review

You’d Be Home Now-my favorite YA read of the year, this one tackles the subject of the opioid epidemic and how it affects a brother and sister–a surprisingly emotional and well-researched read! my review 💊

🥇A late-to-the-party 5 star read published prior to 2021
Jar of Hearts-so glad I made time to finally pick up this scintillating tale about a serial killer, his friends, and the girl who ties them all together…and might be next to go! my review 🔪

🥇4.5 star reads published in 2021…just shy of 5 stars, but all fantastic!
Broken-Jenny Lawson’s third book was the winner of Goodreads 2021 book of the year awards in the humor category…and if you read it, you’ll see why! A seamless blend of mental health discussion and laugh-till-your-stomach hurts comedy from the Bloggess. my review 😂

Dark Roads-the long awaited next book from Chevy Stevens deals with the Lost Girls from a dangerous highway in fictional Cold Creek…this one has my favorite epilogue of the year (and possibly ever!) my review 👻

Fault Lines-this poignant and lyrically written literary fiction debut tells the story of Mizuki, a housewife wondering if her past is really behind her when a new stranger takes her out of her role as wife and mother…perhaps for good? my review 🌺

Instructions for Dancing-Nicola Yoon is back with a magical, lovely, and heartbreaking tale of two dance partners, one of whom has a very specific and interesting gift. my review 💃

No One Will Miss Her-another wowza of a debut, this time from Kat Rosenfield, where our protagonist Lizzie wants to tell you HER side of the story of her life…from beyond the grave. my review 🍁

The Perfect Family-Robyn Harding’s band of Crazy Characters kept me glued to the pages in this story of a family who ALL have secrets…and might all be in danger…even from one another! my review🏠

The Plot-my first from Jean Hanff Korelitz, a sneaky and page-turning story about the book that almost wasn’t…until a new author decides to ‘borrow’ and publish it…with disastrous consequences! my review 📕

The Wife Upstairs-my first intro to Rachel Hawkins, this new spin on Jane Eyre kept my mind reeling and the pages flipping! my review 🆙

🥈 A couple of honorable mentions:
Do No Harm-this book also tackles the opioid epidemic, but from a different angle: what would you do if they only way you could save your child was to become PART of the drug world? my review 💵

Wish You Were Here-the only COVID book I’ve read, and Picoult shows up with a trademark twist determined to toss everything you THOUGHT you knew out the window! my review 🌅

If you’re still with me…a huge THANK YOU to all of the amazing book friends I have made and get to chat with all year long! 2021 was a big year for me, becoming a mom and finally moving back to NY with my husband, and this community has been there for me through it all. The friendships I have made mean the world to me, and I cannot wait to keep chatting books and life with all of you! 😊

That being said, I’m also happy to announce I am finally starting my Bookstagram, Twitter, and book blog, Alternatively Titled Books, where I will post reviews and come up with punny and fun titles for the books I read (when the mood strikes!) and will be posting more bookish content there as well. If you’d like to follow along, here are my links!

Twitter: @alttitledbooks
Instagram: @alternativelytitledbooks
Blog: Blog

Happy Reading to all in 2022! Thanks for being the best book friends I could ask for! 🥂📚💕 ~Cat



View all my reviews