What’s Ashley Reading?: Lies and Weddings

Lies and Weddings by Kevin Kwan

First line: “If I had a flower for every time I thought of you, I could walk in my garden forever.”

Summary: Rufus Gresham is one of the most eligible bachelors and the heir to an earldom. However, the Gresham family has a secret they are hoping is remedied by his marriage to a wealthy young woman. But Rufus does not want to marry for money. He has long harbored feelings for the girl next door, a young doctor, Eden Tong. Then at the wedding of Rufus’s sister he accidentally reveals some rather scandalous information leading to whispers surrounding the young doctor. As the rumors and innuendos gain momentum Eden is ostracized by the matriarch of the family she has known her whole life. Can Rufus defy his mother’s plans and marry the woman he loves?

My Thoughts: I wasn’t sure about reading this book since the first one did not hit as highly as the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy but I am glad I gave it a try. It seems Kwan got back into the flow with this one. It felt much more complete. The story was filled with shocking moments, interesting characters and huge misunderstandings.

As with his other books, Kwan writes of the lavish lifestyles of the rich and this one is no different. There are several jaw dropping weddings and events throughout the story. It is a world that many cannot even imagine but he describes it in a way that makes it more accessible. The characters may feel a little cliché but they are interesting and memorable. Lady Arabella is the scheming mother looking for good matches for her children. Then there is Luis, a child of wealth who is determined to live lavishly without any cares for others. But on the opposite end is Eden, a doctor who spent her life on the periphery of wealth but not being tempted to enter its world. I found myself easily caught up in the plot. If you cannot take a real vacation then maybe a dive into this story will help you to escape the hot Kansas summer.

There is much to enjoy in this book! If you read and loved the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy then I would highly recommend Kwan’s newest book.

Monica’s Musings: Expiration Dates

Expiration Dates by Rebecca Serle

“But being surprised by life isn’t losing, it’s living. It’s messy and uncomfortable and complicated and beautiful. It’s life, all of it. The only way to get it wrong is to refuse to play.”
― Rebecca Serle, Expiration Dates

Summary: Daphne Bell believes the universe has a plan for her. Every time she meets a new man, she receives a slip of paper with his name and a number on it—the exact amount of time they will be together. The papers told her she’d spend three days with Martin in Paris; five weeks with Noah in San Francisco; and three months with Hugo, her ex-boyfriend turned best friend. Daphne has been receiving the numbered papers for over twenty years, always wondering when there might be one without an expiration. Finally, the night of a blind date at her favorite Los Angeles restaurant, there’s only a name: Jake.

But as Jake and Daphne’s story unfolds, Daphne finds herself doubting the paper’s prediction, and wrestling with what it means to be both committed and truthful. Because Daphne knows things Jake doesn’t, information that—if he found out—would break his heart.

My Opinion: Once again, a book by Rebecca Serle does not disappoint! I thought this one would be a light, fluffy romance, but boy, was I wrong! This book was so much more. The concept of receiving notes that show how long a relationship will last is quite intriguing. I managed this one in a single session.

There were a few surprise twists that I did not see coming, but the best part for me was when Daphne stopped letting the pieces of paper dictate her life. She took control and realized you only have one life, so do what you want! I like how Serle writes because it is unique but not too wordy, and her books are always unique.

Check out my reviews of In Five Years and One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle too!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Passionate Tudor

The Passionate Tudor by Alison Weir

First line: Mary’s earliest memory was of a glittering ceremony at her father’s court when she must have been very tiny.

Summary: Mary Tudor, the child of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, was raised to believe that one day she would be Queen of England. That is until Henry sets his sights on Anne Boleyn and banishes Mary and her mother from court. Then just a few years later she is welcomed back after the execution of Henry’s second wife. The rest of her father’s reign is filled with uncertainty about her future and the religion she holds so dear. Upon his death and the death of her young brother, Edward VI, she is finally ascends the throne becoming the first queen regnant of England. But as the years of her reign progress her popularity wains as she inflicts harsh punishments and death on those she believes to be heretics, earning the nickname of Bloody Mary.

My Thoughts: Mary I is not a character from Tudor history that I am particularly drawn to. She does have a tragic story filled with triumphs and defeats. As a young woman she is everything that is expected of a princess. She is charismatic, pretty and educated. I liked this Mary. I wanted to cheer for her. But when Henry decides to divorce her mother and leave the Catholic Church, she starts to become the Mary most people know.

It was hard to see her decline throughout the book even though I knew how everything was going to play out. She had a close relationship with her sister until jealousy wormed its way into their lives. Mary’s religious beliefs were a strong driving force behind many of her choices as queen and this created a break between her and the people of England. With each loss in her life she became a harder person to like.

In the author’s notes at the end, Weir explains her reasoning behind her portrayal of England’s first queen regnant. Mary may have done some great things during her time but the bad really do outweigh the good. Only recently has she been able gain some more support from historians. But Weir is not one of them. What do you think? Read this and let us know!

Monica’s Musings: That Sounds Fun

That Sounds Fun by Annie F. Downs

“Travel has always been one of the best parts of my job. But about a year ago, I felt God whisper to me, ‘You’re going to want to be home next fall.’”
― Annie F. Downs, That Sounds Fun: The Joys of Being an Amateur, the Power of Falling in Love, and Why You Need a Hobby

Summary: We know there are certain things we must have to survive–food, shelter, and safety to name a few. But there are also aspects of life that truly allow us to be joyful and fulfilled. For popular podcaster and bestselling author Annie F. Downs, fun is close to the top of that list. Few would argue that having fun doesn’t enrich our lives, but so much gets in the way of prioritizing it. Tough days, busyness, and feelings that are hard to talk about keep us from the fun that’s out there waiting to be found.

With That Sounds Fun, Annie offers an irresistible invitation to understand the meaning of fun, to embrace it and chase it, and to figure out what, exactly, sounds fun to you–then do it! Exploring some research and sharing some thoughts behind why fun matters, she shows you how to find, experience, and multiply your fun. With her signature storytelling style and whimsical vulnerability, Annie is the friend we all need to guide us back to staying true to ourselves and finding the fun we need.

My Opinion: This book, while entertaining, was not at all what I expected. The story is heavily influenced by Christian values and focuses on the author’s life. I thought it would explain more about figuring out a hobby and having fun. I found the author unrelatable, but I still enjoyed hearing her story.

Listeners of her podcast would probably enjoy this very much. I had not listened to her podcast prior. I simply picked it because of the catchy title and pretty cover. I feel like this book falls more in the autobiography category rather than self-help. I am a big fan of a good self-help book that leaves you motivated for life. However, this gave very little advice, and instead was a collection of the author’s personal experiences. Overall, I didn’t take much from reading this book, but it was short and simple enough to finish it.

*I listened to the audiobook on Spotify, and I will say I skipped the interviews at the end of the book.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Middle of the Night

Middle of the Night by Riley Sager

First line: Morning sunlight seeps into the tent like a water leak, dripping onto the boy in a muted glow.

Summary: Ethan Marsh has spent the last thirty years wondering what happened to his best friend. One summer night while the boys were camping in Ethan’s backyard his best friend Billy disappeared without a trace. He has been plagued with an ongoing nightmare about that night but no memories of what happened to Billy. However, upon moving back to his childhood home it appears that someone or something is trying to get Ethan to remember that long ago night. As Ethan digs deeper into his past he finds secrets that were buried years ago by those around him who he trusted most.

My Thoughts: Well this was a surprise! The main character is a man. Never has Sager written a male main character. But even with this diversion from his norm the book did not disappoint. With every new chapter there were more twists added to the plot. No one was safe from suspicion in the disappearance of Billy.

Sporadically throughout the story we get pieces of different characters and their remembrances of the day everything changed in this idyllic neighborhood. Even when you think you have it figured out then another theory is brought forward. This may be a difficult one for any reader to deduce before the end.

Similar to Sager’s previous novel, The Only One Left, there is a big old house with mysterious characters residing there. Little is known about what happens at the institute. It is the perfect backdrop for this otherwise perfect little community.

As I finished this book I may have given myself a headache from the tension of the story. I found it very hard to put this book down. It is easy to say just one more chapter while reading any of Sager’s books but this one in particular. Each chapter will give the reader just a little bit more about what really happened thirty years before.

Monica’s Musings: End of Story

End of Story by A.J. Finn

I’ll be dead in three months. Come tell my story.
― A.J. Finn, End of Story

Summary: So writes Sebastian Trapp, reclusive mystery novelist, to his longtime correspondent Nicky Hunter, an expert in detective fiction. With mere months to live, Trapp invites Nicky to his spectacular San Francisco mansion to help draft his life story . . . living alongside his beautiful second wife, Diana; his wayward nephew, Freddy; and his protective daughter, Madeleine. Soon Nicky finds herself caught in an irresistible case of real-life “detective fever.”

“You and I might even solve an old mystery or two.”

Twenty years earlier—on New Year’s Eve 1999—Sebastian’s first wife and teenage son vanished from different locations, never to be seen again. Did the perfect crime writer commit the perfect crime? And why has he emerged from seclusion, two decades later, to allow a stranger to dig into his past?

“Life is hard. After all, it kills you.”

As Nicky attempts to weave together the strands of Sebastian’s life, she becomes obsessed with discovering the truth . . . while Madeleine begins to question what her beloved father might actually know about that long-ago night. And when a corpse appears in the family’s koi pond, both women are shocked to find that the past isn’t gone—it’s just waiting.

My Opinion: This book makes you slow down and pay attention to every detail. I highly recommend reading the physical copy, as I was confused multiple times throughout the audiobook. Pacing-wise, End of Story is a slow read, with an over-complicated plot. It tries to weave in too many strands that it ends up being hard to keep track of.

The last few chapters were interesting, but the rest of the book never grabbed me enough that I found it irresistible. If you have read The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, and enjoyed it, just be warned this is an entirely different type of book. Overall, I think this book was intriguing, but I do wish it had a little more going on in the first half to make it quicker paced.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Rom-Commers

The Rom-Commers by Katherine Center

Summary: Emma has spent the last ten years taking care of her disabled father. Then one day her best friend calls her with the opportunity of a lifetime. She is being asked to work on a screenplay with her favorite screenwriter, Charlie Yates. As she reads the screenplay she realizes that this will take a lot of work but it is a challenge she is willing to pursue but she worries about her father. Leaving him with her sister who has little idea of what Emma has done to take care of him she takes a leap of faith and embarks on her chance at advancing her career.

But upon arrival she discovers that Charlie did not know she was coming. After some convincing and perusal of her work he reluctantly agrees but this job will not be as easy as she imagined. Charlie does not appear to care about the script or even believe in love. Emma is determined to show him that rom-coms are worthwhile and she will prove it to him no matter what.

My Thoughts: This is my second Katherine Center book and I enjoyed it just as much as the first, Hello Stranger. The title, The Rom-Commers, is exactly why I have enjoyed these two books. They are easy to read, have cute scenes between the two main characters and follow the usual pattern of a rom-com. Sometimes I just want something easy and silly. This fits that bill exactly.

Each character is hard-headed. They constantly butt heads and argue but this perfect romantic tension. At times I did find the story a little drawn out but it was easy to overlook. I enjoyed it, laughed at some of the silliness and got frustrated with the characters at appropriate times. This is perfect for reading at the pool side on vacation or with a cup of tea on the patio.

**Release date is June 11, 2024.

Monica’s Musings: Bad Summer People

Bad Summer People by Emma Rosenblum

“She was adept at handling difficult personalities, stroking people’s egos, and allowing them to think they were in charge.”
― Emma Rosenblum, Bad Summer People

Summary: None of them would claim to be a particularly good person. But who among them is actually capable of murder?

Jen Weinstein and Lauren Parker rule the town of Salcombe, Fire Island every summer. They hold sway on the beach and the tennis court, and are adept at manipulating people to get what they want. Their husbands, Sam and Jason, have summered together on the island since childhood, despite lifelong grudges and numerous secrets. Their one single friend, Rachel Woolf, is looking to meet her match, whether he’s the tennis pro-or someone else’s husband. But even with plenty to gossip about, this season starts out as quietly as any other.

Until a body is discovered, face down off the side of the boardwalk.

Stylish, subversive and darkly comedic, this is a story of what’s lurking under the surface of picture-perfect lives in a place where everyone has something to hide.

My Opinion: This book is like a trash TV script. As someone who genuinely enjoys that kind of entertainment, this still somehow missed the mark. There’s no one to root for, and there’s not even an interesting downfall for any of the characters. Bad, rich people doing boring, bad things for a whole summer. Not even their offenses are thrilling. 

I nearly did not finish this book because, at the 70% mark, there was still no murder! It finally picked up the last few chapters of the story, but it seemed very tame and did not have a very intense plot line. I really wasn’t expecting much from this one, as I just wanted a fun story about rich people being devious. Definitely not my favorite, but it wasn’t bad for what it is.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Bless Your Heart

Bless Your Heart by Lindy Ryan

First line: Edwin Boone was not the kind of man to be intimidated by a walk in the dark.

Summary: It’s 1999 in southern Texas and a string of mysterious deaths have been plaguing a small town, home of the Evans Funeral Home. The Evans women have been running their funeral home for years but when the local town gossip is brought in for burial, she suddenly rises and they know that their old adversary, the Strigoi, have returned. The women know that in order to keep their town safe they need to put down the Strigoi and find their master before the whole town becomes the undead.

My Thoughts: Before reading this I read several reviews that likened it to Steel Magnolias meets Salem’s Lot and I believe this is a spot on description. The Evans women are good Southern ladies who happen to be “vampire hunters”. There are humorous bits but then a little bit of horror mixed in. I found the story and the audiobook to be a delightful twist on the vampire genre.

Underlying the whole vampire slaying and mystery there is a deeper secret in the Evans family history. Luna, the youngest of the main characters, is shocked by what her family does and spends much of the book trying to come to terms with what it means for her. The reveal at the end was an interesting twist which I think will make for some intriguing future plot points.

If you want something cozy but with a little darker theme for your summer TBR then I would recommend giving this a try!

Monica’s Musings: Death-Cast Series

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

“I wasted all those yesterdays and am completely out of tomorrows.”
― Adam Silvera, They Both Die at the End

Summary: On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo and Rufus to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.

Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but for different reasons, they are both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.

My thoughts: Going into a book titled They Both Die At The End, you don’t really expect it to happen. The whole concept of this book is heartbreaking. Imagine knowing you will die within the next 24 hours. You may not even get the entire 24 hours. You just know you’ll die by the end of the day. That’s terrifying and morbid, and honestly gives me the chills.

Despite how morbid I realize it is, I am entertained by the whole idea. I couldn’t stop reading. Adam Silvera manages to craft a word I would hate to live in and a world that has made me realize we all should take more chances.

The First to Die at the End by Adam Silvera

“I would’ve loved that. I feel robbed.”
“You were robbed.”
― Adam Silvera, The First to Die at the End

Summary: In this prequel to the #1 New York Times bestselling phenomenon They Both Die at the End, two new strangers spend a life-changing day together after Death-Cast first makes their fateful calls.

It’s the night before Death-Cast goes live, and there’s one question on everyone’s mind: Can Death-Cast actually predict when someone will die, or is it just an elaborate hoax?

Orion Pagan has waited years for someone to tell him that he’s going to die. He has a serious heart condition, and he signed up for Death-Cast so he could know what’s coming.

Valentino Prince is restarting his life in New York. He has a long and promising future ahead and he only registered for Death-Cast after his twin sister nearly died in a car accident.

Orion and Valentino cross paths in Times Square and immediately feel a deep connection. But when the first round of End Day calls goes out, their lives are changed forever—one of them receives a call, and the other doesn’t. Though neither boy is certain how the day will end, they know they want to spend it together…even if that means their goodbye will be heartbreaking.

My Thoughts: What I love so much about the Death-Cast stories is that they take an idea that is so outlandish and somehow make it seem real. The world-building is amazing, and I loved seeing the differences in the world between this book and They Both Die at the End. It is well thought out, and you can see its growth as it changes, as something like this would if it existed in our world. But, amongst this dystopian-esque world are human stories. This is one of the many compelling factors in these books, we follow the human experiences of these people, the world is only their backdrop, and the focus is them.

Since this is the prequel there was a lot needed to explain the start of Death-Cast. I enjoyed each of the character’s stories, but it did feel a bit long-winded. However, I struggle to keep my focus with any books longer than 300 pages so that is probably just a me thing! Overall, this series ranked very highly for me, and I would definitely recommend this to fans of young adult dystopian novels.