mini-review · stuff I read

Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love by Jonathan Van Ness

43386674Summary from Goodreads:
Who gave Jonathan Van Ness permission to be the radiant human he is today? No one, honey.

The truth is, it hasn’t always been gorgeous for this beacon of positivity and joy.

Before he stole our hearts as the grooming and self-care expert on Netflix’s hit show Queer Eye, Jonathan was growing up in a small Midwestern town that didn’t understand why he was so…over the top. From choreographed carpet figure skating routines to the unavoidable fact that he was Just. So. Gay., Jonathan was an easy target and endured years of judgement, ridicule and trauma—yet none of it crushed his uniquely effervescent spirit.

Over the Top uncovers the pain and passion it took to end up becoming the model of self-love and acceptance that Jonathan is today. In this revelatory, raw, and rambunctious memoir, Jonathan shares never-before-told secrets and reveals sides of himself that the public has never seen. JVN fans may think they know the man behind the stiletto heels, the crop tops, and the iconic sayings, but there’s much more to him than meets the Queer Eye.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll come away knowing that no matter how broken or lost you may be, you’re a Kelly Clarkson song, you’re strong, and you’ve got this.

JVN’s Over the Top is about 75% memoir and 25% inspirational/encouragement/personal growth. (It’s 100% JVN for sure, don’t worry.)

There are some really rough moments in this book where he talks about childhood sexual abuse, homophobia, his drug use, sex work, treatment for sex addiction, and finding out that he is HIV+. And bless him for being frank about how those topics are often not discussed or discussed without nuance because those conversations are so necessary to have with young people. You can tell that he’s still a work in progress, using his newfound fame to have a platform to talk about these things and also grappling with some of the problems that being so visible has brought him. And in between the darker moments are sections of pure joy, like when he talks about learning to cut hair, or psychs himself up by thinking about Olympic gymnasts or figure skaters or when he includes his sixth grade project on the Bill Clinton sex scandal for almost no reason except to give us a moment of levity before narrating the darkest moment of this life. He gives almost everyone in his life outside his family Russian names so it’s almost like War and Peace but the Gay of Thrones version.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book back when it came out.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

46258982._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Everyone’s invited…everyone’s a suspect…

For fans of Ruth Ware and Tana French, a shivery, atmospheric, page-turning novel of psychological suspense in the tradition of Agatha Christie, in which a group of old college friends are snowed in at a hunting lodge . . . and murder and mayhem ensue.

All of them are friends. One of them is a killer.

During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.

They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.

Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.

Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.

Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close?


I’m a massive Agatha Christie fan. As in, I’m down to very few Christies that I haven’t ever read before. So when The Hunting Party came out last year I was intrigued – it’s essentially a locked room-type mystery (love, And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express are masterworks). So when we featured the paperback as one of our Books of the Month at the store I picked up a copy. But, due to aforementioned grant-application business, I didn’t read it right away because I needed sleep and this definitely was going to be a compulsive read.


Due to COVID-19-imposed hibernation, the good humans at 24in48 Readathon quickly organized a Stay At Home Readathon. PERFECT. I holed up on the couch with my tea and The Hunting Party and relaxed for the first time in about a month. If I hadn’t had to get up and go work at the bookstore for a few hours this would have been a one-sitting read. I was into it. So into it. Foley provided us with a good setting (extremely remote, snowed-in estate in Scotland), richie-rich characters you love to despise (so much substance abuse – if they’d been Americans they all would have been old-money frat and sorority Greeks), convenient weapons (they go on a deer hunt with rifles, FYI if you’re not into that), and enough misdirection to satisfy an old Agatha Christie stan like myself (no lie, I was wrong about both who was the dead body and who was the murdered several times – and I’m usually pretty good at guessing). The rotating narration of three 1st-person narrators (women) and one 3rd-person narrator (man) took a bit to get used to, especially since one of the women is narrating after the murder while everyone else is narrating up to the murder, so make sure you’ve read the chapter header that tells you who is narrating.

If you like this one, it looks like Lucy Foley has a new book out in May – The Guest List.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book from my store.

stuff I read

Promised: A Proper Romance by Leah Garriott – a blog tour Spotlight with Austenprose!

Promised Blog Tour GraphicBOOK DESCRIPTION:

Margaret Brinton keeps her promises, and the one she is most determined to keep is the promise to protect her heart.

Warwickshire, England, 1812

Fooled by love once before, Margaret vows never to be played the fool again. To keep her vow, she attends a notorious matchmaking party intent on securing the perfect marital match: a union of convenience to someone who could never affect her heart. She discovers a man who exceeds all her hopes in the handsome and obliging rake Mr. Northam.

There’s only one problem. His meddling cousin, Lord Williams, won’t leave Margaret alone. Condescending and high-handed, Lord Williams lectures and insults her. When she refuses to give heed to his counsel, he single-handedly ruins Margaret’s chances for making a good match—to his cousin or anyone else. With no reason to remain at the party, Margaret returns home to discover her father has promised her hand in marriage—to Lord Williams

Under no condition will Margaret consent to marrying such an odious man. Yet as Lord Williams inserts himself into her everyday life, interrupting her family games and following her on morning walks, winning the good opinion of her siblings and proving himself intelligent and even kind, Margaret is forced to realize that Lord Williams is exactly the type of man she’d hoped to marry before she’d learned how much love hurt. When paths diverge and her time with Lord Williams ends, Margaret is faced with her ultimate choice: keep the promises that protect her or break free of them for one more chance at love. Either way, she fears her heart will lose.

This is a little late, but I signed-up to do a blog tour spotlight for Austenprose highlighting a new Regency romance by Leah Garriott, Promised. (Look, we got a surprise gigantic grant application due next week at work and there’s coronavirus running wild and right now I’m just really happy I didn’t sign up to do a review, because my brain is like a bagful of cats. What day is it even?) I’m sorry I didn’t get around to reading it because Promised does sound like a charming romance with shades of Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Arrogant hero? Check. Independent, spirited heroine? Check. A rake? Also check.

If the description sounds good to you, scroll down for links to many bloggers who did review the book or post an excerpt and check it out! Thanks again, Laurel Ann, for the opportunity (and I’m sorry again that this is late).

“Promising Regency-set debut. Vivid period details and the hero’s grand romantic efforts will please fans of historical romance.”—Publishers Weekly
“Debut -author Garriott’s smooth prose and character-driven story will enthrall readers looking for sweet historicals with Austenesque plots.”—Library Journal
“Garriott’s impressive debut distinguishes itself with its expertly evoked Regency setting, a cast of realistically flawed yet eminently relatable characters, and a sweetly satisfying love story. Teen fans of Austen-era love stories will fall hard for this impeccably crafted romance.”—Booklist
“Promised is a sweet regency romance and one that I recommend to all of you romance fans, especially those of you that enjoy stories inspired by Jane Austen.”—The Book Diva’s Reads
“…a fun, entertaining, and perfect addition to the Proper Romance collection.”—The Readathon 
“With an Austen-like focus on minute emotional detail and some amusing secondary characters, Garriott’s gentle novel promises a treat for Regency fans who like their characters well-bred, their interiors comfortable, and the romance no racier than the hero turning up in a wet shirt.”—Historical Novel Society 

AUTHOR BIO: Though she earned degrees in math and statistics, Leah Garriott lives for a good love story. She’s resided in Hawaii and Italy, walked the countryside of England, and owns every mainstream movie version of Pride and Prejudice. She’s currently living her own happily ever after in Utah with her husband and three kids. Leah is represented by Sharon Pelletier at Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret.


Debut novelist Leah Garriott tours the blogosphere February 17 through March 15, 2020 to share her new historical romance, Promised. Forty popular book bloggers specializing in historical romance, inspirational fiction, and Austenesque fiction will feature guest blogs, interviews, exclusive excerpts, and book reviews of this acclaimed Regency romance novel. 

February 17 My Jane Austen Book Club (Guest Blog)
February 17 Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog (Review) 
February 18 Katie’s Clean Book Collection (Review)
February 18 Wishful Endings (Interview)
February 19 RelzReviewz (Character Spotlight)
February 20 Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen (Spotlight) 
February 21 The Lit Bitch (Excerpt)
February 22 The Debutante Ball (Interview)
February 23 Adventure. Romance. Suspense (Review)
February 24 A Bookish Way of Life (Review)
February 24 Austenesque Reviews (Guest Blog)
February 24 Half Agony, Half Hope (Review)
February 25 Frolic Media (Excerpt)
February 26 Heidi Reads (Guest Blog)
February 26 The Caffeinated Bibliophile (Interview)
February 27 Wishful Endings (Review)
February 28 Lu Reviews Books (Review)
February 29 KJ’s Book Nook (Review)
March 01 My Vices and Weaknesses (Excerpt)
March 02 Bringing Up Books (Review)
March 02 Christian Chick’s Thoughts (Review)
March 02 For Where Your Treasure Is (Interview)
March 03 Heidi Reads (Review)
March 03 So Little Time…So Much to Read (Excerpt)
March 04 Romance Junkies (Guest Blog)
March 04 Gwendalyn’s Books (Review)
March 05 Laura’s Reviews (Review)
March 06 Scuffed Slippers Wormy Books (Spotlight)
March 07 Fiction Aficionado (Review)
March 08 The Christian Fiction Girl (Review)
March 09 Austenesque Reviews (Review)
March 10 Bookfoolery (Review)
March 10 From Pemberley to Milton (Review)
March 11 Faithfully Bookish (Interview)
March 12 Impressions in Ink (Review)
March 13 Robin Loves Reading (Review)
March 13 The Green Mockingbird (Review)
March 14 Inkwell Inspirations (Review)
March 15 The Calico Critic (Excerpt)
March 15 Bookworm Nation (Guest Blog) 

Dear FTC: I got a digital galley of this book from the publisher but haven’t read it (yet).

audiobooks · mini-review · stuff I read

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Thomas Cromwell Trilogy #2), read by Simon Vance

17304636 (1)Summary from Goodreads:
The sequel to Hilary Mantel’s 2009 Man Booker Prize winner and New York Times best seller, Wolf Hall, delves into the heart of Tudor history with the downfall of Anne Boleyn. Though he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice. At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle. Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy. What price will he pay for Anne’s head?

I bought Bring Up the Bodies in hardcover when it came out, but never got to it. (And it won a Booker, what is wrong with me, lol) But the third book in the trilogy is out this month so I decided to knuckle down and read it. Meaning, I put the audiobook on hold through the library Overdrive because I had such problems sorting out who was speaking in Wolf Hall (when almost all the characters are dudes, “he” doesn’t help much). The narrator of Bring Up the Bodies, Simon Vance, really helped keep the characters straight with excellent variation in voices and accents. Mantel also helped this problem by stating “he, Cromwell” or “he, Henry” which gave a very formal sense of history to the story as well. It felt like a more zippy book since the plot place over a much shorter timeline – approximately a year versus what seemed like 40 years of Cromwell’s life in Wolf Hall.

Not sure when I’ll read The Mirror and the Light but I’ll get there.

Dear FTC: I borrowed the audiobook from the library overdrive, but I also bought it in hardcover.