Newest review: Where It All Lands by Jennie Wexler

By Ekta R. Garg

July 14, 2021

Genre: YA fiction

Release date: July 6, 2021

Rated: Binge it! / 5 stars

A trio of teens navigate young love and personal challenges while trying to figure out how to balance their friendships with one another. Just as the culmination of their story is revealed, a coin toss changes the entire scenario. Author Jennie Wexler makes the subject of first love sweet and refreshing while navigating her plot in the most subtle yet dynamic of ways in her excellent debut novel Where It All Lands.

High school sophomore Stevie Rosenstein arrives in New Jersey knowing one thing for sure: being the new girl sucks. She’s lived in so many places and had so many friends that it doesn’t even seem possible anymore to become good friends with anyone. And she’s never sure whether the kids who do want to be her friends are sincere or trying to score tickets to football games, all because her father is a coach for the NFL. It doesn’t matter how good she is on the saxophone or that she loves music and is basically a normal teenager.

As she walks into her new school, her guard is up. Then Stevie meets best buds Drew and Shane, and all of a sudden she discovers that both of them know how she feels. Drew’s dad is a famous music producer, leaving Drew to struggle with the same questions about friendships. Shane is a talented musician, a beast of a drummer, and he knows how music is the one thing that can make the world seem all right for a little while.

The boys spot Stevie at band practice at the start of the year, and they’re both drawn to her. They know, though, that fighting about who’s going to ask her out is dumb. Their friendship has survived more than a crush—Drew’s dad had an affair with an assistant and is on the verge of moving out. Shane’s dad died, leaving Shane with a huge hole in his life. The friends have supported each other through the worst; they’re not going to let a girl come between them.

There’s no denying that they both like her, though, and they both want to ask her out. In a moment of inspiration, Drew suggests flipping a coin for it. Shane is reluctant at first, but even he can’t argue with the logic that it’s basically the way they decide everything. They know it might seem a little skeevy, but Stevie never has to know.

As they call heads and tails, the boys have no idea just how their lives are going to change. Life is about to challenge each of them and the strength of their friendship. Both of them want to get to know Stevie better. Both of them have a fair reason to ask her out. But none of them will ever be the same again.

Debut author Jennie Wexler manages to navigate the tropes of YA romance without falling into a stereotypical plot. Telling the story first from when the coin lands on heads and then when it lands on tails, Wexler gives each of the boys an opportunity to explore a relationship with Stevie. In the hands of a less confident writer, the result might have felt caricaturish or melodramatic. Instead, Wexler provides depth and heft to the storyline both times she tells it.

Moreover, she’s able to find new details to share about all three of her main characters in both storylines, no easy job at all. As readers progress through Stevie’s budding relationship with one, they might think they’ll find out everything there is to know about Drew, Shane, and Stevie. Yet Wexler manages to hold back several surprises, both in terms of character development as well as the plot.

The biggest surprise may come in the fact that the stories with each of the boys ends in the same climactic moment, yet here too Wexler wields a deft hand that allows her to navigate possible story traps with ease. There’s no doubt readers will be reading as fast as possible to find out what actually happened.

Those who enjoy YA novels about first love and solid friendships that don’t follow the stereotypes will definitely want to check this out. I recommend readers Binge Where It All Lands.

Brand new review: Falling by T.J. Newman

By Ekta R. Garg

July 7, 2021

Genre: Thriller

Release date: July 6, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

When a pilot’s family is kidnapped, the kidnapper forces him to choose between the family or his passengers. As the pilot does his best to maneuver the situation, he’ll have to rely on a trio of flight attendants and the goodwill of law enforcement on the ground to keep everyone safe. Debut author T.J. Newman relies heavily on her personal experience as a flight attendant for her fantastic first novel Falling.

Bill Hoffman is a veteran of his airline. He was there in the early days when no one knew if the company would survive. Now, more than two decades later, he enjoys a fair amount of seniority…except when it comes to the boss. When Bill gets the call to fill in at the last minute for a flight from L.A. to New York, he doesn’t think twice about saying yes.

His wife, Carrie, isn’t thrilled. Bill promised to spend his days off with the family. His 10-year-old son, Scott, is playing in the Little League season opener. Between managing Scott’s baseball schedule and taking care of their surprise baby, Elise, Carrie’s hands are full. Although she’s grumbling when they say goodbye, Bill knows he’ll find a way to make it up to Carrie when he gets back.

Minutes after Bill leaves home, however, Carrie and the kids are taken hostage inside their own home. The hostage taker calls himself Sam and seems to know where Bill is headed. He waits until Bill is in the cockpit and pushing back from the gate to get in touch with his one demand. Bill will have to make a choice: his family or his passengers. If he doesn’t crash the plane into a location yet to be revealed, his family dies.

Bill’s mind begins to race. He’s bound and determined to land the plane safely, and he knows he can’t let anything happen to Carrie and the children. Despite Sam’s warning against it, at the first available opportunity Bill tells the head of his flight crew, Jo, about what’s going on.

He and Jo have flown together for almost their entire careers. They’re coworkers and friends, and he needs someone he can trust. Sam refuses to tell Bill where to crash the plane, but he does let Bill in on the fact that someone else on the flight is working with him. If the terrorist can have an accomplice, Bill can have one too.

As the flight travels the five hours between the two major cities, Bill, Jo, and a whole host of other people fight to keep everyone on the plane and the ground alive. Bill’s adrenaline is running at a permanent high, but he knows one thing for sure. No one is going to die on his watch today.

Author T.J. Newman worked for 10 years as a flight attendant and wrote Falling while she spent time in the air. Her experience shows in the lingo she uses that all real-life flight crews will surely recognize. Newman keeps a balance, though, between the authenticity of that language and making sure readers know what they’re talking about.

She also builds realistic characters. Bill’s fear and his helplessness ring true as does his resourcefulness. Like other people trained in high-risk jobs, Bill leans into his training to help him figure out the problem.

As the senior-most flight attendant, Jo is ready-made for these types of crises. Readers will hope for attendants like her on their future trips. Like Bill, she’s three-dimensional and relatable.

The made-for-the-movies climax and ending might seem a touch corny, but these types of stories almost require an ending where readers and/or viewers are cheering and teary-eyed by the end. Newman picks her terrorists’ cause with care, making it feel relevant to today’s world. She also doesn’t hesitate to give her terrorists some sympathetic qualities. What they did was wrong, as Carrie asserts at one point, but it’s easy to understand why they did it.

The book fits squarely within its genre and as a movie would be instantly rewatchable. Readers who enjoy a fun thriller with unexpected story twists will definitely enjoy this one. I recommend readers Bookmark Falling.

Newest review: Waiting to Begin by Amanda Prowse

June 9, 2021

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: June 8, 2021

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

A woman deals with memories of the past on her birthday and a secret she’s only shared with one other person. As she goes through the day, she tries to ignore her insecurities while also grappling with the reality that her marriage may not be in the best shape. Author Amanda Prowse builds another strong character in a book that needed a little bolstering in her latest release Waiting to Begin.

It’s her 53rd birthday, and Bessie Talbot feels every bit middle-aged. Her children have long since left the nest; one has just left on his honeymoon, and the other is wrapped up in her career. Now it’s just Bessie and her husband, Mario. At one time looking at Mario would make Bessie’s heart race. These days she’d be grateful for the odd palpitation.

The day brings hearty wishes from family and friends, but Bessie can’t shake the feeling that she’s stuck. In fact, she’s felt stuck ever since her 16th birthday. That day started out completely different than her current birthday.

At 16, Bessie woke up knowing she had the whole world ahead of her. Exams had ended, and she just needed the results so she could continue on her path to becoming a flight attendant and traveling the world. She had a boyfriend, although she hadn’t told anyone about him yet, and she and her best friend were all ready to make a splash at the rugby club later that evening for the end-of-term party.

Then everything slid downhill. One after another, her birthday brought so many shocks that Bessie wanted nothing more than for the day to end. She wanted to forget the day ever happened.

She may have physically moved on from turning 16, but Bessie’s never quite gotten over that birthday in her heart and mind. Worse, there are things about that day she’s never told anyone—not her parents, not her best friend (who is her former friend now,) and not even her husband. Those situations still lay claim to who she is, and she thinks about them every year.

As she starts looking around at her life on this latest birthday, Bessie just wants to walk away from it all. It seems like everyone has moved on to bigger and better things. She’s the only one who’s stuck in the past. Try as she might, she can’t seem to make any strides forward. Before the day is out, Bessie will find herself at a crossroads yet again. This time she’ll have to decide whether she can salvage her birthday for good.

Author Amanda Prowse’s latest novel showcases her writing skills in building sympathetic characters. Readers will understand Bessie’s reluctance to move on from the past. Prowse lays out the events of Bessie’s life one careful layer at a time, proving her ease with characters who could very well live next door.

The trouble with the book comes in its pacing and plot. As Bessie relives her memories, the story flashes back to her 16th birthday and intersperses moments from that day with her current birthday. Both feel much longer than they needed to be, both in time and the number of incidents that occur.

Bessie wishes, repeatedly, for the day to end. At some points, readers might be tempted to wish for the same. No doubt, the events on her 16th birthday were necessary to establish her character for later, but Prowse spends too much time driving the main point home. Multiple situations and multiple mentions of those situations come up when a few would have sufficed. As Bessie shares every thought, complaint, and tear, readers might be tempted to tell her to move it along already.

Some parts of the plot are predictable from the earliest pages, leaving readers to wait for Bessie to come to certain conclusions on her own. The result is a story that is much slower than it needed to be. Fans of women’s fiction and diehard Amanda Prowse fans will probably want to read this one. I recommend readers Borrow Waiting to Begin.