Monday, July 1, 2024

In a Nutshell Reviews

Jenny James Is Not a Disaster
 by Debbie Johnson
Published by Harper Muse on July 9, 2023
Age/Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Fiction

Sometimes it takes life falling apart . . . to piece yourself back together.

Single mum Jenny is on the edge of disaster. Her job is downsizing, her car won't start, her son is a teenager (enough said) . . . and it just won't stop raining. So when her darling cottage on the Norfolk coast literally falls off a cliff, taking all of her son's baby photos, her beloved couch, and almost taking Jenny herself down with it, it's the ridiculously traumatic cherry on top of her ridiculously catastrophic week.

With no job, no home, and the painful stirring of memories from when Jenny was alone, broke, estranged from her family, and pregnant, she takes a drastic step to start new. She and her eighteen-year-old son, Charlie, join their nomadic neighbor, Luke, and his dachshund, Betty, in his campervan on a road trip around England. From hiking historical sites to riding rollercoasters at amusement parks, each new stop drives Jenny forward and reminds her of the dreams she gave up long ago.

But more than that, each new destination--pulled from a hat based on random prompts like "Brontë sisters" and favorite songs--brings Jenny closer to her son, and the painful past she tried to outrun. As old wounds and difficult reconciliations open Jenny's eyes to the mistakes of her past, she is able to navigate what, and who, she would like to be a part of her future.

Jenny James may not be a disaster but disasters seem to find her. She lost her job, car, and house all in the same day. It seemed dismal until Luke invited Jenny and her son, Charlie, on a roadtrip where Jenny confronted her past and welcomed her future.

Debbie Johnson has a way of crafting stories that warm my heart. I have to admit, I was drawn to this book because it featured a single mom who had the universe seemingly working against her. Jenny had a lot to overcome, and it's alway so inspiring and feel-good when I can root for the character.

As a single mom, I could relate to many of the battles Jenny had fought and the feelings she felt. Jenny worked hard to build a life for her and Charlie, and it was a nice life. Did she want more? Probably, and I guess all these disasters were the motivation she needed to take those steps forward. 

Taking that chance and going on the road with Luke was a fantastic decision. I have to say, these excursions were so much fun. I loved the way they selected where they would go, and I liked that I "saw" so much of England. Many of the books I read tend to be set in London. London's great but there are other places to explore in the country. It was a delight that Johnson exposed me to so many other locals and points of interest.

But that time in the camper van wasn't just about seeing the sites, it was a great way for Luke and Jenny to grow closer. They both carried so much pain and hurt from their past and had accepted their solitary lives. Yet, they found so much comfort in each other, trusting one another with their hurts and fears. It was so lovely seeing their relationship take root and grow while they also healed together.

Parts of this story were heavy, but overall, the book was light. Packed with lots of humor, heart, and lovely life lessons, I was left feeling extremely happy. How could I resist a book with a focus on making peace with the past, self-discovery, and finding your happy. It was all bound to rub off on me in a good way, and it sure did.

What's In a Kiss?
 by Lauren Kate
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on July 2, 2024
Age/Genres: Adult, Fiction, Romance

This is not how Liv wanted to see Jake Glasswell for the first time in ten years. Once her high school rival and the prom date who humiliated her, now a successful TV personality, he’s more attractive than he has any right to be. And he’s her Lyft passenger.

Since the prom night kiss that never was, Liv’s life has not gone to plan. She deferred Julliard to be with her mom during a crisis, and now swears she’s happy as a recently furloughed drama teacher going on no-strings dates. This weekend she’s maid of honor to her best friend, Masha, and, of course, Jake is the best man. But when Liv glares into Jake’s eyes as Masha says, “I do,” the universe turns on its axis and Liv is suddenly living a version of her life where prom night was the beginning of her and Jake, not the end, and it turns out he’s the love of her life. The catch? Her mom and Masha hate her now. What’s in a kiss? Maybe everything.

An enemies-to-lovers “what if” romance about a prom kiss that never was, and one woman’s magical chance to live what might have been.

A kiss is just a kiss, or is it? After reuniting with her high school rival, Olivia can't help but wonder if things could have been different for her. What if Jake had kissed her on prom night? Would her reality be any different? Well, it seemed the universe was there to answer her questions when Olivia suddenly found herself living the High Life with Jake. But was she willing to give up the important things from her Real Life?

I had a lot of fun reading What's in a Kiss? I really felt for Olivia and her struggle in the Real Life. Though she was down, she was never really out. She had so much love from her mom, best friend, and dog. But I couldn't blame her for being a little jealous when she was finally face-to-face with her biggest competition in high school. Both Jake and Olivia was voted Most Likely to Succeed, but Olivia was forced to change paths following her father's death. There was always that question in the back of her mind - what if?

Alternate realities are a fun way for a character to explore those what-ifs. There is usually a lot of the grass-is-always-greener and missing how good you actually had it. Olivia definitely experienced that, but there were also things she loved about the High Life which she wasn't too sure would be attainable back in her Real Life.

One of the pluses in the High Life was her relationship with Jake. It was fun seeing Olivia and Jake spar in Real Life, but it was so much better to watch them interact in a reality where they were in love. I adored them as a couple. The romance was great, and it was fantastic reading about these two in both realities.

But do you know what really warmed my heart? The way Olivia realized what was really important in life. She valued her relationships more than fame and money. That's a beautiful thing! "You gotta have friends", "All we need is love" -- that's the message, and it's a great one.

Though I YEARNED for an epilogue, I greatly enjoyed taking this journey with Olivia. What's in a Kiss? combined humor, romance, family, and friendships and the result was a story that had me smiley, swoony, and misty eyed.


Would you do a camper van trip?
Let us know in the comments!


  1. Well I am adding Jenny James to my TBR! And I love England so this is perfect! Maybe I'll get ideas for future vacation.

    1. The trips were so neat. I know they went to Bath in This Disaster Loves You, but I cannot remember if they did in this book. I hope you get a chance to check it out.

  2. I'm very intrigued by the premise of What's in a Kiss? Glad these were both good reads for you.

    1. I have been enjoying Kate's adult romances. I like the little touches of fantasy she employs.

  3. What's in a Kiss? sounds really great. I love alternate reality stories!

    1. It was well done in my opinion, and it was that messaging that I loved

  4. I love stories with road trips and Jenny James sounds wonderful. What a down and out situation she had and moved on from. Sounds great, nice review, Sam.

    1. Jenny James was such a great book. I have enjoyed quite a few from Johnson. They always give me the warm fuzzies.