High flying

Northlands Festival returns

Goose has played Northlands in Swanzey before. The Connecticut-based progressive jam band did a drive-in show during the pandemic and returned a year later to perform for people in pods. In 2023 they appeared at the Northlands Festival as Orebolo, an acoustic trio. It’s an event the full band will headline this year.

For its third edition, the Northlands lineup is packed. Over two days, Goose and Greensky Bluegrass will play a pair of sets, on a bill rounded out by Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Andy Frasco & the UN, Eric Krasno & Friends, Mihali, Sierra Hull, Dopapod, Spafford, Big Something, Tauk, Super Sonic Shorties, Cool Cool Cool and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad. An undercard of 20 more acts includes special guests Jennifer Hartswick, Natalie Cressman and Nikki Glaspie.

In a phone interview from a tour stop in Denver, Goose keyboard player and guitarist Peter Anspach talked about looking forward to catching up with their friends from the circuit at the bucolic gathering.

“I’m really excited to see the Pigeons guys. They were such a big part in us learning how to tour,” he said, noting that the two bands were on the road just before Covid hit.

“We’re so grateful to share musical history…. I can’t wait to see them and some other of the bands. Spafford’s going to be there; those guys are awesome. We went on tour with them, too. It’s going to be cool to see old friends — I always love that about festivals.”

Their current tour is the first with new drummer Cotter Ellis. Though a few Redditors lost it when founding member Ben Atkind departed in December and his replacement was announced, reviews since have been uniformly positive.

On The Chateau Sessions, a live album recorded in March, Ellis played with ferocity, rhythmically synched with bassist Trevor Weekz.

“I’m super, super stoked on how they’re locking in together and have been since the beginning,” Anspach said. “When we first started playing with Cotter, it was like, whoa, all right! Trevor has totally been unlocked, we feel.”

The band took the comments section madness that greeted Ellis’s arrival in stride. It reminded him of “Skinny,” a song on the new Billie Eilish album. “The internet is hungry for the meanest kind of funny and somebody’s gotta feed it,” she sang. Anspach observed, “There’s always got to be something going out to appease the masses who want to talk crap.”

If that kind of attention is the cost of success, Anspach is still grateful that Goose has flown this high — and that its rise is continuing.

“I was always looking for a lifetime original project where we could really explore what it means to be a band,” he said. “Be silly and fun but also serious and address topics in our lives that are important in our writing and share them with people…. It’s really a dream come true [and] I’m so grateful to everybody who supports us out there, makes it all happen.”

The new chapter with Ellis has the band re-visiting old material and finding new contours; artistically, it’s exciting.

“We’re feeling good. Energy is high, and there’s a lot of camaraderie happening right now,” he said. “We had a great off day in Hayes, Kansas, which is kind of like the dead middle of the state of Kansas. We all went to Applebee’s, and it was pretty funny. There was a bar in the center, and we took up every chair around the entire bar … the entire band and crew.”

Savoring the memory of that moment in middle America as his emergent band continues to conquer the country, Anspach is in a buoyant mood.

“I feel like I don’t know what’s going to happen, and that’s a really good feeling,” he said. “We’ll see what’s next as we dive deeper into the music with Cotter. It’s feeling special; I hope people are as excited as I am.”

Northlands Festival
When: Friday, June 14, and Saturday, June 15, 11 a.m.
Where: Cheshire Fairgrounds, 247 Monadnock Hwy., Swanzey
Tickets: Starting at $109 for one day, $199 for two days, with camping, parking and special children’s pricing available.

Featured photo: Goose. Courtesy photo.

Summer fun

Hootie & the Blowfish, Collective Soul hit Gilford

Back in the ’90s, when there was still a record business, both Collective Soul and Hootie & the Blowfish were among a gaggle of Southern acts signed to major labels. The two bands spent time on the road playing shows together and forging friendships. Thus, the current Summer Camp With Trucks Tour, arriving June 13 at BankNH Pavilion, will be a happy reunion.

“We’re good friends,” Collective Soul front man Ed Roland said by phone recently. “To be able to go out and do a whole summer tour is really exciting for us. There’s no ego in any of the bands; everybody gets along. It’s like a fraternity getting back together.”

Along with the Gilford show is a date at Fenway Park, with Barenaked Ladies on the bill. Playing the Red Sox shrine is a first for Roland, who once lived in Boston while attending Berklee.

“I’ve seen some good baseball games there,” he said, adding that when he noticed the date on the band’s schedule, “I was blown away, actually. I told my mom I’m flying her up so she can be proud of me for something.”

It was a tongue-in-cheek joke; more than three decades past their breakthrough hit “Shine,” Collective Soul’s success is undeniable, and they’re still making records; their latest is Here to Eternity, an expansive 20-song effort. It opens with a solid one-two punch. “Mother’s Love,” which echoes “Where The River Flows” from their eponymous 1995 album, and “Bluer Than So Blue” are both driven by the band’s signature guitar-forward sound.

The rest continues apace; it’s fair to say there isn’t a weak track on Here to Eternity. The band hadn’t planned on making a double album; the project began with a dozen songs. Recording in Elvis Presley’s former Palm Springs home inspired him to stretch it out, however.

A standout among the tracks Roland wrote there is “Matter of Fact,” a direct homage to the King — and Queen. He was alone for a bit in the desert house.

“They staged it for us with cool, hip, mid-century, modern furniture, and we just set up shop,” he said. “I slept in Elvis’s bedroom; it was my house.”

Among the furnishings was a record player and a stack of about 50 albums that Roland grew up on, including Queen’s The Game. Thus, “Matter of Fact” has a “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” intro that echoes “Don’t Be Cruel” — but that’s not where the riff was born.

It’s the first riff Roland ever wrote.

“I used it to get into Berklee College of Music. It’s a little jazzy, and I was like, that’s cool. Now let’s put a little rockabilly-type vibe to it and see if it works.”

“Sister and Mary” has an “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” vibe that was also inspired by Roland’s record sessions. “I like listening to my heroes and studying on vinyl,” he said, adding that The Beatles, Elton John, Jeff Lynne, The Cars and Tom Petty are “my professors … I’m like, see what he did right there?”

One of the collection’s best is a live version of a song Roland wrote just before lockdown.

“Bob Dylan, Where Are You Now?” is a lament for a bygone time that he’d like to see again. Dylan was “one of my favorite professors…. He made you aware of what was going on without being preachy [and] that’s kind of what I was trying to do … set a tone of what was going on, from the pandemic to everything. It was an ode to him.”

Hitting the road again is always good for the energetic singer, songwriter and guitarist of a band with an ability to upstage headliners.

“To be honest with you, this one’s going to be really special,” he said of the upcoming run. “Just to enjoy each other’s company and then get up there and do what we all love to do. Edwin and the Hootie boys, they still love what they do, it’s inspiring. So, we gotta get up there and do our job, that’s for sure.”

Hootie & the Blowfish, Collective Soul and Edwin McCain
When: Thursday, June 13, 7 p.m.
Where: BankNH Pavilion, 72 Meadowbrook Lane, Gilford
Tickets: $56 and up at banknhpavilion.com

Featured photo: Collective Soul. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 24/06/13

Local music news & events

Supergroup: With members from four big north-of-the-border acts, Trans-Canada Highwaymen is more than the sum of its parts. In addition to playing hits from their old bands Barenaked Ladies, Sloan, Odds and The Pursuit of Happiness, they have fun with songs from their recent Explosive Hits album, a compendium of Canadian classics from the late ’60s and early ’70s. Thursday, June 13, 8 p.m., Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry, $54 and up at tupeleohall.com.

Worldly: Berklee student Noah Harrington began forming Acoustic Nomads in search of a sound that didn’t exist. He found like-minded musicians with wide-ranging backgrounds, from Venezuelan Cuatro to bluegrass and jazz, gathering them into what he referred to as “a bunch of weirdos, an island of misfit toys.” Their eclectic Pan-Americana music is stunning. Friday, June 14, 7 p.m., Word Barn Meadow, 66 Newfields Road, Exeter, $12.50 and up at thewordbarn.com.

Laughs: A packed comedy lineup is headlined by Ryan Shea, who fronted a hardcore band before getting into standup. He started telling jokes in response to his mother, who had a brief comedy career that included making fun of him a lot. Fourteen years later, he’s carved his own niche. Dan Donahue, Joni Grassey, Katy Coughlin, Tristen Hoffler and Damien Chruniak round out the bill. Saturday, June 15, 8:30 pm., Murphy’s Taproom, 494 Elm St., Manchester, $20 at eventbrite.com.

Furious: A showcase from hip-hop label Leathal Wreckords has Fury, touring in support of latest album Rage Quit, and Juggalo-adjacent rapper Tre Lb, who is both one half of the duo Chop Shop and the younger half-brother of Shaggy 2 Dope of Insane Clown Posse. Also performing are Dr. Gigglez, a horror-centric group named after the 1992 slasher movie, and Trench Town Mafia. Sunday, June 16, 7 p.m., Jewel Music Venue, 61 Canal St., Manchester, $15 at eventbrite.com.

Celtic: Though formed in Los Angeles, the origins of Gaelic Storm are English; co-founder Steve Twigger was born in Coventry. Widely known for playing in the steerage party scene during the movie Titanic, their style a melting pot of influences including traditional Irish music, folk, pop and rock. Wednesday, June 19, 7:30 p.m., Nashua Center for the Arts, 201 Main St., Nashua, $39 and up at etix.com.

At the Sofaplex 24/06/13

Big City Greens The Movie: Spacecation (TV-Y7)

Familial love and support and the concept of working together to solve problems are delivered with high joke density and delightful absurdity in Big City Greens The Movie: Spacecation, a feature-length movie featuring the characters from the Disney Channel TV show Big City Greens.

Big City Greens features the Green family — dad Bill (voice of Bob Joles), son Cricket (voice of Chris Houghton, who is also a creator), daughter Tilly (voice of Marieve Herington) and Gramma Alice (voice of Artemis Pebdani). They were farmers in Smalton and then moved to Big City, bringing their animals with them and farming in Gramma’s ramshackle country house surrounded by skyscrapers and coffee shops. The show has been around since 2018 but it’s become a favorite in my house only recently and I’ve appreciated the way the show has notes of tartness and wackiness, similar to early Simpsons, while still being kind and dedicated to the idea of family, which includes found family like Gloria (voice of Anna Akana), a barista who is close to the Greens, and family-takes-many-forms family like Nancy Green (voice of Wendi McLendon-Covey), the kids’ mom and Bill’s ex, who is a solid co-parent.

Here, the core Greens — dad, Gramma, Cricket and Tilly — have one vegetable delivery left before they hit the road for vacation. It is a safe, sensible vacation — an exact replica of the road trip they took last year, says Bill proudly. But Cricket wants adventure and newness on his vacation. While delivering to Big Tech and its CEO Wendy Zapp (voice of Cheri Oteri), Bill turns down Zapp’s offer to be part of a program to farm on an asteroid. Cricket, eager to go, finagles not only the farming mission but a stay on the ultra-luxe space hotel and tricks his family onto a shuttle. Once in space, Cricket tries to convince Bill to have fun, but ship commander Colleen Voyd (voice of Renée Elise Goldsberry) keeps trying to impose rules — leading Cricket and Gramma to trap her in cryo freeze (no worries, she’s alive! It’s a family show!). Also there are glitchy farming robots, the increasingly maniacal Wendy, and Gloria’s cringey attempts to become besties with Nancy, the cool mom she never had, as Wendy explains.

Spacecation has real heart — Cricket and Bill clash over their opposing feelings about adventure, which turns into a very real fight where Cricket takes Bill’s emphasis on safety as a rejection of who Cricket is as a person. They say mean things to each other and then feel bad. Forget for a moment that this is all happening while they’re singing in space (the movie’s musical elements are charming and unobtrusive) and this is a very relatable parent-child moment. It also has moments that had me and my kids bursting out laughing — for example when Tilly finds a big-eyed yet goopy and slightly horrifying failed scientific experiment and names it Cookie and makes it her pet. This well-executed balance makes the movie a truly whole-family bit of fun. A Available on Disney+.

Thelma the Unicorn (PG)

A pony with rock-star dreams finds fame when glammed up as a unicorn in Thelma the Unicorn, a sweet if somewhat slight animated movie based on the books by Aaron Blabey.

Thelma (voice of Brittany Howard) can’t find the recognition she wants for her band The Rusty Buckets, which features Thelma on vocals, donkey Otis (voice of Will Forte) on guitar and llama Reggie (voice of Jon Heder) on drums. An attempt at competing in a talent show fails because, the judges say, they don’t have the right look. But then fate and a distracted driver dump paint and glitter on Thelma — who has just happened to glue a carrot on her head to see what she’d look like with a horn — and suddenly she is a white and pink sparkly “unicorn.” When people stop to get her photo, she sings for them and gains social media fame — and, of course, attracts the attention of people like Vic Diamond (voice of Jermaine Clement), an unscrupulous talent agent, and Nikki Narwhal (voice of Ally Dixon), a jealous pop diva narwhal.

Believe in yourself, be true to yourself, looks aren’t as important as what’s inside, don’t be a VH1 Behind the Music jerk to your bandmates — the movie comes with all the standard lessons. And it’s presented with just enough charm and animal antics to be kid engaging. There is also some commentary on the pop fame machine that’s not funny enough for adults to be worth the time it takes away from the more kid engaging elements. But it all comes together, you know, Netflix-ily-well — something lesser than you’d want if you were paying for it in a theater but enough of a standout from the direct-to-home-viewing fare that it makes for acceptable family movie night viewing. B- Available on Netflix.

Epic Tails (PG)

A story of Greek gods and the heroic Jason and his Argonauts is told via the perspective of the mice and other animals of a Greek port city in Epic Tails, a rather budget-seeming animated tale with an overall message about working together to tackle problems.

Pattie (voice of Ellie Zeiler) is a mouse who dreams of adventure and heroics like her idol Jason, now an old man. But her adoptive father-type Sam, a kind cat, fears what could happen to a little mouse in the wider world. (A note about voice credits: This movie is France-originated and is listed as having an initial release date of 2023 or even 2022. Epic Tails with voices in English for the American market was released in theaters in the U.S. earlier this year. Zeiler is the only name I found for the American cast.)

When the humans in her town put up a statue of Zeus, Poseidon gets jealous and shows up to threaten the town with being completely destroyed by a wall of water if they don’t build an equally swell statue of him. The gods on Olympus then watch the humans as though they were a reality competition, throwing obstacles in their way and rooting for them without helping them.

The humans send Jason and his crew of Argonauts, or rather their reanimated skeletons because all the crew members died years ago, off on his ship to find a fabled sapphire trident that they hope will appease Poseidon. But because Jason is actually a bumbling, nap-focused old man, Pattie jumps on the ship too, along with an anxious Sam and an old salt-type seagull. It is ultimately she who helps navigate the ship, find an island and battle a population of cyclops.

She also helps the ship survive an “attack” by a baby Kraken, who is really more playing than attacking and whose biggest threat is from its nose boogers (true of all babies and toddlers, who can absolutely demolish an adult with one good sneeze). It’s cute and gross and all rendered in some very “shrug, sure” animation with dialogue that has a bit of that “Google translate” feel, where you get the sense that whatever the characters are saying is not exactly what they should be saying — too flat or too harsh or too “hasta la vista” as one character says a few times and it just feels like a poorly translated joke of some kind.

That said, characters work together and don’t give up and appreciate their found family and learn to believe in themselves so, OK, if this ever shows up on a streaming service, why not put it on. Parents can snooze through it and kids can, like mine did, intermittently pay attention when there is action. C Available for rent or purchase.

Featured photo: Thelma the Unicorn.

Bad Boys: Ride or Die (R)

The smallest dollop of Bad Boys schmear is scraped across a very dry two-hour movie in Bad Boys: Ride or Die, a fourth movie in the series that started in 1995.

I could complain about how completely improbable the whole “run-punch-kick action cops” thing is for characters played by 59-year-old Martin Lawrence and 55-year-old Will Smith. But, hey, I can suspend disbelief. My annoyance is more that this pretense that they are physically and personality-wise the same Bad Boys they’ve always been probably leaves a lot of comedy and more clever action possibilities on the table. I feel like the movie missed an opportunity to give us a new Bad Boys adventure instead of just a lesser version of the same Bad Boys adventure. Even more annoying is that I feel like I’m getting very little Bad Boys anything — action, fun, gleeful partner silliness — for my movie ticket dollars. The movie is a millimeter thin with every element.

Let’s start with the first 30-ish minutes, which features the wedding of Detective Mike Lowery (Smith) to Christine (Melanie Liburd) and then, at that wedding, the heart attack of Detective Marcus Burnett (Lawrence). Neither of these things is particularly important to the plot and just handling them in a line of dialogue — “Maybe I’d be on my honeymoon right now if you hadn’t had a heart attack at my wedding reception” — would have gotten us to exactly the same place without dragging us through a lot of dullness.

The meat of the movie, such as this wafer-thin slice of deli ham is, involves bad guy James McGrath (Eric Dane) retroactively framing the now-deceased Capt. Howard (Joe Pantoliano) for being a dirty cop who took millions of dollars from drug cartels. I already, like an hour out from seeing the movie, forget the point of this — something about Howard having been on the trail of the real dirty cops. Mike and Marcus are determined to clear Howard’s good name. They turn to Armando (Jacob Scipio), a drug dealer and the assassin who killed Howard in the last movie, I guess — that movie came out in January 2020, who can even remember January 2020. Armando is also the son Mike didn’t know he had. Now in prison, Armando tells Mike and Marcus he can identify the man calling the shots on the dirty police/drug dealer thing. They get him out of jail but then McGrath and his men attempt to kill Armando.

Vanessa Hudgens and Alexander Ludwig also return as, like, junior cadet Bad Boys and they have moments when you feel like a better movie could have made them fun.

Fun is overall what this movie lacks. Smith, who in the 1990s was all fun in a big action movie, doesn’t seem to be having any fun here. Lawrence’s vibe feels very “OK, but I’m only doing the one take.” The movie feels almost like a below-average TV procedural both in how stretched and slow everything feels and in how unspectacular the action is. Every now and then the movie would have a fun idea for an action shot — a drone dropping a grenade on a bad guy, a drone shot of a fight on a circular stairwell platform thing over a gator pit — but then it would pull away or insert what felt like unfinished CGI and the effect would be diminished. At one point, Marcus’ son-in-law, Reggie (Dennis Greene), has to defend the Burnett household from more than a dozen armed henchmen. He does this with aplomb, but we see probably as many shots of Mike and Marcus and the gang watching the fight via Ring cam and reacting to it, like kids watching a video game, as we do of the fight itself. Why are we here if not to watch one guy creatively mow down a bunch of henchmen? C

Rated R for strong violence, language throughout and some sexual references, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah with a screenplay by Chris Bremner & Will Beall, Bad Boys: Ride or Die is one hour and 55 minutes long and is distributed in theaters by Columbia Pictures.

The Garfield Movie (PG)

Garfield and Odie go on an adventure with Garfield’s long-lost cat dad in The Garfield Movie, a perfectly acceptable blend of cartoon antics and, if you’re seeing it in a theater, air conditioning.

Garfield (voice of, sigh, must we, Chris Pratt, but whatever) happily runs up the food delivery app bills living with human Jon (voice of Nicholas Hoult) and dog Odie (voice of Harvey Guillén), who acts as Garfield’s very smart and capable assistant — was that always the relationship? It felt off but it works well enough — which is kind of the assessment for this whole endeavor.

Garfield has lived a happily pampered life with Jon ever since Jon saw sad little kitty Garfield watching him tuck into a pizza from outside an Italian restaurant window. Jon invited Garfield in, Garfield proceeded to eat the whole pizza and a good deal of other food and the two have been together ever since. Garfield’s pre-Jon memories are of being left by his biological cat father in a box in the rain.

Said father, Vic (voice of Samuel L. Jackson), reappears in Garfield’s life by way of a kidnapping. Henchdogs Roland (voice of Brett Goldstein) and Nolan (voice of Bowan Yang) kidnap Garfield and Odie for their boss Jinx (voice of Hannah Waddingham), a cat with a crazy-wall plan to get revenge on Vic. She used to run with Vic in the olden days but during an attempted milk burglary Jinx was caught and she blames Vic. Now she wants him to steal milk for her equal to her original take multiplied by her days in the slammer (the pound, I assume). She is using threats to Garfield’s life as incentive, and her henchdogs force Garfield and Odie to participate in Vic’s big milk theft plan to keep an eye on them.

Vic is not entirely sorry about this as it allows him to spend time with Garfield and perhaps convince him that there’s more to the kitten-in-the-rain situation than Garfield remembers.

But mostly, this movie is animal hijinks, with rubbery action moments — Garfield getting flung and ricocheted to catch a train — that are very cartoon standard. Jon is shown mostly in interstitials trying to find Garfield and Odie and being stuck on hold. The movie is rather flat for how every character is one big characteristic without much depth or personality and the action moves in an extremely predictable flow. There is a wise-guy sarcasm quality that I remember from, say, the olden days cartoon Garfield and Friends that isn’t as pronounced here and that was conveyed by Lorenzo Music’s voice work in a way Chris Pratt doesn’t and maybe can’t.

But the movie is also, you know, fine. You want a non-nightmare-inducing movie that will keep kids reasonably entertained while you enjoy some frosty air conditioning, and The Garfield Movie delivers even if it doesn’t feel particularly Garfield-y to me. B-

Rated PG for action/peril and mild thematic elements, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Mark Dindal with a screenplay by Paul A. Kaplan & Mark Torgove and Dave Reynolds (based on the characters created by Jim Davis) The Garfield Movie is an hour and 41 minutes long and is distributed in theaters by Columbia Pictures.

Featured photo: Bad Boys: Ride or Die

Not in Love, by Ali Hazelwood

Not in Love,by Ali Hazelwood (Berkley, 400 pages)

Ali Hazelwood prefaces her latest book with what is, essentially, a fair-warning note to her readers: Not in Love, she says “is, tonally, a little different from the works I’ve published in the past. Rue and Eli have dealt with — and still deal with — the fallout from issues such as grief, food insecurity, and child neglect. They are eager to make a connection but are not sure how to go about it except through a physical relationship. The result is, I think, less of a rom-com and more of an erotic romance.”

Hazelwood has thus far been known by fans mainly as a rom-com writer who creates smart female lead characters and puts them in STEM-related work environments amongst other smart people and, inevitably, a male counterpoint. In Not in Love, Rue is a biotech engineer working in food science, so we’ve got the STEM setting, and we have the male counterpoint – in this case, his name is Eli, and he works for a company that’s trying to take over Kline, the company Rue works for.

The difference between Not in Love and Hazelwood’s other STEM romances is a much stronger emphasis on sexual chemistry and very explicitly written descriptions of what happens when that chemistry ignites. When Hazelwood warns readers that this is more “erotic romance” than rom-com, she’s not kidding.

But, in addition to the (plentiful) steamy scenes, everything I’ve liked about Hazelwood’s rom-coms is here too: witty banter, emotional complexity and well-drawn characters.

I love that Rue is science-smart but not unapproachable; there are plenty of relatable I-need-to-Google-this types of moments. Case in point, the book opens with Rue and her friend Tisha trying to figure out what a loan assignment is; they ask her friend’s sister, a lawyer, who doesn’t understand their lack of comprehension (“You guys are doctors,” she says, to which Tisha points out that “the topic of private equity firms and loan assignments did not come up in any class during our chemical engineering PhDs. A shocking oversight, I know….”).

Meanwhile, Rue could not be convinced to dumb down the title of her Ph.D. presentation: “A Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry Investigation of the Effect of Three Polysaccharide-Based Coatings on the Minimization of Postharvest Loss of Horticultural Crops.” Her unapologetic thought is, “I had no talent for enticing people to care about my work: either they saw its value, or they were wrong.”

Rue is unapologetic about her dating life, too. She has a “no repeats” rule, meaning one and done, no exceptions; she doesn’t want a relationship, or the emotions that go with it. That was her plan when she matched with Eli on a dating app. She didn’t expect to ever see him again, so of course he ends up at the center of her workplace drama.

Rue probably could have stuck to her no repeats rule — she’s that emotionally stunted — but Eli falls hard for her. I like that the book moves between Rue’s point of view and Eli’s, because we can see how intense his feelings, emotional and otherwise, are, compared to her internal hesitations. And yet Eli is nothing but respectful to her and her hesitations, despite his desire for more, which makes him a very likable character.

The supporting characters aren’t always likable, but intentionally so — they all have a purpose and elevate the story, and many of their interactions with Rue and Eli are hilarious, adding to the novel’s smart, sassy vibe.

The plot is intriguing and believable, as Rue tries to save her scientific work from the grasp of Eli’s company, thinking — incorrectly, of course — that they’re being greedy. More seriously, as Hazelwood points out, there are mentions of grief, food insecurity and child neglect, but it’s not as depressing as it sounds. They’re issues that Rue and Eli dealt with that still impact them as adults, but there are no heavy-handed lessons or weepy sob stories — just real, life-goes-on reminders that what’s in the past doesn’t always stay in the past, and it can take a lot of work to build trust and open your heart after it’s been hurt.

This is another winner for Hazelwood, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes their romantic fiction smart, emotional and extra spicy. Just not you, Mom, and if you do read this, please never tell me. A-

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