Thursday, July 30, 2020

Blog Tour - The Kids Are Gonna Ask by Gretchen Anthony

Y'all, let's talk about how excited I am to FINALLY have a blog tour stop again!! This time, it's for The Kids Are Gonna Ask by Gretchen Anthony.

The book revolves a pair of teenage twins who have tragically lost their mother. They now live with their grandma. One question that has always lingered is who their father is as their mother raised them and never revealed his identity. Thomas and Savannah (the twins) decide to start a podcast about their quest to find this man. The podcast gets some "buzz" both in people who are intrigued by their question as well as others who think their father shouldn't be revealed in such a public way.

The book then focuses on each episode of the podcast, developments in their search for their dad, and some "drama" as others have opinions on what they're trying to do.  I'll be honest that I really wanted to know even more about the kids in the story. The story was very much focused on their podcast and quest to find answers about their mom. I just was so intrigued by them, and because there was a story there, I wanted a bit more depth. I felt like it started to go there at the end with some other realizations, but I needed more!

Overall, I found this one to be an interesting read. I was particularly intrigued by the exploration of the world of podcasting and the feedback/backlash/buzz that was created as they went. This is some of what drove the plot. I appreciated that this was a unique dimension of the story. 

And as I sometimes do, here's a little excerpt to see if this one is for you!


Excerpted from The Kids Are Gonna Ask by Gretchen Anthony © 2020 by Gretchen Anthony, used with permission by Park Row Books.
The house had become an aquarium—one side tank, the other, fingerprint-smeared glass—with Thomas McClair on the inside looking out. There had been a dozen protests outside their home in less than a week, all for the McClairs to—what, enjoy? Critique? Reject? There was no making sense of it. 
Tonight, Thomas pulled his desk chair up to the window and kicked his feet onto the sill. He’d been too anxious to eat dinner, but his mind apparently hadn’t notified his stomach, which now growled and cramped. He was seventeen. He could swallow a whole pizza and wash it down with a half-gallon of milk, then go back for more, especially being an athlete. But that was before. 
Before the podcast, before the secrets, before the wave of national attention. Now he was just a screwup with a group of strangers swarming the parkway across the street from his house because he’d practically invited them to come. 
He deserved to feel awful. 
The McClairs had been locked in the house for a week, leaving Thomas short of both entertainment and sanity. He had no choice but to watch the show unfolding outside. Stuck in his beige bedroom, with the Foo Fighters at Wembley poster and the Pinewood Derby blue ribbons, overlooking the front lawn and the driveway and the hand-me-down Volvo neither he nor Savannah had driven since last week. There they stood—a crowd of milling strangers, all vying for the McClairs’ attention. All these people with their causes. Some who came to help or ogle. More who came to hate. 
Thomas brought his face almost to the glass and tried to figure out the newly assembling crowd. Earlier that day, out of all the attention seekers, one guy in particular had stood out. He wore black jeans, black boots, a black beanie—a massive amount of clothing for the kind of day where you could see the summer heat curling up from the pavement—and a black T-shirt that screamed WHO’S PAYING YOU? in pink neon. He also held a leash attached to a life-size German shepherd plushy toy. 
Some of the demonstrators had gone home for the night, only to be replaced by a candlelight vigil. And a capella singing. There were only about a dozen people in the group, all women, except for two tall guys in the back lending their baritones to a standard rotation of hymns. “Amazing Grace” first, followed by “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” Now they were into a song Thomas didn’t know, but the longer he listened, he figured hundred-to-one odds that the lyrics consisted of no more than three words, repeated over and over. They hit the last note and raised their candles high above their heads. By daaaaaaaaaaaayyyy. 
“No more,” he begged into the glass. “I can’t take any more.” 
A week. Of this. 
Of protests, rallies and news crews with their vans and satellites and microphones. 
Of his sister, Savannah, locked in her room, refusing to speak to him. 
Of his grandmother Maggie in hers, sick with worry. 
Of finding—then losing—his biodad, the missing piece of his mother’s story. And his own. 

Thomas was left to deal with it all. Because he’d started it. And because he was a finisher. And most of all, because it wasn’t over yet.
About the Book

A whip-smart, entertaining novel about twin siblings who become a national phenomenon after launching a podcast to find the biological father they never knew.

The death of Thomas and Savannah McClair’s mother turns their world upside down. Raised to be fiercely curious by their grandmother Maggie, the twins become determined to learn the identity of their biological father. And when their mission goes viral, an eccentric producer offers them a dream platform: a fully sponsored podcast called The Kids Are Gonna Ask. To discover the truth, Thomas and Savannah begin interviewing people from their mother’s past and are shocked when the podcast ignites in popularity. As the attention mounts, they get caught in a national debate they never asked for—but nothing compares to the mayhem that ensues when they find him.

Cleverly constructed, emotionally perceptive and sharply funny, The Kids Are Gonna Ask is a rollicking coming-of-age story and a moving exploration of all the ways we can go from lost to found.

About the Author

GRETCHEN ANTHONY is the author of Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners, which was a Midwestern Connections Pick and a best books pick by Amazon, BookBub, PopSugar, and the New York Post. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, Medium, and The Write Life, among others. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

Social Links:

Twitter: @granthony
Instagram: @gretchenanthony.writer

Buy Links:

Friday, July 24, 2020

Book Reviews - Blasts from the Past

If I had to come up with a uniting thread for these four reads, I'd say they each have connections to the past. It was a sort of blend of nostalgia in that regard. So, here's what I found my way to this time!

Forever and Ever, Amen: A Memoir of Music, Faith, and Braving the Storms of Life by Randy Travis was the memoir of a musician I grew up listening to. I can remember our summer road trip to Washington D.C. where we alternated his cassette with Alan Jackson's as we drove cross country. That said, I honestly knew zero things about him other than the songs I liked. I saw this on NetGalley and thought I'd see what it was all about. It was really interesting to learn how he came up in the business and worked to stay true to his sound in that process. He also spoke very honestly about two topics - his finances and his struggles with substance use. In talking about finances, he just wasn't aware of what was happening. He put his trust in people, and they just weren't doing what they said they were. Additionally, he's struggled with substance use, and some of those experiences have very much been in the public eye. He was honest about this throughout. He didn't offer excuses, rather he talked about what it was like to struggle. He also talked about his stroke which was a devastating experience, and he's also worked incredibly hard in the rehabilitation process. I appreciate a honest memoir and also know that's a lot to put out into the world. This was a great glimpse into the life of a man who has changed country music.

Babysitters Club Super Special #2: Baby-sitters' Summer Vacation by Ann M. Martin was "source material" I wanted to revisit after watching the new Netflix series. I don't offer "reviews" of BSC books because I'm more in it for the nostalgia. Also, WATCH THE NETFLIX SERIES y'all!!

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner was not for me. Rather than offering a negative review, I'll instead share that the one highlight for me was the mentions of Starlite Skating Center. This is where the skating parties of my childhood were held, so it was the best of nostalgia feels. Other than that - Nope.

I Like To Watch: Arguing My Way through the TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum was an essay collection by a TV critic. Y'all, as much as I love reading, I also LOVE TV, so this was just totally my jam. What I appreciated was that it wasn't just a collection, but it offered perspective into the "Why?" of her pieces as well as the reception by fans of the show and her readers. Some, er, many of the shows she wrote about I watched. Others were ones I didn't, but I still took so much from her perspective. She also had some great pieces on the creative minds behind shows, and it was interesting to get a window into who these humans are. I'll be honest that I didn't know this author prior to reading this, but I read this collection and felt like I was watching alongside her. This made me remember and reflect on shows I once watched, and it took me back to some of those pop culture moments that mattered - e.g. that freaking Lost finale. This just a delightful and interesting collection. 

Onto the next ones - or TV!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Book Reviews - (Some) Books That Mesmerize!

Hey, I read some books and wrote some reviews. I will say these are not as thorough as some of my others. For two of those books, it's because I want y'all as the readers to get as much as you can from these reads, and not sharing too much is part of that. For one other, it's because the book and I just didn't match. So, here we go!

The Stranger in the Lake by Kimberly Belle was a book I read back in June for a blog tour, then didn't put it into a quartet. You can find the tour stop for this thriller here.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins was ultimately not what I wanted and/or needed from this series. It was hard for me to go from reading stories about a strong heroine like Katniss Everdeen to a problematic dude in President Snow. I understand this was supposed to be a "Why is that guy the way he is?" exploration into his younger years, and this definitely is that. It was an intriguing angle to see the earlier days of the Hunger Games and to learn about how they evolved. Again though, this wasn't the narrative I craved with the opportunity to return to this world.

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover was an incredibly powerful read. What I thought I was reading going in was not what I read at all in the best of ways. This is an amazingly honest and emotional exploration of an unhealthy relationship. The book centers on Lily. Lily is a florist in Boston. In real-time, she meets Ryle. He's a charming doctor that she is intrigued by, but there are also some problematic tendencies he has. Lily is working with and through these with him as best she can. Lily has also never forgotten her first love, Atlas. Their connection was a unique one, and he was very much her protector. Their relationship is explored as Lily's past is revisited. I don't want to tell you too much because the power in this one is in the emotion and the journey through Lily's relationships and life. This was a book I read in a day because I was so drawn in. This was also one that made me feel so many feels in its honest, authentic portrayal of issues. 

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel was just a beautiful piece of writing. Y'all this author has this way of writing that is a true master class of how to create vivid, incredible narratives. I could rave on and on about this. That said, it's also hard to explain the plot and offer my review. At its core, this is about a woman named Vincent. It's about her relationship with her brother and where she finds love. This is also about the dynamics of power. There were so many layers of this story, and it's one I almost need to read again and really take it all end to understand all the inner-workings of the character and story. Once more, Emily St. John Mandel is a master of memorizing stories. If she's the author, count me in indefinitely.

Onto the next ones!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Book Reviews - Books with Presence and Power

Y'all these books don't need an introduction other than these three words: Read. These. Books. Oh, and three more - Discuss. With Others. 

So, let's get to sharing!

This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell was an intentionally designed exploration of what anti-racism means and how to make that actionable. While it's written for the YA crowd, I find great value in it as an OA (old adult). Each chapter explores a different word/topic/idea within anti-racism work. It explains what the term means and what it looks like. In addition to that, it has reflective questions and activities to help you as the reader identify how this shows up for you. I really like the reflective piece of this book as it had built in that next step beyond consuming content. I also liked that this helped you explore things you might not think were a thing in your life, but oh wait, they are. This is a book that I could see myself going back to and referencing as I continue to explore different aspects of anti-racism work. If you're new to these topics, this is a book that's a good place to start. If you're more experienced, this also provides some good opportunities to reflect and continue to grow.

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert is a bit of a love story built around an especially important issue. Marva and Duke are teens voting for the first time. Marva is excited to finally have this opportunity, while Duke is just in it as a responsibility before he moves onto the stuff he wants to do. Marva sees Duke turned away from his polling place, and she decides to help figure out what's going on, so he can vote. What was supposed to be a quick process turns into an all day ordeal. Along the way, they learn this is all way more complicated than it needs to be. However, they keep with it, and as they make their way through town, they also learn about each other while discussing identity, current events, and life in general. I dug that this was a YA romance that built in important topics throughout! Thanks to NetGalley for look at this recent July release!

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram was a book that I've had on my to-read list for some time, and y'all, WHY DID I WAIT SO LONG TO READ THIS?!?! Darius' story is absolutely outstanding. What makes it outstanding is the honesty and authenticity of Darius as a character. Specifically, Darius struggles with depression, and this book displays that in the realest of ways. Darius is also bullied at school, and he struggles to find social connection. Then, Darius and his parents go to Iran where his grandparents live. Darius is far from an expert in this part of his identity. Once there, he makes friends with a neighbor named Sohrab - For the first time in ages, he has a real, actual friend. He's still hesitant and full of self-doubt, but Sohrab continues to show that he is a true friend, and Darius starts to really embrace their connection. This is just a beautiful, wonderful book. Darius is navigating so much, and this book so rawly portrays what that experience is like for him. I was so emotionally drawn into this one, and I am thrilled there is going to be a sequel because I need more Darius in my life - and Sohrab, too. This was just so, so good in its relationships, in its emotion, and again, in portraying an amazing main character in Darius.

This is My America by Kim Johnson was a phenomenal read. It's odd to start with the end of the book, but I have to note that once I read the author's note I so appreciated the intentionality with which she wrote this story. Don't read this until the end and also make sure to read this when you get there, as when you do you'll understand and appreciate the story she tells so much more. So, what is that story? I'm glad you asked because I want to talk about this one! The story focuses on Tracy. Each week, Tracy writes a letter to Innocence X asking them to help her father who is on death row. Time is running out, and Tracy is doing all she can to help. Then, Tracy's brother, Jamal, is accused of killing his girlfriend. Jamal is now on the run, and Tracy wants to also do what she can to prove his innocence as well. Y'all, this was a powerful piece. It's an emotional read, but its power and impact is also in the way it explores the systemic nature of issues. It peels back the layers as Tracy does all she can to help her dad and brother and encounters obstacles, lies and hard truths. This is one I devoured both reading slowly to take the story in, while also reading in a day because I was so drawn in. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this late July release. Add this to your lists now y'all. This is one you need to read, discuss with others, and process how this shows up in real life.

Onto the next ones! 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Book Reviews - Her Stories

For this round of reads, I have four books that have amazing women at the center of them. They are also four books written by women who have incredible gifts for storytelling. This is one of my favorite quartets of the year.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld is a fictional story about Hillary Rodham Clinton. In real life, Bill proposed to Hillary three times before she accepted. The premise of the book is then imagining what might have been had Hillary said no. Some of this book is based in factual happenings. I'll be honest that I haven't read all of Hillary's memoirs, so for me, I didn't know what was fact and what was made up. I wish I would have had that context, and I'd even consider re-reading with that just to see how the author built the story in this way. However, I also didn't feel like my reading experience was hindered by not having this knowledge. The story starts with Hillary's time at Wellesley and Yale where she meets Bill, and then evolves into the alternate timeline. It was really, really fascinating. It's an interesting experience to read a fictional account of a real life person (and in case you aren't familiar, the author first did this with Laura Bush in American Wife), and it also "hits different" given the reality of the present. This is an author who always draws me in with her writing, and I was captivated by this experience. Even though I somewhat knew the woman at the center of this story, I also had no idea what was going to happen in this alternate world, and the way she built this world kept me reading. It was also incredible to me how she shifted certain individuals in Hillary's story based on the different direction she chose. With that, it did bring about some really, real feels, but y'all I loved this journey.

Blended by Sharon Draper is a middle grade novel that brings so much honesty and realness. I have loved finding books like this that offer real talk to kids about things they are seeing, thinking and feeling, and this is definitely that. This book centers on Isabella. Isabella is biracial with a father who is black and a mother who is white. His parents are now divorced, and they have each found new partners. Her parents have shared custody which means Isabella is having to navigate the norms and structures of two homes, in addition to figuring out her own identities. I appreciated the opportunity to hear from Isabella the struggles that this arrangement had for a young girl. I'll also say this gets really intense at the end with an incident that happens. I wanted more about this as it was a lot to unpack and process, and it didn't quite give me that. That said, if an actual kid is reading this one, I think it makes sense to process what happens to Isabella as it's powerful and emotional. 

On the Bright Side by Melanie Shankle is the newest memoir by an author I love. Part of why I find her so endearing is she's an Aggie, so I feel that Texas nostalgia as I read. This collection is focused on (as the title would imply) finding the silver linings and positives in a variety of situations. She identifies things that came seem like a bummer and how to reframe and find the joy in those spaces. With this, she also drives a faith-based connection. I love the authentic way this author writes. She isn't afraid to acknowledge struggles in her life, and she shares how she uses faith, friends and family to work through situations. I will be honest that there are other of her books that I have just loved, and this didn't quite achieve their status, AND this is also an author whose books I'll always read as she just reflects in a way that resonates with my heart.

Smash It by Francina Simone is a book that was so real and such a delight. The story focuses on Liv who decides she needs to take control of her life and really start living. First of all, let me tell you know much I loved how this story began with Liv wearing khaki shorts and a sweatshirt at a Halloween costume party. Everyone else is dressed up, and then there's Live in her normal clothes. I loved this because I felt the connection with who she was. Liv decides it's time for a change and she makes a F*ck It List. She wants to stop being scared, and this list is designed to help her do just that. Y'all, I love a good list, so again this is a girl after my own heart. One of Liv's first challenges is trying out for the school musical. Again, I loved that this is the experience she chose to find herself. Liv's list was so great in that it was stuff so many of us struggled with, especially during those angsty high school times, and she was truly dedicated to figuring out how she could achieve all that was on her list. And while there is some love interests in this story, I also really liked that this book ultimately centered Liv and her list throughout. Above all else, this was Liv figuring out who she was becoming, and she doesn't always get it right which is how this stuff so often works. One last time I'll say I loved Liv, her list and the story of how she navigated achieving its tasks. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this September 2020 release. 

Onto the next ones!

Monday, July 6, 2020

Book Reviews - I'll Take Potpourri Reads for $200, Alex

I hope my witty Jeopardy reference compensates for the fact that I don't have a great introduction to yet another quartet with no common theme. Here we go. . . 

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary was a book I selected for my May reading challenge which was to read a book of letters - It didn't arrive in time for me to read it in May/time doesn't exist in 2020. ANYWAY. I actually can't recall if I read this as a kid, but it didn't seem familiar, so I don't believe I did. For those who haven't read, this is a book of a young boy named Leigh Botts who writes letters to his favorite author. He's navigating the challenges of grade school (including a lunch thief), his parents' separation, and just figuring out who he is. While Leigh is writing letters to someone, only his side is shown. However, Mr. Henshaw's voice comes through as he gives Leigh different writing and reflection challenges. Reading this as an adult, I could see crystal clear how this could be a comfort read to kids. In a very lonely time, Leigh finds connection. He puts his very real feels on paper which shows all he's processing. I already loved the timelessness and enduring power of Beverly Cleary's writing, and this is just another book to remind me of her brilliance.

The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures by Noelle Stevenson was just what the title states. This was a collection of the author's mini comics and short essays documenting all the feels and experiences that were her young adulthood. As I'm now a thirtysomething, I can reflect on my twenties and acknowledge they were hard at times. While I was "an adult" I was still working through so much, and I loved how this collection really gave voice to that. I truthfully wasn't familiar with the author (and also have no idea where I heard about this book), so all of this was new to me. However, I loved getting to see her work and especially loved the simplicity of her art that also so perfectly conveyed the emotional depth of her experience. For me, the highlight and power was strongest in her comics on mental health, and while a quick read for me, it also was one I took a lot from!

Well Met by Jen DeLuca is this month's selection for my book club. This is a romcom i(n a book set) against the backdrop of a Renaissance Fair. Unsolicited Fun Fact About Me: I was in the Early Music Ensemble in high school, and we played at the KC Renaissance Fair. I even have a costume! I share this because this setting had a strange and uniquely special place in my heart. The story focuses on Emily who has moved to a small town to help her sister recover from an accident. Once there, her niece informs her she wants to participate in a Renaissance Fair. The catch is that an adult must be there, so she needs Emily to join. At the fair, Emily encounters Simon who is in charge of the fair. Simon interacts with Emily in one of two ways - He has a serious side as he coordinates the fair from the business end, and he has a more flirtatious side when he's in character for the fair. She can't figure out who the real Simon is, and that makes their relationship/friendship/romance potential a lot to navigate. This was one that was predictable as romcoms often are, but I still kept reading. Sometimes you just need a light* read (*light minus the steamy sex scene), and this was so much that.

One By One by Ruth Ware was just a solid thriller. As I say over and over, I often just need that in my life. These thrills are built around a company retreat at a ski lodge. Snoop is an app that lets you listen to what someone else is listening to at that exact moment. The Snoop team is headed to a retreat to navigate what might be next for the company. And then they get snowed in, and chaos ensues. The story's suspense builds with its dual narrators. Pause here for your obligatory reminder of how much I LOVE dual narrators. In this instance, the two narrators are one of the employees at the lodge and a Snoop shareholder who has power by virtue of her shares in the company. The two women's narration show how the group navigates not just the snowstorm, but the murder/disappearances/shady happenings around the Snoop team. It's clear there is a killer in the group, but who is it? Again, this one had some solid suspense that kept me reading. I couldn't figure out the killer's identity, but felt the feels as things got more hectic and dire, and I needed to know how it all played out! This one isn't out until the fall, but when it drops, it's a good thrill ride to have in your life. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this September 2020 release!

Onto the next ones!

Sunday, June 21, 2020


Another day/week/month and/or however it is we keep track of time these days. Two of these I highly, highly recommend, and y'all will be ever to figure out which ones those are. The other two were honestly just okay, and y'all will be able to figure that piece out, too. But mostly what you need to know is there are two books *coughSLAYandWhiteFragilitycough*  you should read. Okay, thanks, read on!

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo does a fantastic job of exploring how white people learn about race - or don't. It does a great job of explaining why so much of what we learned about racism was wrong and incorrectly framed, and it then starts the process (because you don't just read any book and know it all) of re-teaching what systemic racism actually is. I found the author gave voice and explanation of so many important concepts in such a needed way. While she is a researcher, this was also written in a way that made it very easy to digest and process. This is one I plan to continue to revisit, and for white people looking to (re)educate themselves and take action doing anti-racism work, this is one to add to your list - And you definitely should have a list y'all, not just a solitary read! 

Before She Was Helen is an upcoming release from Caroline Cooney (author of The Girl on the Milk Carton series btw). Clemmie lives in a retirement community. When she hasn't heard from a neighbor in awhile, she goes to check in. He's not home, but she finds this amazing piece of glass art that she shares a picture of with a family member. Doing that sets off a chain of events that she is just not ready for. Clemmie has a past that she's spent a lifetime trying to get away from, and the increased focus on her with this art and missing person is just not what she wants. The story then alternates between what Clemmie has been hiding all these years, as well as what the heck is going on now. This one had a lot of twists and turns, and with those there is some pain. I would give a content warning that part of plot involves sexual assault and stalking. You likely wouldn't know that from the description, and I think it is important to know that going in to make an informed decision on reading. I'll also say that I chose this read I thought it was going to have those "cozy mystery" vibes, but in reality, it had some intense happenings and characters navigating their impacts. The twists did keep me guessing which is what I always dig when reading this genre. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look in exchange for this honest review.

Fathers and Daughters and Sports was an essay collection from ESPN. I heard about it ages ago, and I happened upon it at a book sale awhile back. Anyway. This was a collection of fathers writing about their daughters, daughters writing about their fathers, and sportswriters writing about fathers and daughters. I really liked the first two types of essays, and I wish there was more of that. I liked when there was this authentic and real connection to the story being told. What I didn't so much like was the third person perspective as it didn't have that emotion the other two types of essays did. There was also a really long essay in the middle from that third person perspective, and I found myself again wishing that would have instead have been those personal connections. My overall thought is that I liked some of these, and others not so much as often happens when collections like thse. If this was a thing again (as this book is a decade old) I think I'd only check it out if there were way more fathers reflecting on their daughters and daughters writing about their fathers.

Slay by Brittney Morris was outstanding, and I cannot tell everyone in life enough how much they need to read this book. Y'all, as soon as you finish reading this review, I need you to purchase this book and/or put it hold at your local library. The story focuses on a black team gamer named Kiera. Kiera has created the online game Slay to bring together black gamers across the world. Here's the thing though - No one knows Kiera is the creator. When a teenager in Kansas City is murdered due to the game, the online community and outside world collide. There is a wave of misunderstanding and straight up wrong analysis about what Kiera's game is and trying to do. Kiera is unsure of what action she should take as her game comes under fire and the online community is infiltrated and threatened. Y'all, this was an amazing story. For one, I loved the pieces that explained the game Kiera had built as there was such intentionality in what she and others had built. For two, I loved how it showed how Kiera was navigating not just online life, but real life with regard to her identities. There was power in this component of her story. For three, Kiera was an incredible heroine and just generally awesome as a main character. She was strong, but also still figuring life out as teens do. I cannot tell you enough how much this one captivated me. At one point, I was so invested and worried about what was going to happen next that I had to look ahead to calm my fears. This was a beautiful exploration of community and friendship and family and relationships and self-discovery and literally all the things. This is a book I cannot recommend enough to people as I love, LOVE, LOVED the opportunity to see the world that the author built. READ. THIS. BOOK. NOW. PLEASE.

Onto the next ones!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Book Reviews - Women's Friendships, Wresting, True Crime, and Other Random Topics I Read On

Okay, y'all, I'm back with another quartet. I'm not going to pretend I read on a theme. I will tell you that this was an especially strong quartet when it comes to books that captivated me. They were ones I found myself reading quickly because I needed to know what happened, and I was so drawn in my the humans involved. This is another round where one or more of these should speak to a variety of people.

One Perfect Summer by Brenda Novak was just the quintessential "beach read." I feel like Brenda Novak is one of those authors I always see with books in this genre, but have never read. When the opportunity came from Mira Books via NetGalley to read, I decided to take the time to finally check her out. And y'all, I'm so glad I did. This is the story of three adult half-sisters, but here's the thing - They are just now finding out the others exist. After taking a genetic test, they are connected with one another. They decide to spend some time together at Serenity's (one of the sisters) family cabin. Reagan, Lorelei and Serenity head to the cabin to build their relationship. In addition to the emotion of finding new family, they are each navigating something pretty big in their personal and/or professional life. The story then alternates between each of their stories as they get to know one another, but also explore what they want for themselves. I loved that this was a book that had three women as main characters and really, really developed their stories. I loved the depth they were each given, and the complexities of what was shared. I found I became invested in all three of their stories, and I needed to know how it ended up for them. While it was heavy at times given the situations, I also found this was a light read. It was something I could sit outside with and get lost in, and I really needed that. 

The Holdout by Graham Moore was a book I could not put down. It was the first book I got when my library reopened, and I then proceeded to read it over the course of a day. The story focuses on a high profile case and its jury. Ten years ago, high school teacher Bobby Nock was found not guilty of the murder of his student Jessica Silver. A primary reason for this acquittal was juror Maya Seale. Maya believed in Bobby's innocence and persuaded her other jurors to acquit him of this crime. Ten years later, the jury has been brought together for a reunion. Then, one of the jurors is murdered, and Maya is the primary suspect. From there, the story just goes. I don't want to give too many details because the excitement of the ride is seeing what develops. The story goes between the present with what has happened to Maya and the past with the story of each juror. As you can imagine, there are some secrets and lies in the mix, and those come into play as Maya works to prove that she is not responsible for the murder. These kind of books are generally my jam, and I'm a big fan of the writing of Graham Moore (see The Last Days of Night), so this was definitely something I dug. I loved how fast-paced it was, all the twists and turns, and then that there were even more twists and turns. As I often say, I regularly just need a good thriller in my life, and this was it.

Drawing Down the Moon by Shawn Keller Cooper was a book I found my way to as it was the selection for my online book club, and y'all, I'm so, so glad I did. This was such a wonderful story about women - how they grieve, how they connect, and how they learn to move forward. The story focuses on Jade who has retreated to James Island after suffering a third miscarriage and struggling in her marriage. She retreats to this place because she is struggling, and she attempts suicide. Her attempt is not successful, and she she finds connection with a woman named Agnes. Agnes starts to explore her emotional journey and reality, and this is some tough stuff. Additionally, 20 years earlier, Jade and two sorority sisters had agreed to a reunion. This is the time that is supposed to happen. These two women show up with their own stories and struggles. Additionally, there are longstanding wounds from previous situations that the women have never resolved. Y'all, this is a beautiful story centering women. For one, it talks about struggles of women, including infertility, that aren't always put into stories. It also talks about women's friendship and all those evolve, how they connect, and how they can vary across the lifespan. This was a book that was authentic and raw and so honest. I absolutely loved the way in which emotion was explored and explained through these women. 

The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of Andre the Giant by Bertrand Hebert and Pat Laprage was one of the most comprehensive biographies I've ever read. The lengths these authors went to research and tell Andre's story was incredible. What I especially appreciated was that they even looked at previous media to check its accuracy. Often we just accept what has been written as truth, and surprise, that doesn't always work. This also looks at Andre as not just a wrestler, but also as a human. I liked that they took the time to not just do a retrospective on his career, but to help explain who he was a person, including his relationships, his health struggles, and what he wanted to do beyond just being in the ring. I will say this has a lot of information, and it's a lot to digest. Again, that's not a bad thing, but I when I say comprehensive, I mean comprehensive y'all. Thanks to ECW Press for the early look at this. I'm a bit behind in reading, but the advantage for y'all is that I can tell you this is out now, and for pro wrestling fans (and other people, too), it's worth checking out! Thanks to ECW Press for giving me early access to this book that's available now!

Onto the next ones!

Blog Tour - Stranger in the Lake by Kimberly Belle

You know what I never get tired of? BLOG TOUR TUESDAY! I'm excited to be hosting yet another stop, and I'm also excited I'm hosting this on an actual Tuesday! Great stuff all around. Of course, the most exciting part of all is the book! 

As a reminder that no one needs, I love thrillers. Love, love, LOVE them.

Stranger in the Lake by Kimberly Belle was the kind of page-turning thriller that I love finding my way to and becoming immersed in all the twists along the way. Predictably, this one begins with a literal stranger in the lake. Charlotte is living a bit of a dream. After a rough childhood, she has found love with Paul, a wealthy widower. She is newly pregnant and excited for what the future holds. One morning while walking down to the lake she founds a woman's body. She is particularly rattled as this is a woman she had seen her husband talking to the night before. This is particularly jarring given Paul's first wife also died by drowning in the same lake. As one might, Charlotte wonders if there is a connection.

An investigation begins, and Charlotte's suspicions don't quit. She wants to believe the man she loved is innocent, but she just doesn't know. In addition to the investigation in the present, there are some threads into the past. Two of the other main characters are Paul's best friends from high school - Micah, who is a police officer, and Jax, who is known for being a bit of an unstable loner. Interspersed with the narrative of figuring out who this stranger is, there is flashbacks to Micah, Paul and Jax's relationship in their high school days. I really liked that these flashbacks were brief as it built suspicion. It wasn't immediately clear why these were involved, but y'all, when that was revealed, it was a solid twist.

Overall, this was just a really good thriller. I always love something where I know all isn't what it seems, but I can't quite put my finger on what that something is. It makes those twists (and in this one, there are many!) so much better. This was an intense read y'all. I'll name that right now that might not be everyone's jam, but if you're looking for a read that's going to keep you guessing as you figure out where the lies are, who is involved, and even who isn't, this is going to be the one for you. Best of all, while I ride in advance, you can read this now as it was released today!


In addition to taking my word for it (because I am a self-proclaimed thriller expert, here is an excerpt from the book to further draw you in!

The town of Lake Crosby isn’t much, just three square blocks and some change, but it’s the only town in the southern Appalachians perched at the edge of the water, which makes it a popular tourist spot. Paul’s office is at the far end of the first block, tucked between a fudge shop and Stuart’s Craft Cocktails, which, as far as I can tell, is just another way to say “pretentious bar.” Most of the businesses here are pretentious, farm-to-table restaurants and specialty boutiques selling all things overpriced and unnecessary.

For people like Paul, town is a place to socialize and make money—in his case, by selling custom house designs for the million-dollar lots that sit high on the hills or line the lakeshores. My old friends serve his drinks and wait his tables—but only the lucky ones. There are ten times more locals than there are jobs.

The covered terrace for the cocktail lounge is quiet, a result of the off-season and the incoming weather, the sign on the door still flipped to Closed. I’m passing the empty hostess stand when I notice movement at the very back, a tattered shadow peeling away from the wall. Jax—the town loon, the crazy old man who lives in the woods. Most people turn away from him, either out of pity or fear, but not me. For some reason I can’t put into words, I’ve never been afraid to look him straight on.

He takes a couple of halting steps, like he doesn’t want to be seen—and he probably doesn’t. Jax is like a deer you come up on in a meadow, one blink and he’s gone. But this time he doesn’t run.

His gaze flicks around, searching the street behind me. “Where’s Paul.” A statement, not a question.

Slowly, so not to spook him, I point to the sleek double doors on the next building, golden light spilling out the windows of Keller Architecture. “Did you check inside?”
Jax shakes his head. “I need to talk to him. It’s important.”

Like every time he emerges from out of the woods, curiosity bubbles in my chest. Once upon a time, Jax had everything going for him. High school prom king and star quarterback, the golden boy with a golden future, and one of Paul’s two best friends. Their picture still sits atop his desk in the study, Paul and Jax and Micah, all tanned chests and straightened smiles, three teenage boys with the world at their feet.

Now he’s Batty Jax, the raggedy, bearded boogeyman parents use as a warning. Do your homework, stay out of trouble, and don’t end up like Jax.

He clings to the murky back of the terrace, sticking to the shaded spots where it’s too dark for me to make out much more than a halo of matted hair, the jutting edges of an oversized jacket, long, lean thighs. His face is dark, too, the combination of a life outdoors and dirt.

“Do you want me to give Paul a message? Or if you stay right there, I can send him out. I know he’ll want to see you.”

Actually, I don’t know; I only assume. Jax is the source of a slew of rumors and petty gossip, but for Paul, he’s a painful subject, one he doesn’t like to talk about. As far as I know, the two haven’t spoken since high school graduation—not an easy thing to do in a town where everybody knows everybody.

Jax glances up the street, in the direction of far-off voices floating on the icy wind. I don’t follow his gaze, but I can tell from the way his body turns skittish that someone is coming this way, moving closer.

“Do you need anything? Some money, maybe?”

Good thing those people aren’t within earshot, because they would laugh at the absurdity of the trailer-park girl turned married-up wifey offering the son of an insurance tycoon some cash. Not that Jax’s father didn’t disown him ages ago or that I have more than a couple of bucks in my pocket, but still.

Jax shakes his head again. “Tell Paul I need to talk to him. Tell him to hurry.”

Before I can ask what for, he’s off, planting a palm on the railing and springing over in one easy leap, his body light as a pole vaulter. He hits the cement and takes off up the alley. I dash forward until I’m flush with the railing, peering down the long passage between Paul’s building and the cocktail lounge, but it’s empty. Jax is already gone.
I push through the doors of Keller Architecture, an open space with cleared desks and darkened computer screens. The whiteboard on the back wall has already been wiped clean, too, one of the many tasks Paul requires his staff to do daily. It’s nearing five, and other than his lead designer, Gwen, hunched over a drawing at her drafting table, the office is empty.

She nods at my desk. “Perfect timing. I just finished the Curtis Cottage drawings.”
Calling a seven-thousand-square-foot house a “cottage” is ridiculous, as are whatever reasons Tom Curtis and his wife, a couple well into their seventies, gave Paul for wanting six bedrooms and two kitchens in what is essentially a weekend home. But the Curtises are typical Keller Architecture clients—privileged, demanding and more than a little entitled. They like Paul because he’s one of them. Having a desk is probably ridiculous, too, since I only work twenty hours a week, and for most of them I’m anywhere but here. My role is client relations, which consists mainly of hauling my ass to wherever the clients are so I can put out fires and talk them off the latest ledge. The job and the desk are one of the many perks of being married to a Keller.

“Thanks.” I tuck the Curtis designs under an arm and move toward the hallway to my left, a sleek tunnel of wood and steel that ends in Paul’s glass-walled office. “I’m here to pick up Paul. There’s something wrong with his car.”

When he called earlier to tell me his car was dead in the lot, I thought he was joking. Engine trouble is what happens to my ancient Civic, not Paul’s fancy Range Rover, a brand-new supercharged machine with a dashboard that belongs in a cockpit. More money than sense, my mother would say about Paul if she were here, and now, I guess, about me.

Gwen leans back in her chair, wagging a mechanical pencil between two slim fingers. “Yeah, the dealer is sending a tow truck and a replacement car, but they just called to say they’re delayed. He said he had a couple of errands to run.”

I frown. “Who, the tow truck driver?”

“No, Paul.” She swivels in her chair, reaching across the desk behind her for a straightedge. “He should be back any sec.”

I thank her and head for the door.

On the sidewalk, I fire off a quick text to Paul. I’m here, where are you?

I wait for a reply that doesn’t come. The screen goes dark, then black. I slip the phone into my jacket pocket and start walking.

In a town like Lake Crosby, there are only so many places Paul could be. The market, the pharmacy, the shop where he buys his ties and socks. I pop into all of them, but no one’s seen him since this morning. Back on the sidewalk, I pull out my phone and give him a call. It rings once, then shoots me to voice mail. I hit End and look up and down the mostly deserted street.

“Hey, Charlie,” somebody calls from across the road, two single lanes separated by a parking strip, and I whirl around, spotting Wade’s familiar face over the cars and SUVs. One of my brother’s former classmates, a known troublemaker who dropped out sophomore year because he was too busy cooking meth and raising hell. He leans against the ivory siding of the bed-and-breakfast, holding what I sincerely hope is a hand-rolled cigarette.

“It’s Charlotte,” I say, but I don’t know why I bother.

On my sixteenth birthday, I plunked down more than a hundred hard-earned dollars at the courthouse to change my name. But no matter how many times I correct the people who knew me back when—people who populate the trailer parks and shacks along the mountain range, people like Wade and me—no matter how many times I tell them I’m not that person anymore, to them I’ll always be Charlie.

He flicks the cigarette butt into the gutter and tilts his head up the street. “I just saw your old man coming out of the coffee shop.” Emphasis on the old man. “If you hurry, you can probably catch him.”

I mumble a thanks, then head in that direction.

Just past the market, I spot Paul at the far end of a side street, a paper cup clutched in his hand. He’s wearing the clothes I watched him pull on this morning—a North Face fleece, a navy cashmere sweater, dark jeans, leather lace-up boots, but no coat. No hat or scarf or gloves. Paul always dresses like this, without a second thought as to the elements. That fleece might be fine for the quick jogs from the house to his car to the office door, but with the wind skimming up the lake, he must be freezing.

The woman he’s talking to is more properly dressed. Boots and a black wool coat, the big buttons fastened all the way to a neck cloaked in a double-wrapped scarf. A knitted hat is pulled low over her ears and hair, leaving only a slice of her face—from this angle, her profile—exposed.

“There you are,” I say, and they both turn.

A short but awkward silence. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he looks surprised to see me.

“Charlotte, hi. I was just…” He glances at the woman, then back to me. “What are you doing here?”

“You asked me to pick you up. Didn’t you get my text?”

With his free hand, he wriggles his cell from his pocket and checks the screen. “Oh. Sorry, I must have had it on Silent. I was on my way back to the office, but then I got to talking and…well, you know how that goes.” He gives me a sheepish smile. It’s a known fact that Paul is a talker, and like in most small towns, there’s always someone to talk to.
But I don’t know this woman.

I take in her milky skin and sky blue eyes, the light smattering of freckles across her nose and high cheekbones, and I’m positive I’ve never seen her before. She’s the kind of pretty a person would remember, almost beautiful even, though she’s nothing like his type. Paul likes his women curvy and exotic, with dark hair and ambiguous coloring. This woman is bony, her skin so pale it’s almost translucent.

I step closer, holding up my hand in a wave. “Hi, I’m Charlotte Keller. Paul’s wife.”
The woman gives me a polite smile, but her gaze flits to Paul. She murmurs something, and I’m pretty sure it’s “Keller.”

The hairs soldier on the back of my neck, even though I’ve never been the jealous type. It’s always seemed like such a waste of energy to me, being possessive and suspicious of a man who claims to love you. Either you believe him or you don’t—or so I’ve always thought. Paul tells me he loves me all the time, and I believe him.

But this woman wouldn’t be the first around these parts to try to snag herself a Keller.
“Are you ready?” I say, looking at Paul. “Because I came in the boat, and we need to get home before this weather blows in.”

The talk of rain does the trick, and Paul snaps out of whatever I walked into here. He gives me that smile he saves only for me, and a rush of something warm hits me hard, right behind the knees.

People who say Paul and I are wrong together don’t get that we’ve been waiting for each other all our lives. His first wife’s death, my convict father and meth-head mother, they broke us for a reason, so all these years later our jagged edges would fit together perfectly, like two pieces of the same fractured puzzle. The first time Paul took my hand, the world just…started making sense.

And now there’s a baby, a perfect little piece of Paul and me, an accidental miracle that somehow busted through the birth control. Maybe it’s not a fluke but a sign, the universe’s way of telling me something good is coming. A new life. A new chance to get things right.

All of a sudden and out of nowhere I feel it, this burning in my chest, an overwhelming, desperate fire for this baby that’s taken root in my belly. I want it to grow and kick and thrive. I want it with everything inside me.

“Let’s go home.” Without so much as a backward glance at the woman, Paul takes my hand and leads me to the boat.

Excerpted from Stranger in the Lake by Kimberly Belle, Copyright © 2020 by Kimberle S. Belle Books, LLC. Published by Park Row Books.

About the Book: When Charlotte married the wealthy widower Paul, it caused a ripple of gossip in their small lakeside town. They have a charmed life together, despite the cruel whispers about her humble past and his first marriage. But everything starts to unravel when she discovers a young woman’s body floating in the exact same spot where Paul’s first wife tragically drowned. At first, it seems like a horrific coincidence, but the stranger in the lake is no stranger. Charlotte saw Paul talking to her the day before, even though Paul tells the police he’s never met the woman. His lie exposes cracks in their fragile new marriage, cracks Charlotte is determined to keep from breaking them in two. As Charlotte uncovers dark mysteries about the man she married, she doesn’t know what to trust—her heart, which knows Paul to be a good man, or her growing suspicion that there’s something he’s hiding in the water.

About the Author: Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of six novels, including the forthcoming Stranger in the Lake (June 2020). Her third novel, The Marriage Lie, was a semifinalist in the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery & Thriller, and a #1 e-book bestseller in the UK and Italy. She’s sold rights to her books in a dozen languages as well as film and television options. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

Social Links:
Twitter: @KimberlySBelle
Instagram: @kimberlysbelle

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