Friday, December 28, 2018

Skating Parties & Scandals

Alright, y'all, I was able to squeeze in one last (I think?) quartet for 2018.

Fifth Grade: Here Comes Trouble by Colleen O'Shaughnessy McKenna was a recent thrifting throwback find. The best part of this one was that the plot revolved around an upcoming coed skating party for someone's birthday. Y'all, remember your first coed party? And also the pressure of the couples skate at a skating rink? Right?!?! RIGHT?!?! Is that a stress kids today still have? I don't even know. Honestly, this was a quick read more than anything. I loved the nostalgia it provided, but it wasn't much more than that to me.

Read this book if - You are a thirtysomething who wants a chance to remember the social dynamics of the skating party.

Our House by Louise Candlish is this month's book club selection. This book starts with Fiona getting home only to find out there are other people living in her home. All her stuff is gone, and these other people indicate they now own her house. Whoa, y'all. The book then treks through what might have happened in alternating narrations. For Fiona, this is as the subject of a true crime podcast. For her now MIA husband Bram, this is through a Word document he has composed. This book is really the ultimate case of an event spiraling out of control, and then spiraling some more, and then spiraling even more. This is one that kept me reading not so much from a "Now What" angle, but a "WAIT, WHAT?!" angle which is definitely a fine line for an author to tow in a story like this. The twists in this one were ones I didn't see coming, and overall, this was just the best kind of pageturning thriller.

Read this book if - You want a book that will get your book club talking. You want the ultimate look into a situation that spirals OUT. OF. CONTROL.

After reading The Face on the Milk Carton and Whatever Happened to Janie? I decided to continue with the series. 

The Voice on the Radio by Caroline Coomey was just okay-ish. Honestly, it read like a novella more than a full story. In this one, Reeve (Janie's boyfriend/boy next door) is off to college. He's DJing at the campus radio station, and he's trying to find his voice. So, he starts telling Janie's story. LIsteners are captivated. As you can maybe see coming, Janie finds out. So, there's that. As a continuation of the series, I just wanted so much more than I got from this one.

Read this book if - You want to continue reading about Janie Johnson.

What Janie Found by Caroline Coomey is the fourth book in the Janie Johnson series. For me, this book seemed to really just be setting up the last book in the series. In this one, Janie's adoptive father has a stroke. Janie goes to help her mother. In looking through her dad's finances and papers, she realizes that her dad knows more about Hannah (his daughter/her kidnapper) than he was letting on. This development is really a set-up for the crux of the fifth book (which I am now reading). Much like the third book, this one wasn't as much depth as a full novel, but there was enough drama that I NEED to know what happens in the conclusion of this series.

Read this book if - You still want to continue reading about Janie Johnson.

See you in 2019!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Throwback to the Books: The Face on the Milk Carton and Sweet Valley Twins

For this round of reading, I decided to take on some of the throwback reads that I've picked up in the last few months.

First up, it was revisiting The Face on the Milk Carton. I can remember this book being one of those books that we ALL read in elementary school, so I was excited to revisit it and its sequel Whatever Happened to Janie.

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney is a book that's fascinating to read as an adult. There were moments where I had to stop and think, "Wait, I read this as a kid?" I mean, I also watched a tremendous amount of Rescue 911, so this explains my fears of kidnappings and robberies. ANYWAY. If you're not familiar with this one, this is about Janie who sees a face on a milk carton (remember when that was a thing y'all?) and feels like it might be her. She starts doing some digging and asking some question finding out that her life is not at all what she thought it was. Also, I definitely didn't remember the cult connection in this one, and that was quite intense! Going back and revisiting this one, I loved it. It reads like a Lifetime movie (in fact it was a made for TV movie), and I was so here for that. This one just has a nostalgia and thrill that I love.

So, then it was onto the sequel!

Whatever Happened to Janie? by Caroline Cooney wasn't as fresh in my mind. I'm sure I read it at some point obvs. In this one, Janie has returned to her biological parents. She's adjusting to her new normal. Except this is a lot more difficult than she realized. The Spring family had gotten used to life without her, and she is used to who she was. Again, for something I read as a kid, this was complicated emotions. However, I dug it. 

I also learned that there are three more of these books in the series, so definitely plan on checking out the others.

Then, I decided to head back to Sweet Valley (Sweeeeet Valley, Sweeeet Valley Higggggh). When it comes to this series, I actually read way more of the Sweet Valley Twins books than Sweet Valley High. I really didn't remember much of this series other than that it involved the Wakefield twins. I quickly realized I was way more of a Elizabeth than a Jessica. 

The Christmas Ghost by Francine Pascal was your classic take on A Christmas Carol. It was a Super Chiller(!) which really just meant it was longer than some of the others. In this one, Jessica is jerk. Elizabeth somehow gets a famous actor to agree to come by her house to talk about the fundraising she's doing for a children's hospital. When he doesn't show up, Elizabeth is bummed. She leaves the house, and Jessica stays around. Well, turns out the dude had car trouble, so he shows up late. Jessica decides she won't tell Elizabeth and is going to meet him for dinner the next day. Jerk move, right? Well, she goes to bed, the ghosts of past/present/future meet her as they do, and I bet you can guess how it ends. Predictable? Yes, but I kind of liked that about it.

Holiday Mischief by Francine Pascal was a Super Edition which apparently just meant the girls went on a trick. Y'all, this one was just a little too outlandish - even understanding the audience. The girls' friend Anna wants to go on the choir trip, so she can go to DC and meet her long last sibling. Um, what? A foreign embassy is involved, the girls sneak out of the hotel (y'all, they're 12), and it was just a little much. Well-intentioned, but it was just too many "Wait, what?" moments for this me.

So, tell me, where these books you read as a kid? What do you remember? 

Best Reads of 2018 - YA, J Fiction & The Best of the Rest!

As promised, I'm here with even more books from 2018 that I loved.

First off, I maintain a love of YA. There were three books I read this year that I especially adored and would highly recommend to y'all.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz was just a beautiful story of a relationship. It is so well-told, and to see how the connection between Aristotle and Dante evolved made this an incredible and wonderful read. 

Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson is a book that will break your heart. Claudia's friend Monday is missing, and no one seems to care. This book explores how broken systems fail the people who need them. It is an emotional and necessary read on an important issue.

Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke is the story of Jane who is expelled from high school and finds her way into the cast of a reality television show being made by an aspiring filmmaker at her local community college. I LOVE reality television, so I was all about this one as Jane navigated her actual reality and the experience of the show.

A genre I read more of then ever before was juvenile (aka kid's) fiction. I found some chapter books that were absolutely incredible. It reminded me of where my love of reading began, and I found these books are still great for a thirtysomething bibliophile.

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern is first of all my favorite cover of the year. The story inside is even better as I adored Maggie as a character. As she writes her memoir, she brings so much humor and heart even in difficult circumstances. This is just one that made me smile. Also, Maggie totally reminded me of, well, me.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson has so many feels. When Ms. Bixby becomes sick and unable to teach, three of her students set out to let her know how special she is to them. This was such a beautiful tribute to the power of people, especially incredible teachers who go above and beyond. I will say that this one was emotional, but it's such a meaningful and powerful read.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is a unique story in that it's told by a gorilla in a mall zoo. In his voice, you learn about his world - his animal friends, his human connections, and how he sees the world. This book is incredible. It's an ambitious premise, and it is done so, so very well.

Mac Undercover by Mac Barnett is just a fun read. It's the (allegedly true) story of a kid spy in the eighties. It's a great throwback read for kids today. It also does a good job of popping in some history and facts for its readers. This was just a fun graphic novel that I ended up loving way more than I expected.

Finally, I obvs couldn't name all the books from 2018 as my favorites. I wanted to spotlight just a few more quickly that I thought needed a bit more of a signal boost/endorsement from me.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a beautifully told story of the tragedy of a dystopian future. It is mesmerizing which is a feat given its subject matter.

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman is another masterwork by the author. This dude just knows how to write characters and stories that make you feel all the feels.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger is plain and simple just a well-written novel. This recommendation came to me via a stranger, and I'm so grateful it did as it's such a compelling story.

Good Luck With That by Kristan Higgins is a wonderfully told story about self-love. It explores how this self-love is impacted by others, as well as how this can impact relationships. 

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris is an exploration of the reasons we don't think we meditate or be mindful and how to overcome those barriers and excuses. It's a book that makes the practice more accessible and achievable.

Love, Rosie by Cecilia Ahern is just a wonderfully told story. It's all correspondence - letters, emails, and IMs, and it tells the story of Rosie and Alex through these mediums over the course of years. It's quirky, and I was so here for that.

I'll be back at the end of the year with an all-out summary of each and every book I read this year (and I'll continue sharing quartets of reviews if I can squeeze in a few more), but for now, I hope you'll get to reading many of these incredible books. Enjoy y'all!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

My Favorite Reads of 2018

It's been an awesome year for reading in my world. Sure, there's been a great quantity of reading happening, but moreso it's been about the quality of what I've read. While my year of reading isn't technically done yet, I did want to go ahead and offer up my end of year "Best Of" wrap-up post!

After some fancy spreadsheet work and internal debating, I've manage to select the twelve(ish) best books I read this year. I will now (re)share these great loves of my reading life with y'all. 

First off, let me give you my master list of selections.

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  • 1. The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain
  • 2. The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
  • 3. The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
  • 4. How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price
  • 5. The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves
  • 6. I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
  • 7. How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
  • 8. Still Me by JoJo Moyes
  • 9. All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
  • 10. Only Child by Rhiannon Navin
  • 11. Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner
  • 12. The Circle by David Eggers
And now, more importantly, let me tell you why these books are THE books of my year.

The Dream Daughter is an absolutely beautiful and enchanting story of a mother and daughter. However, here's the thing - I can't fully tell you why. The emotion of the book is built on one significant reveal of what's going on. This book was so unique in the story it told, while also making this scenario totally believable. You have to trust me that you will be captivated by this one, and there's a secret and adventure that lies in in its pages making it the very best book of my year.

The Last Days of Night was absolutely captivating. If you would have said to me, "Andrea, you're going to have a book about the development of electricity and invention of the light bulb in your top books!" I obvs would have never believed you. However, that would be because I didn't know the story was so darn compelling. This is historical fiction that veers into intense thriller territory. I learned things about the battle between Einstein and Westinghouse (with additional involvement/intrigue from Tesla) that I didn't even know were things I would become so invested in through reading. This book came to me via a recommendation that I am so thankful for, and I cannot recommend this one to y'all enough.

The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington isn't officially out until January 2019. That said, you're going to NEED to get your hands on this book at some point in 2019. This is a fascinating read y'all! It's a true story, but it reads like a thriller. The stuff that goes down in this one is nearly unbelievable until you remember this is what really happened! This is the second book I've read around George Washington (the first being George Washington's Secret Six), and to see all he overcame, navigated and built never ceases to be remarkable to me. 

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How To Break Up With Your Phone is the book I've recommended to others the most this year. I've had times (including right before I read this book) where my phone and I had an unhealthy relationship. This was such a valuable read. I loved that it wasn't judge-y, rather it focused on practical advice for use. The end goal wasn't returning to the flip phone, rather it was intentionality around the realities of technology today. I loved how this allowed me to become more mindful around my own phone use, and I continue to tell people this the book to (re)calibrate your own relationship with your phone.

The Girl He Used To Know is another book from the future as this one doesn't come out until April of 2019. This is the story of Annika and Jonathan. It is how they first come together, then fall apart, then come back together. I was absolutely captivated by Annika as a character. This was such a unique story, and it packs in so many different types of feels. While this is one of the best books of my 2018, add it to your 2019 plans.

I'll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer creeped me out in the best of ways. This is an incredibly researched account of a killer that terrorized for years. The level of detail the author went to find the killer's identity is mesmerizing. Even more incredible, of course, is that this was the year they finally found this terrible dude. If you love true crime or a scare, you have to read this as it's unlike anything else in the genre.

How To Walk Away is another book that's been one of my go-to recommendations for the year. In a split second, Margaret's life changes course. Her new normal is drastically different from where she thought everything was going to go. This was a wonderful story of resilience, overcoming challenge, and finding happiness after all seems lost. This is a book that you'll easily devour in a sitting or two.

Still Me is the third book about Louisa Clark. After reading Me Before You, I wasn't sure I wanted to keep with this series. I'm so glad I did. I adored After You, and this one was even better. I love how Louisa continues to find love and herself in these stories. I don't want to tell you too many things in case you're not this far in the series, but again you just have to trust me that this is worth the read.

All We Ever Wanted was very different than what I've come to expect from Emily Giffin. This one explored so many issues that stem from a picture taken at a high school party. At its core, this one is about privilege, and it is a compelling story told from multiple perspectives that will really make you think about the topics presented. If you're looking for your next book club read, this would be one I'd highly encourage you to consider. I"m excited my own online book club will be taking this one on in 2019.

Only Child is heartbreaking and sad, but also powerful. It is the aftermath of a school shooting told entirely from the perspective of a six year old boy. The emotion in this one is so raw, particularly given Zach (the narrator) loses his older brother in the shooting. However, there is beauty in the storytelling of the pain and emotion of what happens to those who are connected and involved in the shooting.

Who Do You Love was just a well-told love story. I read a lot of thrillers this year, as well as some intense feels, and this was just what I wanted it to be. I knew how it would end, but I read on anyway. I always have a soft spot for love, and this was the best one in this genre of my year.

The Circle was a dystopian thriller that was terrifying in its realness. In fact, this isn't too far off on what reality could become. That realness is what made this one such a good read. I was so drawn into this work and freaked the heck out. I loved the way it posed dilemmas, and it probably blew my mind more than anything else I read this year.

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So, tell me, what were the best books of YOUR year?

P.S. Stay tuned for my best children's fiction reads, YA reads, AND other honorable mention reads from my year in books!

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Books on the Complexities of Family

In a totally unplanned move (as is usually the case, let's be honest), all four of these books look at complicated relationships in families. That said, they're also four very different books. Here's what I thought.

Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes was another J read I absolutely adored. June loves reading, but she finds to has to keep some of her latest reads recommended to her by the school librarian hidden. When her parents find she's reading The Makings of a Witch, they find this to be extremely inappropriate. They're concerned to the point that they go to school setting in motion a book ban process. June is frustrated, and she believes she should have freedom to read what she wants and explore through books. She decides she's going to fight the system by starting her own locker library. From there, June becomes the underground "rebel librarian" for her classmates. I loved that this was book banning explored from June's perspective. Her frustrations and emotions were so real, and I loved her determination to keep her classmates reading. Book banning is problematic, and I dig that there's a children's book that can help them (and adults, too) understand the issues, as well as the power of knowledge and reading. Even as an adult reader, I left this one inspired by June's willingness to fight the system and save the library!

Read this book if - You want a book that covers book banning from a different lens. You want to look at censorship and activism through the eyes of a kid.

Have Mother, Will Travel by Mia and Claire Fontaine was this month's selection for my online book club. Without that, I'm not sure I would have found my way to this one. The interesting thing is while travel is in the title, that was my least favorite part of the book. I could honestly have not cared less about where Mia and Claire went. What I did really love was the exploration and evolution of their relationship. Mia is a recovering addict, and there were many, many years her relationship with her mother was strained. (Note: This duo has written another book, and it's about that aspect of their relationship.) They decide some international travel together will be another way to build their mother-daughter connection. Again, the travel wasn't for me, but there was a lot of really great realizations about life in this one. This line especially made me feel some feels, "Why do so many of us choose to be good girls going for gold stars, instead of clasping tight the gold of our lives by living as we truly desire?" Right?! RIGHT?!?! Anyway, the growth of the two women is what I enjoyed about this book which is what the second half really focuses on, so it took me awhile to get into this one. Once I did, I love the authenticity and truth of it all. 

Read this book if - You want a book that explores the complexities of mother-daughter relationships. You want a book that reflects on how women navigate the world - literally and figurately.

The Suspect by Fiona Barton was one heckuva thriller. Kate Walters is a journalist who is covering the story of two girls from the UK who've gone missing in Thailand. She takes the time to connect with these families to tell their story and get the word out about their missing daughters. Kate is also navigating her own loss. She hasn't heard from her own son in two years as he left home to travel. This one was a page-turner that kept me reading. Kate soon finds she has more vested in the story of the missing girls than she ever could have known, and WHOA y'all. You just wait until the twists start coming. I appreciated how the truth and suspense in this one was pieced together through narration from Kate's perspective, the mother of one of the girls, a detective, and the story of the girls before they went missing. This one comes out in January (thanks Shelf Awareness/Berkley for the ARC), and I anticipate this is one that will definitely get people talking as they breeze through these pages because they need to know what happen. My only critique is that the last few pages were confusing. I was into it until that point, then I felt like I needed even MORE pages to explain what I just read, but they weren't there. That very small mess aside, if you're a thriller fan, this should go on your list.

Read this book if - You want to check out a really captivating pageturner of a thriller. You want a thriller that has a bit of a Defending Jacob vibe. Sorry, I hate comparing books to other books, but that's what came to mind at times as I read.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin was an interesting coming of age story. Eilis lives in Ireland. A priest offers to sponsor her to go to Brooklyn. This means she must leave her mother and sister behind. However, they all see the opportunity she could have there, so she sails across the ocean. In America, she begins to build her new life and relationships. Sometimes you just find books that are enjoyable to read. They're just well-written characters that you want to know more about as you follow their story. This one despite being shorter (262 pages for my copy) packed a lot of emotion. It was heartbreaking at times in unexpected ways. Overall, I just really dug Eilis' story.

Read this book if - You just want a good book that tells a story about a woman.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Books That Are All "WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!?!?"

As I do, I'm back with another quartet of reads. This round was books that were good enough, but they weren't that overwhelming "YOU HAVE TO READ THIS RIGHT NOW" feel. That said, you might find something that wasn't totally my jam could be yours. 

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley was a book that ultimately was a little flat for me. All the ingredients for a great thriller were there, and I just felt like there was so much potential unrealized. That said, this book focuses on a plane crash. A rich and prominent family, the flight crew, and a "down on his luck" painter (that's from the description of the book, not me) are on a small plane that crashes. The only survivors are the painter and one of the family's young children. Then, the questions begin. Why was the painter there? What happened? Is there more to this story? The book explores the story of each of the people of the plane focusing on before and up to the last moments of the plane. It also follows the investigation as evidence is discovered. It was interesting at times, but ultimately, this just didn't have enough twists and turns of drama (especially in the ending) for me.

Read this book if - You want a book that explores the mystery of a plane crash and the stories of its passengers.

If, Then by Kate Hope Day was an intriguing premise. In an Oregon town, four residents have visions of an alternate reality. There's the visions of someone else in a bed, a deceased relative back to life, a baby that doesn't exist, and tragedy. From there, each of these residents reacts differently to that vision. The visions are too real to ignore, and they continue, so residents must do something with what has been presented to them. This book was well-written and interesting enough. I'll own that once they got more and more into the parallel reality stuff, it wasn't totally my jam. That's more my personal struggles with understanding physics-y stuff than the content of the book, so keep that in mind. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me get a sneak peek of this March 2019 release. I think it'll be one that will get people talking as they consider what you would do with a vision of what isn't, but could be?

Read this book if - You want a drama that explores the idea of "What if?" through the lens of a parallel reality concept.

Pretending To Dance by Diane Chamberlain was just what I needed it to be. Diane (we're on a first name basis at this point) is my that author who provides my comfort reads. When I need that book that provides just the right mix of drama, character development, and a twist, Diane is who I turn to. This book was about Molly who is trying to adopt a baby with her husband in San Diego. As they go through the process, it is revealed that Molly hasn't shared the full truth of where she came from. In chapters alternating between the present process and the past, the truth of Molly's past is revealed. This includes a very complicated relationship with her birth mother, as well as unresolved emotions around her father's death. I appreciated that it was clear there was some kind of secret, but I couldn't quite figure out what that secret was. The storytelling kept me reading and wondering as a great Diane Chamberlain always does. Also, this one gets bonus points for the mentions of New Kids on the Block and Judy Blume. 

Read this book if - You are a big fan of Diane Chamberlain - as I am. You like a fiction read that uses the past and present to tell its story. You like a story with some secrets that are revealed as it goes.

Little Lovely Things by Maureen Joyce Connolly was one emotional read. When Claire has an allergic reaction while driving with her two girls, she's forced to stop at a gas station bathroom. She leaves her two young girls unattended. The reaction is so severe she passes out in the bathroom. Upon waking up, the girls are gone, and she has no idea what has happened. The book then focuses on figuring out where her girls have gone and/or if they're even alive. This is explored through a variety of characters, including Claire, her girls, and those with other connections to the disappearance. This book explores an incredible tragedy for a family, and it does it so well which means this is a mostly sad book. The unique part of this story is the character connections, and that is what kept me reading. The emotions were so raw as they should be, but there was also the push throughout of hope in getting answers around Lily and Andrea's disappearance. This was another NetGalley sneak peek for a release, and I anticipate when this one comes out in April 2019 that this is one that will get people up in their feels and needing to talk.

Read this book if - You have the emotional capacity to take on a sad book. You want an emotional read that explores the progression of a tragedy through interconnected characters.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Books with a Diverse Cast of Characters

Y'all, it took me until the last months of the year, but I'm finally reading quartets in themes! For this one, it was total happenstance, and I'm glad it was a thing. I was at the main branch of our library, and I wanted to check out a few books from my to read list. I was able to find four books. As I looked at what I'd chosen, they were all YA reads featuring main characters of color. I'm so glad that's how this worked out, not so much because of the thematic reading, but because this quartet featured some of the best stories I've read all year.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds was a uniquely told, captivating story. Will's brother has been killed by gun violence, and he's off to get revenge for this death. After all, that's what the "rules" say that he should do. Will boards the elevator to do this. On each floor, he is joined by someone - the only thing is, these people are dead. Each is someone who has a connection to the gun and his brother's story. This book is told in verse - It is a quick read, and the true beauty of it is that the small amount of words convey so much emotion. Will's elevator ride is sixty seconds, but in that time, there is so much about relationships, about community dynamics, and and about difficult decisions. This story was told in such a unique way that was perfect to convey the tragedy and emotion of Will's dilemma. Given the format I breezed through this read, but the topic of the tale stayed with me so much longer. Read this one y'all.

Read this book if - You want a quick, uniquely written read that will make you think. You want to read about emotion and tragedy in a unique storytelling format.

Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson was absolutely heartbreaking. There's no other way to explain this tale. That said, it's such a necessary read as it focuses on the disappearance of young girls of color. Claudia's best friend Monday is missing. The adults around her don't share her concern, so she takes it upon herself to find her friend. Her investigation proves to be emotional, frustrating and confusing. How can someone just vanish? And how can there be such little attention paid? As I said, this read was so heartbreaking as it showcases the flaws in the system. Through Claudia and Monday's friendship, this book provides an unfortunate tale of how this happened. Also, this book has a twist that took my literal breath away as it only further dug into the emotion of this story. Of the books I've read this year, this is one of the most painful, but it is essential. This is a book that will stay with me as it helped me understand an issue in a way that I didn't before. It was absolutely captivating, and this is a book that shouldn't be on a "want to read" shelf, but a "NEED to read" shelf.

Read this book if - You are seeking to understand how a broken system impacts an issue. You want an emotional, beautiful read that helps you understand a crisis.

Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith was a book I was intrigued by given it was set in Lawrence, Kansas. This book focused on Louise, a native teen navigating high school. I will say that for me, I wanted more depth for Louise. I wanted the story to focus even more on her. I just didn't get the true focus on Louise which is what drew me to the book. The other storyline of the book was that the theater teacher has decided to have a more inclusive casting of the school's production of The Wizard of Oz. This outrages parents and students, and there are incidents of vandalism and violence towards Louise's family and others as a result of this. I loved the centering of a native character in this one. As I was reading, I reflected on how few contemporary native main characters I've read (and I definitely want to read more), but again, I also wanted so much more from Louise than I was given. Ultimately, I didn't get that emotional connection that I craved going into this one.

Read this book if - You are looking to read a story that centers a Native teen.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz was an incredibly beautiful story of friendship. It explores the complexities of a friendship in a way that was just incredible. Aristotle and Dante are loners who find their way to each other. They are both in search of a friend, so it just makes sense that they connect. From there, there is a rollercoaster of a friendship. Each boy is navigating his own stuff - For Aristotle, there's anger, primarily with his family. His brother has been in jail, and he struggles with how his family has chosen to handle this reality. For Dante, it's figuring out who he is. He has a carefree spirit, but also he is working through trying to really understand his identities. I loved these characters and the depth with which they were written. I was able to really feel the ups and downs of this relationship, and it just captivated me. This was my first read from this author, and I now want to read all the things if they are going to involved incredible characters like this one.

Read this book if - You are looking for a YA book that explores the true beauty and complexity of friendship. You want to feel all the feels through a relationship.

Y'all this is a wonderful quartet of reads, and I hope you'll find your way to one (or more) of these. I'd also love to read more in this vein, so if you've got ideas, you know where to find me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

(Belated) Reads for Young Readers Week

Once upon a time, I was going to read some J Fiction for National Young Readers Week. The calendar I used said it is this week. However, the interwebs have informed me that it was actually last week. Regardless, I read three new children's books and a throwback, and I'm going to tell you about them now. Also, did y'all know Pizza Hut BOOK IT! sponsors this week?!? I'm now craving a personal pan pizza as I type this.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate was incredible. Regardless of age, Katherine Applegate (who also wrote the phenomenal The One and Only Ivan) knows how to make her readers feels all the things in the most unique of ways. This story focuses on Jackson. Jackson's family has encountered significant financial struggles in his life. When his family falls on hard times yet again, Jackson's invisible friend/cat Crenshaw shows up. Jackson is confused by his re-appearance and tries to figure out what it could mean. He does find comfort in his old friend as he navigates the newest hardships his family has encountered. This book is amazingly powerful as it is the struggles of poverty told through a child's eyes. It's full of Jackson trying to understand why and wanting to help, especially as his family must resort to living in their mini van. For a fiction read, this was an authentic read on the tolls of poverty. I kid you not that I'm tearing up as I write this review as I reflect on the depths of emotion in this one. This is true beauty in words y'all.

Read this book if - You want a book that explores poverty and the emotions of family through a child's eyes. You want a book that introduces a unique element to explore emotion.

Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Vardarajan is the story of two boys struggling at Albert Einstein Elementary School in different ways. Also, let me just say before I review the book that this cover is one of my favorites of the year. It's just perfect! Ravi has recently moved from India to the United States. He is anxious about his new school and hoping to quickly find his place. Meanwhile, Joe has been at this school for some time. He's never quite found where he fits in, and he struggles with relentless teasing mostly from Dillon Samreen. Ravi's plans to find his place don't go as planned, especially his plans to buddy up to the other Indian in his class - Dillon. Told in alternating chapters, Joe and Ravi find their paths crossing more than expected in the course of a week of school. They come to realize that a common foe and want to find a friend are causes they can get behind. This book did a great job of talking about the realities of the social dynamics of an elementary school. Being both a new kid and an "old" kid who doesn't quite fit can be tough, and I appreciated how this book explored the perils of both situations. This was another book that was full of all kinds of emotion as being a kid can be so hard, but finding your people can be a gamechanger.

Read this book if - You want a book that reminds you of what it's like to be the new kid. You want a book that reminds you of what it feels like to want to fit in. You want a book that honestly explores the emotions of relationships in elementary school.

The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell was a book I'd read before, but it's been a legit 25 years. Y'all, this was way more intense than I remembered. First off, Karana loses her dad. Then, she stays behind with her brother on the island only to have him killed by wild dogs?!? Karana is then alone to make her life on the island. She builds her own shelter, finds her own food, befriends a wild dog, and she just does all the things. As a kid, I don't remember truly processing what a feat this all was! As an adult, I definitely did not dig the ending though. White dudes show up, Karana puts the unmarried mark on her face, and she's off the island just like that. For all the independence she had, that was just a "Really?!?" kind of bummer ending for me. 

Read this book if -You want to revisit a book from your childhood - assuming you've read this before? You want a book that explores a true independent woman. . . until the end.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson was SO. MANY. FEELS. I know, I know, I mention "feels" in reviews a lot, but this one was so much beautiful and tragic emotion. Ms. Bixby is a beloved teacher, especially by Topher, Brand and Steve. The boys and all her students are stunned when Ms. Bixby announces she is sick and cannot continue teaching. The boys make it their own mission to let Ms. Bixby know just how special she is to them. With chapters narrated by each of them, the boys share just how Ms. Bixby has changed their life for the better. They have each found some struggle, and there are little things Ms. Bixby has done to help and support them when they most needed it. This book was just incredible, and I forgot I was reading a children's book as the storytelling of what Ms. Bixby meant to the boys and how they were seeking to honor her was so well done. This story is just masterfully told. It weaves humor and love and sadness and joy in a way that's hard to do. Regardless of age, this is a book that's worth finding your way to. It makes you think of who the Ms. Bixby in your life might be, and it's also a beautiful ode to the teachers who take the time to put their whole heart into the work they do each day.

Read this book if - You've ever had a teacher who's changed your life. You want to read a book about the power of people to change lives. You want a book that will make you feel all the feels and then some.

Y'all, these three new reads brought such unexpected emotion to my reading. I've not read J Fiction (or any fiction really!) that's hit me in this way in awhile. I'd highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend finding your way to these soon-ish.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Tears, Fears & Cats

Y'all, I usually know what I'm getting into when I start reading a book. The first two of these were so unexpected. I felt literally all the feels I could. I followed up with a thriller just for a good emotional cleanse. Then, I jumped right back in with a Jodi! This was a special quartet where I dug all four, and I think y'all can find something in here, too!

Things You Save In A Fire by Katherine Center is a story that hit me in the feels in all the best ways. After reading my second of her books, I'm realizing Katherine Center is the kind of author who writes books that absolutely captivate me, and I love her for it. This book focuses on Cassie who is a firefighter in Texas. She relocates to Boston after an unwelcome blast from the past and need to help her mother with her ailing health. Her new fire station is full of challenge. First of all, they're not exactly excited about having a woman join their team, and they're also not shy about letting Cassie know. Second, there's "the rookie" who's started alongside Cassie. He makes her feel a certain kind of way, and she's not sure what to do with that. Y'all, this one had so much emotion. I was so into Cassie's story. At times, it was a hard read because I was so emotionally invested in Cassie's life - both personal and professional. Also, there were some twists at the end that made it so I literally had to sit down and catch my breath. I mean, y'all, my heart was racing as I was that into this one. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me get a sneak peek of this one that's not due out until August 2019. I'll be sure to remind y'all about this one as the release date approaches because I need others to feel these feels and then discuss said feels with me. Until then, find time to read How To Walk Away if you haven't already. 

Read this book if - You want a book that does an amazing job of building characters and relationships that you will become emotionally invested in. You want a story makes you feel so many feels - good and bad. You need to read a book about people - seriously.

If Cats Disappeared From The World by Genki Kawamura was yet another one that hit me in the feels. This one was so unexpected. I received this ARC in the mail, started reading that evening, and before I knew it, I was a mess of tears. This book was originally published in Japan, and the translated version is due out in March of 2019. The premise of the book is that the main character (a postman) is dying. The devil shows up, and he offers to give him one more day with a catch. That catch is that for him to get one day one thing is going to be eliminated from the world. This book was absolutely beautiful. Each day something else is gone, and the impact is explored. At the core of each day, there is a realization of why that thing really matters. Again, this book was just beauty all around. Also, if you're a cat lover, you'll love the role cats play in the story. It'll make you feel a special kind of way. This is one that'll get you thinking and talking and wanting to share it with those you love.

Read this book if - You want a book that will make you feel all the feels. You want a book that will make you think about life and love in a special kind of way. You need a book that when it's over will make you just want to sit and reflect.

The Last Thing I Told You by Emily Arsenault was a thriller that was true to the genre in the best of ways. The story begins with a therapist being found dead in his office. The search then begins to figure out just who did it. This part of the story is narrated by the detective. Meanwhile, Nadine, a former patient of Dr. Fabian's, spends her narration talking to the doctor. She recounts her time in his care and what she did and didn't share. The story becomes complicated quickly as two files are in Dr. Fabian's office - Nadine's and Johnny Streeter who is in jail for a mass shooting. This is one that kept me reading. The two narrations have some overlap, and I had to know what the ultimate connect and resolution of this one was going to be. 

Read this book if - You are looking for a plain and simple, well-written thriller. 

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult is her latest. As I explained in my initial insta-review, this book is Jodi Picoult doing her best Jodi Picoulting. If you've read enough of her stuff, you'll know what this means. This isn't a bad thing, rather it's just that you know what you get when you pick up a Jodi. This one starts with a shooting at a women's reproductive health clinic. The shooter is still inside, and a hostage negotiator is on the scene. The situation becomes more high stakes as he realizes his own daughter is inside. The story is uniquely told in reverse. It begins at 5 PM, then each chapter winds back the clock an hour. With each hour, more is revealed about the staff and patients inside, as well as those who are outside. Jodi weaves a complicated web as only she can, and that kept me reading. I was bummed I figured out one of the twists, so I didn't get that excitement pop at the end. Also, because the twists were especially late, I had so many questions and resolutions I needed. When you become emotionally invested, sometimes you just need that, you know? 

Read this book if - You haven't yet read this Jodi Picoult. You want a book that explores a complex topic through complex characters and storytelling.

And onto the next ones!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

One Of These Books Is For You!

Y'all this is a round of four very different books, but I really like each of them. Pending the genre you're in the mood for/generally read, I can almost guarantee one of these will be your jam!

Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction by Gabrielle Moss was a heaping, helping dose of nostalgia. This was my tween reading days revisited, and I just loved it. The book sub-divides the genre by explaining each of the themes/subgeneres of the time. From serious issues to horror (my personal jam) to BFFs, this had all the things I loved about  Best of all, there are all the pictures of the covers. I mean, so much of the genre was the covers! I loved the chance to remember books I'd forgotten (sorry I did that to you, Girl Talk) and to wonder how I never knew some of these were a thing. This book is such an awesome tribute to the books of this time, but more than that, it's a connection for the readers of that time. I was so inspired by this one, I even went out and found some throwback reads to check out! 

Read this book if - As soon as you started reading my review, you said to yourself, "I LOVED THOSE BOOKS!" You are a thirtysomething (and maybe older - I can only speak for my decade) that read in this lane and/or would love an excuse to read this genre again.

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern was an absolute treat of a read. This is a middle grade novel with a narrator I absolutely adored. Maggie is an 11 year old girl who is writing her memoir. With this, she takes you through the year that was. The biggest part of this story is Maggie's dad has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This means that he is no longer working, and he is in a wheelchair. Maggie is trying to understand what this means for her dad and her world. To see this through her eyes is emotional. Maggie always just has a unique spirit and humor. I laughed out loud many times as she went through her days. There's her first crush, her request for a share of stock for her birthday, and of course, her ongoing aspirations to be President.. And there's just so much. I loved how this story was told y'all, and I can nearly guarantee humans of all ages will fall in love with Maggie. Finally, I LOVE THIS COVER. It's easily one of my favorites ever.

Read this book if - You want a uniquely told story. You want a story that has some heart (and some heartbreak) as well as humor. You want a book that's just a good book.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr was a book I almost don't need to review. This is mostly because I'm terribly late to reading this one. Y'all, how has this beauty of a read been out for literal years without me taking the time to read it?!?! Well, the good news is I know have been introduced to this one, and what a beautiful read. There are some books that are just darn near perfectly told, and this is one of those. For those of you who don't yet know and love this one, it is the story of a young German soldier and a blind French girl in occupied France during World War II. Their stories are told in alternating chapters. However, there is also intersection. This one was heartbreaking many, many times over, but there was also glimmers of hope and goodwill. It made me feels all the feels, and I loved it. 

Read this book if - You haven't read this book already. I don't give such general recommendations often, but this is one of those times.

The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton was one heckuva thriller. I have often mentioned that a book reminds me of a Lifetime movie (and y'all, I LOVE Lifetime movies to be clear), but this belong in that genre more than any other. It's rare that I read a book, and as a twist happens I say (practically yell) out loud, "WHAT?!?" This book was that. The story is told from an ex-girlfriend who is trying to get her ex back. She is willing to go to extreme lengths to do that. However, that's only one part of the story. This one was revenge on revenge on revenge, and whoa, whoa, whoa. I don't want to give too much away because the twists are so much of the appeal. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me get these thrills early. Y'all will be able to see what I'm talking about when this releases in March 2019!

Read this book if - You love Lifetime movies in all their awesomeness. You love a good jaw-dropping twist or two.

Until the next round! 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Books of Feels & Fear

I totally intended to read four books for Halloween, but alas, I did not. 

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie was fantastic. Y'all, how is this the first Agatha Christie I've read in life?!? I picked this one up after it was on the Great American Read list, and I'm glad I did. This is the story of ten strangers who are mysteriously summoned to an island. They know very little about their host, but they all go. Shortly upon arrival, a recording is played. In this recording, a poem is read and a secret is revealed about each of the guests. From there, the doubt, the death(s), and the deception begin. From its first pages to the literal last one, this one kept me reading and guessing. The suspense and twists of this one were well done, and I dug the final twist of the ending. It's amazing that this was written 80 years old, and the mystery it cultivates still holds up. I will definitely read some more Agatha Christie (recommendations welcome!) after this rookie voyage.

Read this book if - You want a throwback thriller read. You like a mystery that keeps you guessing throughout. You're aspiring to read all/most/some of the Great American Read books.

You May Now Kill the Bride (Return to Fear Street #1) by RL Stine was a book I had high hopes for that just didn't come to fruition. With Fear Street in the title, I hoped this would be campy horror of the trade paperbacks of my youth. This just wasn't that. Honestly, this read more like a YA Goosebumps to me. This book revolves around two weddings - one in the past and one in the present. There are some spells, some cursed relationships, and some sibling rivalry full of draaaaaaaaama throughout. The advantage of this is that it's a quick read. If you want a brief thriller, then this should work. However, if you're looking for this to give you the nostalgia feels, it won't. If you're looking for a pageturning thriller, it's not quite that either. Really this is just a story about a family and the mystery in their relationships, and it was okay.

Read this book if - You want a quick, easy thriller-esque read?

The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People by Gary Chapman and Paul White was an advanced read I received from NetGalley. This is an updated version of this book that is the love languages translated to the workplace. I really enjoyed this one. So often we forget that there are a variety of ways to appreciate colleagues. Even more than that, we should ASK others how they want to be recognized. We each know what fills us up, and we also know what doesn't do the trick. We need to take the time to have conversations around this in the workplace to make sure people truly feel appreciation like they should. I also liked that this translated the content to remote employees. As someone who works in this way, I found these considerations particularly helpful. I'm still reflecting on this book a few days after finishing it, and I'm planning on discussing the content with some of my coworkers soon.

Read this book if - You want to reflect on how you recognize and appreciate colleagues. You want a book that offers a unique perspective on how to improve workplaces.

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak is a book that is hard to describe. I can tell you it is beautifully written. The words and way these stories are told is absolutely mesmerizing. There is a way that the author writes that makes you have to keep reading. This is the story of the Dunbar family, and within the family, it's mostly the story of one of the brothers - Clay. It's hard for me to explain the plot to you other than to say this one is going to get way up in your feels. There is tragedy - y'all, there is so much tragedy. However, that heartbreaking emotion is written in such a beautiful way. Told in segments and snippets, this offers an authentic portrait of a family and the relationships within it through ups, but moreso through downs. The feels of this one are real. I'll also say that the last line of this book may be one of my all-time favorites. If you're a fan of the author, I think you'll find this is going to be your jam. I'm glad I got the experience (and goodness it was an experience) of this one thanks to an ARC from Penguin Random House. 

Read this book if - You want a book that showcases the beauty of storytelling.

And onto the next ones. . . 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Lessons Learned & Family Drama

Hey, here are some great books I read.

Speechless by Adam Schmitt was an intriguing J Read. Jimmy's cousin Patrick has tragically died, and he's been asked to deliver the eulogy. Here's the deal though y'all - Jimmy is 13, and his cousin is a total jerk. I'll own that the premise of this one was one I was initially a bit unsure of. What teenager would be put in this situation? However, as the story went, I really liked this as the vehicle to understand the complexities of teenage feelings and family relationships. Throughout, Jimmy reflects to try to figure out just what to say. In addition, he's managing the variety of emotions that show up at Patrick's wake with different folks. In the end, Jimmy finds his voice in a very unexpected way. Looking at this as a J read, I think it would give kids lots to consider about how to understand and relate to those people in our lives who we don't always connect with well. This was yet another book I was able to check out thanks to NetGalley, and it's one that will make you think. It's worth checking out when it's released in November.

Read this book if - You want a book that looks at the complicated relationships in our lives in a different way. You want a honest look at what it's like to navigate grief and frustration at the same time told from a kid's perspective.

Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World by Nick Morgan is an upcoming release from the Harvard Business Review (Thanks for the sneak peek NetGalley!) This was a dissection of different types of technology. First, there was an exploration of the potential hazards and issues of each type. Then, there were suggestions of what could be done to make each of these more engaging and more like a "real life" meeting. As someone who works remotely and leans on technology, this was a super interesting and helpful read on how to better leverage the ways I have to communicate. I really appreciated the advice on how to better integrate emotion into these technologies because so often that's what can be lost in these relationships. Honestly, if you're using technology to communicate, this is a must-read as there's some definite worthwhile nuggets for conference calls, webinars, video calls, etc.

Read this book if - You are interacting with technology and humans in the work that you do in life. You want technology to help, not hinder your work.

To: The Ambitious, From: The Experienced: 26 Letters on Leadership by A. Jordan Fischette was a unique and easily digestible look at leadership. What I appreciated was that it explored leadership from so many angles. Each chapter was someone sharing a leadership lesson they'd learned along the way. What was especially great about this was that they weren't all from "business" or specific position titles. Rather these were the lessons that can come in everyday personal or professional experiences. Each reflection was written so authentically. I also appreciated that this was a short, quick read. It was a good burst of leadership energy as I was travelling, and it made me reflect on some of my own experiences, as well as glean some new perspective through the lessons shared. 

Read this book if - You want a short, yet informative and helpful read on leadership.

The Mother In Law by Sally Hepworth was a phenomenal read. Y'all, this one had so many twists and turns, but they happened in an emotional and completely unexpected way. This book focuses on the relationship between a mother in law and her daughter in law. The relationship is explored in alternating chapters told from both of their perspectives. The added dimension is it's told in both the past and present. The present involves the death of the mother in law that may be a suicide, however the story quickly reveals that the story is far more complex than this. It was so captivating to learn the secrets that these women (and others in the family) had from each other, as well as the lies that were being told. Having the varied perspectives and timing in chapters made a story that kept me reading. There were lots of feels as multiple perspectives of how things went down were revealed. This one doesn't come out until April of 2019 (another book I received thanks to NetGalley), and when it does, y'all are going to need to check this one out.

Read this book if - You want a story that explores the complicated nature of family relationships. You like stories that build suspense and emotion through multiple lenses.

Finally, with this quartet, I've set a new record for my annual books read. And AND, the year's not over!!