Monday, October 28, 2019

Halloween with the BSC!

In honor of the upcoming Halloween holiday, I decided to take the time to check out some "scary" Babysitter's Club stories. I read Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, the second in the original series, as well as the first four mysteries in The Babysitter's Club Mystery spin-off series. Y'all, do I have thoughts for you!

First of all, I realize how young these sitters are! Yes, I was babysitting at this age, but y'all, this is some responsibility they're taking on! Second, I've been (re)watching Rescue 911 lately as its running in syndication! It was one of my favorite shows as a kid, but watching back, I realize how intense this show was. There are so many things that I developed (ir)rational fears of as a result of watching. In reading this set of BSC books, I also realize that some of my reading choices were also a source of these anxious feels.

I started with Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, and y'all, this is a lot for the second book in the series. The title connects to a a jewel thief known as the Phantom Caller because he calls houses and robs them when no one answers. First off, this would never work today, but back when landlines were totally a thing, this was a serious concern. So, as Claudia starts babysitting, she starts getting creepy phone calls. Naturally, her conclusion is that it's the Phantom Caller. Then, instead of involving adults, the BSC come up with ideas how how they'll have a secret code if they need help and lure the caller, and COME ON! So, things eventually resolve when it's discovered that first Alan Gray (always such a nuisance!) was tracking Kristy to ask her to the school dance, then Trevor (the guy Claudia was crushing on) had been getting information from Alan on where Claudia was, so he could call and ask her to the dance. Problem was he kept getting nervous hence all the awkward calls. So, they all went to the dance. Oh, and in case you were worried, the Phantom Caller was finally apprehended.

Next up, it was Stacey and the Missing Ring. First, Stacey is begging her mom for a birthstone ring for her birthday. Her mom refuses. Then, Stacey gets a gig babysitting for a new family. After she gets home, the mom lets her know that she's missing a ring, and she suspects Stacey has stolen it. After lots of dramatics, Stacey finds out the woman's cat had taken and hidden the ring. UM, WHAT?!?! Also, the woman is totally rude and threatens to tell everyone how awful the BSC is - Who would do that to teenagers? Rude.

And then there was Beware, Dawn! In this one, Dawn starts getting mysterious threatening notes from a Mr. X. The other babysitters start to get these notes, too. Although they don't share this with one another because kids are hosting a Sitter of the Month contest. Obvs, in a club full of babysitters, everyone wants to win. Eventually, they realize that a kid who Dawn had told on for bullying some other kids is behind it all. Again, this is a super creepy situation, and there are no adults engaged to address! Oh, and again, the Sitter of the Month contest ends in a seven way tie because OF COURSE IT DOES.

Next was Mallory and the Ghost Cat. This was the least scary of the mysteries by a mile. Basically, Mallory is babysitting, and she hears a cat meowing. The family doesn't have a cat. They find some stuff in the attic (because of course they do) to make them wonder if it is a ghost cat! Eventually, they find the actual cat and reconnect him with his owner, while still wondering if they're ghosts given resemblance to some attic stuff. Honestly, the most intense plot in this one is that Mallory's Uncle Joe comes to stay with the family. He has some Alzheimer's, so it's the family navigating this, and it's a lot of feels. This one was just a lot of things, none of which were really a mystery?

Finally, there was Kristy and the Missing Child. Y'all WHAT WAS THIS?!?!? A kid on Kristy's Krushers baseball team goes missing. The first suspect is his dad. His parents are divorced, and the mom had turned down his request to take Jake to Europe, so they wonder if he just up and took his kid. From there, everyone focuses on finding Jake. At one point, Kristy organizes a search party. She is allowed to make an announcement on her school's PA system, and she organizes a bunch of the kids the club sits to look for Jake. Again, WHERE ARE THE ADULTS?!? Isn't this a project for adults to coordinate, and why are kids searching for a kid who may have been abducted without their parents?!?! Eventually, they find the kid. He's fallen into a hole at a construction site. Kristy saves the day! This one was definitely something. . . 

I'm glad I finally stepped back into the Babysitter's Club. I've been meaning to for ages, and it was fun to use the holiday for this reason! 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Book Reviews - A MIxed Bag of Reads

As you probably don't remember from my last post, I read four really heavy reads. I made the (unplanned) mistake of starting this round with another heavy read. After that, I intentionally chose a mixed bag of reads to even things out.

The Boy in the Photo by Nicole Trope is a thriller that is full of some feels. Megan's son, Daniel, is kidnapped by her abusive ex-husband. She always keeps hope alive, but she also goes through the process of mourning the loss. Six years pass, and Megan's life goes on, including a marriage to one of the detective's who worked on her son's case and the birth of a daughter. Then, she gets the call she always hoped for - Her son is alive. Daniel comes back to her new home, but it is far from an easy transition. Daniel is not the same kind, sweet boy that Megan knew and loved. Megan and her family do what they can to make Daniel feel at home, but it's challenging. Throughout the story looks back at how Megan navigated the disappearance of her son, as well as how she is coping in the present with this new version of Daniel. And then, y'all, here was a twist that I did not see coming at all, and that is what made it so very great. Again, this is heavy given the unhealthy relationship that begins the story, as well as how the return goes, and the twist plays a role in that feeling, too, but this is a powerful story of a family working to rebuild and define an unexpected now normal. Thanks to NetGalley for the access to this thriller.

Read this book if - You want a thriller that deals with building a new normal and a super unexpected twist.

We Are Never Ever Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby was just the best of honest humor. It's rare that a book makes me legit laugh out loud, and this was absolutely that type of read. From the first essay, I was drawn into the stories the author was telling. She has a way of writing that makes you feel like she's telling these to you as a friend over coffee/wine/beer/etc. And y'all, again, they're just so darn hilarious. But then, there are moments where the essays take this emotional turn as she navigates grief, complicated relationships, and finding love. I loved the layers of this collection and how she writes in such an authentic way. This was such a unique voice, and it was something I needed in my reading life.

Read this book if - You need a memoir with humor. You want something that'll make you legit LOL while also feel some highly emotional feels.

A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton is the first in the Kinsey Milhouse series. This series began the year I was born (which is why I chose to read this one as part of a reading challenge I'm only kind of okay at completing), and this is my first time checking it out. I love a thriller with a female lead, so this was definitely my kind of book. This begins with Kinsey, a former police officer turned PI, being brought out to investigate a woman who insists she was wrongly convicted of killing her husband. She gets to work, and the story goes from there. What I liked about this was the "throwback" vibes of how cases were solved in the eighties. It was something different to look back at how cases were solved back when. There is obviously all the technology today, and it was a nice break to look at solving crime without all of that. I can only imagine how this character develops over the course of the series, and I was intrigued enough to want to dabble in the series again. I'm glad I finally stepped into this world, and I got to ride along to see how Kinsey Milhouse does her work!

Read this book if - You're looking to start the Kinsey Milhouse series and are late to the game like me!

Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert was a delight of a love story. What I loved most is this was so true to life. Rather than avoiding the complicated emotions and baggage that we can bring into relationships, this story made them a central component. After a near death experience, Chloe decides she wants to get more out of life. She comes up with a list of tasks that will help her to do this, and she gets to work. Along the way, she brings Red Morgan, her apartment complex's handyman in to help her with her goals. With this, Chloe feels a certain kind of way about Red, and he feels a certain kind of way about her. In addition, they bring the negative impact of previous relationships and how they feel about themselves into the mix. I again so appreciated this was a story that had a dimension of realness to it. Rather than knowing this was story where I could figure out the ending, and it was just how characters took on faux obstacles, this had authenticity. Chloe's story was such an endearing one, and I found myself cheering for her as she worked to redefine herself and learn she was worthy of love and all the adventures in life. I owe a thanks to NetGalley for the look at this December release. 

Read this book if - You want characters who you can relate to as they navigate actual challenge and relationships.

Until next time!

Friday, October 18, 2019

Book Reviews - Heavy Reads

Whoa, y'all. I usually try to temper my reading, so I don't take on too much emotion. Well, with this, I took on so, so much. They were worth the feels, but goodness, these were a lot, especially given three of the four were real life stuff via memoirs!

Blood: A Memoir by Allison Moorer is a really, really emotional real - like off the charts y'all. As a teenager, Allison's mother is shot and killed by her father, and he then kills himself. Allison hears the gunshots, and she sees the aftermath. The memoir is her reflecting on what led her family to that point and where she goes from that day. The way the story is told is a bit choppy, but that works well because you see how the memory of her family comes back to her in pieces. Throughout she revisits what she remembers of her parents, and all that happened before that terrible day. This is a powerful read as she delves deep into places of her memory that are definitely painful, but also they are what she has left of her parents. This memoir is full of so much raw emotion. She's revisiting her childhood as an adult, and that takes many different directions. She's also able to tap into the parts that brought her joy, while still sharing what made it tough. Throughout, there is also a thread of resilience as you see all she has overcome. This is a beautifully written memoir that is also full of incredible tragedy. Thanks to Hachette Books for the advanced copy of this soon to be released read.

Read this book if - You want to read a memoir that explores the pain of a childhood as an adult, as well as finding resilience in tragedy.

Normal People by Sally Rooney was a read that was definitely different for me. I like books that use keep characters at the center of their plot. This is really characters above all else, and there wasn't really a moving plot I could latch onto because there was so much focus on the characters. The primary characters are Connell and Maryanne. As high schoolers, they form a relationship outside of school, but don't acknowledge that relationship during the school day. The book then traces their relationship through the years. With each interaction, where they each are is different, and they have to assess what that means for the other person and how they now connect - or don't. To me, this is a book that makes you ponder the question of if two people belong together. I have an answer for these people, but I don't want to reveal it here as it would ruin the plot. This is my book club's selection for the month, so I'm interested to hear how other people felt about the relationship. Overall though, this one just wasn't totally for me as I like to have more substance to the plot. 

Read this book if - You want a book that is entirely character driven. You like something that makes you consider questions and scenarios.

Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story by Rocky Johnson was a book I went into knowing very little. I saw The Rock had written the foreword, and it wasn't until I started reading that I realized, "Oh, that would make sense because Rocky is his dad." Anyway, that's about me, not the book. This is the story of Rocky's career in professional wrestling. He started young, then worked n a variety of regional promotions through the years. Throughout, he paints a vivid picture of what the life of a wrestler was like back then, and it wasn't always easy. It was lots of grinding to get to the top, and that required a lot of travel which meant that he wasn't home a lot. He also speaks to what it was like to be one of the first black wrestlers. This impacted how he was treated, as well as how he was pushed in different promotions. Given all the bells and whistles that come with wrestling these days, I find it interesting to read about what it was like "back when," and it was especially interesting given Rocky's perspective. Throughout he paints a honest picture of his story. Sometimes that means he brings to light where he struggled, and that makes his story all the more real. I literally only read this because it was recommended to me by the publisher (thanks ECW Press), so it was a surprise to read such a well-told and interesting story about a wrestling legend. Thanks to NetGalley for the look at this recent release.

Read this book if - You want a historical look at pro wrestling. 

Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope by Megan Phelps-Roper is an incredibly intimate exploration of one women's complete transformation. Megan grew up in a church that is known for extreme hate under the guise of religion. Growing up in Topeka, I can remember Megan's former church's pickets at my church, at the mall, and at high school graduations. As a child, it was such a confusing experience, and as an adult, I appreciated the window she gave into the why (and not to justify, but to give insight into what they believed they were doing) of their behaviors as she goes through her own childhood. She does a masterful job that is at times hard to read given all the terrible and disgusting actions of the church. She also explores and acknowledges when she was on board for what the church was preaching, and then she she also shares how she started to question what she had been brought up in. Throughout, this is an emotional read, and there were times I found myself in tears as It read. It is emotional to see how many people the church has hurt in the name of their faith, to read about Megan's connections to her families and how these relationships change, to see the strength she found in leaving, and to learn of the unexpected connections she found when she needed them most. This was truly Megan's heart in a book. Throughout she has an incredible honesty, and she gives such detail to her story. I was so blown away by this memoir, and it's one that will definitely stay with me.

Read this book if - You want a memoir that truly shares one woman's journey. You want to look at how hate happens, but also how redemption can happen.

Onto the next ones!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Book Reviews - Catching Up on the Future

I took this round of (e)reads to clear out some of my advanced copies that have been on my (virtual) shelf for a minute and/or awhile. Some of these will be out later, and some are already released because #toomanybookstoreadinmylifeprobs. Read on. . .

Ghoster by Jason Arnopp was a book I really liked for the first quarter. Kate meets Scott on a social media detox retreat, and they start a relationship. Things seem to be going well, and Kate and Scott are due to move in together. The day this is due to happen, Scott disappears. Kate is left with an empty apartment where she finds Scott's phone. She's sworn off social media due to her addiction, but she also knows this could have the answers of why she's been seemingly ghosted. So, that sounds like an intriguing premise, right? Well, that's where the focus starts. Then, the book just went all kind of directions, and it just didn't gel with me at all. I found myself doing lots of "Wait, what" and "Really?!? REALLY?!?!" as I read. I found I was then reading not so much because I was captivated, but I just wanted some resolution, and that took a minute given this one was nearly 500 pages. The premise of this one was really intriguing to me, but what actually went down was just so far from what I was hoping to get out of reading. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look in exchange for my (always) honest review.

Read this book if - You want something where literally nothing is at it seems - and then some.

The Peacock Detectives by Carly Nugent advertises itself as the story of Cassie whose trying to find out what happened to her neighbors' peacocks. Y'all, this is so, so, SO very much more than that. While this is how Cassie's story starts, it covers a great deal as she is navigating some complicated stuff. What especially resonated with me was the theme of mental health that was masterfully done. I loved the care and honesty that was given to this topic, as Cassie show struggles in others, while also managing some feels of her own. If you're looking for a book that could start a conversation on this topic, this could be it. Cassie is also navigating some tough family dynamics, bullying, and an ill grandparent. Each of these happenings are shown from Cassie's perspective which is powerful. Throughout she is working on her story, so she processes each development in real time, and y'all, again, it's just beautiful. I loved how authentic and real Cassie's story was. This one gave voice to stuff kids are definitely experiencing and can't always make sense of. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at what I thought was going to a lighthearted book, but instead gave me so, so much more. 

Read this book if - You want a middle grade read that honestly explores the emotions around some real life tough stuff. You want a book to give voice to stuff that does happen to kids, but isn't always in books.

Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened by Emily Blejwas was a beautiful story told through grief and trying to make sense of the middle school world. Justin's dad dies tragically, and it leaves Justin with so many questions and emotions. He misses his dad, while realizing there is so much he didn't know about him (but wants to), and finds he especially wants to know more about what happened on the last day of his life. Along with him, Justin's brother and mom are also navigating their new normal as a family of three. This is complicated as they are each grieving the loss and trying to figure out how to contribute to their household. Finally, Justin is a middle schooler, and with that, there's all the middle school things going down as he struggles to find his place and his people. He is particularly hesitant to engage in activities that remind him of his dad, and that is hard for others to understand. For a middle grade read, this packed an incredible amount of punch related to emotion. This is set against the Gulf War, and Justin's dad was also a veteran suffering from PTSD, and both of these things drive the plot and associated emotions in different ways. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this April 2020 release. This is one of those books that will stay with you in its feels and characters for sure.

Read this book if - You want a middle grade read with honest and raw emotion. You want a book that masterfully examines grief.

Best Friends Forever by Dawn Goodwin is a book about flawed characters and an extremely flawed friendship. This is one of those books where you just don't like the characters, and it's like reading an especially scandalous Lifetime movie. This the story of Anna and Vicky who have been, well, best friends forever. Anna has been tragically killed, and Vicky shows up at her house to help David, her husband, and two young children. However, David senses something is just not right with Vicky's insertion into their lives. The book goes back in time to show the evolution of Anna and Vicky's friendship, and there are heaping helpings of problematic dynamics and situations in that y'all. In real time, it is David trying to make sense of what happened to his wife, why Vicky has taken the role she has, and how the two might be related. I really like a plot that uses the past and the present to weave a story together, and this was very much that. This is also used to build more complete pictures of the characters, and that does mean lots of secrets and lies are revealed. I would also offer strong content warnings as there are instances of sexual assault, abuse, and very unhealthy relationships. Thanks to NetGalley for access to this read in exchange for my review.

Read this book if - You want something that is overflowing with lies and deceit?

Until next time!

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Book Reviews - Dystopia on Sesame Street?

Each time I start one of these posts, I think about how I hoped this was going to be the time I read on a theme. And then, AND THEN. . . I don't. At least with this round, I could generate a comical title given the extreme variance? So, here we go with another quartet.

The Importance of Being Ernie and Bert by Bert and Ernie was a book I adored. I could have told you that was going to be the case before reading a page. However, this was also so much more wonderful than I anticipated! The book focuses on the friendship of Bert and Ernie through their individual personalities as it showcases some aspect of life from each of their lenses. I found myself chuckling at so many of these because they are just so very well done. This book perfectly captures the essence of both Bert and Ernie, and as an adult (and lifelong fan) I loved how their characters shone through. Again, this book was perfect. I could say this over and over (and I kind of have), but y'all, this is just one of those reads that is guaranteed to make you smile.

Read this book if - You are a superfan of Bert and Ernie. You just need something to put a smile on your face. 

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood was a return to the world of Gilead. This is a book that had me captivated from its first pages to the very end. I could not read fast enough because I was so drawn in, but also I was so drawn in, I didn't want this book to be over. The tone of this one is different than The Handmaid's Tale, but definitely still full of all the dystopia. This book focuses on three women - each in a different situation - that are connected, but it's not immediately revealed how. The plot is then driven by each of these three tales told in pieces each chapter which then starts to show the common threads. These characters are really what pushes the novel forward, and I found myself drawn into each of their stories. I do wish I would've re-read The Handmaid's Tale before returning to this world to really see and feel all the connections, and I would like to read these as a pair someday. The sequel definitely wasn't a need, but it was a literary experience to return back of a place and hear stories I never thought I would.

Read this book if - You want to return to the world of Gilead and see what happened after.

The Missing Years by Lexie Elliott was a book I initially was hesitant to read. It seemed it was going to be a full on ghost story which honestly isn't my jam. However, this was not exactly what this was, and that's a good thing! After her mother's death, Ailsa inherits her childhood home. With her return to this place, the mystery of the disappearance from 27 years ago comes back fast and furious. Throughout, the "ghost" of Ailsa's father is imagining where he went. There was such power as these narratives were shared, and Ailsa still didn't have the answer she craved. In addition to the options given via narratives, suspicious things start happening around the house, and Ailsa wonders if this involves her father. This book did a great job of building suspense. The thrills it brought were connected to both the physical facility, the people who were there, and the past secrets, and that's what made it so compelling! Thanks to Berkley Publishing for the advanced copy (that I am woefully behind in reading), so I could be swept away in this mystery!

Read this book if - You want a thriller built on all the secrets and unsolved mysteries. 

American War by Omar El Akkad focuses on the second civil war. In the year 2074, the former United States of America is divided via a conflict that began with disagreements over the use of fossil fuel and protecting the environment. Much of the story focuses on Sarat, a girl who moves to a relocation camp after her father is killed. Sarat finds connections with rebels of sorts, and she's drawn into their world. She explores how she might help their cause which becomes her own. For me, what intrigued me most about the story was not where the focus was placed. I wanted to learn more about the events and happenings that led to the war. Instead, this focused more on the after, and at times for me, too much so. I am not saying that this was a bad story, in fact this is quite well told. Rather for me the focus just wasn't what intrigued me most. As the story got further and further into the after, I wanted to learn more and more of the before. This was such an intriguing (and not entirely unimaginable) view of the future, and I had so many questions about what got the country to this place. However, the focus was definitely more in sharing pieces of Sarat's story as a centerpiece for exploring the war as a historical happening, and that just left all those questions I had lingering.

Read this book if - You want to see the future at peak dystopian levels.