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!