Monday, September 28, 2020

Book Reviews - Made Up and Growing Up

Okay, y'all, for this round, I read so many different rounds - in the best of ways. There was a thriller, there was a thriller with a bit more of a horror spin, there was a novel in verse about growing up, and there was a novel about growing up with a fantasy spin. I loved each of these because of their uniqueness - in characters, in plot twists, in format, in literally everything. They couldn't have been more different, but I couldn't have collectively loved them more!

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was such a beautifully written story. Honestly, I want to read this one again just to be swept away in the author's words again! The story focuses on Noemi. Noemi gets a concerning letter from her newly married cousin. After receiving the letter, Noemi decides to head to her cousin's mansion to figure out what's happening. She doesn't exactly know what she's going to do, but she knows she needs to do something. Once she arrives, she realizes something is definitely up, and it seems to possibly be in the realm of haunting/evil. The story is then "stuff" happening, and Noemi trying to find out the truth. I don't want to say too, too much because I want y'all to get the full effect of the twisty journey. This again is so wonderfully written. While it focuses on horror, I was just so darn captivated and swept away by the storytelling! 

The Places We Sleep by Caroline DuBois Brooks was such a wonderful and emotional middle grade novel written in verse. On September 11, 2001, there are the terrorist attacks, and Abbey gets her period. Because there is a family connection to the attacks, Abbey's mother is not able to be there for her as she might normally be, so Abbey is navigating what has happened alone. In addition, there is added anxiety for Abbey as her father is in the Army, and she worries what this attack means for him. Also, Abbey is the new girl as her father has recently been assigned to the base, so she doesn't yet have friends she can turn to as she navigates all the feels. This was so, so beautifully written. Given the target audience is kids who weren't alive to know what 9/11 was like, this does a great job of capturing the emotion of that day and the days following through the eyes of a kid. Additionally, it also focuses and names what it's like to get your period. I've noticed this as a topic that is being covered more and more in middle grade reads, and y'all, thank goodness. It's something that's important to normalize! This was just such a wonderful journey through Abbey's eyes and with such beautiful words!

Breadcrumbs by Anna Ursu was a truly captivating modern-day fairy tale. Hazel and Jack have been best friends forever. However, they're getting to the age where people start to question a boy and a girl being best friends, and that has an impact on them. Hazel notices they've started to drift apart, and that's hard for her. Then, Jack completely vanishes. Even though they haven't been spending much time together lately, Hazel just knows something is awry. She commits to figuring out what has really happened to her friend. This means she has to go into the woods after him. Y'all, in the woods, it is a literal other world, and Hazel encounters all the things. However, she's committed to finding Jack, so she treks through it all. This was such a unique blend of a real-time story with the elements of a fairy tale fantasy, and I was so drawn into this angle. I loved the driving force of friendship with a side of magic and mystery throughout. This is truly one that's a story good for all ages that I just adored!

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley was the latest read for my book club. I opted to do the audiobook. With that, I loved the narration, especially because it used different readers for different characters which is my personal audio preference. That said, it also took me some time to really "get" which voice was which person as there were multiple timelines and threads at play, but once I did, it was a wild ride y'all! The story focuses on a group of thirtysomething friends who have gotten together for a trip out in the country. The core group has known each other since college, and this trip has become an annual time to reconnect. However, this trip involves a death. The death is revealed early, but you aren't told who has been killed, and there is obvs also a killer involved. The story then backtracks through their time at the resort, as well as where their relationships have been. As the different narrators share their perspective, you start to see the cracks in the foundation of some of these friendships. With these cracks, you start to consider who might have been the perpetrator and victim of the crime. Y'all, the twist on this one was so darn good. I'd been craving a good jaw-dropping twist, and this was just what I needed. This was just a solid thriller all around!

Onto the next ones!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Book Reviews- Reads from the Future

This round of reads was all advanced copies. I love reading ARCs because I feel like I'm a reading time traveller. It also means I get to hype up books that aren't yet out, and I then get to hype them up again when they're released. So, here are some reads for your future!

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake was a book that just made me smile. This is an absolute delight of a story. Badger reluctantly gets a roommate in Skunk. The two could not be more different, and Badger really struggles with this. However, with time, he softens to this unlikely pal. For me, this was reminiscent of Frog and Toad, another unlikely duo I adore! These were just such wonderful adventures (and I cannot wait to read more) that would be great for kids, families and really anyone who loves woodland creatures and/or opposites attract stories.

Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life by Christie Tate was a really interesting exploration of the author's experience with group therapy. Going into this, I knew very little about what group therapy actually looked like. That said, this was also a very unique therapy experience, so the book is really about exploring the author's specific experiences versus a commentary on any type of group therapy. The book covers years and a number of groups that Christie enters into at the directive of her therapist Dr. Rosen. At times, she doubts his advice and his facilitation, but she sticks with his process. Throughout, she is candid about what she is going through with regard to her mental health, with her group, and with the assignments and realities she must navigate. Honestly, I don't know that I would be willing to go this deep into my own mental health as a memoir, so I have respect that someone else was able to do this. Overall, this one was interesting in that it's a focus I didn't know much about and within that focus, it was about one woman's full, honest and complete journey. Thanks to Avid Reader Press for the early look at this October 2020 release.

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins was just the thriller I had been craving y'all! I have needed something that was full of all the twists and drama, and this was so much of that. This story starts with a focus on Jane. Jane is a dogwalker in an upscale neighborhood. She has many clients in the gated community, and then she meets Eddie. Eddie is a wealthy widower, who doesn't even have a dog, but gets one just to connect with Jane. The two quickly connect and before long, Jane is living with Eddie. With Eddie, however, there is mystery and secrets around Eddie's wife Bea's death. The story is mainly told from Jane's point of view, but there are stories from Bea's point of view to slowly reveal the truth behind what really happened. This is one that kept me reading - literally I stayed up way too late one night because I was so drawn in. And the twists of this one were just so, so good! I could say a million ways how brilliantly this one was pieced together. You know there are secrets, but the characters are also so damn good at hiding them and making you believe their lies as you read. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this January 2021 read. This will be one you're going to need to check out in the new year!

Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay was a thriller that drew me in right away, and it didn't let me go until its very last pages. Matt, a college student, finds out his whole family has been murdered in Mexico as this story begins. This is now the second time his family has made headlines. His brother Danny was the subject of a true crime podcast focused on his brother's murder conviction. While Danny confessed to murdering his girlfriend, the podcast was about a potential wrongful conviction. With this new tragedy, Matt is thrown into figuring out what actually happened to his family and who is responsible. There seems to be more to the tragedy, and Matt also wonders if this connects to his brother Danny. The story focuses on the present day crime (and investigation) that has happened, but also looks back at Danny's story. The past and present weave together to help the reader figure out what might have really happened in both instances. This kept me reading as clues were revealed along the way. Multiple family members served as narrators, so it was especially captivating to piece together what happened (with both crimes) through their eyes. This one was so well done, and it is a literal page turner that I devoured. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this March 2021 release!

Onto the next ones!

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Book Reviews - Captivating Characters

Oh, hey. So, the title of these reviews should really be called - Half captivating characters and half "meh" reads. You should be able to tell what's what because you do get honest reviews from me. So, here's what's what!

A Burning by Megha Majumdar is the story of three people with choices that intersect and impact one another. It was such a captivating read that I literally devoured it in one sitting as I needed to know how it all ended, and I was emotionally invested in so many ways. The story focuses on Jivan. Jivan is a Muslim girl who is accused of a terrorist attack based on a Facebook comment she made. With her thrust into the spotlight, PT Sir sees an opportunity. PT is her former teacher, and he aspires to be recognized within the right-wing political party. He feels he can use his connection to Jivan to further his own agenda and status. Then, there is Lovely. Lovely is an aspiring actress. She is Jivan's alibi as Jivan was on her way to tutor her in English to help her get more acting jobs. However, to sympathize with Jivan could ruin her career, so she must decide if she wants to speak up. This was one about all the dilemmas through the eyes of each character. At times, it was frustrating because as the reader I knew what Jivan did and didn't do, but the drama was built by the twists of Jivan AND Lovely AND PT's stories. It also is a brilliant exploration of right versus wrong and the allegiances we choose. This one guaranteed to get you thinking and processing as there's just so much to explore!

Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella was a read I have mixed feelings about. The story begins at a writer's retreat. As part of the retreat, the attendees don't reveal their true identities and instead take on aliases. At the retreat "Aria" (Ava) and "Dutch" (Matt) form an electric connection. With this, they know very little about who the other person really is, and they like it that way focusing instead on their chemistry. As the retreat ends, they realize they both live in London. They decide to keep seeing each other outside of the retreat, and that's where things get quite complicated. The complexities are honestly where I struggled as a reader. I think when you read a rom-com-esque book, there's something that you find yourself rooting for. Honestly, y'all, I knew what I was supposed to be rooting for, and I just couldn't get there. I anticipated where things were going to end, and I found myself seriously questioning if that was what was best. Independent of all the issues before, the ending was cute. However, because of all the mess before then, I didn't end this reading with that "Awww" feeling of a love story. I have loved so many of Sophie Kinsella's stories, and I'll definitely be back for more, but this round just didn't land for me. Thanks to NetGalley for an early look at this October 2020 release.

The Woods by Harlan Coben was a book I picked up because I was craving a good thriller in my life. Coben is generally an author I can turn to in this genre to get that fix. This round of Cohen focused on a prosecutor's past (and present). Twenty years ago, his sister and other teens were murdered in the woods. Her body was never recovered. In the present, Paul is approached by detectives about a murder victim. This victim appears to be one of the other teens whose body was never recovered. Could it be possible that what was thought to be true in those woods back when wasn't? Paul then begins to re-explore this event and finds out the woods have more secrets than he realized. This kept me reading as I did want to know what the truth was - I know, I know, that's what thrillers are meant to do. I will say the twists came late in this one - almost too late. And y'all, they were some big twists. I actually found they were so big I wanted more of that and less of the other stuff that'd come before!

Front Desk by Kelly Yang was just a delight of a middle-grade read. The story focuses on Mia. Mia and her immigrant parents are managing the front desk at a local motel. Mia hides this information from her classmates as she worries she will be judged. Mia's family keep additional secrets from the owner of the motel as they are helping other immigrants by giving them shelter at the motel. The story focuses on Mia's experiences working at the front desk. Some of this means she is faced with some really intense situations that most kids shouldn't have to go through. However, this also means the readers gets to see these real-life scenarios through Mia's eyes. I loved that this book was one that brought honesty to the story in this way. This story is also about Mia becoming comfortable with who she is. Being an immigrant, she struggles, especially with how she learns English. It shows the work she puts in to becoming more comfortable with the language and how this connects to her passion for writing. I love, love, LOVED this one y'all. It had so much heart and was full of feels along the way. I'm thrilled the story of Mia and her family is going to continue because I just adored their journey.

Onto the next ones!

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Book Reviews - Need to Read

For this round of reads, these were books I "needed to read for one reason or another: Darius was because it was a sequel, and I needed to know what happened next, Hamilton was for my online book club, Burnout was because I wanted to more on the topic. Beneath the Ashes was because I needed a thriller in my life. And here's the results/reviews of those needs. . .

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram is (obviously) the sequel to Darius the Great Is Not Okay. The nice thing for me is I read the first book not too long ago, so Darius' story was fresh in my mind. I was really happy to have the opportunity to reconnect with Darius as a character so soon. The way he's written with such authenticity and around his emotions is just so, so outstanding. This story is shortly after Darius has returned from visiting his family in Iran. Darius is now on the soccer team, and he has his first boyfriend who works with him at a tea shop. In addition to this, he's still navigating being teased at school and some complexities in other relationships. Y'all, I absolutely love how real Darius is written. There is an honesty and relatability to his story, and I truly feel the feels he endures. I also am so drawn in by the stories around his family - Again, these are full of emotion, and it's just so darn captivated. Darius is a character I have grown to love so very much. If you've read the first book in this story, Darius is a character you'll love coming back to. If you haven't yet met him, read the first book to get to know Darius, then I guarantee you'll be ready for the next one.

The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs was an interesting read. This is historical fiction from both Hamilton and Eliza's points of view. I  have to note that it is impossible at this point for me to not read/think about Alexander Hamilton without thinking about Hamilton. As I read, I found myself making the connections to songs from the musical. I did appreciate that this book also shared additional pieces from Hamilton's story that aren't covered as wholly in the musical. I liked that this gave more voice to those stories, as well as more about Eliza. More than anything though, I found this left me with a yearning to turn on Disney+ and watch the musical yet again.

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski was a fantastic piece about how women experience stress and more so burnout. It examined how our culture has actually set women up for burnout. It named the unhealthy norms and expectations that have led us to here. It first names what women are asked to give and how that giving is what leads to burnout. With this, it explains this phenomenon using science. It helps you to understand how you body is (mis)managing stress and what you can do to make it better. Throughout, it doesn't shame anyone that they have landed in the world of overwhelm and exhaustion, rather it names that this has become too normal, and there are things we can do to change the narrative. Throughout, I found "nuggets" for my own life, as well as ones I want to use to educate others. I so appreciate these sisters doing the intentional work to talk about something that is such an issue for so many.

Beneath the Ashes by Dea Poirer was a book I picked up because I hadn't read a thriller in a while. I've said this many times, and I'll say it here once more - Procedural thrillers are just not my jam. It's nothing against this genre or this specific book, but I've learned that for my reader profile, this isn't where I get maximum thriller thrills. Anyway. Quick summary for those who do like procedurals - This focuses on a detective named Claire. She's called a motel where a woman has been murdered, and some of the components looked eerily similar to the murder of her sister. Claire is then trying to piece together any connections as she works to find this woman's killer. I think what I ultimately wanted her was a few more "breadcrumbs" to follow Claire's work. I love those jaw-dropping reveals as a character does their work, and this just didn't build enough suspense for me in that way. I do owe a thanks to NetGalley for letting me check this one out.

Onto the next ones!