Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Book Reviews - Read in (Almost) One Sitting!

Here we go with another round! These were books that were so good I read them in one sitting - or close to one. They're the kind of books you cannot read fast enough, but also you're bummed when they're over and want them to keep going!

Three Keys by Kelly Yang is the sequel to Front Desk, and it picks right up where the first book left off. The good news for me is I read the first book not so long ago, so I was also fresh on the details. In this one, Mia and her parents are running the Calivista Motel. With this, they are continuing to do all they can to help other immigrants. This group is particularly impacted when Proposition 187 is an upcoming election issue. This is a policy that specifically impacts undocumented immigrants, and it specifically impacts people Mia knows. Things are further complicated when Mia's new teacher critiques her writing, and Mia feels she's promoting anti-immigrant views. Said simply, it's a lot for one girl to navigate, but Mia does. Y'all, these books are so good. This takes place in the nineties, but it is so very relevant for today, and I love how these stories put these issues front and center for kids. Mia is such an incredible character as she fights for what she believes in, and she doesn't give up. I am in love with this author's work!

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a book I've finally found my way to. I mean, y'all, I have checked this out from the library so many times, and so many people I've raved about it. This is the selection for my online book club's monthly read, so I finally read this. WHY DID I WAIT SO LONG?!? The story focuses on Kya, otherwise known as The Marsh Girl. It is both the story of her past and a murder that has happened in the present day of 1969. There are intersections of the stories, and you start to wonder who might be involved. This was such an interesting exploration of love and family and growing up and nature, and it was also a thriller of sorts. It took me a moment to get into it, but once it sucked me in, I couldn't read fast enough. This is such a beautiful read. Don't be like me, and wait - Read this one soon!

Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner focused on a girl with a sensory processing disorder that had such heart and so many feels. Lou is a girl who is doing so much. Her mom is convinced she's going to be the next big country star and pushes her to go to gigs. With this, Lou doesn't really go to school, and she also drives her mom's truck. The latter becomes an issue when Lou (who is TWELVE) crashes the truck. Child Protective Services gets involved, and after the investigation, she is sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Nashville. Here she goes to school where she falls in with the theatre crowd, and she starts to find stable friends for the first time. However, she's still navigating her SPD - although she finally starts to get a diagnosis and treatment plan. She also is trying to figure out what her relationship with her mom looks like. This is one that dealt with some deep issues, but as I do with so many middle grade reads, I love how it made this accessible for kids. Thanks to Simon and Schuster Children's for the look at this recent release!

Together, Apart edited by Erin A. Craig was a delightful collection of YA short stories set in the time of COVID. It was a new and interesting experience to read a collection set in "real time," and I so appreciated these stories. I've read a few other books set in 2020 (obviously written before 2020 was a thing), and they obviously just don't work. It was an odd comfort to then read these stories that authentically considered how love happens right now. Each story was unique - in its plot, in its characters, and in the relationship that developed. These each showcased the challenges of relationships in the time of COVID, AND they showed how the characters found opportunity and connection in their situations. This was something different and light, and I needed that. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this recent release!

Onto the next ones!

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Book Reviews - Reading Through Ruts

Somewhat related to these reads (but more so not), I hit a weird reading rut. Maybe it was because what I read last round was so darn good. I know every book can't be that, but WHY NOT?!? Some stuff in this round was really good, some kept me reading, and some left me wanting more. I also may have had a few I abandoned along the way that won't get a review. I had to have that hard conversation with myself that it's okay to give up a book that's not working. Anyway, here's what I did make it through!

Kent State by Deborah Wiles was such a captivating read told in such an intriguing way. Honestly, I've known something happened at Kent State in the seventies where lives were lost, but I couldn't really explain in depth of what happened that day. This book, written in verse, is an exploration of what happened before, in the moment, and after. It's absolutely beautifully written with multiple perspectives being brought in as it goes. It's almost conversational in nature as different individuals who have a role in the escalation of violence offer their viewpoint. Within these views, there is disagreement and sadness in the outcome. It is such an incredible tragedy what happened on this campus, and it was so powerful to learn about history in such an emotional and thoughtful piece. 

In A Holidaze by Christina Lauren is a Christmas story with a Groundhog Day twist. Every Christmas, Mae and her family spend the holidays together with two other families in a Utah cabin. This is a time Mae looks forward to it every year. Mae also looks forward to seeing the subject of her unrequited love - Andrew. This Christmas, Mae instead ends up hooking up with Theo. Mae is frustrated by Andrew's reaction and just where her life is in general. Leaving the cabin, she's very upset and ends up crashing her car into a tree. Everything goes black, but then she wakes up back on the plane before the trip began. This is Mae's moment to get a do-over! This is a light little Christmas romance, so if you're looking for something like that as the holiday season approaches, this is a good place to go. I will say for me that when I read/watch things with a Groundhog Day spin, I expect quite a few iterations of the same day. This version didn't have THAT many. It wasn't a bad thing, I just found I was waiting for more twists to come, but instead it was more romance. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this October release.

Two Days Gone by Randall Silvis was a thriller that had been on my list for awhile. And well, y'all, everyone say this with me, I. Don't. Like. Procedurals. This wasn't fully procedural, but it definitely had that spin, and I just cannot make these work for me. Again, that's about me as the reader. A professor's wife and children are found murdered in a college town, and the professor is nowhere to be found. Detective DeMarco is assigned the case. He knows the professor, and something just doesn't add up. Maybe the answers lie in the professor's unfinished manuscript. And so the investigation begins. . .

The Royal Runaway by Lindsay Emory was a unique, new genre for me as it combines romance with a thriller, and I liked the spin. The story begins with Princess Thea, part of the monarchy for the country of Drieden, being left at the altar. She doesn't know what has happened, and obviously everyone is talking about the royal wedding gone wrong. Alone in a bar, she runs into Nick. They immediately connect, but she soon learns he's not who he says he is. Nick is the estranged (and presumed dead) brother of her former fiance who is also a spy. That's a lot of things, right? However, Nick lets Thea know he believes there is more to the story of her runaway fiance, and they agree to work together to figure out the truth. What follows is an uncovering of all the secrets. They have to figure out what these all mean, who they can trust, and what they're going to do with what they find out. This again was a different take on a thriller. It kept me reading and guessing as I wanted to know what was at the core of what was going down!

Onto the next ones!

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Book Reviews - Absolute Must Reads!

Y'all, three of the books are recent releases that I couldn't read fast enough. So much so that I read them in one sitting. You NEED these reads in your life!

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole was a thriller built around the gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood. Sydney notices her Brooklyn neighborhood is changing. She is frustrated by the shift, and she also gets the sense something is awry. When she delves further into the history of this place, she becomes even more committed to saving the neighborhood. She also finds an ally in her work in Theo although she does wonder if she can fully trust him. However, she needs help in her quest, so she decides she must work with him. Y'all, this was brilliantly done. It was a deep dive into what gentrification is and does which was really informative. Layered on this gentrification was this eerie suspense-filled plot of what was really happening. Yes, the neighborhood is changing, but why? And where are these people going? This is one that was so darn captivating. It was a different spin on a thriller, and I just loved it!

Early Departures by Justin A. Reynolds grabbed me by the feels so hard. It was such a unique premise and such a wonderful and emotional story of friendship. Jamal and Q are estranged best friends. Then, Q dies in a tragic accident. Through an experimental procedure, Q is able to come back to life. The only thing is this is a time-bound return, and he has a limited number of days left. During this return, Jamal commits to reconciling with Q and making the most of this time. This means working through the reason the relationship was fractured in the first place. The story then explores the past where the friendship fell apart and what Q's real-time return looks like. This was just so, so well done. I was so drawn into the characters, and I was in literal tears by the end. I don't want to delve too, too much into what really drew me in because that's where the power of this story lies. This is my second Justin A. Reynolds (and I'm ready for me), and I love the masterful way he uses time as a plot device.

Confessions on the 7:45 by Lisa Unger is a book I featured on a recent blog tour stop here.

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson was a powerful and difficult read. The story begins with the murder of R&B singer Korey Fields. Enchanted Jones wakes up covered in blood with no memory of what happened. Surely, she's not responsible for this? The story then treks back through how Korey and Enchanted became connected. Enchanted was a young aspiring singer with dreams of making it big. Korey spots her at a talent competition and takes her under his wing. Taking her under his wing begins to evolve into a very toxic relationship. Korey controls Enchanted's every move through isolation and power plays. Enchanted is literally trapped, and Korey uses lies to further exert his control over her, but also reminds her he's doing it to give her a big break. This was a heavy read given its subject matter, AND it's so important a story like this told. This author covers tough topics in her books in such a captivating and compelling way. 

Onto the next ones! 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Blog Tour - Confessions on the 7:45 by Lisa Unger

Hey there, y'all! I'm excited to have another blog tour stop. Today, it's for Confessions on the 7:45 by Lisa Unger. It's well documented (right here on this blog) how much I love a good thriller, so I was real excited to check this one out!

Confessions on the 7:45 focuses on an informal conversation. You know that random conversation you strike up with that person beside you on public transportation? That's where this story begins! The thing about this exchange is it's not exactly light banter. Martha tells Selena she's having an affair with her boss. Having a big secret of her own, Selena decides to share that her husband is having an affair with their nanny. Selena assumes this is going to be like every other one-off conversation with a stranger and goes on her way. Except, it's not - A few days later, Martha reaches back out and wants to meet up with Selena. 

Then, the plot (literally) thickens as the nanny goes missing. What could have happened? And could this Martha character be involved? Or maybe it's Selena's husband? Selena is left with all the questions, and she isn't sure where she can turn.

This is a story told through multiple narrators which from a thriller perspective is my #1 love. There is Selena's story, and then there are other women involved. Who these women are isn't immediately told, but as they go, you start to see their potential connections to Selena, Martha and/or the nanny. I also liked that one of Selena's kid is a narrator. Having him hold some of the clues to the story was a unique angle I hadn't seen.

Overall, I found this to be a good reliable thriller. It had some good twists and then it had some bonus twists that further showed character connections. If you're like me and just need that good thriller fix in your life, get on this train (#seewhatididthere) and pick this one up! 

And as I sometimes do, here's an excerpt to check out!


Chapter Two


It had been a mistake from the beginning and Anne certainly knew that. You don’t sleep with your boss. It’s really one of the things mothers should teach their daughters. Chew your food carefully. Look both ways before you cross the street. Don’t fuck your direct supervisor no matter how hot, rich, or charming he may happen to be. Not that Anne’s mother had taught her a single useful thing.

Anyway, here she was. Again. Taking it from behind, over the couch in her boss’s corner office with those expansive city views. The world was a field of lights spread wide around them. She tried to enjoy it. But, as was often the case, she just kind of floated above herself. She made all the right noises, though. She knew how to fake it.

“Oh my god, Anne. You’re so hot.”

He pressed himself in deep, moaning.

When he’d first come on to her, she thought he was kidding – or not thinking clearly. They’d flown together to DC to take an important client who was considering leaving the investment firm out to dinner.  In the cab on the way back to the hotel -- while Hugh was on the phone with his wife, he put his hand on Anne’s leg. He wasn’t even looking at Anne when he did it, so for a moment she wondered if it was just absent-mindedness. He was like that sometimes, a little loopy. Overly affectionate, familiar. Forgetful.

His hand moved up her thigh. Anne sat very still. Like a prey animal. Hugh ended the call and she expected him to jerk his hand back. 

Oh! I’m so sorry, Anne, she thought he’d say, aghast at his careless behavior.

But no. His hand moved higher.

 “Am I misreading signals?” he said, voice low.  

Stop. What most people would be thinking: Poor Anne! Afraid for her job, she submits to this predator.

What Anne was thinking: How can I use this to my advantage? She really had been just trying to do her job well, sort of. But it seemed that Pop was right, as he had been about so many things. If you weren’t running a game, someone was running one on you.

Had she subconsciously been putting out signals? Possibly. Yes. Maybe Pop was right about that, too. You don’t get to stop being what you are, even when you try.

They made out like prom dates in the cab, comported themselves appropriately as they walked through the lobby of the Ritz. He pressed against her at the door to her hotel room. She was glad she was wearing sexy underwear, had shaved her legs. 

She’d given Hugh – with his salt and pepper hair, sinewy muscles, flat abs -- the ride of his life that night.  And many nights since. He liked her on top. He was a considerate lover, always asking: Is this good? Are you okay? Confessional: Kate and I – we’ve been married a long time. We both have – appetites. She couldn’t care less about his marriage.

Anne didn’t actually believe in the things other people seemed to value so highly. Fidelity – really? Were you supposed to just want one person your whole life? Marriage. Was there ever anything more set up to fail, to disappoint, to erode? Come on. They were animals. Every last one of them rutting, feral beasts. Men. Women. All of society was held together by gossamer thin, totally arbitrary laws and mores that were always shifting and changing no matter how people clung. They were all just barely in line.

Anne neither expected nor encouraged Hugh to fall in love. In fact, she spoke very little. She listened, made all the right affirming noises. If he noticed that she had told him almost nothing about herself, it didn’t come up. But fall in love with Anne he did. And things were getting complicated.

Now, finished and holding her around the waist, Hugh was crying a little. His body weight was pinning her down. He often got emotional after they made love. She didn’t mind him most of the time. But the whole crying thing -- it was such a turn off. She pushed against him and he let her up. She tugged down her skirt, and he pulled her into an embrace. 

She held him for a while, then wiped his eyes, kissed his tears away. Because she knew that’s what he wanted. She had a special gift for that, knowing what people wanted -- really wanted deep down – and giving them that thing for a while. And that was why Hugh – why anyone – fell in love. Because he loved getting the thing he wanted, even if he didn’t know what that was.

When he moved away finally, she stared at her ghostly reflection in the dark window, wiped at her smeared lipstick.

“I’m going to leave her,” Hugh said. He flung himself on one of the plush sofas. He was long and elegant; his clothes impeccable, bespoke, made from the finest fabrics. Tonight, his silk tie was loose, pressed cotton shirt was wilted, black wool suit pants still looking crisp. Garments, all garments – even just his tennis whites -- hung beautifully on his fit body.

She smiled, moved to sit beside him. He kissed her, salty and sweet. 

“It’s time. I can’t do this anymore,” he went on.

This wasn’t the first time he’d said this. Last time, when she’d tried to discourage him, he’d held her wrists too hard when she tried to leave. There had been something bright and hard in his eyes – desperation. She didn’t want him to get clingy tonight. Emotional.

“Okay,” she said, running her fingers through his hair. “Yeah.”

Because that’s what he wanted to hear, needed to hear. If you didn’t give people what they wanted, they became angry. Or they pulled away. And then the game was harder or lost altogether.

“We’ll go away,” he said, tracing a finger along her jaw. Because of course they’d both lose their jobs. Hugh’s wife Kate owned and ran the investment firm, had inherited the company from her legendary father. Her brothers were on the board. They’d never liked Hugh (this was one of his favorite pillow talk tirades, how Kate’s brothers didn’t respect him). “We’ll take a long trip abroad and figure out what comes next. Clean slate for both of us. Would you like that?”

“Of course,” she said. “That would be wonderful.”

Anne liked her job; when she’d applied and interviewed, she honestly wanted to work at the firm. Numbers made a kind of sense to her, investment a kind of union of logic and magic. Client work was a bit of a game, wasn’t it – convincing people to part with their cash on the promise that you could make them more? She also respected and admired her boss – her lover’s wife -- Kate. A powerful, intelligent woman. 

Maybe Anne should have thought about all of that before she submitted to Hugh’s advances. He wasn’t the power player; she’d miscalculated, or not run the numbers at all. She made mistakes like that sometimes, let the game run her. Pop thought it was a form of self-sabotage. Sometimes, sweetie, I think your heart’s not quite in it. Maybe he was right.

“Ugh,” said Hugh, pulling away, glancing at his watch. “I’m late. I have to change and meet Kate at the fundraiser.”

She rose and walked the expanse of his office, got his tux from the closet, and lay it across the back of the couch. Another stunning item, heavy and silken. She ran her fingers lovingly along the lapel. He rose, and she helped him dress, hanging his other clothes, putting them back in the closet. She did his tie. In his heart, he was a little boy. He wanted to be attended to, cared for. Maybe everyone wanted that.

“You look wonderful,” she said, kissing him. “Have fun tonight.”

He looked at her long, eyes filling again.

“Soon,” he said. “This charade can end.”

She put a gentle hand to his cheek, smiled as sweetly as she could muster and started to move from the room.

“Anne,” he said, grabbing for her hand. “I love you.”

She’d never said it back. She’d said things like “me, too” or she’d send him the heart- eyed emoji in response to a text, sometimes she just blew him a kiss. He hadn’t seemed to notice, or his pride was too enormous to ask her why she never said it, or if she loved him. But mainly, she thought it was because Hugh only saw and heard what he wanted to.

She unlaced her fingers and blew him a kiss. “Goodnight, Hugh.”

His phone rang, and he watched her as he answered. 

“I’m coming, darling,” he said, averting his eyes, moving away. “Just had to finish up with a client.”

She left him, his voice following her down the hall.

In her office, she gathered her things, a strange knot in the pit of her stomach. She sensed that her luck was about to run out here. She couldn’t say why. Just a feeling that things were unsustainable – that it wasn’t going to be as easy to leave Kate as he thought, that on some level he didn’t really want to, that once things reached critical mass, she’d be out of a job. Of course, it wouldn’t be a total loss. She’d make sure of that.  

There was a loneliness, a hollow feeling that took hold at the end. She wished she could call Pop, that he could talk her through. Instead her phone pinged. The message there annoyed her.

This is wrong, it said. I don’t want to do this anymore.

Just stay the course, she wrote back. It’s too late to back out now.

Funny how that worked. At the critical moment, she had to give the advice she needed herself. The student becomes the teacher. No doubt, Pop would be pleased.

Anne glanced at the phone. The little dots pulsed, then disappeared. The girl, younger, greener, would do what she was told. She always had. So far.

Anne looked at her watch, imbued with a bit of energy. If she hustled, she could just make it.

Excerpted from Confessions on the 7:45 by Lisa Unger, Copyright © 2020 by Lisa Unger. Published by Park Row Books.


About the Book

Be careful who you tell your darkest secrets...

Selena Murphy is commuting home from her job in the city when the train stalls out on the tracks. She strikes up a conversation with a beautiful stranger in the next seat, and their connection is fast and easy. The woman introduces herself as Martha and confesses that she's been stuck in an affair with her boss. Selena, in turn, confesses that she suspects her husband is sleeping with the nanny. When the train arrives at Selena's station, the two women part ways, presumably never to meet again.

But days later, Selena's nanny disappears.

Soon Selena finds her once-perfect life upended. As she is pulled into the mystery of the missing nanny, and as the fractures in her marriage grow deeper, Selena begins to wonder, who was Martha really? But she is hardly prepared for what she'll discover.

Expertly plotted and reminiscent of the timeless classic Strangers on a Train, Confessions on the 7:45 is a stunning web of lies and deceit, and a gripping thriller about the delicate facades we create around our lives.

About the Author

Lisa Unger is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of eighteen novels, including CONFESSIONS ON THE 7:45 (Oct. 2020). With millions of readers worldwide and books published in twenty-six languages, Unger is widely regarded as a master of suspense. Her critically acclaimed books have been voted "Best of the Year" or top picks by the Today show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly, Amazon, IndieBound and others. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, and Travel+Leisure. She lives on the west coast of Florida with her family.

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TWITTER: @lisaunger

FB: @authorlisaunger  

Insta: @launger

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Book Reviews - Connecting with ALL the Feels

Y'all, I'm keeping the introduction short here as this quartet was just wonderful. The common thread was the emotions they evoked, and these are books you absolutely need in your life!

Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen was a book I just connected with and loved so very, very much. The story focuses on Codi. Codi's teenage years aren't what she imagined. Namely she hasn't ever been kissed, has never been in a relationship, and she isn't into the party scene. Instead she spends her time with her two best friends Martiza and JaKory mostly watching TV in their basement. One night, Maritza and JaKory go to a party, and they call asking Codi to pick them up. On her way to do this, she stumbles on Ricky, one of the "cool kids" kissing another guy in the dark. Ricky isn't out, so this is a secret he needs Codi to keep. As a gay woman, Codi understands why this is necessary and agrees. With this secret, Ricky and Codi also form a real friendship, and Ricky starts inviting Codi to hang out with his friends. Codi loves this new world, but she also doesn't let her old friends know what she's doing. The story then weaves through Codi navigating the new life she's found, as well as who she was before and just who she is as a human navigating the world. Y'all, Codi just had my heart in this one. I resonated with the shy girl who was trying to figure out who she was. Back when, I also thought I was missing out on some part of my experience - 20 years later, I can assure that I'm just fine, but I transported back to that place through Codi. I also just loved the emergence of the friendship between Ricky and Codi. This was just a wonderful gem of a story all around.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart was one emotional ride. WOW. The story focuses on Coyote and her father. They are traveling the country in a school bus that's been repurposed as their residence. They have been on the road since Coyote (and her dad who goes by Rodeo) lost her mom and two sisters in a car crash. Then, Coyote finds out that a park in her hometown is being demolished. This wouldn't be a big deal except her mom and sisters had buried a secret box there together. Coyote knows she has to go back for this, but she knows her dad won't be on board. She devises a plan to get them there. This plan starts to involve others as they encounter other wayward travelers who need a ride to their next stop. Y'all, this was such a beautiful story of grief and resilience and memory and healing. Quite frankly, I was blown away just how much emotion was plugged into this one, but I also loved how much heart was in Coyote's story. This is one you must pick up as it's absolutely, completely beautiful in its feels and authenticity.

When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert was a book that drew me in mostly because it had an orchestra connection. Anything that involves a high school orchestra is going to take me back to my own happy place and just connect with my heart. Anyway, this isn't about me. At its core, this is a story about growing up, but wanting things to say the same. Beth very much wants that with her groups of friends. Things start to become more difficult when they see an act of violence occur in Jason's home. Seeing his reality creates worry and concern and complexity. Additionally, they're each trying to figure out what's next. The group has a want to enter into the next chapter of life together, but the universe (or college admissions) may have other plans. This was one that was so real in its portrayal of the emotions that come with high school friendship and growing up. I mean, y'all, I really, really felt this one as I read. If I think back to teenage me (who still is inside of me in many regards), I would have loved and very much connected with this angst. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this March 2021 release!

Majesty by Katharine McGee was a sequel I have been craving ever since the last pages of American Royals. This one picks up the moment where the first book stops. I won't tell you what that moment is as I don't want to spoil the journey. Once again, the book focuses on the (love) stories of four young women - Beatrice, Samantha, Nina and Daphne. I don't want to say too much because the joy is again in the journey, and I wouldn't want to give too much away. I will say that this did not play out as I expected. If you would have asked me after the first book what I wanted to happen, I would have very definite answers. Well, this one still had some twists and turns in these stories up its sleeve. I mostly need my friends who read this one to read this now, so I can discuss the many, many feels I have at this one. Specifically, I have strong feelings about one particular outcome. Also, I hope there is another book in this series as I am so darn captivated by this crew!

Onto the next ones!