Monday, November 23, 2020

Book Reviews - Unexpected Stories

This round of reads was a quartet where each book was unexpected in one way or another. That included subject matter, timelines, characters and/or twists. Each drew me in for a different reason, and it was in a way that a book hadn't before!

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson was such a heartbreaking and powerful read. The story is written in verse and takes place in the late nineties. ZJ's father plays professional football. ZJ is proud to have his father play and so many consider his dad to be a hero. Then, things start to get different. ZJ's dad forgets things he should remember and has emotional reactions and outbursts that aren't normal. What you realize is happening is that ZJ's dad is experiencing the impacts of CTE. This is written a time before the impact of playing football on the brain was talked about, so to read the pain in this way was particularly heart-wrenching. ZJ struggles to understand what is happening and why his dad is acting so differently. This is really a story about the resilience of a family in the face of pain and struggle. It was so beautifully written, and it gave voice to impacts that many families undoubtedly felt due to the horror of CTE and still do. This is a short book (<200 pages), but it gave me so many feels and still sits on my heart.

We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper is some kind of ride. The book focuses on the unsolved murder of Jane Britton, a Harvard student in 1969. The author spends TEN years committing to a deep dive into Jane's life to finally figure out what happened. She looks at the initial investigation that was done and retraces what they discovered. She also further explores leads that may or may not have been fully followed in the earlier investigation. In other words, this woman legitimately leaves no stone unturned. She does a deep dive into who Jane was, and she is committed to stopping at nothing to give Jane the closure she deserves. In addition to the research on Jane's murder, this is a book about systems, power and problematic cultures. She does an additional dive into the history of Harvard as it connects to Jane's experience. This is meticulously researched in a way I've very rarely seen as the author takes readers along on her incredible journey to truth and closure. I was fortunate to read an advanced copy, but the good news for y'all is that this is out now! 

The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick was historical fiction with a very unique spin on the dual timeline story. What was unique was the times that each took place was so different. The first vignette is in the 1500s. This explores a real-life mystery connected to the family of Elizabeth I. Then, there's the present day. This focuses on Lizzie Kingdom, a child star, who is drawn into a scandal when her best friend (a rock star)'s wife Amelia is killed. It was interesting to read two stories that were so far apart, yet also see the connections as they were slowly revealed. I was more drawn into the present day storyline, BUT I also learned a lot from the story in the Tudor era as I honestly don't read about it ever. This one had some unexpected turns and definitely some connections I didn't see coming. It was a neat adventure to read something so different from my usual lanes. Thanks to NetGalley and Graydon House Books for letting me go on the journey for this recent release!

Unplugged by Gordon Korman was a middle grade read about a group of kids who become connected due to needing to disconnect (#seewhatididthere) at a "wellness' camp. Each kid finds themselves there for a different reason, and these are revealed as the story goes. The kids also start to realize there are some interesting things happening at camp, and all is not what it seems. They realize they must band together to make it through, and they band together even more so to discover the truth of what's really going on with the adults and activities who are there. This is one of those stories I could see kids totally digging as it has some unexpected twists in relationships and in what's actually going down! Let's just say, there's more to that lizard on the cover than I would have ever guessed, and that's part of the thrill of this one! Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this January 2021 release!

Onto the next ones!