Saturday, April 10, 2021

Book Reviews - Feels and Thrills (Again)

I'm pretty sure feels and thrills are my most common reading theme, and it's also a common title. I won't 

Everything After
by Jill Santopolo was a book that totally swept me away. I read it in a day because I was so darn captivated. Emily is a successful psychologist who loves her work helping college students - Much of that is because she sees herself in them. She is also in a relationship with Ezra, a doctor, who she loves. Then, her past comes rushing back. Emily hears a song on the radio. It seems to be by her first love, Rob. Not only that, it seems to be about her. The song transports Emily back to her life before. She wonders what might have been and even if that's the life she was really meant to have. The story waffles between Emily in the present and the reveal of what Emily's life was like before. This was definitely an emotional read, and I was so drawn in by the characters as Emily returned to the past, and she also pondered what her present and future should be. It was a book that had me so much in my feels, and I absolutely and completely loved this story.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez is a story about navigating the aftermath of a tragedy, particularly when someone is not who they seemed to be. Julia's sister Olga is tragically killed. Olga was adored by her parents, and Julia has felt she's always lived in her shadow. Julia also realizes that she didn't really know her sister, and when she starts digging, she realizes she really, really didn't know Olga at all. This book is a beautiful story of navigating grief and trying to find connection even after someone is gone. Julia is a character who is written in such a raw and honest way. She is trying to figure out where she fits, how to understand her family, and how to just be and understand life without her sister. I was so emotionally drawn into this wonderful and totally amazing read.

Just My Luck by Adele Parks was just not what I expected at all. The premise of the story is that there are three couples who buy lottery tickets together. They'd had the same numbers for years. Then, due to a rift in the group, they decide not to buy tickets together. One of the couples buys the ticket on their own, and then they win. What follows is an exploration of the not so great sides of being a lottery winner. This includes the friends claiming they deserve a share, random people coming after the money, and just adjusting to being a family who suddenly has all the money. About 3/4 of the way through this one, the tone and plot of this one took a pretty significant turn. It caught me way off-guard because it was just so much - too much for me really. This was an interesting exploration of the untold side of winning the lottery and also just so freaking many plot twists. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this recent release!

Just One Look by Lindsay Cameron was quite the ride, and I just loved the thrills it provided! The story focuses on Cassie. Cassie was once a lawyer (and the story of why she's not is not immediately revealed), but for now, she is working for a temp agency. In this role, she is assigned to review emails for a lawsuit. Wading through the emails, Cassie finds her way to a couple's personal correspondence. She is so drawn into their life. Drawn into the point that Cassie wants their life, or more specifically she wants the husband, Forest. Cassie's focus turns from her work to learning all she can about Forest, so she can make him hers. Y'all, the twists in this one were wild. Every character has some level of secrecy about who they really are, and when those reveals happen, they are so, so good. I don't want to say too much because this is a thriller where the best stuff is very much the reveals as the story goes on, so I'll just say that this is absolutely a book you're going to need in your life. Thanks to NetGalley for the look at this July 2021 release!

Onto the next ones!

Book Reviews - Wonderful Stories

Y'all, this round included a triad (within the quartet) of just wonderful reads. They were unique stories told in different ways that I just connected with and loved!

Bump by Matt Wallace was a book that was totally and completely my jam - like I don't know a book that has been more in my lane. It's about a girl who loves pro wrestling, specifically the luchadores. Y'all, I was a girl who loved pro wrestling (and still does), so this was just made for me. The story focuses on MJ. MJ struggles to fit in, and then she finds a local wrestling school. She convinces her mom to let her train there, and she is so excited by the community she finds. She is truly doing what she loves, and it is an opportunity she savors each and every day. There are some challenges at the school, and I don't want to say too much, but y'all the plot of this one had me captivated! It's so important to have books where kids can see themselves and know it's okay to love what you love, AND to love yourself. This is absolutely what this book is, and I'm so glad there is a now a book about a girl who digs pro wrestling in the universe.

Sunshine Girl by Julianna Margulies was just a delight of a memoir. What I liked above all else was that this was really more focused on her as a person versus her as a celebrity. It wasn't the hot gossip from ER and/or The Good Wife, rather it was about reflecting on her childhood, young adulthood, and also how she found her way to each of these shows. I felt like I got to know who she was as a human navigating the world versus just the actress sliver of her life. It was also really interesting to see how she reflected on the challenges she'd navigated along the way, and she did this in a very honest, authentic way. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this May 2021 release

Open House by Katie Sise was a book I picked up because I just needed a thriller in my life. That really perfectly describes what this is - Just a thriller with some twists and a plot that keeps driving. The story focuses on a ten year old missing persons case. Ten years ago, college student Emma disappeared. Since then, her sister has always needed closure of what happened, as to her closest friends. Ten years later, another incident connected to Emma opens the case back up. The story waffles between the past of Emma's story and the present of what's going down to slowly reveal truths on both ends.

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver was the most wonderful blend of beauty and love and heartbreak. Lydia is sure she and Freddie will be together forever. Then, on her 28th birthday, Freddie is tragically killed in a car accident. Lydia is overcome with grief, and she is at a loss for where to go from here. Freddie is gone, except he's not. Wait, what? Lydia has a medication that when she takes it before she goes to sleep, she is transported to a place where Freddie is still alive. During the nights, Lydia then is living the life she hoped she would. During the day, she's got to deal with the reality that life needs to go on. Together, with Freddie's best friend Jonah and her sister Elle, she starts to figure out what her new normal is. I'll be honest that I could see where this one was going, and I loved it anyway! The build was just so good. It was also a really wonderful exploration of grief and trying to figure out what to do when you life is shattered. I devoured and adored this one y'all!

Onto the next ones! 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Book Reviews - Reframed Feels

Again, I'm not quite sure how to group this quartet together. Really what comes to mind is that they all had some kind of feels, and they also all told stories in a bit of a unique way? Sure, Andrea. Read on, I promise my reviews are better than this introduction.

The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey was an interesting memoir. I always find memoirs hard to write about because I'm really critiquing the way someone talks about their own life. I mean, who am I to judge about how someone chooses to do this? I think what I learned most about Mariah was the difficulties of her childhood. This was hard stuff to read, and I appreciated how she showed the connections of this time to her music. For the stuff about her marriages and fame in general, I maybe wanted more, but again, totally her call? It strangely did make me want to see Glitter as I've never actually watched. I know, I know, but I feel like I need the context. All in all, I don't feel like I fully know the meaning of Mariah Carey as the title indicates, but I do have her perspective on a variety of things which helps. 

Hood Feminism: Notes from a Woman That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall was phenomenal. It should be required reading, and I personally should have read this sooner! It's been on my list for awhile, and when I heard the author on NPR, I decided there was no more waiting, and I needed to read this now. This is an exploration of what feminism leaves out and why that's a problem. Gender equity isn't just about gender equity, rather there are a number of issues that need to be part of the conversation around the push for systemic change. Each chapter of the book explores a different one of these issues and specifically how they impact women, especially women of color, and then makes the case why this matters. Throughout, I learned so much. Of all the chapters, I would say the one about food insecurity has stuck with me the most. I have plans already to revisit this one as it opened my mind to so many issues that I need to be not only informed about, but to advocate for.

Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly is the third in the Lilac Girls series. Although it's part of a trilogy, reading the first two books isn't needed to follow this one. Much like the first in the series which I have read, there are three storylines. Two of them are more protagonist-y, while the other is clearly an antagonist. This book is set in the Civil War. One of the women is a Union nurse, another is a slave on a plantation, and the third is the wife of a plantation and slave owner. As it happens in Lilac Girls, the three stories have intersections throughout to really tell the story of the war. It's definitely an emotional ride, and there is a lot of pain in the stories of these women to the point that it is a really difficult read at times. That said, it's also important to know and remember and understand that pain in history and the impacts that can still show up today. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this soon to be released novel. 

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano was just an absolutely beautiful book. The story is about a young boy who is the sole survivor of a plane crash. In the crash, he has lost his entire family, so he is navigating his new normal. The story focuses on his grief and how he navigates life with his aunt and uncle. The story is also about the plane's passengers, and it explains who many of the passengers were and what they were carrying with them on that tragic day. I won't explain the end because that's part of the story, but I have to say I was in tears by the end with the way all the stories come together. It was just breathtaking and wonderful and had me all up in my feels - Honestly, the whole damn book did, and that's what makes it worth reading.

Onto the next ones!

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Ordinary Days

(Stack of books I have read, but haven't yet shared.)

Y'all, I'll be honest that this post has been stewing in my head for weeks. I've had many thoughts on the focus, and I just keep not writing it. So now here I sit, I'm going to just start typing words, and we'll see where we land.

Things are hard right now. I know, I know, I'm stating an obvious for so many humans, including me. But I didn't let myself name this as I needed to for a long time. I'm saying this now, and I'm processing what this means for me.

As a secret to no one, I love reading. My feeds regularly have the books I've been reading - except that hasn't been the case for the last two months. If you've ever heard me talk self-care, you've likely heard me say that I track what I read as a way to check-in with me. When there are gaps of times when I haven't read anything, it's my sign that things might not be so great. February was that. I also looked back and realized that when I was reading I wasn't enjoying it. I honestly had gotten to this place where I was reading for process and not really connected with anything I'd finished. While ruts aren't atypical, what I found as I looked back was the majority of what I had read just wasn't my jam. Truthfully, it was quite a jarring set of revelations.

After figuring out what was going on, I had to really think about why this had happened. Where had things gone off-course? Reading is what I do, so how could I mess this up?

Before I went too far into this exploration, I gave myself some grace. I/we are still in the midst of a pandemic, and nothing is normal. I feel like everyone has had these peaks and valleys, and mine just came late in the game. 

Second, I took the time to really understand what was going on. I returned to why I started sharing what I was reading in the first place. Y'all should know that for a long time I was afraid to share these regular updates with the masses. And then I faced that fear, started posting reviews/pictures of quartets, and people were a fan. I've loved how people have told me they've found their way to books because of what I had read/shared. I've loved when people ask me directly for recommendations, and I also love when people share their recommendations with me. I didn't need to overthink a solution to where I was/am, rather I just need to get back to why I started. 

Also, I've realized I need to post in a way that makes sense to me. Honestly, I think I let the stress of comparison and likes and all the social media things consumed me. I loved this process so much more when it was what I wanted to do. I'm really not sure how that pressure hit me like I did, but that grace I decided to give myself means I don't have to analyze that extensively. I can say it just is and keep on moving.

Really what happened is that I let this joy become ordinary. I let my light become dull. I started going through the motions, and it was not fun.

I was thinking about this all as a greater experience in the experience that has been the last year. From the beginning, I have drawn the line that this is not a learning opportunity. I don't want to have some post about all the things I learned in this time. Because honestly, a lot of times I'm just trying to get through the day. A lot of times I'm dreaming of what cannot be. Look y'all, I've been a rule follower my whole life, and I am still very much that person. It has been an impossible challenge to emotionally navigate how it feels to be so impacted by the lack of rule following. A year later, I have no good coping mechanism for that other than having a good cry every so often.

More than anything, I ache for the normal of ordinary days. I yearn for the choices of a normal day. I want reading to be something I do, not everything. I also want to wander libraries and to sit at local coffee shops with books and to again just do normal book-ish things - normal everythings. I know it's coming, but also I still miss it. I have found that I have to let hope for what is to be exist in the same space as the grief of what hasn't been able to be. There aren't any easy answers for me, and again, I give myself the grace that this is just how it has to be.

I say this piece to really say that this reading thing was a sub-rut that was part of a greater rut.

So I'm going to get back to posting reviews and books. I did about all the books I've read in the rut that were just okay - It was a process, kind of like a book report on assigned reading, but I made it through. And from here, I'm more intentionally making choices of what I read. There is a method to this, and it's my method, and that's okay.

More than anything, I needed to put this out of my brain and into words. Maybe it has a flow, maybe it doesn't, but this is how life is right now. 

Here's hoping for more ordinary days soon. . .whatever that might be.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Book Reviews - Books That Stick With You

Unsurprisingly, I'm back with another round of reviews. This round was heavy on the kind of books that stick with you long after you're done reading, as well as the books you are likely to revisit again (and again).

Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler was a delight of a YA romance. The story focuses on Lara. Lara has had a longstanding crush on Chase, the popular, handsome athlete (who is not a jerk - worth noting because that's not always the case in stories like this/IRL), and he's now interested in her. This is just what Lara has wanted for years. Except Lara had a very unexpected summer of romance with Jasmine. And then, AND THEN, Jasmine shows up at her school. Now Lara has some tough choices to make to figure out what she really and truly wants. Y'all, this was a really well done account of high school. It even gave me some throwback feels of my own high school days which I don't always love, but in this case, it speaks to how well it was able to craft a real story. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this May 2021 release!

Four Winds by Kristin Hannah was so powerful and amazing. This author is absolutely incredible when it comes to historical fiction. This story centers on the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. With this, it really hones in on what the human experience of this time was like. The story focuses on Elsa. The book begins with her life taking an unexpected turn. What follows is then the story of the hard decisions she has to make for herself and her family throughout this time. No choice is easy, and this is an incredibly emotional read. However, that pain is important in understanding the reality of what this time was like. I learned so much through the way this story was told. There was incredible care given to building a plot that really conveyed just how hard this time was. Elsa was also an amazing character. The way she and her story evolves is what really drew me in as I was so rooting for her and all she encountered. This is a story that will absolutely draw you in, hit you in the feels, and stick with you long after you're done reading.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown was fantastic - obviously. It'd been a minute (or seven years) since I last read it, so I was way overdue to revisit this one. This is just a wonderful reflection on the importance and power of vulnerability. There's just a way that Brene explains things that just resonates with me. The last time I read this I borrowed the book from a friend. I'm very happy to now have a copy where I've been able to mark my favorite stuff that I can revisit. There are just so many messages that spoke to me for night now, but also all of the times. I am so thankful for the work and wisdom she provides in giving voice to such important topics.

The Black Friend: On Being a Better While Person by Frederick Joseph was outstanding. The author uses his own experiences (which are honest and emotional) to explain different topics around racism. Within the stories, he takes the time to educate on what is actually happening. With this, he uses specific terms (and includes an incredible glossary at the back) to explore the reality of situations he has found himself in. The power in this is that these aren't just abstract concepts, but lived experiences. With each story, he also has an interview/reflection with someone to further explore the chapter's focus. While this is a YA read, it is definitely a solid read for humans of all ages.

Onto the next ones!

Book Reviews - Feels Central

There isn't really a common thread in this round, so I'm not going to try. I will say that two of these were so freaking packed with feels. There are worth the read, and they're going to stick with you long after you're done reading.

Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews was one heckuva twisty thrilling ride. Florence aspires to be an author, but hasn't found her big break just yet. Then, an amazing opportunity comes her way. Florence has the chance to be the assistant to the mysterious Maud Dixon. Maud's work is well-known, but no one knows who she actually is. Helen (aka Maud) and Florence are on a book research trip when tragedy happens. Florence wakes up in hospital alone. It appears Helen has been killed, and Florence now has the opportunity of a lifetime. Given the secrecy of Maud Dixon, Florence could finally be the author she has dreamed of being. However, this decision is not as easy as it seems, and there are some big challenges ahead as Florence takes on the charade. This was a clever premise, and another thriller that kept me turning those pages because I needed to know how it all ended up for Florence/Maud. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this recent release!

Beartown by Fredrik Backman was a book I have simply waited too long to read. It's absolutely beautiful and captivating and heartbreaking and just all the things you hope a book will be. The story centers on a hockey team in a small town. Hockey is baked into the town's identity, and the story explores what this connection means, especially when a traumatic event occurs. As Backman books tend to do, it was the characters in this one for me. They were so wonderfully written, and the way their stories each unfolded, both with joy and pain, just drew me into the town. This was one of those books that sucked me in from its first pages, and it did not let me go until the last sentence. The good news is that there is a sequel. I'm not sure what that experience will be like, but I can tell y'all that this book is one you must have in your life. 

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji was a fascinating exploration of how bias plays into our lives each and every day. Rather than being a "call out" of behavior, it explores how this shows up and why this matters. It is very much grounded in research and understanding what science can tell us about why we act the way we do. It is also one of those books that I want/need to go back and revisit the key points to really digest the concepts and understand how this is showing up not only in others, but in me, too. 

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum is an incredibly emotional, powerful and tragic read. The story focuses on three generations of Arab-American women. Deya has grown up without her mother, Isra. She has been told her parents were tragically killed in a car accident when she was young. However, she discovers some correspondence that makes it seem this isn't what actually happened. The story then goes between Isra and Deya's. In Isra's story, it's how she entered into her marriage and what came next. In Deya's story, it's her quest to find the truth. This is a story of a culture of silence, incredible secrets, and important revelations of the truth. It is a book that has stayed with me and will stay with me. It is full of so much pain, but there is also such power in the truth that is told. 

Onto the next ones!

Book Reviews - Short Stories and Long Thrills

Oh, hi. It's another round of books. There isn't much to offer as an introduction - Two of these were thrillers, and two were short stories. Cool.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie was quite the ride. This is only my second Agatha Christie (Why is this? I need to fix this y'all), and I just love her timeless storytelling. This story revolves around a murder on a train. Detective Hercule Poirot must figure out who is responsible by interviewing a slew of suspects. Each alibi initially appears to work, and there is no motive that is immediately clear. Then the detective does some work y'all! As the secrets came out and the truth was unraveled, the story was just so damn brilliant. Agatha Christie is truly the queen of thrillers, and I loved the ride (pun intended) this one took me on, especially one heckuva reveal!

Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock was an incredible set of short stories. The difference in this collection is that there is a thread that connects one story to the next, and all of the stories included are then part of a larger overall story. I don't want to say too much because honestly the beauty and intrigue is in seeing those connections come to light. I will also say that many of these connections are through tragedy, so know that this is a story not only full of some twists and turns, but some pretty intense feelings. (Note: The book does have a content warning, and I would definitely suggest evaluating that before you dive in.) This was one of those books that absolutely drew me in so many ways - It was the plot above all else, but it was also just masterful storytelling. Thanks to NetGalley for an early look at this April 2021 release!

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks was a short story collection that was extremely well-written with words, but also just okay. The stories each had a typewriter involved somehow which was an interesting spin, and I just didn't really find anything truly hit me in the feels. This is frequently my struggle with short stories, so not a new challenge, and I just really missed this as I read. I kept reading, and I appreciated the unique premises of each story, AND I also just feel "meh" about the experience. 

Tell No One by Harlan Coben was a book I picked up because I just needed a reliable thriller. When I need that, Coben is often where I turn. This story focuses on David Beck who tragically lost his wife eight years earlier. In present day, it seems that she may still be alive, but that can't be true or can it? David decides to believe it could be true, and the case is opened again. As Coben novels do, this one had some great twists with one big mega-twist revealed at the end. It was told in a way that I also didn't guess what was going to go down which is the mark of an especially great thriller for me. 

Onto the next ones!


Book Reviews - Late to All the Parties

For this round of reads, I was just late to reading. It was two blog tours that didn't get posted on time, an ARC that has been out for a year, and an adaptation where I hadn't read the source material. All that mind this an interesting round. . .

Girlhood by Masuma Ahuja was a blog tour stop you can check out here.

How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian was a blog tour stop you can check out here.

Providence by Max Barry is not a genre that I read ever. This is also an advanced copy from March 2020 that I'm just now getting to which is more about me than anything else. The start of the pandemic just wasn't a time I was ready to delve into exploring the discovery of alien life. Again, this is about me as a reader. Anyway. This story is about astronauts who are chosen to taken on a hostile alien force seven years after they were first encountered. Each astronaut is selected for the mission for a specific reason, AND each of these humans has their own "stuff" they bring to the mission. The story is about the aliens, but more than anything, it's about the people who have been tasked with taking on the mission. It's a lot of pressure to lead this work, and they feel this. It's good for me to read outside my normal zone every once in awhile, and I appreciated the angle this one took on in exploring what an alien encounter might look like in the (not so distant) future. 

Ladies of the House: A Modern Retelling of Sense and Sensibility by Lauren Edmondson was a modern retelling of Sense and Sensibility. Here's the thing, y'all, I haven't read S&S, seen the movie, and am not actually familiar with the original story. With that base knowledge, I think I would have enjoyed this more as I could connect that adaptation with the source material. This context (or lack thereof) influenced my reading experience for sure. The story focuses on a family scandal. Senator Gregory Richardson has died . . . in the presence of his young mistress. Thirtysomething Daisy then returns home to help her mother and to help prepare the family estate to be sold as they are in financial ruin. As the story goes, more secrets are revealed about her father, and Daisy has to figure out how to keep the pieces together which is not an easy feat. I really felt like I was missing something not knowing S&S, and it also was an interesting story about what to do when family secrets bubble to the surface! Thanks to NetGalley for this early look at this recent release!

Onto the next ones!

Sunday, February 7, 2021

(Late to the) Blog Tour: How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian

 Once again, I'm catching up with another (nearly missed) #BlogTourTuesday stop. This one is for How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian. 

The story focuses on Izzy. Since her father was tragically killed while deployed, she and her mom and brother have moved often and been trying to find someplace to call home. At their newest stop, Izzy loves her school. However, even though she finds friends and a boyfriend, she's doing this with a secret. She's on scholarship, and she doesn't have the privilege that the other students do. Her family has also been selected for a Habitat for Humanity build. While exciting, Izzy doesn't want to be the face of this project, especially because she doesn't want her classmates to find out who she really is. She especially doesn't want her boyfriend to know as she's never had a relationship like this. This book explores the complexities of one girl's story. She is in some ways living multiple lives and cannot live her full truth in any of them. Like many young adult reads, I think about when I was the target audience. This is definitely a story I would have been drawn to. I would have liked the love story overlayed with the difficulties of Izzy trying to find herself.

As for bonus content, here are some other people talking about this book. . . 

MOST ANTICIPATED / BEST OF LISTS:

Children’s Book Council: “Hot Off the Press: February 2020”

Latinos in Publishing: “January 2020 Latinx Releases”

Kirkus Reviews: “11 Early Books We Love”

Kirkus Reviews: “16 Books We Can’t Wait For in 2020”


“A Pretty In Pink story about grief, family, class, and first love.”

Bustle


“This is not a polemic about racism but an exploration of what identity means… The force of Padian’s storytelling, the pain of watching Izzy’s worlds collide, moved me to tears more than once.”

Portland Press Herald


“Padian creates a world that the reader can easily dive into. Anyone who’s ever been a self-conscious teen will see themselves in Izzy.”

Book Riot


“A balance of vivid description and witty, discerning storytelling [gives] a refreshing zeal to Izzy’s first-person narrative… Padian’s How to Build a Heart encourages us to embrace our authentic selves by letting go, not only of secrets, but of the desire to hide parts of ourselves in hopes that others will accept us.”

Cleaver Magazine


“A sensitively rendered story, but also a fun read, brisk and engaging… Padian’s book demonstrates the importance of home as a source of support and identity for teens.”

BookPage


“Complex, heartrending, and beautifully explored, How to Build a Heart is a deeply poignant read that is not only deep enough to move you, but wonderfully engaging and quirky.”

The Young Folks


How to Build A Heart is, at its core, a contemporary romance. But it also strives to be more than that. It’s a story of family, friendship, and the bonds that get us through… The novel is simple, sweet, and bursting with hope.”

The Fandom


“A potent coming-of-age story about the courage often required for pulling together multiple threads of a life to create an authentic self.”

BookBrowse


“Padian’s latest book delivers an enjoyable story about how Izzy eventually finds her place in her ever-changing world… This book effectively captured the chaos that can sometimes come with being a young adult.”

The Daily Free Press (Boston University Student Paper)


“Padian shows again and again that a story is always more complicated and more ordinary than it seems.”
The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books


“Padian masterfully portrays the internal struggles Izzy goes through in her Catholic faith… An absolutely enthralling depiction of family and self-discovery.”

Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)


“Padian creates a compelling world with relatable characters and deals with serious issues without feeling heavy-handed…An excellent classroom or book discussion starter. Hand this to readers who are ready to tackle these issues with a lighter touch.”

School Library Journal


“Padian takes a familiar theme—a girl hiding her background from others—and makes it fresh with her protagonist, Izzy Crawford… The characters around her are well-defined and support Izzy and the plot well. Throughout the novel, Izzy's strength, candor, and humanity shine through.”

Booklist

(Late to the) Blog Tour: Girlhood: Teens Around the World in Their Own Voices by Masuma Ahuja

First off, this was supposed to be a #BlogTourTuesday post, and then life happened. So, here I am running after the blog tour train that's left the station trying to jump on at the last minute.

ANYWAY.

Girlhood: Teens Around the World in Their Own Voices by Masuma Ahuja is a glimpse into the experiences of girls around the world. Their stories are told in their own words through diary entries and question prompts. The stories are then overlaid with information about the realities of the countries where they live. Each girl is navigating some unique challenges individually and in the community/country around her. My only critique (in a good way) was I wanted more! I was so drawn into each girl's story that I wanted to know what was next for her, how she was doing, and just a general deeper dive into her life. That said, I think this book is also intentionally set up this way to be a conversation starter. The stories of each girl can show other girls similarities around the world while also showing what it's like to live in different countries through the experiences of a real-life person. I also dug that these stories include pictures. Again, you really get drawn into the worlds of these worlds in just a few pages. As a kid, this would have absolutely been a book I was captivated by, and I think it's great that girls today have this collection.

Given this is a book tour, I have some special "treats" to share. Here are a few excerpts from the book!





Book Reviews - Things to Think About

And here's another round! Three of the four of these had some great inspiration and reflection opportunities. So, let's go!

Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman is a book I heard about ages (like a legit decade y'all) ago, and I finally have read it! Yay, me? Anyway. The book was first published in the sixties, and almost sixty years later, it is still incredibly relevant. Told in a variety of correspondence methods, this is the story of Slyvia, a young teacher assigned to a metro high school. She very quickly comes to see the realities of this school, including the stories and challenges of her students, the lack of resources to do her work, and the frustrations of administrative demands. Throughout, she tries to do all she can to help her students, while also encountering a variety of barriers through them, her colleagues and the administration. This was such a unique storytelling technique, and it worked so well to really help me see Sylvia's struggles. I was so drawn in, and I was rooting for Sylvia and her students even though the obstacles were many. This is a book whose subject matter is timeless in its frustration, but also in its inspiration. It's one I could see myself revisiting as it's just so well-crafted and has so many messages that are so important to continue to hear about education.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig was such a beautiful, wonderful book. After being totally captivated by The Midnight Library, I needed more of this author in my life. This is a memoir focused on the realities and struggles of mental health told in an honest and authentic way. At times, the story is hard, but those are the parts that are so, so very important to hear and know. Even through the pain, this is above all else a story of hope. As the title says, this is about finding joy and perseverance even in the darkness. This was just a book that had me (predictably) in my feels, but also gave me so much to reflect on and sit with, too. It's another one I can see myself revisiting, and I'm also ready for more Matt Haig reads in my life.

I Think You're Wrong (But I'm Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers was a re-read in preparation for the two authors coming to an event at work. Y'all, this book is a must-read. I am so appreciative of how these two women are able to speak and explain politics/life. They are able to work through difficult topics with such intentionality and grace. Given I was re-reading, I took time to mark my favorite passages (and there were many), and these are words I will revisit. Also, if you're not yet listening to Pantsuit Politics, it's absolutely a podcast you need in your life. 

With so many of these quartets, you need to cue the "One of these things is not the other" music, and this last one is obvioulsy that!

Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade was just a delight of a romance read focused on April and Marcus. Marcus Caster-Rupp is the star of Gods of the Gates (which is akin to Game of Thrones in its hype and fandom). While the show has made him a star, Marcus also isn't so much a fan of how the story has been adapted for TV from books. Wanting to re-write the stories, he finds connection and community in the fan fiction community. April is a member of that community. She finds particular connection with one particular user, and unbeknownst to her, that user is actually Marcus! April also loves cosplay, and she goes viral for one of her costumes. That post catches the eye of the real-life Marcus, and they end up on a date. Marcus learns that April is actually his fanfic friend, but he decides not to tell her. From there, the real-life and online relationships take different twists and turns given what Marcus knows (and April doesn't). I really liked the fanfic angle of this one. It's a dedicated community, and it was fun to see how this story was built around the world they live in and fandom they cultivate!

Onto the next ones!

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Book Reviews - Highly Recommended and (More) Time Travel

Hey, here are two books that helped me get through my endless advanced copy queue and two that came highly recommended that I also just LOVED.

A Forgotten Murder by Jude Deveraux was a book I've had in queue for quite some time. This is my first time reading this author, and it was an enjoyable ride - I'll be back for more! This story revolved around a cold case brought back to life. While I haven't read the earlier iteration, this is a missing persons mystery where an "old gang" is getting back together to solve the crime. That said, I didn't feel like I was missing out by not knowing these characters before this installment. Kate, Jack and Sara come together at Oxley Manor where two people went missing long ago. As those who were connected to these people back when come back to Oxley, the trio must determine what their stories were then and now to finally solve these cases. This was an interesting ride as the past and present became connected, and the trio tried to piece together the clues. Thanks to NetGalley for the (belated) look at this read!

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig was absolutely stunning. I don't even want to write too much about I because I can't even begin to do the beauty of its story justice. The book revolves around the concepts of "What if?" and regret in such a captivating way. The story is told through Nora. Nora has lost hope in life, then she is whisked away to a library. It's a library of her life. Each moment is cataloged, but also there are stories of what might have been. Nora is given the chance to explore those lives she never lives, but has wondered how they might have played out. I won't say much more because the joy of this one is in the journey. I absolutely loved this one and the messages and how it just made me think and feel. Read. This. Book.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Tayor Jenkins Reid was a story I absolutely loved. The way it was written sucked me in from the first pages, and then I literally couldn't put it down because it was so interesting, and I had to know all of Evelyn's story! Evelyn Hugo is a reclusive movie star. She gives no interviews until she reaches out to a magazine requesting Monique for an interview. Monique is not a well-known writer, so she is unclear why she has been chosen. Evelyn is adamant that she will tell her story to no one but Monique. Monique and Evelyn start meeting, and Evelyn walks her through her life/husbands. Each of these stories comes with truths that have never been revealed, including who Evelyn's true love was. This one was full of feels and a twist that got me to gasp when revealed. I just loved this one y'all!

The Cost of Knowing by Brittney Morris was a book I honestly didn't understand the scope of until the last pages. Once the story really clicked, it was so, so powerful. The story is about two brothers who have tragically lost their parents. Alex is a 16 year old just trying to get through life - his grief, his job, his relationships, and oh yeah, that thing where he can see the future. In his visions, he sees that his younger brother Isiaah is going to die. Alex decides that if this is the future, he still has time to change the story. He commits to spending as much time as possible with Isiaah and to righting the future that he doesn't believe is inevitable. Through this, Isiaah and Alex start to become closer, but Alex never forgets what his brother's fate could be. While this is about two brothers, it's really about what it's like to be a young black man today. The threads of this reality are woven through the fictional tale of these two brothers. While centered on an imaginary skillset, the real components of this fateful tale matter. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this powerful April 2021 release.

Onto the next ones!

Book Reviews - Book Clubs and Time Travel!

For this round, I've got two books I read for book club and two advanced copies. Quite the array of reads in this quartet, but all had me in my feels in one way or the other!

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the Women Code by Liza Mundy was the fascinating story of a part of World War II that isn't well-known, and y'all, IT SHOULD BE. This is the story of the women who were code breakers during the war. That's right, women were doing this work. Recruited primarily on college campuses and because they were single (they definitely unpack this strategy), THOUSANDS of women did this work for the Army and Navy. This book is interesting to hear about the work they were doing, and it's even more interesting to hear the stories of who these women were. The book did interviews with the women who were still living, as well as archival research to share this story with the world. After the war, these women were told they had to keep this work a secret which is an interesting dynamic that is also explored. This was the first read for my sorority book club, and honestly, I'm not sure I would have picked this one on my own. However, I'm so glad I now know these stories, and the critical role women played in this war! There was also a recent PBS documentary that I'm excited to check out to continue learning these important stories.

Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis was a wonderful pageturner! It's told in two timelines (and y'all know I love a dual timeline/narrator set-up) revolving around the New York Public Library. In 1913, it's about Laura, a woman trying to figure out her place in the world. Her husband is the superintendent of the NYPL (where they live y'all!), and they are raising their two kids. She is also in journalism school, and she loves exploring her love of writing. Part of this writing brings her to the Heterodoxy Club, a world of women and way of thinking that draws her in. Meanwhile in 1993, there is Sadie, a curator of the NYPL. Also, Laura is her grandmother who is known as an esteemed essayist. Then, things start disappearing from Laura's collection. For one, Sadie hasn't shared her connection, and for two, she isn't sure what is happening. In both timelines, there is suspense about some curious happenings in the library, and the way each woman grows through her story is just wonderfully done. This is one that swept me up into its world, and I didn't want to leave. I loved the suspense and depth of the stories of these two women and loved how the mysteries were revealed!

Clues to the Universe by Christina Li was another one of those middle grade books that had me all up in my feels. The story was about Ro who has tragically lost her father and remains connected to him/his memory through their shared love of rockets. Ro finds friendship with Ben, who has realized his estranged father is the creator of his favorite space-based comic. Ro and Ben join up as science fair partners, and they start to navigate their school/life together as friends. Part of this means working through bullying, and this is some tough stuff. They are both also grieving for their fathers in different ways. What I appreciated about this one was that the emotions were so real. It really explored each of their challenges, as well as the rocky road that middle school can bring. It didn't hold back on those feels, and it wasn't always happy, but also these characters found joy in their connection. Thanks to Quill Tree Books for the early look at this recent release!

Muted by Tami Charles was a heavy read. I knew that was going to be case going on, so not a surprise, but a notation. Told in verse, it is the story of Denver. She and her best friends Dali and Shak have aspirations of being the next big R&B girl group. Then, in a dream come true, they are connected with Sean "Mercury" Ellis, a big name R&B artist. They really want to make their dream happen, so they agree to work with Mercury as much as possible. They soon realize this is far from a dream, and they are stuck in a world where this man has all these power and control. Denver wants to keep her dream alive, but she wonders if is worth these sacrifices and isolation. This was a hard and emotional read, but it's also important to know these stories are real. Thanks to Scholastic for the early look at this February 2021 release!

Onto the next ones!


Saturday, January 9, 2021

Book Reviews - Unexpected Reads

If I had to find a common thread for this round of reads, I'd say it's there was something unexpected in each of them. Read on!



Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner was honestly not what I expected at all. Part of the way through this veered more into a thriller of sorts, and I just wasn't ready for that (literal) twist. The story focuses on two estranged best friends. Drue is an emerging social media influencer, and her former friend Daphne has a big wedding planned. Given the status of who she's marrying, it's all over social media and celebrity magazines. Drue is shocked when Daphne asks her to be her maid of honor, but decides to say yes. From there, she's thrown into Daphne's wedding planning experience - and y'all, it's definitely some kind of experience. As she is back in Daphne's orbit, she has to revisit why they drifted apart in the first place. This again was just so unexpected. I don't want to say too much about where the story goes because that's a big part of what reading this really is. I'm always in for a Jennifer Weiner novel, however I'll definitely steer you to others I love more first if you ask me for a recommendation!

Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins is about a woman starting over. After being hit by a vehicle, Dr. Nora Stuart is in a hospital bed recovering. While her boyfriend thinks she's in a coma, she's actually awake and discovers he's flirting with another staff member at the hospital over her body! Appalled and needing a fresh start, Nora decides to return home. It's somewhere she has not returned to since leaving (and the reasons why are shared along the way), but she feels like it's where she needs to go. So, she heads back to her mother and her niece who is staying there because Nora's sister is incarcerated. Returning home, Nora seeks to (re)build relationships, and she also comes head on to many aspects of her past - Y'all, some of these are really emotional and painful. This was a story that definitely is about some tough stuff, and there is also hope and love and new beginnings sprinkled throughout. Sometimes you just need a reliable novel with solid characters and a wonderful story, and this was exactly what this was!

Thornwood by Leah Cypress was a new spin on Sleeping Beauty. While I love a re-imagined fairy tale, I haven't read many focused on this one. Briony is the lesser known sister of Rosalin. As the story goes, Rosalin is put to sleep as part of a curse. When the kingdom wakes up, Briony wants to get to the bottom of what's really happening. She wants to help save her family's kingdom. This is one that had some twists and turns, including a solid one at the end I didn't see coming that added some depth and thrills to the story which made it much more captivating. It wasn't just about some girl falling asleep and needing a prince, but it was about what that process and the curse on the kingdom really meant and did. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this April 2021 release.

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour was a book that was definitely from a genre I don't normally read, AND I'm glad I got a chance to check this one out! The story is satire about a black salesman. Darren/Buck is working at Starbucks when an executive from a startup asks him to join his company. He thinks Buck has potential, and he wants him to take this next step in his career. Once onboard, Buck is quickly thrown into all the corporate tropes. There are additional layers given he is the only black man at the company. Buck is able to move up and find new opportunities, but with that comes more challenge. This was such an intriguing spin on the corporate world. It explored the realities and systems that still exist in such a creative way. It's one I almost need to read again just to really explore and understand what the underlying messages are. It's definitely a book that made me think, and while so unique, it's also a very real perspective on the "business world" today. Thanks to the publisher for an advanced copy of this January 2021 release!

Onto the next ones!

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Book Reviews:The First Four of 2021!

 Y'all, if the rest of my year of reading is as strong as this quartet, it's going to be one heckuva year!


I Want To Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom was an honest and hilarious memoir that I absolutely adored. I came to know Rachel Bloom through Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Note: After reading this, I realized I never finished the final season, and I proceeded to binge these episodes because I needed all the Rachel Bloom awesomeness in my life), and I was excited to learn more about her. Y'all, this is a memoir that digs deep. She shares her wonderful brand of humor humor, but she also talks about where she's found struggle. Specifically, she talks about some of the rougher parts of her childhood, including being teased and not feeling like she ever "fit in" with others. But she shares these stories to explain that is who she was and who she is, and each story is important in its own weird way. I absolutely loved this collection. I loved the way she was willing to talk about her mental health, abut challenges she navigated, and just how she's come to embrace all her weird. There were moments when I was laughing out loud, and I also ended the book in tears - This truly runs the gamut. This made me crave even more things from Rachel Bloom. She has such a unique brand of creativity and humor, and I need so much more of that in my life.

Also, I just have to say that this Lois Lowry sentence may be one of my favorite sentences in a book EVER. I felt this.

Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton was just a delight of a read on each and every page. Y'all should know this is a coffee table book - Really that means it's heavy, and it's full of so many great pictures and stories. The book shares Dolly's lyrics, and they are accompanied by stories about why she wrote each song. Y'ALL. These stories are incredible. This woman is brilliantly creative, and it was fascinating to read about her why and sparks of inspiration for so many incredible songs. There are also pictures included - Some connect to songs, and others are just her sharing her life with those who love her music. This book is beyond beautiful, and it was so wonderful to hear Dolly's story in Dolly's words and through her gift to the world - Her words and music. Now that I've read the whole book, I could see myself just flipping through a few pages from time to time for a spark of joy and inspiration. Also, if you haven't yet listened to Dolly's conversation with Brene Brown - You must do that, then go read thsi book, and just immerse yourself in all things Dolly.

Leave Out the Tragic Parts: A Grandfather's Search for a Boy Lost to Addiction by Dave Kindred was the story of a grandfather reflecting on the loss of his grandson. As he navigated the grief of his grandson's short life, he decided to learn more about who he was and what exactly happened to him. His grandson Jared left home at 18 and lived on the road as a train-hopper. With this, he struggled with alcohol addiction. The author reflects on Jared as a kid that he knew, then takes the time to explore Jared as the man on the run. Even in this, he is able to find good in what Jared brought to the friends he met along the way. He also finds the challenges he encounters throughout. This is a story of love told through loss. It's about a grandpa wanting to find answers, but knowing these will not bring Jared back. The story is honest as the author reflects on if he could have done more to save Jared, but also candidly shares this as a tribute to the life he did live. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this moving memoir due to be released in February 2021!

Dirt: Growing Strong Roots in What Makes the Beautiful Broken by Mary Marantz was a book my sister-in-law recommended to me after hearing the author on a podcast. The base of the story is about a woman who grew up in a single-wide trailer in rural West Virginia and ultimately graduated from Yale Law School. More than this story though, this is a story about a woman learning to embrace where she came from. She talks about her past not because she's better than that place, but because she is that place. She talks about it because it is her story, and that matters. Throughout, she also explores faith. As she shares her story, she shares the way this connects to her faith. She explains how she sees God in different moments and/or how she came to learn more about God/faith in these instances. This was just a beautifully written story. I really loved the way there were reflections on faith interwoven throughout, and they were simple, yet so powerful. I say often that sometimes books hit me at just the right time, and this was a wonderful memoir that was just what I needed as this year began.

Onto the next ones!