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!