Saturday, December 23, 2017

The year that was, 2017 is over!!

Politics and the world at large are a mess. No one can ever convince me it's not because of the orange menace in the Oval Office. I have to hope 2018 will be better. Until that day, I'm going to focus on the positive. As in the many good books I read in 2017.

My goal for 2017 was to read 50 books. As of December 23, I read 38 books. I think I can make it to 40 books before the final minutes of 2017 come to a close. Either way, that's still more than 2016. Perhaps I would have read more if I hadn't started and stopped 13 additional books. Yes, life is too short to read books I'm not really interested in. Sooooo....lets get to it. The best books of the year!

Best Books of 2017
(Please note, not all of these books were published in 2017. I just happened to read them in 2017)

1. The Hike by Drew Magary: If not for my office book club, I don't think I ever would have picked this one up. This was one of the weirdest and funniest books I've ever read.

2. The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee: Youtube videos turned me on to this gem! A funny historical romp through Europe.

3. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty: Loved the book and the loved the HBO adaptation. But....HBO why are you doing a season 2? I think one season was enough.

4. Shine by Lauren Myracle: I should have read this sooner. This was a page-turner. A horrific crime rocks a small town to its core.

5. Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter: This one surprised me. I was expecting a formulaic crime thriller, and got so much more.

6. Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen: This was my first foray into a Sarah Dessen book and I loved it. This reminded me of a Jodi Picoult book.

7. On Writing by Stephen King: I didn't review this on my blog. I read it for inspiration. Like a lot of people I have aspirations about writing professionally. I'm a looooonnnnnnggg way from doing that, but I got a lot more confidence just by reading this book.

8. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: Given the current political climate, Angie Thomas' book came at the right time. This book shines a light on a hot-button issue, police brutality.

9. The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins: This was one of the strangest books I've ever read. It took me two tries before I could make it all the way through. The second time was the charm.

10. The Bookshop at Water's End by Patti Callahan Henry: A book about people who love books!

The not so good books of 2017
(Please note, not all of these books were published in 2017. I just happened to read them in 2017)

1. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid: I didn't review this on my blog, but I did read it for my office book club. I know this book is on a lot of "best o 2017" lists but it's not on mine! This is a book you either love or you hate. I hate it. I found it incredibly BORING!!

2. Night Film by Marisha Pessl: I invested 600-plus pages into a book that was a big load of nothing. It was a book without an identity. It was trying to be literary, magical realism, thrilling and it didn't work for me.

3. The Mothers by Britt Bennett: Another office book club pick that just wasn't for me. It had potential but I didn't like the narrative style. It was supposed to be told by a group of mothers, but the voice was too inconsistent for my taste.

4. Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett: Yes, yet another office book club pick that I didn't review on my blog. Sensing a theme? Perhaps I need to stick to reading books that I pick?

How did I do with my reading resolutions in 2017?
I think I did okay. My goal was to read 50 books. I've currently read 38 books, but I think I can get to 40. What were my other resolutions for the year? Keep a reading journal: Done, I plan to continue doing that. Finish the Lunar Chronicles: Yeah that didn't happen and I don't know if it will happen in 2018 but I will try. Read a book I assume I will hate: Not yet!

Reading resolutions for 2018
So what am I going to do for 2018? No. 1 goal? Have fun reading!! I want to try for 50 books again, but I want to have fun doing it and not get caught up in the number. What else? Read more of my own books. Read more non-fiction. Read out of my comfort zone; I rarely read fantasy, horror, or sci-fi and it's time for a change! Finally finish It by Stephen King!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Where have I been?

The million dollar question...where have I been? I'm always reading, but I confess I don't always have the drive to do blog posts. I also started reading, and then stopped reading several books that I just found a little boring. And I made the genius decision to start tackling several books that are 400-plus pages at the same time. Add all that up...and I haven't posted in more than a month.

But I digress, lets catch up with what I have finished reading lately.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

I bought Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen when it first came out -- two years ago. I remember braving a loooonnnnggggg self-checkout line at Walmart to buy this book. Then, like a lot of my books it started to collect dust on shelf. But this year I was determined to read more of my own books. On a whim, I finally decided to read this. It's also my first foray into reading a Sarah Dessen book.

The short: Teenage Sydney has long lived in her older brother, Peyton's, shadow. He gets all of the attention, no matter how badly he screws up. And now, after a drunk driving accident leaves a young boy in a wheelchair Peyton is headed to prison. Even with Peyton gone, Sydney is still questioning her place and self-worth within her own family. That is until she switches schools, makes new friends, and is welcomed into the arms of the Chatham family. Has Sydney finally found her place in life?

Thoughts: I LOVED this! It kind of reminded me of Jodi Picoult's writing. The strong friendships and family dynamics are what make this story work. Sydney's mom is someone who always has to have it together. She always has a plan, even when it comes to Peyton being in prison. Sydney's mom can find any reason to excuse Peyton's behavior. She can find any reason to rally behind him. But it takes so much more to see the pain that Sydney is in. Sydney's new friends, Layla and Mac can see that pain and help her through it. Sydney just needs to find the strength to tell her parents her true feelings...before it's too late.

Rating: O.M.G.!!

When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
The short: A car crash changes the lives of just about everyone in the small town of Worthy, Georgia. In one car, three teenage girls are killed instantly, leaving their families and friends to pick up the pieces. In the other car, a teenage boy named Graham is left with severe injuries and the lasting memory that he took three people. But everyone, not just Graham, will be forced to take a hard look at their own lives in When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen.

Thoughts: A short but impactful book. Every character has some issue, some flaw that they were able to ignore until the accident. Finding the strength within and truly knowing your worth is the only way to move on.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Lake Union) in exchange for an honest review.

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

The short: Luisa "Lu" Brant is the new state's attorney. A grisly murder committed by a homeless man, offers Lu the chance to make a name for herself and step out of the shadow of her father -- a man who once occupied the very office she now holds. But what seems like a routine case will spark memories of the past. A past that could have dire consequences for her family in Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman.

Thoughts: I had high hopes for this one. The cover seemed to imply that something sinister took place. I was expecting a payoff that never came. It takes until the last 75-80 pages before the real plot is revealed. I felt like this book was a big buildup to nothing. The larger plot also seemed to come out of left field. I do like Laura Lippman's writing style, but I was a bit indifferent to this book as a whole.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: received a copy of the book from the publisher (William Morrow) in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

My take on: Night Film

In my continuing efforts to read more of my own books, I finally tackled the monster that is Night Film by Marisha Pessl. I bought this two or three years ago, and I'm not sure what attracted me to it. I think it was probably the cover or the discounted price. I'm certain I picked this up from a bargain bin at Barnes & Noble.

The cover certainly hints at something ominous. Something sinister is going on with the woman on the cover. She did something or something happened to her. When I bought this and when I finally started reading this book, I was convinced there had to be a great story ahead. After 600-plus pages, this was a bit of a mixed bag.

Young Ashley Cordova is dead. Her death is ruled a suicide, but bulldog investigative reporter Scott McGrath is not convinced. Scott is certain there is more to the story, possibly even foul play. Ashley is the daughter of the reclusive horror director Stanislas Cordova. Scott has come up against Stanislas before. He once tried to expose the celebrated director's sinister lifestyle and film career, even going so far as to compare Stanislas to cult leaders like Jim Jones and Charles Manson. Actors on his films were worked to the point of exhaustion and even mental breakdowns. But no one will ever go on the record. Stanislas has followers that would do anything and everything for him, including protecting him from people like Scott. The pursuit of Stanislas turned out to be a big failure, leading Scott to become a pariah in the journalism world. That is until Ashley's death. Solving the mystery surrounding Ashley's death could be Scott's ticket to redemption or it could be his downfall.

McGrath's life is in shambles. One day melts into the next. He's estranged from just about everyone in his life. He loves his young daughter, Samantha, but barely makes an effort to spend time with her. It doesn't seem like Scott should be going down the Cordova rabbit hole, but he is. One tip leads to another, and another, and another. Enough clues to fill 600 pages. Along the way Scott gets some help, forming his own squad--reminiscent of Woodward and Bernstein in their pursuit of the Watergate scandal. Yes, Woodward and Bernstein are a running gag throughout the book. Youngins Nora and Hopper, both with connections to Ashley, join the investigation.

It's hard to know what type of book this was trying to be. Horror? Literary? Mystery? Magical Realism? I didn't even get to the mixed media component of the book. Throughout there are fake newspaper articles, magazine articles, web pages, and photographs. They're supposed to enhance the story and there used to be a website/app for the book, but it looks like that's no longer active. The articles, links, and photographs are another character, an annoying character. They don't enhance the story, they slow it down. There are parts of this book that are really good, but some that are just boring, slow, and unnecessary. If this book had 200 less pages, it would have made for a better read. For all of the pages, the final payoff was a big letdown. Without giving too much away, the true story behind Ashley's downfall was not what I was expecting at all. After investing so much time I was disappointed in the ending. Looking at this as a whole, I felt like the whole investigation was pointless because it led to nothing!

Rating: Give it a try

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

My take on: Shine

I'm not sure how many years ago I bought Shine by Lauren Myracle, but I'm glad I finally I dug it out of my TBR pile.

Seventeen-year-old Patrick is beaten and left to die at the gas station where he worked. The horrific crime rocks the small town of Black Creek, North Carolina. People in town and local law enforcement are certain it's a hate crime and it has to be the work of outsiders. Why a hate crime? Patrick is gay. It's easier to believe that outsiders did this rather than admit that someone from Black Creek committed this crime. While it was hard to be himself in such a small town, but Patrick never stopped being himself or denied who he was. Patrick was left to fend for himself after the death of his beloved grandmother, Mama Sweetie; going to school and supporting himself by working at the gas station. He was friends with the local jocks/popular kids in town, Tommy, Christian, and Beef, despite the many times they teased him about his sexuality. Patrick dealt with whatever life handled him with dignity and grace. Now, he's literally in the fight of his life.

Many in town offer their prayers of support for Patrick, but the truth is they would much rather gossip about Patrick than actually try to help him. Except for Cat. As kids, Cat and Patrick used to be best friends. Cat often spent more time with Patrick than her own family. As teens they drifted apart. After a sexual assault, Cat chose to retreat within herself than to seek solace from her best friend. Now that Patrick is in the hospital, Cat is full of guilt and regret. Does she deserve to feel sad after rejecting Patrick for so many years? In some ways she feels responsible for Patrick's attack. Maybe if she hadn't shut him out, Patrick would be OK? Cat is convinced that the only way to alleviate the pain and guilt is to find Patrick's attacker. It won't be easy. There are some, including Cat's brother Christian, who are convinced that Cat should leave well enough alone. Investigating forces everyone to confront their own feelings about Patrick, when they would rather avoid them. Investigating forces Cat to face her own feelings and insecurities, when she would rather avoid them. And more importantly, investigating could be dangerous.

This was very well-paced. Each chapter is an insight to small-town life, small-town "values", and small-town prejudices. It's easier to ignore what's uncomfortable than facing it head on. Cat wants to face everything head on. She's afraid but can't give into fear because she would be letting Patrick down. Patrick's attack is the catalyst for the overall book, but this is really Cat's story and her journey. Although, I do wish we could have heard a little bit more from Patrick's perspective. Everything we know about him comes from other people. It would have been nice to get just a little bit more of Patrick, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Rating: O.M.G.!!!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

My take on: The Gentlemen's Guide to Vice and Virtue

Several times a week, I find myself losing countless hours watching YouTube videos. What intrigues me so? I follow a lot of booktubers. I like watching book hauls and books reviews on YouTube. It's because of a review I saw on YouTube that The Gentlemen's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee caught my eye.

This was 500 pages of lighthearted fun.

It's the 1700s, and Henry "Monty" Montague has no desire to be like all the other teenage boys his age. Boarding school is not for him. Besides he got kicked out. Coming home at a decent hour is not for him. Besides there's too much fun to be had staying out late, partying, gambling, and drinking. Being a proper "gentlemen" like his father is not for him, especially if it means denying who he is. Who is Monty? A fun, self-absorbed, reckless but often thoughtful young man. He also loves the company of young ladies and young men. Although, Monty is certain the love of his life is a young man. And not just any young man, Monty is in love with his best friend, Percy.

Given the time period, a man being in love with another man was taboo. Especially a man like Percy. Who is Percy? A gifted musician, who just happens to be of mixed race. When people look at Percy, they don't see a talented man. All people see is his skin color. Everyone but Monty. He sees a beautiful talented man, and Monty wants to be more than just his friend. However, Monty's father has had enough of his son's antics. It's time for Monty to grow up. It's time for Monty to take over running the family estate. In his father's eyes, it's also time for Monty to give up the sins of the flesh--a.k.a. stop being gay. Monty isn't ready to change in any way. He shouldn't have to after living with a father who not only beats him, but also hates Monty with a passion. But Monty has a little time before deciding on the future. Now he's getting ready to hit the open road.

Monty is about embark on a yearlong Grand Tour of Europe. Percy and Monty's sister, Felicity, are along for the ride. It's supposed to be a year of growth, education, and reflection. Not exactly high priorities for this young man. Nope. Monty desires a year filled with pleasure and alcohol. The trio's chaperone, Mr. Lockwood, will have none of that. Lockwood is determined to keep his group of youngsters in check. Yeah, that doesn't work for long. Monty easily outsmarts Lockwood, and heads out for fun with Percy. Anything to distract himself from the hellish future his father wants for him.

Monty is constantly fighting his feelings for Percy. He wants to love Percy, but what if Percy doesn't want to love him back. There are brief moments of passion between Percy and Monty, but they always stop short of discussing their true feelings for each other. This yearlong trip through Europe also doesn't go as planned. It quickly goes off the rails after Monty, Percy, Felicity, and Lockwood are attacked by roadside pirates. The youngsters get separated from Lockwood and are forced to fend for themselves without money, a place to sleep, and a steady source of food. Without actually intending to, Monty does "grow up." He's forced to think about other people instead of just himself. Monty even sees Felicity as more than just his annoying little sister. He sees that Felicity is actually a resourceful and intelligent young woman. Health problems for Percy finally force Monty to face his true feelings for his best best friend. Faced with the opportunity to "cure" Percy's health problems, Monty is determined to take it. But at what cost?

At times Monty, Percy, and Felicity's romp through Europe was a stretch of the imagination. Every time you think they're finally going to get some relief, something else happens. They have all kinds of people chasing them. But altogether this is a funny, romantic, and endearing book. Please read it!

Rating: O.M.G.!!!

Monday, September 4, 2017

My take on: Ten Dead Comedians

A legendary comedian offers nine of his peers the trip of a lifetime, a weekend at his private island retreat. What should be a weekend of collaboration with a comedic superstar turns into a nightmare. Their host is dead by their arrival, and that's not all! They're completely cutoff from civilization, the island is deserted, there's no Wi-Fi, food is scarce, and one-by-one someone is killing them. Death and comedic hijinks ensue in Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente.

What is billed as a dark take on Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, actually reminds me of a more twisted version of the movie Clue. Like the movie Clue, the people in this book are all connected. They each have a secret, one that could ultimately lead to their demise.

In Ten Dead Comedians, Dustin Walker has become a bit of a recluse but the well-known funnyman appears to up for one last hurrah. He invites a mixture of up-and-coming comedians, like Dante Dupree, Zoe Schwartz, Ruby Ng, and Oliver "Ollie" Rees, and has-been/past-their prime comedians, like Steve Gordon, TJ Martinez, Janet Kahn, and William Griffith, to his private island. None of them are exactly sure why they've been invited, but who can pass on the chance to work with someone they once looked up to.

Once on the island, nothing is going right. Dustin's "assistant," Meredith, has no idea where their elusive host is but tries to assure everyone that everything is OK. Of course, it's not! While no one has seen Dustin in the flesh, he did leave behind a video detailing all the fun that awaits. Although, it's not so funny when Dustin kills himself on film. Is it real? Or perhaps it's an elaborate prank by the comedic genius? Ollie refuses to believe it's real, he's certain Dustin will reveal himself at the proper time. But...not everyone is so easily convinced--especially when the bodies start to drop. The first victim falls prey to poison, this one got off pretty easily. Each death gets more elaborate and more gruesome and in a macabre way kind of funny!! The whole island is booby-trapped. One more step could be your last. One person dies after falling into a bouncy house with knives at the bottom, on the surface that doesn't sound funny but read it in context. Who is behind it all? Why? If it's Dustin, why? What did any of his guests ever do to Dustin? No one knows for sure, but soon it's every man and woman for their themselves. It's hard to trust someone who might want to kill you!

I did my best to guess who the murderer was, but I really didn't get it until the end. I think that's the mark of good writing. I was engrossed from start to finish. I don't think I picked up on all of the comedic nuances, but I still managed to enjoy this addictive story!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Quirk Books) at the request of Saichek Publicity, in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 28, 2017

My take on: Everything We Keep

Aimee Tierney's wedding day should have been the happiest day of her life. But instead of a day filled with joy, Aimee spent that day burying her fiance, James. Aimee's struggles to move on and rebuild her life are at the heart of Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale.

Aimee's dreams of spending the rest of her life with James are dashed when he dies in a boating accident in Mexico. A life without James is unimaginable. Moving on is unimaginable. Outside of working as a chef at her parents' restaurant, Aimee's entire life was James. Her friends, Nadia and Kristen, insist that Aimee needs to focus on what she wants out of life. But it's hard to move on when a psychic, named Lacy, contacts Aimee and insists that James is alive. Aimee never saw his body, James' brother Thomas didn't allow it. Some of James' artwork is missing from their home. Is all of this just a coincidence? Is he really alive?

Giving up hope on the love of your life isn't easy. Aimee and James were childhood sweethearts, best friends at first and then deeply in love until the end. Their marriage was supposed to be the start of the rest of their lives. They were both supposed to pursue their passions. Aimee was supposed to buy out her parents' restaurant and run it herself. James was supposed to leave the family business and pursue his passion for art and painting. But his death brings all of that to a halt. James came from a family with high expectations. His mother, Claire, was determined to have her sons, James and Thomas, take over the family business. Until that day came, there was only room for academics anything else, including a relationship with Aimee was considered a distraction. But teenage James had a passion for Aimee and for painting, so much so that he had to hide his artwork from his family -- keeping his paintings at Aimee's home.

Thoughts of James are never far from Aimee's mind, but even she starts to see the logic in moving on. She forges a new friendship with handsome photographer Ian. She opens a high-end coffee bar/cafe. She's finally starting to find her own happiness. A happiness that's not dependent on James. She even starts to imagine having Ian as more than just a friend, more than just a shoulder to cry, more than just a pretty face to stare at -- possibly he's someone to fall in love with. Ian feels the same saw, but it's hard to compete with the ghost of a dead man. Especially when Lacy continues to pop up, insisting that James is alive. How can Aimee move on if life won't let her. Maybe it's time to face her fears and get answers?

This story grabbed me and had my attention for two-thirds of the book. Why two-thirds? I can't go into great detail because that would spoil the latter part of the book. But I will say this, I thought some things were a little too convenient, a little too far-fetched. There were some things that I found to be unnecessary, like incest. Yes, there is an incest plotline toward the end of the book that seemed to come from nowhere. This is all to say that I liked most of the book, but not all of it.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Lake Union Publishing) in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

My take on: Shadow Girl

Is it ever a good idea to read book #2 in a series, if you haven't read book #1? I'm a staunch believer in reading a series in sequence. Not having all the background details of the prior book could make for a disappointing read. But sometimes the plot description wins me over. The review pitch for Shadow Girl by Gerry Schmitt sounded intriguing. And trust me, you don't need to have read book #1 to get sucked into this thrilling mystery!

Leland Odin is the wealthy CEO of Diamond Shopping Network, and he is on the verge of death. His days are numbered if he doesn't get a heart transplant. Leland's luck changes for the better when a donor heart becomes available. The joy is short-lived when the helicopter carrying the donor heart is shot down, killing both pilots, injuring dozens, and taking away Leland's shot at survival. Leland made a very powerful enemy in Mom Chao Cherry, and she will not stop until he pays for stealing from her. I should say I don't see that little nugget of information as a spoiler since it's revealed very early that Mom Chao is behind the helicopter crash. It's the why and the how that's at the heart of this mystery.

Enter lead detective Max Montgomery and his defacto partner family liaison officer Afton Tangler. Afton isn't a cop, she's called upon to be an advocate for victims and their families. But she aspires to be a cop. She's around them all day, Afton can't help but thinking and acting like a cop. She's a vital member of the local police department, and hopes that Chief Thacker will soon see how valuable Afton could be as member of the police force. Max supports Afton's dream, but cautions her to take things one step at a time. She's quick to put herself in dangerous situations, leading Max to constantly remind Afton how her impulsiveness could put her in danger. As a single mother of two daughters, Poppy and Tess, Afton is often reminded that she has a family that depends on her to come home safely every night. However, investigating the crash and the deep plot behind it, is full of danger.

With little clues to start with, Afton and Max are left to investigate everyone in Leland's life. Did his trophy wife, Sunny, have a hand in this? Did she want access to Leland's money sooner rather than later? What about his robotic stepdaughter, Terrell? She acts like she has no interest in her stepfather's money, but Terrell is definitely hiding something. Her aura of perfectionism is just a facade. Meanwhile, Mom Chao Cherry is just getting started in her revenge against Leland. She's one of the most powerful criminal figures in Thailand, if Leland knew what was good for him he would have left Mom Chao alone.

Each chapter peels back a layer of the mystery. Yes the investigation plays out like a by-the-book police procedural, but this is by no means a boring book. It's a fast-paced, engrossing novel and I highly recommend it!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Berkley) in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, July 21, 2017

My take on: The Bookshop at Water's End

I have said it before and I will say it again, books by Patti Callahan Henry are an automatic buy for me. Now, I didn't buy her latest, The Bookshop at Water's End, but...of course I said yes to a review copy!! Plus, the title attracted me. It sounded like a book about books, which is like music to my ears.

For lifelong friends, Bonny and Lainey, the small town of Watersend, South Carolina, is where they spent many happy summers -- earning them the nickname "the Summer Sisters." Whenever possible they escaped to the town bookstore, making a lifelong connection with the store's owner, Mimi. However, those idyllic summers didn't last. One day Lainey's mother abruptly left the family, abandoning her daughter and son, Owen. Lainey and her brother were never the same afterward. Lainey would spend the next several decades searching for the mother who didn't want to be found. Meanwhile Owen would spend his time globe-trotting and never setting down roots and never forming a lasting romantic relationship--much to Bonny's dismay.

Ever since she was a young girl, Bonny has always been in love with Owen. But they've never been in-sync. Owen comes in and out of Bonny's life, constantly afraid of commitment. Bonny's heart could no longer take it, she had to move on. But moving on came at a price. Marrying Lucas, a prominent lawyer, brought joy and pain. Their daughter, Piper, brought the joy. But Lucas' constant criticism and disdain for Bonny's career as a doctor brought the pain. Now in her fifties, a deadly mistake forces Bonny to take a hard look at her life. What does she want for her career? Her marriage is over, does this mean it's time to face her feelings for Owen? The answers don't come easy. The only thing Bonny knows for sure is that she needs to get away, and she needs her best friend.

After decades spent away from Watersend, Bonny and Lainey go back to the place of their many happy memories. This time their children are in tow, with the now teenage Piper looking after Lainey's children, Daisy and George. Piper doesn't see the point of toiling away in a small town for the summer. But even Piper has issues that she needs to confront. She's failing at college and her boyfriend has left her. Like her mother, Piper isn't sure what she wants out of life. The only thing Piper is sure of? Her love of books. Like Bonny and Lainey did when they were younger, Piper finds solace reading a book at Mimi's shop.

I do have to say the title of this book is a little bit misleading. I thought everyone's love of books would play a larger role. But the book angle was more of a backdrop, than a dominant theme. Little issues aside, what works here is Patti Callahan Henry's talent for creating relatable characters. Everyone can relate to the highs and lows that come with marriage, friendship, family, and love.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Berkley) in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

My take on: Like a Fly on the Wall

For a while I was staring at a blank screen. I wasn't sure how to describe Like a Fly on the Wall by Simone Kelly. It's a book with a lot of different themes: romance, suspense, family drama, and mysticism. In my opinion, there isn't really a plot. I don't say that as a bad thing. The lack of a traditional plot works here and let me tell you why!

The characters and how they interact are what make this book work. Jacques Berradi is a good-looking and intelligent man--with a unique talent. Ever since he was young, Jacques could communicate with spirits/spirit guides, which help him see the future. His robust list of clients pay him to guide them down the right path to personal and professional success. But despite his professional achievements, Jacques' mother refuses to believe in her son's connection to the spirit world. To her, it's just a bunch of nonsense. Ever since his father died, under suspicious circumstances, Jacques has been trying to convince his mother that his father speaks to him. However, she refuses to believe in Jacques' gift, instead she chooses to ignore it. On the flip side Jacques' brother, Hicham, believes in his older brother. While Jacques is the calming influence on the family, Hicham is like a hurricane. He hops from girlfriend to girlfriend. His moods change from minute to minute. As a character, Hicham was exhausting. I would hate to have a sibling like that!

In Jacques' professional endeavors, he meets all kinds of clients. The beautiful and bubbly Kylie Collins is a client like no other. While Jacques has a girlfriend, named Vicky, he is instantly drawn to Kylie. There's an instant emotional connection between them. Early on in the book, it seemed like Kylie and Jacques were headed toward a romantic relationship. But (spoiler alert) that doesn't happen and I'm sooo glad. I think that would have been a big mistake. Kylie and Jacques have way more chemistry as friends than as lovers. Jacques helps Kylie get to the root of her mother, True's, secrets and to find her purpose in life. Kylie helps Jacques get to the root of his family's secrets. Making them more than friends would have cheapened the overall book. Romance just for the sake of romance doesn't make for a good story.

For a debut novel, this was pretty good. Some of the storylines were left unfinished, I think that's because this is clearly the first book in a series. There's more to come. I definitely want to know what happens to Jacques and Kylie in the next book.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (William Morrow) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Friday, June 30, 2017

My take on: The Space between the Stars

A virus has left Earth and the surrounding planets desolate wastelands. The people left are few and far between. In The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett, one woman, the sole survivor in her community, will have to confront the loneliness that surrounds her physically and the loneliness in her heart.

Jamie, a survivor of a community on planet Soltaire, fled Earth years ago. A miscarriage led to the end of her relationship with Daniel and to her life on Earth. Somehow Jamie has survived a deadly virus outbreak, leaving her to survive on her own. Small amounts of food and a horse are Jamie's only sources of comfort. Solitude could drive some people to insanity, but for Jamie it seemed to be a source of strength. However, Jamie is not alone. Rena, a research scientist, and Lowry, a priest, find their way to Jamie. Soon a ship picks up their distress signal. The captain, Callan, is a bit of an enigma. He wants to help, but he also doesn't want to help. Does that make sense? He wants to do just enough but no more than necessary.

This ragtag group is on their way to the capital, but not to Earth. That's close enough for Jamie. She's now convinced Daniel is alive and needs her. What's this pull Daniel has over her? Is their still some love between them? Or is it because when you're stripped of everything in life you start to reflect. You to start to reflect on the good and the bad in your life. They continue to pick up more people, including a socially awkward young man named Finn and a former prostitute named Mila. This trip to the capital is not without its challenges. They continue to pick up distress signals. They fight about who to pick up and who to leave behind. They fight about who's in charge. They fight about food. In a world where there isn't much in the way of material things, you fight over the smallest things.

Sometimes I wasn't sure how to feel about this book. I wasn't sure if this was trying to be a sci-fi novel? Dystopian? Literary fiction? It reminded me of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and I was a bit indifferent to that book too. A lot of the book takes place in outer space, but that element of the story seems like an afterthought. The space angle could have been a fascinating part of the story. It could have been an extra character. But the space portion of the story is more of a backdrop to the characters. Sometimes I didn't understand Jamie. She didn't seem to love anything or anyone. What was with the sudden desire to find Daniel? As a whole, this wasn't quite what I was expecting. Parts of it were good, and with a little more action I think this would have been a great story.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Berkley) as part of a blog tour.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

My take on: Hungry Heart

In June of 2012, I got to hear one of my favorite authors Jennifer Weiner speak at BEA Bloggers conference. Yes, I confess I was one of those wondering why she was chosen to be the keynote speaker at a blogger convention. But it doesn't matter because she was extremely funny and engaging. I remember a story about a bad smell during a reading at a bookstore. "Sorry about the smell, here's Jennifer Weiner!" At the end of her speech, I tried I really tried to get her autograph on my very worn copy of Good in Bed. But no such luck on the first day. The next day, of course I forgot to bring my copy of Good in Bed back with me to BEA. Grrrrrr!! But I had the good fortune to be the fourth or fifth person in line for her autograph the next day.

Photo proof right here. Five years later, I'm pretty sure I'm wearing the same pair of glasses. Fast forward to the present day, I've just finished reading her book of essays, Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing. After reading this book, I wish I had something pithy to say back in 2012 besides "How do you say your last name?" She did answer that question with a laugh! Or if Hungry Heart was out back in 2012, I would have said, "How do you get away with calling your mother Fran instead of mom?" Seriously that fascinates me. I've called my mother by her name once or twice and it was just to get her attention in a crowded airport! Or I might have asked have you ever met Jonathan Franzen and wouldn't you just love to tell him about the joys of  Twitter and books written by women!!

But back to Hungry Heart, I liked reading about this side of Jennifer Weiner. I came to see her as more than just the person who writes about plus size heroines or the snarky tweets about trashy reality shows like the Bachelor and Bachelorette (Shhhh I've never seen either show but I feel like I have when I read her tweets). I wanted to give 16-year-old Jennifer a hug because like a lot of people I know what it's like to be called the "fat one." I read about her love for books, about her absentee father, about her struggles with weight, her delightful Nanna, her siblings (there's a whole chapter dedicated to her sister, Molly. I defy anyone with siblings to read that without laughing), and of course Fran. She's very honest about all her success and her low points, which were the hardest, but also most insightful, parts to read. The vivid descriptions of her miscarriage and her father's death left me with my mouth open. Those were deeply personal moments that she didn't have to share. But I'm glad she did.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Atria) in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, June 23, 2017

It's June already!!

It's hard to believe half the year is gone already. I feel like 2017 just started. I thought this might be a good time to take stock of my reading resolutions for 2017. After a lackluster 2016, I set my goals for 2017 a little bit lower. Why put so many expectations on myself when I know it will be hard to fulfill? So I set a reading goal of 50 books for 2017. The year is halfway done and I'm NOT halfway to 50 books. How many have I read? Eighteen books and counting. It could have been more but I've had some dry spells this year. I started and stopped several books. 

DNF: I tried, I really tried

A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin: This book is sooooooooooooooo dense. I just couldn't believe this man would spend pages upon pages waxing poetic about milk and food. There were parts that were interesting but some that were kind of boring. I own all of the books in the series, so I will have to come back to this at some point. But for now, I had to breakup with Mr. Martin.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: The writing style is a bit unorthodox. I wasn't getting the hype. What is so special about this book? After almost 200 pages, I gave up.

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett: This was an office book club pick. It was less
than 200 pages, but I struggled to finish it. It made ZERO sense to me. I skipped the book discussion on this one because I just had nothing to say. There was nothing special about this one.

Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark: Another office book club pick. I was just indifferent. There was nothing overly bad or overly good about this one.

Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport: This was about the Russian Revolution of 1917. The time period was certainly compelling but the way the story was told wasn't enough to hold my attention.

Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black: An opportunity to finally read some more sci-fi. I couldn't get past the first three or four chapters.

How is the rest of the year shaping up?

I think I will get really, really close to 50 books. But I think I might come up short. I'm starting to read longer books, 400-plus pages, and those just take up more time. I also don't think I'm going to break my habit of reading several books at once. Some days I'm just in the mood for more than one book. I'm currently reading
Night Film by Marisha Pessl. At nearly 600 pages, it's going to take me at least another month to finish. So far, I think Night Film is going to be my favorite book of the year. I'm only about 160 pages in, but it's so different from anything I've read in years. It's not just a mystery, it's a thriller, it's a family drama, it's a mind-bender. It's so many things, I'm going to have a hard time describing it when I post my review.

What else am I looking forward to? It by Stephen King. I'm dating myself, but I remember when the original TV movie came on. Now that a movie is coming this fall, I want to finally tackle the book. I've tried before, maybe I'll succeed this time! Natchez Burning by Greg Iles and Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult are also on my mile long TBR.

What's on your list?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

My take on: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs has been in the ether for six years. To celebrate the sixth anniversary, Quirk Books, the publisher of this series, is hosting a re-read of all three books. Or in my case, read them for the first time. I've owned all three books for a while now and they've just been collecting dust. This read-a-thon was just the motivation I needed.

I did have some trepidation about reading this book. This is a much beloved series, and I worried I wouldn't like it. But I worried for nothing. The book started a little slow for me, but with each chapter I was thoroughly wrapped up in the story.

The death of Jacob Portman's beloved grandfather, Abraham, sends the teenager into a bit of a tailspin. Over the years, the elder Portman filled his grandson's head with fanciful stories of a mysterious island. This island was home to a group of special or peculiar children, including Abraham at one time. Abe's old photos of these children are almost too good to be true. A girl floating in mid-air. A young contortionist. Twins wearing weird costumes. Are these photos fake? Or are they from real life? It's hard for Jacob to decipher. Jacob always thought his grandfather's stories were just stories. The ravings of an eccentric man. But Abe's mysterious death throws everything into doubt. Jacob is certain an animal, a monster killed his grandfather. But no one believes Jacob. Abe had been warning Jacob for a long time that monsters were coming. Monsters were coming for the family. What if the warnings were all true?

It's hard for Jacob to make his parents believe in anything. They're so convinced Jacob is on the same path to stark raving mad just like his grandfather, his parents send him to a shrink. But Jacob, like a lot of teenagers, is rather resourceful. He tells the doctor what he wants to hear, all while maintaining a rather dry sense of humor. Jacob manages to convince his parents and his doctor that the only way for him to truly get better is to trace his grandfather's roots. He needs to go that mystery island to truly heal. But of course, what Jacob really wants to know is if the home for peculiar children is real? Are any of the residents still alive? Who is the woman, aka Miss Peregrine, in grandfather's letters?

Jacob and his dad travel to the small island of Cairnholm. For dad, it's a chance to work on his bird book -- which might never get published (but don't tell him that). For Jacob, it's a chance to explore the island, find grandfather's childhood home, and find Miss Peregrine. Jacob finds more than he bargained for. Finding the source of his obsession comes at a cost. His life and the lives of others are put at risk. Was it all worth it?

I know this book is often labelled as fantasy, but it felt like a mystery to me. The creepy photos throughout add to the mystery. They look so real, there has to be some truth to them. I found myself routing for Jacob. Routing for the new friendships his forges with the children. Jacob has the right amount of naivete, confidence, humor, and strength to carry the story. He believes in his grandfather. He believes in the children and Miss Peregrine. If you can't tell, this is all to say.....that I'm ready for book #2!!

Rating: Superb

Friday, June 2, 2017

My take on: Pretty Girls

I have to say I was presently surprised by Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter. Before this I had never read one of her books. I thought this would be a formulaic thriller, but I was sooooo wrong. In my opinion, this was a dark dark family drama. Yes there is a murder. Yes there are moments that made me squirm, so much so I wondered where the author got these ideas. To me, all of that is secondary to what the book is really about -- the relationship between two sisters.

Twenty-plus years ago, Lydia and Claire's sister, Julia, went missing. Did she leave on her own or was she taken? Is she alive or is she dead? Her disappearance consumed their family, especially their father. He spent his days and nights pouring over police reports, pursuing witnesses, and pursuing leads that went nowhere. In a way, his life stopped when Julia disappeared. His marriage to their mother ended in divorce, and the family was forever fractured. Lydia lost herself in drugs. And Claire lost herself in a seemingly "perfect" man named Paul.

It was Paul who drove a wedge between Lydia, and her entire family. Lydia always knew something was off with Paul and truly saw him for what he was. But no one would believe her, especially Claire. Paul and Claire get married, settling into domestic life. It takes years before Lydia overcomes her drug addiction, but her life blossoms. She's now a mother, has a successful business, and a man she loves. The lives Claire and Lydia have built are about to be shattered.

The disappearance of another young girl has eerie similarities to Julia's case. Are both cases the work of the same person? Or is it just a coincidence? In the two decades since Julia's disappearance, her sisters have never been the same. Thoughts of Julia are never far from their minds. And now more than ever, Lydia and Claire will need to rely on each other. Paul is murdered, shattering Claire's sense of security -- and everything she thought she knew about her husband. I don't think it's a spoiler by dropping this little nugget about Paul because it happens very early in the book. The aftermath of his death is the main catalyst for the book. His death forces Lydia and Claire to reunite after two decades of silence.

There's no picking up right where they left off, but they're forced to confront the pain. Claire begins to learn who Paul really was. Outwardly, Paul exuded nothing but confidence and perfection. However, he was far from perfect. He had a lot of secrets, many of them disturbing and criminal. These are secrets that Claire can't handle on her own. She turns to Lydia for help. Lydia is reluctant, and despite the long time apart her sister needs her. The bond between them was always there, but they had to wait until they were both emotionally ready. As they peel back the layers of Paul's secret life, they get closer and closer.

Some of the details of Paul's shenanigans were difficult to read. I don't want to go into detail on his secrets because I think it would give away a big plot point. Just know that it involves torture, disturbing enough that it made me a little squeamish. Dark details aside, I was thoroughly engrossed in this book. Beginning to end I didn't know where the story was going. I don't mean that in a bad way, but a good way. This was a thoroughly compulsive read. Chapter after chapter I just wanted to know what's going to happen. Is Julia really dead? Was Paul somehow involved? But the most important thing, I wanted to know if Claire and Lydia could get back to being sisters. To being best friends. I think that was the ultimate goal all along, not to solve crimes but to heal a family. I think Karin Slaughter did an excellent job of balancing the sinister elements with the heartfelt elements. I'm now a fan, and will definitely read more of her books.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (William Morrow) in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

My take on: Homegoing

Two half-sisters, born at the dawn of slavery in Ghana. One is "married" off to an Englishman, living a life of luxury. The other sold into slavery, and shipped off to America. In alternating chapters, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, tells the tale of their descendants, over the course of 300 years.

Effia grew up loved by her father, but hated by the woman she thought was her mother. The woman Effia believed to be her mother hates her with a passion and takes her anger out on Effia. Nothing Effia does is right. Rather than remain with the family, her mother sees to it that Effia is taken away from the family. Effia is "married" off to British soldier James Collins. She's not really his wife, but his wench. The woman he gets to have sex with while his real wife and kids live in England. Effia goes to live with James in a castle on Africa's Gold Coast, eventually giving birth to their son, Quey.

Several floors below Effia's new family, the slave dungeons are filled to the brim with African men and women who have been stripped of not just their clothes but their dignity. One of those women, Esi, is Effia's half-sister. Effia and Esi don't know each other, but their paths in life and their descendants are full of strife and heartache. Despite being chained to multiple women in a dark dungeon, Esi tries to remember happier times. She was on the verge of getting married before being captured. She holds onto those memories. She tries to forget the stench of human waste. She tries to forget the stench of death. While she can occasionally escape mentally, physically there is no escape for Esi as she is shipped to America landing on a plantation in the South.

Effia's descendants live through war in Ghana, between the Fantes and the Assantes, and the booming slave trade. Esi's descendants live through slavery in the American South, the Great Migration, and the jazz era in Harlem. Both narratives leading to the present day. To me, each chapter has a different degree of sadness. Ness, Esi's daughter, endures such severe beatings that her skin often cracks open and bleeds. She and her husband, Sam, risk everything to get their son out of slavery and on the path to freedom but it comes at a high price. Akua, one of Effia's descendants, is driven to bouts of madness. Almost everyone on both sides of the family tree has some degree of tragedy in their lives. Each character truly could have filled an entire book on their own.

How did this book land on my radar? This month I got to pick the book for our office book club, and I chose Homegoing. With such a broad scope, I thought this was a good choice. I still think it was a good choice...even though I had issues with it. The front cover says "a novel" but that word has a certain meaning for me. When I read a novel I expect it to draw me in, to connect with the characters. For me, it was hard to find that connection when every chapter is about a different character. In my opinion this wasn't novel, but a series of connected short stories. I have never been into short stories. Because each chapter begins with a different character I found the timeline hard to follow. Problems aside, the writing is very well-done and engaging. I would definitely read another book from this author!

Rating: Give it a try

Saturday, May 6, 2017

My take on: The Mothers

I have seen nothing but great reviews for The Mothers by Brit Bennett. When my co-workers picked it for our book club, I thought it was a great choice. After reading it, I feel a bit indifferent about the book. There were some parts of it that were really good, but the rest......

The premise, the lives of three young people, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey, as seen through the eyes of a group of mothers. The mothers are a group of women who worship at the same church. At times they take great pride in Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey. But in my opinion all the mothers are a bunch of gossiping, judgmental woman. Which I'm sure is par for the course at a lot of churches. In the eyes of the mothers, Nadia is the bad one. Luke is the pastor's son, and can do no wrong. Aubrey is the sweet, virginal one and must stay away from bad influences like Nadia. All three play right into those roles, but the decisions they make as teenagers will impact them forever.

In the eyes of the mothers, Nadia never had a chance. After her mother committed suicide, Nadia "lacked" the proper maternal guidance. Her father, Robert, is physically in her life, but emotionally he's long gone. Instead of turning all of his attention and love to his daughter, he focuses on helping the church. Helping the church is what feels normal to him. Her father just let her run "wild." She ran right into the arms of Luke, getting pregnant just months before she starts college. Her decision to have an abortion is the turning point in everyone's life. Would life have turned out differently if she had the baby? Perhaps. But she didn't. After the abortion, Luke treats Nadia like she doesn't exist. He doesn't want to acknowledge her feelings because he's too busy wallowing in his own misery. Without Luke in her life, Nadia seeks friendship elsewhere. She finds it in Aubrey.

In the eyes of the mothers, Aubrey is everything Nadia isn't. Aubrey volunteers at the church. She's respectful and kind to everyone. Aubrey's mother is alive, but isn't an active participant in her life. Shouldn't that make the mothers question the type of person Aubrey is? But they don't. She has an air of purity that Nadia doesn't. That's why it's worrisome when Nadia and Aubrey become best friends. So close, they almost seem like sisters. But that all changes when Nadia finally leaves for college in Michigan. She still speaks to Aubrey regularly, but Nadia avoids coming home at all costs. Aubrey finds friendship and love in the most unlikely person, Luke.

It seems soooo wrong that Luke and Aubrey end up together. Aubrey is everything that Nadia wasn't, attentive, caring, and loving. In the years in between his relationship with Nadia and his relationship with Aubrey, Luke's life fell apart. He went from college football prospect to a reject. He had setback after setback. His life was aimless until he met Aubrey. But I found this relationship so cliche. He can only have a relationship with a good girl? Nadia is the one who really ruined his life by having an abortion? Why was it so easy for him to love Aubrey and not Nadia?

Telling Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey's stories through the eyes of a group of mothers was an interesting premise, but ultimately a total letdown. The chapters open with the mothers narrating, but for only a few paragraphs and then we don't hear from them again until the next chapter. Early on, I found this to be confusing because it took me a couple chapters to understand who the narrators were. Also problematic for me was the portrayal of abortion. Without going into too much detail, Nadia's abortion impacts not just Luke but the entire church. If you have one, well darn your life is going to suck afterward. Was this book supposed to be a cautionary tale on abortion? What kind of message is that? This book had potential, but by the end it was unfulfilled potential.

Rating: Meh

Thursday, April 20, 2017

My take on: In Farleigh Field

The dangers of World War II hit close to home at Farleigh Place, when the dead body of soldier is discovered on the stately grounds. His death the result of a failed parachute. But the bigger mystery? Who was he? He had no I.D., and even the soldiers stationed at Fairleigh Place don't know who he is. His only possession? A photograph. Perhaps he was a spy? A German spy? Who he was, who he intended to meet, and why is at the heart of In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen.

Ben Cresswell, an MI5 operative, is tasked with finding out who the dead soldier was. Ben's special relationship with Farleigh allows him to carry out his mission covertly. Farleigh Place is home to Lord Westerham, his wife, Lady Esme, and their five daughters Pamela, Margot, Diana, Dido, and Phoebe. Ben is a longtime family friend. This assignment offers Ben the chance to get closer to Pamela, whom he has been in love with for years. But Pamela is smitten with Jeremy Prescott, a pilot who has recently escaped from a Nazi prison camp. However, Pamela is more than just a lovesick young woman, she's doing her part to help Britain defeat Germany. Pamela is a code breaker, which her family doesn't know. She isn't the only one in the family keeping secrets. Margot is in Paris under the guise of an apprenticeship with a famous fashion designer, but she's actually part of the resistance.

The investigation into the mysterious soldier leads to more questions than answers. Ben can't fathom that anyone at Farleigh or in town is involved. The traitor can't be someone he knows. Maybe that's denial on Ben's part. Or maybe it's a stranger? The only tangible clue is the photograph, which Ben is convinced is a coded message. The photo maybe part of a larger conspiracy, and Ben needs to figure it out before it's too late.

Historical fiction is right in my wheelhouse. I loved the premise and there definitely was mystery and intrigue throughout. But sometimes I felt like there was a little too much going on. The story is told from the perspective of several characters, which I didn't think was totally necessary. Each character could have had their own book, but all of the storylines were together in this one story which made for uneven pacing. I was pulled in by the dead soldier. What was his motive? What was his mission? Did he intend to land at Farleigh? I wanted the book to stick to that story and Ben and Pamela's relationship. But there is still a lot to like about this book. My favorite aspect is that the women in this book are very driven and determined not to be damsels in distress. They want to be part of the action just like the men. Overall, this a worthy read and I would gladly read another book by this author.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from Little Bird Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

My take on: The Hate U Give

It usually takes months sometimes years before I jump on the hot book of the moment. I've only read one Harry Potter book. I'm still struggling through Game of Thrones and The Book Thief. One day I will finish The Lunar Chronicles. But I made an exception for The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

The Hate U Give has been praised by multiple authors, readers, bloggers, and media outlets. I wanted to see if this book was worth the hype. I'll be honest, I wasn't totally wowed by the writing style but I was wowed by the subject matter and the message. The author was inspired by the music of Tupac Shakur and the Black Lives Matter movement, and it shows in this book.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is the sole witness to the shooting death of her childhood friend, Khalil, who dies at the hands of a white police officer. Like many real-life police shootings, Khalil's case becomes a national headline and a fight for justice -- resulting in riots, violence, and vandalism. Lost in all the madness? Starr. The night Khalil died, is also the night Starr lost her voice and her identity. Can she find herself again and get justice for Khalil?

"...people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right." -- Pg. 59

For the past several years, Starr has lived in two worlds -- her poor black neighborhood of Garden Heights and her middle-class prep school Williamson. She doesn't speak, act, and think the same way in both of those worlds. At school, she's Williamson Starr. At home, she's Garden Heights Starr. In Garden Heights, Starr can let her guard down. But at Williamson, her guard is always up, even with her friends, Maya and Hailey, and her boyfriend, Chris. She spends a lot of energy keeping the two worlds separate. Her Williamson friends don't visit Garden Heights and vice versa. But after Khalil's death, it's getting harder and harder to keep the two separate. Students at Williamson want to protest Khalil's shooting, but they're not doing it for the right reasons. She wants to express her anger and grief over Khalil's death, but then Garden Heights Starr might come out. The people at Williamson, especially Hailey, wouldn't know what to do with Garden Heights Starr -- the one who is angry about racial digs Hailey has thrown her way.

Garden Heights itself is in turmoil. Maverick "Big Mav" Carter, Starr's dad, tries to keep the peace in the neighborhood and in his home. Mav is an ex-con and ex-gang member, his words of wisdom carry a lot of weight except with King, the neighborhood gang leader. As the riots and violence increase in the neighborhood, so does the tension in the Carter household. Lisa, Starr's mom, wants their family out of the neighborhood, but that's a concept Mav struggles with. How can he bring about change if he leaves Garden Heights? Is he a sellout if he leaves? Clearly, Starr isn't the only one in the household with identity struggles.

Overall, I wish there was a book like this when I was younger. I don't remember reading about characters that looked like me. I'm in my thirties and I truly appreciate books like this. My one knock on this book, the writing style. The writing takes some getting used to, and I wasn't in love with the numerous references to 1990s culture and entertainment. The references felt like overkill. But put that aside, and this is still a very good book -- one I wish a lot of people in power would read. If politicians and law enforcement could truly understand the other side, understand people not like them, today's climate would be so much better. The ending isn't sunshine and roses, it plays out very true to real life!

Rating: Superb