Monday, December 31, 2018

One year ends, and there's another to look forward to!

The new year is upon us. I look ahead to 2019 with optimism for my personal and professional life. I feel the same for my reading goals.

My reading goal for 2018 was 50 books. As of December 30, I read 33 books. I started and stopped several books that I just wasn't into. Some books felt like a chore to read, and where is the fun in that.

Even though I read 33 books, I struggled to come up with a "best of list." Last year I felt like there were a lot more books that wowed me. But I still managed to come up with a short list.

Best Books of 2018
(Please note, not all of these books were published in 2018. I just happened to read them in 2018)

1. Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman: The literary equivalent of the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

2. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys: Fast-paced YA historical fiction.

3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling: Ok, I didn't review this on my blog because there's not much I can add to the conversation. But so far this is my favorite of the series.

4. The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter: A long but nuanced crime thriller.

5. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn: Each chapter is like a potato chip, you always one more.

Honorable Mention

It by Stephen King: This almost made my best of list. . .BUT that STUPID child sex scene at the end was so unnecessary.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi and The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton: Both of these books suffered from what I call first-book syndrome. As in both books had everything but the kitchen sink in them. Too much setup and some unnecessary romances. I have high hopes for the next books in both series.

Worst of the year: For me that was Modern Lovers by Emma Straub. This has a very pretty cover, but a rather boring interior!

Looking ahead!

I still want to try for 50 books in 2019. Even though I might not get there, I just like the number 50!

Monday, December 24, 2018

My take on: Season of Wonder

Festive times calls for a festive read. Just look at that cover, it just screams Happy Holidays! I saved Season of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne specifically for this time of the year. I relished the opportunity to read something positive and uplifting.

Single mom Dani is starting a new life for herself and her daughters, Silver and Mia, in Haven Point. Small-town Idaho, where everybody knows everybody, is very different from the hustle and bustle of New York City. But it's just the change of pace her family needs. Dani is trying to escape the shadow of her now deceased ex-husband's misdeeds. Her ex was a thief and a murderer, and in Dani's mind she can never run far enough from his crimes. Dani's not a criminal and neither are her children, but she's afraid people will think badly of her family if they know the truth. The fewer people who know the truth, the better. Only Dani's boss, a retiring veterinarian, knows about her past and she'd like to keep it that way. Dani has a chance to take over the veterinary practice and she's not going to let anything derail that, including handsome deputy sheriff Ruben -- who just happens to be her boss's son.

Wanting and seeking happiness beyond her work and life with her daughters, just isn't in the cards for Dani. Despite a mutual attraction to Ruben, Dani runs from him at every chance. She's afraid to trust. She's afraid to love. She doesn't believe she deserves any of it. As a former foster kid, Dani has trouble building lasting relationships. But fate often has a way of intervening. Ruben quickly becomes a constant in her life, saving teenage Silver from following in her father's footsteps and forging an instant friendship with six-year-old Mia. No matter how hard Dani tries, Ruben is always there to show her there are good people in this world.

This was a welcome change of pace. For most of this year, I think I've been on a fantasy and thriller kick. I haven't read a lot of romance lately, but I'm glad I read this one. I didn't like the instant attraction that Ruben and Dani had. As soon as the book begins, the reader already knows Dani and Ruben like each other. I kind of wanted a couple more chapters before the attraction became clear. I liked Ruben's relationship with Silver's children. He genuinely cared about them regardless of Dani constantly rejecting him. Dani eventually realized it's ok to want happiness not just for her daughters but also for herself. Overall, this was cozy, and endearing story.

Rating: Superb

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

Monday, December 10, 2018

My take on: Start Without Me

It's holiday time, so it's time for holiday reads! In Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman, for the first time in years Adam has an invite to the Thanksgiving table. After several failed rehab attempts, the recovering alcoholic is facing the daunting task of spending the holiday with his family. A holiday meal is something most people look forward to, but not Adam. It means he has to talk to his parents, talk to his siblings (and to their families). It means no alcohol. It means being present and accountable -- something Adam struggles with in his sobriety.

Simple tasks pose a challenge, like making coffee for his family. Adam accidentally breaks the coffee pot and flees the house because he's afraid of the consequences and the potential judgment from his family. To him, it makes more sense to flee the family home in Connecticut and head back to the safety and routine of his new home in Seattle. But a chance encounter at an airport restaurant derails Adam's chance to runaway.

Like Adam, flight attendant Marissa is dreading Thanksgiving dinner. A marriage riddled with strife about race and money, is only going to get worse if Marissa's husband, Robbie, finds out she's pregnant with a baby that's not his (not a spoiler since that little tidbit is revealed very early). When Adam asks to sit at her table, Marissa borders on saying no but says yes. It's a decision that helps and hurts both Marissa and Adam. It helps that they have someone to talk to. But it also hurts that they have someone to talk. Each can be objective about the other's problems. Each person serves as a welcome distraction to their own problems. It's easier for them to talk to a stranger because you don't have to worry about disappointing a stranger. While neither is ready to face their problems, a friendship is born. A friendship that leads to a troubled, sad, funny, and heartwarming road trip.

I would call this the dark and satirical book version of the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Two strangers who wouldn't otherwise be friends find a way to confront the past so that they can move forward in the present. Like real life, nothing wraps in a neat little bow. Both Adam and Marissa have to face the messes they made and by the end there is some hope for the future. I loved this book, and I think you will too!

Rating: Superb

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

My take on: Family Trust

Family dramas are a sweet spot for me, and my latest read Family Trust by Kathy Wang was right up my alley.

Family patriarch Stanley Huang is dying of cancer. Stanley is facing his own mortality with a positive, but slightly passive attitude. His wife, Mary, his much younger second wife, has him eating all kinds of cancer-fighting foods. While his kids, Fred and Kate, and his ex-wife, Linda, wished he would approach death with a little more practicality.

Getting Stanley to get his legal and financial affairs in order is proving difficult. However, Fred, Kate, and Linda also have their own problems to deal with. Fred has dreams of career advancement, while his girlfriend, Erika, has dreams of a diamond engagement ring and a large bank account. Kate is supporting her two kids and her "entrepreneur" husband, Denny. Financially savvy and retired, Linda has suddenly discovered the joys and perils of online dating.

Personally, I found the stories and shenanigans of Stanley's extended family to be far more interesting. Fred seems to only tolerate his golddigger girlfriend. Everything has to be the most expensive and best quality for Erika. Anything less than the best won't do. She also seemed borderline racist. Erika, a native of Budapest, didn't grow up around people of other races, which is sometimes her excuse for the things that come out of her mouth. But Fred tolerates this to a point. As an Asian man, he struggles with the belief that women don't find him desirable or attractive. So it makes sense that he would put up with Erika, that is until he reaches a breaking point.

Kate doesn't mind being the sole breadwinner because she has faith that her husband's startup will one day take off. But how can that day come when Denny spends most of his time in the attic "running" his business. Kate isn't sure what Denny does all day in the attic. On some level she doesn't want to know, but eventually curiosity gets the better of her. She starts spying on Denny and changing up her routine in hopes of "catching" him in the act. In the act of what? She's not sure, but she's about to get hit over the head with what seems to be the obvious answer: an affair. Kate suspects he's cheating, but hesitates on acting upon her suspicions.

Linda on the other hand, steps out of her comfort zone and into the adventures of online dating. The first few in-person dates don't go so well. But a relationship via phone calls and video messaging are right up Linda's alley. She has the companionship she seeks without the drama and pressures of actually living with someone. But even this relationship has its limitations once her paramour starts asking for money. My radar went up immediately. The dude has to be a scammer. He professes his deep undying love for a person he's never met, all the while asking for money for his own kids (if they exist). And he can't come to the United States -- yet. For a woman who comes across so smart, sarcastic, and witty, I thought she was acting rather dumb in her online relationship.

Overall, I like the book but thought the pacing was a bit slow. Fred, Kate, and Linda narrate the book, and sometimes I felt the author went off on a lot of unnecessary tangents and overly long backstories. When Kate makes the decision to spy on Denny, it was because of a technological tool created at the company she works at. But it took several pages before the author made the connection between the two, which was annoying to me. I think 50-75 less pages would have made for a tighter and more enjoyable story.

Rating: Give it a try

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

Sunday, November 11, 2018

My take on: How to Be Alone

Being alone means something different to everyone. To me, it means being devoid of family, friends, and even casual acquaintances. It's more than being without a romantic partner. To me, being completely alone means you don't have someone to turn to when you really need it. I'm single but I don't know what it truly means to be alone, which is why I was intrigued by my latest read How To Be Alone: If You Want to, And Even if You Don't by Lane Moore.

The author had an abusive childhood, lived out of her car as a teenager, and struggled in multiple romantic relationships. But she's managed to persevere, building a career as a writer, comedian, actor, and musician. With her background, there is certainly a story to tell.

There are things I can relate to, like putting friends in certain categories. There are some friends you can literally pour your heart out to, but then there are others who will never be more than a drinking buddy. The belief that there is a "soulmate" is a common theme in some of the essays in the book. You grow up believing there is a "soulmate," you'll meet this person at a certain age, and they will solve all of your problems. As the author points out, the belief in "soulmates" makes for great TV and movies, but it's really just an illusion. No one person can solve everything and make everything perfect.

What I can't relate to is having an abusive family, online dating at 13, not knowing my extended family, and living out of my car. I don't point these out as if they're the fault of the author, but I wish her essays tackled these issues with more depth. I felt like I got a very surface level understanding of her background. I guess I was looking for more insight into how her past shaped her present, but perhaps that's material for her next book!

Overall, this book felt like it was more about how the author felt alone in her friendships and romantic relationships not necessarily how she was completely alone. The strongest essay was actually the last one, aptly titled "How to Be Alone." The biggest takeaway I got from that essay is that just because you don't have a perfect group of friends or the perfect romantic partner, you're not alone. The person you talk to casually everyday waiting for the train, a co-worker who you crack jokes with, or the person you chat with in line at the grocery story knows that you matter. Not everything was a home run for me with this book, but there was a lot to like.

Rating: Give it a try

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

Monday, November 5, 2018

My take on: The Splendor of Birds

The only birds I see on a regular basis are the pigeons when I get off the subway. To me, they're more of a nuisance than a thing of beauty. But I'm all for getting out of my comfort zone and looking at things in a new light.

The Splendor of Birds, a 500-plus page tome, is a vivid exploration of more than 130 years worth of photos and paintings from the National Geographic archive. And "vivid" seems like such a mild description of the artwork in this book. To truly grasp it, you have to see the photos/artwork up close. The vibrant colors of some of the birds, like cobalt winged parakeets, ostriches, and hummingbirds, really pop on the page.

I would say the book is 90 percent photography/paintings, with the other 10 percent focusing on the history of Nat Geo magazine and the publication's coverage of birds. The first managing editor of the magazine had a love birds, so much so that he championed for the use of color and photographic images. Sections labelled "Then & Now" showcase the challenges of photographing birds in the past and the present. Film vs. digital photography was particularly interesting. In 1986, one photographer was fortunate to have several roles of film with, leading to the perfect shot of penguins swimming underwater. In 2012, another photographer didn't have to worry about reloading the camera because with digital photography thousands of images can be a single memory card.

The mix of history and photography plays well here. Although I wish there was a little bit more text. There are a couple snippets here and there about the backstory of some of the photographs and I wanted more!

Rating: Superb

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

Sunday, October 21, 2018

My take on: Educated

If Educated by Tara Westover was a fiction novel, I would think it was excellent. As a memoir, this was missing a level of believability and authenticity that I look for in non-fiction. My measuring stick for non-fiction is do I believe what I'm being told. I believe some parts of this book, but some were just toooooo far-fetched.

Tara Westover grew up in a survivalist, Mormon family. Tara grew up in the mountains of Idaho, with parents who were always preparing for the end of days. Her parents didn't believe in traditional medicine, her mother's herbs and oils were the only options. Tara and her siblings were all born at home, leading to them growing up without birth certificates or proper identification. Imagine not being able to prove who you are when you really need to? I certainly can't. Traditional school wasn't an option, instead Tara and her siblings were homeschooled by their mother. Working the land and making it work for you were how the family survived. Getting an education, getting a job, and integrating into regular society was not something to strive for. But some of her brothers did want out. They wanted to be free from their father's mood swings and his constant belief in conspiracy theories. They wanted an education.

Some of Tara's brothers got out. Her older brother Tyler wasn't built for mountain life, he loved books and music. He made it through college and encouraged Tara to do the same. How could she without any type of formal schooling? She studied and she studied hard for entrance exams. Against all odds she got into Brigham Young University, despite never having gone to any school prior. Going to college was a frightening experience but it was also a safe space. Another brother, Shawn, was becoming increasingly violent toward Tara. Almost to the point of killing her, all the while her parents did nothing to stop it. College was an escape. College was hard, but also eye-opening for Tara. She learned about psychology, history, mathematics, and grammar. History was particularly illuminating, as Tara learned about the Civil Rights Movement and the Holocaust for the first time. Professors and fellow students mistook Tara's ignorance of these topics as rudeness. But she genuinely knew nothing of these important moments in history because she had been taught that the outside world was evil.

Tara was getting an education, but she was stuck between two worlds. The one where possibilities are endless, and the other where only her father's word is the gospel. What do you do when you want both? You want your family in your life and you want a life of knowledge and opportunity. But what if one is more detrimental to your physical and emotional health? That is what Tara Westover was facing. That struggle is clear and believable throughout the book. What I struggled with is the description of several accidents and the subsequent medical treatments. Two of Tara's brothers and their father both have serious accidents, including severe burns of significant parts of their body. Going to a hospital, if at all, was a last resort instead Tara's mothers herb mixtures were the only forms of medical treatment. I firmly believe that modern traditional medicine does not have all the answers, but when it comes to burns and brain injuries I DO NOT believe herbs are the answers. I do not believe that a person could SURVIVE with herbs alone as medicine. That's where the story seems to venture from non-fiction to fiction. Those parts read like a novel not a memoir. I know truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction, but this book was lacking in believability for me.

Rating: Give it a try

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

My take on: I Know You Know

I love crime/thriller books and I'm on a bit of a run with those books right now. The last book I finished was by Karin Slaughter, clocking in at almost 500 pages. Generally I like to switch genres after I've just finished a book, but I made an exception with 
I Know You Know by Gilly Macmillan. With a title like that, there has to be a good story behind it.

This centers on two murder cases -- twenty years apart. In 1996, friends Charlie Paige and Scott Ashby were murdered and dumped like trash behind a dog track. A young man, Sidney Noyce, with the mental capacity of a 10-year-old was convicted of the crime, but there have always been doubts about his guilt. Fast forward twenty years and the same detective, John Fletcher, who found the bodies of Charlie and Scott, is working a new case with eerie similarities to the past. Fletcher has never forgotten about the case that made his career, especially since Charlie died in his arms. Now he must decide if the two cases are related. 

Memories of Charlie and Scott also haunt their best friend Cody Swift. He's convinced the wrong man was convicted of the crime. After years away from his hometown of Bristol, Cody has returned to confront the past and to learn what really happened to his friends. But at what cost? Dredging up the past can only open painful wounds. To get at the "truth" Cody starts a podcast, speaking with investigators, reporters, and relatives of Charlie and Scott. He will have to get people like Charlie's mother, Jess, to confront harmful memories. Jess has moved on and started a new family, and has no interest in speaking to Cody. 

There are a lot of layers to this book. Not everyone is what they seem. At first, Fletcher presents as an earnest detective. He believes with his whole heart that the right man went to prison. But with each chapter, it's clear the mistakes and liberties that Fletcher took with the case. He's not the most scrupulous detective, Fletcher is somewhat corrupt. He tries to stay on the right side of the law, but gets pulled in other directions. Jess is very much the grieving mother. She has deep regret for how poorly she raised Charlie, and is determined not to make same mistakes with her daughter, Erica. But even she is deeply flawed. It's understandable that she has no desire to participate in Cody's podcast, but her reasons are not completely genuine. She doesn't want to revisit the person she used to be, and she doesn't want Cody digging into her own actions the night Charlie died. Why? What does she have to hide and why? There are so many pieces to the puzzle, and it was intriguing seeing how the past connected to the present. Who is guilty? Who is innocent? What was the endgame? Why were Charlie and Scott murdered? What was the motive? It was a thrilling ride and I would definitely read another book by Gilly Macmillan. 

Rating: Superb

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

Saturday, September 29, 2018

My take on: The Kept Woman

I've only read two of her books, but I have to say Karin Slaughter is one of the best crime writers I have ever read.

At first, I was a little turned off by the length of her books, they're often close to the 500-page mark. But, like a bag of chips, once you get started on one of her books it's hard to just stop at just one page or even a chapter. That was no different with the latest entry in her Will Trent series, The Kept Woman.

Of course the book opens with a murder. The murder of a sleazy ex-cop named Dale Harding.  Enter the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and special agent Will Trent and his partner, Faith Mitchell. The body was found at a construction site,  a location with ties to a rich, bad-boy, basketball player named Marcus Rippy. Will and Rippy have a complicated history. Will spent the last several months trying to send Rippy to prison for a brutal rape. But money and power made that a futile effort.

Does Rippy have any involvement in Harding's murder? If he does, then Will can finally put Rippy behind bars. The crime scene is a treasure trove of clues. There's blood everywhere but according to medical examiner Sara Linton, who also happens to be Will's girlfriend, all of the blood couldn't possible be from Harding. That means there's another victim. A victim who's somewhere bleeding to death. That someone just might be Will's estranged wife, Angie Polaski.

How does this all tie together? How does this all work? Just a couple of the many questions. Will is devastated at the prospect that Angie's life is in danger, not because he wants her back in his life but because they have a lot of history together. A history that even Sara can't break through. And on some level he still cares for Angie. Will and Angie can understand each other's pain better than anyone. But Angie has spent years emotionally torturing Will, and who knows (hint hint) she could be doing it again. I haven't read any of the other books in the series, but this told me all I needed to know about Angie Polaski's character. She's got a lot of spunk, but that's outweighed by what a monster her character can be. The first half of the book centers on the investigation, as Will and Faith delve into Harding's life including why someone would want to kill him. Karin Slaughter gets you deeply invested into that storyline and then she switches gears, telling Angie's side of the story. I wanted to get back to Will's story but I quickly got immersed in Angie's perspective. Angie's always working an angle, even if her original intentions were good she finds some way to screw it up -- and screw it up big time. I can't say too much about the second half of the book without spoiling it. But I will say, I kept wondering how the first half of the book ties in with the second. It does all tie together like the pieces of a big puzzle and I enjoyed putting them together in my mind!

Rating: Superb

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

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Operation Annotation!

I have been M.I.A. lately, but not because I haven't been reading. I've just gotten picky with my reading choices. I gave The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang more than 250 pages before I came to the conclusion that I was bored by the book. Part 1 of the book was pretty good, but I felt like Part 2 was a completely different story. Life is too short to read books I'm just not into. I finished Autoboyography by Christina Lauren, which I liked but weeks passed and I forgot to write a review.

I had a birthday recently, and of course what does any bookworm do with birthday money? You spend it wisely on practical things like bills. Right? Just kidding, I bought more books.

For my latest book haul I bought:

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Pebbles

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I'm going through a thriller and fantasy phase these days. But I'm not sure when I'll get to these. :) Having too many books is a good problem in my opinion.

Here is my current reading pile and the subject of my latest blog post!

I'm currently reading The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter, The Power by Naomi Alderman, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Educated by Tara Westover, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling.

I often read more than one book at a time because I just like to have choices. Sometimes I'm in the mood for one book over the other. However reading so many books at once comes with challenges. The main challenge is my memory.

When I started this blog, eight years ago, I used to take notes on each book. I would keep a legal pad nearby while I read so I could jot down key plot points, quotes, and my overall thoughts. In the beginning I liked doing that because it helped me remember the book, especially when it came time to write a review. But eventually I got tired of the legal pad. I read a lot more when I started this blog, 75 books on average a year, and jotting down notes began to feel like homework. I hate homework! So I abandoned the legal pad.

Fast forward to the end of 2016, and I started to think I needed to go back to taking notes. Remembering what I read wasn't coming so easy. But I wasn't quite sure of the method I should be taking. Well the question was answered for me with the company Christmas gift -- a moleskine notebook. I took it as a sign. As part of my reading goals for 2017, I kept a reading journal for a full year. Same principle as the legal pad, except it was much smaller and easier to carry around.

As 2017 came to a close and my notebook was almost out of pages, I started thinking about what I should do for 2018. I did buy another journal, but it wasn't quite what I thought it was. Some of those pictures on are deceiving. I bought a notebook thinking it was small but it turned out to be much larger than I wanted. I read a lot during my commute to and from work, pulling out a large notebook every couple of minutes gets to be a bit annoying. I didn't want to stop taking notes, but I kept thinking I need a different approach.

What does one do when they need ideas? Google it! And then eventually go on YouTube! And that is how Operation Annotation began! I went down the YouTube rabbit hole, watching video after video on annotating books. Everyone has a different method. Index cards, post-it flags, highlighters, pens, color-coding, and so much more. Some people actually (GASP) WRITE IN THEIR BOOKS!! At the start of this venture I was very much against writing in my books, I mean that's BLASPHEMY! I had already been annotating my books by using a reading journal, but taking it further has been a mixed bag for me.

In February, I switched from using a reading journal to using post-it flags and index cards. Each book I read I kept 3-4 index cards in the book, which I used to write down my thoughts, and I used post-its to flag key parts of the book.

But . . . I found the post-its I was using to be too big. I bought the wide ones (right) first. I was trying to convince myself these were the right ones. . . and they weren't. They were too clunky. Then I bought the skinnier post-its. The size was better but even those I didn't like. Yes, I'm picky about post-its too! So yeah I abandoned those and just stuck with the index cards.

I still felt like I could be doing more with my reading. So I went down the YouTube rabbit hole again. I watched some of the same videos again! Especially the ones where people described writing in their books. I'm just so against book abuse. Yes I once considered writing in books to be abuse! Notice I said "once considered." Because . . .  I have gone to the dark side. . .

I WROTE IN MY BOOK!! Above is a page in my copy of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. And I haven't stopped there . . .

Here's a page from my copy of The Power. I finally found the right mix for me . . .

I even found the right combination of pens, highlighters, and post-its. A fine point pen, a Sharpie, and small post-it flags finally made me feel ok about (GASP) WRITING IN MY BOOKS. Now, I'm not writing in all my books or even taking notes on every book. I haven't felt the need to take notes on Harry Potter because I just want to experience the books naturally. This is my first time reading the books and I just want explore Potter Mania without notes. Maybe on a second read, I'll consider it. :)

I'm actually liking this form of annotation. I'm even thinking, "I need a special pencil case for this!" In reality it gets to be a little cumbersome digging in my backpack for a post-it on the subway, so yeah a pencil case is in my near future!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

My take on: To Kill a Mockingbird

I'm not sure how I made it through grade school, undergrad, and graduate school without reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. . .but I did! I'm pretty sure it was assigned once as summer reading in eighth or ninth grade, but I'm also pretty sure I pretended to read it. I wasn't as into reading then as I am now. When the opportunity presented itself to review the graphic novel adaptation, by Fred Fordham, I jumped at the chance.

This is one of those classic books that I feel out of the loop on. I know the basic story. Scout's father, Atticus Finch, defends a black man against a rape charge in the deep south during the 1930s. And that's all I knew.

I'm not going to rehash all of the details of this book because I think that's been done for decades. I'm just going to focus on my thoughts on the overall story and the illustrations.

My No. 1 thought? Given the current political climate, reading this book illustrated, for me, that not a lot has changed. Black men were feared in the 1930s, and that is still the case in many places throughout the world. Women who are strong, independent, or have a different way of thinking than the status quo are feared or seen as weird. Scout definitely embodies those qualities. She wants to be accepted as one of the boys even if they don't accept her. Scout challenges just about every person she interacts with, even her own father. She's more perceptive than people give her credit for.

As a graphic novel this has it's pluses and minuses. The illustrations are a little basic, not very vivid. What's the right word? The illustrations weren't "popping" for me. I read a galley without the full color illustrations, but I don't think color would have changed my opinion. It felt like something was missing, and maybe that's because some context from the original novel couldn't fully translate to the illustrated format. However some of the illustrations did work for me. The courtroom scenes are where the illustrations actually start to get good. I think Fred Fordham did a good job of showing the tension in the courtroom. The witnesses, especially the alleged "victim", go through a range of emotions, and I saw that clearly through the illustrations.

The graphic novel edition has some shining moments, but I think I need to read the original book to get the full context/experience.

Rating: Give it a try

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

My take on: Not Her Daughter

Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey is a gripping and emotional story that explores what makes a family and what it truly means to be a parent.

Sarah Walker is still reeling from a breakup with her longtime boyfriend, Ethan, but gets through everyday by drowning herself in work. She still can't figure out why after years of dating, that she wasn't the one for Ethan. Why didn't he love her enough? Why didn't he propose? It's a bit of an obsession for Sarah. As a child, Sarah had a mother who didn't seem to love her or her father, and who eventually abandoned the family. It's something Sarah has never gotten over.

A chance encounter with a stressed out family, and their five-year-old daughter, offers Sarah an opportunity at redemption.

Emma Townsend is lonely and afraid. She's afraid of her mother, Amy. Nothing Emma does is ever right. Anything can set off her mother. If Emma doesn't move fast enough, Amy will yell at her. If Emma doesn't respond fast enough, Amy will yell at her. Her father is no help. Can anyone help?

Sarah thinks it's her duty to help Emma. After spotting the little girl at an airport with her family, Sarah is convinced that Emma is an abused child. A few minutes standing in an airport security line, and Sarah is convinced that it's her responsibility to rescue Emma. But what can Sarah do? She's not family. She has no authority to intervene. And more importantly she has no proof there's anything wrong with the Townsend family. There's nothing Sarah can do at the airport, as they both go their separate ways. But when their paths cross again, Sarah makes it her mission to find out what is wrong with Emma and her family. An opportunity to rescue Emma presents itself, and Sarah has a tough decision to make. Let Emma stay with her family or take her away from her family. She chooses to take Emma. She chooses to kidnap Emma. She chooses to commit a crime rather than take Emma to the police or child protective services.

The book alternates between Sarah and Amy's perspectives. I found myself sympathizing with both women. If I could help someone I believe to be in danger, yes I would help in anyway I could. Anyway I legally could. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book. But if this were real life, I would be screaming at Sarah for being SO STUPID!! I don't understand people who thinks it's their job to butt into someone else's life without knowing all of the facts. Because I think Sarah didn't have all of the facts. Without even reading Amy's perspective, I immediately thought yes she's a bad parent, a borderline abusive parent. But kidnapping a child is not the answer. Amy seemed like a woman who let the responsibilities of parenthood overwhelm her. She never wanted to be a parent, but she also never took time for herself once she became one. She took out her frustration on her children, especially Emma.

This book definitely has a compulsive quality to it. Last week, I was about 150 pages in and at the end of each chapter I kept saying to myself just one more chapter, just one more chapter. Well I kept doing that until I finished the book. Sarah's on the run with Emma, and I wanted to see how many close calls could she get out of. On one hand I don't want her to caught, but on the other I do for committing such a stupid crime. The ending was both satisfying and frustrating. Read the book to know what I'm talking about! Trust me this is a book and an author to put on your radar!

Rating: Superb

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

Sunday, August 12, 2018

My experience reading Stephen King's It

Thirteen months. It took me thirteen months to finish a book. Yes, I have finished other books in that timespan, but it took me more than a year to finish Stephen King's It. As I'm sure many of you know, this book is nearly 1,200 pages. I have never in my life read a single book that long.

I had illusions that I would read the book in time for the 2017 movie adaptation. I grew up on the 1990 TV movie. Tim Curry will always be Pennywise in my heart. But I digress. I started this book in early July of 2017, needless to say I was barely 100 pages in by the time the film came out in September.

But I was determined to finish. This was my third attempt at reading It. Both times I don't think I got beyond more than 80 pages. I didn't want to quit this time. This book went with me on not one but two vacations, to Virginia and Maui, and several commutes to work. Prior to It, the only Stephen King books I read to date were Carrie and Misery. You know back when King wrote normal size books. I never went beyond those two because the rest of his books seem to be equal in weight to a small child.

Just a few days ago, I finally finished. As much as I admire King's ability to craft a story and chastise the current White House resident on Twitter, this book left me a little verklempt!

King's imagination is awesome, but he seems to not know when enough is enough.

This book is more than 30 years old, so I'm not going to rehash every minute detail. Ninety percent of the book was clicking on all cylinders for me. The strong friendship of the Loser's Club, Bill, Eddie, Stan, Ben, Richie, Mike, and Beverly shines throughout. One minute they can be cracking jokes on each other and ready to fight bully Henry Bowers to the death in the next. But......the last ten percent of the book is another matter. The cosmic turtle, the spider, and the COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY child sex scene kept this from being a four-star read for me. It's like King had a fully-thought out idea/plot for 1,092 pages. Then came page 1,093, when Beverly sets an incredibly INSANE plan in motion. I don't care what anyone says, not even Stephen King himself, I will NEVER be convinced that the "child ritual" was essential to the plot. I can forgive the confusing passages about the cosmic turtle and the spider, but children having sex was a bridge too far. There were also moments of racism and homophobia that I could have done without.

I knew and understood what I was reading for ninety percent of the book, but the rest just left me corn-fused!

This thirteen month experience has not turned me off reading more books by King. I need some time to recover but eventually I want to tackle The Stand, The Outsider, Under the Dome (the last season of the TV adaptation SUCKED, which I'm still mad about), Sleeping Beauties, and Duma Key. At the rate I read It, I might not be finished with this list for at least five years. Oh I hope not!

Rating: Give it a try

Thursday, August 9, 2018

My take on: Under a Dark Sky

Lori Rader-Day, author of Under a Dark Sky, introduced me to something I didn't know existed -- dark sky parks.

The best way I know how to describe a dark sky park? A place that eschews artificial light sources and embraces the natural beauty that the forest and the wide open sky have to offer. Sounds long as you're not afraid of the dark! Not a typical vacation spot, but one such park is at the heart of my latest read, Under a Dark Sky.

I said yes to a blog tour simple because I wanted to know what a dark sky park was and how it relates to the story. In this book it's the sight of a murder.

Eden Wallace is still reeling from the death of her husband Bix. She's cried all she can cry. Gone through bouts of anger and frustration. And after nine months has worn out the patience of her family and friends. She's still grieving and worst of all she's not sleeping. While most people sleep in the night, Eden is wide awake. Afraid of the dark, Eden spends her nights with every single light on. Once sunlight creeps through the curtains, Eden feels it's safe enough to shut her eyes. This fear of the dark often consumes Eden, she can't even step outside once it gets dark. But even Eden realizes it's time to face her fear. When the opportunity presents itself, Eden takes a leap of faith but she gets more than she bargained for.

Eden discovers Bix had a reservation for them at dark sky park. A few days exploring nature's beauty -- in the dark. What was supposed to a be surprise for their 10th wedding anniversary could prove to be Eden's salvation. But she should have read the fine print a little more clearly. Thinking she has an entire house to herself, Eden is stunned to find a young couple, Paris and Dev, already there. Paris and Dev are none too pleased to see Eden either, as they were anticipating sharing the house with their old college buddies. Yes, it's a house share and no one realized it until it was too late. Rather than risk getting stuck in traffic -- in the dark -- Eden reluctantly decides to stay just for the night and then head home. She'll stick to her room and let the youngins' enjoy themselves. Of course that's not how it goes!

As more people start to arrive, Eden gets a first-hand look at the so-called "tight" relationships her new housemates share. Sam is flaky and between jobs. Martha enjoys a playful but platonic closeness to Sam. Dev is friendly despite his fiancee Paris' surly demeanor. Hillary is bubbly and friendly, but she's clearly the newbie of the group because no one likes her. She only gets to partake of the reunion because she's Malloy's girlfriend. Malloy. He's clearly the leader of the group. Everyone gravitates to him. The men want to be him and the women want to be with him. Even Eden is drawn to his magnetic personality. In this house, Eden and Hillary are clearly not welcome. If Eden can make it through the night, she leave this frat house in the morning. What should have been a chance for Eden to relax is quickly shattered when Malloy is murdered. Once the murder happens, these "friends" turn on each other quickly.

This had the right elements for what I'm looking for in a thriller: a mysterious/unfamiliar setting, an unreliable narrator, and several potential suspects. I mean I'm a bit floored that someone would actually want to vacation in darkness. To each his own. But...the P A C I N G!! The pacing was just too slow for me. For me, the ending of chapter of a thriller should leave you thirsting for the next one.   I never got that feeling with this book. Some of the characters just seemed like children who never grew up, and that's not something I can relate to. Malloy seemed like more than a man, he's practically a religion to these people. They revered him above all else. They went to him with every problem, triumph, and heartbreak. It seemed a little weird to me. Overall, the book is not all bad, but it just wasn't for me.

Rating: Give it a try

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

Friday, July 27, 2018

My take on: The Last Thing I Told You

Therapist Dr. Mark Fabian has been murdered.

Detective Henry Peacher automatically zeroes in on Dr. Fabian's patients as potential suspects.

Before his death, Dr. Fabian pulled the files of two former patients, Nadine Raines and Johnny Streeter. Both of whom have troubled pasts.

As a teenager, Nadine attacked one of her teachers. Such an attack wasn't in her character, she had never done anything like that before. There were no signs, no warnings that Nadine had any violent tendencies. Despite Dr. Fabian's best efforts, he never could get Nadine to admit to him or to herself the real reason Nadine attacked her teacher. Even decades later, Nadine still can't understand it. Does Nadine blame Dr. Fabian for not helping her understand her behavior? Could that be a motive for murder?

However, with Johnny Streeter there were lots of signs pointing to his penchant for violence. Streeter is serving a life sentence for a mass shooting at a nursing home. He obviously didn't kill Dr. Fabian, but what is Johnny's connection to his former therapist's demise? And...does Nadine have anything to do with it?

Should be enough for Henry to build a case? Or is there more to the story. Yes, of course there is more to the story. Told in the alternating perspectives of Henry and Nadine, The Last Thing I Told You by Emily Arsenault, is about more than just a murder. Dr. Fabian's death is merely a catalyst to Henry and Nadine examining the depths of human behavior. Nadine is of course looking at herself and wondering how to keep the disturbing thoughts swirling around in her head from completely consuming her. Through Dr. Fabian's notes and patient records, Henry learns that not everything is as it seems. Just because a person can appear to be ok on the outside, it doesn't mean that person doesn't need help on the inside -- even Henry himself. This case has forced Henry to confront demons from his own past. It was the bullets from his gun that stopped Johnny Streeter and prevented him from killing more people, but Henry has always wondered what would have happened if he had intervened sooner? Sure he stopped a killer, but does that make him a hero? Or just someone who happened to be in the right place at the right time?

After about 100 pages, I was starting to wonder where this book was going? In my opinion it was too obvious to have Nadine be the killer. But as I got further into the story, I started to think maybe she is a killer. In the chapters she narrates, Nadine is speaking directly to Dr. Fabian. With each page, it seemed like she was apologizing to him for taking his life. But maybe she's just apologizing for not truly embracing therapy? When she began therapy, she was an aloof, self-absorbed teenager. As an adult, she has more life experiences and can look at her past with more insight. Then there is Dr. Fabian himself. He was starting to slip, forgetting patient names and mixing up patients. Was someone catching on to his behavior? Could that be a motive for murder? There were so many twists and turns. This wasn't your standard psychological thriller. I liked that there was a lot of depth to it and would definitely read another book by this author again!

Rating: Superb

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

My take on: Between You and Me

I own several books by Susan Wiggs, but up until a month ago I had only read one. After reading her latest, Between You & Me, I'm up to two books and I need to read more! With just two books of hers under my belt, I can tell she focuses on stories about family, heartache, and love. And I'm always a sucker for a book about family.

At first, I wasn't sure how a book like Between You & Me could work. It's a clash of cultures. A career-driven doctor, Reese Powell, and a simple Amish farmer, Caleb Stoltz, meet after a freak accident, somehow they form a deep friendship and eventually fall in love. How does a relationship like that even stand a chance? Or how does a writer make what seems impossible possible and sustain that idea for 300-plus pages? Yes, I had my doubts and I was pleasantly surprised.

Caleb has lived most of his life according to his Amish faith. But he has had a taste of the modern world, and almost left the Amish community for good. But a sense of duty and love for his extended family, pulled Caleb out of the modern world and back into plain life. The murders of Caleb's brother, John, and his wife left their children, Hannah and Jonah, orphans. If not for Caleb, the children would have been left in the care of their strict and abusive grandfather, Asa. Caleb will do anything and everything for his niece and nephew, even if it means putting aside his own dreams. In many ways, Caleb is a lot like Reese Powell. Reese's parents have had her life planned out from the moment she was born. Her parents are successful doctors, with a successful and thriving practice. So Reese must be the same. She has to go for the high-profile specialities, she has to apply to the best hospitals for her residency, and when her residency is done she has to join her parents' practice. What if being a big-shot doctor isn't what Reese wants? She loves being a doctor and helping people, but Reese could be happy at a small hospital.

When is Reese going to do what she wants?

When is Caleb going to do what he wants?

A chance encounter brings Caleb and Reese together, forcing them to confront their fears, hopes, and dreams.

Jonah is badly injured in a farm accident. Caleb is left with the devastating choice of saving his life with modern medicine or potentially letting him die. Of course Caleb chooses life, and Jonah is taken to the hospital where Reese works. Reese is in her final year of medical school, so technically she isn't a doctor yet. But she gets to observe Jonah's case, even offering medical advice and emotional support to Caleb. At first, Reese feels like she's just doing her job. She checks up on a patient like any medical professional would. She gets Caleb a change of fresh clothes so he doesn't have to sit in bloody clothes. She sits with Caleb at Jonah's bedside. She helps Caleb find a place to stay while Jonah recovers. Once Jonah is awake, she even bonds with him. At some point, this goes beyond a doctor/patient relationship. It becomes a friendship, and soon even more.

How could a relationship between Caleb and Reese be successful longterm? How will they handle the inevitable questions from friends and family members? Why invest so much time in someone who might be unavailable to you literally and figuratively?

This isn't a story about how modern life is better than being Amish. Or that being Amish is better than living in the modern world. It's a story about what can happen if you let your hopes and dreams fall by the wayside. You can still find a way to make others happy without losing yourself in the process. In case you couldn't tell, I loved this book!

Rating: Superb

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

Saturday, June 2, 2018

My take on: Children of Blood and Bone

I'm struggling to find the words to describe Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. I rewrote the first couple sentences of this post several times. I wasn't quite sure I had the words for the journey this book took me on. Highs and lows and then high again. I normally struggle with fantasy books, but this one was a breeze because so much of the subject matter -- classism, racism, poverty, and corruption -- parallels the problems and struggles of modern society.

Leading up to publication, this was a book that was heavily hyped. My first experience with this book was a cover story in Publishers Weekly. I saw that striking and cover, and thought "Now that's a cover!" I didn't need to know what the book was about, the cover had me at hello!

Orisha was once a land full of magic -- literally and figuratively. The maji of Orisha possessed all kinds of power, from healing to controlling fire. But King Saran feared their power, choosing to target the maji for death. Throughout Orisha, the maji were murdered at the behest of the king. The mother of our main character, Zeile, was one of the king's targets. Wiping out magic forced those who were left into submission to the monarchy. Wiping out magic wiped out an entire culture and language. Wiping out magic wiped out hope. But there are some, like Zeile, who fight back in secret. Zeile is defiant and strong. Her brother, Tzain, wishes she wasn't, as Zeile's mouth and behavior often get her into trouble. But now trouble will find her.

Amari grew up the privileged daughter of King Saran. She doesn't know about the struggles of others outside the palace walls. But she does know about her father's ruthless streak. He often makes Amari and her brother, Inan, fight each other -- almost to death. Inan is very much like his father, willing to kill if it serves his purpose. But, unlike her family, Amari does have a heart. She's willing to try and save her best friend, even if it makes Amari the next target of her father's rage.

Fate brings Zeile, Amari, and Tzain together. Fate, or more aptly put the gods of Orisha, has selected these three to bring back magic. Their quest is filled with adventure, danger, friendship, and heartache. Inan is hot on their trail, not only to stop them but also to keep his own secrets from coming to light.

For me this book was almost perfect. I say almost because there was one thing that I felt dragged the book down....ROMANCE!!! This book had a lot going for it until the YA trope I hate the most reared it's ugly head. I'm all for romance if it's organic to the story. And for me the romance was NOT organic to the story, in fact it felt completely unnecessary. It came out of left field for me. Two character who spend SOOOOOOOOOO much of the book hating each other suddenly have feelings for each other. Why? Why? Why? Why? The romance also ends up being central to the latter half of the book. But....putting that aside I still enjoyed the book. The ending confused me slightly but still left me wanting more. It's a long wait until book #2!

Rating: Superb

Thursday, May 24, 2018

My take on: Two Steps Forward

An artist named Zoe and an engineer named Martin are both in search of something. For Zoe, who's still grieving the death of her husband, an impulsive trip to France could be just the distraction she needs. Martin, who is also in France and rebounding from a messy divorce, is in search of his big break. They're both in need of some self-reflection, and they hope to find it on the Camino in Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist.

A 700-mile stretch from France to Spain, also known as the Chemin, is the site of an old pilgrim trail. Every year thousands walk the Camino, passing through small towns and lodging in quaint hotels. This trek is challenging and emotional for everyone, including Zoe and Martin. Zoe re-discovers her love of food, but also the joys of actually doing things on her own. Martin takes his self-made cart on the journey, hoping to show how good his invention is. Zoe and Martin's paths converge on the Camino. They're not quite sure what to make of the other. One day they like each other and the next they do everything to avoid the other.

I liked the concept of this book, but . . . I wasn't quite enamored with the execution. I thought the pacing was just so slow. Told in Zoe and Martin's perspectives, each chapter felt a little lacking. For me, each chapter felt like "I got up, I went on the walk, I slept in a hotel, and I met some locals." It took a while for the book to get anywhere, or for the characters to make any progress. Yes, there are endearing and funny moments, but it takes a while to get there. This just wasn't my cup of tea.

Rating: Give it a try

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


Sunday, April 29, 2018

My take on: How I Resist

The 2016 election was looooonnnnnnnnggggg and often times exhausting. On election night, when it became clear who the new White House resident would be, I turned off the TV. I also stayed away from news broadcasts and social media for about 10 days. I have the Twitter app on my phone, and I was looking at it constantly. One of these days, I have to take it off my phone. It's just hard to do. After weeks of constant consumption of media during the election, I just had enough and needed to step away for a little while--for my own sanity. My mindset: Give me a marathon of any Real Housewives show over that mess!

Now fast forward to 2018, I'm one of those people who longs for the days when we had a president who spoke in complete sentences! How did we get here? It's NOT NORMAL for there to be CONSTANT dysfunction coming from the White House. It's exhausting to see, read, and hear about the week's latest distraction. How does one not let the dysfunction consume them? How does one find joy in this madness? Or how does one resist? There's no right answer to those questions, but it's up to everyone to find what works for them. That's the prevailing message of How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation edited by Maureen Johnson.

How I Resist is an inspiring collection of essays about activism. Several prominent authors and entertainers, including Jacqueline Woodson, Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner, Jason Reynolds, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Rosie O'Donnell and others, lent their voice to inspire and provide guidance for navigating these turbulent times.

(Side note: I will say "current White House resident" throughout instead of "President *****" because in my mind the words "President *****" and the like are reserved for people who respect the Oval Office and I don't believe the current White House resident has respect for anyone but himself.)

The essays offer a wide range of advice and tips. What if we put grandmothers instead of police officers in charge? Would there be less crime? It's a funny thought, I mean who wasn't afraid of a grandparent when they were young? But there is also a serious side to this book. It's easy to get caught up in your own bubble, only consuming media that aligns with your line of thinking. What about the other side of the spectrum? In this case, does anyone stop to think why people voted for the current White House resident? If you don't understand your perceived enemy, how can change ever happen? I personally don't understand how people could vote for this. . .this. . .chaos! I'm not sure I would want to, but I get the argument being made in this book.

Resistance can take all forms, but most important remember it's ok to make mistakes along the way. Learn everything you can, so that you can make informed decisions. Reading books and supporting your libraries are essential tools to resistance. One of the best essays was by author Malinda Lo. Like me, she consumed a lot of media before and after the election. She struggled with ways to resist. Is her profession writing fiction really a form of resistance? How could she make a difference with her writing? Easy. Doing what you do best and being yourself is a form of resistance because you're not letting someone else steal your joy.

I could go on and on, but then you might not read the book if tell about every essay. Bottom line, I recommend giving this one a read!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received an e-galley from the publisher (Wednesday Books) in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 16, 2018

My take on: The New Neighbors

On the outside, Jack and Sydney appear to be the perfect couple. They got a great deal on a new house. Everything is as it should be. doesn't last in The New Neighbors by Simon Lelic.

Jack and Syd are "The New Neighbors" in their community. Their new house is full of the previous owner's stuff, records, music, papers, and books. Jack and Syd could simply get rid of everything and start fresh, but they're delighting in unearthing treasures in each room. But their delight soon turns to frustration, to despair, and eventually fear.

This house is full of secrets.

Secrets from the past.

Secrets that destroy Jack and Syd's relationship.

Secrets that could cost Jack and Syd their freedom--literally and figuratively.

It all starts with a smell. A rancid smell coming from the attic. Jack finds more than just the source of the smell, he also finds a shoebox. A shoebox filled with relics from Syd's past. Relics that could cause deep emotional pain for Syd. Rather than be honest about what he found, Jack chooses to keep it a secret.

Yes, secrets are a recurring theme in this book.

While Jack is struggling with his recent discovery, Syd is struggling with her own demons. Her abusive childhood is never far from her memory. Those memories come to the forefront when Syd takes a liking to her teenage neighbor, Elsie. Syd sees so much of herself in Elsie. For years Syd tried to hid or rationalize her father's repeated physical and emotional abuse, and now she's afraid Elsie is doing the exact same thing. Elsie does her best to deny anything is wrong, but Syd can see the sadness and fear in her eyes. Elsie's father warns both Syd and Jack to stay away from his daughter, but it's not something either one of them can do. As a social worker, it's Jack's duty to report suspected cases of abuse. But even if he wasn't a social worker, Jack would still want to help. It's in his DNA, it's apart of his humanity to help. Syd can't just sit on the sidelines either. Syd ran away from her abusive household and started a new life for herself, but it came at a steep price. She left her little sister, Jessica, behind to face their father's wrath. What will happen to Elsie if Syd does nothing?

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that a murder occurs. The hows and whys of that murder serve as a catalyst for the entire book. The story is told in Jack and Syd's alternating perspectives. It reads like a long stream of consciousness. Jack and Syd are reacting to everything in the moment; how they felt each step of the way and what they did. You feel like you're inside their heads. So much so, it's hard to know what to believe. Jack is a suspect in the murder, and things he's said along the way certainly made me think he was capable. But it's too obvious for him to be the murderer. But what about Syd? She comes across as so emotionally fragile, I didn't think she was capable of murder. When push comes to shove, Syd struggles with just about everything. This book definitely kept me guessing from end to end. Just when I thought I had it all figured it out, I really didn't. When all is revealed, I realized the signs/clues to the murderer were there the whole time. I'm not always a fan of books with so many twists and turns, but it worked here! I highly recommend diving into this book!

Rating: Superb

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

My take on: The Belles

There are several heavily hyped YA books out this year, and The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton is one of them.

Is this book worth the hype?

I think so.


I think the concept is original. In Orleans, beauty is a commodity. It's a commodity that not everyone can afford. Only very special women, called Belles have the power to control beauty. The Belles harness that power, and figuratively speaking turn ugly ducklings into swans. The people of Orleans are borne with grayish skin and red eyes. Darker skin is the ideal, and the only way to achieve this is to go to a Belle. The Belles hold a lot of power. In the wrong hands, this power could bring down a kingdom.

Again, I think the concept of this story is great. Now, did I like the execution? Nope. Fair warning, mild spoilers ahead!

Let's start at the beginning. Camellia Beauregard is a Belle, and she dreams of the coveted position of being "the favorite." What does that mean? The royal family picks the favorite, and that Belle gets to live at the palace. The favorite gets the coveted beauty assignments for the royal family. It's an opulent life that Camellia wants. But she's competing against her fellow sisters. Camellia is not like the others in that she rarely follows the rules. She's always testing the boundaries of her power and the patience of the head Belle, Madame Du Barry.

Camellia is like a lot of YA heroines, the rules apply to everyone but her. She can break the rules because she's special and knows everything. This is a YA trope that I'm soooooo sick of. I guess that was strike one for this book.

What was strike two? Why does anyone want to be the favorite? It wasn't really clear to me why this is a thing to obsess over. Like life will be over if someone doesn't get this position. Initially Camellia isn't the favorite and it makes her feel like a failure. But when she finally becomes the favorite, her life becomes worse and not better. So was it really worth it? Being the favorite also comes with a price. Camellia ends up being at the beck and call of Princess Sophia, who wants more than to become beautiful. Sophia wants what Camellia has. She wants Camellia's power, and that puts the new favorite in an awkward position. The Queen will do anything to prevent her daughter from ascending to the throne. Sophia would do more harm than good to Orleans. Sophia delights in causing others pain, emotionally and physically. What will Camellia do?

This book had a lot of potential, but it reads like the first book in a series. Because it's the first in the series, so much time is spent on world-building and introducing characters. I also felt there were a lot of unnecessary characters. The author made an earnest effort to have a diverse group of characters, but there were some that just felt like throwaways. For instance, there are gay characters in the book. But I didn't feel making those characters gay added anything to the story. There's a random sexual assault, so tread lightly. It wasn't until the last 100 pages that I felt the book found it's footing. And then the last page of the book is literally a cliffhanger!! I hope book 2 is better, yes I will be buying it! Despite my issues with this book, I do want to know how Camellia's story ends!

Rating: Give it a try