All Your Twisted Secrets

Finished All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

This thrilling debut, reminiscent of new fan favorites like One of Us Is Lying and the beloved classics by Agatha Christie, will leave readers guessing until the explosive ending.

Welcome to dinner, and again, congratulations on being selected. Now you must do the selecting.

What do the queen bee, star athlete, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek all have in common? They were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill … or else everyone dies.

Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they’re all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor’s ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die?”

This is an incredibly fun novel, one that is immediately engaging. There’s obviously a lot to figure out (who set this up? Why were these particular people chosen? What do you do in this situation?) and I had a hard time trying to do anything else until I finished. (I would definitely advise that you start this on a Saturday morning, say. And even though this is almost 400 pages, they fly by.

I loved Amber and wanted her to be OK and to be able to figure out a way to escape and/or keep everyone alive. (Her fellow captives aren’t as invested in the idea of everyone surviving.)

I’ve had a hard time focusing lately, so this was a really welcome read. Here’s to distractions during a pandemic, right? Recommended.

Music From Another World

Finished Music From Another World by Robin Talley. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“It’s summer 1977 and closeted lesbian Tammy Larson can’t be herself anywhere. Not at her strict Christian high school, not at her conservative Orange County church and certainly not at home, where her ultrareligious aunt relentlessly organizes antigay political campaigns. Tammy’s only outlet is writing secret letters in her diary to gay civil rights activist Harvey Milk…until she’s matched with a real-life pen pal who changes everything.

Sharon Hawkins bonds with Tammy over punk music and carefully shared secrets, and soon their letters become the one place she can be honest. The rest of her life in San Francisco is full of lies. The kind she tells for others—like helping her gay brother hide the truth from their mom—and the kind she tells herself. But as antigay fervor in America reaches a frightening new pitch, Sharon and Tammy must rely on their long-distance friendship to discover their deeply personal truths, what they’ll stand for…and who they’ll rise against.

A master of award-winning queer historical fiction, New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley once again brings to life with heart and vivid detail an emotionally captivating story about the lives of two teen girls living in an age when just being yourself was an incredible act of bravery.”

So first you should know that this book ends in November 1978, but before Harvey Milk’s assassination. (That’s history and it’s not a spoiler.) I loved this book but I had an incredible amount of anxiety as we got closer to November because I knew what was coming.

And I really loved this book so much. I was born in 1980, so this is not that much before my time, but my teenage years were so different. Ellen came out when I was in high school, and I remember watching that episode live and feeling like we were in a whole new world. While Ellen was probably the first really beloved person to come out, I think every gay person my age-ish would agree that we owe a huge debt to Harvey Milk. (Do kids today know about him? I hope they do.)

And Tammy and Sharon definitely do. Tammy especially, because her life would be in real danger if people knew she was gay (her family is very religious and they would definitely kick her out but probably also send her to conversion therapy).

It’s so scary to think of how different things would be now if Anita Bryant and her kind had been more successful than they were. Even so (and this book feels very realistic and unsettling to me) there’s also a very real sense of hope. It’s obvious that the world is moving forward; the only real question is how long it will take. That’s something I still think about. We’re moving in the right direction, I think, but the progress feels so slow sometimes.

Either way, this is an amazing story and Robin Talley has written another phenomenal book. Highly recommended.

How to Be Fine

Finished How to Be Fine by Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meizner. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A humorous and insightful look into what advice works, what doesn’t, and what it means to transform yourself, by the co-hosts of the popular By the Book podcast.

In each episode of their podcast By the Book, Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer take a deep dive into a different self-help book, following its specific instructions, rules, and advice to the letter. From diet and productivity to decorating to social interactions, they try it all, record themselves along the way, then share what they’ve learned with their devoted and growing audience of fans who tune in.

In How to Be Fine, Jolenta and Kristen synthesize the lessons and insights they’ve learned and share their experiences with everyone. How to Be Fine is a thoughtful look at the books and practices that have worked, real talk on those that didn’t, and a list of philosophies they want to see explored in-depth. The topics they cover include:

Getting off your device
Engaging in positive self-talk
Admitting you’re a liar
Going outside
Getting in touch with your emotions
Seeing a therapist

Before they began their podcast, Jolenta wanted to believe the promises of self-help books, while Kristen was very much the skeptic. They embraced their differences of opinion, hoping they’d be good for laughs and downloads. But in the years since launching the By the Book, they’ve come to realize their show is about much more than humor. In fact, reading and following each book’s advice has actually changed and improved their lives. Thanks to the show, Kristen penned the Amish romance novel she’d always joked about writing, traveled back to her past lives, and she broached some difficult conversations with her husband about their marriage. Jolenta finally memorized her husband’s phone number, began tracking her finances, and fell in love with cutting clutter.

Part memoir, part prescriptive handbook, this honest, funny, and heartfelt guide is like a warm soul-baring conversation with your closest and smartest friends.”

“Quirky memoir” is probably my favorite genre of nonfiction and this is a really fun one. I’m sure we’ve all read a self-help book at one time or another, right? It’s so easy to be tempted by the idea that we are only 250-350 pages away from fixing our lives. But…which to start with?

Fortunately, Kristen and Jolenta are here. They lived by a different book every few weeks, and it had varying results. (They have a podcast with more in-depth results, but this book hits the highlights.)

And what a really fun book it is. The synopsis is right: it feels like a series of great conversations.

I definitely want to start listening to this podcast when I get back in the office. Recommended.

Blogging Hiatus

I’m taking a little bit of a break, but I’m sure I’ll be back soon. I just don’t have much to say right now.

While I’m gone…

READ THIS: Most Likely by Sarah Watson and Untamed by Glennon Doyle

WATCH THIS: Schitt’s Creek! (first five seasons on Netflix; sixth and final airing now)

The Only Black Girls in Town

Finished The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Award-winning YA author Brandy Colbert’s debut middle-grade novel about the only two black girls in town who discover a collection of hidden journals revealing shocking secrets of the past.

Beach-loving surfer Alberta has been the only black girl in town for years. Alberta’s best friend, Laramie, is the closest thing she has to a sister, but there are some things even Laramie can’t understand. When the bed and breakfast across the street finds new owners, Alberta is ecstatic to learn the family is black-and they have a 12-year-old daughter just like her.

Alberta is positive she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends. But while Alberta loves being a California girl, Edie misses her native Brooklyn and finds it hard to adapt to small-town living.

When the girls discover a box of old journals in Edie’s attic, they team up to figure out exactly who’s behind them and why they got left behind. Soon they discover shocking and painful secrets of the past and learn that nothing is quite what it seems.”

I absolutely loved this book! The synopsis is a little misleading, because it definitely deals more with Alberta and her relationships (with her dads and with her two good friends, Edie and Laramie). The journals are definitely important, but it’s not the most vital piece of the story. (Also, I was pretty sure I knew what the “shocking and painful” secret was, and I’m really happy I was wrong. It never would’ve occurred to me. I would still call it a painful secret.)

I think a lot of people could relate to Alberta. She’s in middle school (seventh grade) and it feels like all of a sudden, her friends are just…older than she is. Their priorities are different and they act differently, and it’s disconcerting for her in a lot of ways. Middle school is the worst, anyway, and it’s even harder when your best friend has started ditching you for the popular girl who’s awful to you all the time. (REALLY, LARAMIE? #TeamAlberta)

This is just a really good and fun read. It’s exactly what we need right now. Highly recommended.

Eight Perfect Murders

Finished Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“A chilling tale of psychological suspense and an homage to the thriller genre tailor-made for fans: the story of a bookseller who finds himself at the center of an FBI investigation because a very clever killer has started using his list of fiction’s most ingenious murders.

Years ago, bookseller and mystery aficionado Malcolm Kershaw compiled a list of the genre’s most unsolvable murders, those that are almost impossible to crack—which he titled “Eight Perfect Murders”—chosen from among the best of the best including Agatha Christie’s A. B. C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Ira Levin’s Death Trap, A. A. Milne’s Red House Mystery, Anthony Berkeley Cox’s Malice Aforethought, James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, John D. Macdonald’s The Drowner, and Donna Tartt’s A Secret History.

But no one is more surprised than Mal, now the owner of the Old Devils Bookshop in Boston, when an FBI agent comes knocking on his door one snowy day in February. She’s looking for information about a series of unsolved murders that look eerily similar to the killings on Mal’s old list. And the FBI agent isn’t the only one interested in this bookseller who spends almost every night at home reading. The killer is out there, watching his every move—a diabolical threat who knows way too much about Mal’s personal history, especially the secrets he’s never told anyone, even his recently deceased wife.

To protect himself, Mal begins looking into possible suspects—and sees a killer in everyone around him. But Mal doesn’t count on the investigation leaving a trail of death in its wake. Suddenly, a series of shocking twists leaves more victims dead—and the noose around Mal’s neck grows so tight he might never escape.”

This is impossible to discuss without ruining something, so I’m going to instead talk about what it was like to read Eight Perfect Murders.

First, this is easily one of the most fun books I’ve read in ages. It’s so fun and so clever that it was impossible to put down.

A friend of mine had also read it (read his review here) and that made me want to read it (I read the first two paragraphs and then got the book). I’m excited to go finish that review once I finish this one. So yes, there’s that. And while reading this book, I kept messaging him with my theories about who the killer is. Or maybe killers? And I even went full Terry from Brooklyn 99—is the cat involved somehow? I mean, cat burglars, right?

If you want an amazing and fun read and a distraction, this is for you. Highly recommended.

In Five Years

Finished In Five Years by Rebecca Serle. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Perfect for fans of Me Before You and One Day—a striking, powerful, and moving love story following an ambitious lawyer who experiences an astonishing vision that could change her life forever.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

When Type-A Manhattan lawyer Dannie Cohan is asked this question at the most important interview of her career, she has a meticulously crafted answer at the ready. Later, after nailing her interview and accepting her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, Dannie goes to sleep knowing she is right on track to achieve her five-year plan.

But when she wakes up, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. The television news is on in the background, and she can just make out the scrolling date. It’s the same night—December 15—but 2025, five years in the future.

After a very intense, shocking hour, Dannie wakes again, at the brink of midnight, back in 2020. She can’t shake what has happened. It certainly felt much more than merely a dream, but she isn’t the kind of person who believes in visions. That nonsense is only charming coming from free-spirited types, like her lifelong best friend, Bella. Determined to ignore the odd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind.

That is, until four-and-a-half years later, when by chance Dannie meets the very same man from her long-ago vision.

Brimming with joy and heartbreak, In Five Years is an unforgettable love story that reminds us of the power of loyalty, friendship, and the unpredictable nature of destiny.”

I love Rebecca Serle’s books. Her YA is amazing, and I absolutely adored her adult debut, The Dinner List. This one is my favorite, though. By A LOT.

The blurb will have you think that this is a love story, and it is. But it’s not a romance, per se. The central relationship here is between Dannie and her best friend, Bella. Their friendship is the longest one either of them have had (they’ve been friends since they were seven) and so they know each other better than anyone else has or could.

I love stories about friendships and this one is likely my new favorite, full stop. It’s absolute magic (also, sweet, funny and, at least in parts, heartbreaking).

Highly recommended.

Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom

Finished Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom by Louis Sachar. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

For the first time in twenty-five years, Wayside School is back in session in this brand-new, fourth installment in the perennially beloved and bestselling series by Newbery Medal-winning author Louis Sachar.

Welcome back to Wayside School!

Your favorite students and teachers are all here. That includes Sharie, who loves her striped-and-spotted umbrella more than anything; Kathy, who has a bad case of oppositosis; Jason, who has to read the longest book in the world; and the rest of Mrs. Jewls’s class on the thirtieth floor, who are busily collecting toenail clippings.

Everyone is scrambling to prepare for the all-important Ultimate Test, but meanwhile, there is a mysterious Cloud of Doom looming above them…

More than fifteen million readers in the U.S. have laughed at the clever and hilarious stories of Wayside School. So what are you waiting for? Come visit Wayside School!”

I’m going to be 40 next month, and I remember my elementary school English teacher reading us the first few Wayside School books. (We had her for second, third and fifth grades, and she read us all these great books: The Indian in the Cupboard and Bridge to Terabithia and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, books that are still some of my favorites. And I loved the Wayside School books, which I thought were so incredibly funny.) So when I saw that there was a new one,  I practically sprained my mouse hand moving to download it.

And it was just as fun as I remembered! It’s everything you would expect from a school that was accidentally built vertically instead of horizontally (one classroom per floor and 30 classrooms) and with a principal who has an elaborate gong system to alert students, faculty and staff to what’s going on (one is if a porcupine is in the school).

I laughed multiple times and I also learned that there’s a Wayside book I haven’t read. I’m going to need to fix that.

This is ideal for middlegrade readers. It’s 30 chapters, but most of them are really short. It’s a delightful book and I can’t imagine any kid not loving it.

Highly recommended.

Be Not Far From Me

Finished Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“The world is not tame.

Ashley knows this truth deep in her bones, more at home with trees overhead than a roof. So when she goes hiking in the Smokies with her friends for a night of partying, the falling dark and creaking trees are second nature to her. But people are not tame either. And when Ashley catches her boyfriend with another girl, drunken rage sends her running into the night, stopped only by a nasty fall into a ravine. Morning brings the realization that she’s alone – and far off trail. Lost in undisturbed forest and with nothing but the clothes on her back, Ashley must figure out how to survive despite the red streak of infection creeping up her leg.”

I love Mindy McGinnis’ books so much! Her last few books have been excellent, and this one is no exception. And they’ve all been incredibly different beyond “strong female characters and gripping plots and prose.”

I don’t think it would surprise anyone to learn that I hate nature, and this is exactly why: Ashley plans to have a fun few days and instead she ends up alone, lost, without any supplies and with a really devastating injury. I was so scared for her, and even though the chapter list reveals her fate, I still didn’t know exactly what that would mean.

We spend the majority of the book alone with Ashley, and she’s a very prickly person. Not everyone will enjoy the time they spend with her, but I did. She’s not for everyone, but she’s very much for me. And it made sense that she spent so much time in the woods; I’m pretty sure that in a similar situation, I would be dead within 12 hours. (And that’s a very generous estimate.)

I’m not sure it’s fair to say that this is a fun book (that will depend on your fondness for survival stories) but I couldn’t stop reading.

Highly recommended.

Don’t Read the Comments

Finished Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight.”

It took me a little bit to get into this book, but I think that’s because I’m not really its target audience. Video games and I have never really been very compatible, and so everything that Divya talks about is basically a foreign language to me. But I’m trying to read outside my comfort zone, and that’s a good thing. This book ended up being amazing and exactly the perfect read.

I think we’ve all heard of the way that women are treated on the internet, but women in gaming somehow seem to get even more anger aimed directly at them. And in Div’s case, it’s also aimed at her mom and at her best friend, Rebekah. It’s so scary to read, because she does everything that we’re told to do on the internet: she keeps her personal life very, very secret and doesn’t mention anything about her location or activities, ever. And it didn’t make any difference, because the trolls found her anyway.

The Vox Populi are the most obnoxious group of guys imaginable. Everything about them is annoying and awful. And somehow they think they’re the heroes! I felt awful for Divya, and I understood her instinct to disappear, but (and I don’t think this is a spoiler) when she chose to fight back, I seriously cheered out loud.

This is a fun book and while it wasn’t written especially for me, I am so glad I found it. Recommended.