No Ordinary Life

Finished No Ordinary Life by Suzanne Redfearn.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Suzanne Redfearn delivers another gripping page-turner in her latest novel, a story about a young mother’s fight to protect her children from the dangerous world of Hollywood. Faye Martin never expected her husband to abandon her and her three children . . . or that she’d have to struggle every day to make ends meet. So when her four-year-old daughter is discovered through a YouTube video and offered a starring role on a television series, it seems like her prayers have been answered. But when the reality of their new life settles in, Faye realizes that fame and fortune don’t come without a price. And in a world where everyone is an actor and every move is scrutinized by millions, it’s impossible to know who to trust, and Faye finds herself utterly alone in her struggle to save her family. Emotionally riveting and insightful, NO ORDINARY LIFE is an unforgettable novel about the preciousness of childhood and the difficult choices a mother needs to make in order to protect this fragile time in her children’s lives.

I really enjoyed this novel!  I love the story of a child star as told by her mom (who is really not what we’d think of as a stage mom).

I was expecting Faye to get in trouble for using some of Molly’s money for family use, but that didn’t happen.  (Isn’t that what Macauley Culkin’s father got in trouble for?)

At any rate, this was a smart, fun story and I definitely want to read more from Suzanne Redfearn.

Recommended.

Symptoms of Being Human

Finished Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

First, a Q&A!

1)  Is there a Twitter pitch for Symptoms of Being Human?

​Here are a few: 
“I’m not a boy. I’m not a girl. I’m Riley.” Read all about it in SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN! #LGBTQYA  http://bit.ly/1KmEMkq
“★…A smart, funny, sharp-eyed force.” -@PublishersWkly. SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN is out today!  #LGBTQYA #yalit http://bit.ly/1KmEMkq
“The 1st thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?” Read SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN now: http://bit.ly/1KmEMkq 
2)  What was the inspiration for Symptoms of Being Human?
 
A transgender teen in my county sued the school district for the right to use the locker room that aligned with their gender identity rather than their birth-assigned sex. I was so inspired by their courage–imagine going to school the day after the story broke in the news. EVERYONE would know. I was so moved by their story, I knew I had to write something.
3)  What’s the first sentence/paragraph of Symptoms of Being Human?  (This won’t run until sometime in December, if that helps)
 
The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?​
4)  If you had an anonymous blog, what would it be about?
I love this question. I’d have three: one about random parenting moments, one about the travails of being a writer, and one for all my fandom obsessions: mostly Harry Potter and Star Wars.
5)  If you could make one book mandatory, what would it be?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. It’s ​perfect for any age, it’s got heart, it’s got good versus evil, and most of all, it challenges your imagination.
6)  What are your five favorite books? (You can do authors, if it’s easier)
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
11-22-63 by Stephen King
 
7)  What 2016 releases are you excited for?
There are too many to list, but I’ve read a few of the debuts coming out in 2016, and I will recommend them here:
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. It’s the kind of book I want to write. Deeply moving, real, and sometimes hilarious and sad.
Save Me, Kurt Cobain by Jenny Manzer. Creepy, beautiful, deep.
The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig. Fierce girl on a time traveling pirate ship. And the writing is SO GOOD.
Fenway & Hattie by Victoria J. Coe. A wonderfully funny and touching Middle Grade novel about a dog and his girl, from the dog’s POV.

Now on to the book!

Summary (from Goodreads):

The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?

Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is . . . Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender-fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.”

This is an excellent book.

I’d heard of people being gender-fluid but I didn’t really know what that meant beyond “sometimes I feel like a girl; sometimes I feel like a guy.”  This book does an excellent job of explaining it without ever feeling preachy or like an issues book.

I especially love that Riley’s dad is a politician.  It would be hard enough to feel different anyway but to know that your different-ness could derail your dad’s job? I can’t even imagine that much pressure.

You should also know that we never learn whether Riley is a biological boy or girl, but also by the end, you’ll probably stop thinking about it.  (That’s such an amazing achievement; we are so conditoned to classify people and that’s one of the major ways we do it.)

Highly recommended.

What She Knew

Finished What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In her enthralling debut, Gilly Macmillan explores a mother’s search for her missing son, weaving a taut psychological thriller as gripping and skillful as The Girl on the Train and The Guilty One.

In a heartbeat, everything changes…

Rachel Jenner is walking in a Bristol park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead. It’s an ordinary request on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and Rachel has no reason to worry—until Ben vanishes.

Police are called, search parties go out, and Rachel, already insecure after her recent divorce, feels herself coming undone. As hours and then days pass without a sign of Ben, everyone who knew him is called into question, from Rachel’s newly married ex-husband to her mother-of-the-year sister. Inevitably, media attention focuses on Rachel too, and the public’s attitude toward her begins to shift from sympathy to suspicion.

As she desperately pieces together the threadbare clues, Rachel realizes that nothing is quite as she imagined it to be, not even her own judgment. And the greatest dangers may lie not in the anonymous strangers of every parent’s nightmares, but behind the familiar smiles of those she trusts the most.

Where is Ben? The clock is ticking… ”

This book was a complete page-turner.  I kept changing my mind about who was responsible for kidnapping Ben or whether Ben would be found alive.  There were a lot of twists, most of which I didn’t see coming.

This is incredibly impressive, especially for a debut novel.

The subplot aobut how Rachel was portrayed in the media was also incredibly interesting. It’s something you never really think about, how easy it would be to be misconstrued by the media.  And how exactly do you manage to create  a good media image in a stressful situation?

Recommended.

What She Left

Finished What She Left by T.R. Richmond.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Gone doesn’t mean forgotten.

When Alice Salmon died last year, the ripples were felt in the news, on the internet, and in the hearts of those who knew her best.

But the person who knows her most intimately isn’t family or a friend. Dr Jeremy Cook is an academic whose life has become about piecing together Alice’s existence in all its flawed and truthful reality.

For Cooke, faithfully recreating Alice’s life – through her diaries, emails and anything using her voice – is all-consuming. He does not know how deep his search will take him, or the shocking nature of what he will uncover…”

This book is such a blast to read.  It’s told through emails, newspaper articles texts, diary entries, blog posts and comments (and a few other devices) and that makes it incredibly easy to read (and incredibly easy to keep reading).  We know that Alice has died, but we don’t know why (did she kill herself? Was it an accident? Did someone kill her?) and there are some pretty compelling pieces of evidence with each theory.

The most interesting part is that we are also not sure who can be trusted.  Everyone seems to have secrets and to know more than they’re telling about Alice’s disappearance.  It makes it really hard to know what’s going on and whose stories should be believed.

When we finally learn the truth, I will admit that I was really blindsided.  That doesn’t happen that often and kudos to TR Richmond for it. :)

Recommended.

Pax

Finished Pax by Sara Pennypacker.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds.

Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax, this story truly showcases Sara’s mastery of characterization and her fluent ability to pay off small yet beautiful details. The conflicts that Peter faces are mostly internal and center around the anger that has affected both him and his father in the wake of his mother’s unexpected death. Peter can’t shake his grandfather’s claim that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” when he wants so badly to distinguish himself from his closed-off father. Pax’s hardships, on the other hand, are more external; his domestication has left him an unskilled hunter and misled him as to the true nature of men. However, it is the beautifully-crafted characters that Peter and Pax encounter on their separate journeys who ultimately help the protagonists find what they are looking for, in addition to each other. These distinctive and multi-dimensional individuals leave a rare kind of impression on the reader while subtly infusing it with themes of loyalty, self-worth, denial, and truth.

PAX is ready to become a universal and timeless classic, like CHARLOTTE’S WEB, to be read and discussed by whole communities and generations to come.”

I bet the comparison to Charlotte’s Web left you skeptical, right? But no, it’s actually really that good.

I couldn’t stop reading this book and I was so nervous during Pax’s chapters.  (I was very worried that he would get hurt or killed, and I can deal with the death of fictional people so much easier than I can deal with the death of fictional animals.)

I won’t tell you how many times I cried during this book or how long it took me to stop crying at the end, but it’s all so worth it.  Get this book and share it with everyone you know.

Highly recommended.

Missing Pieces

Finished Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A woman uncovers earth-shattering secrets about her husband’s family in this chilling page-turner from New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf

Sarah Quinlan’s husband, Jack, has been haunted for decades by the untimely death of his mother when he was just a teenager, her body found in the cellar of their family farm, the circumstances a mystery. The case rocked the small farm town of Penny Gate, Iowa, where Jack was raised, and for years Jack avoided returning home. But when his beloved aunt Julia is in an accident, hospitalized in a coma, Jack and Sarah are forced to confront the past that they have long evaded.

Upon arriving in Penny Gate, Sarah and Jack are welcomed by the family Jack left behind all those years ago—barely a trace of the wounds that had once devastated them all. But as facts about Julia’s accident begin to surface, Sarah realizes that nothing about the Quinlans is what it seems. Caught in a flurry of unanswered questions, Sarah dives deep into the puzzling rabbit hole of Jack’s past. But the farther in she climbs, the harder it is for her to get out. And soon she is faced with a deadly truth she may not be prepared for.”

I am a huge fan of Heather Gudenkauf’s and I love the way that her books seem to be these sort of ripped-from-the-headlines things that are just insanely good and insanely readable.

This one was a letdown but still was something that I couldn’t stop reading.  (It’s not that this was a bad book, because it wasn’t, at all.  It’s just that it was more of a thriller, almost, which is not what I expect from her.)

It’s impossible not to feel sorry for Sarah.  In really short order, she learns that everything she knows about her husband’s past is not true. It’s a lot to handle, even before she starts realizing just how far back the lies go and how extensive they are.

This is a good book but it’s not a good Heather Gudenkauf book.  Does that make sense? It’s just that I expect more in terms of character development from her.  (But it’s still worth reading, and I definitely plan to read everything else she writes.)

#CheersToYou Vox Box Review

I received a Cheers To You Vox Box in the mail last week and I was completely excited.  Thank you to Influenster for this awesome box!

Inside:

  1.  Suave shampoo and conditioner for dry and damaged hair (full-size bottles, not samples).  I used it this morning and my hair dried in awesome ringlets.  (No pictures because I hate pictures.)  I definitely plan to keep using them and to re-buy in the future.
  2.   Dr. Teal’s epsom salts (lavender, to promote a good night’s sleep).  You can use this as an exfoliant or dump the whole container in and soak to relieve stress/get a good night’s sleep.  I used it Friday night and actually had the best night’s sleep in ages.  I plan to buy some for my mom for Mother’s Day.  Don’t tell her.
  3.  Way Better Snacks’ sweet chili chips.  These were delicious! They tasted like a spicy version of Cool Ranch Doritos.  I plan to buy more of these and also try some of their other flavors.

This was a fantastic box and I loved everything I tried.  There was also info on an app called Yaye (weight loss app for friends to use together) and a coupon for free taco meat from Hormel.  I haven’t used either of those yet, but I plan to when I can.

I strongly recommend joining Influenster.  It’s a great idea and I love my Cheers to You Vox Box! :)

Assassin’s Heart

Finished Assassin’s Heart by Sarah Ahiers.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the kingdom of Lovero, nine rival Families of assassins lawfully kill people for a price. As a highly skilled member of one of these powerful clans, seventeen-year-old Lea Saldana has always trusted in the strength of her Family. Until she awakens to find them murdered and her home in flames. The Da Vias, the Saldanas’ biggest enemy, must be responsible—and Lea should have seen it coming. But her secret relationship with the Da Vias’ son, Val, has clouded her otherwise killer instinct—and given the Da Vias more reason than ever to take her Family down.

Racked with guilt and shattered over Val’s probable betrayal, Lea sets out to even the score, with her heart set on retaliation and only one thought clear in her mind: make the Da Vias pay.

With shades of The Godfather and Romeo and Juliet, this richly imagined fantasy from debut author Sarah Ahiers is a story of love, lies, and the ultimate vengeance.”

This book had me at “The Godfather meets Romeo and Juliet.”  I mean, YES PLEASE.  I will admit that I’m a little sick of star-crossed love, but throw The Godfather in and I am there.

I loved Lea immediately.  She’s fierce and passionate and loyal and even after she loses her entire family, she’s still not giving up.  Okay, granted, motivated by hatred and revenge is not ideal, but it’s still better than giving up and waiting to die.

This is completely action-packed (as you’d expect from the synopsis) but it’s also clever and surprisingly sweet (sometimes).  And according to Goodreads, there’s at least one other book, so that’s a bonus.

I’m definitely excited to see what happens next for Lea.

The Truth

Finished The Truth by Jeffry W. Johnston.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Lie, torture, kill—there’s nothing Chris and Derek wouldn’t do for their younger brothers…

When Chris wakes up tied to a chair in a dark basement, he knows that he’s trapped—and why. He shot and killed Derek’s little brother. He had his reasons, but no matter how far Derek goes to uncover the truth about that night, Chris’s story won’t change. It can’t. There is far too much at stake…

Derek is desperate to prove his brother didn’t deserve to die. And if kidnapping his brother’s killer is the only way to the truth, than he’ll go to extremes. But Chris’s truth is far more dangerous than Derek could have imagined, and knowing could cost both their lives…”

This book is the perfect definition of  a page-turner. I started reading it when I was tired but was still unable to stop until I was done.  (Thanks for that, Jeffry Johnston.)

I was pretty sure what one of the twists was (and I was right) but what drove me to keep reading was the question of whether or not Chris would be okay.  Derek is clearly unhinged by his brother’s death—and both he and Chris are feeling some guilt over that death—and I had no assurance that things would end well for either of them.

Everything about this felt so plausible and made me think about how easily a simple decision could completely derail my life.  (And think about how we’re not as safe as we think we are, because Derek didn’t have much of a problem kidnapping Chris.)

This book is insanely readable, you guys.  Absolutely read it, but don’t start it at night because you won’t stop til you’re done.  (At least it’s short.)

The Killing Forest

Finished The Killing Forest by Sara Blaedel.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Following an extended leave, Louise Rick returns to work at the Special Search Agency, an elite unit of the National Police Department. She’s assigned a case involving a fifteen-year-old who vanished a week earlier. When Louise realizes that the missing teenager is the son of a butcher from Hvalsoe, she seizes the opportunity to combine the search for the teen with her personal investigation of her boyfriend’s long-ago death . . . Louise’s investigation takes her on a journey back through time. She reconnects with figures from her past, including Kim, the principal investigator at the Holbaek Police Department, her former in-laws, fanatic ancient religion believers, and her longtime close friend, journalist Camilla Lind. As she moves through the small town’s cramped network of deadly connections, Louise unearths toxic truths left unspoken and dangerous secrets.”

If you’ve heard me talk about books, you’ve probably heard me mention Sara Blaedel.  Her books are so fun and so compelling and so…okay, yes, creepy.  (If you’re a fan of mysteries or suspense and you haven’t read her, you need to check her out.)

The Killing Forest is my new favorite of hers.  It’s got some of my favorite things: people in peril (a teenage boy, for the most part, but it spreads) and local mythology and weird religion.  Even one of those things is fantastic but all of them? Yes, please!

And best of all, we’ve got Louise Rick, one of my favorite fictional characters (and her best friend Camilla who, of course, is another of my favorites).

Most of her books have been translated now (except for the first two, which I am desperate to read—come on, Hachette, translate those too, please!) so I have to wait now as her books are written and released.  I hope the next one is out soon.  I already miss Louise.

Highly recommended.