Category Archives: 2019 Books

Mostly the Honest Truth

Finished Mostly the Honest Truth by Jody J. Little. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“After Pop is sent back to rehab, Jane Pengilly arrives at her newest foster home determined to stick to the straight and narrow and get back to her beloved dad as soon as she can. It’s not the first time they’ve been apart, but Jane’s determined it will be the last.

Twelve days out in the boonies of Three Boulders makes Jane miss Pop more than ever. But as the days go by, she realizes that family is more than who you’re related to—and that a home can be found in the unlikeliest of places.”

I love Jane so much. She’s got all this responsibility on her, and she clearly wants to do everything she can to keep her family going. And she takes care of Pop as much as he takes care of her (okay, she does more of this, I believe) and so she’s like, “OK, I can make this work for 12 days and then I can get my real life back.”

And Three Boulders sounds amazing. Like Jane, I was skeptical at first (it seems SUPER GRANOLA, guys) but everyone is so nice and it seems to work so well. And it’s this great place that I seriously want to visit. (I don’t think I could do softball and the garden but still. Still.)

I absolutely adored this story. I wanted to read it because of the Great Gilly Hopkins vibe, but it’s completely its own deal.

I read the acknowledgments and the first paragraph was the books that Jody Little read as a child and I could see the influences. At the same time, this isn’t a retread of books I loved as a kid. This is fantastic on its own. And I will tell you now that if I had read this in elementary school, I would’ve read this book probably at least five times in a row. This would’ve become my new favorite book.

This is an amazing book. Your middlegrade reader will likely love it. Highly recommended.

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If You’re Out There

Finished If You’re Out There by Katy Loutzenhiser. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“After Zan’s best friend moves to California, she is baffled and crushed when Priya suddenly ghosts. Worse, Priya’s social media has turned into a stream of ungrammatical posts chronicling a sunny, vapid new life that doesn’t sound like her at all.

Everyone tells Zan not to be an idiot: Let Priya do her reinvention thing and move on. But until Zan hears Priya say it, she won’t be able to admit that their friendship is finished.

It’s only when she meets Logan, the compelling new guy in Spanish class, that Zan begins to open up about her sadness, her insecurity, her sense of total betrayal. And he’s just as willing as she is to throw himself into the investigation when everyone else thinks her suspicions are crazy.

Then a clue hidden in Priya’s latest selfie introduces a new, deeply disturbing possibility:

Maybe Priya isn’t just not answering Zan’s emails.

Maybe she can’t.”

This is such an intense read. I think most of us know how breakups go, but we don’t really discuss how it feels when friendships end and we definitely don’t discuss how hard that loss can be.

And with the plot twist alluded to in the synopsis, it’s obvious that this isn’t REALLY that book because the friendship didn’t end; there was something awful going on. We can’t get too far into that, but if you are in the mood for a YA thriller, snag this immediately.

Katy Louzenhiser is definitely one to watch, guys. Recommended.

In Another Life

Finished In Another Life by CC Hunter. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Chloe was three years old when she became Chloe Holden, but her adoption didn’t scar her, and she’s had a great life. Now, fourteen years later, her loving parents’ marriage has fallen apart and her mom has moved them to Joyful, Texas. Starting twelfth grade as the new kid at school, everything Chloe loved about her life is gone. And feelings of déjà vu from her early childhood start haunting her.

When Chloe meets Cash Colton she feels drawn to him, as though they’re kindred spirits. Until Cash tells her the real reason he sought her out: Chloe looks exactly like the daughter his foster parents lost years ago, and he’s determined to figure out the truth.

As Chloe and Cash delve deeper into her adoption, the more things don’t add up, and the more strange things start happening. Why is Chloe’s adoption a secret that people would kill for?”

I mostly loved this book. It was so fascinating and it give me a little bit of the The Face on the Milk Carton vibe. It’s not a perfect parallel but the feeling is there.

There is some very real instalove, which I found unrealistic (would you fall for someone who’s potentially essentially your stepsibling?)  but my biggest problem is the way that Chloe felt about being adopted. I’m also adopted and she keeps thinking about how her birth mom got rid of her. And I know that there are people who have bigger problems with being adopted than I do, but I also don’t know of any adopted person who calls their birth parents their “real parents.” So that rankled a bit.

But neither of those things affected my enjoyment of the book. It’s a fast, fun read and I very much enjoyed it. I can’t even imagine the realization that you weren’t actually adopted; you were kidnapped. It was the most fantastic concept and I liked the execution, as well.

Like with CC Hunter’s others, this is a really fun escape from the real world.

A Woman is No Man

Finished A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Introducing a brave, new Arab-American voice, an unflinching debut novel that takes us inside a world where few of us have been before: the lives of conservative Arab women living in America.

In Brooklyn, eighteen-year-old Deya is starting to meet with suitors. Though she doesn’t want to get married, her grandparents give her no choice. History is repeating itself: Deya’s mother, Isra, also had no choice when she left Palestine as a teenager to marry Adam. Though Deya was raised to believe her parents died in a car accident, a secret note from a mysterious, yet familiar-looking woman makes Deya question everything she was told about her past. As the narrative alternates between the lives of Deya and Isra, she begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind her fragile community.

Set in an America that may feel removed yet is all too close at hand, A Woman Is No Man is both a gripping page-turner and an intimate family portrait. Fans of The Kite Runner and Everything I Never Told You will be drawn to this powerful novel.”

This is an amazing and intense debut novel. I think a lot of actively literate women will relate to the bookish heroines here, regardless of their lives up to this point. (I’m white and somewhat Christian; I’ve never been to Palestine and am very removed from the lives that Isra and Deya had, but I can definitely identify with the idea of wanting more from life and from finding escape in books.)

I mention all this because sometimes it seems like people think that books are not necessarily for them, which makes me sad. Good books are for everyone, and this is a great book. (Not even a “great debut novel,” but a great novel full stop.)

This story completely broke my heart and I will never forget it. If you’re in a book club, suggest it. I guarantee the best discussion you’ve had in ages.

Highly recommended.

I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening)

Finished I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth A Silvers. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“More than ever, politics seems driven by conflict and anger. People sitting together in pews every Sunday have started to feel like strangers, loved ones at the dinner table like enemies. Toxic political dialogue, hate-filled rants on social media, and agenda-driven news stories have become the new norm. It’s exhausting, and it’s too much.

In I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening), two working moms from opposite ends of the political spectrum contend that there is a better way. They believe that we can

choose to respect the dignity of every person,
choose to recognize that issues are nuanced and can’t be reduced to political talking points,
choose to listen in order to understand,
choose gentleness and patience.

Sarah from the left and Beth from the right invite those looking for something better than the status quo to pull up a chair and listen to the principles, insights, and practical tools they have learned hosting their fast-growing podcast Pantsuit Politics. As impossible as it might seem, people from opposing political perspectives truly can have calm, grace-­filled conversations with one another—by putting relationship before policy and understanding before argument.”

I don’t listen to Pantsuit Politics (I have one political podcast, and that is my beloved Hellbent.) but as someone who loves talking politics, I knew that I wanted to read this.

I think that the idea of being able to meet in the middle, find common ground and work to find solutions from there is a good one but it’s not always practical. For example, I’m gay. Our common ground has to start from a place of “I think you should be treated the same as every other citizen, including not getting fired or evicted for who you are and I think you should be allowed to get married.” I don’t care what else we have in common if you can’t start there. It’s not my job to convince you to treat me like a human being.

But there are times when it would work. I don’t think anyone is enjoying the rash of mass shootings, and I think there are a lot of solutions (although the biggest one really has to be “make sure that not every single person can acquire every single gun”) that are worth exploring.

There’s a lot packed into this slim book, and I think it’s incredibly valuable. There are tips in making sure you actually know policy and can discuss the issues without repeating talking points (which can be hard!).

This is a good starting place and I’m hoping a lot more people will join me in talking politics. It matters and it’s an important thing to be knowledgeable about and discuss. Recommended.

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph

Finished The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Perfect for fans of Nina LaCour and Nicola Yoon comes a novel about first love and family secrets from Stonewall Book Award winner Brandy Colbert.

Dove “Birdie” Randolph works hard to be the perfect daughter and follow the path her parents have laid out for her: She quit playing her beloved soccer, she keeps her nose buried in textbooks, and she’s on track to finish high school at the top of her class. But then Birdie falls hard for Booker, a sweet boy with a troubled past…whom she knows her parents will never approve of.

When her estranged aunt Carlene returns to Chicago and moves into the family’s apartment above their hair salon, Birdie notices the tension building at home. Carlene is sweet, friendly, and open-minded–she’s also spent decades in and out of treatment facilities for addiction. As Birdie becomes closer to both Booker and Carlene, she yearns to spread her wings. But when long-buried secrets rise to the surface, everything she’s known to be true is turned upside down.”

Brandy Colbert has become one of my must-buy authors and this book is an example of why. Her novels are incredibly specific (their respective neighborhoods are as much a character in the books than the people in them) but at the same time, they feel universal.

Everything about this book was perfection for me. It’s so clever and so heartbreaking and I just wanted everything to be OK for Birdie.

I hope there’s a companion novel. I would very much like to spend more time with them.

Highly recommended.

Lady in the Lake

Finished Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“The revered New York Times bestselling author returns with a novel set in 1960s Baltimore that combines modern psychological insights with elements of classic noir, about a middle-aged housewife turned aspiring reporter who pursues the murder of a forgotten young woman.

In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know–everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl–assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie–and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life–a jewelery store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people–including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.”

This is probably my new favorite Laura Lippman book. (I don’t know how each book gets better but they do.)

This is a stunning achievement; there are multiple narrators (although two of them are the main ones and then various secondary characters show up for a chapter to give their own perspectives). I can’t even imagine how difficult it was to do, but it seems effortless here.

It’s impossible to discuss without spoilers, so I just want to add that Laura Lippman’s recent tendency of updating noir is my actual favorite. It’s incredibly fun.

Highly recommended.

Shout

Finished Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A searing poetic memoir and call to action from the bestselling and award-winning author of Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson!

Bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson is known for the unflinching way she writes about, and advocates for, survivors of sexual assault. Now, inspired by her fans and enraged by how little in our culture has changed since her groundbreaking novel Speak was first published twenty years ago, she has written a poetry memoir that is as vulnerable as it is rallying, as timely as it is timeless. In free verse, Anderson shares reflections, rants, and calls to action woven between deeply personal stories from her life that she’s never written about before. Searing and soul-searching, this important memoir is a denouncement of our society’s failures and a love letter to all the people with the courage to say #MeToo and #TimesUp, whether aloud, online, or only in their own hearts. Shout speaks truth to power in a loud, clear voice– and once you hear it, it is impossible to ignore.”

This is an incredibly intense book. That’s probably not surprising, because all of her books are intense in one way or another.

I love when people tell the truth, without any sort of equivocation or apology. That’s this entire book. Laurie Halse Anderson starts with telling us what’s happened in her own life but by the end of the book, we see just how many times it’s happened in everyone’s life. (Most of us do know this already but at the same time, it evokes an incredibly visceral reaction.)

I hope she continues to write nonfiction. I think she’s even better at that than she is at fiction, and that’s high praise.

 

Things You Save in a Fire

Finished Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away comes a stunning new novel about family, hope, and learning to love against all odds. 

Cassie Hanwell was born for emergencies. As one of the only female firefighters in her Texas firehouse, she’s seen her fair share of them, and she’s excellent at dealing with other people’s tragedies. But when her estranged and ailing mother asks her to uproot her life and move to Boston, it’s an emergency of a kind Cassie never anticipated.

The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie’s old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren’t exactly thrilled to have a “lady” on the crew, even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Except for the handsome rookie, who doesn’t seem to mind having Cassie around. But she can’t think about that. Because she doesn’t fall in love. And because of the advice her old captain gave her: don’t date firefighters. Cassie can feel her resolve slipping…but will she jeopardize her place in a career where she’s worked so hard to be taken seriously?

Katherine Center’s Things You Save in a Fire is a heartfelt, affecting novel about life, love, and the true meaning of courage.”

Katherine Center has become one of my favorite authors. I immediately fell for Cassie (who is a kickass firefighter and who is so cynical, she makes me seem like a complete sap) and I was very nervous for her in her new town, with her job full of guys who don’t like her very much and with only her mom (who is maybe one small step away from “estranged” for company).

The synopsis is very accurate but this is also just a really fun book. It’s a love story but it’s about multiple kinds of love. And best of all, it’s about a woman who’s completely excelling at her job. She may have had to prove herself repeatedly to her new colleagues, but she’s more than capable of doing it. They may not immediately respect Cassie, but they learned pretty quickly that they needed to.

Katherine Center is one of the authors who’s an auto-buy for me. I think you’d love her, too. Highly recommended.

I Remember Nothing

Finished I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Nora Ephron returns with her first book since the astounding success of I Feel Bad About My Neck, taking a cool, hard, hilarious look at the past, the present, and the future, bemoaning the vicissitudes of modern life, and recalling with her signature clarity and wisdom everything she hasn’t (yet) forgotten.

Ephron writes about falling hard for a way of life (“Journalism: A Love Story”) and about breaking up even harder with the men in her life (“The D Word”); lists “Twenty-five Things People Have a Shocking Capacity to Be Surprised by Over and Over Again” (“There is no explaining the stock market but people try”; “You can never know the truth of anyone’s marriage, including your own”; “Cary Grant was Jewish”; “Men cheat”); reveals the alarming evolution, a decade after she wrote and directed You’ve Got Mail, of her relationship with her in-box (“The Six Stages of E-Mail”); and asks the age-old question, which came first, the chicken soup or the cold? All the while, she gives candid, edgy voice to everything women who have reached a certain age have been thinking . . . but rarely acknowledging.

Filled with insights and observations that instantly ring true—and could have come only from Nora Ephron—I Remember Nothing is pure joy.”

Sometimes I wonder about the movies that weren’t written or made because Nora Ephron died. And yes, I know that her last few ones weren’t as great as When Harry Met Sally… or Sleepless in Seattle or You’ve Got Mail. I know. But even Bewitched and Julie & Julia are fun and charming, even if they’re not at the “modern day classic” level.

This collection made me think about the movies we don’t get to see again.

The last two chapters in this were lists of things she won’t miss (email, removing makeup) and things she will (laughing, her kids). I think one of the things I’ll miss is the moment before you start a book, when there’s still a chance it will become your favorite. And I’ll miss getting to spend a few pages with someone who feels like an old friend, because I’ve loved her writing essentially my entire life.