Category Archives: Fiction

You Are Not Alone

Finished You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

You probably know someone like Shay Miller.
She wants to find love, but it eludes her.
She wants to be fulfilled, but her job is a dead end.
She wants to belong, but her life is so isolated.

You probably don’t know anyone like the Moore sisters.
They have an unbreakable circle of friends.
They live the most glamorous life.
They always get what they desire.

Shay thinks she wants their life.
But what they really want is hers.”

I’m a huge fan of the thrillers that Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen write. They’re impeccably plotted, full of twists that catch me by surprise but that are so obvious in hindsight that it’s embarrassing that I didn’t catch on quicker. They tell us everything we need to know, after all, but they do it in a way that we’re distracted by something else.

This is an excellent example of that. If Shay had any ounce of self-preservation at all, she would’ve run from Cassandra and Jane. But they seemed nice and they seemed to really care, and that’s enough to sucker a lot of different people. (No judgment, Shay—I definitely see how you were lured in.)

I can’t wait to see what they do next. Either way, I’m preordering it.

The Holdout

Finished The Holdout by Graham Moore.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game and bestselling author of The Last Days of Night : a jury on a murder trial is deadlocked when a young woman manages to turn the tide to acquit; now, a decade later, she must face the consequences when a fellow juror is killed and she is the prime suspect.

It’s the most sensational case of the decade. Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, heiress to a billion-dollar real estate fortune, vanishes on her way home from school. Her teacher Bobby Nock is the prime suspect after illicit text messages are discovered between them–and Jessica’s blood is found in his car. The subsequent trial taps straight into America’s most pressing preoccupations: race, class, sex, law enforcement, and the lurid sins of the rich and famous. It’s an open and shut case for the prosecution, and a quick conviction seems all but guaranteed. Until Maya Seale, a young woman on the jury, convinced of Nock’s innocence, persuades the rest of the jurors to return the verdict of not guilty, a controversial decision that will change all of their lives forever.

Flash forward ten years. A true-crime docuseries reassembles the jurors, with particular focus on Maya, now a defense attorney herself. When one of the jurors is found dead in Maya’s hotel room, all evidence points to her as the killer. Now, she must prove her own innocence–by getting to the bottom of a case that is far from closed.

As the present-day murder investigation weaves together with the story of what really happened during their deliberation, told by each of the jurors in turn, the secrets they have all been keeping threaten to come out–with drastic consequences for all involved.”

This is my first novel by Graham Moore, although I loved The Imitation Game. I’m a fan of true crime, and the premise for this book is right up my alley.

The execution—poor choice of phrase, right? Sorry—is excellent. I didn’t know what had really happened to Jessica and I really wanted to figure out. At the same time, I hoped Maya was right that Bobby was innocent. (He has a good reason to want Jessica dead, after all.)

This is a ridiculously fun book and everything about it caught me by surprise. Highly reccommended.

In Five Years

Finished In Five Years by Rebecca Serle. I received a copy from the publisher. This will be released on March 10.

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.

Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing

Finished Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing by Allison Winn Scotch. I received a copy for review. It will be released on August 4.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Politics is a test of wills in a sharp, funny, and emotional novel about truth and consequences by the New York Times bestselling author.

Cleo McDougal is a born politician. From congresswoman to senator, the magnetic, ambitious single mother now has her eye on the White House—always looking forward, never back. Until an estranged childhood friend shreds her in an op-ed hit piece gone viral.

With seven words—“Cleo McDougal is not a good person”—the presidential hopeful has gone from in control to damage control, and not just in Washington but in life.

Enter Cleo’s “regrets list” of 233 and counting. Her chief of staff has a brilliant idea: pick the top ten, make amends during a media blitz, and repair her reputation. But there are regrets, and there are regrets: like her broken relationship with her sister, her affair with a law school professor…and the regret too big to even say out loud.

But with risk comes reward, and as Cleo makes both peace and amends with her past, she becomes more empowered than ever to tackle her career, confront the hypocrites out to destroy her, and open her heart to what matters most—one regret at a time.”

I’ve been a fan of Allison Winn Scotch’s for years now, for so long that I don’t remember not loving her and her books. This one might be my favorite yet.

I love politics and political stories, and there’s some of that in this, but it’s more about Cleo herself. Cleo keeps a list of regrets, primarily so that she can learn from those mistakes. “Don’t drink bourbon,” for example, and I think a lot of people probably have one type of alcohol that they can’t drink anymore after overdoing it. (Moment of silence for me and martinis.)

And then Cleo decides that what she’s going to do is actually fix those regrets. (Well, to be fair, Cleo’s campaign manager Gaby decides that for her.) And what happens next is both delightful and very, very relatable. (I experienced a very, VERY strong secondhand wave of mortification at one of them.)

This book is a complete delight. I can’t wait for everyone to read and talk about it. Highly recommended.

Hum if You Don’t Know the Words

Finished Hum if You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Perfect for readers of The Secret Life of Bees and The Help, a perceptive and searing look at Apartheid-era South Africa, told through one unique family brought together by tragedy.

Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband’s death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred . . . until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing.

After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.

Told through Beauty and Robin’s alternating perspectives, the interwoven narratives create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid-era South Africa. Hum if You Don’t Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.”

I absolutely loved this book. It’s a complete page-turner and it’s absolutely devastating in parts. It’s a little bit Secret Garden-ish (young girl loses both her parents unexpectedly and has to become a better person with the help of people who are currently strangers but will become her chosen family) but that’s really where it ends.

This is a hard book to read but so worth it. The book is a little simplistic in parts but Robin is young and sometimes she actually just says really obvious things. (As I guess kids do?)

By and large, though, I loved it.

Beloved

Finished Beloved by Toni Morrison.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby.

Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.”

I’ve been embarrassed for years that I haven’t read this and I wanted to change this in 2020. I knew that it was brilliant and challenging and devastating and all those things are definitely true.

Sethe broke my heart. I’m not sure what counts as a spoiler since the book’s from the 1980s, but the twist here broke my heart. I actually already knew it (my best friend read it in college but my professor taught The Bluest Eye instead) but the rationale and reading the whole book as someone in my late thirties instead of as someone in my early twenties made a horrible kind of sense. I don’t know what I would’ve done, but if you’re going to be broken, better for it to be fast than by inches? I don’t know. There are no good answers.

I definitely want to read more of Toni Morrison’s books and I want to read The Bluest Eye again.

Highly recommended.

A Good Neighborhood

Finished A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. Xavier is headed to college in the fall, and after years of single parenting, Valerie is facing the prospect of an empty nest. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door―an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter.

Thanks to his thriving local business, Brad Whitman is something of a celebrity around town, and he’s made a small fortune on his customer service and charm, while his wife, Julia, escaped her trailer park upbringing for the security of marriage and homemaking. Their new house is more than she ever imagined for herself, and who wouldn’t want to live in Oak Knoll? With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie’s yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.

Told from multiple points of view, A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today―What does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don’t see eye to eye?―as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending star-crossed love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.”

I’ve read Therese Anne Fowler before, but that was her historical fiction about Zelda Fitzgerald. This is an entirely different book (though just as compelling and well-written). This story feels very timely and is also all too plausible. I want to read her other historical fiction, but I also hope that she keeps writing contemporary fiction because she has a real gift for it.

It’s hard to discuss without spoiling so I’ll give you a prediction instead: this is the book that everyone’s going to be talking about, and it’s one of the times that it’s really worth all the hype and comparisons (I’m guessing it’ll be compared to Big Little Lies most often). Make sure you read it before it’s spoiled for you. Highly recommended.

The Nickel Boys

Finished The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South in the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called The Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.”

In reality, The Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors, where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear “out back.” Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked and the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.

The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at The Nickel Academy.

Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative.”

Oh, you guys, this book. It absolutely broke me.

I identified with Elwood early on (quiet and bookish people stick together!) and I had a very real sense of dread that only got worse on each page.

I think I remember the real story that this was based on (or, if not that specific story, I’ve heard enough about those kind of places that I knew that Elwood and the other boys were in very real danger). And I emailed a friend that I was putting off reading the last couple chapters because I was too scared to keep going.

I did keep going and it was worth it but this book hurt. It hurt because of the casual racism that the Black boys faced and because of the even more casual cruelty that all the boys in the school faced, although we spent most of our time with Elwood and the Black teens.

This is a powerful story and I’m sad I waited so long to read it.

Highly recommended.

Dear Edward

Finished Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Inspired by a true story of one child’s incredible survival–riveting, uplifting, unforgettable.

After losing everything, a young boy discovers there are still reasons for hope in this luminous, life-affirming novel, perfect for fans of Celeste Ng and Ann Patchett.

In the face of tragedy, what does it take to find joy?

One summer morning, twelve-year-old Edward Adler, his beloved older brother, his parents, and 183 other passengers board a flight in Newark headed for Los Angeles. Among them is a Wall Street wunderkind, a young woman coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy, an injured vet returning from Afghanistan, a septuagenarian business tycoon, and a free-spirited woman running away from her controlling husband. And then, tragically, the plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor.

Edward’s story captures the attention of the nation, but he struggles to find a place for himself in a world without his family. He continues to feel that a piece of him has been left in the sky, forever tied to the plane and all of his fellow passengers. But then he makes an unexpected discovery–one that will lead him to the answers of some of life’s most profound questions: When you’ve lost everything, how do find yourself? How do you discover your purpose? What does it mean not just to survive, but to truly live?

Dear Edward is at once a transcendent coming-of-age story, a multidimensional portrait of an unforgettable cast of characters, and a breathtaking illustration of all the ways a broken heart learns to love again.”

This was such a heartbreaking book. It’s not constantly devastating, but it’s definitely not a light read.

Reading this made me question a lot of things but the one I kept returning to was how would you be able to go on if you were the only survivor of a tragedy? Do you have any sort of responsibility to do something amazing with your life because almost 200 people died and you didn’t? Do you have the responsibility to be a public figure because the whole country prayed for you? And if you were a child when it happened, does that change any of the answers?

It was impossible not to love Edward and to not feel his grief. It was especially hard in the early pages because he’s 12 and everything is too big to deal with. It would be too much for me, as someone who’s almost 40, and how would you even begin if you weren’t even a teenager?

This book is an amazing experience. It’s heartbreaking but also very human in the best way. Highly recommended.

Followers

Finished Followers by Megan Angelo. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“An electrifying story of two ambitious friends, the dark choices they make and the profound moment that changes the meaning of privacy forever.

Orla Cadden dreams of literary success, but she’s stuck writing about movie-star hookups and influencer yoga moves. Orla has no idea how to change her life until her new roommate, Floss―a striving, wannabe A-lister―comes up with a plan for launching them both into the high-profile lives they so desperately crave. But it’s only when Orla and Floss abandon all pretense of ethics that social media responds with the most terrifying feedback of all: overwhelming success.

Thirty-five years later, in a closed California village where government-appointed celebrities live every moment of the day on camera, a woman named Marlow discovers a shattering secret about her past. Despite her massive popularity―twelve million loyal followers―Marlow dreams of fleeing the corporate sponsors who would do anything, even horrible things, to keep her on-screen. When she learns that her whole family history is a lie, Marlow finally summons the courage to run in search of the truth, no matter the risks.

Followers traces the paths of Orla, Floss and Marlow as they wind through time toward each other, and toward a cataclysmic event that sends America into lasting upheaval. At turns wry and tender, bleak and hopeful, this darkly funny story reminds us that even if we obsess over famous people we’ll never meet, what we really crave is genuine human connection.”

This is an absolutely fascinating (and creepily plausible) book. At first, I preferred the 2016 timeline (with Orla and Floss) but it didn’t take long for me to love Marlowe and want to stay with her timeline.

You’re going to want to be patient because it takes a while for things to make sense (especially the parts in the future) but this is a great and thought-provoking story. If you’ve ever thought, “Hey, social media may be becoming too addictive/prevalent/whatever,” you need to read this book. (Or maybe you don’t; it could push you over the edge.)

But more than that, this is just a really fun read. Think about the implications of this book or don’t, but definitely don’t miss this one.

Highly recommended.