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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Book Review: Music From Another World



From The Publisher: 
"A master of award-winning queer historical fiction, New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley brings to life 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.

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."

My Review:
Tammy and Sharon become pen pals as part of an assignment between their religious schools. The girls write and slowly start to reveal some of their secrets to each other. The girls also both write in their journals and the book is made up of diary entries and the letters the two girls exchange. Both are good Christian girls with secrets. When Sharon accidentally stumbles into gay rights march it changes something in her. It expands her horizons, and she starts to see the world differently.

I really feel for Tammy. Her aunt and uncle are fundamentalist Baptist leaders, and her aunt makes her life a living hell. Tammy has to maintain this good girl image, including pray-a-thons for anti-gay legislation to pass all while being a lesbian herself. I can only imagine how difficult being gay in the 70's would be. This was a time when girls were sent to mental institutions or to conversion camps as it was seen as something wrong and bad. Tammy must hide who she is.  She lives in fear of her secret being discovered. I cannot imagine having to get up and lead a youth group in prayer against essentially who you are inside.

Sharon goes to Catholic school and the nuns (teachers) refuse to discuss the movement that is happening. We see Sharon as someone who is struggling with the things she has been taught were right and wrong her whole life. She's just come to terms with finding out her brother is gay and keeping his secret when the proposition passes. She gets swept up in a protest after an anti-gay law gets passed in Florida and this first step changes her life. It teaches her to question the status quo. She ends up helping with some grassroots activism at a feminist bookstore and discovering punk music. All this time she's still coming to terms with what she believes, what she feels, and what she will stand up for.

I really felt there was a lot of growth between the two girls and Sharons brother, Peter as well. They all learn things about themselves and learn to stand up for themselves. The romances in the story don't feel like they are the main point of this book. The history and activism play a huge part and the romances are slow to build and not without their rough patches. I love that it focuses on the history and how tough things were for the LGBT community at that time and the struggles they went through to get us to where we are now. Things have a long ways to go, but we have come so far from 1977. I think that history is important. I also love that this book shows there are bits of magic and love and courage to be found even in the face of persecution.

This is a 4 star book for me. 

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Book Review: 10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac

 

From Amazon:  "Perfect for fans of John Green's Turtles All the Way Down and Nina LaCour's We Are Okay, this is the poignant and uplifting story of Maeve, who is dealing with anxiety while falling in love with a girl who is not afraid of anything.

 
Think positive.
Don’t worry; be happy.
Keep calm and carry on.
 
Maeve has heard it all before. She’s been struggling with severe anxiety for a long time, and as much as she wishes it was something she could just talk herself out of, it’s not. She constantly imagines the worst, composes obituaries in her head, and is always ready for things to fall apart. To add to her troubles, her mom—the only one who really gets what Maeve goes through—is leaving for six months, so Maeve will be sent to live with her dad in Vancouver.
 
Vancouver brings a slew of new worries, but Maeve finds brief moments of calm (as well as even more worries) with Salix, a local girl who doesn’t seem to worry about 
anything. Between her dad’s wavering sobriety, her very pregnant stepmom insisting on a home birth, and her bumbling courtship with Salix, this summer brings more catastrophes than even Maeve could have foreseen. Will she be able to navigate through all the chaos to be there for the people she loves?"

 My Review: In 10 Things I Can See From Here, the main character, Maeve, suffers from horrible anxiety. In fact some of her anxiousness and quoting of death statistics made me pretty anxious. Her life is upturned when her mom decides to go out of the country with her new boyfriend to help in one of his charitable organizations. Maeve is sent to live with her father, his new wife and two younger brothers in Vancouver.  Maeve has to learn to deal with her anxiety in a new place, when all she really wants to do is go home. Then she meets Salix, a beautiful, talented and seemingly fearless girl and falls in love.

Maeve struggles a lot with her anxiety and with her father. I like that she's really caring about her half brothers, despite the huge age difference. I also like that the author didn't follow the "wicked stepmother" trope. Maeve and Claire get along and you can tell Maeve really cares about her. Claire also does what she can to help Maeve with her issues and to try to push her in small ways to conquer her fears.

I liked Salix as a character as well. We learn a lot about Salix too, and who she is as a person - her hopes and dreams and fears. I think she is perfect for Maeve.  She's funny too.  I love how much both girls grow by the end of the story.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Book Review: Shooter by Caroline Pignat

 

From Amazon: "The Breakfast Club meets We Need to Talk About Kevin.

A lockdown catches five grade 12 students by surprise and throws them together in the only unlocked room on that empty third floor wing: the boys' washroom. They sit in silence, judging each other by what they see, by the stories they've heard over the years. Stuck here with them--could anything be worse?
There's 
Alice: an introverted writer, trapped in the role of big sister to her older autistic brother, Noah.
Isabelle: the popular, high-achieving, student council president, whose greatest performance is her everyday life.
Hogan: an ex-football player with a troubled past and a hopeless future.
Xander: that socially awkward guy hiding behind the camera, whose candid pictures of school life, especially those of Isabelle, have brought him more trouble than answers.
Told in five unique voices through prose, poetry, text messages, journals and homework assignments, this modern-day 
Breakfast Club takes a twist when Isabelle gets a text that changes everything: NOT A DRILL!! Shooter in the school!
Suddenly, the bathroom doesn't seem so safe anymore. Especially when they learn that one of them knows more about the shooter than they realized..."

My Review: I really wanted to like this book a lot more than I did.  It has the tagline "The Breakfast Club meets We Need to Talk About Kevin." I wrote my Capstone paper for my degree on school shootings.  During my research, I read many books on school shootings, both fiction and nonfiction, including, We Need to Talk About Kevin.  For me, this book missed the mark on both its comparison to The Breakfast Club and We Need to Talk About Kevin which was really disappointing to me. 

Shooter primarily takes place in the boy's bathroom of a high school that is in lockdown. The main characters include Hogan - the jock, Isabelle - the school princess, Alice- brain -Xander - the weird one and Noah who is autistic. I thought the sections told from Noah's point of view were interesting. They were told through his thoughts and through pictures. I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like for someone with autism to be in a school lockdown situation where there is an active shooter and loud noises and tension rolling off the other students in waves.   

Now let's look at the caricatures of the jock, the princess, and the weird one.  Hogan played football until there was an incident resulting in his brother's death. Now the other students are afraid of him and spreading rumors about him.  (This is not a spoiler - we learn this basic info early on). Hogan's behavior feels authentic to how someone in his situation behave. He is probably my favorite character in the book.  

Alice is good student and loves writing. She's quiet and none as "the weird guys" sister. I find it really hard to believe that in the world we live in now that other students would refer to Noah as "the weird guy." I'm not saying that people with autism don't get picked on or made fun of - but the fact that none of the other kids know that he is autistic is weird to me.  Anyway, I digress. Alice cares deeply about her brother and has taken all the responsibility for her brother onto her shoulders almost to the point of having a martyr mentality. 

Isabelle is so vapid and unlikable in my opinion. I feel like the authors depiction of her is the least real portrayal in the book. Isabelle supposedly is the queen bee of the school and has all this pressure to be popular both in school and from her parents. She supposedly had this life changing experience that made her see life differently, but that doesn't ring true to me. She's so shallow.  She knows they are in lockdown because of an active shooter, and she spends the time in lockdown complaining about her life and her boyfriend. To me this just doesn't ring true.  These seem like pretty shallow things to be talking about or thinking about when you could be shot and killed.  This character just doesn't ring true to me.  

Xander is the mysterious weird kid.  He likes taking pictures, is obsessed with X-Men and has weird conversational habits. The author never outright says it, but to me Xander feels like he also has a form of autism or possibly Asperger's.   He sees the world differently than his fellow students and he doesn't pick up on social cues or societal norms. He reminds me very much of a friend of mine that has Asperger's. While Hogan is favorite characters, I think Xander is one of the most interesting because of how he sees the world. His Social Autopsies showed us an interesting glimpse of who he is as a character.

The Shooter - whose identity I will not spoil, is the least fleshed out of all the characters.  To compare him to Kevin, from We Need to Talk About Kevin, is a major reach. This character seems more like an afterthought. I feel like we don't really know him or his real motivations. For me, the reason I wrote my Capstone paper on school shootings is because I'm a bit obsessed with knowing the shooter(s). Why did they do it? What lead up to this? What is the motivation? Where did we fail as a society with this person to make them feel that killing classmates and teachers is the answer to life's problems. We don't really have that with the shooter in this book. We get small glimpses but not a lot of why.  There is so much depth in We Need to Talk About Kevin. We really get deep into his psyche and it's a twisted and dark place.  There really is no comparison between these two characters or even these two books.

I gave this book 3 stars because I did enjoy reading it and it was a fast read, but it lacked the depth and the emotion that I was looking for. In the end, lives are changed - which you would expect from an active shooter situation.  I just don't find this book very believable.  

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Review: In-Between Days by Teva Harrison


Summary from Amazon:

Teva Harrison was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at the age of 37. In this brilliant and inspiring graphic memoir, she documents through comic illustration and short personal essays what it means to live with the disease. She confronts with heartbreaking honesty the crises of identity that cancer brings: a lifelong vegetarian, Teva agrees to use experimental drugs that have been tested on animals. She struggles to reconcile her long-term goals with an uncertain future, balancing the innate sadness of cancer with everyday acts of hope and wonder. She also examines those quiet moments of helplessness and loving with her husband, her family, and her friends, while they all adjust to the new normal.

Ultimately, In-Between Days is redemptive and uplifting, reminding each one of us of how beautiful life is, and what a gift.


My Review: 

This book is part anecdotal memoir, part graphic novel. The author, Teva Harrison, shares through her words and her images what it's like to have Stage 4 cancer. Her writing is vulnerable and honest. She doesn't sugar coat things. She shares her fears and grief as well as her joy. I think it would be an excellent read for someone who is fighting the fight against cancer.  I rated it 4 stars. I would have liked it better if it had been more graphic novel or more memoir.  It was presented in a way that seemed like I was reading someone's journal with drawings and lists interspersed.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Quarter 1 Reading Wrap Up

January through March 2022

I've decided to try to get back into my blogging, starting with my 2022 1st quarter wrap up. I got a really good start the first quarter. My goal for this year is 200+ and I want to read books that I already own as well as everything on my Netgalley book list.

Quarterly Stats

Total Books Read: 85
Audience: 80 Adult 5 Young Adult
Total Pages: 18,983
Publication Year: 4 New Releases 81 Backlist
Format: 2 Physical 35 Ebook 48 Audio
Netgalley Books: Read: 6 Reviewed: 17

January 

I read almost the entire Piper Ashwell, Psychic P.I. series this month. I think I stumbled upon this one browsing on Amazon. I really enjoy the series.  I'm completely caught up now and awaiting the next in the series. My favorite book this month was:


February

This month I read several books from my Netgalley list and also cleared up some audiobooks from my Audible list. My favorite book this month was:

 


March

 I read less books in March as I was traveling for work and vacation. I did go a little crazy and I bought five books at the airport.  My favorite book this month was:






Friday, September 4, 2020

Review: A Spell for Trouble by Esme Addison


Book Summary (from Publisher):

Alexandra Daniels hasn't set foot in the quiet seaside town of Bellamy Bay, North Carolina in over twenty years. Ever since her mother's tragic death, her father has mysteriously forbidden her from visiting her aunt and cousins. But on a whim, Alex accepts an invitation to visit her estranged relatives and to help them in their family business: an herbal apothecary known for its remarkably potent teas, salves, and folk remedies.

Bellamy Bay doesn't look like trouble, but this is a town that harbors dark secrets. Alex discovers that her own family is at the center of salacious town gossip, and that they are rumored to be magical healers descended from mermaids. She brushes this off as nonsense until a local is poisoned and her aunt Lidia is arrested for the crime. Alex is certain Lidia is being framed, and she resolves to find out why.

Alex's investigation unearths stories that some have gone to desperate lengths to conceal: forbidden affairs, family rivalries, and the truth about Alex's own ancestry. And when the case turns deadly, Alex learns that not only are these secrets worth hiding, but they may even be worth killing for.

My Review:

I received A Spell For Trouble by Esme Addison from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I have been reading a lot of paranormal cozy mysteries lately, and jumped at the chance to read the first book in this brand new series.  This cozy takes place in an herbal shop owned by the main character, Alexandra's aunt and cousins.  After her mother's death, her father estranged her from this side of the family.  In the beginning of the story, Alexandra's father has died, and she has quit her job.  Her aunt sent her an invitation to visit, and it seemed like a good idea, and some time away would help her figure out her life.  From there, she starts to work some shifts in the shop and witnesses a confrontation between her aunt and a customer.  The customer later winds up dead, and Alexandra's aunt it the prime suspect.  Alexandra decides to investigate and save her aunt.

As far as cozy mysteries go, Alexandra's character is pretty on par with other cozy amateur detectives.  She sometimes doesn't think things all the way through and makes poor choices from time to time or jumps to wrong conclusions.  This is typical of the genre.  I  think as the serious goes on, she will make less of these errors.  She does have passion and is willing to look at things differently and without the constraints that police officers face.  If you add in the paranormal aspect, the police don't have a chance of solving it without her help.

My favorite character is Alex's cousin Minka.  There is something very spunky and refreshing about her character.  I also enjoyed Pepper, the intrepid reporter.  She is somewhat of a busy-body and like a dog with a bone when it comes to stories.  I hope in the next book we learn more about the Wesley's and the history between them and Alex's family.  I would like more about Dylan as well.

The mystery was well done.  I didn't guess who the killer was until almost the end.  It kept me guessing in several places.  I also enjoyed the fact that Alexandra's family is Polish.  I love all the references to the different polish foods and legends.  This is a take on cozies I haven't seen before.  I do wish that the author had included some recipes for both the herbal concoctions as well as the polish foods Aunt Lidia makes.  A lot of cozies include recipes and I would love to try making some of the things I read about in the book.  I look forward to reading the next in the series when it comes out.

4 Stars


Thursday, March 5, 2020

Read so far 2020

Jenn's read-in-2020 book montage

Gabriel: Meeting Sang #5 - The Academy Ghost Bird Series
Odd Thomas
Dragon Tears
Forever Odd
Life Expectancy
Brother Odd
By the Light of the Moon
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
Finger Lickin' Fifteen
Twelve Sharp
Visions of Sugar Plums
Smokin' Seventeen
Hard Eight
Explosive Eighteen
Ten Big Ones
Eleven on Top
Notorious Nineteen
Takedown Twenty
Top Secret Twenty-One
Tricky Twenty-Two


Jenn's favorite books »

Saturday, March 30, 2019

2019 Vision Board and Goals for the Year




This is a few months late, but above is my vision board for 2019.  It's a lot less cluttered than last year.  I'm really focusing on health and wellness this year - and being all that I can be.

My bucketlist/goals for this year are, in no particular order:

1. Reiki III/Master Teacher Certifications
2. Finish Introductory Herbalism at The Herbal Academy - DONE
3. Trip to Florida to visit my family.
4. Finish Florida Broker's School and pass the exam.
5. Pay off my Visa card.
6. Use my Groupon for the Float tank experience.
7. Save for Yoga 200RYT for this fall or early 2020.
8. Lose 50+ Pounds - 16 pounds down as of 3/30/19
9. Read 150 books - with at least 100 of them I already own. - 67 books read as of 3/30/19
10. Continue to minimalize.
11. Intermediate Herbalism at The Herbal Academy
12. Participate in a 5K fun run
13. Get my NetGalley books and reviews caught up to a reasonable level.

Review: Little Monsters by Kara Thomas


When I saw Little Monsters by Kara Thomas on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to read it. The book description drew me in and I had to know what happened.  I am glad I was approved - this book took me on a thrilling ride from start to finish.  It was so engaging I finished it in less than two days.  I have this book to so many people, because after finishing it, I couldn't stop thinking about it and wanted to discuss it with someone!

The story is told from the main character, Kacey's point of view and alternates with entries from her friend, Bailey's journal.  She has somewhat of a troubled past and moves to a new town - a small town - with her father, step-mom, and their other children.  We meet Kacey as she is about to reluctantly sneak out with her friends Jade and Bailey.  Her younger half sister, Lauren, follows them, as they sneak to the towns local haunted spot.  While there, something so scary happens that Lauren, is very messed up over it.  I'm not going to tell you what - because that would spoil the surprise.  Then Bailey disappears.  Kacey gets involved in trying to find Bailey and we discover that no one is as they appear.  There are so many twists in this book - and so many of the characters are just awful people.  It reminded me somewhat of Gillian Flynn's books.  It's very sordid and twisted and shocking but it really draws you in.  Reading Bailey's journal entries was chilling.  

I have not read Kara Thomas's first standalone, Darkest Corner's - but I have since read her newest book The Cheerleaders, and it's equally twisted.  She has become one of my favorite authors.  Her writing is very creepy and her characters are very human and very flawed.  

Summary from Goodreads:
Kacey is the new girl in Broken Falls. When she moved in with her father, she stepped into a brand-new life. A life with a stepbrother, a stepmother, and strangest of all, an adoring younger half sister.

Kacey’s new life is eerily charming compared with the wild highs and lows of the old one she lived with her volatile mother. And everyone is so nice in Broken Falls—she’s even been welcomed into a tight new circle of friends. Bailey and Jade invite her to do everything with them.

Which is why it’s so odd when they start acting distant. And when they don’t invite her to the biggest party of the year, it doesn’t exactly feel like an accident.

But Kacey will never be able to ask, because Bailey never makes it home from that party. Suddenly, Broken Falls doesn’t seem so welcoming after all—especially once everyone starts looking to the new girl for answers.

Kacey is about to learn some very important lessons: Sometimes appearances can be deceiving. Sometimes when you’re the new girl, you shouldn’t trust anyone.

***I was offered this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review : Little White Lies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes



Little White Lies is the first book in Jennifer Lynn Barnes' new Debutantes series.  The story is told from the main character, Sawyer Taft's, point of view.  It opens with Sawyer and three other Debutantes in a jail cell, seeming to argue and stress out the rookie officer who is trying to figure out why they're in the jail cell and what's going on.  The story flips back and forth between the girls in the jail cell and the moments leading up to it, starting with 10 months prior.  

Sawyer has grown up on the wrong side of town, without a lot of money, and a mom who is all she has, but isn't very good at being a mother.  Sawyer has never known her father, or her mom's family as she is estranged from them.  One day while Sawyer's mother is off on a trip with her newest boyfriend, Sawyer's grandmother shows up, and makes Sawyer an offer she can't refuse.  The next thing you know, Sawyer is thrust in the life of a Southern Debutante, meeting her relatives, and trying to figure out who her father is.  And then there is the issue of the Senator's daughter - she is up to something and Sawyer and her new friends all end up involved in the intrigue.

Little White Lies is a young adult mystery novel, with a lot of humor thrown in.  I really like books about formidable southern women and their strength and manners.  Jennifer Lynn Barnes is the author of one of my other favorite series, The Fixer.  She does an excellent job of character development and building a story line.  There was definitely a twist that I didn't see coming.  I'm really glad that this is going to be a series, because I love these characters.  Boone, the Senator's nephew is one of my favorites.  He makes me laugh, a lot, and I hope to see more of him in the next book.

I liked this book a lot, and I give it 5 Stars for good writing, a great mystery with plot twists I couldn't predict, Southern setting and strong women.  I also love how different and somewhat goofy supporting character, Sadie Grace is.  Jennifer Lynn Barnes does not disappoint with her new series.

Summary of Book from Goodreads:
"I'm not saying this is Sawyer's fault," the prim and proper one said delicately. "But."

Eighteen-year-old auto mechanic Sawyer Taft did not expect her estranged grandmother to show up at her apartment door and offer her a six-figure contract to participate in debutante season. And she definitely never imagined she would accept. But when she realizes that immersing herself in her grandmother's "society" might mean discovering the answer to the biggest mystery of her life-her father's identity-she signs on the dotted line and braces herself for a year of makeovers, big dresses, bigger egos, and a whole lot of bless your heart. The one thing she doesn't expect to find is friendship, but as she's drawn into a group of debutantes with scandalous, dangerous secrets of their own, Sawyer quickly discovers that her family isn't the only mainstay of high society with skeletons in their closet. There are people in her grandmother's glittering world who are not what they appear, and no one wants Sawyer poking her nose into the past. As she navigates the twisted relationships between her new friends and their powerful parents, Sawyer's search for the truth about her own origins is just the beginning.

Set in the world of debutante balls, grand estates and rolling green hills, Little White Lies combines a charming setting, a classic fish-out-of-water story, and the sort of layered mystery only author Jennifer Lynn Barnes can pull off.

***I was given a free advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

 
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