Monday, August 23, 2021

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 384 pages
Published: March 2021

Told over several decades beginning in 1980, How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue, is a heart-wrenching literary novel about a U.S.-based oil company that takes over the land of a fictional African village. To make economic gains, the company does so at the cost of the environment and the people who live in the small village of Kosawa. Thula, the book's main character, is a young girl when the oil company took over her community's land and throughout the novel she emerges as the central figure in the community's struggles. Her personality is different from other girls in the village in that she seeks an education for herself and is an independent and critical thinker. As a result of her dreams, she travels to the United States where she get a post-secondary education and learns about systematically resisting inappropriately assumed authority. She ultimately becomes a driving force in the efforts to regain control of her land. 

This book is an average sized book, just shy of 400 pages, but the content is so much more. Mbue's lyrical prose, haunting descriptions and vivid detail stay with the reader long after the book is over. The story is one most have heard before - profits over people; economy over environment. However, because this book was told over several years with vacillating perspectives it provided depth and understanding of how corporate greed can cause so much physical and psychological damage. 

As I read the book and learned more about Thula, mainly through her letters and narratives of others in her family and village, I likened her to Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party. So much oppression and devastation, as well as the desire for justice for her village, pushed her into a corner. Sometimes we want a happy ending in a book, but there never could be one with this plot. After so many years of marginalization, distrust and violence, how could there be? 

I can tell that the author took great care to craft a well-rounded story. Her writing is spot on, and her creativity evokes emotion. My only critique is that I wish she had included more details about Thula's father and his role in seeking justice. However, it sometimes makes sense to leave some plot elements open and up to the reader's imagination. 

Recommendation: I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it when you have time to truly savor the writing. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Survive the Night by Riley Sager

Rating: 3 of 5 stars 
Pages: 324 pages
Published: June 2021

Survive the Night by thriller author, Riley Sager, which is a pseudonym, was a highly anticipated novel by mystery/thriller readers and Book of the Month members alike. The book is set back in the early 90s on a small college campus where student Charlie is looking for a ride home and meets up with Josh, who is looking to ride-share. Charlie is in the midst of the grieving process as her close friend and roommate was recently the victim of a supposed serial killer near the college campus. As a result, she suffers from cinematic delusions. 

The premise of the book was definitely intriguing to me.  Because it is set in the early 90s where instant communication was not readily available, it created tension and suspense. However, it did seem a little far fetched. I was just a little younger than Charlie during this time frame, and I can not see myself basically hitchhiking with a total stranger when there had been criminal activity abound. The other plot element of Charlie being a bit off her rocker because of past trauma and the grief process was awkward. I understand it was added to create confusion for the reader as they attempt to figure out the antagonist of the book. But again, it seemed a little far fetched to me. My final criticism was the ending. I think we had no choice but to guess who the serial killer was because Sager had elemented literally very other character introduced, but it just didn't make sense to me.

I've only read one other Sager book, and I had a lukewarm response to it as well. Maybe I am just not a fan. But I did give it a college try and completed both books! 

Recommendation: If you're a fan, you probably already have a copy of this book. If you're into mystery/thrillers, this could be right up your alley. I'd say borrow a copy from a friend of the library before investing too much into it. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Get Out of Your Head by Jennie Allen

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pages: 256 pages
Published: January 2020

Earlier this year, I participated in another Proverbs 31 Online Bible Study centered on my fellow Texan's book, Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts by Jennie Allen. I am active in this Proverbs 31 Ministry and you can visit any of the previous study books I've reviewed by conducting a simple search for "Proverbs 31" on my website. As someone who can be overly analytical and held captive by my anxious thoughts, I was very interested in the premise of this book. Allen posits that a person has an average of 9,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day and those can often be negative. She opens her book explaining that "the greatest spiritual battle for our generation is being fought between our ears." Her book is a form of spiritual self-help on how to take those negative thoughts captive so that one doesn't suffer from paralysis by analysis. 

Her writing style is contemporary and light. She shares a lot of examples, including personal experiences. Because I studies with the Proverbs 31 Ministry, I had access to her teaching videos. While these videos supplemented the book, I found them quite challenging because of Allen's voice (sorry!). But I did very much appreciate the nuggets of wisdom she shared throughout the book. Some of my favorite quotes are listed below. 

"...yet we have allowed our minds to have outright meltdowns with zero corrections (page 38)."

"Tell me what you're thinking ... and I'll tell you who you are (page 43)." 

"We are made to experience life and peace as we begin to think less about oursevles and more about our Creator and about others (page 56)." 

"In the stillness and quiet, not only do we connect with God but we are also able to more clearly identify what is wrong. Recognizing our spirals and naming them is the first step in interrupting them (page 70)." 

"Father, help me see things not as they seem to me but as they truly are (page 81)."

"Loneliness can make us thing that everything is a threat, even if there is no real threat to be found (page 92)."

"When you're looking for intimate friendships, you've got to start with emotionally intelligent friends (page 99)." 

"But our tool for defeating 'what if' is, found in two words: 'Because God (page 109).'" 

The Bible tells us that we are not to conform to the ways of the world but rather be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Or more simply put: Quit your stinkin' thinkin'! This is a perpetual battle which requires the constant equipping and preparing of one's mind, and my personal belief is that I can overcome the negative thoughts through the reading of God's Word and improving my personal relationship with Him. 

Recommendation: I think some books resonate with some people more than others. This book definitely resonated with me. Allen's down-to-earth approach backed by scientific facts and Scripture offered a well-rounded thesis on a very important and prevalent issue that many people face daily. This is a relatively short read, and I would definitely recommend giving it a shot. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 248 pages
Published: August 2020

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi was the pre-selected read for my in-person book club in July. This book was also a Book of the Month selection last year. However, I did not choose it then. But because book club does what it does best - motivates me to read something I normally wouldn't read on my own, I got an electronic copy from my local library and started the journey in advance of our monthly meeting. And I am glad I did. 

This is a book that begins with the end. The audience knows what is going to happen by the book's title. The story, of course, begins and is centered around its titular character - Vivek Oji - who has died a mysterious death. The remainder of the relatively short book flashes back, and the author crafts a beautifully written tale that circles back to where the book begins. I read this book in a couple of days, and I found that the author has a talent for writing. They* uses effective turns of phrase to illustrate not only the plot but also the emotions of the characters. My major issue with this book was some of the vastly undeveloped points within the overall plot. Emezi also introduced some characters and ideas that were not fully expounded upon (e.g., Vivek's aunt and the relationship with the church). 

The pain was still too personal, the information too new. Juju wanted to hold it, cup it in her hands a while longer before she uncurled her fingers to expose it to others.

I think this book had a good premise, it wasn't fully thought out. Just shy of 250 pages, Emezi certainly had more space to flesh out some of the concepts. Because this book is about identity and being given the space to be who you are, you would think they would have done the same in crafting the story. 

Recommendation: This may not be popular opinion, but I think, sometimes, creators can fixate on an issue that is prevalent in current culture thinking it will automatically be a success by the very nature of the topic. However, as an avid reader and part-time writer, the craft still has to be solid to merit success. I am lukewarm about this book. I wouldn't say I don't recommend this book, but I wouldn't necessarily highly recommend it either. However, I would read another book by this author.  

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful. 

*Akwaeke Emezi uses the pronouns they/them/theirs.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Sisters in Arms by Kaia Alderson

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 374 pages
Published: August 2021

I purchased Sisters in Arms by Kaia Alderson as an early release through my Book of the Month club membership. The synopsis is what made me select this book. The story narrowly focuses on two African American women from different backgrounds who, in an attempt to run away from some challenges at home, join the Women's Army Corps during World War II. The book is historical fiction in that the two primary characters are fictional; however, the Women's Army Corps that quickly cleared a months-long backlog of mail for soldiers, was indeed real. Many of the secondary characters in the book are based on real people and some points of the broader plot are based in fact. 

I really enjoyed reading about this part of U.S. history that has been hidden but is now making its way to the forefront. In July of 2021, news outlets reported that the 6888 Central Postal Directory Battalion may finally receive a Congressional Medal for their efforts. 

The book is a fast and easy read. I did this as a buddy read with one of my bookish friends. We set out to just read the first five chapters before discussing but quickly surpassed that! The underlying theme of race and the time period the book was set in created tension. Because these women were doing something groundbreaking with respect to race and gender there wasn't much foreshadowing needed to predict that some horrible conflict was going to be the central and defining aspect of the story's plot. The things I didn't care for in the book was the alternating perspectives without giving a clear indicator. Additionally, in dialogue, I wish the author would have just referred to some of the secondary characters by name. For example, in chapter 5, there's an exchange between Eliza and her parents. And as the dialogue transitions from character to character, the author identifies Eliza but refers to her parents as "Mother" and "Father," which I found a little cumbersome. 

Overall, this was a good book about an important, overlooked, part of U.S. history. I would love for Alderson to explore writing additional books about some of the other secondary characters in the book. It would make for an engaging series. (And I'm not even big on book series!) 

Recommendation: I would definitely recommend this book as an educational read for middle schoolers and up. The historical background and creative writing makes it a pleasurable read. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 371 pages
Published: April 2021

I selected When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain as my free add-on book for my birthday month, courtesy of my Book of the Month (BOTM) Club BFF status. When this book was first released on BOTM, it sounded intriguing to me but other choices piqued my interest more and I left this one for later. What took me so long? This fictional story interwoven with true missing persons cases in the early 1990s, most notably the Polly Klaas case, made for an equally interesting and heartbreaking read. The overall plot centers around Anna Hart who is a missing persons detective in San Francisco. Personal tragedy sends her back to the small town she grew up in with her foster parents. While there for healing, she is drawn to a case involving a missing girl. One thing leads to another and she finds herself in the middle of what appears to be a serial murder case. 

McLain took great care with the true crime stories that served as a backdrop for this book. You can clearly see that she put forth great detail and research by including those cases. As a result, this book left me feeling uncomfortable - not because it was a bad book but because in reality bad things happened, and I could not use this fictional book to totally escape the real word. In the real world there are bad people who do horrible things. Having said that, I do appreciate very much what McLain has done in weaving a fictional story with real cases. Her writing is moving in that it evokes an emotional response and propels the reader into and through the story. It left me thinking about it for days after. 

My only criticism of this book is the ending. I thought the conclusion to the fictional aspect was a little too tidy. Additionally, it seemed as though the author rushed the ending a bit with regards to Anna's personal struggles. She could have easily gone into more depth with that storyline, especially since it was germane to the plot. 

Recommendation: This is a heavy read, but it is a good book and I would highly recommend it when you're looking for something sobering. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Rating: 3 of 5 stars 
Pages: 304 pages
Published: March 2021

So, I do not like science fiction or dystopian fiction. I think I might have mentioned that a time or two on this blog. But alas, my book club chose Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, and I powered through it. At the time I'm writing this review, I realized that it was the only book I actually completed in June. It is not a terribly long book, but it took me a long time to get through it. I would begin reading and find any excuse to stop. This was my first read by Ishiguro. 

I think the story had lots of potential to focus on themes of love and forgiveness, but it got kind of weird and then fell flat at the end for me. Having said that, the author does have a beautiful writing style. I think I would be open to reading another selection; however, this one just didn't do it for me. The synopsis and the content of the book is very vague leaving a lot up to the reader's imagination. This could probably be enjoyable for some, but I like a little more concrete plot. For example, the reader is never even told where the story takes place. 

‘Yes. Until recently, I didn’t think that humans could choose loneliness. That there were sometimes forces more powerful than the wish to avoid loneliness.’

‘The heart you speak of,’ I said. ‘It might indeed be the hardest part of Josie to learn. It might be like a house with many rooms. Even so, a devoted AF, given time, could walk through each of those rooms, studying them carefully in turn, until they became like her own home.’

‘Perhaps all humans are lonely. At least potentially.’

There was something very special, but it wasn’t inside Josie. It was inside those who loved her.

Basically, the book is about an artificial intelligence companion that is purchase for a sickly preteen? (again, not sure about the age because ... vagueness) and follows their relationship as well as the people in her circle. There are some deep elements to ponder while reading like how we treat people and things once they are of no use to us, how people believe in the powers of a higher being, socioeconomic status and how that can affect close relationships. I don't know if any of this is what the author was going for, but it did make for an engaging book club discussion. So, there's that. 

Recommendation: If you're more of a free spirit reader, this book may work for you. Most of the books I read are based in logic and things that could possible happen, so this book was not a favorite of mine. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Flooded by Nicki Koziarz

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pages: 208 pages
Published: March 2021

This past spring, I participated in another Proverbs 31 Online Bible Study with Nicki Koziarz's latest book, Flooded: The 5 Best Decisions to Make When Life is Hard and Doubt is Rising, at the forefront. (If you're interested in previous study books I've reviewed, just do a simple search for "Proverbs 31" on my website.) I previously read an earlier book authored by Koziarz, 5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn't Quit, and it was very powerful. Likewise, Flooded did not disappoint. 

As the title indicates, the Flooded book offers five decisions when life is tough. The decisions that Koziarz has crafted come from her intense study of the Biblical Old Testament figure, Noah, and his calling by God to build an ark. Themes in this book include persistence, trust, and hope.  

The thing I like most about Koziarz's teachings and writings is the practical way in which she applies, the sometimes, complex Biblical teachings. As an author and teacher, Koziarz is talented, and as a person she is truly gifted. In her latest book, she experienced many crises while writing it including the death of not one, but two, family members. Couple that with COVID and the current state of affairs in the United States while she was writing this, she is truly blessed to have delivered such a comprehensive and cohesive teaching book. 

As with all books, I think they meet you where you are. And not all books are for every person at every moment. I don't know that I read this book at the right time in life. That is not to take away anything from the author, but more from me, as I might not have been prepared to receive all it had to offer at this point in my life. However, it is a timeless book that I am thankful to keep on my bookshelf for when it might speak more strongly to me. 

Recommendation: If you are going through a difficult time, this book is a treasure and one that can be referenced again and again. I strongly recommend this book as well as the Proverbs 31 Ministry. It is currently available through the ministry as well as Target department stores.  

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Monday, May 17, 2021

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pages: 320 pages
Published: May 2021

One of my May reads was a new release snagged from Book of the Month. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave is a mystery thriller that features protagonist, Hannah, who is about a year into her marriage with Owen while also trying to bridge the sometimes awkward step-parenting gap with his 16-year old daughter Bailey. On a seemingly normal day, Owen does not come home from work but instead leaves, separately, Bailey with a bag of cash and Hannah a note that seems to point to Bailey reading: Protect her. The bulk of the story is Hannah trying to figure out where her husband has absconded and why and also how to fulfill his request to protect Bailey. In a search for answers, both Hannah and Bailey find themselves traveling from the west coast to central Texas, and ultimately learning that they will have to close that awkward gap in order to survive - physically, relationally and emotionally.  

I found this story to be intriguing. The characters were well-written and the dialogue engaging enough to keep me invested as a reader. The plot was solid, albeit with a few holes, and the ending was fulfilling. Overall, it was fun read. 

Recommendation: I would recommend this read as an entertaining, driving choice ... just in time for your summer reading list.

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

What Comes After by Joanne Tompkins

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Pages: 432 pages
Published: April 2021

When I finished reading What comes After, a debut novel by Joanne Tompkins, all I had the emotional energy to offer was: Lovely writing! And I promise, that statement is accurate. Tompkins definitely has a way with words, but the story she crafted was so emotionally raw yet beautifully done, that's the only two words I could put together at the time. This book is not for the faint of heart. Upon opening in the Pacific Northwest, we learn that two childhood friends are dead - one killed the other, then himself. The town is grieving but specifically the parents of the boys left behind. Enter Evangeline, who knew the boys shortly before their deaths. Young and in a bit of a predicament herself, she interjects herself into the life of Isaac, who is the father of the murdered son. Then Isaac reaches out to Lorrie, the mother of the murdering son. From there, the story takes the reader on an arresting journey of loss, grief, but also, hope. 

This is not a book to be rushed through. At 400+ pages, it's a hefty read in both quantity and quality. I read this book over the course of a week and was simply mesmerized by the way the author was able to so vividly capture not only visual elements of the landscape setting but also the emotional ones that come with heavy topics such as death and (physical and sexual) abuse. While the topic is dark, the book is whole and offers the reader light and hope in the end. This book made me feel similar to Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

My only criticisms of this book, hence the rating shy of 5 stars, is the inclusion of the Quaker religion. I listened to an interview with Tomkins on @NYTBooks Instagram account, and she noted that she is not a Quaker, so I am not sure why she felt compelled to include so much of it in the book. Additionally, she mentioned that Jonah's character was calling out to her to have a voice in the novel. While the chapters told from his perspective help fill in the gaps of the mysterious elements of the book, it also broke the flow of my reading. I'd also love to know if there was any intention by ascribing religious names to so many of the male characters. 

Recommendation: I'd highly recommend this book when you have time to read and also put the book down for a bit so you can ponder before picking it up again. It's an equally cerebral and rewarding read.

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pages: 307 pages
Published: May 4 2021

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala is a spicy and fun cozy mystery that I snagged via my Book of the Month subscription. The book centers around Lila Macapagal, her family, friends, and the folks in her small hometown she returns to after she finds her fiancĂ© cheating on her with their next-door neighbors (yes, neighborS) in Chicago. While back in town, she attempts to help revive her aunt's failing restaurant. As if that wasn't challenging enough, Lila has to face another ex-boyfriend from high school, Derek Winter, who is a local restaurant critic and who can't seem to give Lila and her aunt a break from negative food critiques. When things seem as though they can't get any worse, Derek experiences a health episode at the restaurant and later dies at the hospital as a result of it. Lila and her family are now suspects in his death. Together, with the help of some friends and community members, Lila attempts to to solve the mystery before her aunt's restaurant (and only form of livelihood) is closed ... for good! 

This book has all the makings of the light murder mystery genre, known as a cozy. What gives it depth is the inclusion of the Asian American community and the cultural contributions of the members of that community. I also appreciated the abundant and strong female characters in the book. The plot is easy to follow, making the book a relatively quick read. I think most readers could finish it in a day or two. The only thing that slowed me down is I continually had to reference the glossary and pronunciation guide in the front of the book as well as look up some words that were not provided. Having said that, I think this book might be easier read via audio or eReader, where you can either hear or quickly look up phrases with a simple click. 

Recommendation: Summer is just around the corner, and this would be a great beach read. Just make sure you have something to munch on nearby. The author provides vivid descriptions of the cuisine with some recipes in the back to try on your own! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Whisper Man by Alex North

Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Pages: 355 pages
Published: June 2019

If you're looking for a riveting and emotional-filled mystery thriller, The Whisper Man by Alex North is a solid choice. I read The Shadows last summer, which is sort of a sequel to this book. I wouldn't say it's a true sequel, but both books take place in the same area and feature detective Amanda Beck. The Shadows was a different kind of mystery that moved at a much slower pace for me. I thoroughly enjoyed The Whisper Man. I found myself picking up the book at every free moment, enjoying the journey but also wanting to reach the end so I could learn the answers to all the questions the book posed. 

The story is centered around four prominent characters that all take the lead at some point. Amanda Beck is the lead detective on a case of a missing and presumed abducted child. Her case has ties to a fellow detective's case, Pete Willis, from several years back where he captured Frank Carter aka The Whisper Man. The two detectives team up to help solve the present-day mystery. In hopes of healing from a recent tragedy, Tom Kennedy and his son Jake move to the town, unbeknownst to them, where these older and more current abductions have taken place. They take up residence in an eccentric house where Jake soon begins to hear whispers at his window, leaving the reader to ponder if the captured Whisper Man has somehow found a way out. 

Recommendation: As with most mysteries, I don't want to give too much away to spoil the story, but I will say I found this one intriguing and strongly recommend it. I've already passed the book along to another reading friend. The tone and pace of this book propels the reader forward to a satisfying conclusion. It's a great read for mystery/thriller lovers. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pages: 336 pages
Published: February 2021

The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson is a literary fiction debut by Chicago native, Nancy Johnson. In this novel, she takes us back to 2008 on the heels on Obama's presidential election where her protagonist, Ruth Tuttle, an engineer and her equally successful husband, Xavier are living a comfortable middle class life in Chicago, Illinois. They've been married just long enough for Xavier to start getting excited about expanding their family. What he doesn't know is what is holding his beloved wife back. She was forced to give up a child she bore when she was a senior in high school. As secrets often do, this one finds its way out into the light and threatens Ruth and Xavier's bond. To qualm her anxieties about the decision she was pushed into nearly a decade prior and in hopes of reconciling with Xavier, Ruth goes back home to Indiana. While there, she befriends a young boy, Midnight, and their lives intertwine as she searches for answers. 

This story was equal parts literary and mystery as the reader follows Ruth on her path to learn about the son she gave up and how it affected the grandmother who raised her and older brother who felt responsible for protecting her. The story alternates between the third person perspectives of Ruth and Midnight that provide pieces of information that ultimately bring the story full circle in the end. With the novel set in the not too distant past, I think it made it more interesting to read with the awareness of present-day situations, such as race relations and economic positions. Overall, I found the novel to be a bit predictable with a satisfying conclusion. I would have liked the author to develop Xavier's character a bit more by including him more in the middle of the book (not just the beginning and short ending). 

Recommendation: Falling into the same generation as the protagonist and understanding her academic and professional aspirations, I found this book very relatable. However, I think it is a worthwhile read for anyone looking for something to devour over the weekend. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Pages: 381 pages
Published: January 2021

I am disappointed to report that it took me a long two weeks to complete Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour. A debut novel about a young black man currently working at one of my favorite places but also searching for himself and striving for success as eventually finds himself in a sales role in bumbling New York City.  

The book opens with Darren Vender living in a Bed-Stuy brownstone with his widowed mother surrounded and supported by his close-knit community. A chance encounter with an exectuive from the top floor of the building where Darren works as a Starbucks barista lands him the opportunity of a lifetime at a start-up company run by that executive. From there Darren transforms into Buck, and the story quickly moves from one unrealistic scenario to another ultimately falling flat. 

While I did appreciate the nods to the culture and how music was incorporated in the first half of the book, I didn't really like the premise of a novel as a sales manual. If I wanted to read a sales manual or a motivational book on how to become a salesperson, I would have done just that - not purchased a novel disguised as one. I think the biggest issue for me was the treatment of women in general, but especially women of color, as characters in the book. They were grossly underdeveloped. And the cherry on top was Soraya being depicted as his ever-devoted girlfriend even though Buck treated her and her father so horribly. I'm all about forgiveness, but I just don't see how any real woman could have forgotten his behavior in the first half of the book to the point that she stuck with him in the end. (Note: This isn't a spoiler. If interested, you'd have to read the book to understand where Buck lands at the end to get my point.) 

Recommendation: I like giving debut authors a chance, especially often overlooked authors of color, and I'm glad I gave Askaripour a chance and read his book all the way through, even the acknowledgements. This book was not my cup of tea (or cup of joe), but he promises his next one won't be anything like this one. So, who knows, I might give his next novel a try.

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Matchless: The Life and Love of Jesus

Rating: 5 of 5 stars 

Matchless: The Life and Love of Jesus is the second book I've engaged with by Angie Smith. The reason I say engaged is because the book is written and organized in such a way to facilitate either a group or individual Bible study. The first book, Seamless, was compiled in similar fashion. Matchless focuses on the birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

In her customary way, Smith does a great job explaining and highlighting parts of the Savior's life and how Christians can apply the lessons presented to their individual lives. She backs her statements with Biblical scripture. Smith also uses humor to help make her message relatable. After completing the book, I noted that many people did not appreciate this (especially her use of the metaphorical Janet); however, I find that type of dry humor effective. I may have been able to appreciate it more because I participated in this study along with Lifeway ministries and had access to Smith's videos where her personality really shines through. Whether the humor resonates with the reader or not, the message is still true and powerful. 

I found this book easy to read and follow. I am glad I had access to the videos as they enhanced my learning. Similar to the Seamless book, I am sure I will use Matchless as a reference and go back to it again and again. 

Recommendation: If you know Jesus or are curious about His life, this is a good book to learn (and learn more) about Him. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Pages: 384 pages
Published: July 2018

As of this writing, I am currently moderating a read-along with BOTM's Mystery/Thriller Discussion Group, which is the reason I downloaded a copy of The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager from my local library

The book centers around Emma Davis who, as a 13-year old, got the opportunity to spend the summer at the prestigious Camp Nightingale. While there, her three bunkmates go missing never to be seen again. Fast forward a decade and a half later, and Emma has been asked by the Camp's director, Franny, to return to the scene of the disappearance as one of the Camp's activity instructors. The goal is for the Camp to re-open with a new and fresh start. Emma agrees in hopes assuming the role of amateur detective and finding out what really happened to her bunkmates all those years ago. To her surprise, history seems to repeat itself, and Emma finds herself in the middle of another unexplainable disappearance of three young girls. 

Like most mysteries, this one included a large cast of characters that created an element of confusion and offered many theories of who could have done it. The story also see-sawed between present day and 15 years in the past, providing just enough details to keep the reader hooked. I was a little troubled by the extreme violence against women by this male author. Overall, I found this novel to be a formulaic modern-day mystery and fairly predictable; however, I did appreciate the little twist ending.  

Recommendation: While I enjoy reading mystery thrillers, this was my first read by this pseudonymous author. While I did finish this book so that I could fulfill my duties as moderator, the book neither struck me as exceptionally bad or outrageously entertaining. However, it did keep me engaged over an exceptionally cold winter weekend in north Texas. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet

Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Pages: 343 pages
Published: June 2020

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett has won all kinds of awards including Book of the Month's Book of the Year Award for 2020, proving that a few good things came out of that horrible year. Because I am a BFF member, I was fortunate enough to snag my copy for free this January. A story delayed is not a story denied. I can certainly see why Bennett has become a fast favorite author in the world of literary and historical fiction. She is, indeed, a talented writer. 

So, the book is about the identical twin Vignes sisters who are extremely fair in complexion. As young adults, the two women take two very different paths in life - one sister ending up on the east coast with an abusive husband, who happens to have lots of melanin, and she has to take the walk of shame back home to their small town of fair-skinned residents with her dark-skinned child. While the other sister ends up on the west coast married to a white man who has no idea she is Black. The novel turns into somewhat of a coming of age novel that spans the twin's lives and those of their daughters (one very White and one very Black) who, by happenstance, meet each other as young adults. 

I truly enjoy the writing in this book. Bennett does a great job creating imagery, evoking emotions, and telling truths about her characters. In this particular novel, which is her sophomoric piece (The Mothers, her debut), she takes on the heavy topics of colorism, identity, and self-acceptance in a very careful, thought-out way. Specifically, she shares the fictional account, that is very much based in reality, of a Black woman "passing" for White. This practice was often used as a path to opportunities and surely an easier life in segregated America. 

I was heavily invested in this story from page one. I often kept reading past my bedtime to learn more. There has been some buzz about the ending. It seems to me that the expectation was that there be some type of bang-up, action-filled ending. Instead the book, just ended. I don't think every story (whether it be in book or film form) has to have some satisfying conclusion. Like life, sometimes, the story just ... simply ... ends. (As a side note, I think a lot of people felt this way about the movie "The Photograph.") 

Recommendation: This book wasn't about the ending. It was about the journey. Every story does not need a resolved conflict or a happy ending. Sometimes it's just nice to peek into the lives of fictional characters for 300-500 pages and enjoy the literature. And that's exactly what I did. I highly recommend this book for mature teens and young adults (~16-19) as well as older adults looking to lose oneself in a beautifully-crafted story. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Survivors by Jane Harper

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Pages: 384 pages
Published: September 2020

The Survivors by Jane Harper is a dark, mysterious novel set in the small town of Evelyn Bay, Australia and on a beautiful beach. Kieran Elliott has come back home to help his mother prepare to move his father, who is suffering from dementia, to a palliative care facility. While there, a young out-of-town college student, there to further her art studies, is murdered. This current-day event brings a tragic event that caused the death of Kieran's brother and the disappearance of a young girl nearly 12 years ago to the surface. The moderately-paced story interweaves the present-day crime with the horrific events of the past to a complete conclusion. 

I enjoyed this book. While it was slow to get started for me, I found the writing to be solid and descriptive. The author had me longing to go for a swim, which is just not feasible in January (even in Texas). There were a lot of characters, as well as red herrings, introduced, that provided elements of confusion and intrigue in determining whodunit. I had pinned the murder on just about everyone, except for the right person, before I reach the conclusion. 

Having said that, the ending did fall a little flat for me. I don't know what I was expecting, but I was a little underwhelmed when I found out who the murderer was and what happened to the missing girl from 12 years prior. The story moved a bit slow for me, but it wasn't too slow. I am trying to take more time to read and digest books this year rather than racing to some arbitrary finish line of total books read by the year's end. 

Recommendation: I appreciated the imagery Harper provided in this novel. It was a suspenseful and engaging without being too graphic. I would recommended it to older teens and adults for a long weekend read. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Pages: 288 pages
Published: September 2020

I know I am in the minority, but I didn't love The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. This book was highly anticipated, and books about books, libraries, and the like are usually my jams, but this one didn't do it for me. The premise is that purgatory is a library and a person between the realms of life and death can choose another chance at life. It is here we meet the main character, Nora, who has had some defeats in life. At The Midnight Library she meets her old school librarian who helps her decide what her ultimate fate will be. 

The idea seems interesting, and I really did want to like this book. However, I found the writing to be a bit non-committal and more stream of consciousness. For some reason, I felt obligated to push through and finish, maybe because it was relatively short. I don't normally do this with books. I try not to treat them like a stern parent insisting their child finish their meal. 

The overall tone of this book was sad and depressing, which wasn't a particularly good choice to read at the beginning of a fresh, new year. Each alternative life that Nora tried on made for a series of incomplete, unsatisfying stories. There were, however, some beautifully-constructed passages. 

Recommendation: I wouldn't recommend this book one way or another. A lot of readers I respect have enjoyed it, so it is possible that this one just didn't suit me. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.