Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Great Jewel Robbery by Elizabeth McKenna

Series: Book 1, A Front Page Mystery
Category: Adult fiction; Genre: Cozy mystery

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pages: 204 pages
Published: May 2019 

Mystery with a splash of romance…Chicago Tribune reporters Emma and Grace have been best friends since college despite coming from different worlds. When Grace is assigned to cover an annual charity ball and auction being held at a lakeside mansion and her boyfriend bails on her, she brings Emma as her plus one. The night is going smoothly until Emma finds the host’s brother unconscious in the study. Though at first it is thought he was tipsy and stumbled, it soon becomes clear more is afoot, as the wall safe is empty and a three-million-dollar diamond necklace is missing. With visions of becoming ace investigative journalists, Emma and Grace set out to solve the mystery, much to the chagrin of the handsome local detective.

Mystery with a splash of romance indeed! This little cozy mystery by Elizabeth McKenna is a pure delight. The novel features two strong female protagonists - Emma and Grace, an engaging plot, and a little romance that propelled this reader from the beginning to end in just a few days.

The Great Jewel Robbery is the first book in a series and also this author's first attempt at the cozy mystery genre. McKenna definitely succeeded in her efforts. Emma and Grace are friends from college, and when Grace is assigned to work at a charity ball, she invites Emma as her plus-one. Shortly upon their arrival, madness ensues. A guest is assaulted, jewels are stolen, and strange things keep happening. The women's interrogative spirits get the best of them and they choose to stay nearby and help solve the crime of the missing valuables. This decision brings one of the friends, Emma, in close contact with Detective Ryan O'Mara, and that's where the romantic spark is lit. Even so, the book focused more on the mystery than the romantic element, which I appreciated. Overall, the storyline was captivating, and the mystery was intriguing enough to keep the reader's attention. The author provided enough detail and clues that allowed for the mystery to be solved while reading along. McKenna effectively injected humor and provided vivid descriptions. In the end the story wrapped up nicely, and maybe just a bit too quickly, but provided the reader with a satisfying ending.

Recommendation I enjoyed this book. I especially liked the supportive friendship between the two women. I think this book would be great for readers who appreciate cozies in a modern day setting. Its lighthearted tone would make it nice to take along on a fun weekend trip. I'm looking forward to book 2 in the series.

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.

Elizabeth McKenna’s love of books reaches back to her childhood, where her tastes ranged from Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys to Stephen King’s horror stories. She had never read a romance novel until one Christmas when her sister gave her the latest bestseller by Nora Roberts. She was hooked from page one (actually, she admits it was the first love scene). She combined her love of history, romance, and a happy ending to write the historical romance novels Cera’s Place and Venice in the Moonlight. Her contemporary romance novel, First Crush Last Love, is loosely based on her life (she eventually married her first crush).

The Great Jewel Robbery is her debut cozy mystery, and she hopes readers will like it as much as they have enjoyed her romances. Elizabeth lives in Wisconsin with her understanding husband, two beautiful daughters, and a sassy Labrador. When she isn’t writing, working, or being a mom, she’s sleeping.

Connect with Elizabeth: 

Prizes: Win a $25 Amazon Gift Card courtesy of Elizabeth McKenna (open to wherever delivers)

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Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Pages: 224 pages
Published: July 2019 

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is a historical fiction novel based on the real-life Dozier School for Boys, a reform school in Florida. The book is set during the Jim Crow era. In reality, we know that the Dozier School committed horrible atrocities against young boys, many of whom's bodies weren't found until a few years ago. However, much of the news coverage has focused on the Caucasian students. In this fictional account, Whitehead dramatizes what might have happened to the African American boys who were sent to the, now infamous, school.

As you might suspect, some of the depictions are difficult to read and visualize. It's shocking, yet believable, that things described in this book could have happened - and a lot of them probably did. Similar to the author's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Underground Railroad, the book is beautifully written. It paints a vivid picture with its biting prose. Having said that, I don't know if it is because of the subject matter or the overall length of the book, I just couldn't get into this one like I did his previous book. It didn't resonate with me, and it was sometimes hard to follow. I anticipated the plot twist revealed near the end, but I was left largely unsatisfied upon completion. I think this is a story that should be told, and I think Whitehead is a masterful storyteller. This one just did not do it for me.

Recommendation The book is getting rave reviews among many readers and critiques. Because I enjoyed The Underground Railroad, I'd like to say that maybe this book just did not find me at the right time. Read at your own risk.

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.

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Pages: 448 pages
Published: February 2019 

I Owe You One is the latest, humorous book by prolific chick lit author, Sophie Kinsella. In the novel, we meet aptly-named Fixie Farr, who always puts family first by taking on the tasks of fixing things for her relatives. Hot off her own career disappointment, she is leaving back home with her recently widowed mother and her sister, who is married but staying at home while her husband is abroad for work. Fixie runs the family store with her mother and brother, who lives in town with his girlfriend. When a man in a local coffee shop asks her to watch his laptop, Fixie can't help but say yes and fix what turns out to be a sure disaster, thus saving his computer. As a token of thanks, he proffers her an IOU. When Fixie's high school crush comes into town and down on his luck, she cashes in her IOU.

This book is very typical of Sophie Kinsella. It's a book about a woman who is not so secure in herself. There's a romantic element, and there's some growth throughout the course of the novel. I don't know if it is because I just recently finished a Kinsella novel (Surprise Me!) or if this one just wasn't that good, but I didn't really like Fixie. She got on my nerves. Additionally, I wasn't a fan of the language employed by her brother. It was quite colorful and seemed almost abusive at times. I also think the story went on for too long. The author probably could have cut out a great deal of content and the plot remain the same.

Overall it is a lighthearted novel and good for summer reading.

Recommendation If you're a Sophie Kinsella fan, you'll probably want to read this one so you're not missing out. I can go either way with it. No strong recommendation for or against.

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 14, 2019

Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pages: 464 pages
Published: March 2019 

My niece snagged a copy of Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds at the 2019 North Texas Young Adult Book Festival. She decided to "repay" me for something by reading it this summer. So, when my online book club took recommendations for a book in the young adult genre, I eagerly nominated this book. In short, I am glad I did.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It centers around Jack King, who is a senior in high school and his love affair with Kate, who is a freshman in college. He meets her while on a visit to her college and immediately falls for her. The challenge is that Kate dies before their relationships reaches its full potential. Jack is then thrust back in time and is granted a do-over. Hoping for a different outcome, Jack returns to the same point in time where he meets Kate five times. The book details how he approaches each returned.  I think the thing I like the most about this book is that while it featured African American characters, that was not the sole focus of the story. Any other ethnic or race could have been substituted and the themes in the story would remain the same.

Sci-fi type books are not typically my favorite reads, but this one wasn't too heavy on the time travel aspect. It focused more on character and relationship development, not only between Jack and Kate but also between Jack and his parents as well as Jack and his two best friends. While the book is nearly 500 pages, it reads quickly and quite smoothly. I finished it in just a couple of days. It is appropriate for its young adult audience, although I think adults could appreciate it as well.

Recommendation I would definitely recommend this book for any reader. It has the perfect balance of many literary elements keeping the reader engaged through the end. I can't wait to discuss it with my niece!

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, July 10, 2019

Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward by Valerie Jarrett

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 11:23:00
Narrated by: Valerie Jarrett
Published: April 2019 

Last year I read Becoming by First Lady Michelle Obama. In it, she mentions her meeting Valerie Jarrett and how that changed the trajectory of her career path. So, when I learned that Ms. Jarrett was writing a book of her own, I was excited to get a copy of Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward and read about her life, her perspective of the Obama administration, and how she sees the future.

Similar to Mrs. Obama's book, Ms. Jarrett begins at her childhood. A single child to highly educated (some might even call them "woke") parents who moved to Iran for better career opportunities. Jarrett was born in Iran, but later the family moved to the U.S. after her mom felt that Jarrett was picking up some negative life lessons on how to treat people in Iran. Upon her return, Jarrett recalls the discrimination and bullying she faced in her formative years from her classmates because of her unique beginnings. However, these experiences strengthen her. She became a determined young adult who had lofty goals that included becoming a partner in a law firm, a wife, and a mother before the age of 30. She succeeded in meeting her deadline, but as a result had a marriage that was not based in love. Because this was vastly different from what she witnessed between her parents, this relationship impacted much of her adult life. However, she persevered as a single mom. About a third into the book, we get to that defining moment where she meets Michelle Obama, who was then Michelle Robinson and Barack Obama. She calls it a luck. This meeting of happenstance solidifies her as a figure in the Obamas' lives that remains to this day. As Ms. Jarrett says, she has always felt like a big sister to Michelle and Barack.

Much of the book focuses on Ms. Jarrett's career as a civil servant and the politics of being a senior advisor in the Obama administration. For me, it was interesting to read her perspective on some of the same events that Mrs. Obama shared in her book. While the books might seem redundant, they are not. Where Mrs. Obama comes from a perspective of love and partnership with her husband, Ms. Jarrett's take is more professional and political in nature. She doesn't mince words and is very clear about several major moments that occurred during those eight years. One of those more memorable moments that intrigued me was Ms. Jarrett's re-telling of the nearly destructive relationship between the Obama's and Reverend Jeremiah Wright. She provides much more detail than Mrs. Obama did in her book. I have read several criticisms of how Mrs. Obama presented the spiritual leader in her book. After reading Ms. Jarrett's book, I'd have to say Mrs. Obama was quite kind to him.

I really enjoyed this book. I was able to listen to most of it on a road trip. Ms. Jarrett's voice is soothing and she does a great job sharing her story while keeping the reader engaged. I wish she'd gone into a little more depth about her personal life and maybe reduced the amount she shared about her career in politics. Having said that, the book is subtitled her journey to the West Wing, so I knew what I was getting into!

Recommendation If you enjoy autobiographies and would like to learn a little more about one of President Obama's closest friends and advisors, Finding My Voice will provide just that. Thanks to the Fort Worth Public Library for the borrow!

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, July 5, 2019

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pages: 418 pages
Published: February 2018 

I've read several Sophie Kinsella books, most before I started tracking my reads on While I was waiting for the newer and seemingly popular I Owe You One to become available at my local library, I downloaded Surprise Me.

This novel is true to Kinsella's writing style in that it is light, funny, and poignant. The main character, Sylvie and her husband, Dan go to the doctor for physicals on their 10-year anniversary (odd choice for an anniversary date, but I digress). They learn that they are in tip-top shape and will probably, barring any catastrophes, live the next six decades together. As a couple they are completely in sync, often finishing one another's thoughts and sentences.

I pass him the bread basket knowing that he’ll take the sourdough, not because he likes it particularly but because he knows I love focaccia. That’s the kind of man Dan is. The kind who lets you have your favorite bread.

However, this longevity news completely throws them both for a loop, and Sylvie decides they needs to spice up their marriage with surprises to keep things new and fresh for the duration. The bulk of the book focuses on Sylvie and Dan's marriage, their life together with their twin daughters, and their circle of friends. However, in the midst of this marriage survival plan, Sylvie learns things about Dan, her mother, and her late father that provide more of a surprise that she bargained for.

At first I didn't think I was going to enjoy the book. Sylvie kind of got on my nerves, but Kinsella did a good job of giving the character depth and growth over the course of the novel. What I had expected was a light and funny novel, and I did get that. But as a bonus, I also got a story that had a bit of a dark side with the main character emerging as a more holistic individual on the other side. I think this quote by one of Sylvie and Dan's neighbors completely sums up the book:

Love is finding one person infinitely fascinating.” John seems lost in thought again—then comes to. “And so…not an achievement, my dear.” He gives me a mild, kind smile. “Rather, a privilege."

Recommendation Once again, Kinsella did not disappoint. She is a master storyteller and knows how to effectively inject humor into her work. I would recommend this as a great summer or beach read. Oh, and the Fort Worth Library just released I Owe You One, so I'm adding it to the 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.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

In My Father's House by Ernest J. Gaines

Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Pages: 224 pages
Published: June 1978 

In My Father's House by Ernest J. Gaines was the June read-along with one of my online book clubs. The book itself if relatively short, but there is a lot of detail contained in this story set in the 60s during the Civil Rights Movement in the small town of St. Adrienne, Louisiana. The story begins with a mystery man, Robert X, who comes to town. His entrance directs the story to the revered Reverend Philip Martin. During the course of the novel, we learn than Reverend Martin has led two lives, and the house of cards he so carefully built is all about to fall down due to the presence of the young Robert X.

This is the first book I've read by Gaines. I found his writing to be simple yet powerful; clear yet descriptive. He captured the essence of the time period and the struggles that many people of color were facing during that time. He presented the story in a fair way that left me thinking about it for days after I've finished reading it. Having read this book, I'd definitely be interested in reading more of his writing.

I think if I could have read this story when it was first published in the late 70s, it would probably have had a higher rating. However, more than 40 years later, some of the plot just made me frustrated because we've come so far. So, even though the book was short, it was difficult for me to plow through. Not only because of the status of African Americans but also women. I think I struggled with Reverend Martin's treatment of his wife (as well as her acceptance) more than anything. But those were the times.

Recommendation This was a good read. I don't know that I would have picked it up on my own, but I am thankful it was selected for our monthly book club reading.

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, June 18, 2019

The Latte Factor: Why You Don't Have to Be Rich to Live Rich by David Bach

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 03:59:00
Narrated by: Mizuo Peck, David Bach
Published: May 2019 

This quick read was recommended to me by a good friend. Similar to the style of Who Moved my Cheese, The Latte Factor by David Bach is a small book that packs a powerful punch. Told in story form, the author offers a 3-step solution to attaining financial freedom.

The book is told in such a way that any reader can comprehend. You don't have to be an investor or a math whiz to understand and put his advice into practice. My main issue with this book is that for this practical advice to work, you have to already be at a certain place in life. You must have a stable, consistent income where you have the ability to buy lattes (or whatever your guilty pleasure might be) so that you can give them up. You will get no argument from me: Putting aside ~$300 per month in an interest-bearing account will help you go far, but there are simply a lot of people who don't have that "extra" $300, and it's not because they are buying lattes, or cigarettes, or whatever. It's because they are paying the light bill, or the mortgage, or buying school supplies for their children.

While I think the advice is common sense and easy to put into practice, you have to be starting at that level. Having said that, I think this book is probably best for a recent graduate who doesn't have an enormous amount of debt or financial responsibilities or maybe someone who is about five years into his or her career. The author might want to consider a slightly different approach for other target audiences.

Recommendation This book is a quick read (or listen) with some valuable advice. I just don't think it's a one size fits all type of solution. Thanks to the Fort Worth Public Library for the borrow!

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 15, 2019

Black Girls Must Die Exhausted by Jayne Allen

Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Pages: 375 pages
Published: September 2018 

I absolutely adored Black Girls Must Die Exhausted (BGMDE) by Jayne Allen! This book was selected by one of my book clubs, and it did not disappoint. The story centers around a 30-something reporter journalist, Tabitha Walker, who gets some personally devastating news at the onset of the book and the remainder of the book is how that news affects her, the decisions she makes, and other people close to her.

As a young, single, career-minded woman living in a metropolitan area, I found the main character to be very relatable. The story line was spot on, and the writing was impeccable. The author was able to create engaging imagery that evoked a myriad of emotions in this reader. I found myself tearing up more than once while reading BGMDE. The ending was not perfect, but it was satisfying. Although, I was a little surprised to learn that this book would be the first of a trilogy! Now I'm invested and must read the subsequent books that the author is working on.

My only complaint about this book is with the publisher. The book is not available in most large libraries, and I think that is a disservice to the author and potential readers. More young women should have access to this story. This is not a story for black women; it's a story for all women.

Recommendation I definitely recommend this book. I think it is an intriguing read for all, but I think it might resonate with working women the most.

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, June 14, 2019

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

Rating: 1 of 5 stars
Length: 06:29:00
Narrated by: Tiffany Haddish
Published: December 2017 

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish represents about six and half hours of my life that I'll never get back. This book was painful to listen to. I didn't find a lot of humor in it but rather a very sad description of the comedienne's life and pursuit for acceptance through success.

I know Haddish is known for her raunchy comedic style, but I felt like she was over the top in this book. In her quest for a laugh, she came off as offensive, cold, and culturally insensitive. Personally, I have been blessed to live a fairly stable life, and I don't wish to question anyone's trauma. However, some of the stories Haddish re-told in this book were simply unbelievable. She lost all credibility with me when she, at 13, tried to seduce her black male doctor after nearly dying from toxic shock syndrome. I was later further offended by her mocking of her mentally disabled boyfriend. And then I found it very sad that she got an abortion because she couldn't raise a child with her abusive boyfriend yet no sooner than she healed up from the procedure she was right back in his bedroom. Her whole life just seemed sad, and my hope is that she has sought some counseling to help deal with these issues, if they are indeed true.

Beyond the content, the book was poorly written. There was way too much foul language and overly explicit scenes described. The final product could still benefit from some heavy editing. Haddish shared at least half a dozen stories of men telling her she's "too beautiful" to do this or "too pretty" to do that. Additionally, many of her sentences ended with "and stuff." It was just a grammatical nightmare.

This book was vastly disappointing for me. I had hoped that Haddish might offer some type of inspiration. Typically, when I read or listen to an autobiography I come away from it liking the person a little more than I did previously. Sadly, with The Last Black Unicorn, I like Haddish a lot less.

Recommendation Life is too short, and there are too many other books. Try something else like We're Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union or Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

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 1, 2019

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Pages: 336 pages
Published: September 2016 

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan is a slow-paced novel set in the United Kingdom - mainly Scotland. This is a book that should be approached and read purely for entertainment. It's about Nina, a librarian, who recently is laid off due to a restructuring of her City. She steps way outside of her comfort zone, relocates, and starts her own mobile bookstore in a van. In a different place and with a new spin on her career as a literary matchmaker, she finds added excitement in her life.

I enjoyed the first two-thirds of this story. The writing is good, and the author paints a picture of an unsure young woman who branches out in a quaint little farm town. All of the secondary characters are interesting and add value to the development of the primary character, as she grows more sure of herself. However, the last third of the book seemed a little rushed like the author was unsure of how to wrap up the plot.

I struggled with a few other things in this book. The romantic element - I don't think it was needed. There was a lot of potential with Nina's character as well as her discovery of a new profession/business venture. I think the author could have fleshed that out more rather than introduce a slightly unrealistic romantic plot that seemed to rush to the end. Also, I didn't care for the way the author simply wrote off the Marek character. I found it insensitive. I know the book was published several years ago, but it's almost inflammatory considering immigration relations all over the world today. And finally, the title of the book bothered me because nowhere in the novel is there a bookshop on the corner. However, after reading through some Q&A on Goodreads, I learned that the more relevant U.K. title is Little Shop of Happily Ever After, which makes so much more sense. Why the title was changed for U.S. publication is beyond me.

Recommendation This is a light read for a summer weekend when you don't have anything important to do. There are some touching moments, but don't expect it to be the next Great American Read or anything. Just take it for what it is at face value.

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 26, 2019

When You Read This by Mary Adkins

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Pages: 375 pages
Published: February 2019 

I may have mentioned this before, but I really do enjoy reading epistolary novels. I like getting a peek into others' correspondence and thought processes. So, when my fellow blogger friend offered this book up for review, I quickly put myself on the hold list for When You Read This, Mary Adkins' debut novel.

In short, this novel is about, Iris, a lady who dies of cancer like a lot of people do - way too young. The unique angle is she leaves behind a digital trail of blog and message board posts where she shares her journey of her illness leading up to her untimely death. As a dying wish of sorts, Iris leaves these writings behind for her boss, a public relations professional, Smith. (Yes, Smith is his first name.) Smith must work with Iris' sister Jade, who is reluctant to have the material compiled in book form.

This book is a quick read since it's all emails, text message chains, and digital postings. However, don't equate the quickness for weakness. The book tackles the heavy subject of death and the grief of those we leave behind. But it's not all darkness, I had several laugh-out-loud moments while reading this book. There were also points that made me reflect. In the end I appreciated the character growth illustrated through flawed but likable characters.

Recommendation I think this book is for anyone. It has a myriad of elements that would appeal to most any reader. The summer may be for light reading, but I think this book gives the reader a nice balance heavy and light material. This is a strong 4.5 out of 5 stars for 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.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King

Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Narrators: Phylicia Rashad and January LaVoy
Length: 14:20:00
Published: June 2017 

In the midst of a reading slump, I solicited help via social media and was provided with several recommendations. The first I chose to take up was Mrs. Coretta Scott King's autobiography, My Life, My Love, My Legacy. This book was published in 2017, more than 10 years after her death. The book is a chronological story of her life as it was told to Dr. Barbara Reynolds.

For this re-telling, I selected the audiobook which was read first by January LaVoy then after Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination, was read by Phylicia Rashad of The Cosby Show fame. My biggest question was why the change in narrators. I think maybe the publisher wanted to give readers an audible signal that Mrs. King's life vastly changed after her husband's, her love's murder but that she continued to live a life full of charitable work and purpose.

And that is my biggest takeaway from this wonderful book. Mrs. Coretta Scott King was an activist in her own right. She was an educated and independent woman who was a loving daughter, mother, and wife. She was a fierce partner and confidant during her husband's very demanding and successful life. I truly enjoyed listening to the stories, many that I've heard growing up, from her perspective. It was also eye-opening just how much she did after that fateful day in April of 1968. Her strength through harassing and threatening phone calls, her patience with an often-traveled spouse who's work was never done, and her persistence and commitment to non-violence when there had been so much violence against her family. I appreciated how she shared private bits of her relationship with her children. I also enjoyed learning little facts about her that I never would have known, like her reason for never re-marrying and who funded her living quarters in the latter part of her life.

Dr. King is well known for his eloquent speaking and presentation skills. This book proves that Mrs. King was also a talented communicator. In this book, her prose is rhythmic and inspirational. I closed my listening app feeling satisfied as it ended with this:

For struggle is a never-ending process, and freedom is never really won. You earn it, and win it - in every generation. -Coretta Scott King

Recommendation: I absolutely recommend this book to anyone. It should resonate with any reader on a variety of levels as it activates a wide range of emotions. Mrs. King has left a long-lasting legacy that her children and grandchildren should be most proud of. I am thankful for the recommendation from Kara, and I hope my review is a way of paying it forward to another reader.

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, May 8, 2019

What We Lose: A Novel by Zinzi Clemmons

Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Pages: 213 pages
Published: July 2017 

At its core, What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons is a story about grief, depression, and healing. In this short fictional novel, Clemmons presents a story centered around Thandi, born of a South African mother and black American father, who loses her mom to cancer. The plot is Thandi working her way through this loss. She also explores seemingly unrelated themes of femininity, race, sexuality, and identity.

Clemmons has received rave reviews on her debut novel. I'm not as impressed. While there were some touching passages that resonated with me, I found the book to be very disjointed and lacking fluidity. Maybe she was trying to illustrate the emotional elements of grief through her writing. I found it very cumbersome. At times I could not tell if she was writing fiction or non-fiction. She references real life events and scientific studies like the book is a work of non-fiction, but then she has Thandi's story, which is somewhat fictional, sitting on top of the book. I say "somewhat" because she, the author, has admitted to borrowing experiences from her relationship with her own mother and using them in the novel. I know authors do this - you write what you know. I truly believe this gives the stories depth. However, in my humble opinion, Clemmons did not execute this well. I found myself re-reading passages to understand if the events she was writing about were regarding a real life person, like Nelson Mandela or Barack Obama or if she was referring to the fictional character, Thandi.

I liken the tone and pace of this book to Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot. There seems to be a trend of authors writing their trauma through their books. I suppose this is a tool to heal. I just don't know if it's effective from a creative standpoint.

Recommendation This was an interesting read that I finished in about two hours. Obviously, it has resonated with many people. It just wasn't my cup of tea. The one thing I did take from it was: Love your mom while she's still here. Happy Mother's Day, Mom! :-)

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 24, 2019

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Pages: 310 pages
Published: October 2018 

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi is a coming-of-age novel about a teen girl who happens to be Muslim and how her culture causes some uncomfortable and extremely violent reactions from people post-9/11. The book is somewhat autobiographical in that the author did experience some of the events illustrated in the novel. However, it is not an autobiography. Think of it as "inspired by" rather than a re-telling of her life. I learned about this book when Mafi spoke on a panel at the 2019 North Texas Young Adult Book Festival in March. I am glad I did.

Mafi is a storyteller. Her writing is fluid, and her prose is beautiful. In this novel, she presents some incredibly horrific events, in such a beautiful way, that captivates the reader. At its core, the book is a teen love story about the main character, Shirin, who meets her classmate, Ocean James. The two are very different but also very much drawn to each other. Mafi tells the story of their interactions and the result of those interactions from a snippet of time in their high school careers.

I think this book was very true to life, which is why I think it held my attention from page one till the very end. It was a quick and enjoyable albeit sometimes uncomfortable read. The pace and feel of it reminded me of Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give. It is so important that we all, especially young adults, have a diverse library of books from which to choose. I am thankful Mafi shared this story, and I hope she knows it does not only resonate with people from the Muslim community but other people of color as well.

Recommendation I would definitely recommend this book to young adults (late teens) of all backgrounds. We learn by reading, and there is something to be learned here. There is some language and romantic scenes, although nothing sexually explicit.

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 17, 2019

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Pages: 208 pages
Published: January 2006 (first published in 1993)

How old am I to be reading The Giver by Lois Lowry? In my opinion, books really have no age limit. Of course, there are certain books that are not suitable for youngsters, but I believe once you've reached my age, you can read anything you want - no judgement. Having said all that, I will offer up this explanation. I decided to read this book because my 6th grade niece is reading it for her language arts class, and I love reading and discussing books with all people, but especially her!

The Giver is essentially the OG of dystopian. Before The Hunger Games, there was this lovely book. It's about a utopian society where everything is calm and peaceful. All people are respectful and follow orders. Each family unit can only have up to two children. Careers are decided by a group of leaders. The days are formulaic. Everything is gray, dull ... and boring. When the protagonist, Jonas, reaches the age of majority where he is given his job in the community, he begins to see things in a new light. His eyes are opened to a world beyond any he's ever known, and with this knowledge comes great responsibility.

I don't typically enjoy dystopian. Had I known that this was the genre, I probably would have gone into it with a different mindset. The reason I don't like reading dystopian is because of the few books I've read, it all seems hopeless and dire. I can't reconcile it with my reality, so I struggle. The difference with this book is that I do think it's filled with hope and promise. As I understand it, Lowry went on to write more books in the series. I don't know if I'll tackle those, (Although, I suppose my niece could convince me.) but I throughly enjoyed this one. Many other reviewers have balked at the ending; however this was my favorite part. I think most people either love it or hate it. If you've read The Giver or intend to, I'd love to hear your thoughts about the ending in the comments below.

Recommendation: This is a quick read for all ages. I recommend it as a nice escape from reality that evokes a myriad of emotions.

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 11, 2019

A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa

Rating: 4 of 5 stars 
Length: 172 pages
Published: June 2018

I received a copy of A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea during Amazon's celebration of World Book Day in 2018. For the past couple of years Amazon has allowed users to download a select group of books for free on or about World Book Day. Those of us who read know that books can take you to faraway places, so I personally take delight this service provided by Amazon.

But back to this autobiography, the author, Masaji Ishikawa, was born in Japan of his Japanese mother and extremely abusive Korean father. While he and his sisters did experience some trials in Japan because of their socioeconomic status, it was nothing compared to the poverty, discrimination, and violence the entire family faced when his father forced them to move from Japan to North Korea. The bulk of this relatively short book is Ishikawa re-telling his formative years that include the struggles his family faced as mixed-race outsiders in both Japan then North Korea. The reader then follows the author into adulthood, where we find no shortage of struggles for this survivor. As the book title indicates, the author does eventually escape North Korea, but you'll have to read the book to find out at what cost.

This was a fairly quick read that got me out of a reading slump. Having said that, it was not an easy read. Some of the events in the book are extremely descriptive and disturbing. The book is very dark with little hope or joy. However, I do think it is well worth the read. It's important to read and learn about less than pleasant situations so we do not succumb to them. My hope and prayer, after completing this book, is that Mr. Ishikawa found peace.

Recommendation: This, like many works of non-fiction, is a necessary book. I recommend it when you are ready to take on a sobering journey.

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 30, 2019

Queenie by Candice Carty-Wiliams

Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Length: 330 pages
Published: March 2019

Queenie is a hot mess, but Queenie, the debut novel by Candice Carty-Williams, is a pure delight. This fictional novel published just a few weeks ago, and I was lucky enough to snag a copy from my local library shortly after publication. Queenie is the Jamaican-British protagonist of this London-set novel. As the book opens, we learn that Queenie is embarking on a break from her live-in boyfriend, Tom. She moves out of their flat, and her life subsequently begins to unravel. About halfway through the novel, she hits rock bottom and is forced to face her demons in an effort to begin a journey of self discovery and healing. 

I found Queenie very relatable in her struggles with acceptance and also quite similar to my own struggles. It's amazing how a black woman in the United States can identify with the challenges of a fictional Jamaican woman living in England. Because of her upbringing and surroundings, Queenie is constantly comparing herself to her white counterparts, dealing with thinly veiled racism in the work place and social settings, and even tolerating her white boyfriend's (Tom) racist family members. Her past, and a lot of her present, have shaped who she is and caused a callous exterior to form as an emotional coping mechanism. I think, until her turning point in the novel, she was her own worst enemy, often self-sabotaging the most important relationships in her life. 

I really enjoyed the writing, the humor, and the care that the writer took in tackling the very heavy issues of depression, panic attacks, and self-esteem. My favorite parts of the book were the WhatsApp chats between Queenie and her girlfriends. My only very minor criticism is that in flashback scenes, it was sometimes difficult to identify that it was a flashback until I was a few sentences in. 

Recommendation: I think any woman can find some of her own truth in this novel, but I think it might speak more strongly to single and dating women of color. I would definitely recommend giving it a try. This is modern fiction novel is a solid debut for Ms. Carty-Williams! 

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, March 20, 2019

Home for Erring and Outcast Girls by Julie Kibler

Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Length: 368 pages
Published: July 2019*

I was fortunate enough to be granted a digital copy of the most final proof of Home for Erring and Outcast Girls by Julie Kibler. I read Calling Me Home by this author in 2013 and thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved Home for Erring and Outcast Girls 10 times more! The book is mainly set in Arlington and Austin, Texas as well as Oklahoma. Full disclosure: Many of the scenes take place on or about the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) campus, which is my alma mater. I think this is why the book piqued my interest and resonated with me. 

This historical fiction novel is based on the actual Berachah Home for the Redemption and Protection of Erring Girls, established by Reverend James Toney and Maggie Mae Upchurch in 1903. Many of the real women whom the fictional characters are based on are buried in a cemetery on the grounds of UTA. The fictional story follows three strong female leads and their respective story lines that alternate with each chapter. In near present day, the reader first meets Cate who is a 30-something librarian at the university studying the history of the Home. Cate's story is told in present day in Arlington and flashbacks to her teenage years in Austin. Lizzie and Mattie's stories are also told at the turn of the century as residents of the Home. Over the course of the novel, we travel 30 years with Lizzie and Mattie. 

The overall theme of the book is forgiveness of self and recovery leading to personal discovery. I think the main characters in the book struggle with this as well as hesitance in letting other people get close. To be fair all of the major characters in the novel experienced some massive trauma that resulted in her respective emotional vulnerability. The author did an excellent job of illustrating these varied emotions through her descriptive language, driving tone, and exceptional prose. Some scenes made me smile while others made me cry and there was a character or two that made me angry. I really became invested in these characters, and they stuck with me long after I finished reading. 

My only critique of this story is the creative criticism of the church. I understand that this is the lens through which the author views things, and I respect it. However, it is an element that made me a little uncomfortable ... but that is what effective art does, right? It makes you dig deeper and question things, which is why reading and writing are so important to our societal growth. 

As a professional marketer, I know the greatest success is when you can drive a consumer to initiate or make a change in behavior. As a result of Kibler's beautifully told story, I have felt compelled to revisit my alma mater and seek out this hidden treasure that I'd never known until reading Home for Erring and Outcast Girls

RecommendationI really enjoyed this book and hope to get a final, hard copy upon publication to include in my home library. I think my fellow Maverick alums would also appreciate this book. If you enjoy strong female protagonists who experience personal growth or the historical fiction genre, I would strongly recommend you pick up a copy of this book when it publishes this summer.

Until next time ... Read on!

*I received an advance reading copy (ARC) of Home for Erring and Outcast Girls from NetGalley. My copy was an uncorrected digital file. 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, March 13, 2019

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Length: 447 pages
Published: February 2019

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas is about sixteen-year old Bri, who is an aspiring rapper. Haunted by the ghost of her father's past, she is trying to make a name for herself in hopes of lifting her family above the poverty line. This young adult novel is set in the same neighborhood of Thomas' debut, The Hate U Give. As such many of the themes, dialect, and characters are similar. It is important to note that while the sophomore book tangentially touches on the first book, it is not required reading to understand the plot.

This book was a quick read about an interesting topic. I liked how Thomas demonstrated how the main character came up with her rhymes. I also think the author did a good job of illustrating the internal and external struggles that Bri faced. Some of Bri's actions and obstinance were a little frustrating, but I suspect parents of teenagers reading this book would be able to attest that her behavior was realistic (smile, parents!). 

Like the first book, I found the characters in On the Come Up to be very real, and I believe this story is another version of Thomas sharing a part of herself. However, I did not enjoy this book as much as the first. The lifestyle and struggles that the protagonist suffer are not relatable to me. Having said that, they are meaningful. Additionally, this is a young adult novel. I am not the target audience, so I don't think it's really a criticism if the book didn't move me as a mid-lifer. 

Recommendation: I find Angie Thomas to be a talented writer who, in a creative way, exposes some of her own past and vulnerabilities through her writing. This is important for young adults, and I think it would be a great read for mature teenagers, especially those who enjoy poetry and prose. Please note the book does have some violence and a fair amount of curse words.   

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.