Friday, September 8, 2023

Book Blitz! - Tested by Fire by C.J. Peterson

Tested by Fire by C.J. Peterson
Genre: Christian Fiction / Suspense / Romance
Publisher: Texas Sisters Press, LLC
Date of Publication: August 21, 2023
Pages: 278

Meet Robin Flynn: a woman of artistic soul and iron will, who forges metal and paints vibrant canvases as an escape from life's ceaseless challenges. Raised in the gritty trade of welding, she inherits not just her father's skill but also his audacity. But her creative passion takes a daring turn when she accidentally ignites an abandoned warehouse. Instead of ruin, her act inexplicably wins her gratitude from the local firefighters. Emboldened, Robin embarks on a clandestine mission to purge her crumbling town, Hemlock, of its dilapidated relics.

Enter Nate Mitchell: a man standing on the cusp of his dreams. As he trains to become afire marshal, he's also courting the woman he believes to be the love of his life. Everything seems perfectuntil destiny throws a spark into his meticulously planned world.

A pulse-pounding question burns at the heart of this riveting tale: What happens when a man committed to extinguishing fires falls deeply in love with a woman setting them? When faith and love clash like fire and water, will they quench each other or evolve into something even more powerful?

Dive into Tested By Fire, a Christian Fiction saga that weaves romance, suspense, and spirituality into a tapestry of human resilience. Inspired by 1 Peter 1:7, this story reminds us that our faith — far more precious than gold — emerges stronger through the crucible of trials, as we await the day when it illuminates the entire world with its glory.

1 Peter 1:7 (NIV) "These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold -- though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world."

C.J. Peterson
is a ten-time award-winning, multi-genre published author since 2012. She is also a podcaster, blogger, and publisher who knows how to relate well to folks of all ages. She has multiple books and series including: 

Grace Restored Series, The Holy Flame Trilogy, and the Divine Legacy Series, which have characters crossing over storylines. In these books, the spiritual realm crosses into the physical. This adventurous journey will have you holding onto the pages for dear life! The Sands of Time Trilogy is an exciting sci-fi series that will have you on the edge of your seat! This series follows a group of teens with abilities as they go through the US to rescue their siblings from the Challenger, their sadistic creator who has the money & power to win at any cost. Chain Reaction follows Trip and Tori as they go through time guiding their ancestors to change crucial decisions. In changing their past to save future generations, will Trip and Tori cease to exist?

Connect with C.J.: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | X (Twitter) | GabGoodreads | YouTube | Amazon | LinkedIn 

First Place - paperback copy of Tested by Fire
Second Place - eBook copy of Tested by Fire
Ends Sept. 14, 2023, midnight CDT
(U.S. Only)

Monday, August 14, 2023

People Person by Candice Carty-Williams

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 336 pages
Published: April 2022

People Person by Candice Carty-Williams is her second novel after bestselling and award-winning novel, Queenie, which I also adored! While I did see some similarities in the main character, Dimple, of People Person, the more recent book is a complete departure from the first. This is not a criticism. I find it refreshing when authors can write and offer something new rather than formulaic. Well, I am getting a little ahead of myself. Let me tell you about the book. 

It centers around Dimple and her four half-siblings: Nikisha, Danny, Lizzie, and Prynce. Having grown up without financial or emotional support from their absent father, Cyril Pennington, the siblings don't know a whole lot about one another until one day when Cyril picks them up in his gold Jeep and takes them to the park for ice cream. For the remainder of their formative years, they largely grow up with little interaction (save the oldest, Nikisha, and the youngest, Prynce, who have the same mother). However, at the age of 30 Dimple finds herself in a troubling situation and remembering her oldest half sibling, Nikisha, told her she could call if she ever needed anything on that fateful day they all met in the park, Dimple takes her upon that offer. Nikisha calls the other three siblings and together they find themselves in a tense situation that brings them together and helps them learn more about one another ... and their absent father too.

When I first began this book, I thought there is no way I am going to be able to enjoy it and follow this cast of characters than Carty-Williams sets up in the first chapter. However, she is such an excellent storyteller than I quickly found myself engrossed in the shenanigans that the Pennington siblings were trying to resolve as a family unit. Each character is distinctly developed that makes it easy to follow and fall in love with their flaws. Having said that, some characters, like Dimple, were a little more frustrating at times than others. But isn't that the way people work outside of books too? 

I found this story to be driving, funny, and endearing further solidifying my love of Carty-Williams' writing. We need more stories like this that feature people of color. 

Recommendation: I highly recommend this book. I snagged my copy at Barnes & Noble, but I am sure you can find it at your local library or discount book store since it's been over a year since initial publication. I think it would make for a fun Saturday afternoon read. 

Please note there are some descriptions of violence, domestic abuse, and a couple of mild sex scenes. 

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, July 31, 2023

The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 355 pages
Published: May 2023

The Secret Book of Flora Lea was my first read by Patti Callahan Henry, and I must say her writing is as beautiful as that shimmery book cover. I snagged a hardback copy of this book from my local Barnes & Noble on recommendation of the Modern Mrs. Darcy's Book Club. Each year Anne Bogel puts out a Summer Reading List of recommendations, and this wonderful WWII-era novel was on it for 2023. To boot, the book club got to e-meet the author during an hourlong discussion! 

So, the story. This is a historical fiction novel about two sisters - Hazel, the older and Flora Lea, the younger and titular character, both whom get shipped off from war-torn London. In reality and in the novel, more than 800,000 children were evacuated during the most dangerous areas of the war under Operation Pied Piper. Together are with all the children from their community, the children and relocated, out of harms way, during World War II to live in a small idyllic town that was deemed safer. To help calm her younger sister's fears, Hazel creates stories in the magical world of Whisperwood. Because Hazel is several years older than Flora Lea and they are forced orphans during this time of evacuation, she takes on a mothering role despite the girls being temporarily "fostered" by a single mom living with her son. Everything is going as best it can, considering the circumstances, until it isn't and Flora Lea vanishes seemingly forever. This inciting action affects all parties involved for years to come. 

Fast forward a couple of decades later, and Hazel is working at an antique book shop where she comes across a rare book that features Whisperwood - the fictional world that she created for her younger sister. Certain this is proof Flora Lea is alive, Hazel goes on an investigative hunt, much to the dismay of her long-time boyfriend and his family, to find out more about the rare book, its author, and (she hopes) her sister. 

This was such an emotional read for me because I get so invested in these WWII-era stories. Henry did an excellent job of pulling the reader into the world of Hazel Mersey and Flora Lea. Her desciptions were vivid and the plot was engaging albeit hearwrenching at times. 
Recommendation: Prior to reading this book, I had no knowledge of the Operation Pied Piper program, which is a HORRIBLE name by the way, or how it has integrated itself into pop culture even today (see Paddington Bear). Learning this tidbit is one of the reasons I so enjoy reading and further proof that, yes, we do need another WWII story because there are just so many stories to tell, educate, and inform. I highly recommend this book and will be reading more by Patti Callahan Henry! 

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 15, 2023

The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise by Colleen Oakley

Rating: 5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 337 pages
Published: March 2023

The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise by Colleen Oakley is not your usual humorous chick lit novel. Basically, the book is a fun telling of a female friendship between the unlikeliest of characters. Tanner, a 21-year old who is down on her luck after a horrible accident at college and Louise, an elderly woman living alone who has a fall and breaks her hip. Her adult children, who do not live nearby, hire Tanner to move in and help take care of their mother. Being pushed into the job by her mother, Tanner begrudgingly shows up to do the bare minimum. Similarly, Louise does not think she needs the help, so the two spend most of their time speaking as little as possible to one another. But when Louise shows in Tanner's room at 1 a.m., with a bag of cash, insisting they leave right away and offers to pay Tanner to drive, the two go on the trip of a lifetime. 

Through everything they encounter while they're traveling, to the text message exchanges between Louise's three adult children who are trying to find where Tanner and Louise have absconded, to its satisfying conclusion, the story is definitely a well-rounded one. The tone is mainly lighthearted, but there are some nuggets of wisdom that Louise offers in her dialogue with Tanner and that the author provides through her omniscient narration both give this lovely book some depth. This is my first book by Oakley, and I will certainly be reading more of her stories. 

Honestly, I didn't really like Tanner at first, but through witty prose and careful character development, Oakley was able to win me over to both ladies, and I absolutely adored their relationship in the end. 

Recommendation: This is a light, laugh out loud, fun summer read. I finished it in a couple of days - and enjoyed every page turned! 

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, July 6, 2023

All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 341 pages
Published: June 2023

Listen. I slept on Razorblade Tears, and didn't pick up a copy until several years after publication. So, when I heard about S.A. Cosby's newest book, All the Sinners Bleed, I took myself right on up to Barnes & Noble and got a hardback copy. And, boy, am I glad I did! I love the way Cosby writes. I like the way he weaves themes of social justice, race relations and morality into his stories. I enjoyed the grittiness of the plot that sucks you in from chapter one and is hard pressed to let go upon completion. He is a storyteller in every sense of the word. So, let me try to tell you a little about this story. 

This novel features the first Black sheriff, Titus Crown, in a small Virginia town who finds he has a serial killer in the community a year into his tenure. The inciting event ocurrs early on in the novel and the bulk of the book surrounds Titus trying to unravel the mystery and locate the killer(s). Cosby definitely writes a thought-provoking, fast-paced, suspense-filled novel. My only critique is that the ending fell a little flat because I would have liked to know more about the antagonist and their motivations for doing what they did. Additionally, being a proponent of Black love, I was a little disappointed in what happened with the protagonist and his girlfriend. Having said that, it was totally realistic what happened and how it unfolded. I'm thankful for Cosby writing Darlene as the heroine of her own story. (Asking for a friend - Can we get a spinoff, Mr. Cosby?)

Recommendation: Overall, I enjoyed this story and found it to be a good read. I would rank Razorblade Tears above this one, but still a strong piece of fiction, indeed! 

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 23, 2023

Everything's Fine by Cecilia Rabess

Rating: 4.75 of 5 stars 
Pages: 335 pages
Published: June 2023

I stumbled upon Everything's Fine (and that beautiful cover) by Cecilia Rabess through the Mocha Girls Read Book Club. The synopsis captivated me, so I put my name on the list at my local library and soon got the electronic loan. The story begins with Jess, an African American woman, who has recently graduated from college and starting an entry-level gig at Goldman Sachs. On her first day she learns she's on the same team as her conservative college nemesis, a white man named Josh. From day one, it is clear they Jess and Josh are opposites in just about every way, and from there a love-hate relationship develops and evolves. 

While romance is not my favorite genre to read, I thought this book was done well as it not only focused on the romance but other challenges that women of color, particularly Black women, face in corporate America. The sexual tension between the main characters on the backdrop of the challenges of being a woman of color in a largely white male world all while two people on diametrically opposing sides of the political aisle makes for an engaging, albeit frustrating, read. Additionally, there's the struggle of developing an interracial relationship in a society that's on the tail end of the Obama administration and on the cusp of what we now know as at the hot mess of the Trump administration. The ending was real but unsatisfying in a challenging way because it was so real. It left me returning back to a question I've often pondered as a societally-defined undesirable woman: Can you truly be known and seen by someone who doesn't understand your day-to-day struggle? After reading this novel, my answer remains the same ... a resounding no. I think the character would figure this out in a future time period. Maybe Rabess can gift us a sequel! 

Recommendation: I really enjoyed this book. One; because I'm in a time period of intense romantic love and could relate to those feeling and two; because I also deal with microaggressions in a largely white male-dominated field every day. It was all very relatable to me, and while I didn't necessarily agree with all of Jess' choices, I could totally empathize with how she felt in certain scenarios. Having said that, I would never (and I know they say: "never say never") rely on a man (of any color) for financial stability. 

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 9, 2023

Did You Hear About Kitty Karr? by Crystal Smith Paul

Rating: 3 of 5 stars 
Pages: 416 pages
Published: May 2023

I did! I heard about Kitty Karr where I hear about a lot of my new reads - from Book of the Month. And I heard from author Crystal Smith Paul as she shared some of her inspiration and research behind the historical fiction novel, Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?, in Book of the Month's podcast, Virtual Book Tour.  

The premise of this book is an interesting one. Kitty Karr, a white actress from the old Hollywood era dies in 2017 and leaves much of her multi-million dollar fortune to three wealthy Black women (the St. John's) prompting speculation all around even from her benefactors. The story vacillates between Kitty's upbringing in the segregated south to her prosperous Hollywood career as an adult and Elise St. John's present-day life as a celebrity. Throughout this 400+ page novel, the reader learns how the two time periods and lives of those around them are intertwined. 

I had high hopes for this book as it was also part of Modern Mrs. Darcy's Book Club's Summer Reading Guide. I really wanted to like this book, and after listening to Paul on the podcast, I was really invested in how she came up with this plot. I had hoped that some of the history she included was fact rather than fiction. The additional background gave the story more depth, but overall I was underwhelmed. The book simply fell flat to me. There were too many characters that were introduced but not needed, and the book was too long. I think the author could have benefited from heavier editing. She even noted in the podcast that she could have lived with these characters for a long time, and the reader can certainly tell that, making the plot weaker. The ending felt rushed, like perhaps she was meeting a deadline, and I was left feeling largely unsatisfied. 

Recommendation: I think Ms. Paul has potential, and I would give her writing another try. She had an intriguing overarching idea, I think she just needs a tighter execution. This one just didn't quite do it 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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

You're Going to Make It: 50 Morning and Evening Devotions to Unrush Your Mind, Uncomplicate Your Heart, and Experience Healing Today

Rating: 4 of 5 stars 
Pages: 224 pages
Published: March 2023

I was gifted a copy of You're Going to Make It: 50 Morning and Evening Devotions to Unrush Your Mind, Uncomplicate Your Heart, and Experience Healing Today by the Proverbs 31 Ministry because I volunteer on their social media team. This book written by Lysa TerKeurst, who is a strong Christian, a prolific writer, and one of my favorite authors, was a delight to consume over the course of 50 mornings and 50 evenings. 

The cadence of the readings gave me peace throughout my busy spring season days, calm in the evenings, and often reminded me of what's truly important. I did find a lot of the content repetitive; however, I think sometimes we need to hear things often and at different times to effect us in a substantial way. I enjoy the way that TerKeurst writes as though we are old friends sitting across from each other sharing our vulnerabilities and burdens. The accompanying free online Bible study was also a benefit that enhanced my reading of this book. 

Recommendation: There's not a lot to say here. I think the hefty title provides an accurate description of what you're getting. The physical book is absolutely stunning, and the message should resonate on some level with any reader. While Proverbs 31 Ministry's target audience is women, I think any Christian could benefit from the nuggets of truth shared in this book's easily digestible format. 

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, May 11, 2023

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

Rating: 5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 400 pages
Published: March 2023

I would not be surprised if Hello Beautiful by Napolitano was selected as a finalist for Book of the Month's Book of the Year recognition. My very first order with Book of the Month was Napolitano's Dear Edward, and while Hello Beautiful was different, it was just as beautifully written. This coming of age novel reminiscent of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women follows a decades-long story of the four unique and endearing Padavanos sisters and their relationship with another primary character, William Waters. 

William spends his formative years in a loveless, wordless home with parents who simply could not cope (nor parent, for that matter) after a horrible tragedy caused by no one. Upon graduation from high school, they send him packing and he goes to college in the Chicago area where he meets his future wife Julia and her enigmatic, albeit dysfunctional in some respects, family who are overall way more kind and loving to William than his own. Grasping on to those emotions that he's never experienced before, he marries Julia (and her family also) without truly thinking things through or even having to capability to know what he needs to be happy. Headstrong Julia is set on living her life one way - hers. As a result, William experiences a breakdown, and the marriage ends. But that's only the beginning of this family saga between the Padavanos and William. 

The remainder of the story is simply a beautiful tale of a family experiencing life together. While there is certainly a driving conflict that propels the story forward, I think the book is more about character development, beautifully constructed sentences, and what it means to truly understand one's self. I really enjoyed this saga, and I would read it again and again if there weren't so many other books on my list. 

Recommendation: Napolitano has gotten literary fiction down to an art, and to step into her world is pleasure. I can't wait to read what she writes next! 

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, April 22, 2023

All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 326 pages
Published: January 2023

All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham had been sitting on my physical TBR (to be read) shelf for quite some time. I purchased it December 2022 with my monthly Book of the Month credit, but I didn't get around to reading it until April 2023 when I nominated it for my work book club read. The story centers around Isabelle Drake who literally cannot sleep since her toddler son, Mason, went missing nearly a year prior. This traumatic event has cost her marriage as well as shuteye time. To keep Mason's case alive, Isabelle accepts speaking engagements in hopes that a new clue will come forward to lead her to her son. The book opens at one such event where she is approached by a podcaster who wants to help give her story some exposure by producing a series of episodes (think NYT's Serial podcast). With help from this new avenue, Isabelle begins to recall more about Mason's disappearance and the death of her sister when she was a child, both events leading her closer to the truth. 

This is not my first Willingham read, I thoroughly enjoyed A Flicker in the Dark when I read it in July 2022, which prompted my purchase of her latest book. Willingham is an excellent writer and a mistress of suspense. She captures the reader early only, giving them no choice but to continue reading until reaching the end. While I enjoy a suspense-filled thriller, I also appreciated the other themes the author touched on with respect to motherhood, guilt and a sense of morality (or lack thereof) in personal choices.  

For those who might be wondering: My work book club enjoyed the book, but it was like the third book that involved a missing child so it wasn't received as well as it could have been if we'd selected different topics. 

Recommendation: I highly recommend this book for mystery lovers and armchair detectives who find crime-solving entertaining. The author provides enough red herrings to keep you guessing, but enough valid clues to keep you invested. The book could be triggering for some because it involves a missing child; however, I found the overall plot to be palatable and well executed. I can't wait to see if Willingham writes a third book and if it's also picked up by Book of the Month - which rarely disappoints in its monthly choices. 

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, April 8, 2023

Georgie, All Along by Kate Clayborn

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 331 pages
Published: January 2023

I first learned of Georgie, All Along by Kate Clayborn through the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club — AKA one of the nicest places on the internet. During Anne Bogel’s spring preview webinar, this romcom was listed as one of the hot ticket items for the year. As Anne mentioned, romance books are a delight because you know there will be a positive, uplifting ending. And I wholeheartedly agree, but the rub is in how you get to that happy ending. 

In this book the main character, Georgie returns home to Darentville, Virigina from Los Angeles, California where set served as a personal assistant — often putting her client’s needs before her own. When her latest client decides to take a break from “Hollywood,” Georgie is somewhat forced to as well. In the midst of that break, she comes home to help her best friend in the latter part of her pregnancy. In doing so, she stumble upon this “friendfic” notebook she and said BFF created when they were in high school. Georgie realizes, like many of us do years post-high school, she hasn’t accomplished a lot of the popular teenagery things she wanted to. Amid recreating some of those antics, Georige meets Levi Fanning, who has a reputation for being a troublemaker as a teen and is now living a fairly secluded life because of it. To boot, Levi is the older brother of Georgie’s high school crush, who happens to take up quite a bit of real estate in that friendfic notebook. Levi offers to help Georgie on her quest of completing her high school wish list. And you can only imagine where things go from there. 

While the book is somewhat predictable, the character development and real life scenarios are what make this romance one of substance. Additionally, the endearing novel contains a variety of plot elements including humor, reflection, forgiveness, honesty … and yes, some juicy love scenes (This is not my favorite thing about romance novels, but I understand it to be a necessary device for the book to be labeled as such.) 

It took me a couple of days to get into the writing style of this book, but I am glad I stuck with it. The payoff in the end was worth it, and I truly enjoyed getting to know all the primary and secondary characters of the story. If I had one criticism to offer, it would be about a tertiary character of the book. Before I offer this, I will say I consider myself to be a progressive and inclusive person. I enjoy the company of a diverse set of friends, and I do believe that representation matters. However, what I don’t necessarily agree with is forcing diversity into a book to check a box. One of the tertiary characters was identified as being in a polyamorous relationship, which really had no bearing on the plot of the book or development of the character, but rather seemed there to check the diversity box. I think when we include characters in any creative form, it should be done with purposeful intent. And that’s all I will say about that. You’re welcome to disagree (respectfully) with me, but keep in mind I rated this book and its plot a 4.5, and I am just as entitled to my opinion as anyone else. 

Recommendation: I truly enjoyed Georgie and the people she met along the way … including her true self. I think the author put a great deal of heart into her writing style and story, and as a reader, I appreciated her craft very much. I highly recommend! 

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, March 9, 2023

Before I Let Go by Kennedy Ryan

Rating: 3 of 5 stars 
Pages: 400 pages
Published: November 2022

Before I Let Go by Kennedy Ryan is a romance novel, but it’s not your typical romance novel. Yes, there are some steamy, blush-worthy scenes (that I didn’t necessarily have to read), but the book is so much more than a couple of romps in the hay. The story is about an affluent Black couple living in an Atlanta suburb who experience devastating loss that tests their relationship as lovers, spouses, and parents. One loss leads to another which fractures their marriage, but just when they think all hope is lost a night of passion makes them both question the major decisions made in the midst of grief. 

I enjoyed a lot of things about this book. I enjoyed the characters and the way most of them were presented - as just a normal family trying to live out their dreams. I appreciated the academic success that was attributed to the son. I admired the entrepreneurial spirit of the leading couple. Overall, I felt as though I could relate to these characters. They could be my neighbors or people in my circle. 

Having said that, this is not my favorite read of the year. It took me forever to get through this book. It was the only novel I was able to complete in March because I just couldn’t sit down and knock it out. I do wonder if the author purposefully wrote the book this way to help the reader experience the lengthy feeling and waves of grief or if she could have benefitted from some heavier editing. Additionally, I was a bit disappointed in the physical or “romance” aspect of the book. It seems like the main characters were more concerned about having sex than truly working through their issues with each other. I also didn’t understand the Biblical scripture added in at the last chapter when the none of the characters were presented as religious. It just seemed like a careless, incongruent afterthought. Lastly, I found the relationship between the mother and daughter to be wholly unrealistic. 

The bright spot in this book is the emphasis on mental health and continually seeking professional help until you find the right counselor for you. I think this “character” (mental health) is an important aspect, especially because the main characters are African American and oftentimes seeing a therapist is deemed unnecessary in our community. 

This is the first book in a series featuring the neighborhood, Skyland, that the couple lives in. I am hopeful in future books the author will explore more relationship development between the couple and further character development of some of the secondary characters (e.g., children, girlfriend circle, etc.) 

Recommendation: If I said it once, I’ve said it 100 times; not every book is for everyone. This one was just ‘eh’ for me. I am glad I read it. I am glad I participated in the author talk with my online book club, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up the remaining books in the series. After attending the Zoom-based author talk, I find her quite delightful and wish her the best in her voracious writing career!  

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, February 17, 2023

The Devil You Knew by Mike Cobb

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Pages: 480 pages
Published: September 1, 2022

The Devil You Knew is a mystery thriller written by author Mike Cobb. The book is broken into two parts that chronologically correspond within the two years the bulk of the plot takes places — 1963 and 1980 in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1963, three young girls go missing, and the city of Atlanta goes on the hunt for a serial killer. A young, 11-year old William "Binky" (later referred to as Billy in 1980) Tarwater is infatuated with one of the kidnapped girls. As an adult, Billy gets caught up in the suspense of the crimes, and he finds himself in a pursuit of justice for Sam "Shorty" Jepperson, the Black man whom the crimes were pinned on. Sam was ultimately convicted and serving a life sentence for a crime he and his family claim he did not commit. Throughout this nearly 500-page novel and two-decade timespan, the reader is taken on a plot twist-filled journey with Billy, now a journalist, who seems to be one of the few people concerned with truth and justice for all. 

Because the central action of the book takes place in the South in the 60s, one can imagine there were several themes of racism, prejudice and sexism. Additionally, the author has included a large cast of characters that serve as red herrings. Many of those characters are conservative Christians and those typical stereotypes were played into creating intrigue and confusion in determining who the true person is that perpetrated these horrible crimes. While each chapter of the book vacillates from one character to the next in perspective, I did enjoy the main character's narration, especially in the first part of the book. Binky Tarwater reminded me of the main character in the popular TV series, The Wonder Years (either the original or reboot). 

Once the book transitions to 1980, there was more tension in the writing as Billy felt time-pressed to help free Sam Jepperson. Furthermore, the author juxtaposed the fictional crimes of 1963 with the very real crimes of the Atlanta Child Murders between 1979 and 1981. Honestly, I am not typically able to guess the conclusion of whodunit and nor do I want to. I enjoy the journey of reading. However, I was able to discern where the book was going rather early on, but that did not take away from the overall story. My only criticism of the book is it's a little long and verbose. I think the author could find a wider reader following by staying within 350 to 400 pages and curbing some of the vocabulary (e.g., deadheading, Klippel-Feil syndrome, etc.). Some readers just aren't going to take the time to stop and look up the words and others may stop reading all together. 

Recommendation: This was an excellent book with an engaging mystery and (somewhat) satisfying conclusion. The author says that research is paramount to his writing style, and any reader can clearly identify that in how he wove true crimes into this fictional one.  I look forward to reading more from this author. 

Trigger warnings: child violence, domestic violence, racial epithets 

Until next time ... Read on!

Thanks to Reedsy Discovery for an electronic copy of this book. If you'd like to review for Reesdy Discovery, please visit my affiliate link. 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.

Mike Cobb's body of literary work includes both fiction and nonfiction, short-form and long-form, as well as articles and blogs. While he is comfortable playing across a broad range of topics, much of his focus is on true crime, crime fiction and historical fiction. Rigorous research is foundational to his writing. He gets that honestly, having spent much of his professional career as a scientist. He vehemently refuses to box his work into a specific genre. Mike splits his time between Atlanta and Blue Ridge, Gerorgia. 

Saturday, February 11, 2023

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 576 pages
Published: October 2021

In 2023, I am not trying to reach a certain number of books completed within the year but rather enjoy the journey of reading. This liberating reading goal has allowed me to consider longer books in my TBR (to be read) list. I was rewarded The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles by Book of the Month as it was one of the finalist for 2022’s Book of the Year. All loyal members with BFF status get to select either the BOTY winner or a finalist for free in their January box delivery. Since I’d already read the winner, I chose this nearly 600-page book. 

The story is set in the 1950s where a young man, Emmett, previously in juvenile detention for involuntary manslaughter is released at the end of his punishment and goes home to pick up his 8-year old brother, recently orphaned due to an absent mother and a deceased father. Emmett has plans for the two to get out of town and make a fresh start in Texas. However, his little brother, Billy has other aspirations for them in California. Similarly, Emmett’s fellow detention-mates, Duchess and Wooly, who escape the detention center, want Emmett to join them in hopes of securing Wooly’s hidden family treasure in New York. So, a young man’s best laid plans are soon thwarted, and over the course of 10 days, the reader follows the follies of these characters plus a few others along their trip across the United States. 

Even though this book is nearly twice as long as the average book I might read, it didn’t feel like it. The writer employs a good cadence that keeps the story moving and even once you reach the end of the story, you’re still longing to learn more about the characters and what they might get into next. I found this book to be both plot and character driven, but I really enjoyed the development of the characters over a relatively short time frame. This was shaping up to be a 5-star read for me until the very last chapter, which I found to be odd and incongruent. The perfect book would have been if it simply ended one chapter earlier. 

Recommendation: This was my first read by Towles. I’ve heard that A Gentleman in Moscow is an excellent read as well. I might consider picking that one up in the near future. I definitely recommend this book and might even go so far as to say to future readers: Stop reading one chapter early. Although that might prove difficult — This book is simply unputdownable! 

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, January 29, 2023

Lunar Love by Lauren Kung Jessen

Rating: 4 of 5 stars 
Pages: 336 pages
Published: January 2023

Lunar Love by Lauren Kung Jessen is the perfect meet-cute to read at the beginning of the Lunar New Year, and that's exactly when I picked up this book from Book of the Month. The story features protagonist Olivia "Liv" Huang Christenson, a multi-racial young entrepreneur who is on the cusp of taking over her grandmother and aunt's face-to-face, professional matchmaking business when by happenstance she meets Bennett O'Brien, also a multi-racial young entrepreneur who is trying to launch a dating app that mimics  Liv's family busy and is threatening to destroy her family's decades-long legacy. Thinking there won't be room for both businesses in the matchmaking space, the two entrepreneur's strike a deal — that each can find love for the other on their matchmaking platform, and whomever loses will give up their business. 

Romcoms like Lunar Love are perfect because you know how they're going to end. The fun in the romance is the journey from the initial meeting to the end. This book, like many in the genre, was a light read and did not disappoint. I enjoyed not only the developing relationship between Liv and Bennett but also learning about their families, culture and the very realistic baggage they carried. 

Recommendation: I found this book to be a fun yet realistic story that touched on some deeper themes like cultural isolation, fitting in, and imposter syndrome. It was one of my first reads of the new year and perfect for leading up to Valentine's Day effectively using the Lunar New Year as a solid plot device. It could easily be devoured in an uninterrupted weekend. Highly recommend! 

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, January 27, 2023

The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Duration: 08:15:00
Published: March 2022

I borrowed a copy of the audiobook version of The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith, narrated by one of my favorite actors - Mae Whitman - to listen to on a work road trip. As a military brat, taking road trips has always been a part of my life, and for work today, I often drive across this vast land we call Texas. Listening to a good book is the most fun way of multi-tasking, in my opinion. This fictional but realistic story is one of healing and redemption. It focuses on an indie rock star, the titular character, whose mother recently and unexpectedly passed away which results in her having a bit of an emotional breakdown in a very public way. To either deal with or avoid how this event has affected her career, she goes on a weeklong cruise trip with her father and some family friends as somewhat of a surrogate for her mother who had planned the trip before her death. 

I really enjoyed listening to this book. The narrator does a great job of keeping the reader-listener engaged. The story is compelling, and the writing touches on a variety of emotions in a careful and respectful way. There were many points in this book where I laughed out loud, teared up and felt a soft tugging at my heart. I really enjoyed the challenging relationship between Greta and her father. He made me mad at times, but it was real, so real. Not all parent-child relationships are perfect and loving. There are disappointments and expectations unfulfilled. Overall, this was a nice and earnest book that I could personally relate to and I read at just the right time. 

Recommendation: This read was a predictable but lovely journey and teaches the reader that you can find love and forgiveness in the most unlikely places — even on a boat … er … a ship! I would highly recommend this book for someone looking to read a well-rounded fictional story. There are some heavy topics like death and grief, but there’s also lighthearted humor, friendship, forgiveness and a little romance that’s handled in a practical way. 

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, January 19, 2023

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars 
Duration: 12:04:00
Published: February 2022

The Violin Conspiracy is Brendan Slocumb’s debut novel categorized as a mystery thriller. It opens as the main character, Ray, realizes his family heirloom and primary method of making money has been stolen with a demand for ransom to secure its return. The item in question — an 18th century Stradivarius violin, given to his enslaved great-great-grandfather by his former white owner after he was freed, literally worth millions of dollars. Shortly after this explosive beginning, the reader is taken back to Ray’s high school years as an untrained violinist and gradually brought up to present day as Ray prepares, now a classically-trained musician, for the renowned Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia. But without his violin, that has become something of a security blanket, can he play and win? Can he raise the funds to pay the ransom for his stolen heirloom? And can he fend off the descendants of the white family that enslaved his ancestors for ownership of the violin? 

As it might seem from my summary (or the one provided for the publisher), there’s a lot going on in this book. On top of the myriad of plot elements, Ray is also dealing with an unsupportive family. I selected this book on recommendation of my online book club — The Book Club — and specifically in audiobook format. And I will say from a musical perpsective, it was a delight to listen to the musical excerpts played by the author himself. However, the narrator was a huge turnoff for me. The voice acting of many of the characters was overdone and portrayed in a stereotypical way. Additionally, I found most of the characters were written with an overabundance of characters flaws while Ray was written as mostly the perfect victim. I had hoped the characters would have been a little more nuanced, but it was like the author took the worst of every character and amplified it. The angry Black woman trope given to Ray’s mother. The overt racist uncle during a wedding scene as well as the white man at the instrument repair store were written in such a way that their behavior was almost unbelievable for the time period, which I suspect is 2020-something as bitcoin is mentioned early on in the book. Having said this, the author did participate in a Zoom session with the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club and he mentioned that the book is somewhat autobiographical. So, perhaps the situations in this book reflect his life (albeit at a different time since he appears to be at least in his late 40s). We write what we know and I don’t deny this is his experience. However, I do think writers have a responsibility to the message disseminated, especially when writing using such polarizing prose. In addition to the stereotypes, I wasn’t a fan of the profanity, finding most of it unnecessary, and I thought this book was a little too long. The best part of the book was the author’s note and playing at the end. 

There are a lot of books out there. As a former musician, I might have picked up this book on my own. However, I was more motivated to read and complete this selection as a result of book club. Having finished it, I might have invested my time in a different selection. 

Recommendation: Not every book is for every person, and this book was not for me. This could have been a beautiful and distinct story, but I just found it to be a character playing the victim instead of truly overcoming. I doubt I will read another book by Slocumb, but I could certainly listen to him play for hours and I wish him the best of luck in his writing career! 

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.