Category: awesomeness

The Best Books I Read in August (2019)

I read 24 books in August, bringing my total for the year to 143.

A handful of those were great reads, but three of the truly excellent reads included a book about three older women who changed their lives and found their dreams, a fantasy that started off with a girl who had never set foot on land, and a girl who has never really thought about her ethnicity and is forced to not just confront it but decide how it will shape her life.

women in sunlight

Women in Sunlight, by Frances Mayes (she also wrote Under the Tuscan Sun) is about three older, single American women who become friends and defy expectations to move to Italy. While there, they truly embrace themselves and who they are as they create their best lives yet.

crown of coral and pearl

Crown of Coral and Pearl, by Mara Rutherford. Nor and her twin sister are the most beautiful girls in Varenia, so they know one of them will be chosen to marry the prince of Ilara. Nor longs to see the mainland, but when her sister is chosen, she knows that will never happen. Until her sister is injured and she’s chosen to replace her—finding Ilara a land of treachery, murder, and darkness.

color me in

Color Me In, by Natasha Diaz. Nevaeh has never really thought about her ethnicity, but when her Jewish father and her black mother separate, she and her mother go to live with her family in Harlem. One of Nevaeh’s cousins is angry because Nevaeh can pass as white and is oblivious to struggles of those around her in Harlem. Then Nevaeh’s dad decides she needs to embrace her Jewish roots, leaving Nevaeh struggling between two identities.

Also worth mentioning:

beekeeper

The Beekeeper of Aleppo, by Christy Lefteri.

never have i ever

Never Have I Ever, by Joshilyn Jackson.

enchanted ever after

Enchanted Ever After, by Shanna Swendson.

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Book Review: Isaiah’s Daughter, by Mesu Andrews

isaiah's daughter
Image belongs to WaterBrook.

Title:   Isaiah’s Daughter
Author:   Mesu Andrews
Genre:   Biblical fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

After she loses her family to war, Ishma—desolation—is a child grieving and frightened when she is taken in by the prophet Isaiah and his wife. She grows up in their home but fear still lurks when she sets eyes on a soldier. Since Isaiah is out of favor with the king, he has been tasked with teaching the young noblemen, and Ishma is introduced to young Prince Hezekiah when he is traumatized from his brother’s ritual sacrifice.

Ishma and Hezi are close friends as they grow up, but his father’s evil reign separates them for years, despite their love for each other. Until Isaiah adopts Ishma and gives her a new name, Zibah, delight of the Lord, which also makes her one of the nobility—and eligible to marry the prince. But Zibah must overcome her fears and learn to trust in the Lord if she is ever to end up where she truly wishes to be.

I’ve only read two of Mesu Andrews’ books—so far—but I love how she brings stories from the Bible to vibrant, breathing life! As Ishma grows from a frightened, traumatized child to a loving and faithful adult, the reader is drawn along on her journey—and learns truth along with her. I cannot recommend Mesu Andrews and her novels enough!

Mesu Andrews has been writing since her chronic illness over 20 years ago. Isaiah’s Daughter is the first in the Prophets and Kings series.

(Galley courtesy of WaterBrook via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Color Me In, by Natasha Diaz

color me in
Image belongs to Delacorte Press.

Title:   Color Me In
Author:   Natasha Diaz
Genre:   YA
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Sixteen-year-old Nevaeh Levitz never really thought much about her roots or her racial identity, but when her black mother and Jewish father split up and she and her mom move in with her mother’s family in Harlem, she comes face-to-face with it. Nevaeh loves this family and wants to be a part of them, but one of her cousins hates that she passes for white and doesn’t understand the injustices their family has to face.

When she spends time with her dad—and his new girlfriend—her dad pushes for her to embrace her Jewish side—the side he never gave much attention to himself, guaranteeing her life at her posh private school becomes even tougher. She doesn’t know which side of her heritage is really her.

Then Nevaeh falls in love and starts to realize she has a voice, a voice she can use to speak out against the hate and oppression she encounters every day, as she embraces her newfound identity and all the joy—and sorrow—it brings with it.

The journey of self-discovery and realization Nevaeh experiences is riveting and the opposition and prejudice she experiences is infuriating. Her entire world has been turned upside down, and she just wants to find where she belongs, but everyone opposes her, making her more confused than ever. The power and strength she uncovers when she embraces her true identity is inspiring and uplifting. This is a fantastic read!

Natasha Diaz was born in New York and lives there still. Color Me In is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Delacorte Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Sundays are for Writing #33

This was my first full week without school or work obligations on Tuesday and Thursday, and it was an excellent writing week!

I got in writing sessions on three days, for a total of six pages, plus some planning on the King Arthur project, and a bit of work on the Holly Lisle HTWAN class. And…I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo this year for the first time in…years! I’m actually super excited about this, and the Muse is already hinting at ideas. I want to finish the first draft of the King Arthur story before November, though. So it would probably be a good idea to plot that out…

Also wrote three book reviews and I’m trying to write a narrative nonfiction essay just because.

 

Book Review: Never Have I Ever, by Joshilyn Jackson

never have i ever
Image belongs to HarperCollins/William Morrow.

Title:   Never Have I Ever
Author:  Joshilyn Jackson
Genre:   Domestic suspense
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Amy Whey is happy with her life:  professor husband, fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, baby son, best friend Charlotte. Sure, she doesn’t get to dive as much as she used to since the baby was born, but she wouldn’t trade her family for anything. She’s helping Charlotte with the neighborhood book club when new neighbor Roux shows up.

Roux charms the neighborhood women, and soon they’re drinking wine and spilling secrets. They all think it’s innocent fun, but Amy knows better. She sees the darkness in Roux’s eyes  and sees the first tiny ripples of hurt she causes. When Roux tells Amy she knows the truth about what Amy did years ago—and she’ll tell that horrible secret if Amy doesn’t give her exactly what she wants—Amy wonders if she can beat the devil at her own game.

Secrets upon secrets unravel as Amy races to find out the truth about Roux before the women spills Amy’s secrets and ruins her life for good.

I do love Joshilyn Jackson’s writing, and, while I’m disappointed this one isn’t Southern fiction (my favorite), Never Have I Ever is an excellent, engrossing book. Amy’s been running from the truth for a long time, and she’s desperate to keep her secret and the life she loves safe. Roux is a terrifying kind of evil—if only she’d used her powers for good!—and Amy will do whatever is necessary to keep her family—and her secret—safe. Highly readable, and I cannot recommend this enough.

Joshilyn Jackson is an award-winning author. Never Have I Ever is her newest novel.

The Best Books I Read in July (2019)

So…normally, I pick the top three books I read in a month. This time, that’s just not possible. Because I read some really good books in July.

the secret life of Sarah Hollenbeck

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck, by Bethany Turner. This was from my TBR pile, so I didn’t review it. What happens when a steamy romance writer gets saved and falls in love with a preacher? This made me laugh so much, as, apparently, Sarah and I were separated at birth.

ayesha at last

Ayesha at Last, by Uzma Jalaluddin. This also didn’t get a review, as it was my cultural book of the month. Pride and Prejudice in a Muslim community? Yes, please! I enjoyed this immensely, and I loved the look at a Muslim community. And, of course, a good Pride and Prejudice retelling does not go amiss.

three ways

Three Ways to Disappear, by Katy Yocom. This book was emotional, full of family drama, and tigers. And so good!

the mcavoy sisters

The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets, by Molly Fader. More family secrets and drama, but a much happier ending. Life on a Great Lake, secrets from the past, and a troubled relationship between two sisters.

 

the book charmer

The Book Charmer, by Karen Hawkins.  If i could physically give you a copy of this book—I would! I don’t even like small towns, and I’d move to Dove Pond. A librarian who hears books talk to her, a town in trouble, and the outsider who’s the only one who can save it. Please do yourself a favor and read this!

the merciful crow

The Merciful Crow, by Margaret Owen. Have you ever read a fantasy novel that sucked you in from the very first page, that made the culture come alive, and had characters that lived and breathed on the page? This is that book. I’d have read this straight through except work. I could NOT put it down!

Book Review: The Merciful Crow, by Margaret Owen

the merciful crow
Image belongs to Henry Holt and Co.

Title:   The Merciful Crow
Author:   Margaret Owen
Genre:   Fantasy, YA
Rating:   5 out of 5

Fie is a Crow—a caste of undertakers and mercy-killers immune to the plague and despised and persecuted by society. When her band is tasked with disposing of two royal bodies, they encounter the conniving queen who plans to cheat them of their pay and cost them even more respect. But Fie thwarts the queen—and discovers the two royal bodies aren’t exactly dead.

Instead, the crown prince and his clever body double have faked their own deaths to escape before the murderous queen can kill them. If they can make it to their allies, they have a chance at overthrowing the queen. They strike a deal with Fie:  if she sees them safely to their allies, the prince will protect the Crows when he’s king.

But the queen’s ruthless assassins are on their trail, and Fie might lose everything she cares about to fulfill the promise she made.

From the very first page, I was enthralled. I couldn’t put this book down, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’ve never read anything like this and found the worldbuilding both vivid and unique. The magic system was odd—teeth?—but compelling, and I adored Fie as a character. She’s tough and prickly and fierce, but she can, eventually, see reason. I fell into this world headlong and did not want to leave.

Margaret Owen is an author and illustrator. The Merciful Crow is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Henry Holt and Co via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

What I Read in July (2019)

Books Read in July: 20

Books Read for the Year: 120/175

Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books:

Secret Adversary, by Agatha Christie (classic). Okay, it may not actually be a classic, but it’s  Agatha Christie.

Braving the Wilderness, by Brene Brown (nonfiction). Brown always has deep, meaningful things to say.

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck, by Bethany Turner (from the TBR pile). I LOVED this read! I could relate to it so much—and it really made me laugh.

Ayesha at Last, by Uzma Jalaluddin (cultural). Wow. This was really a fantastic read!

Get Out of that Pit, by Beth Moore (spiritual). Pulling no punches here.

For Review:

bethlehem

Bethlehem, by Karen Kelly. I enjoyed this tale set in two different times, about women living in a steel industry town. And love. And complicated family relationships. And secrets…

crashing the a-list

Crashing the A-List, by Summer Heacock. This made me laugh so much! An out-of-work editor discovers a career-ending secret about a famous actor…who thinks she’s trying to blackmail him. He forces her to pose as his girlfriend, and misunderstandings ensue. Such a fun read!

justice makes a killing

Justice Makes a Killing, by Ed Rucker. This tale of a criminal defense lawyer out to prove his client is innocent—vs the private prison industry—was a solid read.

ten years

Ten Years a Nomad, by Matthew Kepnes. Matt Kepnes is known for his travel-writing, but this is more of an autobiography and exploration of why he traveled for ten years.

if you want to make God laugh

If You Want to Make God Laugh, by Bianca Marais. This story is filled with heavy subjects, and strong, strong female characters.

gamers-guide-book-cover

The Gamers Guide to Getting the Girl, by Kristine Scarrow. I enjoyed this light tale of a nerdy gamer guy trapped in a mall during a terrifying storm who ends up surprising himself, his dream girl, and the people he helps save during the danger.

three ways

Three Ways to Disappear, by Katy Yocom. This was a pretty good read. Two sisters. Tigers. India. I loved being immersed in the Indian culture.

evie

Evie and the Upside-Down World of Nevermore, by Birgitte Märgen. This felt almost like middle-grade to me. I loved the different regions Evie traveled to, but her “backwoods” dialect (when it appeared) felt contrived, not natural, since her internal voice didn’t usually include the dialect.

specter

Specter, by Katie Janie Gallagher. Being a teenage is hard enough without seeing ghosts on top of it. Love this cover!

the mcavoy sisters

The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets, by Molly Fader. I loved this book! The sisters’ relationship—and their mom—is complex and full of secrets, but this book was so compelling!

The Seekers

The Seekers, by Heather Graham. I don’t do creepy/scary very well, so the beginning of this was almost too much for me, but I enjoyed the way the crimes of the past were connected to the present. I can’t believe there are so many books in this series!

highlander

A Highlander Walks Into a Bar, by Laura Trentham. I thoroughly enjoyed this romance—and the men in kilts! Isabel’s talk-first-think-later statements made me laugh, and I was completely intrigued by the idea of Highland, Georgia. A good, solid read.

the book charmer

Book Review: The Book Charmer, by Karen Hawkins. I loved loved loved this book! Sarah Dove can hear books, and when one cranky old tome tells her Grace is the only one who can save Dove Pond, Sarah knows she has to convince her to stay. This book—its small-town setting, the characters—is so realistic and charming that I loved every page.

the merciful crow

The Merciful Crow, by Margaret Owen (review forthcoming). This was another book I LOVED! I don’t even have the words to tell you how good this was. Just go read it!

Just Because:

BioDiet, by David Harper.

Left Unfinished:

Stars of Alabama, by Sean Dietrich. I just couldn’t get into this. It has great reviews, so it’s clearly just me.

The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt, by Andrea Bobotis. I wanted to like this. The writing was great. But…the main character was very unlikable, and I just couldn’t keep going.

David Mogo, God Hunter, by Suyi Davies Okungbowa. I wanted to read this so much. Nigerian fantasy? Yes, please. I loved the setting and the concept, but after about 50% of it, I realized that I was having so much trouble with the pidgin English dialogue that I was missing a good chunk of what was going on—because I couldn’t understand what was being said and there weren’t any context clues.

Please Send Help, by Gaby Dunn. I think I read about 30% of this before losing all faith in humanity…the absolute selfishness and carelessness of the two main characters almost did me in.

Book Review: The Book Charmer, by Karen Hawkins

the book charmer
Image belongs to Gallery Books.

Title:   The Book Charmer
Author:   Karen Hawkins
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   5 out of 5

Legend has it that when the Dove family has seven daughters, something special happens. Sarah Dove is that seventh daughter, and since she was seven years old, books have whispered to her. They tell her which person in town needs them—and the books are always  right. So when a cranky old book tells Sarah who is going to save Dove Pond, she listens.

Grace Wheeler moved to Dove Pond because dementia is encroaching on her beloved mother, and she hopes that returning to her mother’s hometown might slow its progress. She also has her niece to care for and giving up her high-powered financial job to move to a small town and take care of family wasn’t in Grace’s plans.

The town of Dove Pond is in trouble, and Grace may be the only one who can save it. But she’ll need the help of Sarah, Travis—her gruff neighbor—and everyone else in Dove Pond if she’s to pull it off.

I loved this book! I grew up in a small town (much smaller than Dove Pond) and have always been grateful that I no longer live there, but I’d move to Dove Pond. The town is such a character in this story. Its people are vibrant and quirky, and I wanted to hang out with all of them. Especially Sarah. As much as I love books and reading, she’s someone I could absolutely be friends with. And Grace is so strong. She’s like a force of nature. I cannot wait to read more of this series! This is labeled as romance, but that’s a secondary plot here, as the book is much more about friendship, family, and saving Dove Pond.

Karen Hawkins is a bestselling author. The Book Charmer, the first book in the Dove Pond series, is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Gallery Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets, by Molly Fader

the mcavoy sisters
Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

Title:  The McAvoy Book of Secrets
Author:  Molly Fader
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   5 out of 5

Lindy McAvoy was always the wild McAvoy sister:  always the talk of the town for her escapades, always into something. Seventeen years ago, she left town—and her mother and sister—behind in search of a better life in the city. Now she’s back in Port to visit her mother, who’s just had a stroke, and her sister, who’s now raising her own daughters.

Delia never even told her sister she’d had another baby, but now that Lindy’s back in town to visit their ailing mother, she knows she’ll have to talk to her—and Delia sees her rebellious sister in the eyes and actions of her own oldest daughter. The McAvoys have never talked about that summer seventeen years ago when their family fell apart and Lindy left town, but now that the family is back together, secrets from long ago fill the air and shape the family they are now.

I loved this book! Lindy and Delia’s relationship is complex and filled with years of history and emotion—not to mention secrets. The town of Port—and life on the shores of a Great Lake—was so vibrant and well-realized I felt like I’d grown up there. I loved all the intricate relationships, and, while the “secret” wasn’t a surprise, the gradual revelation of what really happened was enthralling and kept me engrossed.

Molly Fader lives in Ontario. The McAvoy Book of Secrets is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)