books and reading

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Title: Sing, Unburied, Sing

Author: Jesmyn Ward

Genre: own voices, family struggles

My goal every year is to read as many own voices books as possible. The ones that stand out this year include Hurricane Summer, The Broken Earth series, Song of Solomon, Little Fires Everywhere, Miracle Creek, Leaving Atlanta, The Nickel Boys (book of the year for me), Monday’s Not Coming, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. And I will definitely be adding Sing, Unburied, Sing to the list.

From Goodreads: In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Ward is a major American writer, multiply awarded and universally lauded, and in Sing, Unburied, Sing she is at the height of her powers.

Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.

The plot of this book is simple- drive to get this man from prison. But the plot, while meaningful, is the last thing that matters in this book. The language is just perfect. I just couldn’t believe how gorgeous some of the phrases were. The characters are rich and dynamic. Jojo is the best kid you could ask for. He’s kind and full of love for his sister and grandparents. But he also needs his mother’s love, which he will never earn…she’s not a good mother. The bond between Jojo and his sister, Kayla, is critical for her happiness. He’s the person she reaches for first every morning. And as a 13-year-old, he’s so thoughtful and gentle with her.

This book is the first I’ve read of Ward’s, but I will be reading Salvage the Bones for sure. I’m always so skeptical when EVERYONE loves a book, but this one absolutely lived up to the reviews. I cannot recommend this strongly enough.

books and reading

The Lucky Ones

Title: The Lucky Ones

Author: Mark Edwards

Genre: thriller, murder mystery, police procedural

I love Kindle First Reads. Because I have a Prime account, I get a free book every month from a not as well-known author. I’ve read some great ones like Beneath a Scarlet Sky, In the Dark, The Collector Trilogy, A River in Darkness, I Choose You, The Winter Over, Find Me, and plenty more that I haven’t gotten around to, yet. And I love the fact that these are authors that I haven’t heard of, but once I am aware of them via this program, I end up reading more of their work. Such is the case here. I have purchased several of Mark Edwards’s books just because this one was so great.

From Goodreads: It was the happiest day of her life. Little did she know it was also the last.

When a woman’s body is found in the grounds of a ruined priory, Detective Imogen Evans realises she is dealing with a serial killer—a killer whose victims appear to die in a state of bliss, eyes open, smiles forever frozen on their faces.

A few miles away, single dad Ben Hofland believes his fortunes are changing at last. Forced to move back to the sleepy village where he grew up following the breakdown of his marriage, Ben finally finds work. What’s more, the bullies who have been terrorizing his son, Ollie, disappear. For the first time in months, Ben feels lucky. But he is unaware that someone is watching him and Ollie. Someone who wants nothing but happiness for Ben. Happiness…and death.

Everything worked for me in this book, which says a lot because I’m so picky. The characters were great. Ben’s a good guy who you want to see happy. Imogen is a no-nonsense detective, but you can see she truly cares about her job and helping people. The plot was tight, and by the time you find out just what’s happening and why, it all makes sense because Edwards created the path right to it, without you really knowing it.

I am constantly frustrated by “famous” authors writing crappy stories and getting away with it, when people like Edwards or Loreth Anne White who wrote In the Dark aren’t as well known. But these two authors wrote two of the best thrillers I read this year…. and I’ve read dozens….it’s my go-to genre. But they both did it spectacularly well, and I can’t wait to read more from them.

books and reading

The Shining Girls

Title: The Shining Girls

Author: Lauren Beukes

Genre: murder mystery, thriller, time travel

I am a pretty snarky person. I’d like to think that it’s funny rather than mean. That’s certainly how I intend it to be, at least. And snark is hard in print, however, this book’s main character manages it perfectly, so well done Lauren Beukes! Kirby is funny, smart, and a badass survivor.

From Goodreads: In Depression-era Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. Curtis stalks them through their lives across different eras until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and starts hunting him back.

Working with a former homicide reporter who is falling for her, Kirby races against time and reason to unravel an impossible mystery. 

The time-travel aspect is a bit confusing at first, even though the chapters are labeled with a date and the character it focuses on. The events are told out of order, so you see the result of something before you see the actual event happen. But if you keep reading, it all comes together. The book is definitely worth sticking with. I really enjoyed this creative thriller. Through the non-traditional narrative, I was left guessing and thinking about what was going on. I would love to read more from Beukes and definitely recommend this one!

books and reading

In a Perfect World

Title: In a Perfect World

Author: Laura Kasischke

Genre: family, plague

My goal since the 2020 Popsugar challenge ended is to read as many books as I could that I own but have never read. There are hundreds. I am a book collector. I love Half-Price Books and Friends of the Library sales. I’ve recently decided to stop buying Kindle books, even if they are cheap, if my library owns them. Side note: if you have Chrome, Firefox, or Edge check out the library extension. This brilliant tech lets you connect to your library and when you browse a book on Amazon, you can see if your library owns it and how many copies are available for checkout. Back to the book: I’ve had this on my shelf for ages, and I’m sure I bought it because it was dystopian of sorts. I’m using a lottery system to pick my books (seriously, I have so many that I can’t decide) and this book won this round.

From Goodreads: In a Perfect World is critically acclaimed writer Laura Kasischke’s novel of marriage, motherhood, and the choices we make when we have no choices left. Kasischke, the author of The Life Before Her Eyes, tells the story of Jiselle, a young flight attendant who’s just settled into a fairy tale life with her new husband and stepchildren. But as a mysterious new illness spreads rapidly throughout the country, she begins to realize that her marriage, her stepchildren, and their perfect world are all in terrible danger . . .

This book is more family drama than plague. And now that we are *not to jinx it* on the other side of Covid with vaccines out, I can safely say that the societal breakdown that happens in this book won’t happen in our world. Food stops being delivered, animals go bonkers, people die in mysterious ways, the plague is never really explained, and borders are closed. Reading a book like this before our own pandemic would have sent my anxiety over the edge. But it’s not nearly as bad now that I know we are finally headed in the right direction.

books and reading

Hurricane Summer

Title: Hurricane Summer

Author: Asha Bromfield

Genre: YA lit/ own voices

Thank you Netgalley for this book.

The own voices world in YA lit is exploding, and I love it. Teens don’t need to be forced to read the “classics.” What a way to create disengagement. There are TONS of amazing books to use as resources for high school teachers. This book should absolutely be one of them, as well.

Tilla and her little sister, Mia, are leaving their mother behind in Canada to visit their dad in Jamaica for the summer. Dad spends part of his time in both countries, but Jamaica is home. They go to the country where there’s no hot water, plenty of kids to run around with, and adventure to be discovered. Through the book, Tilla is on a self-discovery, although that wasn’t her intention when she left home. At 18, she just wanted to spend time with her dad.

This book tackles some really important issues facing kids these days… classism, colorism, young love, loss, destruction, betrayal, and above all, finding yourself. The book is full of gorgeous Patois, which is usually hard for me to read, but the lyrical speaking was easy to follow in this one. My trick: don’t focus on the individual words, but get the gist of what’s being said. You will quickly get used to the dialect.

This book is so well-written with the hurricane being both literal and metaphorical. Tilla deals with some really hard stuff while in Jamaica, but the actual hurricane is the least of the troubles. I think teens will love this book. It will speak to their hearts and souls in so many ways.

books and reading

Ready Player Two

I LOVED Ready Player One because it was one of the most fun, creative books I’d ever read. So when I heard a sequel was coming out, I was in, no matter what. I was excited to revisit the OASIS and my friends of the High Five. And this book, while no longer unique, felt like a familiar journey.

From Goodreads: An unexpected quest. Two worlds at stake. Are you ready?

Days after Oasis founder James Halliday’s contest, Wade Watts makes a discovery that changes everything. Hidden within Halliday’s vault, waiting for his heir to find, lies a technological advancement that will once again change the world and make the Oasis a thousand times more wondrous, and addictive, than even Wade dreamed possible. With it comes a new riddle and a new quest. A last Easter egg from Halliday, hinting at a mysterious prize. And an unexpected, impossibly powerful, and dangerous new rival awaits, one who will kill millions to get what he wants. Wade’s life and the future of the Oasis are again at stake, but this time the fate of humanity also hangs in the balance.

For some reason, this book is getting mixed reviews. I guess if you were looking for something new, you’d be disappointed. If you’re looking forward to the same kind of story, you’re in luck. I’m in the latter camp. I thought the book was great. Lots of fun seeing Wade and his friends again, plenty of 80s nostalgia, a big quest, and defeating a bad guy. It’s been years since I read the first, but it was easy to pick up right where it leaves off. If you can remember the basics, you’re fine. Definitely worth reading if you want to dive into the OASIS again.

books and reading

Cabin at the End of the World

Holy. Smokes. This book!!! Definitely in my top reads of the year. I couldn’t put it down. This book is my third book by Paul Tremblay A Head Full of Ghosts (which I liked okay) and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, which I thought was great, but this one is his best, so far. I absolutely loved it.

From Goodreads: Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbors are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road.

One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young, friendly, and he wins her over almost instantly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologizes and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault.” Three more strangers arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.”

Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined. The Cabin at the End of the World is a masterpiece of terror and suspense from the fantastically fertile imagination of Paul Tremblay.

Absolutely no spoilers because this book would be completely ruined by them, but the tension presented and the horror this family faces, both physical and psychological, is so terrifying. The story is told from multiple characters, which makes the plot even more awful because you see the events from so many different perspectives. I can’t really go into more, however. Tremblay is just a high school math teacher who happens to write books. At this point, I’m confident he could quit his day job and be just fine. I can’t wait to read his newest, Survivor Song.

books and reading

The Great Alone

Well, Kristin Hannah is two for two. Two books I loved and two books that made me cry. I read The Nightingale awhile ago and really enjoyed it, but didn’t give it five stars because I felt it dragged in parts. This one, however, I would call one of the best books I read this year. I absolutely loved it.

From Goodreads: Alaska, 1974. Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

I have ZERO desire to ever live off the grid. I like indoor plumbing, central heat and air, and being five minutes away from everything. I’m okay not eating moose, carrying a whistle to ward off bears, and I definitely hate being cold. That said, my lack of desire to be in Leni’s position didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.

This book really is just gorgeous in its passion, splendor, and trauma. Leni and Cora’s life is hard. Ernt is horrible (TW for domestic abuse). The scenery is a character of its own. And if you don’t cry at this book, I’m not sure you’ve got a soul. Kidding…I know some people aren’t cryers, it’s fine. I’m usually not a crier, but my gosh, this book. I was just sucked in. I think that’s the test of a great book. My world disappeared, and I was wholly in Leni’s.

books and reading

When the Stars Go Dark

Thank you Netgalley for this book!

I read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain awhile ago but remember liking it quite a bit. The plot is entirely different, historical fiction set in Paris in the early 1900s, about Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Hadley. When I read that she had written a thriller, I was intrigued. Little did I know that this book was also historical fiction based on actual people, this time Polly Klaas. Most Americans will remember her kidnapping. She was taken from her bedroom in front of two friends by a stranger and subsequently murdered. Her story was national headlines for awhile. This story follows fictional girls who go missing around the same time.

From Goodreads: Anna Hart is a seasoned missing persons detective in San Francisco with far too much knowledge of the darkest side of human nature. When overwhelming tragedy strikes her personal life, Anna, desperate and numb, flees to the Northern California village of Mendocino to grieve. She lived there as a child with her beloved foster parents, and now she believes it might be the only place left for her. Yet the day she arrives, she learns a local teenage girl has gone missing. The crime feels frighteningly reminiscent of the most crucial time in Anna’s childhood, when the unsolved murder of a young girl touched Mendocino and changed the community forever. As past and present collide, Anna realizes that she has been led to this moment. The most difficult lessons of her life have given her insight into how victims come into contact with violent predators. As Anna becomes obsessed with the missing girl, she must accept that true courage means getting out of her own way and learning to let others in.

Weaving together actual cases of missing persons, trauma theory, and a hint of the metaphysical, this propulsive and deeply affecting novel tells a story of fate, necessary redemption, and what it takes, when the worst happens, to reclaim our lives–and our faith in one another. 

Anna is flawed, struggling with both her past and her present, which makes her a great main character. She’s captivating and troubled. The layers of her trauma are pulled back slowly, some not revealed until much later in the book, which keeps the reader guessing. I’m not a big historical fiction fan, but McLain has knocked it out of the park twice for me. I’ll definitely be reading more of her work.

books and reading

Before She Disappeared

Thank you Netgalley for this advance copy.

I’ve been hearing about Lisa Gardner for ages. She’s been on my TBR for a while. I even own some of her books, but I’ve never gotten around to reading them. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher letting me have this book, she’s moved to the top of my “must-read” list. Holy smokes, this book was excellent. If you haven’t read any of her books, this one will be a great place to start.

From Goodreads: Frankie Elkin is an average middle-aged woman, a recovering alcoholic with more regrets than belongings. But she spends her life doing what no one else will–searching for missing people the world has stopped looking for. When the police have given up, when the public no longer remembers, when the media has never paid attention, Frankie starts looking.

A new case brings her to Mattapan, a Boston neighborhood with a rough reputation. She is searching for Angelique Badeau, a Haitian teenager who vanished from her high school months earlier. Resistance from the Boston PD and the victim’s wary family tells Frankie she’s on her own–and she soon learns she’s asking questions someone doesn’t want to be answered. But Frankie will stop at nothing to discover the truth, even if it means the next person to go missing could be her.

First of all, Frankie is awesome. She’s funny and can stand her ground and is passionate about helping people. She makes no apologies for being an alcoholic and doesn’t use it as an excuse but as motivation. Her charm makes her friends, even when she’s an outsider in every way. The plot itself was tightly-written with no annoying tropes. It’s easy to root for Frankie, even if she’s not perfect. She’s a realistic character, which is endearing. The storyline was clever and left me guessing until the end. When this one comes out in January, make a point to grab it.