books and reading


Title: Vox

Author: Christina Dalcher

Genre: Dystopian

PopSugar Reading Challenge Prompt: a book where the main character works at your current or dream job (current job… stay-at-home mom)

I appreciate what this book tried to do. Published in 2018 during the previous administration, the plot is about men taking over and censoring women. Literal censoring. Women are allowed 100 words a day. They wear counters that keep track and any over 100 a shock will be administered. The more over 100, the worse the shock. The main character, Jean, unwillingly abides. When she is given the opportunity to remove the counter in exchange for helping the president, she jumps at the chance.

From Goodreads: Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed to speak more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial—this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her. This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard. But this is not the end.

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

This book’s premise is important and, thankfully, no longer an issue since we have a new administration, but it didn’t work at all. The characters are great, the concept is great, but the writing was subpar. I lost track of how many times the plot went from A to C without explaining B. I’m a smart gal, I can make inferences, but this book was just so full of holes. Not plot holes necessarily, but just holes in explanation. A good editor could have eliminated those. As much as I wanted to like this book, it just frustrated me more. Bummer.

books and reading

Concrete Rose

Title: Concrete Rose

Author: Angie Thomas

Genre: YA fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: A book set somewhere you’d like to visit in 2021 (California)

Reading The Hate U Give was one of the highlights of the year I read it. Written for teens, which I am resoundingly not, I was still moved by the story. When I heard Thomas was writing a prequel, I was in. Maverick was such a great father in THUG that I was excited to see how he got to that place.

From Goodreads: If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison.

Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control. Until, that is, Maverick finds out he’s a father. Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. But it’s not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. In a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing, maybe Mav can prove he’s different.

When King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can’t just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. He’ll have to figure out for himself what it really means to be a man.

Spoilers for The Hate U Give below…fair warning.

So, you know from reading THUG that Seven is Maverick’s kid. You know he and Lisa end up together. And you know that Maverick ends up doing the right thing because he’s a good, stable father. However, the hardest parts are meeting some characters knowing their fate. We see baby Khalil, which just broke my heart. We see baby Seven (and yes, his name is explained) but know his life isn’t going to be easy. We meet King and see just how long he’s been a force in the community. The seeds are planted in Concrete Rose (ha…see what I did there!!) and they blossom in THUG.

Like THUG, the name is taken from another Tupac work. This time a poem and the book of the same name. Here is the poem:

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

It’s a perfect title for this book. The concrete rose is EXACTLY what Maverick is. He doesn’t want to be in a gang anymore, doesn’t want to be selling drugs, feels the pressure to do so because his father did. He wants to be a good dad and eventually a business owner. But that concrete is hard to break out of. Watching Maverick do so is a joy. Concrete Rose is an excellent book, and I cannot recommend it enough.

books and reading

Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe

Title: Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe

Author: Vivian Kirkfield

Illustrator: Alleanna Harris

Genre: Non-fiction picture book

I was gifted this book for Multicultural Children’s Book Day.

When I first saw the title of this book, I was intrigued because I had no idea these two phenomenal ladies knew each other or were even friends. And as I read the picture book, which my 7-year-old and 9-year-old also enjoyed, I saw just how much their friendship helped each other. Because Ella wasn’t the “perfect image” of beauty and the racism of the times, she was denied an opportunity to sing at a big club in Hollywood. In steps Marilyn. She did this because not only was Ella her favorite singer, she also used Ella’s records to “teach” herself how to sing.

This friendship was so great to read about. It deals with the ever-important topic of racism in a way that even younger kids can understand. The illustrations are bright and capture the storyline perfectly. My kids loved the book itself, as did I, but I really appreciated the author’s note in the back which shed more light on the ladies’ backgrounds and friendship. And (teacher hat on for this statement) there are primary and secondary sources listed in the back! I LOVE that these are documented. These days in our crazy world of “fake news” kids need to understand that sources need to be credible, and you can’t just write a non-fiction book from your opinion. It’s never too early to start them understanding this fact.

This book is really simple and straight-forward, and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s kid-reader friendly, engaging, colorful in both language and pictures, and deals with important topics of racism and supporting your friends, especially females sticking together to overcome the system that holds them back! I highly recommend this book.

Learn more about the book from the publisher’s website:

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2021 (1/29/21) is in its 8th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.

Eight years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues. Read about our Mission & History HERE.

MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Medallion Sponsors!

FOUNDER’S CIRCLE: Mia Wenjen (Prgamaticmom) and Valarie Budayr’s (

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Silver Sponsors: Charlotte Riggle, Connecticut Association of School Librarians, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Pack-N-Go Girls

Bronze Sponsors: Agatha Rodi and AMELIE is IMPRESSED!, Barnes Brothers Books, Create and Educate Solutions, LLC, Dreambuilt Books, Dyesha and Triesha McCants/McCants Squared, Redfin Real Estate, Snowflake Stories, Star Bright Books, TimTimTom Bilingual Personalized Books, Author Vivian Kirkfield, Wisdom Tales Press, My Well Read Child 

MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Author Sponsors!

Poster Artist: Nat Iwata

Authors: Author Afsaneh Moradian, Author Alva Sachs & Three Wishes Publishing Company, Author Angeliki Stamatopoulou-Pedersen, Author Anna Olswanger, Author Casey Bell , Author Claudine Norden, Author Debbie Dadey, Author Diana Huang & IntrepidsAuthor Eugenia Chu & Brandon goes to Beijing, Green Kids Club,  Author Gwen Jackson, Author Janet Balletta, Author Josh Funk, Author Julia Inserro, Karter Johnson & Popcorn and Books, Author Kathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry Blossom, Author Keila Dawson, Maya/Neel Adventures with Culture Groove, Author Mia Wenjen, Michael Genhart, Nancy Tupper Ling, Author Natalie Murray, Natalie McDonald-Perkins, Author Natasha Yim, Author Phe Lang and Me On The Page Publishing, Sandra Elaine Scott, Author Shoumi Sen & From The Toddler Diaries, SISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. Norrgard, Susan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay FletcherTales of the Five Enchanted Mermaids, Author Theresa Mackiewicz, Tonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book Series, Author Toshia Stelivan, Valerie Williams-Sanchez & The Cocoa Kids Collection Books©, Author Vanessa Womack, MBA, Author Veronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series

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Join us on Friday, Jan 29, 2021, at 9 pm EST for the 8th annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day Twitter Party!

This epically fun and fast-paced hour includes multicultural book discussions, addressing timely issues, diverse book recommendations, & reading ideas.

We will be giving away an 8-Book Bundle every 5 minutes plus Bonus Prizes as well! *** US and Global participants welcome. **

Follow the hashtag #ReadYourWorld to join the conversation, connect with like-minded parts, authors, publishers, educators, organizations, and librarians. See you all very soon on Twitter!

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books and reading

If You Tell

Title: If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood

Author: Gregg Olsen

Genre: True Crime

PopSugar Reading Challenge Prompt: A book from your TBR list chosen at random

I’ve read some pretty horrific stories in my life. The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum comes to mind. Although it’s fiction, it’s based on a true story. This book is extraordinarily difficult to read. Another rough book was one I read last year: The Road Out of Hell which was the true story of the Wineville Murders. But, I think this one takes the top prize of “Most Horrific.”

From Goodreads: After more than a decade, when sisters Nikki, Sami, and Tori Knotek hear the word mom, it claws like an eagle’s talons, triggering memories that have been their secret since childhood. Until now.

For years, behind the closed doors of their farmhouse in Raymond, Washington, their sadistic mother, Shelly, subjected her girls to unimaginable abuse, degradation, torture, and psychic terrors. Through it all, Nikki, Sami, and Tori developed a defiant bond that made them far less vulnerable than Shelly imagined. Even as others were drawn into their mother’s dark and perverse web, the sisters found the strength and courage to escape an escalating nightmare that culminated in multiple murders.

Shelly Knotek is truly one of the worst people I’ve ever read about. The horrors she inflicted on the people in her house, family or otherwise, is just beyond terrifying. I was in shock reading about the atrocities she inflicted on those around her. And from what I’ve read, she has zero remorse. As much as I’ve read about serial killers, it seems like most either had a terrible childhood or have some sort of mental illness that leads them to a propensity for violence. Note: having a mental illness does NOT make a person more violent. But there are enough documented cases of serial killers with a mental illness, such as schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder.

Shelly Knotek didn’t have a terrible childhood. She had a bit of a rough start, but once she ended up in a stable home, she was loved and taken care of by parents who cared about her. But the second she stepped into their home, she was a difficult child. But enough people have difficult childhoods (look at her daughters, for example) and turn out just fine. I’m not going to diagnose a person based on one book, but she’s definitely missing any kind of empathy. She is cruel, manipulative, and downright evil. This book is a difficult book to stomach, knowing that it’s all true. But it was also a fascinating look into how people (her daughters) persevere and overcome.

books and reading

Different Seasons

Title: Different Seasons

Author: Stephen King

Genre: story collection, horror, psychological thriller

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: A book that has the same title as a song

You can’t beat old school Stephen King. I’ve been digging through his old works that I’ve yet to read and just find the early stuff to be so rewarding. Last year I read Night Shift and was blown away by the story collection. Not a bad story in the entire book. The same goes for Different Seasons and its four novellas. You’re probably familiar with two or three of them.

From Goodreads:

Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption–the most satisfying tale of unjust imprisonment and offbeat escape since The Count of Monte Cristo. Apt Pupil–a golden California schoolboy and an old man whose hideous past he uncovers enter into a fateful and chilling mutual parasitism. The Body–four rambunctious young boys venture into the Maine woods and in sunlight and thunder find life, death, and intimations of their own mortality. The Breathing Method–a tale told in a strange club about a woman determined to give birth no matter what.

Three of these have been turned into movies, two of those are classics. Shawshank Redemption is one of the best all-time movies, and the story itself was fantastic. The movie features some entire passages of dialogue from the novella. Red, the narrator, is actually an Irishman in the book, but I couldn’t help but hear Morgan Freeman’s voice. The movie fleshes out the plot, but overall the similarities are fantastic. I loved it.

Also, The Body is the movie Stand By Me, which is a movie I’m not as familiar with, but I believe is still a great adaptation. I remember a lot of similarities between the two. And it’s just a beautifully written story. The friendships and heartbreaks of childhood. This novella was, in my mind, a precursor for IT.

Apt Pupil is the most horrifying thing I’ve read of King’s. Scary clowns, vampires, haunted hotels, just don’t scare me. They aren’t real. And most of his books have enough of a supernatural element that they are unrealistic enough not to terrify me. But Apt Pupil, written in the early 80s is about a teenager obsessed with Nazis. I read Rage, which is about a school shooting, and it was pretty terrible subject matter. But Apt Pupil takes the terror to a completely different level.

The last story isn’t enough to be a movie (I say that now, but Lawnmower Man certainly wasn’t movie caliber and that happened…) but I still enjoyed it. Unlike the others, this had a touch of supernatural or mystery to it, but it was also just a bit of a ghost story, so who knows what really happened.

I’m loving going to King’s older works and digging through them. I’ve read so much of his new stuff, which is great, but it’s like listening to The Beatles. There’s the early stuff, the middle starting to get weird stuff, and there’s the super crazy late stuff (my favorite). With King there’s the super crazy early stuff, the middle cocaine fueled stuff, and then the lighter newest stuff. I’m pretty sure the super crazy early books are my favorite. They just never disappoint.

books and reading

The Son of the House

Title: The Son of the House

Author: Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia

Genre: Nigerian fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: book published in 2021

Thank you Netgalley for this book!

I’m hit or miss with Netgalley. I take chances and sometimes, ugh, the books are just the worst. Sweet Water, The Residence, The Other Side of the Door, and No One Knows come to mind as ones that sounded great, but ended up disappointing. However, ones like Hurricane Summer, When the Stars Go Dark, Before She Disappeared, The Hollow Places, and My Sunshine Away turned out to be excellent. I absolutely love Netgalley and am thankful they keep sending me books, even the ones that are underwhelming to me. This book, however, this book just might be the best one Netgalley has ever sent me.

From Goodreads: In the Nigerian city of Enugu, young Nwabulu, a housemaid since the age of ten, dreams of becoming a typist as she endures her employers’ endless chores. She is tall and beautiful and in love with a rich man’s son.

Educated and privileged, Julie is a modern woman. Living on her own, she is happy to collect the gold jewelry lovestruck Eugene brings her but has no intention of becoming his second wife.

When a kidnapping forces Nwabulu and Julie into a dank room years later, the two women relate the stories of their lives as they await their fate.

Pulsing with vitality and intense human drama, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s debut is set against four decades of vibrant Nigeria, celebrating the resilience of women as they navigate and transform what still remains a man’s world.

I will be shocked if this book isn’t on every “best of 2021” list. Set in Nigeria, the story is familiar. Two women trying to find their place in the world. No matter the culture, this theme is easily relatable. You spend more time with Nwabulu (it felt like to me, at least) and her story is truly heartbreaking. She and Julie are excellently contrasted, but have so much in common as well. The story is simple: two women’s lives and what unites them, but it’s just a beautiful story. I absolutely loved it and hope it doesn’t fly under the radar. It’s a must read.

books and reading

This Is Where It Ends

Title: This Is Where It Ends

Author: Marieke Nijkamp

Genre: YA thriller

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: book with something broken on the cover

This book was on my kindle because I had bought it at some point, but I couldn’t remember why or even what it was about. But when I was scrolling through the books on my TBR and saw the broken chalk on this cover, it was an easy pick for the prompt. Turns out, it’s about a school shooting.

Columbine changed this country. I was actually in my first year of teaching when it happened. The ramifications were immediate. Dress codes changed, security changed, lockdown drills were created. Then Sandy Hook happened. I was at home with my new baby watching that unfold on the news. I remember wondering if I would ever be comfortable sending him to school. And I mostly am okay with it due to our school’s security, but having him at home virtual learning because of the pandemic definitely makes me worry less. Then Parkland happened. And…. nothing changed. No laws changed. No action taken. Apparently, this country needs guns more than it needs children.

From Goodreads: Everyone has a reason to fear the boy with the gun…

10:00 a.m.: The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.
10:02 a.m.: The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03: The auditorium doors won’t open.
10:05: Someone starts shooting.

In 54 minutes, four students must confront their greatest hopes, and darkest fears, as they come face-to-face with the boy with the gun.

Given the terrible topic, this book was good. It’s odd to me that books like this are published, when Stephen King wrote about a school shooting in one of his earliest books, Rage, but he has let it go out of print due to the horrific subject. Are we desensitized to school shootings at this point? Seems like it. No one is shocked anymore when they happen. And nothing changes. I wonder when people will take a stand and do something about it.

books and reading

Sweet Water

Title: Sweet Water

Author: Cara Reinard

Genre: women crime fiction, domestic thriller, women psychological fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: A book featuring three generations (grandparents, parents, child)

Thank you Netgalley for this book.

Somehow this book ended up on my TBR list. I can’t remember where I first heard about it, though. In any case, when I saw it available on NetGalley, I gladly requested it. Any books that I can knock off my TBR, I’m excited to find. Sadly, this one didn’t live up to my expectations.

From Goodreads: It’s what Sarah Ellsworth dreamed of. Marriage to her childhood sweetheart, Martin. Living in a historic mansion in Pennsylvania’s most exclusive borough. And Finn, a teenage son with so much promise. Until…A call for help in the middle of the night leads Sarah and Martin to the woods, where they find Finn, injured, dazed, and weeping near his girlfriend’s dead body. Convinced he’s innocent, Sarah and Martin agree to protect their son at any cost and not report the crime.

But there are things Sarah finds hard to reconcile: a cover-up by Martin’s family that’s so unnervingly cold-blooded. Finn’s lies to the authorities are too comfortable, too proficient, not to arouse her suspicions. Even the secrets of the old house she lives in seem to be connected to the incident. As each troubling event unfolds, Sarah must decide how far she’ll go to save her perfect life. 

Plot holes abound in this one. The Ellsworth family truly is the worst, and the fact that Sarah didn’t see through it was absurd. The hints as to who really did the crime were so obvious. I saw the ending coming a mile away. As a book editor, I just don’t see how a book goes through the entire editing and publishing process and ends up so riddled with issues. Plot and character believability should never been in question. Unfortunately, this book had both issues.

books and reading

Pretty Little Wife

Title: Pretty Little Wife

Author: Darby Kane

Genre: thriller

PopSugar Reading Challenge Prompt: A book from your TBR list that you meant to read last year but didn’t

In my quest to get through all my BOTM books before they stack up too much, I’m prioritizing the ones that don’t fit into a specific PopSugar prompt, like this one. The prompt I used for it is really vague, so I shoehorned it in. I’m trying to read more of what I want vs. books that I don’t really want to read but happen to fit a prompt. But if I can find one on my giant TBR list AND fits a prompt, fantastic. And since I’m a thriller junkie, most books from BOTM fit in this genre. Some have been great, some mediocre. Sadly, this book fits into the latter category.

From Goodreads: Lila Ridgefield lives in an idyllic college town, but not everything is what it seems. Lila isn’t what she seems. A student vanished months ago. Now, Lila’s husband, Aaron, is also missing. At first these cases are treated as horrible coincidences until it’s discovered the student is really the third of three unexplained disappearances over the last few years. The police are desperate to find the connection, if there even is one. Little do they know they might be stumbling over only part of the truth….

With the small town in an uproar, everyone is worried about the whereabouts of their beloved high school teacher. Everyone except Lila, his wife. She’s definitely confused about her missing husband but only because she was the last person to see his body, and now it’s gone.

Lila is such an unlikeable character. I didn’t feel any sort of connection to her at all. The plot reveal was obvious, the minor characters fell flat, and I didn’t care about the ending at all. But since I didn’t hate the book like I did others, I went ahead and gave it three stars.

books and reading


Title: Recursion

Author: Blake Crouch

Genre: technothriller, science fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: a book about forgetting

Blake Crouch is one of my favorite authors. I make a point to read all his work. Abandon, Dark Matter, Wayward Pines, the Andrew Thomas series, Perfect Little Town, Snowbound, Summer Frost, and Famous have all been great, fun reads. There’s usually some sort of mystery and some science fiction. This book is heavier on the science fiction than others, but still just as fun.

From Goodreads: Memory makes reality. That’s what NYC cop Barry Sutton is learning, as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

That’s what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face to face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds, but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it. But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

At once a relentless page-turner and an intricate science-fiction puzzle-box about time, identity, and memory, Recursion is a thriller as only Blake Crouch could imagine it—and his most ambitious, mind-boggling, irresistible work to date.

I really did have to pay attention when reading this because the timelines not only jump around between Barry and Helena, but also between years and events. This book isn’t so complicated that I was lost or confused, but I’m a fast skim reader, which didn’t work on this book. No complaints about that here, though, because this book was great. I was engaged from the beginning, kept guessing, and wholly satisfied by the end. I’m going to keep Crouch’s books on the top of my “to read” list.