books and reading

The Vanishing Half

Title: The Vanishing Half

Author: Brit Bennet

Genre: Black and African American literary fiction

Books like this one are always on my radar, but I don’t make them a priority to get to. I’m just so stuck in my horror/dystopian/thriller genres of choice that I don’t always get to literary fiction like I mean to. But I’ve been doing better about putting these kinds of books on hold and then reading them once the library sends them to my kindle. And I am so thankful I did. What an amazing book!

From Goodreads: The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

This book was really character-driven, and said characters were just perfect. The twins, Stella and Desiree, are so different from each other, and their lives diverge so much. Stella, passing as white, never seems happy, always looking over her shoulder, expecting her truth to be revealed. The story is told in chunks of time, not only about the twins, but also their children. Jude is Desiree’s daughter Kennedy is Stella’s. Jude is also trying to escape her past and figure out who she is. Kennedy is doing the same but for many different reasons. Don’t get me wrong; there is a plot, of course. But these women jump right off the page and take control. I couldn’t get enough of their stories and understand why everyone raves about this book.

books and reading

Far Gone

Title: Far Gone

Author: Danielle Girard

Genre: thriller

Thank you Netgalley for this book!

I requested this one because I had the first book, White Out, on my kindle to read. So, I read that one a few weeks ago and thought it was okay. The plot was a bit over-the-top for my liking. But I thought the characters were great and was excited to revisit them in this one. And again, this plot was a bit preposterous for my liking but seeing the characters was a lot of fun. Some time has passed since the previous one, so we got to see the characters mature a bit. But these books are solid and even though the plots are bit too much for me, I think most people will really enjoy these.

From Goodreads: When a North Dakota couple is shot down in their home in cold blood, the sleepy town of Hagen wakes with a jolt. After all, it’s usually such a peaceful place. But Detective Kylie Milliard knows better.

Despite not handling a homicide investigation in years, Kylie is on the case. A drop of blood found at the scene at first blush promises to be her best evidence. But it ultimately only proves that someone else witnessed the murder—and the results are shocking: the DNA reveals a familial match to a crime involving local nurse Lily Baker from over a decade ago. This unveiling stirs new nightmares for Lily as she’s forced to reckon with the most traumatic time in her life.

Haunted by their pasts and hunting the killer, Kylie and Lily uncover hellish secrets and impossible truths, finding answers that put both their lives in jeopardy.

Seeing Kylie and Lily again was a lot of fun. Both are strong, dynamic, real characters who you cheer for. And while Lily isn’t in danger this time around (unlike White Out), she is still very important to the plot. But it’s nice to see her doing better, happier, more stable. Because I like these two ladies so much, I will definitely be revisiting this series, assuming more are published at some point.

books and reading

Six of Crows

Title: Six of Crows

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Genre: YA fantasy

I’ve been meaning to enter the Grishaverse for awhile. Once I saw it was a Netflix show, I consulted a friend who told me that the show covers both Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows, sort of. She recommended reading both before the show just to avoid small spoilers. I recommend this as well, because enough of Six of Crows’ characters are in the show that meeting them in the book is a lot more fun. And while I enjoyed the plot of Shadow and Bone more, maybe because it was my entry into the books, I LOVE the characters in this one. Every single crow is fantastic, but Jesper is hands down my favorite.

From Goodreads:

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. . . .

A convict with a thirst for revenge
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager
A runaway with a privileged past
A spy known as the Wraith
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

This book is actually a prequel of Shadow and Bone, so it’s perfectly fine to read it first. Either entry into the world would work. They both explain what Grisha are in a way that assumes the reader is unfamiliar. The events in this book are entirely unrelated to those in S&B, also. Now, the Netflix show puts them on the same timeline and gives the crows something to do in regards to the plot of S&B. I didn’t mind the change because it was so delightful seeing the crows. The person cast as Jesper is PERFECT, which just increased my love of the character. I’m always skeptical when it comes to YA fantasy, because it’s just not my thing, but these are excellent, and I will be reading more.

books and reading

White Out

Title: White Out

Author: Danielle Girard

Genre: thriller

I got this book from Kindle First Reads quite some time ago. I put it in my “to read” folder to get to at some point. But I got the sequel from Netgalley awhile back, so I made a point to read this one first, so I wouldn’t be thoroughly confused. I really only knew this book was a thriller, but that was about it. I like going into books blind, so I don’t really read reviews or blurbs. I prefer making my own judgements as much as possible. And I’ve had some success with Kindle First Reads, but this one was just okay for me.

From Goodreads: After surviving a car accident on an icy road in Hagen, North Dakota, Lily Baker regains consciousness with no idea where or who she is. Scattered Bible verses and the image of a man lying in a pool of blood haunt her memory.

The same night of the accident, a young woman is murdered and tossed in a dumpster. Kylie Milliard, Hagen’s only detective, doesn’t immediately recognize the victim, but Kylie soon discovers that Lily and the dead woman share a dark past…if only Lily could remember what it was.

Lily and Kylie both want answers. But Kylie has to play by the book. Lily has to play it safe. And the more Lily learns about her identity, the more she fears the truth.

I liked the characters of Kylie and Lily, but the plot was a bit too convoluted for me. It also relied on more “telling” than “showing,” which isn’t the best type of writing. Information was just dumped on the reader without any one actually coming to those conclusions. It was a very odd choice of how to present the big reveals to the audience. I say reveals because there is more than one mystery in this book (not a spoiler). This book also relies on the “I’ve lost my memory” trope that I despise. It’s just cheap storytelling. I’m going to read the second one, but if it’s not a lot better, I don’t expect to continue on with the series, if more are published.

books and reading

Leave the World Behind

Title: Leave the World Behind

Author: Rumaan Alam

Genre: Psychological thriller

Hands down the best book I’ve read so far this year. How’s that for a first line of a review? This book is exactly the type I love. Beautiful language, interesting characters, disaster-type plot, dark, tense, but subdued in its entirety. The terror I felt while reading was so palpable, yet there really was not a certain thing to be afraid of. It’s not like there was a concrete horror, but more of an underlying what in the world will happen next. Alam captured the mood perfectly.

From Goodreads: Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older black couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.

Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one another? 

Suspenseful and provocative, Rumaan Alam’s third novel is keenly attuned to the complexities of parenthood, race, and class. Leave the World Behind explores how our closest bonds are reshaped—and unexpected new ones are forged—in moments of crisis.

This book struck me as a less horrifying version of Cabin at the End of the World, which I also absolutely loved. The fact that the characters know there’s a blackout but have no idea why it’s happening or if there are other events happening out there is really traumatizing. Alam has a clever way of hinting at outside events to the reader without letting the characters in on the information. The characters react in realistic ways, trying to figure out what to do next, solve whatever problems (and there are many) arise, but they aren’t perfect. They cry and scream and meltdown, because who wouldn’t? But Alam’s writing is to be recognized. The understated way he captures parenthood is gorgeous. Any parent knows that feeling the weight of their child against them is a moment of perfection. I didn’t want this book to end. I loved everything about it, and it’s one I’ll be thinking about for quite some time.

books and reading


Title: Allegedly

Author: Tiffany D. Jackson

Genre: YA family fiction

I’ve now read all of Tiffany D. Jackson’s books. Monday’s Not Coming, Grown, and Let Me Hear a Rhyme. Unfortunately, I got rejected by Netgalley for her newest. Bummer! But with these four contributions, she’s on my must read list. Anytime a new book comes out, I’ll read it. No question. She has solidified her place in the YA world, in my opinion. And Allegedly, her first novel, is simply outstanding. I was on edge the entire time.

From Goodreads:

Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.

Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

Whew. Who knows, indeed? Is the real Mary the quiet one who never speaks? Or the one with big dreams? Or the one who intentionally killed a baby? Or the one who accidentally killed a baby? Or one who loves her mother so much that she’ll take the blame for the death? Or is she a combination of a few of these? How this story unfolds is just fantastic. As you get to see more of Mary’s current life (she’s the narrator), she slowly reveals her past to you. And it’s hard at times. If Mary is to be believed, her life as a child was very traumatic. But…. can you believe her? That really is the crux of the story, honestly. And Jackson writes it perfectly. You so desperately want Mary to be a good person, because she still is just a kid after all. But, not all kids are good people. For a first novel, this one was just excellent.

books and reading

Darling Rose Gold

Title: Darling Rose Gold

Author: Stephanie Wrobel

Genre: Psychological fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge: a book with a gem, mineral, or rock in the title

I’m not a big fan of ripped from the headlines plots in books. This story clearly was inspired by that of Gypsy Rose Blanchard. However, I couldn’t put this book down. The story was different enough that I had no idea where it was going. Rose Gold was such a great character. You never really knew her true motivations because the story is told out of order. You have a present day storyline where Patty gets out of jail and lives with Rose Gold. But then you back and forth between past and Rose Gold is trying to navigate life after the deceptions are revealed and the present day of living with her mother. This book was cleverly crafted so the true plot isn’t revealed until the very end.

From Goodreads: For the first eighteen years of her life, Rose Gold Watts believed she was seriously ill. She was allergic to everything, used a wheelchair and practically lived at the hospital. Neighbors did all they could, holding fundraisers but no matter how many doctors, tests, or surgeries, no one could figure out what was wrong with Rose Gold.Turns out her mom, Patty Watts, was just a really good liar.

After serving five years in prison, Patty begs her daughter to take her in. The entire community is shocked when Rose Gold says yes. And Rose Gold is no longer her weak little darling… And she’s waited such a long time for her mother to come home.

I couldn’t stop reading this book. And I was so nervous while doing so. Patty really is the worst. Very early on after her release, you realize she hasn’t changed at all. She still has no remorse for what she did, and she didn’t learn anything from her incarceration. So, when Rose Gold takes her back, you immediately cringe because you fully expect the worst to happen. I flew through this book. It is a tough read because it deals with some pretty awful stuff regarding children, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.

books and reading

The Glass Hotel

Title: The Glass Hotel

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Genre: Financial thriller

I was introduced to Mandel back when I was a member of The Rumpus Book Club. You pay $35 a month and every month you get a book in the mail that hasn’t been released yet. They pick the books, of course, and you get to interact with the author at the end of the month (or at least that’s how it used to be). Through the club, I was introduced to some amazing authors: Tayari Jones, Cheryl Strayed, George Saunders, Emma Straub, and Mandel. What a group that is! I’ve since followed their careers and read more from most of them. And although I had mixed feelings about this one, I realize what a fantastic book this really is.

From Goodreads:

Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star lodging on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby’s glass wall: Why don’t you swallow broken glass. High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis is running an international Ponzi scheme, moving imaginary sums of money through clients’ accounts. When the financial empire collapses, it obliterates countless fortunes and devastates lives. Vincent, who had been posing as Jonathan’s wife, walks away into the night. Years later, a victim of the fraud is hired to investigate a strange occurrence: a woman has seemingly vanished from the deck of a container ship between ports of call.

In this captivating story of crisis and survival, Emily St. John Mandel takes readers through often hidden landscapes: campgrounds for the near-homeless, underground electronica clubs, the business of international shipping, service in luxury hotels, and life in a federal prison. Rife with unexpected beauty, The Glass Hotel is a captivating portrait of greed and guilt, love and delusion, ghosts and unintended consequences, and the infinite ways we search for meaning in our lives

I am struggling to pinpoint what didn’t work for me in this book. Because the story and characters were interesting. I guess the back and forth timeline was frustrating. And the choppiness of how the story unfolded didn’t grab me. But I definitely wanted to see what happened and the writing was beautiful. I loved Station Eleven. I think about it a lot, honestly. As jumpy as the plot is, I was really interested in the “financial thriller” aspect. I think I’m in the minority of not loving this book. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, and I liked it. I was just hoping for something more.

books and reading

Let’s Talk About Hard Things

Title: Let’s Talk About Hard Things

Author: Anna Sale

Genre: conversation etiquette guide, social skills, interpersonal relations

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: a book by a blogger, vlogger, YouTube video creator, or other online personality

I don’t follow any blogs of people who have published books, and instead of just picking one at random, this book was one I knew I wanted to read. So, I’m considering Anna Sale an “online personality” because she hosts a podcast. I don’t think that’s a far reach at all. She is the host of Death, Sex, and Money, which is one of my favorite podcasts. Sale has just a lovely speaking voice (critical when you’re a radio/podcast person) and asks such great questions. Clearly, some are prepared because you can tell she has done her research and put a lot of thought into them, but also she responds so well to her guests’ answers. I love that she covers difficult topics with grace. The “sex” aspect might be a turn-off (pun intended!) to some people, but it’s not graphic, and Sale doesn’t really dig into personal details. It’s not salacious in any way. A lot of the sex part is about relationships, intimacy, and connection. I highly recommend you check it out.

From Goodreads: Anna Sale wants you to have that conversation. You know the one. The one that you’ve been avoiding or putting off, maybe for years. The one that you’ve thought “they’ll never understand” or “do I really want to bring that up?” or “it’s not going to go well, so why even try?”

Sale is the founder and host of WNYC’s popular, award-winning podcast Death, Sex, & Money, or as the New York Times dubbed her, “a therapist at happy hour.” She and her guests have direct and thought-provoking conversations, discussing topics that most of us are too squeamish, polite, or nervous to bring up. But Sale argues that we all experience these hard things, and by not talking to one another, we cut ourselves off, leading us to feel isolated and disconnected from the people who can help us most.

In Let’s Talk About Hard Things, Sale uses the best of what she’s learned from her podcast to reveal that when we have the courage to talk about hard things, we learn about ourselves, others, and the world that we make together. Diving into five of the most fraught conversation topics—death, sex, money, family, and identity—she moves between memoir, fascinating snapshots of a variety of Americans opening up about their lives, and expert opinions to show why having tough conversations is important and how to do them in a thoughtful and generous way. She uncovers that listening may be the most important part of a tough conversation, that the end goal should be understanding without the pressure of reconciliation, and that there are some things that words can’t fix (and why that’s actually okay).

Touching, personal, and inspiring, Let’s Talk About Hard Things is a profound meditation on why communication can connect us instead of divide us and how we can all do it better.

It’s funny because Sale writes exactly how she talks. The same phrasing, the same word choice, which was so comforting. I read the entire book hearing her voice in my mind. What I loved best about this book is that it didn’t feel at all like a self-help book, but even though it was, of sorts. It wasn’t preachy at all. I’m sure people read this to learn how to be a better person or to understand other people who are different from them, which is why I mostly read it. It’s the same reason I listen to the podcast. To hear other stories, see how I relate to them, see how I can learn from them. I cannot recommend the podcast and this book enough.

books and reading

The Other People

Title: The Other People

Author: CJ Tudor

Genre: thriller

I cannot stop reading CJ Tudor’s books. She might be my new favorite author, and I will definitely be reading all her books. Looks like I only have one book left- The Hiding Place. And…. just put it on hold at my library. Hooray! What I love about her books is that they are so tightly written. This one was so full of so many threads that seemed to have nothing to do with each other, but of course they did, and when it all came together, it was just fantastic. Tudor did a great job putting the hints of plot points without revealing exactly what’s going on until later. She digs those hooks in and strings you along, digging the mystery deeper until the reveal. And she’s so good at it.

From Goodreads: Driving home one night, stuck behind a rusty old car, Gabe sees a little girl’s face appear in the rear window. She mouths one word: ‘Daddy.’ It’s his five-year-old daughter, Izzy. He never sees her again.

Three years later, Gabe spends his days and nights traveling up and down the motorway, searching for the car that took his daughter, refusing to give up hope, even though most people believe that Izzy is dead.

Fran and her daughter, Alice, also put in a lot of miles on the motorway. Not searching. But running. Trying to keep one step ahead of the people who want to hurt them. Because Fran knows the truth. She knows what really happened to Gabe’s daughter.

Then, the car that Gabe saw driving away that night is found, in a lake, with a body inside and Gabe is forced to confront events, not just from the night his daughter disappeared, but from far deeper in his past. His search leads him to a group called The Other People. If you have lost a loved one, The Other People want to help. Because they know what loss is like. They know what pain is like. They know what death is like. There’s just one problem . . . they want other people to know it too. 

Gabe’s story is just so heartbreaking. Losing his wife and daughter. No one believing him. Wallowing in his grief and frustration. The Other People plot line is really terrifying. The “far deeper in his past” storyline is really creative, and I loved how it ultimately tied to the present. There are some really great side characters, as well. I thought this book was so great. I’d get sucked in and look down and realize I had read 50+ pages in one sitting and it felt like only a few minutes had gone by. That’s a sure sign of a well-written book for me.