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The Push

Title: The Push

Author: Ashley Audrain

Genre: domestic thriller

Anytime I hear about this book, it’s being related to Baby Teeth, which was one of the most tense books I’ve ever read. The style of this book is one that I loved, but I’ve heard people struggle with it. The story is told in the second person, you. Blythe has written her side of the story directly to her ex-husband (not a spoiler…it’s in the first chapter). Remember when you did xyz….. I loved you so much…. etc. Once you adjust to the style, it’s really not hard to follow. This book really is a lot like Baby Teeth in the sense that it’s about a potentially psychopath child, but it’s not as tense because you know what the end result it (sort of) and the story is only told from the mother’s perspective.

From Goodreads: Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had.

But in the thick of motherhood’s exhausting early days, Blythe becomes convinced that something is wrong with her daughter–she doesn’t behave like most children do.

Or is it all in Blythe’s head? Her husband, Fox, says she’s imagining things. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity, and the more we begin to question what Blythe is telling us about her life as well.

Then their son Sam is born–and with him, Blythe has the blissful connection she’d always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth.

The Push is a tour de force you will read in a sitting, an utterly immersive novel that will challenge everything you think you know about motherhood, about what we owe our children, and what it feels like when women are not believed.

I really did like this book, but it wasn’t as nerve-racking as Baby Teeth was. That book was so hard for me to read because I was in constant terror of what that child was going to do. Don’t let the second person narrator scare you away. It really does become easy to follow after just a few chapters. I really don’t know why reading a mentally troubled children (I’ve also read We Need to Talk About Kevin and Defending Jacob) is so captivating, but this one ranks high on that list.

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Sorrowland

Title: Sorrowland

Author: Rivers Solomon

Genre: Black science fiction

Thank you Netgalley for this book!

Holy smokes this book. I have already read An Unkindness of Ghosts and The Deep, so I am familiar with Rivers Solomon’s genre-bending style. I discovered them in last year’s PopSugar challenge for the “author who is trans or non-binary” prompt, so I’m using Solomon’s preferred pronouns of they/their. I am so thankful I stumbled upon their work because all their books have been outstanding. And seriously, thank you to Netgalley for letting me have this one. I was so excited to read it.

From Goodreads: Vern – seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised – flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world.

But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes.

To understand her metamorphosis and to protect her small family, Vern has to face the past, and more troublingly, the future – outside the woods. Finding the truth will mean uncovering the secrets of the compound she fled but also the violent history in America that produced it.

So, this book isn’t at all what I thought it would be. I should have known not to expect “traditional” when it comes to a book written by Solomon. I was thinking it would be a story about a woman escaping a cult and struggling with the outside world. It is that, of course, but so SO much more. Vern begins to notice that her body is stronger than it should be. She doesn’t tire as quickly and can heal herself. By the time she realizes this, she knows she has to figure out why.

Vern’s journey takes her to people who are kind and helpful, and she finds a home, of sorts. Her children are protected, while Vern can search for answers. And those answers, whew, they are pretty crazy. And so terrible. I had no idea where this book was going once Vern left the woods, but the story just becomes richer and richer as the story unfolds. What a fantastic, important adventure.

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Instructions for Dancing

Title: Instructions for Dancing

Author: Nicola Yoon

Genre: YA magical realism

PopSugar reading challenge prompt: a magical realism book

Thank you NetGalley for this book!

I have read one other Nicola Yoon book, The Sun is Also a Star, which I absolutely loved. And I’ve been reading some heavy books as of late. So this little breath of fresh air was the perfect book. Much like Sun, this book is a great combo of light and heavy, love and heartbreak, fun and serious. I flew through this one in just a couple of days because I couldn’t stop reading. I absolutely loved it.

From Goodreads: Evie Thomas doesn’t believe in love anymore. Especially after the strangest thing occurs one otherwise ordinary afternoon: She witnesses a couple kiss and is overcome with a vision of how their romance began . . . and how it will end. After all, even the greatest love stories end with a broken heart, eventually.

As Evie tries to understand why this is happening, she finds herself at La Brea Dance studio, learning to waltz, fox-trot, and tango with a boy named X. X is everything that Evie is not: adventurous, passionate, daring. His philosophy is to say yes to everything–including entering a ballroom dance competition with a girl he’s only just met.

Falling for X is definitely not what Evie had in mind. If her visions of heartbreak have taught her anything, it’s that no one escapes love unscathed. But as she and X dance around and toward each other, Evie is forced to question all she thought she knew about life and love. In the end, is love worth the risk?

Evie is such a fun character that I really related to. She has her one group of friends, doesn’t get out much, studies a lot, snarky, and smart. Her struggles are grounded in reality, and you really understand why she feels the way she does. X and Evie’s friends are a great support system, as well. Just kept giggling at this book in the best way. Young love is always so fun to read about when it is genuine and not full of stupid YA tropes. After reading two excellent books by Yoon, I’ll be reading anything else she writes.

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Homegoing

Title: Homegoing

Author: Yaa Gyasi

Genre: Black historical fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge Prompt: book with a family tree

I knew absolutely nothing about this book, other than the rave reviews. And by the time I was finished, I couldn’t believe how Gyasi managed to get me to care about each and every character in just a few pages. What a marvel this book is.

From Goodreads:

A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

Generation after generation, Yaa Gyasi’s magisterial first novel sets the fate of the individual against the obliterating movements of time, delivering unforgettable characters whose lives were shaped by historical forces beyond their control. Homegoing is a tremendous reading experience, not to be missed, by an astonishingly gifted young writer.

You only spend a short amount of time with each character, and although some bleed into their child’s story, some don’t. But the entire focus is on the new character. I was drawn in so quickly to each story, which felt like small snapshots into what life was like in America and in Africa around the same time. Of course, I knew that slavery would be an atrocity that characters in America face, but I really had no idea what life in Africa would be like for these characters. I was just blown away by how captivating each individual story was. The hype over this book is much deserved. I can’t wait to see what Gyasi’s next novel, Transcendent Kingdom, has in store for me.

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Later

Title: Later

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Paranormal Suspense

Stephen King now has three Hard Case Crime books. The first was Joyland, which was excellent. Next was The Colorado Kid, which was excellent. And now Later, which, you guessed it, is excellent. Later is a bit more like Joyland in the supernatural aspect, but it’s set in the modern day, which was a lot of fun for pop culture references.

From Goodreads: The son of a struggling single mother, Jamie Conklin just wants an ordinary childhood. But Jamie is no ordinary child. Born with an unnatural ability his mom urges him to keep secret, Jamie can see what no one else can see and learn what no one else can learn. But the cost of using this ability is higher than Jamie can imagine – as he discovers when an NYPD detective draws him into the pursuit of a killer who has threatened to strike from beyond the grave.

Later is Stephen King at his finest, a terrifying and touching story of innocence lost and the trials that test our sense of right and wrong. Later is a powerful, haunting, unforgettable exploration of what it takes to stand up to evil in all the faces it wears.

Jamie is such a fun character. He’s telling the story from the present but about his childhood, so you know his fate is fine, but along the way, some awful things happen. He warns us several times that this is a horror story. His secret is revealed pretty quickly in the book, but I won’t spoil it here. It’s such a bummer that King is penned into just being a “horror” writer, because he’s one of the best storytellers. Sure, his books are pretty terrifying, but his character and plot development is top notch. I can’t recommend him enough.

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These Violent Delights

Title: These Violent Delights

Author: Chloe Gong

Genre: YA historical romance

PopSugar Reading Challenge Prompt: book on your TBR list with the prettiest cover

This cover is gorgeous. When I read the blurb for it on Book of the Month, I knew this would be my choice. I’m a sucker for Romeo and Juliet retellings. And this story sounded like so much fun. Set in 1920s Shanghi, and instead of falling in love and dying, they just broke up. Now they are older and soon-to-be leaders of their gangs. All this sounds like such a fun book. But I was bored to tears. It took me twice as long to read this one than other books of the same length. I’m sure I’m in the minority, but it was well-written and the characters were dynamic. I just couldn’t get into it.

From Goodreads: The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery. A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

So the two have to work together to keep people from dying because for some inexplicable reason, even though family members of theirs die, the heads of the gangs have nothing to do with the problem. Juliette drove me insane. I didn’t like her character at all. But again, for no real reason other than personal preference. I was really hoping this book would be fun and engaging. But, for me, it just missed the mark.

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Dear Justyce

Title: Dear Justyce

Author: Nic Stone

Genre: African-American YA lit

I’ve decided that the YA queens of Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, and Tiffany D. Jackson can do no wrong. Every book I’ve read from these ladies is just phenomenal. I’m adding them to my “must-read every book of theirs that comes out” list. I’ve read Dear Martin and Clean Getaway from Stone and will checking her bibliography to see if I can find more of her work. Dear Martin was the first I read of hers, and I live tweeted while I was reading. Stone was kind enough to reply to a lot of my tweets. It was a great experience. And the book just blew me away. It was the first of its type (real-world, black kids, trying to survive their worlds) that I read. Please click on the link and see my review for it.

From Goodreads: Shortly after teenager Quan enters a not guilty plea for the shooting death of a police officer, he is placed in a holding cell to await trial. Through a series of flashbacks and letters to Justyce, the protagonist of Dear Martin, Quan’s story unravels.

From a troubled childhood and bad timing to a coerced confession and prejudiced police work, Nic Stone’s newest novel takes an unflinching look at the flawed practices and ideologies that discriminate against African American boys and minorities in the American justice system.

In the preface, Stone says she had no intention of writing a “sequel” to Dear Martin, but several kids mentioned that they needed to read about a kid who struggled. Justyce certainly did, but he was smart, was getting a great education, and made it “out” of his difficult like. But that’s not the reality for a lot of kids. Enter Quan. He’s in Dear Martin, but I didn’t remember him, but that’s okay. the book is plenty easy to dig into. Quan’s home life is difficult, to put it mildly. He finds a family that supports him, but of course, there are rules. Quan finds himself in jail facing a murder charge.

If you haven’t read any books in this genre, you absolutely must. They are so important. Kids need to see themselves in literature. They need to feel like their voices are important. They need to be seen, to be heard, to be understood. I’m so thankful for authors like Stone, Thomas, and Jackson who are giving these books that resonate.

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The Colorado Kid

Title: The Colorado Kid

Author: Stephen King

Genre: murder mystery

I read King’s other Hard Case Crime book Joyland last year and absolutely loved it. It was one of the best of his I’ve read in awhile. And now that his newest Hard Case book, Later, is out, I wanted to read The Colorado Kid. Hard Case Crime books are written by various authors you’re probably familiar with, and they all have pulpy, fun covers. I’ve only read King’s, but scrolling through the list, there are tons of others that I bet are great.

From Goodreads: On an island off the coast of Maine, a man is found dead. There’s no identification on the body. Only the dogged work of a pair of local newspapermen and a graduate student in forensics turns up any clues.

But that’s just the beginning of the mystery. Because the more they learn about the man and the baffling circumstances of his death, the less they understand. Was it an impossible crime? Or something stranger still…?

No one but Stephen King could tell this story about the darkness at the heart of the unknown and our compulsion to investigate the unexplained. With echoes of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon and the work of Graham Greene, one of the world’s great storytellers presents a surprising tale that explores the nature of mystery itself…

Unlike most King’s books, this one isn’t scary at all. It’s just two old guys, who are adorable in their old man dynamics, telling a story. That’s it. A guy ended up dead on a beach, and, as reporters, these guys try to solve the mystery. He has no wallet, so they try to solve who he is and how he ended up on the beach. It’s a very simple story, but the dialogue between these two guys, who have been friends/co-workers for 40+ years, is like an old married couple. I listened to this one, and the narrator was spot on with the Maine accents. I loved this book and think it would easily appeal to non-King readers. Not scary. Not gross. Not even remotely horrifying. But still compelling.

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The Broken Girls

Title: The Broken Girls

Author: Simon St. James

Genre: mystery, thriller, ghost story

PopSugar Reading Challege Prompt: a genre hybrid (part ghost story, part murder mystery)

I read The Sun Down Motel last year and really enjoyed it. I thought it was well-written and spooky but still plausible. When I heard some buzz around The Broken Girls, I thought I would give it a chance. And I’m happy to report that I enjoyed this book even more!

From Goodreads: Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants–the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it’s located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming–until one of them mysteriously disappears. . . .

Vermont, 2014. As much as she’s tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister’s death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can’t shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past–and a voice that won’t be silenced. . . . 

I don’t believe in ghosts at all, but I enjoy reading ghost stories, especially ones that aren’t too horrifying. This book was a great blend of unsettling supernatural and solving a murder mystery. All the characters were interesting, and I loved how both the 1950 and 2014 stories came together. This story kept me reading and guessing. Definitely recommend this one!

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Zone One

Title: Zone One

Author: Colson Whitehead

Genre: dystopian zombie fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: an Afrofuturist book

My first introduction to Whitehead was through The Underground Railroad which was great. Then I read The Nickel Boys and was blown away. It was the best book I read in 2020. When I heard that he also wrote a dystopian book, which is my favorite genre, I knew I had to investigate. Bummer that I just didn’t love this one.

From Goodreads: In this wry take on the post-apocalyptic horror novel, a pandemic has devastated the planet. The plague has sorted humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead.

Now the plague is receding, and Americans are busy rebuild­ing civilization under orders from the provisional govern­ment based in Buffalo. Their top mission: the resettlement of Manhattan. Armed forces have successfully reclaimed the island south of Canal Street—aka Zone One—but pockets of plague-ridden squatters remain. While the army has eliminated the most dangerous of the infected, teams of civilian volunteers are tasked with clearing out a more innocuous variety—the “malfunctioning” stragglers, who exist in a catatonic state, transfixed by their former lives.

Mark Spitz is a member of one of the civilian teams work­ing in lower Manhattan. Alternating between flashbacks of Spitz’s desperate fight for survival during the worst of the outbreak and his present narrative, the novel unfolds over three surreal days, as it depicts the mundane mission of straggler removal, the rigors of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, and the impossible job of coming to grips with the fallen world. And then things start to go wrong. Both spine chilling and playfully cerebral, Zone One bril­liantly subverts the genre’s conventions and deconstructs the zombie myth for the twenty-first century.

Admission: I listened to this book, which isn’t my preferred choice. That said, I have listened to plenty others and loved them, so I don’t think that was why I never connected. The story goes back and forth in time, which was a bit confusing. You follow Mark Spitz in those three days of his job, but you also learn about how the outbreak started, what people were doing on the “Last Night” and how Spitz got to this job to begin with. I was engaged in the story, but I guess I was expecting it to be more. More emotional, more powerful….something. But it was a good story, which I’ll take any day.