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Kindred

If you aren’t reading Octavia Butler, you are absolutely missing out. I have read two of hers already: Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents and loved the little two book series. I simply could not believe how Butler managed to capture exactly what is happening today in her books published 20 years ago. Kindred is a stand alone book involving time-travel.

Sci-fi isn’t my genre of choice. I’m just too logical of a person to really let myself get into sci-fi, however, this book, time travel aspect aside, was so realistic. Dana a black woman, lives in 1976 with her white husband, Kevin. Somehow one day, Dana is transported back to the time of slavery. She sees a young boy drowning in a pond and manages to resuscitate him using her modern knowledge of CPR. He tells her his name is Rufus and then she is transported back home to Kevin. She was gone only a few seconds in his time, but it was a few hours to her.

The next time she disappears, Rufus is a bit older. Dana comes to realize that Rufus is her ancestor. His father owns a plantation and slaves and one of her long ago relatives was a product of a rape of a slave by Rufus. Every time Dana goes back, it is because Rufus is in trouble and needs her to save him from harm. And she has to do this, even though she hates him, to protect her own future life. Once Kevin was touching her when she was transported back, so he ended up in the past as well. Unfortunately, she returned without and he was stuck there for awhile.

This was a fantastic book. I quickly forgot how much sci-fi was involved because the slavery story line was so incredibly realistic. I highly recommend her books. I’m currently on the last book in the Lilith’s Brood series, so be looking for a review soon!

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Before You Leap

I’m a proud owner of a Kindle and Amazon Prime, so I take advantage of the Kindle Firsts program. Each month, Amazon sends me a handful of books that I may “purchase” for free since I’m a Prime member. Before You Leap had been in my to-read list for awhile, and I discovered I needed a book about twins for the 2018 book challenge. Granted, one of the twins is dead in this book, but I counted it anyway.

The story starts out in the present, then flashes back in time to a few days earlier, so I’ll start with the earlier part first. Greg’s sister Scarlett was murdered ten years ago, but her killer has been let out of prison. A private investigator informs Greg of this fact and clues him in that the killer is now headed toward Florida, where Greg now lives with his platonic BFF Eve. Greg also has a sleepwalking condition and frequently finds himself in the rain in unexplainable circumstances. He works as a therapist in Florida and is simply trying to get on with his life. He has a girlfriend, a job, a happy life until the news of the killer reaches him.

Let me just say this now. The ending was ABSURD. Like roll your eyes, groan, how cheesy absurd. I hated it. Books like these anger me so much. Instead of just letting a mystery play out, which this did until the last few pages, there has to be some CRAZY TWIST THAT YOU DIDN’T SEE COMING!! OMG!! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT???? But it never works for me. I hate that ploy. The “oh he wasn’t really dead for the entire novel even though you tricked us into thinking he was” or the “the guy’s twin brother isn’t really a twin brother, it was him in disguise!” or some other kind of crap. Not that either of those things happen in this book, but they are examples of ridiculous plot twists that make zero sense. And this book has a whopper of one. I was generous to give this one 3 stars, honestly. The ending was just so awful.

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books and reading

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

I won this book from Goodreads (Thanks!!) and really wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise, but I’m (mostly) glad that I did. I think the cover and title are really misleading. The story really is a murder and suicide mystery more than anything else. And unless I read the blurb, I would have assumed otherwise. However, the book was worth reading, even though I had assumed the plot was nothing thrillery of the sort.

Lydia works at the Bright Ideas Bookstore (meeting my 2018 book challenge criteria of a “book involving a bookstore”) and one of her favorite patrons, Joey, hangs himself at midnight in the store. Lydia is the one to find him and discovers he has a picture of her as a child in his pocket. Let the mystery unfold.

As you learn more about Lydia, you realize she was involved in a terrible, traumatic event as a child. And as she digs through Joey’s possessions, she begins to see some clues he left for her. Lydia then has to dig through all these, following the breadcrumbs until her past and her present merge into one awful resolution.

Avoiding spoilers, I will say that I was a bit disappointed with the resolution, simply because I saw it coming, but that’s not a reason to avoid this book. Once I got past the initial shock of what kind of book I had started reading, it was well-written and clever, and I’m thankful Goodreads gave it to me.

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I’ll Give You the Sun

I feel like young adult books have made a resurgence in quality. There were always good ones, but so many of them are tackling important issues, dealing with realistic situations, and aren’t talking down to their audience. Between Dear Martin, The Hate U Give, and Everything I Never Told You, I’ve read some amazing YA books and recommend them all. And I’m going to add I’ll Give You the Sun to this list.

For the 2018 book challenge, I needed to read a book with an LBGTQ protagonist, and in I’ll Give You the Sun, the main character, Noah, is dealing with being gay, not being accepted, falling in love, and struggling with it all. He also has a twin sister, Jude, who he loves more than anyone, but their lives have diverged. There are many situations in this book that are hard to read about, mostly of loss, but watching the characters navigate through the trials is worth the read. Told in alternating perspectives (Noah when he and Jude are 13 and then Jude when she and Noah are 16) you really get the entire picture of what happened when they were 13 and how it changed them over the next three years.

This book is also one for the art lover. Both Noah and Jude are talented artists vying to get into the local art magnet (or some such) high school. As you read, more secrets are revealed as to how Noah and Jude became as divided as they are at age 16. It’s heartbreaking, but honest. I’ve been very lucky to come across some wonderful books as of late and highly recommend this one.

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The Stand

Over a decade has passed since I first read The Stand. I have been meaning to reread it for year, so when the book challenge required me to read a book I meant to read in 2016, but didn’t get to, my selection was easy. When I first read The Stand, it immediately went into my top 10 of all time. There are certain books that I’m too scared to read again, for fear that I won’t love them as much. I’m happy to say The Stand is as good the second time as it was the first.

The Stand is Stephen King’s masterpiece. Originally published in 1978, one of King’s first few books. Due to being an unknown author with only a handful of previous published books, The Stand received a major edit before coming out. But by the late 80s, King was considered a master writer and was able to published the uncut version of his book, which is the one I read both times. At over 1100 pages, you will be spending plenty of time with the characters, and although there are dozens of them, their stories don’t converge immediately, so it’s easy to keep them separate.

The basic premise is that a government engineered superflu is accidentally released. 99.4% of the population is dead within a week or so. The rest are immune for unknown reasons, and those left have extremely vivid dreams, mostly of a man in black who calls himself Randall Flagg. Basically he’s the devil incarnate, and they are afraid of him. Those who aren’t afraid (and we don’t meet many of them…this is a tale of good vs evil, heavily emphasizing the good) end up in Las Vegas, doing RF’s bidding. Most of our characters end up in Colorado, under the leadership of a very old woman named Mother Abigail. The good guys are trying to set up a city, government, electricity, etc where the bad guys are doing the same, but also much much worse.

There is no good way to summarize this book, since it is so long, but I will just say that King is a master storyteller. He just gets it right. I made it a goal to read 50 pages a day, and that was easy to do because I was sucked into the story from the beginning. Where I think IT might be his most popular book, and I loved it, but The Stand will always be his best work.

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The Calling

The Calling is the first book in the Endgame series co-authored by James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton. For the 2018 book challenge, I needed a book by two authors, so I scrolled through to read books on my Kindle and this was the only one I already owned, so my selection was simple.

At first, I didn’t realize James Frey was the same James Frey from A Million Little Pieces fame. Here’s a link to the book and controversy, in case you are unfamiliar. I read Pieces and was really disturbed by it, not because of the “it was a memoir, but not really” aspect. The book had long been out by the time I got it at the dollar bin of my local Half Price Books. But there is a scene in there where Frey (or his character, whatever) undergoes a dental procedure with no Novocain. I could barely stomach that section and its vivid descriptions of pain, and I think of this every time I go to the dentist.

I must have bought The Calling because it was along the same lines as The Hunger Games. I have found very few books that are anywhere near as good. And, to be honest, this was not that great of a book. It was much more Battle Royale than anything else.  Battle Royale is fantastic. Absolutely one of the best books I’ve read in the genre. But The Calling just is ridiculous. Twelve “players” from around the world are called to save the end of the world. However, one one player will live and that player’s lineage will be the only one spared from death. Whaaaattt??? The players meet at the beginning of the book and meet their creator/game master/being in charge. And of course, OF COURSE, it is some sort of supernatural being. Ugh. Literally, my least favorite trope in literature.

The players have been training their entire lives for Endgame and will kill at will. They also have seemingly endless amounts of cash, resources, and connections. They are each on a mission to find a key. Whoever finds the keys first wins. But what the book never does is address the problem of one person finding one key, a different person finding another key, etc.

The one cool thing about this book is that it is interactive. I read this on a paperwhite, so the Internet interface isn’t great, but the book has links to Google maps, YouTube videos, book excerpts, etc. I like the fact that the book was written to include technology, which is creative and, honestly, how books will be written in the future. But, I doubt I will finish this series. It was just so implausible. Not like The Hunger Games is realistic, but it seemed much more grounded in some kind of truth. The Calling was too far-fetched for my liking.

 

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The Art Forger

This book was recommended to me by a friend, and when it went on sale for the Kindle, I went ahead and bought it. For the 2018 book challenge, I needed a book involving a heist, and this one is kinda sorta along those lines, so I counted it anyway. And I’m the first to admit that I have a very limited knowledge of art. I am not an artist. I can’t draw a stick figure. I appreciate art, and I know what Impressionism is and who Degas is, so I guess that was enough, because I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

The premise is that Claire (sorry if I spelled it wrong…I listened to this one) Roth is an expert forger. She does it legally through a reproduction website, but she is approached by an art dealer friend to copy an original Degas. The problem is that this Degas was stolen from a museum twenty some years ago and no one has seen it since. Claire can’t resist, so she begins her reproduction, however, as she looks closer at the painting, she begins to realize this might not actually be a Degas. Down the rabbit hole she goes, digging for the truth.

The story is told from Claire’s perspective and you really learn a lot about how to forge a painting. Honestly, I have no idea if it is all true, but it certainly sounds plausible. And while the Degas in question throughout the novel is fictitious, the process of recreating it was still fascinating. The story shifts from present day, to three years ago, to letters from an art collector from the 1800s. And although the source of the letters is never revealed so you never really know why they are in the book, they do let the reader into a part of the story that would never have been uncovered.

Don’t be intimidated by this book if you aren’t an art person. You really don’t have to know much about it to still enjoy the book. I was able to follow along just fine. The story is just as much of a mystery as it is about art, and well worth the time to read it.

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The Silkworm

I read the first Cormoran Strike book last year The Cuckoo’s Calling and really enjoyed it. Of course, I’ve read all the Harry Potter books multiple times, trudged by way through The Casual Vacancy, but I was really excited about the Strike books, not just because JK Rowling wrote them, but because I love a good mystery series. I’m very picky about mystery books as well. The genre is jam packed full of options, but the writing can be so mediocre and predictable. I expected these to be better than most. And while Cuckoo was better, I was a bit disappointed with this one. This book fits as my “next book in a series you started” category in the 2018 book challenge.

As much as I like Cormoran as a character and the the plot itself, I was a bit bummed by the writing this time around. One thing I have noticed in mysteries is the need to make certain things happen, but the author has no idea how to get to that point. For example, in this book, Cormoran is being followed by a mystery person. And Rowling needs to get Cormoran to notice that he’s being followed, so he inexplicably looks into a window to see the mystery person’s reflection. I know it sounds picky of me, but it just felt like having him look into the window with zero explanation was a forced situation to get him to see the reflection. It didn’t seem like a natural flow of plot. I see this all the time and now that I notice it, it just drives me bonkers.

The picky writing stuff aside, I thought the book was great. Cormoran and his partner-in-training, Robin make a great team and the plot is always creative. This one had a few too many characters in it, and I admit that because I read so quickly, I didn’t keep all the characters straight, but that’s my own failing. I would still recommend these books (reading the third one later this year) for anyone who enjoys mystery books.

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The Whizbang Machine

I saw a post on my local city’s Facebook page a few months ago about an author and fellow resident who was having a book signing at our local Half-Price Books. I was really excited to meet her because supporting local authors is a great way to expand my reading horizons and also to give them support and help get the word out about their writing. When I met Danielle A Vann, I was immediately taken with how friendly she was. She was dressed professionally, had her family with her, and chatted with me for a bit. After purchasing two of her books, I wanted to read them, but I decided to get other copies, since she had signed mine. I wanted to leave them up on the shelf in perfect condition. Thankfully, her first book in the series, The Whizbang Machine, was available on the Kindle for a pretty reasonable price, so I bought that one. For the 2018 book challenge, I have to read a book by a local author, so, of course, I chose  The Whizbang Machine.

When we first enter teenage Elizabeth’s world, her grandfather, Jack, is returning to NYC after being on an eight year world hopping adventure. He returns with hugs and packages and surprises. He gives Elizabeth a typewriter, but it isn’t just any typewriter. It doesn’t make the usual clicks and whirs, but rather bangs and whizzes, hence the name. It also sparks and electrocutes people, so there’s that. Needless to say, the mystery behind this machine is one Jack and Elizabeth vow to uncover.

Their search for answers takes them locally to the NY Public Library, then across the ocean to The Netherlands. I don’t want to say much about the plot because it unravels with one mystery answered, yet another one springs up just as quickly behind it. Jack and Elizabeth have to do some breaking and entering, plenty of lying, and more research and critical thinking than you can imagine. This book was just layer upon layer of mystery and intrigue. And just go ahead and get the second book, because you won’t want to be left hanging at the end of the first one 😉

I’m so glad I stumbled upon that Facebook post months ago, because it brought me to this ridiculously fun read. Sure it’s a young adult book, but Elizabeth isn’t an annoying whiny teenager (okay, she has her moments, as do all teens, but overall she is a great character) and Jack is just as mischievous as a good grandfather with a twinkle in his eye should be. I definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick, well-written mystery.

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Everything I Never Told You

For the 2018 book challenge, I need a book that is set in the decade I was born. I scrolled through a vast list of every book set in the 1970s and stumbled upon this one. I had it on my Kindle already and had heard so many great things about it. So I was really excited to get to this one, even though I had no idea what it was about.

And here we are with another family drama. The very first line in the book is Lydia is dead. Lydia being the teenage and middle child of James and Marilyn. James is Chinese, Marilyn is not. But they fall in love, get married, and have a family. Back in school, Marilyn dreamed of being a doctor, but when she gets pregnant, her dream is put on hold. Then comes another child (Lydia) and the dream gets further pushed away. Marilyn’s mother was a home economics teacher who preached day in and day out about keeping a good home, a good family, and a good husband, none of which Marilyn wants. So when she marries outside her race, her mother is so appalled that they never speak again.

Through a variety of situations, Marilyn decides to push Lydia the direction she, herself, was never allowed to go- to medicine. Marilyn makes sure Lydia has books, knowledge, and support to become the doctor she wants. Marilyn never stops to check what Lydia wants though. Such is being a parent. Parents want their child to be happy and successful, but not all are willing to let their child find his or her own path. How many parents push their kids into sports, or music, or drama, etc just because it is what they think is best, rather than what the child wants. Lydia is a victim of this very thing. So when she ends up dead, her parents are left wondering what happened and why.

This book broke my heart, in the best way possible, because it was so true. The microaggressions against Asians depicted in the book are still occurring today. The need for parents to push their children hasn’t changed. My kids are still young and want to be marine biologists, zookeepers, race car drivers, etc and that’s just fine with me.  But one of the most important things we can do is support, guide, and love our children without pushing them in the wrong direction. It’s a fine line, but one that must be negotiated carefully.