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Punch Me Up to the Gods

Title: Punch Me Up to the Gods

Author: Brian Broome

Genre: memoir

Thank you NetGalley for this book. And really, I am so thankful. What a fantastic book.

I’m a white, cis, straight, woman. Because of these privileges, my life is not hard. Sure, being a woman can be difficult at times, but it doesn’t compare in any way to being a Black person in society these days. Or being a gay person. But being both Black and gay is an unbelievable challenge, to put it mildly. Brian is around my age, grew up in a small town, just like I did, but his life was vastly different all because of his Blackness and his queerness. This theme is the topic of the book, and although the book was difficult to read because of all the struggles he dealt with, I couldn’t put this one down. Reading books written by people who are different from you is critical to being a member of the world. I’m so glad NetGalley sent this one to me.

From Goodreads: Punch Me Up to the Gods introduces a powerful new talent in Brian Broome, whose early years growing up in Ohio as a dark-skinned Black boy harboring crushes on other boys propel forward this gorgeous, aching, and unforgettable debut. Brian’s recounting of his experiences—in all their cringe-worthy, hilarious, and heartbreaking glory—reveal a perpetual outsider awkwardly squirming to find his way in. Indiscriminate sex and escalating drug use help to soothe his hurt, young psyche, usually to uproarious and devastating effect. A no-nonsense mother and broken father play crucial roles in our misfit’s origin story. But it is Brian’s voice in the retelling that shows the true depth of vulnerability for young Black boys that is often quietly near to bursting at the seams.
 
Cleverly framed around Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem “We Real Cool,” the iconic and loving ode to Black boyhood, Punch Me Up to the Gods is at once playful, poignant, and wholly original. Broome’s writing brims with swagger and sensitivity, bringing an exquisite and fresh voice to ongoing cultural conversations about Blackness in America.

Back when I was teaching AP English, I was constantly on the hunt for passages to use in class. One section near the end of this book about Brian wanting a pink shirt is simply one of the best written passages I’ve read in ages. So many people write memoirs their story is interesting, but the writing leaves you cringing because of how cheesy or bad it is. This book is beautifully written from beginning to end. I hope this one gets the reviews it deserves. Own voices books are critical these days, and this is one I will be recommending to everyone.

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Forget Me Not

Title: Forget Me Not

Author: Alexandra Oliva

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Thank you NetGalley for this book!

I can’t remember what it was about this book that made select it, but I’m really glad I did. This book started out really strange because I never read the blurbs ahead of time. I like to go in cold. So getting a feel for the book took a few chapters. But once the pieces fell into place, the book was smooth sailing for me, and I finished it in just a couple of days.

From Goodreads: What if your past wasn’t what you thought?

As a child, Linda Russell was left to raise herself in a 20-acre walled-off property in rural Washington. The woods were her home, and for twelve years she lived oblivious to a stark and terrible truth: Her mother had birthed her only to replace another daughter who died in a tragic accident years before.

And then one day Linda witnesses something she wasn’t meant to see. Terrified and alone, she climbs the wall and abandons her home, but her escape becomes a different kind of trap when she is thrust into the modern world—a world for which she is not only entirely unprepared, but which is unprepared to accept her.

And you couldn’t see a future for yourself?

Years later, Linda is living in Seattle and immersed in technology intended to connect, but she has never felt more alone. Social media continually brings her past back to haunt her, and she is hounded by the society she is now forced to inhabit. But when Linda meets a fascinating new neighbor who introduces her to the potential and escapism of virtual reality, she begins to allow herself to hope for more.

What would it take to reclaim your life?

Then an unexplained fire at her infamous childhood home prompts Linda to return to the property for the first time since she was a girl, unleashing a chain of events that will not only endanger her life but challenge her understanding of family, memory, and the world itself.

Because this book mentions the pandemic in the past, I knew it was set in the near future. Social media is now controlled by one tech, SocialHub, and people wear their phones are arm sleeves. See why I was confused at first? My own fault! But once I dug into Linda’s story, I couldn’t wait to see how her story, both past and present, would develop. I really enjoyed the fact that this book wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill thrillers, but rather, it has a fair amount of science fiction added to it. I found the story super creative and enjoyed the book quite a bit. Will for sure be recommending this one!

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The Burning Girls

Title: The Burning Girls

Author: CJ Tudor

Genre: mystery/thriller/horror

Thank you Netgalley for this book!

Holy smokes! (pun intended) What a crazy, great book. Let me make it clear that before I even finished this one, I requested The Chalk Man from my library. I was just so impressed with this book and its multiple plots that wove together so well. The book has so many layers of mystery all were so well-written and cohesive. I’m so glad I got to read this one. Oh, and Tudor makes a reference to my favorite band, The Killers, so I immediately tweeted my thanks to her, and she replied. So cool! Hi again, if you are reading this, Ms. Tudor! =)

From Goodreads: Welcome to Chapel Croft. Five hundred years ago, eight protestant martyrs were burned at the stake here. Thirty years ago, two teenage girls disappeared without a trace. And two months ago, the vicar of the local parish killed himself.

Reverend Jack Brooks, a single parent with a fourteen-year-old daughter and a heavy conscience, arrives in the village hoping to make a fresh start and find some peace. Instead, Jack finds a town mired in secrecy and a strange welcome package: an old exorcism kit and a note quoting scripture. “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed and hidden that will not be known.”

The more Jack and daughter Flo get acquainted with the town and its strange denizens, the deeper they are drawn into their rifts, mysteries, and suspicions. And when Flo is troubled by strange sightings in the old chapel, it becomes apparent that there are ghosts here that refuse to be laid to rest.

But uncovering the truth can be deadly in a village where everyone has something to protect, everyone has links with the village’s bloody past, and no one trusts an outsider.

What I loved most about this book was that the story is really about the vicar’s past, the town’s past, and the town’s present, all at the same time. You learn more about Jack and why she left her previous post. You learn more about the martyrs from centuries ago and the girls who disappeared decades ago. And you learn about the townspeople and just what they have to hide. What I found interesting was that the story is told in first person from Jack’s perspective, but some chapters are told third person about Flo. I can’t say I’ve read a book that switches between first and third narrator like that. It didn’t confuse me at all, and I really appreciated the uniqueness of that. This book was great, plain and simple. I can’t wait to dive into The Chalk Man soon!

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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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My Body in Pieces

Title: My Body in Pieces

Author: Marie-Noëlle Hébert

Genre: graphic novel

PopSugar Reading Challenge Prompt: A book that discusses body positivity

Thank you NetGalley for this book!

This book is absolutely beautiful. Not only are Marie-Noëlle’s honesty and realizations important to convey, but her illustrations are absolutely phenomenal. They are in black and white, so I was able to read it on my e-ink Kindle, but I also read it again on my phone to see just how dynamic the illustrations would look. I definitely recommend reading on a full-color tablet. The shades of gray and small details are so dynamic.

From Goodreads: All Marie-Noëlle wants is to be thin and beautiful. She wishes that her thighs were slimmer, that her stomach lay flatter. Maybe then her parents wouldn’t make fun of her eating habits at family dinners, the girls at school wouldn’t call her ugly, and the boy she likes would ask her out. This all-too-relatable memoir follows Marie-Noëlle from childhood to her twenties, as she navigates what it means to be born into a body that doesn’t fall within society’s beauty standards.

When, as a young teen, Marie-Noëlle begins a fitness regime in an effort to change her body, her obsession with her weight and size only grows and she begins having suicidal thoughts. Fortunately for Marie-Noëlle, a friend points her in the direction of therapy, and slowly, she begins to realize that she doesn’t need the approval of others to feel whole.

Marie-Noëlle Hébert’s debut graphic memoir is visually stunning and drawn entirely in graphite pencil, depicting a deeply personal and emotional journey that encourages us to all be ourselves without apology.

There isn’t a lot of text to this graphic novel, but that’s okay. As Marie-Noëlle discusses her image of herself, the few words and detailed illustrations work together well. When I downloaded the book from NetGalley, I had no idea it was a graphic novel, but I loved everything about this book. I highly recommend this one.

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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.

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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.

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Hurricane Summer

Title: Hurricane Summer

Author: Asha Bromfield

Genre: YA lit/ own voices

Thank you Netgalley for this book.

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

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

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

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

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When the Stars Go Dark

Thank you Netgalley for this book!

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

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

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

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