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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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Hidden Valley Road

Title: Hidden Valley Road

Author: Robert Kolker

Genre: Biology, Schizophrenia

My poor husband has had to deal with hearing this phrase a lot over the past few days…”Do you want to know something I learned about schizophrenia?” And whether he wanted to learn it or not, I just proceeded to tell him. Because this book is fascinating. It’s not just about this one family, but it’s also about the history of research into the mental illness. All the things doctors have learned about schizophrenia since the early 1900s, which isn’t as much as you’d expect, honestly. Schizophrenia is really complex, and the treatments don’t work well for everyone.

From Goodreads: Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don’s work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins—aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony—and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys, one after another, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family?

What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amid profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. And unbeknownst to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment, prediction, and even eradication of the disease for future generations.

With clarity and compassion, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family’s unforgettable legacy of suffering, love, and hope. 

The Galvin story is just so awful. The family really had no idea what to do with the sick boys. But their willingness to help researchers was so important into the discoveries made in the 80s and 90s. Because as the boys were growing up in the 60s and 70s, schizophrenia was so misunderstood. We now know that it’s a genetic illness, assumed to be formed in utero. There’s no longer a nature vs nurture debate. It’s nature. 100%. But isolating the gene has been tough. This book was absolutely fascinating, and I learned so much. If the book had simply been about the family, or simply about the research, it wouldn’t have been as interesting. But having both aspects in the book was perfect. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in the subject.

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The Chalk Man

Title: The Chalk Man

Author: CJ Tudor

Genre: thriller, murder mystery

When I read and loved The Burning Girls, I made a point to get Tudor’s other book from my library. You guys, I burned through this book in two days. I absolutely couldn’t put it down. Not only was it a great story, tightly written, interesting characters, etc, it has a ton of Stephen King Easter eggs. He actually tweeted his recommendation of this book, and I imagine him giggling at the eggs as he’s reading. Even without the eggs, the book was excellent.

From Goodreads: In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.

In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he’s put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank . . . until one of them turns up dead.

That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.

The story is told from Eddie’s perspective in both past and present, but the chapters are labeled as such, so it’s really easy to follow. Eddie is a great character, flawed but likable, so you still cheer for him. He has a dark side, though, too, probably due to various incidents as a child. Finding out the truth behind the dismembered body was a fun journey. So far, Tudor is two for two in my book. I can’t wait for her next book!

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Too Good to Be True

Title: Too Good to Be True

Author: Carola Lovering

Genre: psychological thriller

This book was offered as a Book of the Month offer, and although I selected another book, this one sounded good, so I looked for it at my library. Holy. Smokes. This book is one of the best I’ve read this year. I absolutely loved it. It’s definitely crazy, but in such a fun way. It took turns I wasn’t expecting.

From Goodreads: Skye Starling is overjoyed when her boyfriend, Burke Michaels, proposes after a whirlwind courtship. Though Skye seems to have the world at her fingertips―she’s smart, beautiful, and from a well-off family―she’s also battled crippling OCD ever since her mother’s death when she was eleven, and her romantic relationships have suffered as a result.

But now Burke―handsome, older, and more emotionally mature than any man she’s met before―says he wants her. Forever. Except, Burke isn’t who he claims to be. And interspersed letters to his therapist reveal the truth: he’s happily married, and using Skye for his own, deceptive ends.

In a third perspective, set thirty years earlier, a scrappy seventeen-year-old named Heather is determined to end things with Burke, a local bad boy, and make a better life for herself in New York City. But can her adolescent love stay firmly in her past―or will he find his way into her future?

On a collision course she doesn’t see coming, Skye throws herself into wedding planning, as Burke’s scheme grows ever more twisted. But of course, even the best laid plans can go astray. And just when you think you know where this story is going, you’ll discover that there’s more than one way to spin the truth.

Nuts. This book is nuts. But in the best way possible. I actually shouted “HOLY CRAP” a couple of times when certain plot points were revealed. The story is expertly crafted and the characters jumped right off the page. Whether they were good people or not, they were definitely dynamic. I couldn’t put this book down. I’ve only read a handful of truly great thrillers this year (out of the dozens I’ve read), but I’m happy to say this one will be high on my recommendations.

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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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With the Fire on High

Title: With the Fire on High

Author: Elizabeth Acevedo

Genre: YA lit

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: book set in a restaurant

I just can’t stop reading YA these days. I go through reading phases, like most people, I would guess. But I’m digging through some recent YA books that I didn’t get to the past few years. And I’ve heard so many great things about this author, and this book also happened to fit a Popsugar prompt, so it was doubly worth reading. And I’m so glad I did.

From Goodreads: With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.

Emoni is just such a great character. She is realistic and responsible and knows exactly what she wants. But getting there can be tricky. She’s a fantastic mom, but having a baby does cause issues that her peers don’t face. She loves cooking, but her grades aren’t the greatest. She has an amazing grandma who raised her, but her dad isn’t as in the picture as much as he really should be. I’m so thankful for the recent transition in YA lit from annoying teen girl to amazing, strong teen girl. The recent representations are so much more empowering for girls who are reading the books. I listened to this book and couldn’t get through it quickly enough. I just loved being in Emoni’s world and absolutely recommend this one.

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Everything, Everything

Title: Everything, Everything

Author: Nicola Yoon

Genre: YA romance

I figured since I’ve read Yoon’s other two books Instructions for Dancing and The Sun is Also a Star, I might as well read the first one she wrote since I loved her other two so much. And, like her others, this one is a YA love story that is a bit unconventional. I appreciate her unique takes on first loves, and although this one missed the mark for me a bit, I still loved reading about Maddy and Olly.

From Goodreads:

My disease is as rare as it is famous. It’s a form of Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, but basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in fifteen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives. New next door neighbors. I look out the window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black t-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly. I want to learn everything about him, and I do. I learn that he is funny and fierce. I learn that his eyes are Atlantic Ocean-blue and that his vice is stealing silverware. I learn that when I talk to him, my whole world opens up, and I feel myself starting to change—starting to want things. To want out of my bubble. To want everything, everything the world has to offer.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

This book could have been a bit better with some development. I felt that Maddy and Olly’s love was rushed. I also saw some plot holes that were never explained, which was a bit frustrating. That said, maybe I’m being too picky. Maddy and Olly were great characters, and the ending of the book made a lot of sense to me. And although, this wasn’t my favorite Yoon book, her other two were just spectacular, so I’ll definitely be looking for more of her books in the future.

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Educated

Title: Educated

Author: Tara Westover

Genre: memoir

PopSugar Reading Challenge Prompt: book set in multiple countries

How in the world did it take me so long to read this book? Of course, I’ve heard about it, but I never really read a blurb of it. I thought it had something to do with the education system and how bad it was. Totally my fault for not investigating more. I started listening to this book, but I couldn’t find enough time to do so, and I was dying to read more and more and more, so I got it on ebook, so I could fly through it. This book is exactly how a memoir should be written. I’ve read a lot, and most are just a sequence of events retelling, but this one is so cleverly crafted.

From Goodreads: Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer, she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.

Holy. Smokes. My jaw just dropped so many times while reading this. The terror that Tara went through really is indescribable. The mental and physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her family is horrific. And although her family is Mormon and her dad is bipolar, Tara never presents these facts as FACTS about Mormonism or people with bipolar disorder. The book is a representation of Tara’s experience only, not about Mormonism or bipolar disorder as a whole. She knows her experience was singular. I could not put this book down. The story itself is captivating, but it was also so well-written. Absolutely compelling.

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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.