Friday, January 31, 2020

Julie's Review: Minor Drama & Other Catastrophes

Author: Kathleen West
Series: None
Publication Date: February 4, 2020
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 384
Obtained: publisher via Netgalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Helicopter parents with social media consequences make for a great novel
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Summary: When a devoted teacher comes under pressure for her progressive curriculum and a helicopter mom goes viral on social media, two women at odds with each other find themselves in similar predicaments, having to battle back from certain social ruin. Isobel Johnson has spent her career in Liston Heights sidestepping the community’s high-powered families. But when she receives a threatening voicemail accusing her of Anti-Americanism and a liberal agenda, she’s in the spotlight. Meanwhile, Julia Abbott, obsessed with the casting of the school’s winter musical, makes an error in judgment that has far-reaching consequences for her entire family. Brought together by the sting of public humiliation, Isobel and Julia learn firsthand how entitlement and competition can go too far, thanks to a secret Facebook page created as an outlet for parent grievances. The Liston Heights High student body will need more than a strong sense of school spirit to move past these campus dramas in an engrossing debut novel that addresses parents behaving badly and teenagers speaking up, even against their own families. ~amazon.com

Review: You know Sports parents get a bad rap, but this book highlights that maybe just maybe Fine Arts parents are no better, they are just not filmed acting horribly.  What Ms. West does in this novel is show the reader how one moment can be exacerbated and get its wings via social media. It also highlights the dark versions of social media and how it really can destroy reputations and harm lives. 

Julia Abbott's life revolves her two kids, Tracy and Andrew much to their chagrin. She'll do anything to make sure that they are in position to take on the social circles of high school. She doesn't worry too much about Tracy but focuses more on Andrew and his theatre career. She's convinced that everything they've done during the summer will guarantee Andrew a plum role in the play. But Julia's not really good with things being out of her control and so she goes to the school to see the cast list before her son. What happens next is a situation that gets caught on film and it doesn't show Julia in the best light. It will also have far reaching after effects on each one of her family members. 

You then have Isobel Johnson who is a teacher of Literature that wants her students to think outside of the box but not all parents are happy about her methods. This has some major fallout for her as she fights for her job and fights for the way she wants to do her job. 


There are so many layers to this novel that I can't even begin to go into most of what makes me love this because I'll give key plot points away. Minor Drama & Other Catastrophes is so nuanced and covers a variety of different social issues without being preachy. The character development in this books is fantastic as is the way it is told from many different POV which all intersect is superb.

I highly anticipate the next novel from Ms. West. 


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Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sunday Skim



Week 1/19/2020:


Finished:





Currently Reading:





Looking Forward To:




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Friday, January 24, 2020

Julie's Review: Big Lies in a Small Town

Author: Diane Chamberlain
Series: None
Publication Date: January 14, 2020
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 400
Obtained: publisher via Netgalley
Genre:  Mystery
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Do we ever escape our pasts to be able to move on?
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Summary: North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher's life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women's Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets. North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn't expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder. What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies? ~amazon.com 

Review: Morgan is sitting in jail for a crime that will haunt her for the rest of her life. That is until she’s released to work on a mural held onto by her favorite artist for decades. She was in the middle of her Junior Year at UNC - Charlotte studying Art, when a mistake changed the path of her life. She's not sure why Jesse James Williams chose her to restore the mural in his home town but in order to gain her freedom she agrees to restore it.  The problem is she doesn't know the first thing about art restoration and her ability to not return to jail. It doesn't really help that she's on an extremely tight deadline because of the opening of the art gallery. 

Anna Dale is a novice artist that is picked by the US Government to create a mural in Edenton, North Carolina which is pretty much small town Americana. Which in the 1940s still means segreation and rampant racism. Anna being from New Jersey isn't sure what she steps into. For the most part, she's welcomed with open arms and even more so as she reveals her drawings for the mural which highlights signifcant areas and events for the town. Not everyone is happy and especially when she has a young black man assisting her out in the barn she's using. 

Then things change for Anna unexpectedly and she disappears from Edenton to leave no trace except for an unfinished mural. 

As Morgan works on the mural and begins to uncover some sinister pictures in it, which means that she's even more curious about Ms. Dale and exactly what happened to her. Along the way she begins to see if she can heal herself while trying to heal Edenton. 

What I really enjoy about Ms. Chamberlain’s books is that I really have no clue what she’s going to throw at me. She loves to lead you down a path and then switch it up on you. It is no different in this novel.


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Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sunday Skim



Week 1/12/2020:


Finished:



Big Lies in a Small Town is classic Diane Chamberlain with a really good twist. The Dutch House is a work of literary perfection and listening to Tom Hanks read it for 8 hours added to it.

Currently Reading:




Looking Forward To:





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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Sunday Skim



Week 1/5/2020:


Finished:


Taylor Stevens has never let me down and her 2nd novel in the Jack and Jill series was another adrenaline filled ride. This brother and sister duo have the most dysfunctional relationship I've ever read.  Megan Miranda created another great mystery/thriller with The Last House Guest with a few great twists.


Currently Reading:



Looking Forward To:



Man, re-entry into work can be hard especially after an extended time off. I won't complain too loudly though because I had less than 100 emails from that time off to go through. It was also back to it for my kids and their activities so it's been a busy week to say the least. I did get some reading done but not as much as I had hoped.

How was your first full week of 2020?



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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Jenn's Review: Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe

Author: Heather Webber
Series: None
Publication Date: July 16th 2019
Publisher: Forge Books
Pages: 336
Obtained: Purchase
Genre:  Women's Fiction, Magical Realism
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: family, secrets, and misunderstandings 
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Summary: Nestled in the mountain shadows of Alabama lies the little town of Wicklow. It is here that Anna Kate has returned to bury her beloved Granny Zee, owner of the Blackbird Café. It was supposed to be a quick trip to close the café and settle her grandmother’s estate, but despite her best intentions to avoid forming ties or even getting to know her father’s side of the family, Anna Kate finds herself inexplicably drawn to the quirky Southern town her mother ran away from so many years ago, and the mysterious blackbird pie everybody can’t stop talking about. As the truth about her past slowly becomes clear, Anna Kate will need to decide if this lone blackbird will finally be able to take her broken wings and fly.

Review: Heather Webber has long been one of my favorite authors ever since Julie introduced me to her Lucy Valentine  series years ago. She has a way of writing characters that is warm, inviting, and oh-so-accessible. I was intrigued by Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe as it is her first novel that ventures into the realm of Women's Fiction.

It's amazing how the strand of a single person's life can run through so many other lives and how events can change and shape who we become.  Even when several people are touched by the same experience the individual effects can be so incredibly different.  These are the themes Heather Webber skillfully explores and there is much to love here.  There are several character's stories that unfold gently and I was enthralled watching their past catch up with their present. Despite the fact that the story is told from several different points of view, the transitions were not jarring and I felt drawn into the quirky town and all of its inhabitants.

As much as I enjoy magical realism, I found that it was the only thing that seemed slightly out of place in the novel.  Don't get me wrong, it was artfully done and it gave the novel quaint charm. However, the magic of the pie would have been enough for me and I felt that the story could have easily stood on it's own without much of the rest of it.

The novel ends as quietly as it begins and one can't help but feel you are leaving the character's behind too soon.  I found myself wishing to be back in in Wicklow, sitting down for a piece of pie, and catching up with all the neighbors.  That's the thing about a Heather Webber novel, it sticks with you for days after you close the cover.

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Monday, January 6, 2020

Julie's Review: You Were There Too

Author: Colleen Oakley
Series: None
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
Publisher: Berkley Books
Pages: 352
Obtained: publisher via Netgalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Emotional novel about fate and finding your place
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Summary: Mia Graydon's life looks picket-fence perfect; she has the house, her loving husband, and dreams of starting a family. But she has other dreams too—unexplained, recurring ones starring the same man. Still, she doesn’t think much of it, until a relocation to small-town Pennsylvania brings her face to face with the stranger she has been dreaming about for years. And this man harbors a jaw-dropping secret of his own—he's been dreaming of her too. Determined to understand, Mia and this not-so-stranger search for answers. But when diving into their pasts begins to unravel her life in the present, Mia emerges with a single question—what if? ~amazon.com



Review: You know how when you pick a book up that it's going to be something special and you aren't going to want to put it down? That's how You Were There Too was for me. Sometimes it is the books that hit you in the heart that are the hardest to write reviews on.

Mia is a struggling artist but she's got a loving husband and a wonderful house to decorate but yet she doesn't feel settled. For years she's been having dreams of a man that isn't her husband but when she happens upon him in the new town they moved to, she starts to question everything. It doesn't help that her and Harrison seem to have drifted apart more recently after her 3rd miscarriage. Mia desperately wants a baby while Harrison is now questioning if it's the right path for them.

As Mia and Harrison find themselves adrift, Mia finds herself drawn to Oliver because she feels like she knows him since he's been in her dreams for years. Even more stunning is the fact that she's been in his dreams as well but they've been very different from hers. Mia and Oliver are on a quest to find out the meaning of why they are connected in their dreams and what they mean. This journey makes her step back and examine her life, what if her life was meant to be different.

Now I will say the ending gutted me but not in the typical fashion. Ms. Oakley does a fantastic job of staying away from the wife leaves the husband for the other guy trope. Let's face it while Mia might feel that she knows Oliver, the fact is she doesn't know anything about him.  Even as they spend time with each other they begin to know each other but who are they really? Does it mean you are "fated" to be together because you dream of each other or is it just coincidence?

Do you believe in fate? Do you believe in soul mates? Is fate really a series of coincidences put together to make it feel like something more than it is? These are some of the questions that Ms. Oakley poses throughout her book to make you think about through the eyes of Harrison, Mia and Oliver.

The writing is beautiful and eloquent in how she sets the scenes, the characters and their journeys. Even though this is my first read of 2020, I know these characters will not leave me anytime soon.


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Sunday, January 5, 2020

Sunday Skim



Week of 12/22/2019 and 12/29/2019:


Finished:





Currently Reading:


Looking Forward To:




Happy 2020!! I hope that everyone had a good holiday and if you had time off from your job, you enjoyed your time. I know I certainly did even with being mom Uber. 😁I got some good reading done, some tv time with the husband (we watched The Spy on Netflix) and hung out with some friends.

I am ready to get back to a routine though and I think the kids are as well. Today ramps up my son's basketball season and he's super excited. My daughter has a few more dance competitions for the season and then will go into Orchesis.

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Thursday, January 2, 2020

Julie's Review: This Is Not How This Ends


Author: Rochelle Weinstein
Series: None
Publication Date: January 1, 2020
Publisher: Lake Union
Pages: 342
Obtained: publisher via Netgalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: A beautiful novel about love, loss, hope and forgiveness
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Summary: When Charlotte and Philip meet, the pair form a deep and instant connection. Soon they’re settled in the Florida Keys with plans to marry. But just as they should be getting closer, Charlotte feels Philip slipping away. Second-guessing their love is something Charlotte never imagined, but with Philip’s excessive absences, she finds herself yearning for more. When she meets Ben, she ignores the pull, but the supportive single dad is there for her in ways she never knew she desired. Soon Charlotte finds herself torn between the love she thought she wanted and the one she knows she needs. As a hurricane passes through Islamorada, stunning revelations challenge Charlotte’s loyalties and upend her life. Forced to reexamine the choices she’s made, and has yet to make, Charlotte embarks on an emotional journey of friendship, love, and sacrifice—knowing that forgiveness is a gift, and the best-laid plans can change in a heartbeat. This Is Not How It Ends is a tender, moving story of heartbreak and healing that asks the question: Which takes more courage—holding on or letting go? ~amazon.com

Review: This Is Not How This Ends is a beautifully written story about what it takes to let go of the past and embrace the future. Charlotte has always put a wall around her heart since her dad left her and her mom when she was 7 but when she meets Philip Stafford on a plane from Miami to Kansas, something changes in her. To say that Philip sweeps her of her feet is to make it an understatement. I will admit that throughout the novel, I wasn't so sure about Philip and even in the end I still wasn't sure if he truly loved Charlotte or thought of her as another possession to collect.


Charlotte is the type of person who loves to take care of other people: her mom, her students and now Philip. She always puts other people first and her knowledge of allergies helps to save the life of young boy with a nut allergy. This bounds them together because she introduces them to a life altering treatment called NAET. As Jimmy goes through treatment, Charlotte gets to know his dad, Ben. Opening up to him in ways that she can't currently talk to Philip about. Except it gets a bit awkward when it turns out that Ben is Philip's best friend.

Charlotte and Philip are supposed to be planning a wedding, except Philip isn't in town long enough to actually plan the wedding. Instead of getting closer to each other, Charlotte is worried that he's pulling away and running himself down by traveling too much. He won't listen, he keeps traveling and she keeps worrying.

I loved the way that Ms. Weinstein wrote this novel and captured Charlotte's inner conflicts. She shows us how complicated life, love, loss and forgiveness can be. Love is complex and so is loss. The grieving process itself is long, arduous and complex which Ms. Weinstein writes deftly about in this novel.

If you still need to pick a book to start of 2020 with then you should pick up This Is Not How It Ends.



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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year


Here's hoping for a wonderful and joyful 2020!!

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