Wednesday, October 31, 2018

"Gmorning, Gnight! Little Pep Talks for Me & You" by Lin-Manuel Miranda

I didn't realize how much I needed this book until I read it.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind Hamilton and In the Heights, has a pretty prolific following on Twitter. Each day he provides a tweet of encouragement in the morning and one in the evening. Sometimes they're humorous, sometimes they're inspirational, and sometimes they just hit you right where you need them to.

Gmorning, Gnight! Little Pep Talks for Me & You is a compilation of those tweets of encouragement, accompanied by terrific illustrations from Jonny Sun. And as Miranda notes in the introduction:

I don't have a book of quotations
Or wisdom I pull from the shelf;
Most often the greetings I wish you
Are the greetings I wish for myself.

So if I write "relax," then
I'm nervous,
Or if I write "cheer up," then I'm blue,
I'm writing what I wish somebody would say,
Then switching the pronoun to

I so enjoyed this book, and flew through it pretty quickly. I found myself smiling, nodding my head, even feeling a little emotional at times, because Miranda was saying things that really resonated for me. Sun's illustrations are cute without being too precious, literal at times while abstract at others.

Here's one set of pep talks I loved:

Good morning.
Even when the panic's at the back of your throat, courage.
Let's go.

Good night.
Even when fear is at the foot of your bed, courage.
Let's go.

This book will make such a great gift, and although I've read it cover to cover (in a matter of less than an hour), I'm thinking of using it as a book of daily affirmations. There are certainly days I can use a little extra encouragement!

I hope this makes you feel as good as it made me. Thanks, Lin-Manuel and Jonny!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Book Review: "A Very Large Expanse of Sea" by Tahereh Mafi

I read for a number of different reasons. I read for relaxation, for entertainment, for escape. I read to be provoked into thought or action, I read to feel, and sometimes my funny bone or my tear ducts need a good workout. And sometimes, I read to learn.

The ideal book is a combination of at least a few of these, which was one of the reasons I enjoyed Tahereh Mafi's newest novel, A Very Large Expanse of Sea. I empathized with the characters and found the story emotional and appealing, but I also learned a little more about what the world was like for a teenage Persian girl in the months after 9/11.

Shirin is 16 years old. One thing she and her family have become tremendously skilled at is moving. It seems like any time they start to feel settled, her parents decide it's time to move again, ostensibly to find an even better life for Shirin and her older brother, Navid. What they don't understand is how the world—and especially high school—can be so horribly cruel to a teenage Persian girl who wears a headscarf. (Given all of the horrible torture and turmoil her parents faced to escape from Iran and give their children a chance at happiness and success, they're not tremendously moved by Shirin's tales of cruelty, ridicule, and occasional violence.)

"These, the regular injections of poison I was gifted from strangers, were definitely the worst things about wearing a headscarf. But the best thing about it was that my teachers couldn't see me listening to music."

In an effort to just get through the days, Shirin immerses herself in music, which helps her express her outrage and her loneliness, even if it's mostly self-imposed. But her favorite activity is breakdancing with her brother, and when he and his friends start a breakdancing club in school, she can't wait to be a part of it. She can have her protective walls and still learn the moves she's watched on old VHS tapes for years.

Then she meets Ocean, a fellow student who becomes her lab partner in biology class. He isn't willing to be pushed away by Shirin's immediate need to keep everyone beyond arm's length. He actually wants to know about what it's like to be Persian, not because he thinks she's an oddity, but because he's actually interested. But more than that, he's interested in her. And Shirin just can't have that. Even as she finds herself thinking more and more about Ocean, and wanting to be with him, she already knows how everything will turn out, and she doesn't want to put herself or him through that.

"It took a lot out of me to put up the walls that kept me safe from heartbreak, and at the end of every day I felt so withered by the emotional exertion that sometimes my whole body felt shaky."

When she decides that she can't live her life angry all the time, without letting anyone in, she lets herself be vulnerable. But even world-weary Shirin isn't prepared for the way people will behave. The fickleness of human behavior, the fear, the ignorance, the obsessions, become almost too much for her to bear, but she really has nowhere to turn. How could the possibility of love be worth all of this?

This was a tremendously affecting, beautifully written, thought-provoking (and anger-provoking) novel. I read the entire book in a day, and was simultaneously moved, outraged, saddened, horrified, embarrassed, and utterly hooked. All too often we make judgments about a person because of how they behave, or what they look like, or what their beliefs are, and it's amazing how often we lose the true person we're judging.

I had never read any of Mafi's books before, although I've always wanted to. Even though I know her other books are very different from this one, clearly she is an incredible storyteller, because she had me staying up late to finish this, and I can't stop thinking about Shirin and Ocean. What a fascinating and beautiful story this was.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Book Review: "This Can't Wait" by Luke P. Narlee

"Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary."
—Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society

This quote kept racing through my head while reading Luke Narlee's newest book, This Can't Wait. This is a book about about chance, about taking control of a moment, because you never know when you'll get another one like it.

But mostly, this simply yet beautifully told book is about love—what it's like when it first arrives, what it's like when it's gone, and how desperate so many of us are to find it, in its many different forms. It's not a unique message but it's one that is all too necessary to hear, especially in the chaos of the world around us.

Adam Arthur is an author. (How's that for a tongue-twister?) He tells love stories. And he should know of them, because he and his wife Hadley had the perfect one for many years. Now, as he nears the end of his life, he needs surgery he might not survive, or if he does, he might lose his sight. He's perfectly fine with dying, as he's ready to be reunited with Hadley again, although he worries about his daughter and granddaughter.

"In my opinion, we get more than one chance at living, but we don't always find our soulmate in each given lifetime. Or we do find them, but we don't realize their significance. This lifetime, I did. And I have no doubt that I will find Hadley again in my next life after I've moved on from this one."

The appearance of an unexpected stranger who happens to be one of Adam's biggest fans buoys his confidence as he heads into surgery. She encourages him to share the story of when he and Hadley first met, and tells him to think about all of his stories that remain untold. If he awakens from surgery unable to see, she volunteers to be his scribe, to ensure he at least has one last book in him.

The bulk of this novel are those stories, loosely connected in ways that may take you a few minutes to realize, but never gimmicky. From the story of the man who might have missed his one chance at true happiness during a fleeting bar encounter, to the woman who becomes so convinced her husband has been unfaithful (through flawed but understandable reasoning) that she can't be happy in the here and now, to the woman so tired of meeting Mr. Wrong that she's willing to pay for Mr. Right, but doesn't know what that will mean for her in the end, and my favorite, the story of a couple so destined for each other but it takes a number of lifetimes to get it right.

In a way, this book felt a little like one of those movies that is a compilation of different people's stories, although some of these follow characters through the years. Some of the stories resonated more for me than others, but I enjoyed all of them, and each touched my heart and made me think in some way. All too often we're told not to let chances slip us by, and this book, and these stories demonstrate the consequences of doing so, as well as the beauty that occurs when we seize those chances.

This is Narlee's third book. Each one is very different—his first book, Guest Bed, was a little bit of a romantic thriller, while The Appointment: Lost & Found was a book set in a disturbing vision of the future. With each book, Narlee's storytelling gets stronger, and with this book, he really has hit his stride.

I've said before, I am an unabashed sap, one of those people who cries during emotionally provoking commercials. This Can't Wait didn't quite choke me up, but it did make me think, and made me realize again how much what we read provides us glimpses of the human heart in ways we might not have expected.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Book Review: "Here and Now and Then" by Mike Chen

I know I'm not the only one who finds novels about time travel utterly irresistible. It's not the science of time travel that fascinates me, although I'm always drawn in by the possible paradox of running into yourself somewhere in time. For me, it's more the thought that one single action, even the smallest gesture, can set off a chain of events that could change the world as we (or the characters) know it.

In Mike Chen's new novel, Here and Now and Then, Kin (short for Quinoa—when he was born the world was obsessed with naming babies after food) is a special agent for the Temporal Correction Bureau (TCB), in the year 2142. When a simple mission back in time to the 1990s gets botched, Kin finds himself stranded in the San Francisco suburbs—for 18 years.

After his initial panic gave way to acceptance, Kin realizes that he must live his life in the here and now of the 1990s, even if it isn't quite his real here and now. So he finds himself building a life—working in IT; keeping his marriage to Heather, a driven, science fiction-obsessed attorney, on track; and trying to maintain his relationship with their teenage daughter, Miranda. It's not all that difficult, but through the years he struggles with memory loss, debilitating headaches, and blackouts—evidence his brain is destabilizing due to all of the time travel.

Kin tries to write off his episodes as PTSD, but as they increase in frequency and intensity, they take their toll on his marriage and his relationship with Miranda. When the TCB's retrieval agent finally locates Kin, and readies to bring him back to 2142, Kin isn't sure he wants to leave the life he has known, even if he knows he never should have had it in the first place. And when he returns to his present-day, Kin is shocked to find he had a completely different life he left behind. How can he return to his "old" life when his wife and daughter are back in the past?

"Did a missing past even matter anymore compared to human touch in the here and now?"

As Kin tries to re-acclimate to his life and those in it, he longs for his daughter. When his efforts to keep in touch with her across the years inadvertently put her in danger, Kin realizes the only thing he can do is travel back in time to save her, even if it means the end of his life and the end of his relationships in current time. It will take courage and strength he's not sure he has anymore, and the luck of time, which he hopes is on his side one last time.

I thought this was a fun, poignant book, full of suspense and emotion. At times it got a little too technical for me (science is so not my thing, even if it's fictional science), but the story had so much heart, and you wanted to root for everyone, even if that meant not everyone would get what they wanted. Kin is a terrific character, even if you wanted to smack him sometimes so he'd just say what he was feeling.

Here and Now and Then is an enjoyable addition to the time travel genre. But even if you're not a time travel fan, there's enough emotion, heart, and character development to sink your teeth into. And who knows? Maybe it will even get you thinking about who you'd travel through time for!

NetGalley and MIRA provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Book Review: "An Exaltation of Larks" by Suanne Laqueur

To borrow from a language spoken periodically in this book, Madre de Dios, este libro! (Mother of God, this book!)

"Second chances are given or made."

In 1973, 11-year-old Alejandro Penda is living in Chile in the midst of a military coup. Both of his parents are arrested, and Alejo doesn't know if he'll ever see them again. With the help of family friends, he escapes to America, to live with his uncle in the upstate New York town of Guelisten. Although the trauma of what he lived through, and his grief over his parents, is tremendously difficult for him, he finds himself becoming very close to the Larks, a large, active, warm family that is friends with his uncle.

Alex becomes best friends with Roger Lark, and he and the Larks' oldest daughter, Valerie, have a love/hate relationship which turns into infatuation when Valerie returns home from college. But although she and Alex are drawn to each other, they give each other the freedom to live their own lives for a while, with Val becoming a successful costume designer in New York, and Alex studying veterinary medicine in Colorado.

Javier Landes had a tumultuous childhood growing up in Queens. When a bout of teenage experimentation is discovered, he loses his family and is forced to make his own way. Through a chance meeting with an older woman, Jav becomes a successful male escort—he's always in demand, highly skilled, and well-versed to meet the needs of his clients. But the only thing that is missing is a love of his own, although he isn't sure exactly what he wants.

Alex and Val first meet Jav in New York City when they're in their 20s. These meetings leave indelible impressions on all three, and their interactions take on different dimensions and intensities before they go their separate ways. Through the years each experiences their own set of tragedies and challenges—Val and Alex together as a married couple, while Jav tries to find his way and his heart's true path.

Years later the three are reunited when Jav comes to Guelisten, after being named the guardian of his orphaned nephew. The three become inseparable, more like family than friends, and together they weather some difficult challenges, and learn some tough truths about one another. But it's the secrets they keep from one another, the feelings they try to keep hidden, the needs each person has that threaten to untie their bonds and unmoor them forever.

An Exaltation of Larks absolutely blew me away. This is a 500-page book and I literally stayed up until 1:30 a.m. because I desperately needed to finish it. This is a story about friends that become family as well as the often-blurred lines between friendship and love. It's a story about how we can never completely outrun the traumas we face, and some times our struggles are more difficult than others, yet life is worth living to the fullest, surrounded by those you love. This is also a book about the challenges of parenthood, the trust that is so key to the success of long-term relationships, and what it is like to feel like you keep missing your chance at happiness.

I absolutely loved these characters, every single one of them. Suanne Laqueur has such love and respect for them as well that she fleshed them out so skillfully and gave them so much complexity that I found myself feeling the same way about them that the other characters did. Yes, there are one or two coincidences that made me roll my eyes a tiny bit, but they didn't detract from the beauty of Laqueur's storytelling or the emotions she made me feel.

There are a few incidences of animals getting injured or dying, due to political unrest and accidents. Those scenes may be difficult for some to read or may make some avoid the book altogether, but I skimmed them and didn't miss anything.

This is a big, gorgeous story that would make an amazing movie, but it is one heck of a book. I'll certainly be ready very soon to read the sequel, A Charm of Finches, because I already miss these characters and I just finished the book less than 24 hours ago. In short, I fell in love with this book. All in.

The author provided me a copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Book Review: "Daughters of the Lake" by Wendy Webb

"Some stories, especially peculiar, hidden ones involving murder and mystery, have a way of bubbling to the surface, especially when wrongs need to be righted. They make themselves heard despite efforts to keep them silent. All in the proper time. And now was the proper time."

Kate's life is in total upheaval. Her marriage is over, since she discovered her husband had cheated on her, and as if that weren't enough, they had worked together, so she had no desire to go back to her job. With nowhere else to turn, she retreats to her parents' home on Lake Superior, in an effort to pull herself and her life together.

Being home with her parents soothes her, but she can't seem to explain the weird dreams she's having, where she is actually someone else—another woman, in fact—as she sees the woman's face instead of hers, hears her voice, even interacts with the woman's husband. When one quiet day in her hometown a body washes up on the shore of the lake, Kate is absolutely shocked to discover it's the body of the woman from her dreams. And inexplicably, Kate is the one who realizes that there was an infant snuggled close to the woman's body, but she doesn't understand how she could have known that.

Once she is able to (mostly) convince the local police she shouldn't be considered a suspect in these murders, Kate is desperate to figure out the identity of the woman, and why she is appearing in her dreams. The deeper she delves into this mystery, the stranger things become, and when she goes to visit her cousin, who runs an inn in the historic house her grandmother once lived in, she makes even more shocking discoveries—which inexplicably are taking both a physical and a mental toll on her.

Who was the woman that died? What happened to her? How can anyone explain the physical and emotional ways this mystery seems to be manifesting itself in Kate? Are these merely reactions to Kate's own emotional stress, or are there actual spirits that are trying to help her—or hinder her—from uncovering the truth? It's going to take the help of Kate's cousin Simon as well as a handsome police detective to get to the bottom of this, and save Kate from possible danger.

I'm being a little vague in my description of the plot because I went into this book knowing nothing and I think it really enhanced my enjoyment of the story. I thought Daughters of the Lake was a great read—a little bit bizarre, a little bit gothic, a little bit melodramatic, and utterly compelling. I wondered how Wendy Webb would pull everything off, and it certainly required some suspension of disbelief, but it didn't detract from the appeal of this story.

I've never read anything by Webb before, and in fact simply stumbled over the book on Amazon the other night, but I was totally impressed and enjoyed this from start to finish. Apparently she's been called the "Queen of the Northern Gothic," and I absolutely loved the setting of this book, so I'll have to check some of her other books out. She's a terrific storyteller, one who knows how to ratchet up suspense while drawing you in completely to her characters.

This is partly a mystery, partly a love story, partly a novel about the secrets that families and towns keep hidden. I could totally see this as a fun and campy movie-of-the-week or something like this, but it's a completely enjoyable read to boot.

Amazon First Reads and Lake Union Publishing provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Book Review: "The Sadness of Beautiful Things: Stories" by Simon Van Booy

I've read a lot over the years, so I've had the immense pleasure of experiencing the work—and the words—of countless authors. Some I remember more for how their books made me feel, what they made me think, or how they got my pulse racing or my tear ducts primed, while some I remember for the sheer beauty of their writing.

When I first read Simon Van Booy's story collection Love Begins in Winter back in 2009, I couldn't help marveling over the utter beauty of his prose. I mean, I loved those stories, but I remember wanting to go through the book with a highlighter simply to recall every gorgeous sentence which captured me. I've read a number of his books since then, some I've liked more than others, but every single time his words linger in my head.

His latest collection, The Sadness of Beautiful Things, is no exception to that rule. These stories are apparently based on things he has heard and been told on his travels. On their surface, many of these stories seem to be somewhat simple, but the deeper you delve into them, you realize how complex they are, and how deftly they explore emotions and the human condition.

There are eight stories in this collection. I really liked six of them, but still recognized the emotional power of the other two. Among my favorites were: "The Saddest Case of True Love," in which a man recounts a story told to him by a woman he met one night while on a trip to Florence, about the strange relationship of her parents; "The Green Blanket," which told of a man who turns to a very unorthodox treatment for what ails him; "The Pigeon," about a young boxer who turns the tables on his mugger in an unusual way; and "The Doorman," about interesting and poignant connections expressed through jazz music.

These stories are beautiful and heartfelt, and I found myself wanting to savor them at the same time I was tearing through them. Van Booy's writing is on majestic display once again, and I am reminded that his artistry with words and images is truly amazing. Even when the stories didn't quite work for me, it was more the quirkiness of their plot than the way they are told.

Not everyone is a short story fan, but I also enjoyed two of his novels, The Illusion of Separateness and Father's Day, although the former may be considered more a collection of linked stories that form a novel. No matter what narrative form you choose, I hope you'll be as dazzled with Van Booy's talent as I have been.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Book Review: "Hellbent" by Gregg Hurwitz

When I finished Hellbent, the third book in Gregg Hurwitz's fantastic series featuring rogue government assassin Evan Smoak, I got to thinking. You literally could spend the entire year reading books in different series, between YA, mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, even romance. It certainly would make things easier in terms of figuring out what your next book to read should be!!

There really are some amazing series out there, and this one is no exception.

When Evan Smoak (not his real name) was young, a man rescued him from a troubled life and he trained Evan how to kill. He was part of a fully deniable black program buried deep inside the Department of Defense, becoming Orphan X, "an expendable assassin who went where the U.S. government would not and did what the U.S. government could not."

But eight years ago, Evan went rogue from the program and became the Nowhere Man, the last resort for a person in desperate trouble. No one knows who the Nowhere Man is, but they know if they call him, he will help rescue them from a seemingly helpless situation.

"Evan had simply stepped off the grid, keeping only the operational alias he'd earned in the shadow service, a name spoken in hushed tones in the back rooms of intel agencies the world over."

Jack Johns was the man who brought Evan into the program, and he was the man who helped Evan remain human despite the things he had to do, the things he saw. Essentially, Jack has been the only father Evan has known, and when Jack calls him out of the blue one night, they both know his time is running out. One of Evan's fellow Orphans, Charles Van Sciver, is now in charge of wiping out any traces of the former program, and he's hellbent on finding Evan to enact some deep-seated revenge, so he strikes at Jack in an effort to get to Evan. Jack sends Evan on one last mission, to rescue his last protegé before she falls into Van Sciver's clutches.

What Evan finds is not what he is expecting, and this recruit leaves him with his hands full. He's bound and determined to make those who hurt Jack pay, and he knows he must strike at Van Sciver and his cohorts—some of whom are lethal former Orphans themselves—before he becomes the next target. But he has no idea just how high up the command to wipe out the program—and him—comes from.

In the meantime, Evan must also balance his responsibility as the Nowhere Man, which leaves him with a complex and potentially dangerous mission, and he is forced to both confront the path his life has taken, and wonder if he's destined to spend the rest of his life alone. If so, is that what he deserves?

Hellbent is an excellent combination of kick-ass action, pulse-pounding suspense, and complex character development. The characters aren't one-dimensional, even the villains—you get to understand what has made them the way they are. The one thing I always have trouble keeping in mind when reading this series is that Evan seems so world-weary, so wise beyond his years, but he's only in his late 20s or early 30s at best.

While I would recommend reading this series from the start—and Orphan X is one heck of a start (see my review)—you could start with this book and not feel utterly disoriented. However, you'd definitely miss some of the nuances that make this series such a find.

We could all use a little Evan Smoak in our lives. I'm excited that the fourth book in the series is slated to be released in January—I'm finally back on track! Seriously, if you're a thriller fan and you've not dived into this series yet, take my advice. Do it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Book Review: "The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy" by Mackenzi Lee

It was so good to get back into this series! I loved The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue (see my review), Mackenzi Lee's first book in this series, and I hadn't realized how much I missed these characters until I began her new book. Once again, I am so taken by the originality of her ideas, and the way she makes books set in the 18th century feel so modern.

"It would be so much easier if I did not want to know everything so badly. If I did not want so badly to be reliant upon no soul but myself."

For most of her life, Felicity Montague has dreamed of nothing more than a career in medicine, as a doctor or surgeon. Rather than fuss over parties or fashion or social standing, she is most comfortable with her medical texts and science books, where she can learn new things instead of being forced to make small talk. Yet this path is closed off to her as a woman—her family barely cares about her if she's not willing to be married off, and no hospital or medical school will give her an audience, let alone an opportunity to study.

After spending time in Edinburgh, where she hoped to enroll in the city's newly minted medical school, she discovers she is no closer to achieving her ambitions than before. And worse, she must dampen the affections of a kind baker with whom she has worked, as he wants to marry her and essentially "save" her from worrying about her ambitions.

"There are far worse things for a woman to be than a kind man's wife. It would be so much easier than being a single-minded woman with a chalk drawing on the floor of her boardinghouse bedroom mapping out every vein and nerve and artery and organ she reads about, adding notations about the size and properties of each."

With nowhere to turn, Felicity learns that a doctor she idolizes is marrying her childhood friend (from whom she has been estranged since a nasty argument a few years before) in Germany, and there is a chance that this somewhat-unorthodox doctor might have a place for her on his team. She agrees to travel to Stuttgart with a mysterious young woman named Sim, who promises to fund Felicity's travel to the wedding if she can pose as her maid. Despite the fact that Felicity isn't quite sure of Sim's motives, she readies herself to be reunited with her old friend, and hopes her life will change when she meets Dr. Platt.

But when Sim's true reasons for wanting to accompany Felicity are revealed, it upends her plans to get a job, threatens her still-shaky relationship with Johanna, and more importantly, endangers her life, as she becomes mired in a plot to recover scientific artifacts which have effects both sentimental and possibly life-changing. Her involvement pulls her from Germany to Switzerland to Algiers and Gibraltar, and what she sees and experiences toughens her resolve, leads her to some important self-discovery, and opens her eyes to some things she never imagined existed.

"You deserve to be here. You deserve to exist. You deserve to take up space in this world of men."

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy is truly a literary jaunt. It's a novel full of adventure, suspense, and some danger, but at the same time, it's a powerful commentary on equality, feminism, gender roles, sexuality, self-belief, and friendship. Yet to have a book explore modern issues against an historic backdrop never seems incongruous, and while at times it feels strange that many of the characters are teenagers given their maturity, I'm reminded of how younger people were considered adults much earlier in those times.

Lee is a fantastic, creative storyteller, and she pays attention to every last detail. I don't know if I loved these characters quite as much as I did Monty and Percy from the first book, mainly because these characters seemed a little less open and accessible emotionally, but I was hooked from start to finish. This is one of those books that is easy to love and not easy to forget.

I hope there's another book in this series coming along sometime soon!!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Book Review: "Soon the Light Will Be Perfect" by Dave Patterson

Dave Patterson's Soon the Light Will Be Perfect is spare, beautiful, and haunting. It's one of those books that feels a little like a ticking time bomb, because while everything that happens seems relatively benign, there's an underlying sense of tension that makes you wonder when, or if, everything is going to explode. But that doesn't detract at all from its appeal.

A 12-year-old boy and his family live in rural Vermont at the start of the Gulf War. For the first time in a long time, things are stable for their family—they finally have enough money to move out of the trailer park (which dooms you to ostracism, as even his fellow students in the gifted program at school want nothing to do with trailer park kids) and live in a home of their own.

It's not quite a comfortable existence, in that they still have to watch every penny, but with their father's job at a weapons manufacturing plant, things finally seem to be going their way. The boy's 15-year-old brother is rebellious, experimenting with girls, drugs, cigarettes, and mischief, but he still serves as an altar boy at their local church, so all is not lost. And then their mother is diagnosed with cancer, and everything starts to fall apart.

This is a family for whom religion is tremendously important, and as their mother's illness worsens, they depend more and more on their church. Whether it's attending anti-abortion rallies, which get increasingly more disturbing, or watching the members of the church pray for their mother's recovery, the boy doesn't quite understand the power of religion, but he wants it to work for his mother. (A segment where he finds his confirmation saint and tries to emulate him is a disturbing and emotional one.)

This is the story of a boy on the cusp of young adulthood, even if being an adult certainly doesn't seem all it's cracked up to be. When he meets a young girl named Taylor, he is intrigued by the way she seems so much more mature and worldly than he does, even if she may be only a year or two older than him. But he quickly realizes that Taylor's bravado is a mask for something else, although he isn't sure how to help her, or if she really wants his help.

Soon the Light Will Be Perfect is a poignant story about a family in the midst of crisis, in which two siblings are forced to essentially raise themselves without any real supervision or explanation of all that is falling apart around them. They toy with rebellion but truthfully want a "normal" life back—that is, anything that doesn't send their family back to the trailer park. It's a novel about family, about belief, about realizing your parents don't have it any more together than you do at times, but you still rely on them.

Patterson is a tremendously self-assured writer, and it's hard to believe this is his debut novel. At times it moved a little slower than I liked, and I felt like things were a little more graphic than they needed to be at times, but I couldn't pull myself away from the book, even though I read it expecting everything might go horribly awry at any second.

Soon the Light Will Be Perfect is the first real glimpse of Patterson's talent, and it's worthwhile to read. I can't wait to see what's next.

NetGalley and HARLEQUIN – Trade Publishing (U.S. & Canada)/Hanover Square Press provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Book Review: "Odd One Out" by Nic Stone

Courtney Aloysius Cooper IV ("Coop") has been in love with his best friend Jupiter for as long as he can remember. He knows she is a lesbian so he knows a romantic relationship between the two will never happen, but that doesn't stop him from thinking about her all the time. Plus, it doesn't help that they spend almost all of their free time together since they live next door to each other and their families are intertwined. Heck, he even pledged his virginity to her when they were in seventh grade.

"Do I realize it's dumb to have secret feelings for my lady-loving best girl friend and to want said best girl friend to be my first sexual intercourse experience? Yes. But being reminded of the dumbness doesn't make me feel very good."

Every romantic relationship Coop has tends to end because of Jupiter, since none of the girls he dates can handle him having a gorgeous female best friend, regardless of her sexuality. Truth be told, Coop never seems too broken up about the relationships ending. But his best guy friends think he's just setting himself up for heartbreak, and want him to put together a "game plan" that doesn't involve Jupiter.

Jupe loves Coop (they refer to themselves as "Jupe-n-Coop") as a brother and a best friend, but she doesn't think of him romantically. She's waiting to feel something special for a girl instead of the myriad crushes she's had through the years. She's proud of who she is, even though some in school treat her as if she just needs a guy to help solve her problems, while some female classmates think she'd be fun to experiment with.

Enter Rae Chin. The new girl in school, she and Jupiter quickly become friends, which leaves Coop feeling left out. But when Rae and Coop realize they share a traumatic memory from childhood, the two begin a friendship which turns into a flirtation whenever Jupiter isn't around. And no matter how much Jupe tries to downplay Rae's flirty advances toward her, she starts falling for Rae. It's enough complication to rattle every side of the triangle.

Who wins and who loses when friends try taking their relationship to the next level? How do you know when you have true feelings or if you're acting out of fear, jealousy, lust, loneliness, or betrayal? Can you really trust anyone with your heart? How can you truly understand your sexual identity, and if it differs from what you told people, what does that mean for everyone else?

Odd One Out is a poignant, sweet, thought-provoking exploration of the bonds between friends and how romance can both blur and possibly damage those bonds. It's a well-written book about being honest with yourself and those around you, and how easy it can be to take advantage of someone whose feelings may be stronger for you than yours are for them. It's also a look at sexual identity and how it is shaped, and whether declaring who you are is really important.

I really enjoyed this. At first I worried if the characters would be stereotypical or one-dimensional, but Nic Stone is such a talented writer that I needn't have been concerned. These characters are ones you want to root for and know more about, but in the end, they're still high school students—they don't speak as if their dialogue was written by Aaron Sorkin and they're not wise beyond their years. That's one of the keys to this book's appeal, that it feels so genuine.

In Stone's author's note, she says the following: "Being who you are and loving who you love may not be easy, but it's always worthwhile." As I've said many times when I've read great YA fiction, this is one of those books I wish existed when I was growing up, but I'm so glad it exists at this time, and hope it falls into the hands of those who will benefit from it.

What I loved so much about Odd One Out is that it didn't try too hard to convey its message, but its heart definitely won mine over. This is a special book for those who explore it.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Book Review: "November Road" by Lou Berney

Yes, it certainly was!!

"Guidry had always taken a simple approach to life: live it loose and easy, let it roll off and over you. Well, easier said than done these days. But he couldn't let himself brood about it, just how badly fucked he was."

Frank Guidry has always been a loyal foot soldier to Carlos Marcello, the mob boss of New Orleans. Carlos, and his lieutenant-of-sorts, Seraphine, have always been able to count on Frank for whatever needed to be done. And Frank has reaped the benefits—he's treated with respect, and sometimes fear, by those looking to do business with Marcello; he carries his clout with him wherever he chooses to go; and it's not just his good looks that entice women to want to sleep with him.

But in November of 1963, it looks like Frank's luck has just run out. The world has just been stunned by President Kennedy's assassination, and Frank realizes he may know a little more about that crime than he should, as he was down in Dallas on an errand shortly before the president was shot. And when Seraphine sends him back to Texas to tie up a loose end, he realizes he's just one more expendable detail—but he's not quite ready to give up without a fight.

In an effort to save himself, Frank tries numerous diversionary tactics which take him across the country, and all the while he's wondering if there's anyone left he can trust. When he runs into Charlotte, a housewife who took her two young daughters and fled her humdrum existence in Oklahoma to pursue a more exciting life, Frank realizes that he may have just found the perfect camouflage—no one will be looking for a man traveling with his wife and daughters.

Charlotte thinks Frank is just being a Good Samaritan, as he poses as an insurance salesman who offers to help Charlotte and her daughters get to their final destination in California. She has no idea of the danger that he's in, nor what that could mean for her. And while Charlotte is exactly what he needs, Frank is surprised to realize how independent and feisty she is, and how irresistible the path she represents suddenly seems.

As Frank tries to outrun his fate, and figure out his next steps, Charlotte wants to prove to herself and her daughters that she can give them the life she believes they deserve, and she isn't sure if Frank is a distraction or a choice worth pursuing. Will what Frank initially saw as his salvation ultimately be his undoing?

"With every decision we create a new future. We destroy all other futures."

Lou Berney follows up his fantastic The Long and Faraway Gone (see my review) with another stellar book which is part thriller, part character study, and part historical novel, as it so accurately captures the mood and social issues of the early 1960s. Berney is such an exceptional storyteller that I was hooked from start to finish, even if I had suspicions about how things would end up.

This book is so rich in character development. Even though you don't get to know some of the characters as well as you do Frank and Charlotte, there are incidents in the book that really wowed me. You know Frank hasn't been an entirely good person but you find yourself rooting for him, hoping he may outsmart all of those looking to destroy him.

My dad used to read thrillers, and I used to introduce him to all of my favorite authors. When I found a book or author that impressed me, I couldn't wait to recommend it to him. He passed away before I read anything by Berney, but I know that he would have loved him, too, and he also would have found November Road a fantastic achievement by an author who deserves significant notoriety.

Whether you're a thriller fan, or just a fan of exceptional writing, this is one to pick up and savor.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Book Review: "What If It's Us" by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

I got up super early this morning to download Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera's new book, What If It's Us, and I have officially devoured it. All it took was reading during lunch, at every red light on the way home from work, at the chiropractor, and then after dinner this evening.

One book written by two of my favorite YA authors equals ALL. THE. FEELS.

"I believe in love at first sight. Fate, the universe, all of it. But not how you're thinking. I don't mean it in the our souls were split and you're my other half forever and ever sort of way. I just think you're meant to meet some people. I think the universe nudges them into your path."

Arthur is in New York for the summer before his senior year of high school, working as an intern at a branch of his mother's law firm. For a boy from a small town in Georgia, New York is everything he dreamed it would be—although he hasn't made any friends save the two summer associates who serve as his supervisors, and he hasn't met any boys.

Then one day, en route to pick up a coffee order for the law firm, he spots a cute boy carrying a box to the post office. He does the supremely non-Arthur thing and strikes up a conversation. Despite the fact that the boy is mailing a box of things back to his ex-boyfriend, the two definitely have a meet-cute, but then they are separated before they can get each other's phone numbers.

While Arthur believes the universe is trying to tell him something about this boy, Ben doesn't believe in signs from the universe. He'll be the first to admit that this cute boy intrigues him, although he can't figure out how to find him. But eventually they are reunited, and tentatively embark on a roller coaster of a relationship, even knowing that Arthur will be returning home to Georgia at the end of the summer.

Are two people destined to be together? If so, can they weather the storm of jealousy, meddling best friends, parental drama, tardiness, miscommunication, and fears of inadequacy? Is it worth trying—and trying again—if you know you have a finite amount of time to be together?

What If It's Us is an absolutely lovable, poignant, adorable book about two boys trying to listen to the universe—and fight it—in their quest to be together. It's a book about friendship, family, jealousy, and finding yourself, and having the confidence to realize you're worth being fought for. And it's a book about trying to make a relationship work in one crazy world.

Albertalli and Silvera have written some of my favorite YA books over the last several years, so I had so much anticipation for this book. I'm so happy to say that this book was as good as I was hoping it would be—it didn't depress me like so many of Silvera's books but it made me feel the full range of emotions that both authors have made me feel previously.

You know what will happen in this book for the most part (I was briefly off course with one plot thread, but pleased my thoughts didn't come to fruition) and you want to take this ride anyway. And hopefully, in the end, you're glad you did. I know I am, despite being sad it's over now!!

Book Review: "Evidence of the Affair" by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Dear Mr. David Mayer,

My name is Carrie Allsop. Please accept my apologies for contacting you out of the blue. I am writing to ask a quite humbling favor. I recently found some love letters in my husband's briefcase that I believe to be from your wife, Janet...

With those words, this potent short story by Taylor Jenkins Reid begins. It's December 1976, and Carrie Allsop has taken every last ounce of courage to write the man whose wife she believes is having an affair with her husband. She asks him if he has seen any letters her husband wrote to his wife, and if he has, she asks him to send them to her. She offers to do the same if he'd like to see his wife's letters, but Carrie imagines his first reaction to her letter will be shock.

"It is funny the crazy things our brains make up to save us from the truth. I have had fantasies that Ken is writing a screenplay and that he had the letters for research. Isn't that wild?"

David is, as Carrie surmised, shocked by the news she has sent him and is hurt by his wife's betrayal, but isn't really surprised, as their marriage had been strained for some time. As he tries to recover from the blow, he realizes that the only person he can rely on is Carrie, and the two begin to build a friendship based on such an awkward common bond.

As their friendship grows, they struggle with what to do. Should they confront their spouses, which could lead to the end of their marriages? Is that what they want? Do they want to start life anew, or do they want one more try at recapturing the magic they once had with their spouse? Both Carrie and David aren't sure what they want, and they aren't sure at first what their spouses' next steps will be either.

"I've always been struck by the idea that you can't be all that happy something has returned if it doesn't go away in the first place. But what if the thing goes away and never comes back?"

Reid holds your attention from start to finish, and throws in a bit of a twist for good measure. It's amazing how satisfying, how powerful, how poignant a story like this can be, and while I felt like she took you on a complete journey in a short number of pages, I'd still love to see what came next for these characters.

I read Reid's The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo a week or two ago, and it will undoubtedly be on my list of the best books I read this year. Once again, she proves she is an expert storyteller, and I can't wait to jump in and devour more of her fiction, because I love the way she writes.

Some may not love short stories, but this epistolary story feels more like a conversation than anything else. It won't take you long to read it, but definitely read it.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Book Review: "Someday" by David Levithan

Every single day A becomes another person. The person's gender may change, their race may change, their age may fluctuate. Each day A has to navigate that person's life and try not to do any damage, simply stay the course so that no one around them notices anything different. It's a hard way to live, and A is lonely, longing to make a connection and feel the love that so many of the bodies they reside in get to feel.

One day, A met Rhiannon and felt that connection. But once you feel that, how can you give that away, even if that's the rule your life has always followed. After taking over the body of Nathan for one day, A had the chance to spend more time with Rhiannon, finally telling her the truth of why they can't be together. But that one day changes them irrevocably, and leaves them longing for more, for forever.

"What kind of rational person would ever believe the truth? Who wouldn't laugh when someone tells them it's possible to move from one body to another? That's how I reacted at first. The only reason I stopped being rational was because something irrational happened to me. And I knew it."

As A and Rhiannon try to find each other again, Rhiannon also has to decide whether disrupting her life and the lives of those around her is an adequate price to pursue a relationship which might never be able to fulfill. And as she explains to Nathan how the two of them are connected, she realizes there is so much more at stake. But how can she pass up that chance?

A always wondered whether they were the only one who has their kind of life, but it turns out they're not alone. Yet not all of those like A are resigned to living their lives the same way—at least one acts nefariously, causing wreck and ruin in the lives of those they inhabit.

"To love and be loved is to leave traces of permanence across an otherwise careless world."

In Someday, the third book in David Levithan's series of books featuring A, Levithan raises more existential and fundamental questions about life, love, connection, and the effects people have on our lives, sometimes without even realizing it. If you've read the other books in this series—Every Day (see my review) and Another Day (see my review)—you know you have to seriously suspend your disbelief to appreciate this story and feel the emotions the series piques.

Levithan is one of my favorite YA authors out there—he's written some of my all-time favorite books—and I love the way he tells a story. Yet while I absolutely loved the first two books in the series, this third book really left me wanting. Perhaps it was the multiple perspectives through which the story is narrated, perhaps it is the juxtaposition of what motivates A's character versus what motivates the character X, or perhaps it tries too hard to be more philosophical than the first two books. I guess this happens in many multi-book series, but I still was a bit disappointed.

If the concept of these books appeals to you, and you can suspend your disbelief, I'd highly recommend you read the first two books in the series. It's probably best you read them in order, because this book doesn't make as much sense without knowing what happened in the first two.

Even though I didn't like this book as much, I still love the concept, and I can't wait to see what Levithan comes up with next. It's definitely a refreshing spin on the angst-ridden issues we often see in YA novels.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Book Review: "The Night Before" by Wendy Walker

Well, that was a wild ride!! At some point I figure my pulse will stop racing.

Laura is getting ready for a blind date. She isn't quite sure if she's ready to date again after a bad breakup not too long ago, but something about this man's picture, his profile, their conversations, makes her hopeful and excited.

It hasn't been easy for Laura since she moved back to her hometown, moved in with her older sister Rosie and her family. Because years ago Laura was involved in a tragic, mysterious incident, and no one really knows the truth of what happened, but it's haunted her every day since then. She doesn't like when people judge her or mistrust her—or even fear her—but she knows some do. And inherently, she knows Rosie is still worried about her.

Laura goes on the date—and then disappears. Rosie, her husband, and a family friend are left trying to figure out what happened that night. But to do so, they must uncover the truth about what happened to Laura all those years ago, and what other incidents that night has set off in her life since then.

The less said about the plot the better, because there is a lot going on and there are a lot of twists and turns to navigate. Wendy Walker definitely takes you on a ride, ratcheting up the suspense as you wonder what all of these characters are hiding. (I trust no one, so I suspect they're all hiding something.)

The Night Before alternates narration between Laura getting ready for the date and as the date happens, and the present, as Rosie searches for answers. It's a fascinating, compelling read that hooked me from its very innocuous start, as Laura is getting dressed for her date. But Walker only hints at what's to come.

This book doesn't come out until mid-May of next year, so if you can't get your hands on an advance copy, I'd definitely recommend one of Walker's earlier books, Emma in the Night. (See my review.) I think this new book is a little better than that one, but it still gives you an idea of Walker's storytelling talent.

We're in the midst of a real glut of thrillers, so it's not always easy to tell which are worth your time. The Night Before definitely is. You'll see everyone reading it come next year!

NetGalley and St. Martin's Press provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Book Review: "My Favorite Half-Night Stand" by Christina Lauren

It's crazy...less than a year ago, I had never heard of Christina Lauren or read any of their books. Last November I read Autoboyography and fell madly in love with it (see my review). Earlier this year I read Love and Other Words (see my review), just to see if my infatuation with them was a fluke. (Spoiler alert: it wasn't.)

About two weeks ago I read their latest book, Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating (see my review), and had visions of pacing myself until December, when their newest book was due to be released. But when I saw My Favorite Half-Night Stand available on NetGalley, you bet I pounced, and I was thrilled to be approved nearly instantaneously. And wouldn't you know it? Once again, the duo has struck gold, capturing my heart with another book...and I guess lengthening my wait for the next one. Damn.

The only woman in her group of best friends, Millie Morris is truly one of the guys. She and all of her friends are super-smart professors; her specialty just happens to be serial killers—female serial killers, in fact. Millie can drink her guy friends under the table, throw multiple double entendres into a sentence without blinking, and is more than happy to play video games and stuff her face alongside her friends any night of the week.

Of all of her guy friends, Millie is probably closest to neuroscientist Reid Campbell. They've always had that half-flirty, half-brother-and-sister thing down pat, and they both feel happiest in each other's company. So it's almost no surprise when a night of celebratory drinking ends up with the two of them in bed, enjoying a few hot rounds of sex before agreeing they're better off keeping their relationship platonic—and keeping their wild half-night stand a secret from the rest of the guys.

When a university event becomes a black-tie gala, all five of them are determined to find dates. Millie and the guys agree to try an online dating site, but as is typical with their friendship, Millie winds up creating all of her friends' profiles, yet draws a blank when she goes to write her own. Opening up has never been easy for her, so while her friends start to find potential matches, she mostly hears from creeps sending dick pics or inquiring about her bra size.

After getting ribbed by the guys for her failure, she decides to create a second profile, yet for this one she calls herself "Catherine." The very act of creating a fictional persona is freeing for Millie, she can suddenly be more playful, more emotionally open, more honest than she can be in real life. When she and Reid "match" online, she tries to provide enough clues so he will realize it's her, but at the same time, she encourages their online conversations until they grow deeper.

The more Millie (as Catherine) corresponds with Reid, the more interested he becomes, yet at the same time, Reid is trying to figure out what Millie wants from their real-life relationship. But for some reason, Millie can't open up and be vulnerable with Reid the way she can as Catherine. She wants Reid for real but she can't give him everything he wants, yet she knows there's only a matter of time before her dishonesty destroys their friendship for good.

"Does it matter if you do the wrong thing for the right reason?"

My Favorite Half-Night Stand is a fun, sexy, emotional, thought-provoking look at male-female friendships and how hard it can be to allow yourself to be totally vulnerable with someone you care about. I loved the way Lauren twisted the gender roles in this book, yet the characters' actions and emotions seemed totally true to who they are. I was totally invested in this story from start to finish, and I wished I could hang out with this group of friends, because they seemed like a lot of fun!

As with most of the other books of theirs I've read so far, there's nothing particularly surprising or earth-shattering in this book, but I loved it all the same. I wanted to know what was going to happen to these characters. I wanted to root for them and sometimes I wanted to shake some sense into them. There are some big issues at play here, as well as some genuinely loving friendships and some hot sex to boot.

The more I read of Lauren's books, the more I love them. They're just tremendously enjoyable reads that hit all of my emotions but don't manipulate them too badly. Pick one up and hopefully you'll become a fan, too! (Oh, and please don't make me wait too long for your next book!)

NetGalley and Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!