Tag Archives: book review

Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey

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Cassie McDowell’s life in 1980s Minnesota seems perfectly wholesome. She lives on a farm, loves school, and has a crush on the nicest boy in class. Yes, there are her parents’ strange parties and their parade of deviant guests, but she’s grown accustomed to them.

All that changes when someone comes hunting in Lilydale.

One by one, local boys go missing. One by one, they return changed—violent, moody, and withdrawn. What happened to them becomes the stuff of shocking rumors. The accusations of who’s responsible grow just as wild, and dangerous town secrets start to surface. Then Cassie’s own sister undergoes the dark change. If she is to survive, Cassie must find her way in an adult world where every sin is justified, and only the truth is unforgivable. 

The review almost never happened. I finished reading this today at work, added it onto Goodreads but it didn’t save properly. So fast forward to tonight, sat down with my laptop and realize that my book was nowhere to be found on Goodreads. I had deleted it off my Kindle app. I couldn’t remember the author or title. So I almost decided to skip…but I found it in my Amazon archive so you’re welcome.

I struggled with this novel. It was a horror story, so I guess I should have been prepared for it to be creepy but honestly…this book was creepy on a much different way then I anticipated. The plot wasn’t all that bad, especially as not much happens on that front until the very last 10% of the book. The real creep factor took place right in Cassie’s own home. I honestly don’t want to get into it too much as if you do want to read it I don’t want to spoil it for you but be forewarned, it can be triggering for some people.

I gave this a rating of three stars as I thought some aspects of this book were really well done (characters were well written for example) but I felt it dragged all the way until the end so there was a conclusion for one aspect of this book but not closure for the most important parts of this book.

Sins of Silence by Sadie Gordon Richmond

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When the body of a teenage rugby star is found in the grounds of an exclusive private school, life at the privileged institution comes under scrutiny.

Who might have wanted the seventeen-year-old pupil dead? How did he get out of a secure boarding house in the middle of the night? And what was he doing in the woods around the playing fields at that hour?

DCI Lawrence Forrester and DS Rebecca Palmer’s initial enquiries reveal little more than the perennial schoolyard problems of bullying and less-than-friendly rivalries, but, digging deeper, they begin to suspect some of the six formers’ extracurricular activities involve more than the usual high jinks.

And, as the week wears on and the victim’s friends spin one version of events after another, evidence mounts to suggest that the boy’s murder is only one of several shocking crimes committed on school grounds.

I won this book on Goodreads. Opinions are entirely my own.

This was the second book of a series, but thankfully, aside from having a bit more insight on the main characters, there wasn’t an issue jumping in at the second installment.

I don’t read a lot of mysteries because to be honest, I suck at solving them. I’m not very good at picking up on subtle clues and tend to get distracted by secondary stories and usually by the time I get to the end I realize that I have reached the conclusion and hadn’t even thought about that angle.

Sins of Silence was kind of like that. There were a lot of characters, between the two detectives investigating the murder and the subjects. I admit that a lot of the suspects kind of blended in together.

Overall I thought it was an okay story. While it wasn’t my favorite genre, it was executed well enough, especially as it was part of a series. I tend to avoid series unless I can read them all in order but this was was one of the few where it wasn’t necessary.

Rating: three stars

Relatively Normal by Witney Dineen

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Catriona Masterton's fiancé, Ethan, is Normal.

He plans trips six months in advance and arrives at the airport a minimum of three hours early. He purchases life insurance, luggage insurance, and always opts for the extended warranty. He's responsible, reliable, and would make any woman a wonderful life partner.

In other words, he's the exact opposite of the Masterton clan.

Cat's mother has a kitchen gadget fetish, a father whose best friends are taxidermied field mice, and a super stoner man-child brother who lives--where else?--in the basement. Then there's Nan, her proud Scottish grandmother with a proclivity for profanity and mischief.

What on earth will Catriona's Normal fiancé think when he comes home with her to meet her parents? What will he think when he discovers his soon-to-be in-laws invited Cat's ex to join them for a holiday dinner?

I read the Kindle edition of this book which was (I think) a Kindle freebie.

This was a cute romance. When I started reading it I didn’t have very many expectations for it as it seemed to be one of those overly formulatic romances that are cute and fun but don’t have a lot of substance to it. I was happy to see that this book, though it had plenty of cute and funny moments, also contained some more unconventional characters and situations that I truly was not expecting.

Of course this book wasn’t without flaws. I thought that Cat’s family was really over the top…they are funny and fun but the extreme difference between Cat’s family and Ethan’s family is so extreme that instead of being funny it’s more cringey then anything. It just seems odd that Cat and Ethan have been in a relationship for so long yet they seem like they don’t know each other at all and Cat seemed to know Ethan’s family pretty well, but this was the first time Ethan is meeting anyone in Cat’s family.

But of course the story wouldn’t have been plausible without those factors in place, I just think there should be a more plausible explanation of why these things happened.

Overall, I really enjoyed having something fun and light to read, as so often I read heavier type novels and nonfiction books so this was a welcomed change.

I gave this a four star rating.

Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi

In the spring of her senior year, Donna Parisi finds new life in an unexpected place: a coffin.

Since her father's death four years ago, Donna has gone through the motions of living: her friendships are empty, she's clueless about what to do after high school graduation, and her grief keeps her isolated, cut off even from the one parent she has left. That is until she's standing in front of the dead body of a classmate at Brighton Brothers' Funeral Home. At that moment, Donna realizes what might just give her life purpose is comforting others in death. That maybe who she really wants to be is a mortician.

This discovery sets in motion a life Donna never imagined was possible. She befriends a charismatic new student, Liz, notices a boy, Charlie, and realizes that maybe he's been noticing her, too, and finds herself trying things she hadn't dreamed of trying before. By taking risks, Donna comes into her own, diving into her mortuary studies with a passion and skill she didn't know she had in her. And she finally understands that moving forward doesn't mean forgetting someone you love.

Jen Violi's heartfelt and funny debut novel is a story of transformation-how one girl learns to grieve and say goodbye, turn loss into a gift, and let herself be exceptional...at loving, applying lipstick to corpses, and finding life in the wake of death.

I picked this up at one of my favorite used book stores, I had never heard of it and honestly, I thought it was a memoir (I wasn’t paying too much attention that day I guess). It wasn’t until I actually sat down to read it that I realized that it was a novel, not a memoir.

This was an okay book. I mostly liked it, though at times I felt annoyed at the characters. Donna was an odd narrator at times. She seemed uneven, though as she’s only 18 it does make the novel seem believable. What 18 year old is so secure that she never changes. I did find Donna’s mom and family in general to be unlikable and not quite as developed as I would have liked but it wasn’t a huge problem as a lot of this story is seen between Donna and her mother and those characters were well written.

I gave this a rating of three stars. It was a solid story that was good, but not great.

Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner

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Rachel Blum and Andy Landis are eight years old when they meet late one night in an ER waiting room. Born with a congenital heart defect, Rachel is a veteran of hospitals, and she's intrigued by the boy who shows up all alone with a broken arm. He tells her his name. She tells him a story. After Andy's taken back to the emergency room and Rachel's sent back to her bed, they think they'll never see each other again.

Rachel, the beloved, popular, and protected daughter of two doting parents, grows up wanting for nothing in a fancy Florida suburb. Andy grows up poor in Philadelphia with a single mom and a rare talent that will let him become one of the best runners of his generation.

Over the course of three decades, through high school and college, marriages and divorces, from the pinnacles of victory and the heartbreak of defeat, Andy and Rachel will find each other again and again, until they are finally given a chance to decide whether love can surmount difference and distance and if they've been running toward each other all along.

With honesty, wit, and clear-eyed observations about men and women, love and fate, and the truth about happy endings, Jennifer Weiner delivers two of her most memorable characters, and a love story you'll never forget.

I started reading Jennifer Weiner in my twenties and while I might not love everyone of her novels, I have definitely had fun reading most of them. What I usually enjoy about her novels is that romance is generally not the main focus of the novel and it’s something that I really appreciate about her novels.

Who Do You Love? is the exception, this is a quasi romance novel, though true to form, the romance aspect isn’t quite front and center. Andy and Rachel are each their own characters and their own stories. The time they spend together in this book is actually very minimal, so their romance is slow building and allows the reader to get to know each character independently.

I enjoyed the premise of this story, how can you not appreciate a story about two people who are orbiting one another over the space of thirty years. The two characters are from two different worlds, growing up in two different parts of the country and still they manage to appear in one another’s life over and over again.

I felt like this was a little too slow moving and I am not sure how much I actually enjoyed Rachel and Andy. There were things about each character that didn’t really enjoy. Not enough to say I didn’t enjoy this, but it was enough that I felt this was only a three star read instead of a four star read.

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

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In Brooklyn, eighteen-year-old Deya is starting to meet with suitors. Though she doesn’t want to get married, her grandparents give her no choice. History is repeating itself: Deya’s mother, Isra, also had no choice when she left Palestine as a teenager to marry Adam. Though Deya was raised to believe her parents died in a car accident, a secret note from a mysterious, yet familiar-looking woman makes Deya question everything she was told about her past. As the narrative alternates between the lives of Deya and Isra, she begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind her community.

Over all, 2020 has been a good year for reading. Everything else is pretty crappy but I have been introduced to a lot of new to me authors and have read some truly memorable books. This book is probably the best example of this. This book not only introduced me to a new author but it introduced me to a brand new culture that, to be honest, is severely under represented.

Now, I am going to make a confession here. Sometimes (often) the best books I read are the hardest to write reviews for. When I write reviews I do try to review in a space away from the book so that I try not to let my emotions take over…usually taking a few days away from finishing the book is enough to disengage enough but with this book…I think the scars this left me will always be with me, just below the surface.

This book was brutal and although I’d love to buy like 1000 copies of this and just hand them out to random women I see, I will be the first to say that this book is brutal. It does not shy away from the mistreatment that women in this culture are often subject to. Arranged marriages are the norm. Domestic violence is all to often ignored. It is not graphic, but I found myself having to take a palate cleanser (aka switch to another book) fairly often because it upset and angered me.

It is also claustaphobic. A lot of this book takes place in an apartment in Brooklyn, and in so many ways, the apartment served as a prison, first for Isla and then for Isla’s oldest daughter, Deya. So when and if you choose to read this, make sure you do have something fun to do during breaks and try to get some sunshine. And the ending especially is brutal so definitely plan for that.

I know based on this review it sounds like this is the most depressing misery porn you can read, but I promise you that it doesn’t seem that way when you are reading it. There is hope in this book. There’s characters that you will love and want to fight for and the writing is flawless.

The Pandemic Century by Mark Honigsbaum

Ever since the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, scientists have dreamed of preventing catastrophic outbreaks of infectious disease. Yet despite a century of medical progress, viral and bacterial disasters continue to take us by surprise, inciting panic and dominating news cycles. From the Spanish flu to the 1924 outbreak of pneumonic plague in Los Angeles to the 1930 “parrot fever” pandemic, through the more recent SARS, Ebola, and Zika epidemics, the last one hundred years have been marked by a succession of unanticipated pandemic alarms.

In The Pandemic Century, a lively account of scares both infamous and less known, Mark Honigsbaum combines reportage with the history of science and medical sociology to artfully reconstruct epidemiological mysteries and the ecology of infectious diseases. We meet dedicated disease detectives, obstructive or incompetent public health officials, and brilliant scientists often blinded by their own knowledge of bacteria and viruses. We also see how fear of disease often exacerbates racial, religious, and ethnic tensions—even though, as the epidemiologists Malik Peiris and Yi Guan write, “‘nature’ remains the greatest bioterrorist threat of all.”

Like man-eating sharks, predatory pathogens are always present in nature, waiting to strike; when one is seemingly vanquished, others appear in its place. These pandemics remind us of the limits of scientific knowledge, as well as the role that human behavior and technologies play in the emergence and spread of microbial diseases.

The best way to go into this book is to go in blind and with no expectations. I hadn’t heard of this book before I spotted it on Libby and if there’s any good time to read a book titled Pandemic Century, it’s during an actual pandemic.

I found this an okay book. It was on the longish side, and it was dry reading at times so despite my interest in the subject, I found myself skimming over parts without processing it. I am aware that not every book is meant to be entertaining, especially when the subject is a non fiction book that is dealing with a serious subject but I would have gotten more out of this title if it had been written in a more narrative style, especially as this was more of a general history of pandemics and wasn’t focused on the science side of things.

This is an okay starting point if you are really interested in the subject of modern pandemics as it’s a decent overview but I am sure there are better books on the subject.

Red, White, & Royal Blue

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First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

I am on the fence about this book. I think I was on the fence about it sense it was published, hence it took me awhile to get around to reading it. I was able to pick it up for my Kindle for cheap, and then it was a pick for a group read on a Discord server I’m a member so I finally ran out of excuses to avoid it.

The first thing I will say is that I enjoyed the romance aspect of it. It was definitely a shake up on the normal royal romance troupe. I also completely appreciated the entire escapism of the story as the presidency went from Obama to the Claremont presidency. (Sorry, I know that last sentence was clunky). As I was reading it, it was definitely nice to be able to escape into the story and pretend that Donald Trump didn’t exist, a deadly pandemic wasn’t killing people at an alarming rate and we weren’t having almost daily police shootings and race protests going on every single day. So it had that going for it.

Escapism only really goes so far though. I don’t know a huge amount of the inner workings of the White House and First Family but it seemed way too lax from the bit I do know. I’m aware that this story is 100% fiction, and there is license to bend things to make them fit into the narrative of the story but I found it kind of annoying (and hence the reason I don’t often read books involving characters that are based on real people or have high profile roles). These are the kind of details that, personally, take me out of the story a bit too much.

The biggest thing however was the writing style. I was never able to put my finger on what was off about it, I even pointed it out to the other people in the group and they agreed but they couldn’t point to it either. It just felt off reading at times, and I found myself skimming over entire sections and then realizing I had no recollection of what I had read and then having to reread it…and then there was the profanity. Now, I’m not a prude. I am perfectly fine to let loose with a eff bomb when the situation requires, but there was one character in particular who did nothing except curse. This was suppose to be a character who was well educated, had a job in the White House working directly with the First Family and all she did was curse. It was excessive, exhausting and completely ruined a character that may have actually been interesting.

I gave this book a three stars, with in my rating system basically means that I liked the book, but I probably won’t recommend it nor will I read a sequel if one is released. If this turns into a movie/series I “might” consider watching it as I think that might be a fun watch.

Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L. Trump

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In this revelatory, authoritative portrait of Donald J. Trump and the toxic family that made him, Mary L. Trump, a trained clinical psychologist and Donald’s only niece, shines a bright light on the dark history of their family in order to explain how her uncle became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security, and social fabric.

Mary Trump spent much of her childhood in her grandparents’ large, imposing house in the heart of Queens, where Donald and his four siblings grew up. She describes a nightmare of traumas, destructive relationships, and a tragic combination of neglect and abuse. She explains how specific events and general family patterns created the damaged man who currently occupies the Oval Office, including the strange and harmful relationship between Fred Trump and his two oldest sons, Fred Jr. and Donald.

A first-hand witness to countless holiday meals and family interactions, Mary brings an incisive wit and unexpected humor to sometimes grim, often confounding family events. She recounts in unsparing detail everything from her uncle Donald’s place in the family spotlight and Ivana’s penchant for re-gifting to her grandmother’s frequent injuries and illnesses and the appalling way Donald, Fred Trump’s favorite son, dismissed and derided him when he began to succumb to Alzheimer’s.

Numerous pundits, armchair psychologists, and journalists have sought to parse Donald J. Trump’s lethal flaws. Mary L. Trump has the education, insight, and intimate familiarity needed to reveal what makes Donald, and the rest of her clan, tick. She alone can recount this fascinating, unnerving saga, not just because of her insider’s perspective but also because she is the only Trump willing to tell the truth about one of the world’s most powerful and dysfunctional families.

To date, I have only read two books about the Trump presidency. The first was the Bob Woodward book and now this one. I read the first book in 2018, so towards the middle of the presidency and then this one towards the end (hopefully). It was interesting, as the first book was very much removed from Trump himself and this title was an indepth look at Donald Trump and his family.

The one thing that I didn’t expect was that a good portion of this was dedicated to Mary Trump’s father, Freddie, and the mistreatment he suffered by his family, especially his father. I was surprised by this, but it made sense. Donald learned so much of his behavior at the feet of his father Fred, and the way Fred treated his oldest son explains so much of how Donald treats people today.

Mary Trump was able to give perspectives that very few people are able to give as she grew up in the Trump family and was able to see first hand how the family dynamics molded Donald J. Trump into the person he is today.

It would be very easy to write off Donald Trump due to any amount of his behavior, but somehow Mary Trump was able to give her uncle some humanity, not much, but enough that you can’t forget that despite what Donald Trump believes, he is in fact, just a mere mortal and not a god.

Rating: four stars

The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper

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An emergency room physician explores how a life of service to others taught her how to heal herself.

Michele Harper is a female, African American emergency room physician in a profession that is overwhelmingly male and white. Brought up in Washington, DC, in an abusive family, she went to Harvard, where she met her husband. They stayed together through medical school until two months before she was scheduled to join the staff of a hospital in central Philadelphia, when he told her he couldn't move with her. Her marriage at an end, Harper began her new life in a new city, in a new job, as a newly single woman.

In the ensuing years, as Harper learned to become an effective ER physician, bringing insight and empathy to every patient encounter, she came to understand that each of us is broken—physically, emotionally, psychically. How we recognize those breaks, how we try to mend them, and where we go from there are all crucial parts of the healing process.

The Beauty in Breaking is the poignant true story of Harper's journey toward self-healing. Each of the patients Harper writes about taught her something important about recuperation and recovery. How to let go of fear even when the future is murky. How to tell the truth when it's simpler to overlook it. How to understand that compassion isn't the same as justice. As she shines a light on the systemic disenfranchisement of the patients she treats as they struggle to maintain their health and dignity, Harper comes to understand the importance of allowing ourselves to make peace with the past as we draw support from the present. In this hopeful, moving, and beautiful book, she passes along the precious, necessary lessons that she has learned as a daughter, a woman, and a physician. 

This was a Book of the Month pick. I hadn’t heard of this book before choosing it, and I haven’t seen much about it since.

It took me awhile to get through this book, despite enjoying it. Not long after starting this, I ended up getting Mary Trump’s book in the mail and I ended up starting that and well…this book got shoved aside.

This was a good read. I enjoyed the medical aspect of this, as I expected. More so though, I enjoyed watching Michele Harper grow and mature into herself. Michele weaves stories of patients she cares for in the VA ER and uses them to learn more about herself, learn her profession and learn to be a better teacher.

The writing was wonderful. I think that even if I didn’t find much merit in Michele’s story, I would still appreciate this book for the writing.

Rating: Four stars