black literature · book review · books · diversity · Family · own voices review · reading

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson {ARC Review}

Blurb:

Two families from different social classes are joined together by an unexpected pregnancy and the child that it produces. Moving forward and backward in time, with the power of poetry and the emotional richness of a narrative ten times its length, Jacqueline Woodson’s extraordinary new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of this child.

As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s birthday celebration in her grandparent’s Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, escorted by her father to the soundtrack of Prince, she wears a special, custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own sixteenth birthday party and a celebration which ultimately never took place.

Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives—even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.

Review:

Where have I been while Jacqueline Woodson has been out here dropping literary gems in the book world? I feel like I have missed out on so much from her . I can’t even say what drew me to this book. It clearly wasn’t just the fact that Jacqueline Woodson wrote it, it was the content. Being written by Ms. Woodson was the ultimate plus.

Woodson explores the dynamic of black families in such a mesmerizing way. You see that within the black family there is still the defining difference of class and even skin color. How some blacks try so hard to get above where they have come from and some are content with just being able to survive. How love isn’t just enough to keep one happy.

Melody is the end result of everything her parents and even grandparents had to go thru. She has a plethora of history to look back on when it comes to making decisions about her future. At the same time she also has to build her own identity without wiping away her history.

So many difficult choices are made by the characters in this story.

I am so grateful to have been able to experience it.

This is a small book that packs such a big punch. It’s short but still so complex.

Rating:

5 Stars

Availability:

Available September 17th in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

A special thank you to Riverhead Books for allowing me to read and review this title.
addiction · book review · books · Family · Historical fiction · Literary Fiction · love · own voices review · reading · secrets

In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow {Review}

Blurb:

Azalea “Knot” Centre is determined to live life as she pleases. Let the people of West Mills say what they will; the neighbors’ gossip won’t keep Knot from what she loves best: cheap moonshine, nineteenth-century literature, and the company of men. And yet, Knot is starting to learn that her freedom comes at a high price. Alone in her one-room shack, ostracized from her relatives and cut off from her hometown, Knot turns to her neighbor, Otis Lee Loving, in search of some semblance of family and home.

Otis Lee is eager to help. A lifelong fixer, Otis Lee is determined to steer his friends and family away from decisions that will cause them heartache and ridicule. After his failed attempt as a teenager to help his older sister, Otis Lee discovers a possible path to redemption in the chaos Knot brings to his doorstep. But while he’s busy trying to fix Knot’s life, Otis Lee finds himself powerless to repair the many troubles within his own family, as the long-buried secrets of his troubled past begin to come to light.

Set in an African American community in rural North Carolina from 1941 to 1987, In West Mills is a magnificent, big-hearted small-town story about family, friendship, storytelling, and the redemptive power of love.

Review:

I knew I was going to love this book when I read the synopsis. I related to this story and I felt this story on so many levels. Mr. Winslow tells a story that is all too familiar in the African-American community. Secrets are kept because people honestly believe  it’s the right thing to do when in reality the secrets are more harmful than helpful. All the while, hiding pain and suffering behind alcohol and being closed off from others. Knot is the prime example for all of that. She hides behind a mason jar of liquor, she pushes away the person who loves her so much. She keeps people at bay to avoid being hurt or disappointed and uses the excuse of being independent.

Otis is living in a world that he doesn’t realize is one big lie. A lie that he doesn’t even know exist. Not only a lie about him but his wife holds a secret that affects his dear friend Knot.

Secrets that are kept about true parentage  or other life events are much more detrimental than people realize. So many of the issues are presented in a historical sense but are still relevant today. Keeping secrets such as these can cause one to miss out on so much and when the truth does come out it can cause pain and anger. Knot had one daughter who built a relationship with her and her other daughter didn’t really have much to do with her.

I related to this story so much because I was adopted by a family member but it was a secret that was kept from me until I was 21 years old. My family believed that keeping the secret was better than knowing the truth and it was not the case. Keeping secrets such as these can cause one to miss out on so much and when the truth does come out it can cause pain and anger.

I highly recommend this story. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to read and review it. I look forward to Mr. Winslow’s next novel.

Rating:

5 Stars

Availability:

Available now in hardcover, ebook and audiobook

A special thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing for my gifted finished copy of this novel.

 

 

book review · books · crime · reading

A Stranger on the Beach by Michele Campbell {ARC Review}

Blurb:

There is a stranger outside Caroline’s house.

Her spectacular new beach house, built for hosting expensive parties and vacationing with the family she thought she’d have. But her husband is lying to her and everything in her life is upside down, so when the stranger, Aiden, shows up as a bartender at the same party where Caroline and her husband have a very public fight, it doesn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary.

As her marriage collapses around her and the lavish lifestyle she’s built for herself starts to crumble, Caroline turns to Aiden for comfort…and revenge. After a brief and desperate fling that means nothing to Caroline and everything to him, Aiden’s obsession with Caroline, her family, and her house grows more and more disturbing. And when Caroline’s husband goes missing, her life descends into a nightmare that leaves her accused of her own husband’s murder.

Review:

I want to start this review off by stating that thrillers are not my favorite genre and I find myself critiqueing them the hardest. I don’t know why that is but it just is.

Anyway, this story started off strong. The potential was there for a fairly decent thrill. I knew that Caroline was going to have some personality issues but not anything I couldn’t overlook. I felt some anger for her when her husband showed up to the party with the Russian bombshell and then kind of fell off the grid. I’ll also admit that I thought Aiden was going to be trouble from the moment he entered the story. Like I said, the bricks were laid out nicely….then….

Unreliable narration kicked in, not only from one character, but two!!! I could see where the author was going but things were not lining up properly for me. There were some gaps and there were also some unnecessary incidents that did not have any real purpose to the plot.

With all that being said, I am sure there are plenty of people who will in fact enjoy this story and I hope that there are. But for me, it missed it’s mark. It’s an easy and fast read. Won’t take much time to fly thru or much concentration. I believe those are both good things for a “beach read.” As far as substance though, if that is what you are seeking, I can’t sit here and say that this story has any.

I was so happy to receive the big marketing box that it came in, but now I realize that it was like seeing a big souped up truck with a hot guy driving it and the hot guy turns out to be only 5 ft tall.

This is my first book by this author and I do have her other two books. I plan on reading them to see if this was just a book that missed the mark for me.

Rating:

2.5 Stars

Availability:

Available July 23, 2019 in hardcover, ebook and audio.

Blog Tour · book review · books · contemporary fiction · Family · reading

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman {Blog Tour ARC Review}

Blurb:

The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They’re all—or mostly all—excited to meet her! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It’s a disaster! And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn’t he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options.

1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)
2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee).
3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It’s time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn’t convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It’s going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.

Review:

I absolutely loved this book. I loved everything about it from the storyline, the characters, and also the writing style. This is the first book in a very long time that had me wanting to annotate it because there were so many passages that made me laugh and so many things that Nina did that I could relate to in my life. I felt as if my life had been transposed onto paper without me actually writing or narrating it. I believe all booklovers will relate to Nina.

Abbi has taken the characteristics of a bookworm and written the perfect, quirky story highlighting those characteristics. She has also incorporated some real life issues such as anxiety and shows how it can affect someone’s life, and how you can share some of the most unique characteristics with family members you have never even met. Nina is living a typical bookworm life. Working in a bookstore, filling her time with activities, and filling her mind with knowledge, some of it only useful for her trivia nights and awkward conversations, lol.

Nina has spent her time building the perfectly scheduled life for herself but all that is thrown off-balance when she finds out about her father and falls for a man she thought she despised. Nina has to learn how to live life by rolling with the punches but also maintaining the part of herself that makes her so unique.

This is one of those books I want to go around give to all the true to heart bookworms I know. I knew I was going to enjoy this story but I had no idea how much I would love it. There is no better surprise than to be mind-blown from a highly anticipated read. Abbi Waxman has done it again with her writing and storytelling styles.

Rating:

5 Stars

Availibility:

Available July 9th in hardcover, ebook, and audio

A very special thank you to Berkely Publishing for having me along on this book tour.

abuse · Blog Tour · book review · contemporary fiction · love · reading · romance

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary {Review}

Blurb:

After a messy breakup, Tiffy needs a new place to live…and fast. In an act of desperation, she answers a strange ad from Leon, a night-shift worker, who needs some quick cash. Since he’s only in the apartment during the day and Tiffy works during the day, they won’t cross paths – they don’t even have to ever meet in person! Wacky as it is, this arrangement seems to work. The two begin to get to know each other through post-it notes, building a friendship as they move from quick reminders about trash day to deeper notes about their families and struggles with work and love. Soon both Tiffy and Leon are wondering if it is possible to fall in love with someone you’ve never met…and if so, is love a horrible idea if that person is already your roommate!

Review:

I am finding myself more and more attracted to the romance genre these days but only if they are contemporary romances. Although still a bit far from my reality, they are still relatable.

The Flatshare is a contemporary romance that has the element of rom-com while also addressing an issue that is unfortunately too familiar for many women, and sometimes men. You meet Tiffy who has just come out of a dreadful relationship and is looking to start over on her own. What you don’t realize at first is that her ex, Justin is not just your average crappy ex, he has other characteristics that leave a bitter taste in your mouth and want to wish indefinite harm on him. At the same time you have Leon, who is a hardworking man who is looking to get a better footing on the financial ground while maintaining what turns out to be a high maintenance romance with his girlfriend, Kay.

As both adults attempt to share the flat without actually meeting each other, things start falling into place for the perfect romance, but not without conflict.

With all that being said, the one thing that bothered me while reading this was the way Leon’s chapters were written. In fact, they bothered me so much that I tried reaching out to both the author and publisher to see if this style was intentional or if it was just an error in my review copy.  My fellow book nerds in the amazing book community on Instagram advised me that it is in fact a style of writing that is similar to The Bridget Jones’s Diary. I also received a response from the author and getting her insight about his chapters made me feel better and made me appreciate the style of writing more.

I still enjoyed the story itself but Leon’s chapters made for a read that was difficult for me just because it is a style that I am not used to. But that is the part of reviewing books is that you get out of your comfort zone.  If you are willing to overlook that style of writing,  this will be a great summer read. I enjoyed the amount of entertainment while also addressing serious conflict. I also appreciated the fact that both Tiffy and Leon were a more diverse pair than the typical contemporary romance pairs.

Rating:

3.5 Stars

Availability:

Available now in hardcover, ebook and audiobook

*A special thank you to Flatiron books for having me along on this blog tour and the free book in exchange for my honest opinion*

 

 

abuse · book review · books · crime · diversity · Historical fiction · mystery · own voices review · reading

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins {Review}

Blurb:

A servant and former slave is accused of murdering her employer and his wife in this astonishing historical thriller that moves from a Jamaican sugar plantation to the fetid streets of Georgian London—a remarkable literary debut with echoes of Alias Grace, The Underground Railroad, and The Paying Guests.

All of London is abuzz with the scandalous case of Frannie Langton, accused of the brutal double murder of her employers, renowned scientist George Benham and his eccentric French wife, Marguerite. Crowds pack the courtroom, eagerly following every twist, while the newspapers print lurid theories about the killings and the mysterious woman being held in the Old Bailey.

The testimonies against Frannie are damning. She is a seductress, a witch, a master manipulator, a whore.

But Frannie claims she cannot recall what happened that fateful evening, even if remembering could save her life. She doesn’t know how she came to be covered in the victims’ blood. But she does have a tale to tell: a story of her childhood on a Jamaican plantation, her apprenticeship under a debauched scientist who stretched all bounds of ethics, and the events that brought her into the Benhams’ London home—and into a passionate and forbidden relationship.

Though her testimony may seal her conviction, the truth will unmask the perpetrators of crimes far beyond murder and indict the whole of English society itself.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is a breathtaking debut: a murder mystery that travels across the Atlantic and through the darkest channels of history. A brilliant, searing depiction of race, class, and oppression that penetrates the skin and sears the soul, it is the story of a woman of her own making in a world that would see her unmade.

Review:

What attracted me initially to this story was that it put me in the mindframe of one of my all time favorite books, I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Conde. It takes during slavery, but not American slavery.

Frannie is writing her story, not to dispute her guilt of the horrendous crimes she may or may not have committed but to clear her conscience of the things she has done in her life. Things that were done by force and by choice.

Frannie is born into a life that she has no control over what happens to her but at the same time is given the slight freedom of having a bit of education. Being taught how to read has both its advantages and its setbacks for her as she grows up with the Langton’s but is later practically thrown to the Benham’s.

As I progressed thru this story, I quickly realized how different it was from my favorite novel and I loved the differences. Frannie’s story made me feel sorry for her while at the same time infuriating me. There were things I felt that she could have had more control over even if she were a slave and later a servant as intelligent as she was, but these flaws showed her vulnerability. At the same time she faced issues that not even a free person could have avoided.

Although this isn’t your typical summer read, if given the chance it will tick off more boxes on your list than you can think to imagine. Along with being a historical fiction, there is also the element of mystery and the hint of romance regardless of how socially unacceptable it was for its time period.

This is a beautifully written debut that will hold your attention not only with the storyline but with the lyrical writing style. I look forward to seeing what else Sara Collins will write in the future.

Rating:

4 Stars

Availability:

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook

*A special thank you to Harper Books for my review copy in exchange for my honest review*

book review · books · dedication · diversity · Family · Historical fiction · reading · secrets · World War 2

The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning {Review}

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Blurb:

1939 Two young girls meet in Shanghai, also known as the “Paris of the East.” Beautiful local Li and Jewish refugee Romy form a fierce friendship, but the deepening shadows of World War II fall over the women as they slip between the city’s glamorous French Concession district and the teeming streets of the Shanghai Ghetto. Yet soon the realities of war prove to be too much for these close friends as they are torn apart.

2016: Fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm. Her grandfather is dying, and over the coming weeks Romy and Wilhelm begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century. As fragments of her mother’s history finally become clear, Alexandra struggles with what she learns while more is also revealed about her grandmother’s own past in Shanghai.

After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents’ past. Peeling back the layers of their hidden lives, she is forced to question what she knows about her family–and herself.

The Song of the Jade Lily is a lush, provocative, and beautiful story of friendship, motherhood, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage that can shape us all.

Review:

I knew I was going to like this book, I just was not prepared with how much I was going to love it. Being historical fiction, having a dual timeline, and the presence family secrets were all things that attracted me to this story.

My heart was shattered at the beginning of the story with an event that the Bernfeld family experiences as they attempting to flee Austria for their safety. Their family is torn apart in an instant. I couldn’t fathom going thru that experience and still having the strength to continue. They try to keep themselves together and hold on to their hope and faith as they start a new life in Shanghai. They aren’t the only ones who experience a tragic event while trying to get to safety, young Nina loses the people closest to her.

When Romy meets Li, she is shown a whole new part of Shanghai that she may not have otherwise experienced. The descriptions of the foods that she eats is phenomenal. Both girls are full of life and have such wonderful aspirations even with all that is transpiring around them.

Determination, self sacrifice and the will to fight on are all things Romy, Nina, and Li must deal with as they all get older.  Each of the girls is forced to make decisions in order to survive and protect the ones they love.

Meanwhile in present time, Alexander is dealing with a bad break up and then the death of her beloved grandfather. After his death,  Alexander has questions about her family origin. She knows that her birth mother was adopted and she is wanting to know who her mother may have been. That’s when the secrets start surfacing. After her grandmother’s avoidance of the conversation about her mother, Alexander makes the choice to look into her biological history on her own to try to tie up some loose ends.

As the story progresses thru both timelines, you are met with the feeling of hope for all the characters. You also experience the heartbreak they are forced to encounter.

Kirsty Manning weaves such a beautiful story that makes you feel so many emotions. You experience these emotions when you least expect to. At the same time you are trying to solve the mystery of Alexander’s mother’s birth mother. Along the way she is having to deal with some personal issues of her own.

The love between the characters in the story is so heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.  I could gush about this book forever.

Rating:

5 Stars

Availability:

Available now in hardcover, ebook, and audio

A special thank you to William Morrow for my copy in exchange for an honest review.