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My Progress:

12 / 30 books. 40% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
- Alaska
- Arizona (1)
- Arkansas
- California (3)
- Colorado (1)
- Connecticut
- Delaware
- Florida
- Georgia (1)
- Hawaii
- Idaho (2)
- Illinois (2)
- Indiana
- Iowa
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- Kentucky (1)
- Louisiana (1)
- Maine (1)
- Maryland
- Massachusetts (2)
- Michigan
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- Nebraska (1)
- Nevada (1)
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
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- New York (4)
- North Carolina (4)
- North Dakota
- Ohio (1)
- Oklahoma (1)
- Oregon (2)
- Pennsylvania (1)
- Rhode Island (1)
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Tennessee (1)
- Texas (3)
- Utah
- Vermont (2)
- Virginia (1)
- Washington (2)
- West Virginia
- Wisconsin (1)
- Wyoming
- Washington, D.C.* (1)

- Australia (1)
- Canada (1)
- England (10)
- France (1)
- Indonesia (1)
- Ireland (4)
- Italy (1)
- Scotland (2)
- The Netherlands (1)

My Progress:

27 / 51 states. 53% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

22 / 50 books. 44% done!

2024 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

23 / 50 books. 46% done!

Booklist Queen's 2024 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

48 / 50 books. 96% done!

2024 52 Club Reading Challenge

My Progress:

39 / 52 books. 75% done!

2024 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

My Progress:

26 / 40 books. 65% done!

2024 Pioneer Book Reading Challenge

15 / 40 books. 38% done!

2024 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

My Progress:

10 / 25 books. 40% done!

2024 Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge

2024 Mystery Marathon Reading Challenge

My Progress

12 / 26.2 miles. 46% done!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge

My Progress

25 / 100 books. 25% done!

2024 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

My Progress:

63 / 104 books. 61% done!

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge

My Progress

43 / 52 books. 83% done!

Disney Animated Movies Reading Challenge

My Progress

68 / 165 books. 41% done!
Friday, December 27, 2019

Another One?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Jesse Lachlin has always felt a deep, almost otherworldly connection to his family's land.  All the 17-year-old wants is to cultivate it, work it, and breathe it in every day for the rest of his life.  When the grandmother who raised him dies, the land should go to Jesse.  The only problem is the will, in which Jesse's deceased guardian insists that he must prove his ability to care for the land for a year.  After that, a three-person tribunal will vote on whether or not he can keep it.  Angry but determined, Jesse will do whatever it takes to prove himself.

Scarlett Copeland is shocked when Jesse Lachlin, the boy-next-door and the person she used to run to whenever she needed comfort, suddenly wants to be friends again.  They haven't spoken since he shut her out, then humiliated her at school.  Scarlett is shocked when he informs her that she is one of the people his grandmother selected for the tribunal and that, in exchange for her vote, he will aid her in escaping her father's strict hold on her so that she can attend the college of her choice.  Despite her reservations, Scarlett agrees.  

As the two work together to get what they both want, they find themselves rediscovering each other and the relationship that once meant the world to them both.  Will their tentative reconnection last?  Will either of them get what they really want?  Or will they both end up stuck in place instead of on the way to achieving their longed-for dreams? 

Only a Breath Apart by Katie McGarry is another heavy, dramatic two-broken-kids-come-together-and-heal-each-other story, the likes of which can be found in almost every contemporary YA novel on the market.  This one brings nothing new or fresh to the genre, but it is a compelling tale featuring two sympathetic characters who are easy to root for.  Neither Jesse nor Scarlett act or talk like real teens, even old-souled ones, and their situation seems implausible and overly dramatic.  Despite all this, I did like the novel overall.  I can't say I loved it, but it was an a-little-bit-better-than-average read for me.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Even If I Fall by Abigail Johnson and a million other similar YA novels) 


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, and depictions of underage drinking and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Only a Breath Apart from the generous folks at Tor for the purpose of Cybils Award judging.  Thank you!

First Psychic Bay Mystery An Entertaining Romp

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As a former psychiatrist, Cass Donovan knows enough about people to read them with fair accuracy.  This makes working as a psychic in little Bay Island, New York, an easy gig.  She might not be the real deal, but she's a good enough fake to lure plenty of customers to Mystical Musings, her beachfront shop.  And, she can't deny, there are times when strange visions do overcome her, giving her otherworldly insight that is difficult to explain away.

That's exactly what happens when Ellie Callahan, a young newlywed, comes to Cass for a reading.  Although Cass doesn't mention the bad juju she's sensing to Ellie, that doesn't stop Ellie's mother from accosting Cass later that evening.  Cass is embarrassed by the encounter, but it's not like she would ever lift a hand to overbearing Marge Hawkins.  When Cass discovers Marge's dead body in the local theater, however, that's the story that starts buzzing around town.  Although the police peg her as Suspect #1, Cass knows Marge had made all kinds of enemies.  Which one of them finally had enough of her interfering?  Who actually shot the woman?  With the real detectives investigating the wrong person, it's up to Cass to Nancy Drew her way to the truth.  Even if it means making herself a target for a cold-blooded killer.  

Cozy mysteries can be hard for me to take, but I tend to turn to them when I grow tired of the nightmares that often stem from the gory, graphic thrillers I usually read.  I'm down with "clean" murder mysteries, especially if they're written in a fun, engaging way, as they often are.  If they get too cory or ridiculous, though, I'm out.  Someone recommended the Bay Island Psychic Mystery series by Lena Gregory, so I picked up the first installment, Death at First Sight.  Guess what?  It's an entertaining romp that I quite enjoyed.  The quaint beach town setting is vividly drawn, the characters are likable (if cliché), and the story is predictable, but still intriguing enough to keep the pages turning.  Not all of its plot points made sense, which annoyed me a little.  Overall, though, Death at First Sight is a quick, easy read that made me smile.  That's enough to get me reaching for the next installment.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other cozy mysteries by Lena Gregory as well as those by Ellie Alexander)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Death at First Sight with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Despite Saggy Middle, YA Novel a Compelling, Moving Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As Northern California's reigning middle-weight Brazillian jiu-jitsu champion, 16-year-old Katina "Kat" King is known for being as tough as steel.  When she becomes the victim of an attempted assault, it throws her, plaguing her with debilitating nightmares and panic attacks.  Although she's not one to run from her problems, Kat's single mother insists Kat needs a change of scenery.  She sends her to Boston to live with "Ms. Vee," a family friend who's originally from Sierra Leone.  As the mixed-race daughter of a white mother and a Black father (whom she's never met), Kat's used to getting strange looks—no one gives her a second glance when she's out with Ms. Vee, whose skin tone matches Kat's own.  For this reason and more, Kat feels safe and protected under the watchful eye of her frail caretaker.  So, when Ms. Vee encourages Kat to attend her church's youth group meeting, Kat reluctantly goes as a favor to the woman who has taken her in.  

Adopted from India by white parents, 18-year-old Robin Thornton understands what it means to get weird looks from strangers.  Although his parents have done what they can to help him connect with the land of his birth, he still struggles with his neither-here-nor-there identity.  When Robin meets Kat at youth group, he senses that beneath her prickly exterior lies a girl who just might get him better than anyone else ever has.  

Then the youth group's pastor announces he's heading up a service trip to Kolkata to help victims of human trafficking.  Both Kat and Robin see the trip as a life-changing opportunity.  Kat wants to empower women and children so they won't be victims again by teaching them martial arts moves.  Robin longs for answers that might be found at the Kolkata orphanage where he once lived.  As the two embark on the trip to India, they will journey closer—not just to a friendship that will sustain them both, but also to their honest, most true selves.

Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins is an engaging novel about identity, friendship, love, and strength in all its various forms.  The characters are sympathetic and likable.  Plotwise, the story is compelling, but it also gets wordy and overly long.  I got bored in the middle, which seems to go on and on and on. One of the things I really like about the story is how religion is woven into the story, showing that faith doesn't have to be weird or fanatical (as it's portrayed in so many novels), but can be a natural, positive part of life.  I also appreciate that it's a mostly clean novel, which is becoming more and more rare in the world of YA lit.  While I didn't end up loving Forward Me Back to You, overall it's an interesting, moving story that teaches some important lessons.  I liked it for the most part.


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Forward Me Back to You from the generous folks at Macmillan for the purpose of Cybils Award judging.  Thank you!

Relatable and Real, Grief Novel an Authentic, Enjoyable Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As the youngest of eight children, 16-year-old Pup Flanagan might as well be wearing an invisibility cloak 24/7.  He belongs to a loving family, but his parents are exhausted, his many siblings are busy with their high-achieving lives, and Pup hasn't done anything distinguished enough to really get him noticed.  As a "redheaded, buck-toothed praying mantis" (2), he doesn't attract much attention from members of the opposite sex either.  Especially not from his long-time BFF, who would rather exploit Pup than date him.  The only person who ever really made him feel seen is his big brother, Patrick, who died unexpectedly while off at college.  Now, three years later, it's as if Pup's hero never existed.  His family refuses to talk about Patrick, even though their individual grief leaks through in sometimes alarming ways.  

In danger of failing Studio Art, Pup makes a last-ditch effort to pass by doing a photography project.  To his astonishment, he aces the assignment with a startling photo that reveals the heavy truth about his alcoholic brother.  With the help of a new friend, Pup starts to see the world with a more honest eye, which leads him to finally face some hard facts about his family, his so-called best friend, and his own future.

I've read a million books about grief, so I expected Sorry For Your Loss by Jessie Ann Foley to be just another run-of-the-mill story about loss.  And it is, in the sense that it concerns a family rocked by tragedy and the ways in which each individual member deals with it.  In other ways, it's not a typical grief story because, really, Sorry For Your Loss is about being seen.  This is something Pup struggles with as the youngest in a big family, the average Joe in a clan of overachievers, and the quiet, steady friend who puts up with being walked all over.  He's someone with whom everyone can relate at some level or another and it's impossible not to root for him.  As much as I love Pup as a character what I actually enjoyed most about Sorry For Your Loss is Foley's depictions of life in a large family.  Since I come from one, I know all too well the laughter, tears, tension, drama, and messy love inherent in big broods.  Foley's version rang so true for me that I found myself really feeling Pup's story on so many levels.  Sorry For Your Loss is a beautifully-written novel that's touching and true, relatable and real, poignant and powerful.  I adored it.

(Readalikes:  Grief books are a dime a dozen, but no really comparable titles are coming quickly to mind.  Help?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

YA Novel Likable, But Not Unique

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Reared in Saudi Arabia, 17-year-old Susan Thomas has just moved to Ontario, Canada.  Her father stayed behind to tend to his medical practice, leaving her and her mother alone in a foreign city, with promises that he would join them soon.  In the meantime, the two women fumble along trying to figure out life in a new place.  Although Susan is not the only Indian student at her high school, nor the only one with immigrant parents, she still feels out of place there.  Even at home, she doesn't feel entirely comfortable since she's hiding a big secret from her parents—Susan has no desire to become the doctor or engineer her parents insist she must be; she longs to become an artist.

Despite his bad-boy reputation, there's a lot more to Malcolm Vakil than meets the eye.  He's still grieving the mother he lost to cancer two years ago and harboring feelings of resentment toward his hard, philandering father.  He can't wait to turn 18 and get out of Dodge.  Who cares if he has no idea what he wants to do with his life?  Malcolm will figure it out—he just needs to get away from home, out in the world where he can breathe.  

When Susan and Malcolm meet, they both feel a connection.  As they slowly become more than friends, however, they both start to realize just how complicated romance can be.  Especially when the rest of their lives are already so tangled.  Can the two of them figure out a way to be together, despite the odds?  Can Susan make sense of her new identity as an Indian and a Canadian?  Will she follow the career path her parents want for her or find the courage to finally stand up for herself?  

Cultural/ethnic identity seems to be a huge theme in YA literature.  I've read dozens of books lately about teens with hyphenated identities trying to straddle the line between their parents' expectations and their own desires and the traditions of their homeland cultures vs. the ideas of the one in which they live.  What am I? and who am I? are big questions—it's no wonder so many YA novels address them.  Because there are so many similar stories, though, books like The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena don't feel all that unique.  Susan and Malcolm are both likable, sympathetic characters, but they really don't stand out among their fictional peers.  The book's plot is one I've read a million times.  No surprises.  Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy The Beauty of the Moment.  I did.  It just doesn't seem to really add anything to a crowded genre.  So, while I liked the novel, it doesn't stick out as a memorable or unique read for me.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Frankly in Love by David Yoon)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, rude humor, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a copy of The Beauty of the Moment from the generous folks at Macmillan for purposes of Cybils Awards judging.  Thank you!
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