Saturday, July 14, 2018

Quick Pick book review: Leah on the Offbeat, by Becky Albertalli

book review: Leah on the Offbeat, by Becky Albertalli
  • Opening lines: I don't mean to be dramatic, but God save me from Morgan picking our set list. That girl is a suburban dad's midlife crisis in a high school senior's body.
  • Reason I picked up the book: This is technically the sequel, or companion novel, to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which I really enjoyed (both the book and movie adaptation, called Love, Simon). 
  • And what's this book about?
  • In this sequel to the acclaimed Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—now a major motion picture, Love, Simon—we follow Simon’s BFF Leah as she grapples with changing friendships, first love, and senior year angst.

    When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic.
    She’s an anomaly in her friend group: the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

    So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high.

    It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.
    • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys books about teens, growing up, or coming to terms with your own identity.
      • Favorite paragraph: "You know what I want for you?" Mom says finally. She smiles, almost wistfully. "I want you to let things be imperfect."

        "Okay." I frown. "But I do."

        "No you don't. You know? You have a sucky time dress shopping, and you're ready to call off prom. You wouldn't try out for the play because you're not the best actress in the universe."

        "I'm the worst actress in the universe."

        Mom laughs. "But you're not! Not at all. You just want to be the best. And you have to let that go. Embrace the suck. Let your guts hang out a little."

        Yeah, that's a fucking joke.
        Let your guts hang out. I don't even get that. Why would anyone want to live like that? Like it isn't bad enough that I'm always one breath away from falling apart. I'm supposed to fall apart under a spotlight?

        It's too much. And I don't want to embrace the suck. I want things to not suck. And I don't think that's too much to ask. 
        • Something to know: You don't necessarily need to have read Simon before you read this one, but it might be helpful to give you some context about Leah (his BFF) and their relationship before this book.
        • What I would have changed: Nothing.
        • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
        • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon.

        *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

        Thursday, July 12, 2018

        Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Punishment, by Scott J. Holliday {ends 7/19}

        Guest review by: Becki Bayley

        Barnes felt more at ease as Andrea Wilson than as her husband. The pickax’s physical damage had broken Dale’s memories and made them hard for Barnes’s mind to accept, like pouring unmixed gas into a two-cycle engine. Andrea’s damage had been equally as severe but inflicted upon less vital sites. Her engine was humming, her gas mixture spot-on. She was dreaming of a garden, was down in the thick of it, in the mud, on her hands and knees. Barnes smelled flowers, soil, cut grass. He felt the wet earth squelching between her fingers. She dug a trowel into the dirt and popped a weed from its stronghold, smiled at the satisfaction of plucking the roots out. She tossed the weed into a wicker basket with a twisted wooden handle arching over the top. Beyond the basket was the gingham blanket Andrea had laid out; beside it, a small cooler. Lemonade in there. Tito’s Handmade Vodka, too. Barnes savored the taste of her future drink, a reward for a job well done.

        Andrea looked at her house. In her dream it was a mansion on the estate she owned. She had let the staff off for the day, declaring that she would do today’s gardening herself. Her benevolence gave her a sense of superiority, and with it came calmness. Here striving for something better was over. Their lives were now full.


        Punishment: A Thriller by Scott Holliday presents a possible future of police work, and in this book, it’s based in Detroit. Growing up just an hour or so from Detroit, I always love to find a good "local" book. This was a perfect combination of sci-fi, with a mystery/crime to solve.

        Official synopsis: 
        Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Punishment, by Scott J. Holliday
        Do you want to know what it’s like to die, to kill, to really fear for your life? Then get hooked…

        Detroit-based homicide detective John Barnes has seen it all—literally. Thanks to a technologically advanced machine, detectives have access to the memories of the living, the dying, and the recently dead. But extracting victims’ experiences firsthand and personally reliving everything up to the final, brutal moments of their lives—the sights, the sounds, the scents, the pain—is also the punishment reserved for the criminals themselves.

        Barnes has had enough. Enough of the memories that aren’t his. Enough of the horror. Enough of the voices inside his head that were never meant to take root…until a masked serial killer known as Calavera strikes a little too close to home.

        Now, with Calavera on the loose, Barnes is ready to reconnect, risking his life—and his sanity. Because in the mind of this serial killer, there is one secret even Barnes has yet to see…


        I found this book to be a little confusing at the beginning, but just because I didn’t "get" the technology they’d brought up for the story. Essentially, they have a machine that can take memories and transfer them from a person to the machine, where other people can access them repeatedly. People are using the machine to live experiences they would like to try from celebrities or others, or in the case of this story, for law enforcement to access murder victim’s memories of the crime and seeing their attacker.

        Punishment is the first novel in the Detective Barnes series about John Barnes, a detective with the Detroit Police Department. He’s brought in to replace the first detective on a serial-killer case – because the first detective lost his mind from the machine. Now Barnes is reviewing the memories of the previous victims and having the first look at the memories of the most recent victims. The victims seem random, but that would make the killer impossible to determine. How long before the killer strikes again? Will the victims in Barnes’ head always interrupt his own thoughts?

        I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. I enjoyed the main crime storyline, and the way the clues were presented to solve it. The end of the book and actual solution to the crime was completely unexpected but felt a little forced. The romance was predictable, but I liked the female character.

        {click here to purchase}

        Becki Bayley is a busy mom who loves having her kids home for the summer. She also has been blogging at SweetlyBSquared.com for more than 15 years about their adventures.

        GIVEAWAY:

        Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Punishment!

        Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, July 19th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be contacted via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

        U.S. residents only, please.

        Good luck!

        Punishment, by Scott J. Holliday

        Wednesday, July 11, 2018

        Quick Pick book review and GIVEAWAY: Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win, by Jo Piazza

        • Opening lines:Tell people one true thing before you tell them a lie. Then it will be easier for them to believe the lie.

          It wasn't the best advice Marty Walsh ever gave to his daughter Charlotte, but it had stuck with her for almost forty years.
        • Reason I picked up the book: It sounded like the type of book I typically enjoy.
        • And what's this book about?
        • From Jo Piazza, the bestselling author of The Knock Off, How to Be Married, and Fitness Junkie, comes an exciting, insightful novel about what happens when a woman wants it all—political power, a happy marriage, and happiness—but isn’t sure just how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it. Charlotte Walsh is running for Senate in the most important race in the country during a midterm election that will decide the balance of power in Congress. Still reeling from a presidential election that shocked and divided the country and inspired by the chance to make a difference, she’s left behind her high-powered job in Silicon Valley and returned, with her husband Max and their three young daughters, to her downtrodden Pennsylvania hometown to run in the Rust Belt state. Once the campaign gets underway, Charlotte is blindsided by just how dirty her opponent is willing to fight, how harshly she is judged by the press and her peers, and how exhausting it becomes to navigate a marriage with an increasingly ambivalent and often resentful husband. When the opposition uncovers a secret that could threaten not just her campaign but everything Charlotte holds dear, she has to decide just how badly she wants to win and at what cost. A searing, suspenseful story of political ambition, marriage, class, sexual politics, and infidelity, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win is an insightful portrait of what it takes for a woman to run for national office in America today. In a dramatic political moment like no other with more women running for office than ever before, Jo Piazza’s novel is timely, engrossing, and perfect for readers on both sides of the aisle.
          • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys books about politics, women, or both.
            • Favorite paragraph: Meeting someone in real life after they've been your nemesis for more than a year was like meeting a character from a book that you didn't particularly like.
              • Something to know: I'd love this to be a movie some day! My ideal casting would be James Marsden as Max and Jennifer Garner as Charlotte.
              • What I would have changed: The ending ... it's more vague than I wanted it to be.
              • Overall rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
              • Where can I find this book? Click here to pre-order on Amazon - the book will be released on July 24.
              *Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book from NetGalley, for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

              GIVEAWAY:

              *Three* of my lucky readers will win a copy of Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win!

              Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, July 18th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be contacted via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

              U.S. residents only, please.

              Good luck!

              Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win book

              Tuesday, July 10, 2018

              Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A Tangled Mercy, by Joy Jordan-Lake

              Guest review by: Erin Krajenke

              Gripping her coffee and feeling her way through the mist that clung to the water and to the mansions beside it, Kate climbed the steps of the seawall. A thousand miles of asphalt had made her stiff and bleary-eyed, but this view, her first of Charleston Harbor since she'd left as a child, was nothing like she remembered. 

              'Left', Kate thought. Or been dragged away - that was more like it.

              Where she'd recalled sunshine that was searing and gold and houses in a paint box of pastels and roses that spilled in reds and yellows so bright they hurt the eyes, here was a haunted gray silence. Spanish moss swayed from long-armed live oaks that seemed to be reaching and reaching for something they could not quite touch. Brick crafted by slaves walled off the gardens, broken only by wrought iron gates and low-growing palmettos spiked upward like swords.

              Kate looked out over the water, as dark here before dawn as her coffee. Beneath her, low waves hissed over a strip of pebbles and sand. And for the first time since she'd walked out so bravely on her life in New England - how stupid she'd been to think she was brave, how incredibly, terribly stupid - nausea and doubt rose together. A thousand miles south she'd driven, all afternoon and all night, thinking that finally, after so many years, she was on a journey to answers."

              “The quarter hour of warning drums would be stopping soon, even here in the Neck, the norther part of the peninsula that housed scores of free blacks and slaves hired out for their skills by their owners. He'd been given permission two years ago to move from the quarters behind the Russell home and into a room in the Neck shared by four other artisan slaves. They were still watched and patrolled and told when to be in for the night and how many could congregate where. But it had been a small taste of freedom, a taste he knew better than to risk by ignoring curfew.

              But he's just signed on for a rebellion that, if it went according to plan and fanned the spirit of liberty and hope, could sweep the Low Country - could free slaves across the South.

              And if it failed...then being hauled into the workhouse for breaking curfew would be the least of his worries.

              Tom lifted a hammer and brought it down in a shattering blow.


              I always enjoy books that take place during this era in United States history. I find them informative and very moving, so I was excited to read another novel in this timeframe.

              Official synopsis:
              A Tangled Mercy book, by Joy Jordan-Lake
              Told in alternating tales at once haunting and redemptive, A Tangled Mercy is a quintessentially American epic rooted in heartbreaking true events examining the harrowing depths of human brutality and betrayal, and our enduring hope for freedom and forgiveness.

              After the sudden death of her troubled mother, struggling Harvard grad student Kate Drayton walks out on her lecture - and her entire New England life. Haunted by unanswered questions and her own uncertain future, she flees to Charleston, South Carolina, the place where her parents met, convinced it holds the key to understanding her fractured family and saving her career in academia. Kate is determined to unearth groundbreaking information on a failed 1822 slave revolt - the subject of her mother's own research.

              Nearly two centuries earlier, Tom Russell, a gifted blacksmith and a slave, grappled with a terrible choice: arm the uprising spearheaded by members of the fiercely independent African Methodist Episcopal Church or keep his own neck out of the nooses and protect the woman he loves.

              Kate attempts to discover what drove her mother's dangerous obsession with Charleston's tumultuous history are derailed by a horrific massacre in the very same landmark church. In the unimaginable aftermath, Kate discovers a family she never knew existed as the city unites with a powerful message of hope and forgiveness for the world. 

              Unfortunately for me, this book fell short. While I enjoyed all of the characters, the setting, and the story itself, something about it didn’t hold my interest and it took me a long time to finish reading it… it was almost as if reading it was a chore. I think it had to do with the overly descriptive writing style. I felt like it was trying to be more poetic than actually telling a story. I think the book has a pacing issue because the ‘meat’ of the story could have been faster and more concise.

              Also, I feel that the suspense the book was trying to build was not the surprise it made it out to be and every new discovery was pretty obvious. I have read other books in this era/genre and with some of the same individuals (as this story includes real people and events) that were more interesting and that I felt had more heart.

              Star rating: 3 stars out of 5.

              {click here to purchase}

              Erin Krajenke is a chatty Virgo who has never passed a crack she didn’t trip over.

              GIVEAWAY:

              One of my lucky readers will win a copy of A Tangled Mercy!

              Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Wednesday, July 18th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

              U.S. residents only, please.

              Good luck!

              A Tangled Mercy book

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