The Guest List by Lucy Foley

4.5 stars Fiction

It was a slow burn at first, as the bridal party gets situated on the deserted island first.  The groom is a celebrity, his bride a publisher and the bridal party is a mish-mash of individuals, all linked to the couple, who each seem to have some hidden secret.  As the events of the story unfolded, I loved how the book picked up speed. As I tried to put the book down, to attend to other matters, my mind wouldn’t let go of the island, as the lights flickered, and the guests tried to make sense of what was happening.   

I could see why the couple had chosen this island for their special day with its seclusion, size, and the service that the owners provided. I really enjoyed the mixture of characters that the author included in this book and their interactions with each other.

When the big day arrived, the guests arrived on the island, ready for day of celebration.  With an abundance of individuals to keep track of, I found this confusing at times yet the connections that they had with one another, made this book intriguing and remarkable.

As the secrets start to surface, I didn’t know who might be the next one to unburden their heart.  Some of these, I had suspected but there were some that, made my jaw drop.  With twists and turns, and ups and downs, this book was a great escape. 4.5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the Book Club Girl Early Read program. This review is my own opinion of the novel and I thank Harper Collins and the Book Club Girl Early Read program for sending me this copy.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

5 stars YA

All the stars!  This book was breathtaking.  Perhaps, I just needed this book but there was so much that I loved about this book that this review cannot contain it all!  It was heartbreaking, eye-opening, captivating and enduring, and the way that the author put the story together was fantastic. 

First, I love how Elizabeth structured this story.  Told in verse, this story captivated me emotionally and mentally. Elizabeth paused in parts of her verse and I loved how these pauses made me feel.  They were dramatic, as the pauses felt sharp and powerful.  This book was hard to put down as I couldn’t stop thinking about what was going to happen next.  Told from two different viewpoints, there was no right answer, there was no clear winner.  I wanted both of the main characters to feel that they were going to be okay. 

It didn’t seem fair to neither of them what had happened but there was nothing that they could do about that now.  Their father was dead and they now needed to move forward.  Separated by miles, separated by years, separated by parents, the girls now needed to decide what their next steps would be. 

The writing in this book was terrific. This was an eventful and emotional story as the author described the events as the story unfolded.  I found many great scenes in the book as I was reading it. I could hear Papi favorite bachata songs, as they spun around on the record player, when they gathered to discuss his arrangements.  I could see his daughter’s reaction as she put these songs on, to remember her Papi. I could feel the family’s emotions as they heard the devasting news.  As each girl considered what to do next, I felt their confusion and frustration. I wondered how far they would take their relationship and how each family would feel about it.   I enjoyed how this book carried a mysterious element to it. It was amazing how using verse can enhance a story. 

You need to read it. I would love to listen to the audio of this one!   I highly recommend it. 

“For the rest of my life I will sit + imagine

what my father would say in any given moment.

+ I will make him up:

his words, his advice, our memories.”

Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus

5 stars Middle School

This sequel was just as enjoyable as the first book in this series and I enjoyed hanging out with Aven as she began her first year in high school.  If you haven’t read Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, you can still read this sequel, but I highly recommend that you read the first book, as you’ll enjoy this story more.

I liked how the author kept the characters real.  Their voices rang true to their feelings and they never sounded flat.  Each character felt important and their stories were important to each other.   They each struggled yet they didn’t lose all hope.

I remember seeing a girl in my high school who also, had no arms.  She was a few grades ahead of me and she amazed me.  I remember trying to watch her from a distance (I didn’t want to stare at her), as I just couldn’t believe that she was actually going to “my school!” This was in the early 1980’s and I don’t ever remember hearing a negative comment about her in fact, this girl was quite popular. She was also a great swimmer on the school’s swim team.  I think it’s interesting that after all these years of being out of school, I can remember this girl’s name yet, other individuals I saw everyday or hung out with, I can’t.  This unique individual, left an impression with me which at the time, I didn’t realize.    

This is a great book that I highly recommend.  If you haven’t read the first book in the series, I recommend you read that first, if you can.

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

5 stars Middle School

This book is about accepting what is life and creating your own journey. It’s about the friendships that are real, the ones that really matter and about appreciating these individuals. This book is about seeing the sun on a cloudy day. This was a book that was hard to put down.

Mark wants a courageous and beautiful life yet a fight has been going on inside Mark’s body for quite a while. Unfortunately, the war is winning. It’s now or never, as Mark decides to attempt one of his dreams. With his dog Beau accompanying him, Mark attempts to climb Mt. Rainer.

It’s an incredible journey: a journey of discovery and emotion. I would love to talk about the ending as it was incredible but I’m not going to spoil the book. I will say that the emotions that I felt, the character’s frame of mind, and their emotions, were the finishing touches on this fantastic book.

Caleb and Kit

4.5 stars Middle School

I felt more compassion for the secondary character in this book than the main character. At first, I thought perhaps Kit was imaginary but then as the story progressed, I wanted to know more about Kit’s situation as it seemed she had no one, except the rock.

Caleb’s best friend is now into sports, leaving all the things they used to do together behind. Caleb feels like he lives in the shadow of his perfect, older brother Patrick.  To escape his brother, Caleb heads off into the woods by their house.  Spying some crawfish, Caleb stops to try to catch them.  He thought she was an angel the way the sun surrounded her face, but it was only Kit, the new girl who was now telling Caleb how to fish.

This was where she hung out at.  This area inside the woods. She invited him to return the next day and he definitely would!  Finally, he had someone to hang out with and a special place that no one knew about. 

I liked reading about the friendship these two started and how things progressed. They both had issues that they were trying to hide/avoid.  Kit was doing a great job of hiding hers and then, there was Caleb, who couldn’t get away from his.  Caleb had a father who was unpredictable, a mother who was over-protective, and a brother who thought he could do no wrong.

Caleb starts to question Kit about her carefree life and her responses were short and matter-of-fact. I felt there was some kind of jealousy at times, as Caleb watched Kit.  I wanted and needed to know about Kit, as there’s something going on there.  Yet, Kit remains silent, not questioning Caleb about his life.  Caleb wonders if she notices that he’s different than other kids.

It’s a great book that covers a lot of different topics. Caleb has cystic fibrosis and Kit is being abused and neglected but these issues don’t take center stage.  It’s quite an adventure.

Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart

4 stars Children’s

I’m working my way through Dan Gemeinhart’s books and when I saw the cover of this book, my initial thought was that this would be an emotional, sweet story yet the synopsis told me something different.  Even after reading the synopsis, I wasn’t prepared for what I read. 

This was an emotional story about the love between a dog named Brodie and his boy. I liked how Dan wrote the story from the dog’s point of view. Like many people, I always talk to animals like they understand every word I say, and in Good Dog, the animals converse like humans. 

When Brodie awakens, words engulfed his mind.  He knew precisely what each word meant, yet he sensed that something was missing. Brodie didn’t know where he was, but he felt that this place where he was, was perfect. This was a dog’s paradise.  Sasha, another dog, explains to Brodie that he’s dead, that he used to have a life and knew people, and soon his memories would come and he would remember what his life was like before arriving there.

Brodie mind is soon flooded with words, memories and emotions as his previous life starts to come back to him.  Suddenly, that emptiness that Brodie had been feeling is filled.  A memory washes over Brodie and motivates him to leave his dog paradise and return to his boy.

Brodie is determined to return to his boy. To do so, he pays a price.  Returning to the human world, I had a hard time believing that this is a children’s book.  I liked the idea behind what happens but the details to make that happen, I thought were intense and alarming on a children’s level.  Perhaps on a middle school or YA level, they would be okay but not on a children’s level. 

I liked Brodie’s commitment to his boy and the friendships that he made. He had quite the journey.   There were moments that I found myself laughing, on-edge, and then, I had tears at 4 am this morning, it was an emotional story.  I enjoyed the author’s creativity and how the story ended.  There were a couple parts in the story, I was reluctant to read every word.  I skipped a few paragraphs.

I don’t think this is really a children’s book.  The violent description of the dog fighting is why I’m not giving it 5 stars.  The violence is rather descriptive for my taste in children’s book.  I liked the idea of the story; it was very creative.

“All this stuff (room full of books, old toys, video game system).  And the only thing the boy asked for was this picture of him and his dog.”

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Fowler

3 stars Fiction

This was one of those books where it was over before I knew it.  I listened to this audio in the car and then, time flew!  The drama built slowly, the romance had snuck itself in, and then I found myself disappointed that the whole book was over.  I could have sworn, I just put the second CD in.

Valerie and her son Xavier live in Oak Knoll, a peaceful, quiet neighborhood.  Xavier is a talented musician and Valerie loves nature and her surroundings.  When a local celebrity buys a nearby plot of land, new construction disturbs the quiet community as they begin building an upscale mansion and the family moves in.

Valerie had watched, as they destroyed the area to accommodate this new family, the destruction of natural resources was devastating to her.  Now, as the new family moves in, Xavier gets mistaken for hired help.  It’s an awkward beginning for these two families. 

As I listened to Brad, he started to get under my skin.  His superior thinking made me cringe but I liked the way this book was setting things up.  Valerie was up for the challenge but in the background, I was watching out for Xavier and Juniper. 

This is an entertaining book and one that I enjoyed.  

For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama Lockington

4.5 stars Middle School

It’s hard walking in Makeda’s shoes.  The body that occupies those shoes, misses her best friend that she had to leave behind, when she moved with her family this summer.  That same body, is stared at and harassed by her peers when she begins 6th grade at her new school.  That same body, feels that no one understands exactly what she goes through, not her mother nor her sister, even though they think they do.  That same body, doesn’t know who she is or where she belongs. The battles that Makeda faces are real, they’re typical of what’s happening in our world today and that’s important.  It’s looking at these conflicts through the eyes of Makeda, that makes this book significant.   

Makeda, is an 11-year-old African American girl who was adopted by a white family. Before they moved, Makeda had a best friend named Lena, who was also adopted. This connection, linked the two girls and they became very close to one another.  Now, Makeda feels as if she’s connected to no one and her connections with Lena are now long-distance.  It’s hard being a teen and moving into a new neighborhood but for Makeda, the situation becomes even more difficult when she’s questioned about her parents on the that first day of school.

Adoption.  Moving.  Racial tension.  Teen and school issues. Mental illness (suicide attempt).  How much more can an 11-year handle?

No one can walk in Makeda’s shoes.  Her situation is her own.  She’s unique and special but she doesn’t see it that way. She feels alone, isolated and hurt. 

This is an important book to read and I highly recommend it.    

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

4 stars Fiction

I liked how this book had an eerie feeling to it as I read it. When I finish reading a novel, I always take a few minutes to look at the novel’s cover to see if what I had just read, matches what the outside looks like.  When I looked at this book’s cover, I realized that this cover described this book perfectly.  It was everything: from that deer, to the variety of texts, to the use of shadowing and the dark colors chosen on the cover, this was the novel.  I thought this novel had a taunting, shadowy feeling which I really enjoyed.  I never knew what would happen when I turned the next page. 

The novel is about what happened when four Native American guys were out hunting one day.  It was the last time these four guys would be together hunting.  Cass was driving, the weather was getting bad, but they couldn’t stop now, they wanted to end their season on a high note.  They were hunting elk and they went into an area that was off-limits to them.  Yeah, I was thinking all kinds of problems now but nothing like what was coming. 

It’s been ten years since that day that the boys went hunting. Out hunting that day, Cass told his friends that he would take the heat for whatever happened that day but it doesn’t work that way because every single one of them was involved and they’ll all pay a price. 

I like how Jones lets us get to know the characters. Jones has a unique style of writing.  I love the times when I get so involved in my reading that I yearn to be inside the book and get the full effect. With Jones’ writing, I wanted to jump inside his book and witness first-hand what was transpiring.  I wanted to see the characters faces, see exactly everything that they’re seeing and witness the events.  This was an entertaining read for me.

Thank you to BookishFirst for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. 

The Light After the War by Anita Abriel

4.5 Stars Historical Fiction

This wasn’t the path they had planned to be on, yet here they were.  Edith and Vera had been best friends forever, living across from one another their whole lives but now, the war changed that. Creating a plan, scrunched together in the dark cattle car, these women’s lives would never be the same. 

Waiting in the grass, watching for movement, watching for any signs of life, they left disappointed.  They knew what they needed to do now and they moved quickly. Soon the world would be theirs, the war would be officially over and they could make their mark upon it. It was an impressive journey as the girls begin experiencing life on their own.

I enjoyed how the girls looked out for one another.  Vera was the hard-working one, who immediately was concerned about money and tries to find employment so they can survive. Vera’s concerned about paying for rent, buying food, and taking care of her friend, Edith.  She tries not to let her emotions get in the way.  Believing that her boyfriend Stefan has died, Edith can’t get herself together.  Her grief has led her to become very promiscuous, causing Vera to keep her eyes on her when men are around.

I liked how the characters of Vera and Edith were alike and how they were different.  Vera is dependable, serious and her emotions are in-check. Edith is fun, to a point.  Don’t go too far, or she will lose it. If you looked inside her, she’s all-over-the-place.  They’re perfect for each other.  Vera is Edith’s landing spot whereas Edith gets Vera out of her comfort zone.  After the girls escaped out of the cattle car, they both realized that their parents weren’t so lucky and had died in Auschwitz.  This is a heavy burden for the girls to carry, as this event replays throughout their lives.

Romance plays a big role in this book as Edith and Vera find themselves falling in and out of love. Over time, they both seem to want it and find it, so differently.  I’m not one who enjoys a lot of romance but I did enjoy the twists and turns these two girls take when they start turning heads.  

It’s a great book about friendship. I enjoyed Vera’s and Edith’s relationship and how it changed over the years. As the world recovers from the war, the girls begin a life together out on their own.  Finding jobs, their life begins to take off and soon they’re meeting individuals and dating.  I found the book intriguing as they began navigating their new lives. 4.5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me an advanced copy in exchange for my honest opinion.