Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Rating:           9

General Rating: Ng is an author to watch. The writing is fabulous—the best I’ve seen recently.

Favorite line: “Everything seems worse in the darkest hours of the night.” (So true!)

Skip factor:  2%. I skipped little.

Who should read:  While I believe this is more for women or young females, anyone who has experienced discrimination or who would like to understand the suffering of those discriminated against, should read. Because the novel includes a suicide topic, I would NOT recommend for YA.

Summary: The beginning reveals Marilyn’s and James’s oldest child, Lydia, is not alive, but the family doesn’t know it yet. An interesting premise, which hooks you immediately.

The novel tells the story of the Lee family who attempt to survive the devastating death of the favored child, Lydia. Each struggle with regrets. The mother, Marilyn, is an American who disappointed her family by marrying a Chinese man. James, a college professor, could not secure the type of position he wanted due to his Chinese ethnicity. Though they were in love when they married, Marilyn is disappointed that she never fulfilled herself. She leaves her husband and two older children to pursue her dreams but then returns, when she realizes she is a few months pregnant with a third child.

James and the two older children, Lydia and Nath, never mend from her leaving them, and when Marilyn returns, feeling she will never reach her full potential in life, she transfers her hopes and dreams to Lydia. Lydia works wholeheartedly to please her mother for fear she will leave them again.

Despite being the center of her parent’s hopes, Lydia is not the student Nath is. Overshadowed by his sister, Nath attempts to win his father’s support but always feels second to Lydia.

Both Nath and Lydia are ostracized for their ethnicity in school and learn to rely on each other. When Nath is accepted to college, Lydia has a hard time fathoming what her life will be like without him. Hannah, the youngest child, adores Lydia but hides in the shadow of both of her older siblings. She notices everything around her, possibly knows more about the family than anyone.

Characters:  

Lydia – I loved this character. Ng shows the inner struggles of teenagers who are discriminated against through this character.

Hannah – The sweet, youngest Lee child is ignored by the family. I wanted to know more about her throughout the entire book.  

Nath – Through Nath, Ng clearly depicts the cruelty of discrimination, because of both his and his father’s Chinese heritage.

Marilyn – I felt sorry for this character. The author makes her out to be a monster. And herein lies the reason I did not give this a 9.5 or even a 10 for the writing. This woman, clearly conflicted, was unintentionally too hard on her daughter. Yet she loved her. There was good and bad to her of course, but, maybe because I am a mother myself, I felt the overtone of the book conveyed only bitterness, no empathy toward her. (I wondered if the author had a rocky relationship with her mother and would love to see how she feels about Marilyn twenty years from now when she herself has grown children.)  

James – I liked the father but couldn’t connect with thim. James was hard on his son, adored Lydia, and ignored Hannah. He was a bit too business-minded for me. However, he too deserved empathy. He was a product of his past.

Other characters – Ng brought a few other characters into the mix when needed to enhance the family’s story.

Storyline:  This novel depicts the hardship and discrimination of an American Chinese family. The suffering of the Lee parents impacted how they raised their children. Neither were bad people, but they allowed their past to influence, harm really, their children—a characteristic often present in many families. While that family dynamics may be common, the effect that discrimination has on a family is explicitly told here.

Writing:  I cannot express how well written this novel is. The writing is possibly the best I’ve seen in years. I dawdled over it. The author told the story from an omnipotent view, which is tough and often frowned upon in today’s literary world. She makes the transition from POV to POV appear easy. This is one of those books that is so well written, you wish you had bought rather than loaned.

Read this author again?  Absolutely. I’ve already begun Little Fires Everywhere. Ng writes flawlessly. I’ll read anything she writes.

To find more good books click here.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

Rating:                       7

General Rating:

Another what’s-the-fuss-about book. I liked this book, and there is a certain point (I won’t reveal so I don’t spoil) where I thought I’d rate this higher, but in the end, I ranked it 7.

This will be a wishy-washy review. I’m not totally sure how I felt it about it. When I find a novel that does very well with ratings but isn’t my cup of tea, I research the author’s education, expecting to see Ivy League type schooling. I believe their education affords them greater chances with major agents and authors. And sure enough, A. J. Finn (Dan Mallory is his real name), graduated in English from Duke. (You might consider reading a bit about him before you read this. I wish I had. There’s some controversy.)

Skip factor:               

10% Yeah, I did skip a bit.  

Who should read:            

Avid readers who read a minimum of a book a week will love this. The reason? It is better than most novels. Avid readers will try to figure this one out. But if you are the type who reads a book every three months? I’d go with page-turners like Defending Jacob by William Landay, Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, or Absolute Power by David Baldacci.

Summary:  This is the story of a woman who is confined to her apartment building, stares out the window at her neighbors, and believes she’s witnessed a murder. This is nearly a remaking of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window where Jimmy Stuart is wheelchair-bound. Instead of a physical disability, Anna Fox has an emotional disability. She fears going outside. Additionally, her wheelchair, of sorts, is alcohol. In that sense, her character reminded me much of Rachel from Girl on the Train. (That’s almost enough right there for you to decide if you would like or not.)

Characters: This is another novel where I did not feel a connection with any of the characters:

Anna Fox –  An alcoholic who no longer lives with her husband and daughter, the ending of her marriage unfolds throughout the book in several chapters. I didn’t like this character. I didn’t like her more than I didn’t like Rachel from Girl on the Train. In Girl on the Train, I at least routed for Rachel to stop drinking. With Anna? I didn’t care.

The Russells – The Russell family lives across the street, and Anna eventually meets the entire family. The only character I liked was the quirky Jane who appeared mostly in the beginning.

The tenant – There was a male tenant downstairs and at the risk of spoiling the story, I’ll simply say I neither liked nor disliked him. (I can’t remember his name, which says something.)

Other characters – I liked one police officer/detective who showed compass, not the other who didn’t. And through phone calls by the husband and daughter, of course, I liked what little I saw/heard of them. I neither liked nor disliked her counselors, doctors, or the people she spoke with online.

Storyline:  Despite everything I’ve said above, the storyline is fairly good. Is it believable? In the end, yes, maybe it was. The author inspires the reader to guess who the killer is or if there is a killer.

Writing style:    The writing is good. An easy, interesting read.  

Read this author again: Would definitely depend on the storyline, not the ratings.

 Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, and Dream Wide Awake and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a paranormal element. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing by Allison Winn Scotch

Rating:           8

General Rating: Strong female characters win me over every time. They will you, too, in this insightful yet humorous story of a woman running for president.

Favorite line: “Emily shrugged as if, well, it was what it was so she became the full-time parent. Not because he was better at his job than she was, not because she was dying to pack lunches and fold laundry and run all the soccer carpools, but because in the default of the gender hierarchy, for some reason, the man’s needs came first.”

Skip factor:  2%. Maybe? I skipped little.

Who should read:  Feminists, single mothers, politically-aspired, or career-driven women. (Have I missed any women? If I have, add them, too.)   

Summary: Senator Cleo McDougal’s parents died when she was young, but before her father passed, he inspired her to keep a list of regrets—so she could learn from her mistakes. Now she is a contender for a presidential nomination, and when an estranged high school friend writes a damaging op-ed, Cleo must face some of the regrets on her list.

Cleo’s chief of staff, Gaby, detests Cleo admitting mistakes. But when she realizes Cleo has maintained a list of regrets all her life (thirty-nine years), Gaby decides surviving the op-ed and future revelations a presidential candidacy will evoke might fare better if Cleo makes amends with the high school friend—publicly. Though not completely sincere, Cleo’s public apology receives favorable feedback, and Gaby encourages her to address all of her regrets. Cleo explains she has over 200 on her list so they agree upon fixing ten, and the story cascades into the various situations that any woman, who has even the slightest of ambition, might face.   

Characters:  Scotch developed her characters into true-to-life people.  

Cleo is a single mother who is well-liked, hard-working, and competitive. She worked her way up the political ladder through sheer determination. I didn’t love her. I’m sure the author would not take offense. Cleo had a journey to make. She is the main character and, as in all novels, had a lesson to learn.   

Lucas – Is a typical fourteen-year-old with an atypical life. Through no fault of his own (isn’t everything a mother’s fault?), he is living within the political arena. To make matters worse, his birth father’s identity has been withheld from him. He floats in and out of the story adding to Cleo’s guilt load because, well, don’t all teenagers?

Gaby –  Is an intelligent, mostly loyal, feminist, and long-time friend of Cleo. She makes the hard decisions for her boss. Unlike Cleo, Gaby has a side fling going on which continually reminds Cleo that she does not.

Arianna – Is Cleo’s assistant. She is also a smart, hardworking woman (I love the strong female characters in this novel) but has one major drawback. She apologizes profusely, which adds much to Cleo’s story.

Georgie – Is Cleo’s much older sister whom she is not close to. Georgie comes in at the final hour to help.

The guys – Is it bad that I don’t remember much of them or care that I remember much about them? There is an important politician, Wolf, an ex-boyfriend, Matty, a biological father, Doug, and a newscaster, Bowen. Each is placed in the story to highlight the different standards applied to women in life as opposed to those expected of men.

Storyline:  This is the story of womanhood, the struggles they face today, the mistakes they make, the insecurities they have, and their ultimate strength and resilience. Cleo McDougal needed to learn a lesson. She had to accept her imperfectness. And while she may be a presidential candidate, everyday women, especially working mothers or single moms, can relate to her life. While society is hard on us, we are sometimes our hardest critics.   

Writing:  The writing was easy, interesting, and balanced. Just enough white space for someone like me who loves dialogue but not too much.

Read this author again? Absolutely.  

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

Rating:           7

General Rating: (Um. Really Jenna?) This is the most unusual, weird story I couldn’t put down. I told myself I didn’t like it and yet I read the entire book in three days.

Favorite line: None.

Skip factor:  8%, which mystifies me more. I loved the fire children and often rushed through a portion of the story to read more on them.

Who should read:  If you like weird books AND if you use the “F” word fluently and don’t take offense to others doing the same, this is for you.   

Summary: Lillian and Madison are roommates at boarding school. Lillian is on scholarship and Madison is filthy rich. When Madison is caught with drugs in her room, her father pays off Lillian’s mother to tell authorities the drugs were Lillians. Hence, Lillian’s only chance to claw her way out of poverty is gone. She is expelled. (This possibly made me angry enough to continue reading.)

Lillian works odd jobs and smokes weed in her mother’s house until one day, Madison offers Lillian a job caring for her husband’s children by his first wife. The problem? They catch on fire.

Characters:  I loved the children and couldn’t wait to read more of their story. That’s why I continued to read. (I think.) Here are the main characters.

Lillian is the main character. My apologies to the author. I couldn’t get past the male voice and the swearing. Her gruffness hid her kindness, and while I hated her voice, I grew to like her in the end. (Sort of.)

Madison is the rich roommate. She is bland and has no personality in the beginning, but is drawn out a little toward the end. She is Senator Jasper Roberts second wife.

Senator Jasper Roberts – The typical politician you love to hate.

Bessie – Is Jasper’s daughter who catches on fire. I liked this character so much that I kept reading to see what happens. She and Roland are the children of Jasper’s first wife, who committed suicide in front of them.   

Roland – Is Jasper’s son who catches on fire.

Carl – Is the grumpy right-hand man of Jasper. I sort of liked him. No clue why. (This review is turning out to be as strange as this book.)

Mary – Is the cook and I liked her. Thought there might be substance to her. But no. There wasn’t.

Storyline:  Quirky story. Strange, weird tale. I didn’t love this book nor did I understand it.

Writing:  The writing was easy.

Read this author again? Um. I have no idea. This was the most confusing book I’ve ever read. Should you read it? That’s on you.   

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBubor LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Friends Who Move Couches by CJ Zahner

Rating:           ?

General Rating: Strong female characters and Evy. Hope you love them. (Disclaimer: I had to put my own novel in the can’t-put-down category. You’ll have to decide for yourself!)

Favorite line: “Sometimes families rise out of the ashes together. Maybe with a smidge of dirt on their wings.”

Skip factor:  0%. Of course.

Who should read:  Any woman who values friendship.   

Summary:  This is almost a memoir.  

Nikki Grey’s idea of living dangerously is not wearing a seatbelt, yet calamity always seems to find her.

Married to a workaholic, mothering three rebellious kids, and feuding with neighborhood friends, Nikki forgets her problems one afternoon by smoking marijuana. That blunder ignites a lifelong yet dormant medical condition, and she loses her driver’s license. Suddenly stranded in her home, she’s forced to stare out the window at women who have ostracized her.

Her true friends encourage her to concentrate on her health, but Nikki is her own nemesis. She embarks on a scheme to win back neighborhood friends and plunges into efforts that only end in muddying her reputation. She becomes the butt of neighborhood jokes. Foolishly, her ache to mend her broken relationships escalates.

Not until her two-timing husband asks her a question that catapults her frivolous suburban life into a tailspin is she forced to stop reaching for others and stand on her own.

Storyline, characters, and author’s note:  

While my life, friends, family, and true-life quotes at the beginning of each chapter inspired much of this almost memoir, many aspects differ. 

First, it’s true I come from a small family and am frivolously addicted to friendship, but thankfully, I married Jeff Zahner, not Mark Grey. Throughout my thirty-eight-year marriage to Jeff, I often wondered how many men would so easily smirk and shake their heads at my escapades. In other words, I married a Blake the Pro right off the bat. Jeff and I have been faithful to each other since the day we met. (He assures me I can state this. He does not want to end up a character in one of my thrillers.)

Second, I’m not a cute, little blonde like Reese Witherspoon. I did this for your reading enjoyment. Imagine the same story with a frumpy, old, nagging brunette?

Third, I have one sibling, a brother, Mike. He is married to Barb. Mike is eleven years older than me. He began dating Barb when he was thirteen, and I was two, so Barb has been like a sister to me throughout life. This is a girly book, so I made Barb my sister. The hard, tragic, almost unbearable truth is Mike suffers from early-onset dementia, and Barb, from early-onset Alzheimer’s.

I do have three children who were rambunctiously mischievous throughout their childhood and teenage years, but I am happy to announce they have surpassed their father’s and my wildest expectations, superseding us in education, strength, courage, and character. My oldest daughter earned a master’s degree and has a resume grown men would kill for. She worked in the professional sports arena (Phillies, Nationals, Orioles, Capitals, Wizards, and Rams). My son is an attorney. (He is also a poker player and pretty good golfer.) My youngest daughter grew up to challenge her father and I as much (if not more) than her two older siblings. She did become a teacher and is currently completing her doctorate in Special Education. Yes, I remain a royal pain in the butt to them, but no one will ever love them like their mother.

Finally, Jody and Val do not live by me. They were my first friends. Val and I played together in the nursery of St Luke’s Church in Erie, Pennsylvania alongside our mothers who attended mass there. Jody moved into my childhood neighborhood when she was two, and I was three. These two women are both brilliant, yet so interestingly opposite in nature that I transplanted them into my adult neighborhood. They remain the greatest of friends from afar. I love them both.

All other friend characters, from Carol and Carolyn to Doctor Jim, are real except for Evy and Ellie (who are the culmination of all my friends), and Janice Everglade (whom I hope I never meet). Reah and Natasha are not the real names of the two friends who broke my heart. Our parting was exaggerated for interest, but I do still struggle over the loss of their friendship. I have come to realize we were friends at a time when we needed each other most. I must trust God’s wisdom, wish them the best in life, and carry on.

One final note, I am truly a girl’s girl and wonderfully blessed with great friends. The one thing I am sure of in life is that the friends I do have would move bodies for me—and I, for them.   

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Rating:                              9

General Rating: Pertinent. Could not be better timed. A great, thought-provoking read addressing racism, both blatant and subliminal. The author perfectly portrays a twenty-something African American and a thirty-something white woman. Kudos to Reese Witherspoon for selecting for her book club.

Skip factor:  2%. I skipped a minimal amount. There were times I couldn’t wait to see what happened and hopped text to read dialogue—strictly the fault of the reader not the author.

Who should read:  Any socially conscious woman. Umm. And maybe every frivolous suburban or career-driven mother.

Summary: Emira is a twenty-something African American Temple University graduate who, like most twenty-year-olds, is unsure where she is headed. She has a good set of friends charting their own courses, some a bit lost like her and others on track. Emira works two part-time jobs, one as a typist for the Green Party and the other as a babysitter three days a week for Peter and Alix Chamberlain.

Alix Chamberlain is a driven, self-made influencer who is struggling to juggle career, motherhood, and her move from New York City to Philadelphia. Peter is a rising newscaster who, quite out of character, makes a racist remark and finds himself at odds with the public. When his house is egged one evening (they exaggerate the action to stoned for merit,) his wife, Alix, calls their babysitter, African American Emira Tucker, begging her to come get their toddler, Briar, out of the house. Alix admits she has had a few drinks at a party, but the Chamberlains don’t care. Emira is the only person they trust Briar with. So Emira, and her friend, Zara, show up to take Briar to a neighborhood grocery store to pass time. There, a white woman insinuates something is fishy about the relationship between Briar, Emira, and Zara to a security guard and accusations quickly escalate.

Enter thirty-something male, Kelly, with his iPhone camera, recording. He calls the incident an injustice, defends Emira, and films all despite not knowing Emira and Zara. Emira calls Peter Chamberlain. Peter rushes there and confirms Emira, indeed, is Briar’s babysitter.

The story is told from two perspectives. Emira, who loves babysitting Briar, is content with her life but knows she must eventually secure “adult” employment; and Alix, who is content with nothing and constantly yearns for approval and respect. The reader becomes immersed in each of their lives and finds a myriad of racial inequities and inuendos, some harder than others to spot.

Without spoiling the story, Kelly and Emira begin dating only to find out, later, that Kelly was Alix’s high-school boyfriend who broke her heart.

Characters:  Reid balances Emira’s calm and collected personality marvelously with Alix’s driven and anxious behavior. There were traits I enjoyed in each. Surprises, too. Here are the characters in my favorite order.

Briar captured my heart from the moment she entered the picture. Clearly, Reid sees the beautiful innocence and wonder of children. She creates a marvelous, chatty toddler who has a heart-warming curiosity and longs to capture her mother’s affection. You can’t help but love her.

Emira is not jumping full force into adulthood. She’s shuffling. There were times when she didn’t defend herself and moments she seemed not to care about her future that perplexed me. Yet, her contentment with her simple life was part of what I loved about her, too. Add her showering of unconditional love onto Briar, with whom she practiced patience and understanding, she exemplified the perfect babysitter and I fell in love with her.

Zara – I loved Zara best of all Emira’s friends because she was entertaining, witty, fun, and added flair to Emira’s sometimes plain personality.

Peter surprised me. He was not the type of person to make a racial slur so I thought more about him than any other character, wondering if the author wanted us to understand racism exists far more than we realize—in all of us.

Alix is an exhausting character. Her background predisposes her to a fixation on Emira. Alix had been accused of racism in the past and wants to prove she is not racist, which inevitably, propels her racism. Despite her flaws, I liked her. She was too driven, too worried about what people thought of her, but the writer somehow inspired my compassion toward her. I’m not completely sure how. (Maybe her own compassion bled into the story?)

Kelly, Emira’s boyfriend, is transfixed with helping African Americans. He befriends, dates, and stands up for African Americans—too much. In my book club, someone referred to him as having a white-savior syndrome. My surprise of him was once while he is at Emira’s apartment, he moves to the other room to call his parents. This totally confused me. Was he hiding that he was dating an African American? Book-club friends made less of this. They chalked it up to a new relationship. (I’d love to know why Reid wrote this into the story.)

All other minor characters added to the story. Emira and Alix both had other friends wander in and out of chapters, all with reason. I liked them but didn’t love them. They existed to augment Emira’s and Alix’s stories. The author did well with these secondaries who were discreetly necessary.

Storyline:  This story intrigued me, reminding me of a modern-day The Help. I was not alone in this thought. Book-club buddies made the same comparison: an African American raising a white child, teaching her better life lessons than her mother, and a white suburban woman consumed with status and attempting to prove she was helping African Americans. (Suggesting Emira wear a t-shirt while babysitting WAS NOT requiring her to wear a uniform—oh no, definitely not a uniform. She simply wanted Emira to protect her clothes while painting, playing, etc with Briar.)

I loved this story. I’d like to re-read and find more on the author’s intent, to see what I missed.

Writing:  Don’t get me started. I loved Reid’s writing. I highlighted sentences for both simplicity and depth! To me, someone who enjoys dialogue, she mixed dialogue and description to perfection.

Read this author again? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.  

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

A Grand Old Time by Judy Leigh

Rating:                              8

General Rating: A cute little story about old age. The main character, Evy, captured my heart immediately. It took a bit longer for me to warm up to the storyline, but I was in love with Evy so gladly kept going. By the second half of the book, I loved the story, too.

Skip factor:  5% I skipped parts in the first half and not a word in the second half.

Who should read:  Older women, but be warned, remember this is fiction. Following in Evy’s footsteps could be disastrous.

Summary:  If you’ve ever thought hard about future days in an assisted-living facility or nursing home, read this. After Evie’s husband passes away, she goes to live at Sheldon Lodge. She has one child, Brendan, whom she adores, but when she decides she no longer wants to live at the Lodge, she doesn’t bother Brendan and his wife. She embarks on a journey of her own.

Without a spoiler, the plot is not completely believable but so cute you keep reading. Evy’s lucky number is four, so when she decides to leave Sheldon Lodge, she finds herself at a race track betting on her lucky number four. She wins a very large amount of money and takes herself on an adventure.

Characters:  Leigh’s main character, Evy, grabs your heart from the start. Her other characters take some warming up to. Here they are in the order I liked them:

Evy is a quirky little old lady with a wild imagination. You can’t help but like her. Simply, she lies for fun, inspiring readers to wonder what she’ll do next. That anticipation keeps you reading.

Jean-Luc – I loved this character, maybe as much as Evy. Jean-Luc is the man Evy eventually falls in love with. He is introduced as a grumpy old man at a bar, but Leigh’s writing cleverly makes you take note of, even like, him immediately. Leigh hints he is cranky for some unknown reason, and readers fall in love with him along with Evy.

Maura is Brendan’s wife. She enters as a nagging minor character but in the latter half of the book, Maura emerges as a kind soul. Evy, who never cared for Maura, begins to see this better side of her, too. I went from not liking her at all to loving her in the second half of the book.

Brendan, the son, I didn’t like at all. He’s a negative person who never expresses himself. I do think Leigh conveys to her readers what it is like to be an introvert. I kept thinking, “Speak up Brendan,” but he barely does. He changes for the better, but not until much later.

Minor Characters abound during Evy’s travels. When she finally settles down, some advance to the forefront. I liked most of them, but none impressed me as much as the main characters. They flitted in and out for the purpose of helping readers grow to love Evy even more, which worked.

Storyline:  A cute story of a little old lady who refuses to sit idle in her senior years. She sets out on an adventure and finds love and happiness. The story is fun and simple, but it has underlying life messages including: live for the moment so you have no regrets in your old age, and life is not always as it seems. Evy’s perspective on life has changed over the years. What once seemed important to her, no longer is. A great lesson.

Writing:  Leigh’s simplistic writing draws you in easily. It’s a clever slow burn rather than page-turning. I wasn’t compelled to read long into the night. YET. I found myself reaching to read more of Evy’s adventures early in the morning, to find out what she was up to. Her writing is clean, crisp, and clever.

Once again as I’ve done in many books, I struggled a bit toward the beginning, but its slow start was purposeful. A reviewer of one of my own novels put first-chapter struggles better than me. She said: It took me a little bit to get into it, but I later realized the beginning of the book created the love for all the “friends who move bodies”.

Read this author again? Yes. I’m looking to read many more of Leigh’s novels. If you have one you liked in particular, shoot me an email!  

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Sorry I Missed You by Suzy Krause

Rating:                              9

General Rating: Do you like quirky? Read this. I had to find out what the fuss over this book was. I mean it’s everywhere, right? Like with many books, I wasn’t enamored by the first few chapters despite Krause’s writing being quick, clever, and fabulous. But hold on! Do not put this one down.  I ended up loving it!

Skip factor:  0% I skipped nothing. Krause’s short, crisp writing with lots of dialogue, kept me from skipping anything at all.

Who should read:  For the first time in a review, I’m not sure who to suggest should read this novel. My guess is if you like frivolous, quirky characters, good writing, and different plots, you’ll like this. That’s as good as my guess gets today.

Summary:  This is the story of three very different women and their nerdy landlord. Upfront, there appear to be ghosts in the attic of the three-unit old-home-converted-to-apartment building they share. Each of the women, along with Landlord Larry, have a past dilemma haunting them (ha-ha) that they must come to terms with.

Nineteen-year-old Mackenzie can’t forgive herself for a lie she told at thirteen. Middle-aged Sunna, a beauty, can’t forgive a friend—a more beautiful, successful friend—for ghosting her. And the totally friendless senior character, Maude, can’t get along with anyone because some man, Richard, left her at the alter, or rather, in the park in a wedding gown.

When a note in the mailbox, “Sorry I missed You” is found all but ripped to shreds, the three attempt to decipher who it was meant for. The only message they can decrypt, however, is someone will meet someone at a local coffee shop on some afternoon. Because of their haunting pasts, each of the women believe the letter was meant for them, and they begin meeting at the coffee shop every day, which results in a rather forced friendship. When the building they live in presents ghosts of its own—real ghosts—they begin to rely heavily on each other.

Without a spoiler, the plot is simple, but by the time a reader realizes this, they’ve got too much invested in these women. By halfway through the book I couldn’t put it down because I LOVED all three of them along with landlord Larry.

Characters:  Krause’s characters are so different you’ll thrive on their interactions. I am honestly unsure which character I liked the most. Very seldom do I begin a book not liking any characters and end up loving all of them, equally. This is a first, so here are the characters in no particular order:

Sunna is a beauty but has been stifled by her ex-friend Britt, a bigger beauty. Sunna has no patience, is curt, and when she becomes acquainted with the older lady in her apartment building, Maude, she realizes she is on a path to become alone and friendless like Maude.

Mackenzie is the youngest and nicest tenant, who at times you believe might be a murderer. Yet you love her anyway for her compassion.

Maude is the old lady you love to hate. She’s bitter, annoyed, whiny, and honest to a fault. You can’t help but wish you had a little bit of her bluntness.

Landlord Larry is a forty-year-old punker, who practically has nerd tattooed on his forehead. His thoughts are so entertaining they add humor to his already peculiar, humorous life.

Minor characters – Not many. Richard, Maude’s ex, shows up but the reader judges him purely from Maude, Sunna, and Mackenzie’s thrashing of him. A few other characters pop in for a line or two, but Krause keeps out the unimportant.

Storyline:  Strange, weird, silly, yet insightful. There are a few questions I have about the plot for Mackenzie and Sunna which make me want to go back and reread it. (Plus I love Krause’s writing style.) And not to ruin the tale, the way Krause winds up the ghosts in the attic is different even for me, an occasional paranormal writer, but unique as is the entire story. Everything is so cleverly written you can’t put it down.  Her writing is superb. I enjoyed the characters’ internal struggles wrap up, and I must figure out how Krause got me from not liking to loving her characters.

Writing:  In Sorry I Missed You, Krause masters writing style, technique, word usage, and character development.

Like most novels, the story begins slowly. Beginnings are tough for writers. We juggle the boredom of the backstory with opening sensationalism. Recently lambasted on Amazon about the beginning of one of my own novels, I’ve done some front-end soul-searching. Did I love the beginning of my own book? No. I didn’t blame my reviewer. My first chapter was okay. Second and third, eh. Fourth, I didn’t like. Then from five on out, I was pretty proud.

Sorry I Missed You re-sparked a flicker of confidence in me. I realized beginnings are tough for most writers—even fabulous ones like Krause.

I walked through her first chapters. However, by forty percent in, I was back in my happy place, speeding along, comfortably curled up on the couch wondering how much reading I could get in before I started feeling guilty about my real-world chores.

If you love great writing and characters, you’ll love this like me.

Read this author again? Yes. I loved Krause’s writing. I’m not a fan of wordy and Krause isn’t. She writes clean and crisp. Her character development is as good as any writer’s and better than most. I’m anxious to read her again.  

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Rating:  4

General Rating:  Kidd amalgamates narrative and dialogue to perfection in this  touching tale of a motherless girl who runs away from an abusive father.

Skip factor:  1% I skipped little. The writing was just too good.

Who should read: All women, all ages.

Summary:  This is the story of Lily Owens who must come to terms with the death of her mother. Lily, abandoned by her mother for a short time before she died, remembers the day her mother returned—the same day her mother was shot and killed. Now Lily is a teenager, feeling confused and unloved. Raised by an abusive father, she finds some affection in Rosaleen, the African American woman whom her father hired shortly after her mother’s death. When Rosaleen attempts to register to vote, she finds trouble with white men and she and Lily end up in jail. Lily’s father, T. Ray, bails Lily out, but she returns and helps Rosaleen escape.

They flee to a town called Tiburon because one of the few items Lily had from her mother was a picture of a Black Madonna. Tiburon, South Carolina was inscribed on the back. Lily asks around Tiburon about the picture and ends up at the house of three African American sisters—the very house her mother had run to when she first left T. Ray and abandoned Lily. The story is of Lily’s time spent there and her journey to come to terms with her mother’s abandonment and death, and her feeling of being unworthy of love.

Characters:  I loved this book partially because of the strong female characters Kidd created. They are flawed but loving and strong. I like every single one, loved a few.

Here they are in the order I liked them:

August – The strongest of the African American sisters, August has a deep understanding of life. She is a beekeeper and teaches Lily the craft of collecting honey from bees. August knew Lily’s mother, but she understands when and how to relay pieces of information to the girl. She is an old soul, and I came away wishing I had an August in my own life.

Lily – Kudos to the author in the creation of Lily. It took some time for me to like Lily. Raised by T. Ray, who never showed her affection or love, she herself was lacking in these elements. She had a flat personality that slowly came out through the novel, making the story real to me.

Rosaleen – Lily’s caregiver was also a hard character to figure out, although I liked her gumption right away. She’s enamored by the thought of registering to vote, and spits at prejudiced white men who insult her with no regard for what they would do to her. She’s tough. But because of that toughness, Lily often wonders if Rosaleen loves her.

May – Another of the three sisters is May, who brightened the story with her unique personality. Her twin sister died years before and left her in a nervous state. To calm her anxiety, her sisters encouraged her to write her fears/anxieties down and in doing so, they created a wailing wall for her made of stone. Every time May had an episode, she led was led off to leave a note in her wall.

June – The third sister, June, does not initially get along with Lily. She also has a beau who keeps proposing to her despite she constantly turns him down. June has a journey to make on her own. I enjoyed this character, too—another strong woman.

Minor characters – Kidd successfully had me liking minor characters (like Zach) and hating the bigots.

Storyline:  This is not a fast-paced, page-turning novel. It is contemplative—simple language with deep meaning. The story flows, and I found myself looking forward to reading more.

Writing:  Lots of white space makes me happy and this book, while having much narrative, never labored on. Paragraphs were short, clean, and interesting, so I never realized when there wasn’t dialogue for several pages. She writes simply and profoundly throughout. Like this: “I filled a bowl with Rice Krispies and milk, trying to think over the snap-crackle conversation it was having with itself.” And “…people can start out one way, and by the time life gets through with them they end up completely different.”

Read this author again? Absolutely.  

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

 

The Truth About Forever

Name:                               The Truth About Forever

Author:                              Sarah Dessen

Rating:                              9.5

General Rating:               A perfectly sweet book to make you forget the pandemic. This novel will make you smile. It ranks as one of my favorite YA books.

Skip factor:        >1% I barely skipped anything. A few times I was so engrossed in the story I speed-read through several paragraphs to find out what would happen. I couldn’t wait to see what was around the bend.

Who should read:           Women, young and old. This is clean and appropriate for any age. Young girls will identify with the main character, and older women will fondly remember days past.

Summary:          No spoilers. This is the story of a high school girl, Macy, whose perfect suburban world is suddenly tainted by the death of her father. She is the youngest of two children and while her older sister is a bit wild and outspoken, Macy is quiet, smart, and sensible. She was close to her dad and after his death, she folds inside herself and tries to become the perfect daughter for her mother. She has a relationship with an intelligent boy, who is driven by his life’s career goals. When he goes away for the summer to “brain camp,” Macy’s mother hires a catering service for an event, and Macy becomes enamored by the owner, Delia, and her employees. She begins working for Delia and hanging around with some of the workers, in particular, a boy named Wes. Macy’s mother believes this is the “wrong” crowd for Macy. But is it? This is a lovely story about life and growing up.

Characters:        Dessen creates simple characters, some who immediately win you over, and some who take the normal route of progression and capture your heart over time. I loved most—actually—all of them. Helplessly. I was a quarter through the book before I realized certain characters brought a smile to my face every time they walked onto a page.

Here they are in the order I liked them:

Kristy – My favorite character had a scar on her face that never inhibited her. The personality Dessen creates in Kristy is clever and vivacious. She has an extraordinary attitude and is witty. Her take on life will make you smile.

Wes– He’s cute and doesn’t know it, a talented artist and doesn’t flaunt it, and he is unimpressed with the scads of girls who “swoon” over him. Unrealistic, I know. But despite his impeccably perfect personality that seems unlikely, his simple nature has you loving him almost the moment he appears. Dessen is that good.

Macy – Macy is the type of character you want to pull out of the book and wrap your arms around. She is quiet, kind, and never speaks her mind. She is painstakingly shy, even afraid to show anger toward her mother. I routed for her from the beginning.

Minor characters – I liked the minor characters more in this book than any other novel I’ve read.

Delia – Delia is my favorite minor character. She owns the catering business. An old soul with a good grasp on life, Delia lacks the organizing skills of a normal business owner. Still, somehow, things always work out for Delia in the end. She is positivity, kindness, and chaos wrapped in one. If her charm doesn’t make you love her, her pregnancy will. She’s the perfect minor character who jumps in, flaws and all, with a perfect splash.

Caroline – Macy’s sister flits in and out. Macy mentions her “sneaking out” as a teenager so the reader gets the impression, she is a bit wild. For me, I wasn’t sure about her at first, but when she reappeared later in the book, I loved her. You see Caroline from Macy’s perspective only, which is how it should be. However pulling this off is sometimes hard for an author. Not Dessen. Caroline is one character (as is the mother) whom I learned to love over time.

Monica – This is the sister of my favorite character, Kristy. So how could Dessen make her stand out when Kristy has such a magnanimous personality? Dessen made her painfully laid back—the total opposite of Kristy. People could barely get more than an uh-huh or umm from her. It worked. I loved Monaco, too. When she finally spoke, I felt like applauding.

Bert – Brother of Wes is a nerd. He has a silly little game that he plays with his older brother, is forever awkward, and is enamored by some Sci-fi group waiting for the world to end. He adds flavor to the story. You’ll be saying, “oh boy, here he comes.”  AND. He makes you like his big brother, Wes, even more for putting up with and loving him.

The mother – You see Macy’s Mom through Macy’s eyes. She, too, evolves throughout the book, adding an unusual, almost silent, side-story to the coming-of-age plot. The woman has lost her husband and Macy doesn’t quite understand her. The mother doesn’t understand herself. She progresses in the background until she finds her own truth.

Storyline:            There are no slow parts. This story flows, page after page, flawlessly. Even the middle, which I usually struggle with, kept my attention. This is an old story dressed up by unique minor characters. Not my usual genre, but I loved.

Writing:              Dessen’s writing is superb. Not much else to say. Her plot and characters keep your attention. This is the first novel I’ve read by this author and honestly, I googled her to find out where she went to school. How she learned to write so well.

Read this author again? Yes. Three-fourths of the way through this book, I realized I would be done soon, panicked, and took out another Dessen book from my library online. I can’t afford to buy them all!

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.