We Were Mothers by Katie Sise

Rating:                              9.5

General Rating: Need a can’t-put-down read? I read this in a few days. Get past the first chapters, and you won’t be able to put it down. It gets better and better.

Skip factor:  0% I skipped not a word.

Who should read:  Readers who don’t mind multiple characters. Mothers and grandmothers.

Summary: The story opens at a birthday party for two-year-old twins, Lucy and George. All of the major characters are in attendance. The twins’ mother, Cora, finds someone has left the diary of her babysitter, Mira, on her bed during the party. The diary has one entry, and it is about Cora’s husband, Sam.

While Cora delves into the truth of the entry, the story turns to Mira’s parents, neighbors Laurel & Dash, who have a secret of their own. A bedroom secret—Dash is more than a little rough during love-making.

Switch to Jade & Jeremy. Jade’s best friend Maggie (Cora’s sister) was killed in an automobile accident. Jade is now close with Cora and Maggie’s mother, Sarah. Jeremy is the hunk of a guy whom every woman at the party secretly watches. Both Jade and Jeremy hide secrets, too.

As if those storylines aren’t enough, the day after the birthday party, Mira disappears.

Characters:  As in many beginnings, it was hard to keep the characters straight. Here’s a key to help readers keep the main three couples straight:

Cora & Sam
              Kids Lucy & George
              Sarah is Cora’s mom. Her dad, Clark, is remarried to Abby.
Laurel and Dash
              Kids Anna & Mira
Jade & Jeremy
              No kids. Jade was best friends with Maggie. Jeremy is hot.  

The characters in the order I liked them:

Cora is a woman who is content being a mother of twins. She misses her sister Maggie who died in a car accident. You can’t help but feel for her.
Jade is a quiet, kind woman who also misses Maggie. She’s married to the good-looking Jeremy, whom right off the bat you feel doesn’t deserve her.
Laurel is a fast-moving, busy woman who hides her bruises to the world—and herself.
Sarah is Cora’s mother. A divorced sixty-something who, understandably, immerses herself in Cora’s life after her daughter Maggie is killed in a car crash.
Mira is the babysitter who disappears. She comes on strong but as the story unfolds, you feel less disdain for her.

Storyline:  An excellent, complicated-yet-believable story with dark twists and turns to keep you paging through. The author skillfully thrusts the lives of, at-first, seemingly normal families into chaotic suspense that grabs your attention and won’t let go. Sise unfolds the complexity of the characters so slowly that the read seems effortless and easy.  

Writing:  Excellent. The perfect combination of dialogue and description. The story flows smoothly, and while the storyline is complex, the writing is flawless. Loved.

Read this author again? Yes, yes, yes. I’ll read anything Sise writes from here on out. Especially her suspense novels.

Read on!

_________________________________________________________

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.

8

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

Rating:                              8

General Rating: A page-turner that all begins with a game. Then gets worse.

Skip factor:  5% I skipped a tad of description and protagonist thoughts between pages 150 and 280. Up until then, nothing. After, just a tad as I dashed toward the meat of the story.

Who should read:  Mystery and thriller fans, and writers who enjoy good writing/description.

Summary: A sexy new neighbor, Angelica Roux, turns up on Amy Whey’s doorstep on book-club night. She completely obliterates the night’s agenda and initiates a game…Never have I ever…seems she knows a little bit about the book-club members. The game resembles truth or dare, only with a handful of adult women who are hiding more secrets than thought possible in one upper, middle-class neighborhood.   

Characters:  Here’s a first. I grew to dislike the main character, Amy. Fond of her in the beginning, by page 150 I’d decide I didn’t care for her at all. I actually loved this about the book! Here are a few of the characters and for the first time ever, I’m beginning with those I liked the least.

Roux is the antagonist, who is blackmailing several women. She’s beautiful, fit, and cunning. She rents a home in the neighborhood with her son Luka. Readers quickly gather the only reason for her rental is to blackmail Amy. She’s abrasive and curt. You dislike her instantly.

Panda and the other neighbor ladies are interspersed throughout. I didn’t care for any of them. Snobby and uppity, when the story reveals a few of them were being blackmailed, too, I could have cared less, which is what I’m sure the author intended.   

Amy is the main character. She is the wife of decent and kind Davis, mother of eight-month-old Oliver, and stepmother of fifteen-year-old Madison. From the beginning, she is a loyal friend to Char, but as the pages slip quickly by, you realize she has a coldness about her, a detachment.

Char is Amy’s best friend. She’s pregnant, a tad matronly, and the perfect organizer of the book club. Strung a bit too tight, right off the bat you know her gorgeous husband might cause her some strife.

Luka and Maddie are the teenagers who drift in and out of the story. Luke is Roux’s son, nice-looking, fairly respectful but you’ll worry about his intentions. Maddie is Davis’s daughter and Amy’s stepdaughter. She portrays a too-kind-to-her-stepmother teenage girl, affectionately referring to Amy as stepmonster, hardly ever defiance in her. (Having raised two daughters of my own, this was unbelievable to me.)

Davis and Tig are the men in Amy’s life. Good guys. I liked them both.   

Storyline: This is a book you spend dissecting, trying to understand the characters. Everyone has a past they’d like to sweep out the front door, and Roux knows it. She’s a professional blackmailer and infiltrates Amy’s world because, well, you just know Amy has a secret. Roux also gathers dirt on several of the other neighbor ladies and uses the information to blackmail them. However, the entanglement at the end—revealing Roux’s own sordid past–will surprise even the best mystery solvers.

What kept me reading, was Jackson’s unveiling of Amy’s backstory. I read the first half of this novel quickly to decipher what her secret was.

Writing:  I absolutely loved Jackson’s writing. She uses metaphors for description to perfection. The story too, is infectious. Once you’re exposed to the characters’ plights, you become thirsty for more. So thirsty, that in the second half of the book, despite loving her writing, I found myself skipping all of that wonderful metaphor-laden description, which seemed too weighty when all I wanted was more clues to the suspenseful storyline.

In the end, I juggled the 5-star good writing and great storyline against the unlikeable characters and believability factor (could there be that many dark secrets in a circle of friends?) and I landed on a solid four stars.   

Read this author again? My response may be a little odd for my 4-star rating…hmmm…probably yes.

Read on!

_________________________________________________________

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.

Open House by Katie Sise

Rating:                              9

General Rating: A fast-moving crime story about the disappearance of a college girl.

Skip factor:  1% I skipped very little.

Who should read:  Mystery and crime fiction lovers who enjoy novels that provide lots of suspects.

Summary: Katie is a medical student attending a school close to her hometown. Ten years earlier, her older sister, Emma, disappeared during a college party. Katie remains friends, somewhat, with her sister’s best friend, Josie.  When a hiker discovers a bracelet with Emma’s name on it in the area where she was last seen, the closed case is opened and a flood of the past rushes Katie.

Characters:  Oddly, I had to ask myself if I liked the characters to write this. The mystery of the story captured my attention from the beginning, and the clever way Sise introduced the characters had me suspecting everyone. It was a “Maybe it’s her. Oh, wait, maybe him. Oh, no. It has to be her. Or him,” sort of novel.

Katie is the medical student. Although this story is told from the perspective of several characters, Katie, Emma’s sister, is the main character and the most likable.

Josie was Emma’s best friend and roommate. I spent most of the novel trying to figure her out, which I loved. I never trusted Josie but couldn’t figure out if she was a good or bad person until well into the novel. Loved that.

Noah was Emma’s boyfriend at the time but is now married to Josie. I went back and forth about whether he was good or evil.

Brad is the bad teacher who is charismatic but untrusting. He had an affair with Emma. He is suspect right up front—almost too suspicious. But Sise constantly brings other guilty-looking characters in then leads back to Brad to keep you guessing.

Priya is Brad’s wife. She was pregnant with her son and engaged to Brad when Emma disappeared. Although seemingly too frail to commit murder, Priya takes medication for her nerves which quickly forces readers to check her off as a suspect, too.   

Minor Characters are introduced throughout. All add to the story.

Storyline: The is a typical disappearance story but written better than many. Sise introduces suspicious characters at exactly the right pace so as not to be confusing. She also infuses the past into the story smoothly, providing hints that slowly mount until the end. The storyline is believable. I found only a few questionable spots, one three-quarters of the way through and the other at the end. Generally, I couldn’t put it down. Any slow spots paled in comparison to the thrill of the read.

Writing:  Not too wordy and not overly descriptive, which I like. Sise engages readers by constantly pointing an accusatory finger at different characters, her writing clean. She jumps back and forth between POV in each chapter, adding Emma’s past story from ten years prior here and there. It works. As a reader, I wanted to figure out who the murderer was before Emma’s backstory revealed too much. Loved.

Read this author again? For sure. Already downloaded We Were Mothers.

Read on!

_________________________________________________________

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. See the video of Zahner’s inspiring paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here which inspired her Dream books. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Valencia and Valentine by Suzy Krause

Rating:                              9.5

General Rating: A wonderful story that jumps between the lives of thirty-something Valencia and eighty-something Mrs. Valentine.  

Skip factor:  0% I skipped nothing. This is the second book I’ve read by Krause and I’ve skipped 0% in both. Simply, I love her writing.

Who should read:  Women who like good writing and unique stories, have ever felt lonely, have even a smidge of OCD, or are helpless dreamers.

Favorite line(s): “But in real life you go around thinking that everything good is going to last forever, and it takes you by surprise when it doesn’t. And when you suddenly realize that it has happened for the last time, it’s too late.”

Summary:  This novel entails two stories, one of Valencia, the thirty-something, and Mrs. Valentine, the eighty-something. Valencia has OCD and sometimes confuses her imagination with reality. Mrs. Valentine has no difficulty distinguishing between reality and the imaginary, but she has a wild imagination and tells lively, believable stories.

Characters:  Krause creates two equally-lovable main characters and several likable ones:

Valencia has been diagnosed, medicated, and sees a psychiatrist for OCD. She’s a debt collector, occasionally wonders if she’s schizophrenic, and never rides/drives on the highway or boards a plane.

Mrs. Valentine is an elderly woman who invites people into her life in order to spend time telling her stories. She’s lonely and the reader develops instant compassion toward her.

Anna is the granddaughter of Mrs. Valentine’s deceased friend (whom she pretends is alive) and the new listener of Mrs. Valentine’s stories.

Grace is one of the few friends who has ever accepted Valencia just the way she is. You like her instantly.

James is someone Valencia meets over the phone and, though I liked him much, I was wary of him.

Peter, Peter, Peter. I loved him. Rooted for him throughout.

Storyline:  Unique. Readers are sure the two stories unraveling are related but aren’t sure how. Valencia hints she caused a death, and Mrs. Valentine pretends she’s talking to the dead, which hooks your interest and keeps you turning pages.

I will not reveal too much but I’ll say this. The story is brilliant and the ending magnificent. I haven’t cried so hard at the end of a story in years, and I’m not sure whether I was crying over the story or the fact that I had just finished such a work of art. It was sad and happy and beautiful all wrapped together and packaged to perfection.

Writing:  In Valencia and Valentine, Krause masters writing style, technique, word usage, and character development. Normally when you find a book that tells two stories, you like one more than the other and zip through one section to get to the other. Not so here. Remarkably, I loved both stories equally.

Read this author again? Yes, yes, yes, rumor has it she’s written a third novel. This book has made me a Suzy-Krauss book stalker. I can’t wait for her next one.

Read on!

_________________________________________________________

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. She is currently in the process of editing her fifth novel, Don’t Mind Me, I Came with the House.

All of Zahner’s novels arose, to some degree, out of true-life events. Her Friend’s novel is “nearly” a memoir, and her “dream” series was inspired by odd events in Zahner’s life. (See the video of her 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.

8

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!

_________________________________________________________

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.