Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Rating:           8

General Rating: A bit disappointed. (Like Crawdad’s, I may have expected too much.) Ng’s writing earns a nine, but the scattered storyline, a seven, averaging a solid eight rating.

Skip factor:  8%. I skipped some of Mia’s flashbacks. Her backstory dragged.  

Who should read:  If you read Everything I Never Told You, if you are a writer, or at least love writing, you’ll enjoy this. I don’t believe people who grab this book before reading Everything I Never Told You will be as enamored by Ng. This is a good book, but I expected great from Ng.

Summary: The story begins with a fire and the mention of Izzy Richardson. Izzy is one of four children who lives in the house burning to the ground. The story also mentions a mother and daughter, Mia and Pearl, who rent one of the Richardsons’ apartments. Mia and Pearl leave the afternoon of the fire, so right away the reader wants to know what’s going on.

The novel tells the story of the well-to-do Richardson family living in the Shaker Heights neighborhood of Cleveland. When Mia, an artist, and her daughter Pearl rent an apartment from the Richardson’s, their lives intersect in more than tenant-landlord fashion. Elena Richardson admires Mia’s art and hires her to cook and clean for them part-time, saying Mia must continue her art. Mia accepts reluctantly but the position, along with a second part-time job, allows her the freedom to continue her photography.

Eventually, all four of the Richardson children become involved with Mia and Pearl who seem slightly mysterious.

Enter Beebe and Mrs. McCullough. Beebe works with Mia at Mia’s part-time coffee shop job and Mrs. McCullough has been Elena Richardson’s best friend for years. When Mia realizes the adopted McCullough baby may be Beebe’s lost child, the story takes an emotional turn.

There are numerous twists and turns to this story. (Possibly too many.) The author jumps back and forth in time, and where normally I like this, I didn’t here. I found myself skipping Mia’s backstory.

Characters:  I loved all four Richardson children and Pearl. I did not like Elena Richardson or Mrs. McCullough, although I did feel sorry for Mrs. McCullough who could not have children of her own. I believe I experienced all of the emotions the author hoped readers would experience with the characters except for Mia. Mia was too odd for my liking, and the author’s attempt at creating a sad background for Mia didn’t work.

Storyline:  This novel winds through several important life topics: suburban racism, family dynamics, rich versus poor, adoption tribulations, motherhood, and even carries YA coming-of-age subject matter. The story has several protagonists, two mothers, one rich, one poor; five children between them who are at the height of their emotional teenage years; and a destitute woman who finds herself in an impossible situation.

Without spoiling the story, I’ll say this touches heartfeltly on family, pregnancy, adoption, and even abortion.

Writing:  The novel is well written, yet there were many parts where I felt the dramatics of the situations were drawn-out and overdone, hurting the importance of the topics. Mia’s backstory could have been tightened to make readers feel more of a connection with her.

Read this author again?  Yes, I will. I love her writing and am hoping for another book like Everything I Never Told 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 Instagram, TwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Rating:                              9.5

General Rating: This author teases readers with clues. A great storyline by a clever writer.

Skip factor:  I skipped a small amount, 3%, in the beginning. Believe me, this book gets better. After halfway, I couldn’t put down.

Who should read:  Crime fiction lovers will enjoy, but so will women in general as this reads more like women’s fiction. 

Summary: Sisters Mickey and Kacey were raised by a strict grandmother, Gee, in a low-income area of Philadelphia. Their mother died of an overdose and their father left when they were young. While Mickey garnered good grades and wanted to go to college, Kacey turned to drugs and is eventually kicked out of her grandmother’s house.

The story is revealed in Then and Now sections. The Then story is, having had little encouragement and no money for college, Mickey entered the police force. Readers are first introduced to her in the Now story as a thirty-year-old single mother and police officer. She keeps an eye on her sister who has turned to prostitution and dealing.

When bodies of young Philly prostitutes begin showing up throughout Philadelphia, Mickey’s worry about her sister escalates. Then Lacey disappears. Readers ride along with Mickey as she juggles searching for her sister, being a mom, and dealing with both good and bad police officers beside her.

Characters:  I loved the slow introduction she gave to the main character. Mick is quiet, sometimes painstakingly so. It takes much for her to open up and this is exactly how Moore presents her—slowly. I grew to love her over time.

Not so with other characters. I adored Thomas, liked Kacey and Truman (even before he showed up in the story), and loved Mrs. Mahon immediately (despite her bluntness). Moore’s character development is clever. She tricks readers into loving characters with snappy, quirky qualities.

And the bad characters? She has you guessing. Are they truly bad?

Storyline: This is a good story made great by a talented writer. Paralleling the main character’s temperament, the storyline unfolds slowly. Moore jumps time periods which may annoy some, but not me. Only once do I remember that urge I often feel with these types of books, where I rush through a back-in-time chapter to get to the now.

Writing:  The writing is excellent without being hefty. It’s different. No dictionary needed. Moore’s simple language creates clever sentences, paragraphs, chapters. She uses dashes in place of quotation marks for conversation, something I grew accustomed to almost immediately. And while I didn’t like a few too-long paragraphs, Moore’s easy writing style whisked me into the story.  

What I loved about her writing and the reason I believe the story was addicting, is Moore teases the reader with just enough information for them to ask, “What’s that all about, and where’s it leading?” You feel like you’ve caught a clue to what will happen, but you’re at Moore’s mercy. You have to hang on until she’s kind enough to divulge more.   

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.

9

And Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Rating:                              9

General Rating: I’m on a streak! This is the second thriller in a row that I’ve read and couldn’t put down. Excellent. (Almost a 9.5, but for one factor and if I told you what that was, I’d spoiled the book for you.)

Skip factor:  0% I hung on to every sentence.

Who should read:  Anyone who has ever liked another mystery, whodunit, or thriller novel should read this. Crime fiction lovers, suspense cravers, or common readers who like a good story will enjoy.

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Ellie Mack goes missing in 2005. She’s the youngest of three children, smart, popular, and a good kid, not the type to run away, so her family knows something has happened to her. As the years go by, they are forced to carry on without her. Her disappearance proves too damaging to her parents’ marriage. Paul and Laurel split up, and the story centers mainly on Laurel who understandably cannot mend. Even ten years later when Ellie’s bones are found, Lauren is unable to heal.

The story ping pongs back and forth between 2005 and 2015, giving clues as to who the abductor might be. In the 2005 chapters, what happened to Ellie is slowly revealed.

When a man approaches Laurel in a restaurant and sparks up a conversation, the two begin dating. For the first time in years, Laurel has some happiness. Then she begins wondering if Floyd, her new boyfriend, may have known someone involved in Ellie’s disappearance. Readers follow along as Laurel uncovers the secrets.

Characters:  I did not like the main characters from the beginning to the end, yet I could not put the book down. I had to know what happened to Ellie.

While I liked a few minor characters like Paul, or Ellie’s sister, Hanna, I found Laurel totally unlikeable. I couldn’t bring myself to feel pity for her despite the horrendous tragedy she endured.

Her boyfriend, Floyd, I neither liked nor disliked. If I had any compassion for any character, it was for Ellie’s sister, Hanna, who had little to do with the story, and Floyd’s youngest daughter, Poppy, for her awkwardness.

Storyline:  The chapters jump between characters and between years. In the beginning, I struggled to know exactly where I was. (Readers who don’t like jumping time periods may grow tired.) But the author kept divulging bits and pieces of the story to remind us of the book’s unfathomable premise—Ellie’s gone, so what the heck happened?

Jewell grabs your attention on the first page and holds it until the end. Even when parts of the storyline seem a tad unbelievable, I never once put it away without thinking I couldn’t wait to get back to see what happened.

Writing:  The writing was tremendous as in many best-selling thrillers, but what sets this apart is the author somehow grabs onto your curiosity and won’t let go. In fact, she doesn’t slacken her grip for a second. This, for me, was a can’t-put-down novel.

Read this author again? Yes. This is my first Jewell novel but it definitely won’t be my last.

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.

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.

Defending Jacob

Name:                        Defending Jacob

Author:                      William Landay

Rating:                       10

BEST BOOK CLUB RATING

General Rating:        This novel is great from the beginning, meaty in the middle, and unable-to-put-down in the end. One of my all-time favorites, Defending Jacob is one of only two books I’ve read cover to cover twice. The surprise for me? I didn’t skip a word during the second read and if you’ve read my reviews, you know I’m a skipper. Love, love, love, love, loved this one.

Skip factor:               

0%  (A double zero, actually.)

Who should read:            

Adults, men and women, and especially parents.

Summary:  This is the story of a father, Andy Barber, and his unending defense of his son, Jacob. The title is perfect. Told from Andy’s perspective, the novel unfolds through a parent’s eyes and thoughts. Andy is a District Attorney who finds his son is a suspect in a murder case.

Characters:  After reading this twice, I had to ask myself if I had a connection with the characters. While I normally evaluate characters along the way, the compelling storyline of this novel kept me thinking of nothing more than what would happen next. After sitting back and evaluating, I realize part of the reason I loved the book so much was due to the characters.

Andy – I loved the voice of this novel and the voice is Andy’s. Brilliantly, he poses questions to the reader because what would a parent do if their son was accused of murder? How loyal would they be? When damning evidence arises, the reader doesn’t realize that Andy uses trial-attorney charm to coax them to his side. He drags empathy from the readers like a defense attorney from a jury.

Laurie –  Jacob’s mother is portrayed perfectly. She’s honest. She poses questions that sometimes floor her husband. She asks what the readers can’t. Always secondary to Andy, Laurie often depicted the undulating emotion that a parent of a child accused of murder might truly feel.

Jacob – Perfect. You aren’t exactly sure what he feels, so none of the story is revealed through Jacob. Readers are left guessing about his true nature. Is he narcissistic? Or just a teenager boy being careless in his teenage world? I volleyed these two opinions throughout the novel.

Minor characters – I did not like the prosecuting attorney, as I’m sure was the author’s intention. The author introduces all characters through Andy’s eyes. The kids interviewed were interesting and added to the story at exactly the time needed. Andy’s legal friends seemed authentic—torn, loyal, empathetic, and a bit judging all in one. They help make the story believable.

Storyline: This is a great storyline. What makes it superior to other novels is its tone and the author’s writing style.

Writing style:    POV is on cue, flawless. The entire tale unfolds through Andy’s eyes only. This is single POV at its best.

Landay’s writing is flawless. He doesn’t overwrite scenes. There are no too-wordy descriptions. He shows and tells magnificently. He “tells” interestingly by using Andy’s inner thoughts.

The story is believable. Landay’s readers feel as if they’re sitting in the courtroom during the day and go home with Andy at night.

When people ask me to recommend a book, I tell them Defending Jacob, hands down.

Read this author again: Yes. Because I loved his writing, I’ll read any novel by this author. I need to sort through my to-read list and open up space for one.

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, or listen to its podcast. Download her Beyond Reality Radio interview or listen to its apple podcast. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.