Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing by Allison Winn Scotch

Rating:           4

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:           3.5

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.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Rating:                              4.5

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.

The Silent Patient

Name:                               The Silent Patient

Author:                              Alex Michaelides

Rating:                              4

General Rating:      This is totally my type of book, what I call an in-your-head novel. I dislike books with long, drawn-out descriptions. This story is to the point. Has much dialogue. And is an easy read while hiding a complicated plot.

Skip factor:     0% This is one of those few books where I did not skip a word.

Who should read:         People who do not like descriptions of settings, people’s looks, or places. This is an in-the-head book. The plot consumes you.

Summary:          No spoilers. This is the story of a psychotherapist who believes his wife is cheating on him. He begins a new job and immediately throws himself into helping a single client whose case he is familiar with. So not to spoil it, I’ll say there is a murder and throughout the entire book, you will ask yourself who really killed the person? Is it this character? Or this one? Who’s crazy?

Characters:        Despite the depth Michaelides creates for each character, you do not have to go back and reread sections to clarify traits. This varies from most thrillers I’ve read where I am saying What? And then thumbing back through pages or zipping through screen after screen to find what I am remembering that has confused me. I’m not sure how the author did this, but I always felt the next clue would be in a future chapter, never in a past one.

Having said that, this is another book where I did not feel connected to any character. Another novel where I was concentrating so greatly on the plot, the character’s personalities were clues only. I never asked myself if I liked any of them until I had nearly finished the novel. The way this author writes is that good.

Here are the characters I remember:

Alicia – If I came close to liking a character, it was Alicia, the accused murderess. I rode the roller coaster of she-did-it-she-didn’t up and down and throughout. The element of surprise from this, the silent patient, character intrigued me. She kept me guessing.

Theo– The psychotherapist. This is to the author’s credit: I was about three-fourths through the book before I realized I had no attachment to him. I asked myself why. He’s believable as a psychotherapist. Think of how you read a document written by a doctor or how you listen to a doctor give a diagnosis. You listen to their words. You’re hanging onto their diagnosis, suggestions, or whatever they are relaying. Their words are important, not them. It never occurs to you that this is a person with a life, family. Theo was that believable. Throughout most of the book, I thought only of what he was saying. Additionally, he was believable. I imagine the author did much research on psychotherapy. I actually expected him to have a psychology background.

Minor characters – People came in out. Kathy, Theo’s wife; Yuri, a co-worker; Max, the adopted brother of the victim entered and exited scenes perfectly. While I neither liked nor disliked them, I studied everyone. Each character held a connection to the storyline. They were necessary.

Storyline:            There are slow parts in the middle like every book. I’ve heard some reader’s criticisms, and a few times, I thought I might end up rating this a 3 or 3.5 at best. That feeling did not last long. In all, I found the story magnificently plotted and the lives intricately pieced together. This is my type of puzzle. Towards the end, I couldn’t put down.

Writing:              Not sure how to evaluate the writing. Again, this is my style. I hate long paragraphs that describe settings. I am more a “people” person, always wondering what is going on inside someone’s head. If you are the sort who remembers what someone was wearing, their eye color, or the smell of their perfume, you may not like this as much as I did. If you are like me, always asking What did they mean by that statement? Why was this character introduced? I believe you’ll enjoy this one immensely.

And if you like strong dialogue? You’ll love. Nature lovers, interior decorators, people who like physical detail? Not as much.

Read this author again? OMG 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 InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBubor LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.