Hadley and Grace by Suzanne Redfearn

Rating:           8

General Rating: This is Lucy and Ethel turned Therma and Louise.

Skip factor:  6%. I skipped a bit a quarter of the way through along with long paragraphs thereafter.

Who should read: Enjoy humor? You’ll like. People who need a break from deep should read this. 

Summary: Thelma—I’m sorry—Hadley is the wife of Frank, a bookie and small-time drug lord, Of course, Hadley has no idea of her husband’s extra-curricular job activities. She’s too busy planning her get away. She’s leaving Frank and his demanding, bad-tempered, chauvinistic personality.

Enter Grace.

The story begins slowly, but wait for it. WAIT FOR IT.

Grace works for Frank. In and out of foster homes all her life, Grace has done time for something unextraordinary (in other words, I can’t remember it). But she’s out and married, the mother of a colicky baby, and she’s landed the perfect job working for Frank. But when Frank reneges on a commission he’s promised her, she decides she’ll go to the office on a Friday night and remove the files she’s worked so hard on.

Serendipitously, Grace runs into Hadley, who’s there to steal Frank’s cash—she’s sure he has some cash somewhere—and leave him. Instantly and despite their common interest of getting back at Frank, the two womens’ personalities clash.

Ready?

They find and take Frank’s money and through a series of mishaps they find themselves on the run from the FBI, who have been watching Frank and his laundering-money doings.

Enter recently divorced, nice-guy, FBI agent ???.

From here on out, this story takes turns only an unhinged roller-coaster could take.

Characters:  Superb. I loved Grace, Hadley, Maddie, Skipper and ??? nearly the moment I read the first letter of their names. No sense belaboring the point. Redfearn has mastered character development.

Storyline: This story is cute. At about 30% in I lost interest, but again…wait for it… the storyline picks up speed and carries you to the finish. It’s the story of two who can’t take any more of the same man. One is leaving her marriage and the other her employment. It’s cute, different, and readers will find themselves smiling and saying, “Oh, no…” A LOT.

Writing:  Writing is good but the humorous flow of the story is better. I’ll have to go back and reread some. I don’t recall stopping to say, hey, this is a beautiful piece of writing, but then I was laughing too hard.

Read this author again?  I’d try another Redfearn novel. 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, TwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Rating:           9.5

General Rating: Look inside the mind of an illegal immigrant. Why do they risk their lives to come to America? Read this. Seldom does a book impacted me like American Dirt.

Skip factor:  2%. I hate admitting this. I skipped paragraphs when I became so invested in the characters’ situations that I felt utter desperation and had to move on. Simply, I paged forward to find the outcome, many times returning to read Cummins’ great writing.  

Who should read: Those who long to understand why some risk their lives to cross the border, compassionate people, or readers who enjoyed The Grapes of Wrath.

Disclaimer: There has been disparaging of this fictional story for several reasons. (I learned this from my wonderful Farmhouse Book Club friends.) I did not read a single word of the controversy before finishing the book or writing my review.

Summary: Lydia and Luca are from a middle-class family, and they live in Acapulco. Lydia, the wife, and Luca, the son, are the immediate family of journalist Sebastian Perez. Lydia owns a book store, and Luca attends private school.

The story opens dramatically with a devastating shooting/killing of Sebastian and fifteen other family members. By chance, Lydia and Luca are able to hide until the cartel members leave, and their journey begins.

This book is about that journey.  

Characters:  Although the novel portrays the life of fictional characters, the author has skillfully created people who seem so real you feel you know them and are walking, step-by-step, beside them as they flee for their lives.

Readers will love the boys, Luca & Beto, the teenage girls, Soledad and Rebeka, and Lydia, the young mother, along with interesting minor characters introduced along the way.

Because the characters seemed lifelike, I googled the author and wasn’t surprised to see she had done extensive research. To read about people/organizations who truly do risk their lives to help immigrants, check out her site at https://www.jeaninecummins.com/how-to-helppre/

Storyline: Cummins captures your attention in the opening chapter and holds it throughout the book. You can’t let go. You must find out if Lydia and Luca survive.

This novel is entirely about Lydia and Luca’s journey, the people they meet, the atrocities they see, and the pain they experience. With the cartel on their heels, Lydia is forced to ferry her son as far from Acapulco as she can manage. She heads toward el Norte and this consumes the storyline.

Writing:  

Cummins’s tremendous writing draws readers into the journey. You are alongside them jumping trains, limping from twisted ankles, traipsing through the cold black nights or scorching afternoons. She writes so eloquently I couldn’t put it down. You hold your breath at times. Her vivid descriptions of situations and settings and the migrants’ inner feelings reel you in and you become completely invested in not only the two main characters, but several of the people they meet along the way.

Read this author again?  Yes, no question. I loved the writing.

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, TwitterFacebookGoodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

The Light Through the Leaves by Glendy Vanderah

Rating:                              8

General Rating: An easy read but intense story about a woman who barely survives the tragic disappearance of her daughter.

Skip factor:  I skipped my normal amount, approximately 3-5%.

Who should read:  Avid readers, most women, and especially back-to-nature people. 

Summary: Ellis Abbey needs to decide what to do. She’s caught her husband cheating, and she’s trying to remain calm around her three young children. She takes them to catch tadpoles, so she can think. She decides she must divorce him, but then the trip turns disastrous. Her twin boys argue throughout the day, and when it’s time to leave, a raven is cawing, the boys are shouting, and a full jar of tadpoles spills in the car. Ellis tries to hurry along and horribly, leaves her daughter on the road in her car seat. When she realizes her mistake and turns around, the baby is gone.

The mental damage and blame she suffers spirals out of control. She convinces herself she’ll do her sons harm, too, if she raises them. She leaves the boys and their father, traveling the country alone, drinking, and attempting to forget.

After a few years pass, the story turns toward a secluded home in Washington. A girl named Raven lives with her mother. She’s cautioned not to speak to people from the outside world, but when she runs into boys playing in the creek on her mother’s wooded property, she strikes up a friendship with them, and her life changes.

Without spoiling the story, both Ellis and Raven must work through challenging lives, reach deep inside themselves, and survive their fate.

Characters:   Character development was good. The main character, Ellis, was likeable at the start. However, tragedy turns her into someone many people may not understand or be able to identify with. Despite the sadness of her life, I felt little compassion toward her because she left her boys. I did understand the importance of her journey but could not connect with her other than briefly in the beginning.

Other characters whom I did like were the children Raven, Jackie, and Reese, along with the neighbor, Ms. Taft. Introduced in light-hearted, childlike fashion, it was easy to like the children and Ms. Taft’s kindness and care for them made her immediately likeable.

I actually felt compassion for the woman who raised Raven. The pain she inflicted on the child was a consequence of her mental illness. Her strange beliefs and mental breakdowns damaged Raven mentally, but she protected her in other ways to the best of her ability.

Storyline: This is a unique storyline, told in an interesting manner. The author jumped from the grieving mother’s point of view to the abducted child’s point of view through sections, and it worked well. Kept my attention.

Writing:  The writing is good. Chapters flowed easily, yet I was surprised by the numerous 5-star reviews. I liked this book, truly I did, but I’m still not sure why I wasn’t dazzled by it like other reviewers. Yet…I did keep turning pages! I’m not completely sure why. The smaller storylines lured me and I found myself anxious to get back to reading it! Oddly, I’ve read better books with better writing that I enjoyed much less. I’m simply not sure why I liked this book so much, but I did and believe you will, too.

Read this author again? Yes, I’d love to see if I like her next book as well.

Read on!

To find more good books click here.

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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.

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!

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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.

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!

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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. 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.

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.

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.

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.  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.

The Silent Patient

Name:                               The Silent Patient

Author:                              Alex Michaelides

Rating:                              8

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 6 or 7 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.

Educated by Tara Westover

Name:      Educated
Author:    Tara Westover
Rating:     4.5    This book challenged me. Yet, once I got past the Westover’s junkyard and herbal world, I was mesmerized by Tara’s journey.

Skip factor: 8%    At around 30% I called a friend and asked if the story improved. I did not like the junkyard or herbal lore at all. However, I hung in there and once I worked through that beginning section, I couldn’t put it down.

Who should read? Deep-thinkers, people inspired by education, hard-workers who themselves have risen out of poverty, and lovers of the English language—young and old.

Summary: This is the memoir of Tara Westover, the seventh and youngest child of Val and LaRee Westover. She was born in her childhood home which sat on the side of a mountain in Provo, Utah. The month of her birth was September of 1986, but the actual date is unknown. Her birth was unrecorded, as were most of her sibling’s births. She grew up in a Mormon family littered with racism and anti-Semitism. She worked in her father’s junkyard for much of her youth and often encountered dangerous, life-threatening tasks at his direction. She had no formal education until she was seventeen years old and received no home-schooling from her family. Her mother was well-versed in and revered for her herbal remedies and mid-wife expertise. Her father, along with her older brother Shawn, suffered mental illness and Tara and her siblings were often abused.

This is the story of a young girl’s metamorphosis, her rise from the ashes of her parent’s scrapheap despite all odds. Her father believed the end of the world was imminent and the government against him. His mental illness led to many hardships over the years, for not only him but his wife and children as well.

Inspired by a brother who left the family to attend college, she accepted a friend’s offer to teach her to read. She enrolled in college against all odds and was forced to choose between her family and her education. Despite her passion to learn and the education she eventually received, her mind sometimes led her back to the rudimentary fundamentalist viewpoint of her father, making her question much throughout her educational journey. She had never even heard of the holocaust until she was in college.

Characters: Lots of great books have unlikeable characters, and while I found myself rooting for Tara throughout the book, I wasn’t in love with any of the characters. I was shocked by many. Disgusted with others. Westover created very “real” people, but many confound me. I was baffled by them more than like them. Yet, they interested me. The characters that stood out the most to me were:

Tara: Of course, I rooted for her all the way, but I never felt close to her. She had an aloofness about her. Because of her upbringing, her personality held a protective emotional shield that prevented people from knowing her well—even, to some degree, her readers. Simply, I couldn’t get close.
Her mother: Simply put, I did not like her for the fact she sided with her husband, who had mental challenges, over her children. Period.
Her father: I couldn’t understand and felt no compassion for him whatsoever. Lots of people have a mental illness, but they are not as evil as this man. He hid his sins behind religion.
Shawn: The abusive brother I felt differently about. Although I adamantly disliked him at times for the pain he caused family members and women, every once in a while you’d see a spark of kindness. Confusing, as the results of mental illness can be.
Minor characters I liked: Brothers Richard and Tyler were compassionate. I was fond of both of them along with Tara’s Grandmother who offered to take her to Arizona and enroll her in school. I felt disappointed Tara didn’t leave with her. Just that she offered made me like her.
Other minor characters: I wasn’t drawn to any others, not one. (And especially not to her only sister, Audrey, who in the end hurt rather than helped her.) Because many of the minor characters were introduced to me through Tara’s eyes, they seemed impersonal. Toward the end of the novel, a softness seemed to develop in Westover. She looked at later roommates and people more compassionately, seemingly letting her guard down and consequently, I liked those characters a bit more.

Storyline: The story does come across as a bit unbelieve. I did read several online articles that stated fact-finding had been extensive. That the author herself included footnotes when her memory differed from one of her siblings, gave credibility to her story. That there is a Tara Westover, who was born without record, attended college, completed her master and doctorate degrees in England, further substantiates her story—at least in my mind it does. I’ll let the rest of you decide for yourselves.

Writing style: This woman’s writing is exquisite. Not much more to say. That she rose out of such poverty to champion the English language is remarkable.

Read this author again: Maybe. I’m not often fond of non-fiction, but Westover’s writing is superb, so I may attempt another.

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.