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.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Rating:           9.5

General Rating: A must read. Fabulous writing and a fantastic novel. I loved the straightforward talk of Eleanor coupled with hints sprinkled throughout that something in her past was awry. That combination kept me turning pages.

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

Skip factor:  1%. I skipped little.

Who should read:  All women, especially those who have felt alone at times, and those who like quirky characters and good writing.

Summary: Eleanor Oliphant appears to be a person with autistic traits. The story is told through her mind and is fun to read. She is straightforward, often takes words out of context, and continually insists she is fine being alone with herself. When readers discover, however, that she may have experienced a traumatic childhood, they begin examining her in a different light.

Coworkers poke fun at her but she doesn’t mind. When a new employee, Raymond walks with her one day, they come across an elderly man staggering. Eventually, they end up escorting Sam to the hospital, and the three become friends. The story progresses, always with Raymond at Eleanor’s side, until Eleanor, like anyone who has suffered trauma, is forced to face her past.  

Characters:  Honeyman creates unique characters, which, in reality, you might not like or think about, but in print, you fall in love with quickly.   

Eleanor has no filter and often takes words and phrases literally. Her thoughts sneak up on you at times and make you laugh. I loved this character almost instantly.    

Raymond is an odd character whom I also liked right away. Readers are given a great description of him through Eleanor’s internal criticisms of his appearance. (Loved that.)

Sam is an older “Teddy Bear” personality who draws Eleanor out. When he wakes in the hospital, he offers Eleanor a warm, introductory handshake which she, having experience very little human touch, finds enjoyable. warmth.

Eleanor’s mother  is odd, hard, crass, and it took me time to figure her out.

Other characters are exceptionally place. A few from Sam’s family and Eleanor’s place of employment came and went. I was fond of her boss and one of Sam’s sons. The others were perfectly placed to tell the story.

Storyline:  This tells the story of an abused child who grew up in foster care after a traumatic youth. Eleanor Oliphant may be fictional, but her story mirrors real-life people who were forced to develop unusual coping skills to survive.

Writing:  Honeyman’s writing is fabulous. She deserves a 10 in this category. Her final score of 9.5 is given for other reasons I won’t reveal (no spoilers). This is one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read in a long time.

Read this author again?  Yes, yes, yes, patiently awaiting.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awakeand 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.

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.

Sorry I Missed You by Suzy Krause

Rating:                              9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read on!

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