Sorry I Missed You by Suzy Krause

Rating:                              4

General Rating: Do you like quirky? Read this. For the first third of Sorry I Missed You, I didn’t understand what the fuss over this book was, despite Krause’s writing being quick and clever, exactly what I love. But I plodded on and ended up glad.

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—and not just any friend but a more-beautiful, went-on-to-a-bigger-brighter-career 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. Then, 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 silly, 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. In fact. 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. 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 that 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 believe it or not, insightful. Lots of people won’t like this story. There are a few holes in the plot. Mackenzie and Sunna’s pasts weren’t firmed up in the end like their lessons learned. (I’m going back and reread to make sure I didn’t miss something.) And, not to ruin the tale, the way Krause winds up the ghosts in the attic is a tad farfetched even for me—an occasional paranormal writer. So, while I loved the characters and writing and enjoyed the wrap up of their internal struggles, the overall plot was a bit unbelievable.

Writing:  In Sorry I Missed You, Krause masters writing style, technique, word usage, and character development but, falls short in the beginning.

As a writer, I know beginnings are tough. You 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 lately. 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 struggled through her first chapters. However, by forty percent in, I was back in my happy place. 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, but don’t mind a slow start, 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, 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.

 

 

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Rating:  4

General Rating:  Kidd amalgamates narrative and dialogue to perfection in this  touching tale of a motherless girl who runs away from an abusive father.

Skip factor:  1% I skipped little. The writing was just too good.

Who should read: All women, all ages.

Summary:  This is the story of Lily Owens who must come to terms with the death of her mother. Lily, abandoned by her mother for a short time before she died, remembers the day her mother returned—the same day her mother was shot and killed. Now Lily is a teenager, feeling confused and unloved. Raised by an abusive father, she finds some affection in Rosaleen, the African American woman whom her father hired shortly after her mother’s death. When Rosaleen attempts to register to vote, she finds trouble with white men and she and Lily end up in jail. Lily’s father, T. Ray, bails Lily out, but she returns and helps Rosaleen escape.

They flee to a town called Tiburon because one of the few items Lily had from her mother was a picture of a Black Madonna. Tiburon, South Carolina was inscribed on the back. Lily asks around Tiburon about the picture and ends up at the house of three African American sisters—the very house her mother had run to when she first left T. Ray and abandoned Lily. The story is of Lily’s time spent there and her journey to come to terms with her mother’s abandonment and death, and her feeling of being unworthy of love.

Characters:  I loved this book partially because of the strong female characters Kidd created. They are flawed but loving and strong. I like every single one, loved a few.

Here they are in the order I liked them:

August – The strongest of the African American sisters, August has a deep understanding of life. She is a beekeeper and teaches Lily the craft of collecting honey from bees. August knew Lily’s mother, but she understands when and how to relay pieces of information to the girl. She is an old soul, and I came away wishing I had an August in my own life.

Lily – Kudos to the author in the creation of Lily. It took some time for me to like Lily. Raised by T. Ray, who never showed her affection or love, she herself was lacking in these elements. She had a flat personality that slowly came out through the novel, making the story real to me.

Rosaleen – Lily’s caregiver was also a hard character to figure out, although I liked her gumption right away. She’s enamored by the thought of registering to vote, and spits at prejudiced white men who insult her with no regard for what they would do to her. She’s tough. But because of that toughness, Lily often wonders if Rosaleen loves her.

May – Another of the three sisters is May, who brightened the story with her unique personality. Her twin sister died years before and left her in a nervous state. To calm her anxiety, her sisters encouraged her to write her fears/anxieties down and in doing so, they created a wailing wall for her made of stone. Every time May had an episode, she led was led off to leave a note in her wall.

June – The third sister, June, does not initially get along with Lily. She also has a beau who keeps proposing to her despite she constantly turns him down. June has a journey to make on her own. I enjoyed this character, too—another strong woman.

Minor characters – Kidd successfully had me liking minor characters (like Zach) and hating the bigots.

Storyline:  This is not a fast-paced, page-turning novel. It is contemplative—simple language with deep meaning. The story flows, and I found myself looking forward to reading more.

Writing:  Lots of white space makes me happy and this book, while having much narrative, never labored on. Paragraphs were short, clean, and interesting, so I never realized when there wasn’t dialogue for several pages. She writes simply and profoundly throughout. Like this: “I filled a bowl with Rice Krispies and milk, trying to think over the snap-crackle conversation it was having with itself.” And “…people can start out one way, and by the time life gets through with them they end up completely different.”

Read this author again? Absolutely.  

Read on!

__________________________________________

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

 

The Truth About Forever

Name:                               The Truth About Forever

Author:                              Sarah Dessen

Rating:                              5

General Rating:               A perfectly sweet book to make you forget the pandemic. This novel will make you smile. 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!

_________________________________________________________

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.

 

Help a Small-time Author Hit 50 Reviews!

This is meant to EASILY instruct readers on reviewing novels on Amazon and Goodreads.

I am a small-time author who can’t win Amazon’s respect until I reach 50 reviews. Many people purchase my novels, but few review them. If you’ve read but not reviewed my novels, please consider helping me to 50! Here’s how:

On Amazon, if you purchased the book, you may post a VERIFIED review. Amazon sometimes removes reviews but almost never removes verified reviews.

If you purchased the book/ebook, post a verified review by:

  • Opening your account and selecting:
    1. My Orders
    2. Digital Orders (Orders if paperback)
    3. Write a product review –  write one & hit SUBMIT

REVIEWS _ AMAZON1    REVIEWS - AMAZON2 REVIEWS - AMAZON3

If you didn’t purchase on Amazon, you can still post a non-verified review:

  • Go to http://bit.ly/CJ_Zahner or type CJ Zahner in search box
  • Click the book cover
  • Scroll to Customer reviews & stars (watch left side of screen) (see pic below)
  • Select:
      1. Review this product
      2. Write a customer review – write one & hit SUBMIT.

REVIEWS - AMAZON 1A REVIEWS - AMAZON2A & scroll to REVIEW - AMAZON 3A

On Goodreads, you must create an account, but it’s great. You may track all the books you read. Post a review:

  • Go to http://bit.ly/CZgoodreads or enter CJ Zahner in search
  • Click the book cover
  • Click dropdown box (arrow) under book cover on left
  • Select read (if read doesn’t appear click currently reading)
  • Write review, select stars, titles
  • Scroll to the bottom of the screen and hit POST

REVIEWS - GOODREADS1 REVIEWS - GOODREADS2 REVIEWS - GOODREADS3

 THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!!

 For those of you completely enamored by the process, feel free to review my novels on BookBub, It’s the simplest once you create your account:

  • Enter book title in search box,
  • Click on book cover
  • Click review
  • Select stars/recommendations/write a review
  • Click share

NOTE: To Anyone who has reviewed all three of my novels, please contact me at cyndie.zahner@gmail.com with the subject line CJ ZAHNER REVIEWER. I will send you a free ebook of my new novel, Friends Who Move Couches, in May!

____________________________________________
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 paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebook, Goodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon. And watch for her soon to be released novel, Friends Who Move Couches.

 

 

 

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.

The Secret History

Name:                             The Secret History

Author:                             Donna Tartt

Rating:                              4

General Rating:

A perfect beginning. I may have read this entirely because of the first few pages. Let me be clear up front; I didn’t understand this novel but could hardly put it down. I read the opening once and then slipped it back onto the bookshelf when my book club considered reading it. (I hate reading books too early and forgetting important parts.) But I couldn’t stop thinking about the beginning.

Skip factor:

10% and I can’t believe I skipped this little. After all, I DNF Middlesex for Greek detail.

Who should read?:

English majors, Greek Mythology lovers, attention-to-detail readers. This is the most perplexing question for this book as I have no idea why I couldn’t put it down.

Summary:          Richard Papen works his way into the classes of college instructor Julian Morrow at a small Vermont College. There he befriends, Henry, Bunny, Francis, and twins Camille and Charles. Morrow teaches them about Greek bacchanalia and/or the Dionysian Mysteries (which I admit, proudly, I had to look up and am not sure I even placed in the sentence properly.) These teachings have, before Richard enters the class, inspired the members of that odd group to make a sacrificial murder—which leads to a second murder.

That second murder is of one of its own—Bunny. No spoiler here. This secret is told upfront, which may be part of the reason I could not put the book down. The entire novel has to do with how they lived after Bunny’s murder.

Characters:        The bizarreness of these characters superseded any dislike I had for them. I wanted, needed, to hear more. Maybe their behavior flabbergasted me. Here are the characters in preference order:

Bunny – If I came close to liking a character, it was Bunny. Somewhere, I’m sure there is a psychologist, possibly of Greek descent, clumping personalities of people who read this novel into flawed groups depending on who their favorite Secret History character was. Bunny’s character goes so against my grain I found myself cheering for him. He’s a fake, uncaring, and relies on the favors of friends to get through life to a point of exasperation.  But he is also a cheery bloke you can’t help find yourself smiling over when he works his way onto a page. I couldn’t wait to see what he would do next.

Camille – Everyone loves Camille, including her brother—a little too much. Yet Camille is not enamored by anyone. She has an admiration for Henry, who is their mysterious, well-read, gardening leader.

Henry – I like Henry more than Richard because, like the characters in the book, I was drawn to his strange, independent mentality. He seemed to think himself Greek God-like. He has lots of money and is the master manipulator of the group. Henry calls the shots.

Richard – Dull and boring, but it reminded me of—was it Daisy’s cousin?—the narrator in The Great Gatsby. Richard is the newcomer to the group. For lack of a better word, he’s detached. He seldom shows emotion, yet he is unwaveringly loyal to the group.

Francis and Charles – I can’t decide the order. They were the most insecure of the group. Alcoholics (although they all probably were). Sometimes gay, sometimes not, with Charles having an incestuous spark. I liked them less and less as the book went on. For a while, I experienced a soft spot for Francis, but that washed away toward the end. Simply, I have no idea why these were my two least favorite characters. I almost lumped Richard with them and might have had I not been astounded by his detached nature. I’m sure there is some flaw deep down inside me for liking these two the least.

Storyline:            I’ll be frank. I didn’t understand it. If I were younger, taking this for a class, or not ADHD, I’d google this book and delve into Greek Mythology, or story, whichever needed, and search for meaning. But I’m old and the ship sailing toward old Greece (remember? I didn’t finish Middlesex) left the docks a long time ago.

Still. I’m rating this a four because I simply couldn’t stop reading THE STORY, which highlights a character, whom I didn’t like, and his life before and after Bunny’s murder. His life was mundane afterward. I kept thinking, really? You’re going to sit and read?

See what I mean? Confusing.

Writing:              Superb. I highlighted quotes and will use some. Already have. While Tartt’s attention to detail was too intense for me, she does command a reader’s attention by a sweet rhythm of words.

Read this author again? I’m not sure. Because she is such a good writer, I’m willing to try. I’m not sure the story of The Goldfinch will be enough to keep me reading and skipping past the detail as this one did. I’ll let you know.

Read on!

 

_________________________________________________________

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.

Defending Jacob

Name:                        Defending Jacob

Author:                      William Landay

Rating:                       5

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.

 

 

Where the Crawdads Sing

Name:                        Where the Crawdads Sing

Author:                      Delia Owens

Rating:                       4

General Rating:

What’s all the fuss about? I liked this book. I did. But, meh, wait until the dust settles to read. I was over 2000 on the waiting list at the Philadelphia Free Library to borrow this book. It’s not that wait worthy. I give this a 4 only because I loved the writing. In comparison, I looked forward to reading it as much as I did Baldacci’s Absolute Power and Moriarity’s The Hypnotist’s Love Story. I liked the plot and story in the other two more, but Crawdads had the best writing, by far.

Skip factor:               

3% I could not take all the marsh information. I tried but TMI.

Who should read:            

Most women and especially any back-to-nature people. (Back-to-nature folks will skip 0%.)

Summary:  This is the story of a ten-year-old girl, Kya, who is deserted in a North Carolina marshland and must learn to survive on her own. Her mother and siblings leave by the time Kya is six. Her father stays, but comes and goes until finally, he leaves for good when she is ten. To prevent a spoiler, I’ll summarize by saying she befriends a kind boy who teaches her to read, a not-so-kind boy who says he loves her but doesn’t, and a few other people in a nearby town who help her survive until she creates a way to sustain herself.

CharactersI did not feel a connection with any of them:

Kya Clark –  Kya is a strong female character with aloof qualities that living in solitude might relay. She does not have a big personality. Yet, you root for this ten-year-old. She must learn survival skills on her own. And while she is somewhat unbelievable to me, the author was so knowledgeable about wildlife and the marshlands she had me wonder if a child could survive out there alone.

Chase Andrews – Chase, who loves the marshland, befriends Kya, teaches her to read, and falls in love with her before going away to college. He promises to say goodbye and then—going against every grain of his character—doesn’t. He leaves but much later redeems himself. I won’t say how. No spoilers.

Other characters – I didn’t like Tate, which I’m sure the author intended. I liked the man at the store (although obviously not that much as I can’t remember his name) and his wife Mabel but didn’t feel the connection with them I thought the author was trying to evoke. I liked the police investigators, and although there were times they were funny, I didn’t love them.

Storyline: Is it believable? No, but here’s where I go against my grain. Typically, I pay no mind to where an author went to school or grew up. I’ve read lots of books written by Ivy School grads that I DNF. But because I loved Owens’ writing, I googled her to find out how she learned to mix words so well. Astonishingly, I found she’s a zoologist. So I sat back and reevaluated the storyline. Is it believable?

Still no. To be believable, Kya 1) would have been more aloof and recluse (a duller story) and 2)  would have had much more trouble alone in that marshland (a more depressing story). Additionally, Chase walking away without even a goodbye but continuing to love her for years? Fairy tale fiction.

Writing style:    The writing is flawless and that is why this is worth the read. I loved her dialogue, and while, again, I am not a fan of setting description, the author’s wonderful word mixing led me much deeper into scene description than I would go for any other author. Sometimes, in those marsh descriptions that I typically would have loathed, I found myself saying, “Wow, what a clever way to describe that,” which is the only reason I skipped so little.

There is also clever symbolism between the marsh and life that is worth a ponder.

Read this author again: Because I loved her writing, I’ll try reading another of this author’s books. If there is too much nature-loving description in that one, I’ll give it a miss and return it to the library early. However, I’ll just quietly walk away. Won’t add it to my Books I Almost Read category. Her writing is too good to tarnish with a DNF.

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.

 

Books I Almost Read

Read the Pulitzer Prize winning Middlesex? Me neither.

Wandering through my seventh decade, I treasure time. I used to read the classics no matter how grueling and gut-wrenching, but now? Meh. Distinctions can be deceiving. Some of the smartest people I met over the years never earned a high-school diploma. Lots more swore off college. I’ve learned not to judge a book by its accolades.

So Pulitzer Prize and all, I’m pulling out the ladder, stepping up, and slipping Middlesex onto that top shelf I can’t reach, setting it alongside Hillbilly Elegy and Moby Dick. (Yes, it’s above me. Who cares?) I couldn’t take the Greek history or the multitudinously-lined paragraphs as I’m a fan of dialogue and white space.

My apologies to my book club. I really did try. This is only the third time they selected a book I couldn’t muddle through. The other two were Hillbilly Elegy, and (um, my sixty-two-year-old memory fails me) another one about a pig. Oh wait, there was a fourth. Some Steve Martin blunder. (Sorry, Steve. I love you otherwise.)

So now I add Middlesex to a perfectly wonderful list. These are all great books that have appealed to hundreds, thousands, of people. They just aren’t reading-in-the-backyard-with-a-cup-of-coffee worthy to me. Their skip factor was too high.

You’ll find my skip factor is what sets my reviews apart from others. I’m coming out of the bookstore closet and admitting I skip. (Gasp.) And, really, who cares if we skip a line or paragraph or book or two?

In alphabetical order, here are the books I almost read. (To see books I recommend, browse my review page.) My apologies to the authors:

Hillbilly Elegy – Skip rate 40%. I read more than half of this book. I believe the fall of the middle class is unavoidable, and I was anxious to read this story about the working-class Vance family. However, I could not get through it. Sorry to the author for what I am about to say. I felt this was a story of many Americans and the only reason this succeeded was because of the author’s ivy-league resume. He rambled on, and I kept asking myself why his thoughts were so important. (Confession: I earned straight A’s in my poor, menial, private-school college economic classes years ago but HATED the subject.) DNF (did not finish).

Middlesex – Skip rate 90%. As stated above, I just couldn’t wade through the long paragraphs and Greek history. I did want to read the story. Where it began, I do not know. For those of you who have more patience than me, carry on the read. I do think the author is a gifted writer and some will like. DNF.

Moby Dick – Skip rate ??. Honestly, I do not remember how much I read. This was years ago and I tried to read this monstrosity of a book several times. Never could. Not sure why. I went back and read the first few lines. Maybe because of the full-of-myself male voice? (The skies rumble as the Mel-admiring gods groan.) No desire to try again. DNF.

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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. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Make an Author Happy! Write a Review!

What do authors want? Reviews, reviews and more reviews.  So, a note like this? Much appreciated and a great confidence builder but please, consider posting those kind words.

Readers have no idea how much posting a review online matters. We authors are a mere molecule in a bucket of a million. There are lots of readers out there but many won’t consider reading a book until fifty reviews pop up under the title. Worse, Amazon, Goodreads, and the like won’t give your book a second look.

So, have a favorite author? Write a review for him or her on Amazon, Goodreads, BookBub or other popular review sites and help them connect with other readers. If that doesn’t encourage you to post a review, here’s another reason: Authors appreciate every word, and most take your views into consideration as they write more stories.

Oh, and another thing,  I’m an author and NONE of us expect all five-star reviews.stars (Well, there may be a narcissist or two out there but most of us realize we aren’t the next Stephen King.) I’m almost afraid to say this, but truth be told, I’ve learned as much about my writing from three-star reviews as five-stars. Authors are thick skinned. Tell us the truth. Couple a compliment with your critique, and we will love your review.

Compliments are important because a novel is a big part of an author’s life (months, years sometimes). Characters are their children. Authors like to hear what you enjoyed about their lives and kids.

Equally, we want to know what you didn’t like. I learned so much from my first readers. Bill Callahan, a friend of mine, suggested in both my novels, The Suicide Gene and Dream Wide Awake, that I create character/family charts. So, I did, for both. Because I like to challenge my readers to think, my novels can be confusing in the early pages. Readers are loving the character keys. Thanks, Bill!

So, please, if you find an author you particularly like, write a review and make them happy. I promise we will read every review, multiple times. We listen. We appreciate. We learn.

How to review on Major Sites

Amazon: if you have purchased the book make sure you post a VERIFIED review. This is important because Amazon sometimes removes reviews but almost never removes reviews posted by verified users.

  • go to your Amazon account
  • select “orders” in the black ribbon toward the top (next to account), if you purchased through Amazon, otherwise enter the book title in the search box,
  • scroll down to the book and on the right side click the “write a product review” box,
  • click a star (1-5 stars)
  • add a headline (page-turner, couldn’t put down, must read, etc.)
  • write a review!

(Give a description. See suggestions below. Amazon is less likely to remove more detailed reviews. If you received the novel free for a review, write: Thank you to the author/publisher for providing a free copy for an honest review. This review is posted voluntarily.)

Goodreads:  create an account and review as follows:

  • Enter book title in search box (or web address, mine is http://bit.ly/CZDWAg)
  • Click dropdown box (arrow) under cover picture on left side
  • Select read
  • Click number of stars for My Rating:
  • Copy and paste your Amazon review into the ‘What did you think?” box or write a review from scratch.

(If you do not see a review box, hover over “read” and “write a review” will appear.)

BookBub: is the simplest. Create an account, then:

  • Enter book title in search box,
  • Click on book when it appears below box
  • Click review
  • Select stars
  • Check I recommend if you’d like to recommend this book to others
  • Write a review
  • Click share

(For Barnes & Noble, Rifflebooks, or Kobo see my book club article here.)

Samples of What to Write in Your Review

What was the story about? Ex.: Dream Wide Awake is a thriller based in Erie PA….This thriller, based in a small city,…the storyline is about seers…Mikala Daly was born into a family of seers…Detective Jack Daly attempts to keep his daughter’s dreams secret in this psychic thriller.

Who was your favorite/least favorite character and why?: I liked Mikala Daly…I wasn ‘t fond of Billy’s sarcasm…minor character Andy Mesmer was one of my favorites…I hope to learn more about the chief in a sequel…I wasn’t fond of Lenny…

Did you like/dislike the plot? I enjoy a book with a lot of twists and turns…the plot kept me thinking…I hope a sequel resolves a question I had…

You get the idea, here are some other questions:

  • Were characters credible?
  • Could you relate to a character?
  • Was the story believable? Possible?
  • Have you experienced anything similar?
  • Did you like the book?
  • What was your favorite and/or least favorite part?
  • If you could change something, what would it be?
  • Would you recommend this book?
  • What type of person would like this book?
  • Would you like to read a prequel, sequel, or other books by this author?

How to Review CJ Zahner’s Novels

If you’ve read mine, I’d love to see your review on any of the following sites. Click on the name of the site under the book you’ve read and you’l be redirected to my page on that site!

Dream Wide Awakewrite a review
Amazon
Goodreads
BookBub
Barnes and Noble
Rifflebooks
KOBO

The Suicide Gene
Amazon
Goodreads
BookBub
The Wild Rose Press
Barnes and Noble
KOBO
Riffle

Read and review on!

_________________________________________                 Cyndie Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene and Dream Wide Awake., Listen to her BookCircle Online interview how her 9/11 premonition influenced her writing here, follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, LinkedIn, purchase her books on Amazon, or sign up for here semi-annual newsletter here.