Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagan

Rating:                              9

General Rating: Keeps your attention throughout.

Skip factor:  0% which doesn’t happen too often.

Who should read:  Any woman would like this story. But those who enjoy great writing will love.

Summary: The story starts off with a bang. When Libby Miller arrives home to break the news to her husband that she has terminal cancer, he announces he’s gay. W-w-w-what? (I was as shocked as she was.) So she doesn’t reveal she’s dying to Tom, the hubby, but instead tries to grasp that their marriage has been a lie.

Immediately, Libby decides to live the remainder of her life on her terms. She refuses to answer the doctor’s calls about treatment. Years ago, her mother died of cancer, and she’s determined to enjoy the time she has left rather than exhaust it with treatment. She quits her job—doesn’t tell her egotistical boss, Jackie the truth—and leaves her house in the hands of a friend who is a realtor to sell.

Because she has nothing to lose, she sets off on a month-long vacation to an island and—here comes my favorite part—strikes up a relationship with the pilot who flies her in.

Characters:  I am new to Camille Pagan and enjoyed this book, partially because of her great character development. I fell in love with all of the island people, and although I didn’t love Libby at the start, I grew to like her. I also loved Libby’s brother, but my favorite character was, by far, the pilot, Shiloh.

Storyline: The storyline is great. Of course, you can’t stop reading because you want to see if Libby will live or die, but I found myself reading for other reasons, as well. There are enough peaks and valleys in her story to maintain your interest, but what kept me reading, was how Pagan told the story. Simply, her writing is wonderful

Writing:  Pagan is a new favorite author. (Don’t you love when that happens!) Her writing is fabulous. 5-star good. Maybe 5+-star good.

Read this author again? Yes, yes, yes.

Read on!

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

And Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Rating:                              9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read on!

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

We Were Mothers by Katie Sise

Rating:                              9.5

General Rating: Need a can’t-put-down read? I read this in a few days. Get past the first chapters, and you won’t be able to put it down. It gets better and better.

Skip factor:  0% I skipped not a word.

Who should read:  Readers who don’t mind multiple characters. Mothers and grandmothers.

Summary: The story opens at a birthday party for two-year-old twins, Lucy and George. All of the major characters are in attendance. The twins’ mother, Cora, finds someone has left the diary of her babysitter, Mira, on her bed during the party. The diary has one entry, and it is about Cora’s husband, Sam.

While Cora delves into the truth of the entry, the story turns to Mira’s parents, neighbors Laurel & Dash, who have a secret of their own. A bedroom secret—Dash is more than a little rough during love-making.

Switch to Jade & Jeremy. Jade’s best friend Maggie (Cora’s sister) was killed in an automobile accident. Jade is now close with Cora and Maggie’s mother, Sarah. Jeremy is the hunk of a guy whom every woman at the party secretly watches. Both Jade and Jeremy hide secrets, too.

As if those storylines aren’t enough, the day after the birthday party, Mira disappears.

Characters:  As in many beginnings, it was hard to keep the characters straight. Here’s a key to help readers keep the main three couples straight:

Cora & Sam
              Kids Lucy & George
              Sarah is Cora’s mom. Her dad, Clark, is remarried to Abby.
Laurel and Dash
              Kids Anna & Mira
Jade & Jeremy
              No kids. Jade was best friends with Maggie. Jeremy is hot.  

The characters in the order I liked them:

Cora is a woman who is content being a mother of twins. She misses her sister Maggie who died in a car accident. You can’t help but feel for her.
Jade is a quiet, kind woman who also misses Maggie. She’s married to the good-looking Jeremy, whom right off the bat you feel doesn’t deserve her.
Laurel is a fast-moving, busy woman who hides her bruises to the world—and herself.
Sarah is Cora’s mother. A divorced sixty-something who, understandably, immerses herself in Cora’s life after her daughter Maggie is killed in a car crash.
Mira is the babysitter who disappears. She comes on strong but as the story unfolds, you feel less disdain for her.

Storyline:  An excellent, complicated-yet-believable story with dark twists and turns to keep you paging through. The author skillfully thrusts the lives of, at-first, seemingly normal families into chaotic suspense that grabs your attention and won’t let go. Sise unfolds the complexity of the characters so slowly that the read seems effortless and easy.  

Writing:  Excellent. The perfect combination of dialogue and description. The story flows smoothly, and while the storyline is complex, the writing is flawless. Loved.

Read this author again? Yes, yes, yes. I’ll read anything Sise writes from here on out. Especially her suspense novels.

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.

Valencia and Valentine by Suzy Krause

Rating:                              9.5

General Rating: A wonderful story that jumps between the lives of thirty-something Valencia and eighty-something Mrs. Valentine.  

Skip factor:  0% I skipped nothing. This is the second book I’ve read by Krause and I’ve skipped 0% in both. Simply, I love her writing.

Who should read:  Women who like good writing and unique stories, have ever felt lonely, have even a smidge of OCD, or are helpless dreamers.

Favorite line(s): “But in real life you go around thinking that everything good is going to last forever, and it takes you by surprise when it doesn’t. And when you suddenly realize that it has happened for the last time, it’s too late.”

Summary:  This novel entails two stories, one of Valencia, the thirty-something, and Mrs. Valentine, the eighty-something. Valencia has OCD and sometimes confuses her imagination with reality. Mrs. Valentine has no difficulty distinguishing between reality and the imaginary, but she has a wild imagination and tells lively, believable stories.

Characters:  Krause creates two equally-lovable main characters and several likable ones:

Valencia has been diagnosed, medicated, and sees a psychiatrist for OCD. She’s a debt collector, occasionally wonders if she’s schizophrenic, and never rides/drives on the highway or boards a plane.

Mrs. Valentine is an elderly woman who invites people into her life in order to spend time telling her stories. She’s lonely and the reader develops instant compassion toward her.

Anna is the granddaughter of Mrs. Valentine’s deceased friend (whom she pretends is alive) and the new listener of Mrs. Valentine’s stories.

Grace is one of the few friends who has ever accepted Valencia just the way she is. You like her instantly.

James is someone Valencia meets over the phone and, though I liked him much, I was wary of him.

Peter, Peter, Peter. I loved him. Rooted for him throughout.

Storyline:  Unique. Readers are sure the two stories unraveling are related but aren’t sure how. Valencia hints she caused a death, and Mrs. Valentine pretends she’s talking to the dead, which hooks your interest and keeps you turning pages.

I will not reveal too much but I’ll say this. The story is brilliant and the ending magnificent. I haven’t cried so hard at the end of a story in years, and I’m not sure whether I was crying over the story or the fact that I had just finished such a work of art. It was sad and happy and beautiful all wrapped together and packaged to perfection.

Writing:  In Valencia and Valentine, Krause masters writing style, technique, word usage, and character development. Normally when you find a book that tells two stories, you like one more than the other and zip through one section to get to the other. Not so here. Remarkably, I loved both stories equally.

Read this author again? Yes, yes, yes, rumor has it she’s written a third novel. This book has made me a Suzy-Krauss book stalker. I can’t wait for her next one.

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. She is currently in the process of editing her fifth novel, Don’t Mind Me, I Came with the House.

All of Zahner’s novels arose, to some degree, out of true-life events. Her Friend’s novel is “nearly” a memoir, and her “dream” series was inspired by odd events in Zahner’s life. (See the video of her 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.

8

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.

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!

_________________________________________________________

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.

Friends Who Move Couches by CJ Zahner

Rating:           ?

General Rating: Strong female characters and Evy. Hope you love them. (Disclaimer: I had to put my own novel in the can’t-put-down category. You’ll have to decide for yourself!)

Favorite line: “Sometimes families rise out of the ashes together. Maybe with a smidge of dirt on their wings.”

Skip factor:  0%. Of course.

Who should read:  Any woman who values friendship.   

Summary:  This is almost a memoir.  

Nikki Grey’s idea of living dangerously is not wearing a seatbelt, yet calamity always seems to find her.

Married to a workaholic, mothering three rebellious kids, and feuding with neighborhood friends, Nikki forgets her problems one afternoon by smoking marijuana. That blunder ignites a lifelong yet dormant medical condition, and she loses her driver’s license. Suddenly stranded in her home, she’s forced to stare out the window at women who have ostracized her.

Her true friends encourage her to concentrate on her health, but Nikki is her own nemesis. She embarks on a scheme to win back neighborhood friends and plunges into efforts that only end in muddying her reputation. She becomes the butt of neighborhood jokes. Foolishly, her ache to mend her broken relationships escalates.

Not until her two-timing husband asks her a question that catapults her frivolous suburban life into a tailspin is she forced to stop reaching for others and stand on her own.

Storyline, characters, and author’s note:  

While my life, friends, family, and true-life quotes at the beginning of each chapter inspired much of this almost memoir, many aspects differ. 

First, it’s true I come from a small family and am frivolously addicted to friendship, but thankfully, I married Jeff Zahner, not Mark Grey. Throughout my thirty-eight-year marriage to Jeff, I often wondered how many men would so easily smirk and shake their heads at my escapades. In other words, I married a Blake the Pro right off the bat. Jeff and I have been faithful to each other since the day we met. (He assures me I can state this. He does not want to end up a character in one of my thrillers.)

Second, I’m not a cute, little blonde like Reese Witherspoon. I did this for your reading enjoyment. Imagine the same story with a frumpy, old, nagging brunette?

Third, I have one sibling, a brother, Mike. He is married to Barb. Mike is eleven years older than me. He began dating Barb when he was thirteen, and I was two, so Barb has been like a sister to me throughout life. This is a girly book, so I made Barb my sister. The hard, tragic, almost unbearable truth is Mike suffers from early-onset dementia, and Barb, from early-onset Alzheimer’s.

I do have three children who were rambunctiously mischievous throughout their childhood and teenage years, but I am happy to announce they have surpassed their father’s and my wildest expectations, superseding us in education, strength, courage, and character. My oldest daughter earned a master’s degree and has a resume grown men would kill for. She worked in the professional sports arena (Phillies, Nationals, Orioles, Capitals, Wizards, and Rams). My son is an attorney. (He is also a poker player and pretty good golfer.) My youngest daughter grew up to challenge her father and I as much (if not more) than her two older siblings. She did become a teacher and is currently completing her doctorate in Special Education. Yes, I remain a royal pain in the butt to them, but no one will ever love them like their mother.

Finally, Jody and Val do not live by me. They were my first friends. Val and I played together in the nursery of St Luke’s Church in Erie, Pennsylvania alongside our mothers who attended mass there. Jody moved into my childhood neighborhood when she was two, and I was three. These two women are both brilliant, yet so interestingly opposite in nature that I transplanted them into my adult neighborhood. They remain the greatest of friends from afar. I love them both.

All other friend characters, from Carol and Carolyn to Doctor Jim, are real except for Evy and Ellie (who are the culmination of all my friends), and Janice Everglade (whom I hope I never meet). Reah and Natasha are not the real names of the two friends who broke my heart. Our parting was exaggerated for interest, but I do still struggle over the loss of their friendship. I have come to realize we were friends at a time when we needed each other most. I must trust God’s wisdom, wish them the best in life, and carry on.

One final note, I am truly a girl’s girl and wonderfully blessed with great friends. The one thing I am sure of in life is that the friends I do have would move bodies for me—and I, for them.   

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.

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!

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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 InstagramTwitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, 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.