American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Rating:           9.5

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

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

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

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

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

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

This book is about that journey.  

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

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

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

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

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

Writing:  

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

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

Read on!

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

Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Rating:                              9.5

General Rating: This author teases readers with clues. A great storyline by a clever writer.

Skip factor:  I skipped a small amount, 3%, in the beginning. Believe me, this book gets better. After halfway, I couldn’t put down.

Who should read:  Crime fiction lovers will enjoy, but so will women in general as this reads more like women’s fiction. 

Summary: Sisters Mickey and Kacey were raised by a strict grandmother, Gee, in a low-income area of Philadelphia. Their mother died of an overdose and their father left when they were young. While Mickey garnered good grades and wanted to go to college, Kacey turned to drugs and is eventually kicked out of her grandmother’s house.

The story is revealed in Then and Now sections. The Then story is, having had little encouragement and no money for college, Mickey entered the police force. Readers are first introduced to her in the Now story as a thirty-year-old single mother and police officer. She keeps an eye on her sister who has turned to prostitution and dealing.

When bodies of young Philly prostitutes begin showing up throughout Philadelphia, Mickey’s worry about her sister escalates. Then Lacey disappears. Readers ride along with Mickey as she juggles searching for her sister, being a mom, and dealing with both good and bad police officers beside her.

Characters:  I loved the slow introduction she gave to the main character. Mick is quiet, sometimes painstakingly so. It takes much for her to open up and this is exactly how Moore presents her—slowly. I grew to love her over time.

Not so with other characters. I adored Thomas, liked Kacey and Truman (even before he showed up in the story), and loved Mrs. Mahon immediately (despite her bluntness). Moore’s character development is clever. She tricks readers into loving characters with snappy, quirky qualities.

And the bad characters? She has you guessing. Are they truly bad?

Storyline: This is a good story made great by a talented writer. Paralleling the main character’s temperament, the storyline unfolds slowly. Moore jumps time periods which may annoy some, but not me. Only once do I remember that urge I often feel with these types of books, where I rush through a back-in-time chapter to get to the now.

Writing:  The writing is excellent without being hefty. It’s different. No dictionary needed. Moore’s simple language creates clever sentences, paragraphs, chapters. She uses dashes in place of quotation marks for conversation, something I grew accustomed to almost immediately. And while I didn’t like a few too-long paragraphs, Moore’s easy writing style whisked me into the story.  

What I loved about her writing and the reason I believe the story was addicting, is Moore teases the reader with just enough information for them to ask, “What’s that all about, and where’s it leading?” You feel like you’ve caught a clue to what will happen, but you’re at Moore’s mercy. You have to hang on until she’s kind enough to divulge more.   

Read this author again? Absolutely.

Read on!

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

9

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.