REVIEW – When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen

“It’s hard to live with certain truths of this world, so we ignore what we can. Choose not to look. We have to do it because otherwise we have to deal with the burden of knowing.”

Combine Kindred with Get Out and you’ll get When the Reckoning Comes – a short but impactful read about the reverberations of the past. The ghosts aren’t what to be afraid of here. There’s a gritty layer of dread and forboding smeared all over this story. Although this was a middle-of-the-road read for me, McQueen has an incredibly promising future.

Thank you Bibliolifestyle and Harper Perennial for the free book!

REVIEW – The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

“You cannot feel time grind against you. Time is nothing but everything, not the seconds, minutes, hours, days, years. Yet this substanceless substance, this bending and shaping, this warping, this is the way we understand our world.”

At its heart, The Night Watchman is about a community fighting for their right to exist on the land that’s rightfully theirs. It’s a historical moment that I haven’t heard a lot about (oh, surprise surprise, American history tries to cover up its less savory bits…)

“We don’t want to leave our homes. We are poor, but even poor people can love their land. You do not need money to love your home.”

At times the story can be a little disjointed and I felt that some plotlines meandered and ended up nowhere. I would still definitely recommend this book – it’s long (clocking in at more than 400 pages) but it reads fast. Each chapter is relatively brief, and it almost feels like a collection of shorter stories that feed a larger overarching narrative. I do wish we would have gotten more of Thomas and less of Pixie/Patrice (especially after the waterjack storyline was so short-lived) but you won’t forget these characters and their journeys.

However, Erdrich’s writing is impeccable. I have a ton of passages bookmarked and I often went back and read certain paragraphs and sentences over and over again before moving on.

“He hated their approval just as much as he hated their condescension. And yet this truth was buried so deep inside him that its expression only emerged, in their presence, as a friendly smile.”

“Dread of the situation, ungraspable in its magnitude. Loneliness. The forces he was up against were implacable and distant. But from their distance they could reach out and sweep away an entire people.”

Thank you Harper Perennial for sending me a copy of this book!

REVIEW – Barely Functional Adult by Meichi Ng

“It’s important for you to hold on to your good days; they keep you sane in the face of bad ones.”

Are you a human being who has even just a little bit of life experience? Then this book is for you! Somehow this little blue blob is hilarious and profound and insightful – and Meichi Ng created one of the most relatable books i’ve ever read. I mean, at some points I had to stop and think, “Wait, did I write this book…?”

So now, naturally, i’m convinced that the author and I could be friends:
Hi Meichi! I’m deathly afraid of wasps and would also love to be cheeseburger rich. I’m pretty sure we could be friends. I’m sorry I laughed at the story about your dead fish (RIP Bobo). Thank you for writing such a wonderful book.

If you’re a fan of Hyperbole and a Half, you’ll definitely love this one too.

Thank you Harper Perennial for the finished copy!

REVIEW – Do Not Disturb by Claire Douglas

It’s been a little while since I read a good whodunit kind of mystery/thriller, and this was a great way to get back into the genre! Do Not Disturb is set in the Welsh mountains and the guesthouse (and town) are equal parts charming and sinister.

Kirsty moves her family out of London after a traumatic event. They decide to start fresh by purchasing a guesthouse (in America we’d call this a “bed and breakfast”) and going into business with Kirsty’s somewhat overbearing (but well-meaning) mother.

When Kirsty’s estranged cousin Selena shows up, some interesting things start happening (dead flowers left at the doorstep? No thank you). Kirsty is skeptical of Serena’s arrival, and the cousins haven’t spoken in years ever since they had a falling out when they were 18.

I was basically suspicious of EVERYONE at some point or another in this book, which made for a fun reading experience. Do Not Disturb is a twisty, spooky read, ideal for thriller lovers looking to get something just a tad bit different.

Content warning: sexual abuse/rape, attempted suicide, child abuse

Thank you Harper Perennial for the ARC!

REVIEW – The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

“No one knows the worst thing they are capable of until they do it.”

I had been interested in reading this book for quite some time – I love historical fiction, but this had the added promise of a more gruesome/thrilling story. Well, it’s definitely disturbing. But it’s not quite a thriller (at least, not in the traditional sense).

This book is beautifully written, but don’t let it fool you – even in the lovely, “happy” moments, there’s an underlying cruelty and dread that follows Frannie pretty much everywhere. Since the book is told through a series of flashbacks, you somewhat already know what awaits Frannie at the end.

“That’s always been my trouble. Never knowing my place or being content in it.”

After traveling from Jamaica to England, Frannie transitions from slave to servant. However, having been enslaved for her entire life, she struggles to understand the difference. She’s still under the control and authority of someone else, and her life is still difficult regardless of the change in status.

Through Frannie’s letters/journal entries, we learn about a lot of horrific events that she either witnessed or participated in. It never gets too deep – many of the horrors are merely alluded to. That being said, there’s an overall lack of depth throughout the story – I felt that we skimmed the surface on so many topics instead of really digging in to the meat of the story.

There’s a deep sadness here too, and if you’re looking for something with a happy twist or ending, don’t expect to find it here.

I think Sara Collins shows a lot of promise, and i’d be happy to read whatever she decides to write next.

There are multiple trigger/content warnings for this one, so proceed with caution if you’re a sensitive reader.

Thank you Harper Perennial for the free book!

REVIEW – Neon Girls: A Stripper’s Education in Protest and Power by Jennifer Worley

The premise of this book had me interested from the jump – a nonfiction account of a grad student who becomes a stripper to help pay her way through school. There’s SO MUCH MORE to this, and it’s probably not what you’d expect.

I found myself rooting for these ladies throughout their entire journey. They unionize! They stand up for their rights! They stand up for each other! They’re empowered and empowering.

I learned so much from this book – from the politics of strip clubs to the intricacies and hurdles to forming a union.

Thank you Harper Perennial for sending me an ARC of this book!

REVIEW – Dark August by Katie Tallo

Dark August is a gritty mystery thriller with a relatively isolated vibe for the first chunk of the book. Our main character Gus receives word that her last living relative has died, and she heads back home (leaving behind a pretty pathetic life) to take care of her great-grandmother’s estate. When she uncovers clues from a cold case her late mother was working on, Gus quickly begins an investigation of her own that leads to some dark and twisty places.

There was one part of the mystery that seemed like more of an afterthought, but overall this book was good. It builds slowly and you do wonder where the heck it’s going to end up, but STICK WITH IT. This book surprised the heck out of me in the last 50 pages or so. It’s not often a book catches me off guard, but I have to give credit when a thriller is able to pull a fast one on me.

Dark August should definitely be on your summer thriller tbr!

Content warning: mentions of rape, domestic abuse, suicide, mild animal abuse.

Thank you Harper Perennial for sending me an ARC of this book!

REVIEW – This Is Major by Shayla Lawson

{Available June 30, 2020} This book was not written for me. This is a statement of fact, not a criticism. I think it’s important that we read books not meant for us – books that were written with someone else in mind. This Is Major is a series of essays by Shayla Lawson, where she details her own experiences and opinions on feminism, race and racism.

One essay examines the term “black girl magic” and how it can be used both negatively and positively. The history and horrific racism that eventually led to the creation of the “photo that broke the internet” is incredibly interesting – and incredibly heartbreaking and infuriating. You know the photo (it involved champagne).

I did so much Googling throughout the course of this book so I could see a picture that Lawson was referencing, or hear a song that she mentioned. (Yes, I looked up Freaky Friday on YouTube, and yes, I wish I could get those few minutes of my life back.)

Highly recommend This Is Major to any reader looking to diversify their reading and broaden their worldview.

Thank you Harper Perennial for sending me an ARC of this book!

REVIEW – The Better Sister by Alafair Burke

Phew, what a premise! Our main character Chloe is married to her sister’s ex-husband, Adam, and is raising her nephew/stepson, Ethan. Got that straight? When Adam is murdered, suspicions quickly turn to Ethan and we follow a twisty narrative that includes family drama, secrets and a court case.

This story did not go in the direction that I expected, and I really enjoyed it! It gave me some Jodi Picoult vibes – a court battle, moral ambiguity, family secrets, etc. It really comes down to this – how far would you go to protect the people you love?

I think this is a great summer mystery for thriller lovers and newbies alike. Burke’s writing keeps the reader interested, and the short, punchy chapters made for an incredibly fast reading experience.

Thank you Harper Perennial/Harper Books for my copy of The Better Sister!

REVIEW – The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield

“The boy is my greatest joy. We strengthen each other. We are one, inseparable.”

This is probably one of the most incredible WWII stories I’ve ever read. I’ll admit, I was hesitant to pick this up – not because I didn’t want to read it, but because life is weird and difficult right now and I wasn’t sure I wanted to dive into something so heartbreaking. This book is nonfiction, but it reads like fiction most of the time – the writing flows easily and the people Dronfield writes about leap off of the page. I loved reading about each family member – while the story is primarily about Gustav and his son Fritz, we do get a glimpse into what life during the war was like for the rest of the family. They all end up on different paths, and some endings are horrific.

“It took strength and character to share and love in a world where selfishness and hate were common currency.”

I was right, this book is incredibly heartbreaking. But it’s also joyful. And hopeful. The love between Gustav and Fritz kept them going. Their resilience is inspiring and, at times, it’s almost unbelievable. Their bravery was just one small factor in their eventual survival – they also experienced incredible luck (which is so hard to say, given the circumstances) and they ended up building a small community of friends within the camps who lifted them up and pushed them through. This book examines the absolute worst of humanity but also highlights some of the best. The sacrifices people made (and were willing to make) for the good of the cause. The danger they put themselves in to save others.

“No matter what occurred in the world, no matter how near danger might be, life went on, and what could one do but live it?”

Something that I feel is glossed over sometimes when it comes to WWII books – nonfiction and fiction alike – is what the survivors experience once they are back home and safe. Even though Gustav and Fritz survived many years in unimaginable, cruel conditions, they still struggled when it came time to rejoin society and get “back to normal.” There truly was no normal after WWII for many survivors, and the trauma and pain of those years in the camps impacted the rest of their lives.

Thank you Harper Perennial/Harper Books for the ARC!