REVIEW – All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

“We are not as different as you think, and all our stories matter and deserve to be celebrated and told.”

All Boys Aren’t Blue is a deeply personal memoir that should be required reading. George Johnson just has an impeccable way with words – we follow their story from childhood to high school to college and beyond. Johnson and I are around the same age, and I loved some of their stories about growing up – it was so easy for me to picture those moments in time.

“Symbolism gives folks hope. But I’ve come to learn that symbolism is a threat to actual change – it’s a chance for those in power to say, “Look how far you’ve come” rather than admitting, “Look how long we’ve stopped you from getting here.””

Johnson touches on the importance of representation – from teachers to politicians alike. A lot of Black kids (and kids of all races) don’t have Black teachers. (I mean, think about it – when did you have your first Black teacher? I don’t recall having a Black teacher/professor until I was in college.) Queer representation is important too – especially with LGBTQ+ youth being high-risk for suicidal thoughts, homelessness and abuse.

Johnson often mentions the dual struggles of being both Black and queer – and how lucky they are to have a family who supports them as they are. I think Johnson’s story would be much different without the support of their family. Johnson’s grandmother, Nanny, is a strong presence in this book – what an incredible woman! She is the embodiment of pure, unconditional love for her family.

All Boys Aren’t Blue deals with some incredibly heavy topics but the book never feels weighed down – there’s always hope, always growth, always forgiveness.

Note: When this book was released, Johnson used he/him pronouns and has recently switched to using they/them pronouns (just something to keep in mind if/when you write a review for this book).

REVIEW – Salvation Station by Kathryn Schleich

When three bodies (two small children and their father) are found buried in the backyard of a church parsonage, Captain Linda Turner vows to track down their killer. The crime is one of the worst she’s ever seen and Linda ends up on a chase unlike anything she’s dealt with before. We also meet Ray Williams, a televangelist with a struggling TV show – that is, until one of his regular attendees approaches him with ideas to ensure the show’s growth and success.

I’ll tell you this much: you’ll know where this book is going pretty early on. You’ll spend most of your time just wanting to know how it all plays out. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think it’s important to know before you read. This isn’t really a twisty thriller, it’s a sleepy investigative novel that picks up considerably in the final third of the book.

This is one of those books that would make a great episode of Criminal Minds or another investigative crime show. (America’s Most Wanted, maybe?!) Our villain is truly despicable and readers will surely be anxiously waiting for justice. There’s also a strong theme of religion in this book, and using faith to manipulate others. The book is also set in the early 2000s and features some brief mentions of 9/11 and the Enron situation. The choice to have the events in the book take place nearly 20 years ago is an interesting one, but it makes sense given the general MO of the villain and the plausibility of their actions.

Content warning: murder/death of small children, brief mention of animal cruelty, narcissism, manipulation within a romantic/marital relationship.

Thank you Book Publicity Services for sending me a finished copy of Salvation Station!

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – Three Widows and a Corpse by Debra Sennefelder

Food blogger Hope Early is settled back into her hometown of Jefferson, Connecticut, except for the fact that she keeps finding dead bodies…

When a local real estate developer is found dead during the annual scavenger hunt, Hope inserts herself into the investigation (despite the warnings of her sister…and boyfriend…and best friend…and everyone else in town). The best part? Three women claim to be married to the murder victim, and they all had the means, motive and opportunity to take him out.

I really liked the mystery in this one! It kept me guessing and although I had a hunch early on, Sennefelder did a good job of throwing me off the trail. I also loved the secondary characters and the town in general. This book hits all of the quintessential cozy mystery elements, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Thank you Kensington Books for sending me a copy of Three Widows and a Corpse!

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – Dough or Die by Winnie Archer

{Available August 25, 2020} Dough or Die was my first exposure to the Bread Shop Mystery series. Ivy Culpepper works at Yeast of Eden, a Mexican bakery in her beachy hometown of Santa Sofia.

Yeast of Eden has the opportunity to be on a new TV series showcasing bakeries across the country (think Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, but with pastries…) Except the on-air personalities don’t get along. At all. And when one crew member is hit by a car and another is found dead near the bakery, Ivy decides to help find out if the attempted murder and, uh, actual murder are connected.

This is a well thought out mystery – the clues are there, pointing to the culprit, but my dumb brain didn’t pick up on them until later in the book. As per usual in a cozy mystery, the bakery sounds lovely. Yeast of Eden owner Olaya is a great character, although I wish she would have been featured more prominently in this story.

{SLIGHTLY SPOILERY COMMENTS AHEAD}

I wasn’t sure how I felt about the use of a women’s shelter as a plot point here. It made sense (and made for a great mystery) but some of Ivy’s behavior had me cringing. She violates the privacy of some of the residents and seems to focus more on solving the crimes in the book rather than protecting the women who stay at the shelter. I wish the same conclusion could have been reached in a slightly different manner.

Thank you Kensington Books for sending me a NetGalley ARC of this book!

REVIEW – My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

“The promise of liberty is not written in blood or engraved in stone; it’s embroidered into the fabric of our nation. And so is Alexander Hamilton. My husband. My hero. My betrayer.”

I’ll admit – I was saving this book until after I had seen Hamilton. As someone who actively avoided listening to the soundtrack (I wanted to experience it in context!) I basically went from zero to 100. We watched the show when it was added to Disney+. I downloaded the soundtrack (and I listen to at least a few songs pretty much every single day…). And I finally read this book!

My Dear Hamilton is a great companion to the Hamilton musical, especially for fans who want more of Eliza’s story after Hamilton’s death. We get a better idea of how Eliza was a complete person before she met Alexander (I know, right? Wild…) and how much she accomplished once he was gone.

“Silence is often the only weapon available to ladies. And I wield mine expertly.”

This is also a great read for fans of historical fiction in general. For my fellow 90s kids who read (and loved) the Dear America series, this is the first book i’ve found that really hits the same notes. The book is told from Eliza’s perspective as she reflects on her life and the chapters read very much like diary entries.

“The revolution. It is unfinished. Maybe liberty must always be fought for.”

Is this probably a somewhat romanticized account with historical inaccuracies? Of course. But it’s a good choice for anyone who wants a bit more Hamilton beyond the musical.

Content warning: miscarriage, death of a child, death of a spouse, slavery.

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – 15 Minutes of Flame by Christin Brecher

{Available August 25, 2020} Someday i’ll get to visit Nantucket for real. For now, i’ll settle for “visiting” the island via Christin Brecher’s Nantucket Candle Maker Mystery Series!

15 Minutes of Flame is the third book in the series (and my second read – I still need to read the first book…). I was so excited to pick this up because it’s set near Halloween. You see, it’s been incredibly hot here in my state for a few weeks, and i’m aching for a cool fall breeze, pumpkin everything and spooky vibes. This fit the bill – complete with 150-year-old skeletons, ghosts (!?), a spooky old house and a murder to top it off.

There were some laugh out loud moments in this book (just get to the part where our heroine starts doing shots to get information from a suspect…) and the historical aspect of the story was a fun little touch.

Thank you Kensington Books for providing me with a NetGalley ARC of 15 Minutes of Flame!

REVIEW – The Bright Lands by John Fram

“We inherited this town. We all did. That don’t mean we have to love everything about it.”

The Bright Lands is…something different. It’s marketed as sort of a thriller/horror, and there’s for sure a Stephen King vibe at work here. Told from multiple perspectives, The Bright Lands is a slow burn that eventually leads to something pretty horrific (and, much like in King novels, the most horrific things could be entirely feasible in real life, at least to a point).

Joel has returned to his small hometown in Texas after some concerning text messages from his younger brother, Dylan. You see, Dylan is the quarterback for the local high school football team. The most promising athlete to come out of their tiny town, with the NFL being a very real possibility in his future. But Dylan doesn’t want to play football anymore, and he says a few things that remind Joel of why he left Bentley ten years before.

I won’t spoil too much, but i’ll give you a basic overview: Dylan goes missing. His friends and teammates seem to know more than they let on. Some of the adults are super shady and a little too involved with the lives of the local high school kids. I’ll let you guess what happens from there, but I doubt you’re right.

Some parts of this book are incredibly uncomfortable to read – it’s one of those books where you’re dying to know what happens but you’re relieved to finish the book because the atmosphere is so creepy.

Content warning: racism, homophobia, sexual assault, hate crimes, drug addiction/abuse, the list goes on…

REVIEW – Louisiana Lucky by Julie Pennell

“Her sister’s words from the night before echoed in her mind again. It’ll only get worse from here. At this moment, perhaps for the first time, it felt true. She felt raw, as if life was scraping her along without her consent.”

What would you do if you won the lottery? It’s fun to think about, right? In Louisiana Lucky, we meet three sisters who are struggling – Lexi is trying to plan a wedding on a shoestring budget and an unreliable, inconsistent paycheck. She’s also desperate to impress her future mother-in-law, and can’t seem to make a connection. Callie is working as a reporter for the local newspaper, which is trying (and failing) to gain more readers. She’s working to break a big story, but keeps getting derailed by the paper’s desire for more “fluff” content. Hanna is a mother of two just trying to keep it together. She and her husband have been working to renovate their home for years but, with two unexpected pregnancies, their finances have been allocated elsewhere.

These women have pretty much had enough. When they get together for their traditional junk food and lottery ticket night, they finally win the jackpot. Problems solved, right? Well…as you might imagine, winning millions of dollars isn’t the instant fix the sisters think it will be.

Louisiana Lucky is a cute summer read. It’s predictable, but fun. You’ll find yourself rolling your eyes at some of the decisions the sisters make but you’ll also root for them.

Thank you Atria Books for sending me a copy of Louisiana Lucky!

REVIEW – Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan

{Available August 18, 2020} How far would you go to protect your child? Or someone else’s child? Little Disasters primarily follows Liz, a pediatrician, and her friend Jess, a stay at home mom of three. When Jess brings her youngest to the ER one night, Liz quickly suspects something sinister at play and takes action. As Jess’ life begins to unravel, we learn that everyone has their dark secrets to hide.

Phew. This book is pretty dark and disturbing. I’m not usually too bothered by books that feature child abuse (wow, that sounds bad. What I mean is that i’m not overly sensitive. Hopefully someone else gets it!) but this one just felt so REAL. Little Disasters is really a book about motherhood, which isn’t something that I have personal experience with. I’d assume that some mothers would really struggle to get through this one, but some might also be able to relate to some of the dark and terrifying thoughts that can occur in the minds of new mothers who are struggling to connect with their babies.

Although the synopsis might make you think this is a thriller, it’s really a domestic drama that examines the struggles and secrets of a handful of people and families. And it’s disturbing just how many adults fail in this book – fail to communicate, fail to care for children, fail to own up to their mistakes.

Little Disasters is an uncomfortable read but it’s good. I would just caution readers before picking this up – be prepared to be sad and angry and disturbed.

Content warning: child abuse/neglect, traumatic birth experience, PPD, OCD, alcoholism, infant death/SIDS

Thank you Atria Books for providing me with a NetGalley ARC of Little Disasters!

REVIEW – The Second Mother by Jenny Milchman

{Available August 18, 2020} Oof. This was a lot. And it was a lot of things that didn’t work for me. I went into this expecting something a bit more thrilling and a bit more heart-racing and it just didn’t deliver. This book is LONG. Given there are a lot of descriptions of the island, a lot of repetitive incidents and a lot of buildup for a plot twist that could have been introduced 200 pages sooner.

The writing isn’t bad – this book just suffers from trying to accomplish too much, and in the end accomplishes very little. I also felt that the ending of the book didn’t uphold the overall vibes of the beginning. For how long the book is, the end wraps up a little too fast and a little too neatly.

Thank you Books Forward PR for the NetGalley ARC!