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Review: Small Great Things

Small Great Things

by Jodi Picoult

” I fold my arms and stare down at the newborn. 

Babies are such blank slates. they don’t come into this world with the assumptions their parents have made, or the promises their church will give, or the ability to sort people into groups they like and don’t like. They don’t come into this world with anything, really, except the need for comfort. And they will take it from anyone, without judging the giver. 

I wonder how long it takes before the polish given by nature gets worn off by nurture. “

Growing up in the South, I am no stranger to racism. I spent the first ten years of my life living in a poor part of Louisiana, and from then, moved on to a less-than-affluent part of a small suburb of Dallas. In Louisiana, I was the only white kid on my street. I was one of the only white kids at my school. The majority of my teachers were black. All of my friends, except one, were black. And as a child, I didn’t really notice. Sure, we had different colors to our skin. Our hair was different. But we all played with dolls and rode our bikes, and we all ran around after dark without shoes on and tried to catch fireflies so we could smash their bodies onto our skin and watch it glow in the moonlight.

But as I grew older, the veil of childhood and all of it’s quiet innocence faded and fell. “Nigger” was a word that was frequently used around the dining table, and it was a word used by my father, my grandfather, and their friends to describe every black person. To them, every black person was the same – they were inferior. And every white person was the same – they were superior. But I think what shocked me the most was how my father and grandfather treated black people to their faces. They treated them as if they never said those terrible words about their entire race behind closed doors. They were fake. And I think that is what outraged me more than anything as a child and teenager growing up in the South.

As an adult, I cannot say that I am a racist. I also cannot say that I am not. I don’t think it’s truly for me to decide. . . those dirty labels that we throw upon one another like so much filth and rags, they are not for me to put onto myself. I can say I have black friends, and I’ve heard that that is one “the most racist things a white person can say.” I don’t know why, but that’s probably because I’m not black. I can say that I feel more comfortable with people outside of my own race than I do with my own. Perhaps it’s because of those years I grew up running around the neighborhood with black kids, flagging down the ice cream truck and pooling our pennies together to get one ice cream to share. Perhaps it is because during my elementary school years, it was my black teachers — and not my white ones — who would kneel down to embrace me in a warm and all-encompassing hug when I was upset. My first kiss was from a Mexican boy. My second, a black one. I never thought to worry about differences. They were just boys.

I wonder what it was that has made me the way I am, considering all of the vile things I heard around dinner table as I grew up. My brother and I would silently stare at one another as our father and grandfather went on another tangent about black people, not daring to speak up and say that our own best friends were black and Mexican for fear of being yelled at and berated. Some strange current ran through my brother and I and consequently, did the opposite of what I believe our father intended — instead of hating those of other races, we were drawn to them. When my mother left our family, it was a Mexican family that took me in and finished raising me. I always had a hot meal there, and clean bed to lay my head down in. My brother was the guest and subsequent “adopted son” of a black family, and I wonder what my father thought of that. The family that took my brother in was at my brother’s wedding, the son of that family standing as my brother’s Best Man. And I bet my father kept his racist remarks to himself that day. Because you know, it just doesn’t do to be a racist in public.

But the truth is, although I grew up hearing those words and seeing those judgments, I have no idea what it is like to grow up with real prejudice. I am a white woman and as such, I don’t experience what black women experience. I don’t know what they go through. I can read about it and they can tell me, but I don’t know how they feel. I am married to a brown Muslim man and I experience my own brand of prejudices from others, and I worry for my son who is not only half white and half brown — but does not have a declared religion. But it’s funny, I don’t worry about my other two children — the white ones. I don’t worry that they could be shot just for being out late and wearing a hoodie. And I don’t think I ever even thought about not worrying about those things until I read Jodi Picoult’s book, Small Great Things. The reality is — I never thought about those things until I, myself, gave birth to a child of color.

I will tell you, I am not a cryer. Emotion does not bubble in me while watching movies or reading books. That is not to say that I don’t feel things, because I feel them deeply, but I am adept at categorizing reality and fiction in my mind and plowing through things subjectively. But the problem with this book was that the fiction WAS fact, and as a result, I was sobbing within the first ten pages. And I sobbed many other times: as the author slipped into the skin of a black woman targeted for the color of her skin, as a man lost his son, as an attorney struggled to navigate the murky waters of nature versus nurture. This was not an easy book to get through.

” At Dalton, there was one table at lunch where all the Black kids sat, except me. Once, another scholarship student of color invited me to join them for lunch. I said thanks, but I usually spent that time tutoring a white friend who didn’t understand trig. This was not the truth. The truth was that the Black table made my white friends nervous, because even if they’d sat down there with me, they would have been tolerated but not welcomed. In a world where they always fit in, the one place they didn’t chafed hard. 

The other truth was that if I sat with the other kids of color, I couldn’t pretend I was different from them. When Mr. Adamson, my history teacher, started talking about Martin Luther King and kept looking at me, my white friends shrugged it off: He didn’t mean it that way. At the Black table, if one student talked about Mr. Adamson staring at her during that same lesson, another African American student would validate the experience: That totally happened to me, too. 

I so badly wanted to blend in in high school that I surrounded myself with people who could convince me that if I felt like I was being singled out because of the color of my skin, I was making things up, overthinking, being ridiculous. 

There was no Black table in the cafeteria at the hospital. There were a handful of janitors of color, and one or two doctors, and me.  “

Ruth Jefferson is damn good at her job. As a labor and delivery nurse for twenty years and counting, she has seen and coached mothers through just about everything. The hospital she works at revolves around a near skeleton crew with only a handful of nurses on duty at any given time and if she’s being honest, anyone would be hard-pressed to find another nurse on that crew who knows more than Ruth does about birth.

While routinely checking in on a new mom and her baby, Ruth precedes with the exam  like it’s just another day. She tries to ignore the strange vibe in the room and focus solely on the new life that’s in her arms — checking his breathing, his skin, the swirls in his hair. When she listens to his heart she can hear a slight murmur and while that is not especially uncommon, she makes a note to have the pediatrician look the little one over. But when she goes to place the baby back into his mother’s waiting arms in hopes of helping the little one to nurse, she is met with something unexpected — the father wants to see her supervisor, immediately.

Turk is a new father. He’s also a white supremacist. The shock that stole his voice the moment the black nurse walked in and took his baby from his wife Brit’s arms has now worn away and he is ready to take a stance. How dare this woman touch his baby? After speaking harshly with her supervisor, he is pleased to have the black nurse removed from baby Davis’s care, and settles in for the night with his wife and beautiful baby boy.

The next time Turk sees this black nurse, she is standing over his dead son, her hands pressing down so hard onto his chest that she will leave bruises.

The Post-It note glared at Ruth when she read it. “No African American Personnel To Care For This Patient.” Left alone with baby Davis while the other two nurses on call rush off to assist with an emergency C-section, Ruth gazes down into the little one’s face. It’s then that she realizes he is turning an alarming shade of blue, but she. . . hesitates. She’s been told not to touch this baby, and doing so may cause her to lose her job. Her job is the only way that her household is supported; her husband died in Afghanistan when their son was a young boy, and she has her son’s looming college tuition upon her. But at the end of the day, Ruth is a nurse, and be damned some Post-It note. She tries to revive the boy but when she hears someone coming, she wraps him back up and stands there as still as stone. Doing. . . nothing. Per the explicit instructions her supervisor gave her.

It doesn’t matter that moments later, the room is full of staff all trying their best to save this newborn. It doesn’t matter that Ruth’s supervisor ordered her to act and she is now performing compressions to try and coax the baby’s heart into filling with blood and pumping new life into his veins. Baby Davis is gone, flown away to Heaven, and Turk knows exactly who to blame — the black nurse who murdered his son in cold blood.

” I start making a list in my head, of all the things I will never get to do with my son: see him smile for the first time. Celebrate his first Christmas. Get him a BB gun. Give him advice to ask a girl out. Milestones. But the road of parenthood, for me, has been wiped clean of landmarks. 

Suddenly Francis is standing in front of me with the shovel. I swallow hard, take it, and become the first person to start to bury my child. After pushing a scoop of dirt into the rip in the ground, I jam the shovel into the earth again. Tom Metzger helps Brit lift it, her hands shaking, and do her part. 

I know I’m supposed to stand vigil while everyone else here helps to put Davis underground. But I’m too busy fighting the urge to dive into that tiny pit. To shovel the dirt out with my bare hands. To lift the casket, to pry it open, to save my baby. I’m holding myself in check so hard that my body is vibrating with effort. “

The letter that comes in the mail tells Ruth that she is officially suspended from her job, but the sting of showing up the morning before and being told by her supervisor that she is about to be escorted from the premises was what bit the sharpest. She didn’t kill that baby. And she didn’t wish him dead. But maybe she did think that the baby was better off in Heaven than being raised by the terrible people he would have called Mom and Dad. It doesn’t take long for the law to come calling — and at 3 a.m., after they break down her door and put her Honor Student son in handcuffs, she is dragged away to jail in her nightgown. It is in that nightgown that she will face a judge and a room full of people at her arraignment. This is where she will literally be spit on and demoralized. And it is where Kennedy McQuarrie will feel a bond with Ruth deep within her gut.

She didn’t become an attorney for the money, and there certainly isn’t any to be found in the public defender’s office. Kennedy is lucky that her hotshot doctor of a husband pays the bills and encourages her to follow what her heart tells her is right. She’s a mother to a quirky little girl who covets Cinderella and Princess Tiana. She is the daughter of a supportive mother. Her world is pretty normal, by most people’s standards. Until Ruth shows up, that is, and forces Kennedy into asking herself the hard questions — the ones about race.

But the case can’t be about race. Playing the race card makes the case a veritable suicide mission. As Kennedy explains this to Ruth, the suspended and humiliated nurse can feel the snakes of anger writhing and shaking in the bowels of her stomach. Not about race? How could this case not — at it’s very core — be about race? But with no money coming in to pay for an attorney of her choosing and the prospect of serious jail time for the serious charge of murder against her, Ruth feels she has no choice but to follow the lines Kennedy is drawing for her in the fickle grains of sand they are both standing on. Not equal, but both standing. Ruth must choose to allow trust to grow between herself and Kennedy, as her very life of freedom hangs in the balance.

” I am wide awake now, being dragged in my nightgown and slippers down my porch steps so that I stumble and scrape my knee on the pavement before I am pushed headfirst into the back of a police car. I pray to God that someone will remember to cut my son’s hands loose. I pray to God that my neighbors, who have been awakened by the hullaballoo in our sleepy neighborhood at 3:00 A.M., and who stand in their doorways with their white faces reflecting in the moon, will ask themselves one day why they remained dead silent, not a single one asking if there was anything they could to to help. “

Small Great Things is a book that I give a rare 5 out of 5 stars to. I was deeply moved by this book as the author led us down three parallel paths, slipping into the skin of each character as if it were her very own : the black nurse Ruth, the white supremacist Turk, and the white defensive attorney Kennedy. Each player had a clear voice and believe it or not, readers will find themselves being both angered by and feeling sympathy for all three. I was wrapped up in this story by the end of the first chapter and although it was difficult to get through at times, especially when Ruth describes certain deliveries she has been involved with, I am so glad that I finished it out to the end. Martin Luther King once said that “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way,” and this is the underlying mantra of the book.

I recommend this book to any lovers of a storyline you can sink your teeth into or readers who enjoy meaty characters that they can grow with. I guarantee you will not put this book down at it’s completion and not feel as if you have learned something from it.  With a rich set of detained backstories for each character and a truthful light shown on their day-to-day lives, readers will become attached and feel what they feel. This book is not for the faint of heart — so have some tissues handy.

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Recommendation: A Court Of Thorns And Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses

by Sarah J. Maas

” Be glad of your human heart, Feyre.

Pity those who don’t feel anything at all. ”

Feyre knows nothing but survival.

Since the financial collapse of her family’s fortune and livelihood, she has had to step up — especially as no one else in her family has risen to the challenge.  Week after week and month after month, she has taken to the dense woods surrounding the meager cottage she and her family lives in, set to forage and hunt for food and anything that can garner a coin. Pelts she can sell for a premium price to the right vendor and meat they can dry or cook immediately, although there never seems to be enough to a sate the hunger that permanently resides in her belly. Feyre knows nothing but hard work and the burden of supporting three other people. Her sisters, the quiet Elain and opinionated Nesta, consider themselves too gentile and fragile for such common work as hunting, preferring instead to tend gardens and clean the interior of the shack they call home.

Feyre’s dreams are full of color. Sunny yellows and rich blues, vibrant reds and soft-as-petal pinks. If she had it her way, the golden-haired beauty would spend her days painting every surface in her home and beyond, creating an imaginary cocoon full of the whimsy and the fantastic. But if it wasn’t for her arduous struggles within the depths of the forest almost every day, her sisters simply wouldn’t eat. And as there is never any money left over to buy paint anyway, she must be content with putting her dreams on the back burner, allowing them to fester and build only in the recesses of her imagination.

” Once it had been second nature to savor the contrast of new grass against dark, tilled soil, or an amethyst brooch nestled in folds of emerald silk; once I’d dreamed and breathed and thought in color and light and shape. Sometimes I would even indulge in envisioning a day when my sisters were married and it was only me and Father, with enough food to go around, enough money to buy some paint, and enough time to put those colors and shapes down on canvas or the cottage walls. 

Not likely to happen anytime soon — perhaps ever. So I was left with moments like this, admiring the glint of pale winter light on snow. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done it — bothered to notice anything, lovely or interesting. “

One day while on the hunt, she spots something out of place. The  huge and hulking beast before her would mean food on the table for days, possibly even weeks. But there is something in the beast’s eyes that gives her pause. . . something, not quite human — but also not completely animalistic. Drawing on her suspicions and well-regulated fear, Feyre draws a special arrow from her quiver. This arrow is made from ash wood and is carefully crafted, it’s only purpose is to kill a very specific target — that of the fairy persuasion.

The Fae have lived on their side of the wall for as long as Feyre has walked the human side of their world. The treaty that included creating the wall was signed centuries before she was even born, and she has grown up hearing the tales of the evil and maniacal Fae —  how they sneak in through cracks in that wall to prey on human flesh, satisfying their disgusting and vengeful appetites via murder and mayhem. Coming face to face with one in the human territory results in her making a choice that will have consequences that stretch over her entire life, and those lives around her; spreading out like a thick web of sticky silk.

” Our territory was too small and poor to maintain a standing army to monitor the wall with Prythian, and we villagers could not rely only on the strength of the Treaty forged five hundred years ago. But the upper class could afford hired swords, like this woman, to guard their lands bordering the immortal realm. It was an illusion of comfort, just as the markings on our threshold were. We all knew, deep down, that there was nothing to be done against he faeries. We’d all been told it, regardless of class of rank, from the moment we were born, the warnings sung to us while we rocked in cradles, the rhymes chanted in schoolyards. One of the High Fae could turn your bones to dust from a hundred yards away. Not that my sisters or I had ever seen it. “

Days after her kill in the woods, her world is shattered. A second beast comes barreling into her home, demanding retribution for the Fae he believes to have been murdered in cold blood, breaking the rules of the treaty. Feyre steps up and takes responsibility, bidding her sisters and father a hastily made farewell. In killing one of the Fae, her life has become forfeit, and she must journey to the other side of the wall with the beast of a man who is calling in the bargain of her human predecessors.

The Spring Court is an eerily quiet place, full of bountiful gardens full of beautiful blooms and greenery, but there is an umistakable shadow that lingers upon the land. Upon arrival, Feyre spends her time struggling to come to grips with her new situation and the somewhat convoluted navigation around the lavish mansion’s inhabitants. Tamlin, the beast who procured her from the human side of the wall, is the High Lord of the Spring Court and as such, intent upon cultivating his lands in the midst of a tenuous political situation between the counts in the land of Fae. Lucian, his emissary and transplant from the Autumn Court, is wily and mischievous, and while Feyre chooses to view him as a potential ally, she must tread carefully as she begins a dangerous game of cat and mouse while trying to garner information about her captor.

” I’d be better off persuading Lucien to speak to Tamlin on my behalf — and soon, before any of the others whom they’d mentioned appeared, or this blight of theirs grew. Tomorrow — I’d speak to Lucien then, test him out a bit. 

In my room, I found a small satchel in the armoire and filled it with a spare set of clothes, along with my stolen knife. It was a pitiful blade, but a piece of cutlery was better than nothing. Just in case I was ever allowed to go — and had to leave at a moment’s notice. 

Just in case. “

While Tamlin suggests that Feyre is not his prisoner, but rather a means to an end in regards to satisfaction within the treaty, she is physically bound to the lands of the Spring Court. Curiosity pushes her to test these boundaries and exploration of the woods and gardens lends itself to meetings with lesser fairies and creatures that have deviant intentions, putting her into danger that is the stuff nightmares are made of. But Feyre is able to gather some information about the world she is now living in, and does her best to use it to her advantage – ever on the offensive.

Despite her best efforts to the contrary, Feyre finds herself drawn to the brooding and handsome Tamlin. Moody and temperamental he may be, she is also privy to a quiet kindness that remains hidden behind a mysterious mask of propriety and ancient custom. The mansion is all but deserted, and as Feyre continues to ferret information from the remaining inhabitants, she learns of a curse put upon the lands and it’s High Lord. Little does she know, she plays a large part in that curse, but the breaking of it will require skills Feyre may not possess in her arsenal.

When  a chance meeting with a peculiar and sharp-tongued stranger leaves Feyre unnerved, she chooses to withdraw into Tamlin’s embrace rather than go with her instincts and push for more information. The stranger, however, continues to plague her thoughts and when he shows up again with clear news of an immediate threat, Feyre is haunted. The blight upon the Spring Court’s lands is spreading and the only way to break the curse is to go to its source — to a wicked queen named Amarantha, who resides Under the Mountain, in the bowels of darkness and despair. To protect the woman he now cares for, Tamlin spirits Feyre back across the wall to her abandoned family, attempting to hide her among her own people so that she may be shielded from the fight that is sure to come. But soon after arriving back home, Feyre realizes that her feelings for Tamlin have shifted from soft affection and instinctual lust into something more akin to . . . love.

After rushing back to the Spring Court to declare her newfound feelings, Feyre is dismayed to find the mansion deserted and torn apart. With the aid of a friend, she makes her way Under the Mountain to confront the evil temptress and retrieve what has been stolen from her.

” ‘Take me to her,’ I insisted.

If Amarantha ripped out my throat, at least I would die doing something for him — at least I would die trying to fix the destruction I hadn’t prevented, trying to save the people I’d doomed. At least Tamlin would know it was for him, and that I loved him. 

Alis studied me for a moment before her eyes softened. ‘As you wish.’ “

A Court of Thorns and Roses is the first installment of a series of books by New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas. There are currently three Court books in publication. While these three are centered around Feyre and her adventures within the High Courts, her story is assumed to be wrapped up at the end of the third book. The series will continue next year with spin-off stories from other beloved characters featured in the books. Maas earned renown for her epic Throne of Glass series set in a fantasy world that runs parallel to the Court’s Fae-ruled society, and the fandoms surrounding both series are extensive and seriously supportive. A Court of Thorns and Roses is a modern-day take on Beauty and the Beast, but with a lot of clever twists and turns.

While the age of the main character often dictates the genre of the book and A Court of Thorns and Roses is typically classified as a Young Adult novel, I do not recommend this series to anyone under the age of 16, due to the nature of hot-hot-hot graphic sex and some violence. I give A Court of Thorns and Roses 4.5 out of 5 stars, and I have to tell you — if you even remotely like this book, you must read the sequel, A Court of Mist and Fury. The sequel is one of the best fantasy books I have ever read and kept me neatly enthralled for days. I highly recommend it. The latest book, A Court of Wings and Ruin recently came to bookshelves and fans going crazy for it.

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Review: Alice – The Wanderland Chronicles

Alice : The Wanderland Chronicles

by J.M. Sullivan

” ‘Rule number one: Always protect your queen.’ “

Alice Carroll is desperate.

A plague has been sweeping her city for an incalculable amount of time and although she and her sister have been able to avoid it up until now, death has now come knocking on their door. Trapped in a town that was once the flourishing and active site of a suburb set outside of Phoenix,  Alice has spent months watching as the people around her have fallen into complete complacency about the impending doom lurking right outside the walls that surround their metropolis. The population of her sector has fooled themselves into believing that the plague cannot darken their doorsteps, and that becoming one of the dreaded “momeraths” could not possibly happen to them.

” Like Dinah says, ‘We can only play the cards we’ve been dealt. It doesn’t do any good to wish about things you can’t change.’ “

After a scouting expedition leads Alice and her older sister Dinah outside of the confines of the sector, Alice is forced to helplessly watch as her sister falls victim to the fearful sickness that has been claiming lives all over the state. The MR-V virus attacks every system inside of their host, turning them into bloodthirsty violent killers who cannot be contained or satisfied. When Dinah begins to exhibit the signs of being a carrier for the fatal virus, Alice knows she has to do something. She’s heard whispers of a doctor miles away who is working towards a cure, and her mission is clear – she must find this man and beg for his help. Dinah is all she has left in this world and she refuses to lose her.

Leaving her precious Dinah in the care of a friend inside the sector, Alice sets out for the place that was once the thriving city of Phoenix, determined to find answers. Soon after arrival she is accosted by one of the terrible monsters that give her nightmares – a momerath set on tasting her blood and claiming her life in the process. Lucky for her, a chance encounter with a handsome (if somewhat erratic) young man named Chess leads her to temporary safety where she can formulate the next phase of her plan. But once she eventually finds the doctor she is looking for, Alice is dismayed to discover that he is scatterbrained and in a near constant state of confusion — and he insists that there is no cure for the disease that her sister is suffering from.

” ‘How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tale, and pour the waters of the Nile on every golden scale.’ His eyes flicked meaningfully from the book to Alice before he continued. ‘How cheerfully he seems to grin, how neatly spreads his claws, and welcomes little fishes in , with gently smiling jaws.’ Bug set the journal on his desk and gazed at Alice intently. Unable to decipher anything, she felt dumb. Clearly, it wasn’t the reaction Bug was hoping for. He sighed, then stood to pat her on the shoulder. ‘You’ll figure it out. but remember to be vigilant. Momerath can show up at any moment, and they’ll be hunting you.’ “

Alice finds herself wrapped up in the curious mystery surrounding Borogove Industries, a scientific research lab that sanctioned the creation of the drug that was eventually turned into the virus and subsequent plague. Her hunt leads her to the threshold of a woman thought to be sponsoring the creation of an antidote,  a woman reverently named The Red Queen. But while Alice hopes to find help and guidance from the woman in charge, she instead faces yet another challenge — mostly in controlling her temper. Alice doesn’t agree with the atrocities she experiences while under the Red Queen’s care, and fights to escape the false safety of the camp. After proving her worth and striking a bargain, Alice sets out once again, this time with the assistance of a team of elite soldiers that work under the tyrannical and deviant Queen’s employ. Alice storms the lab of Borogove in search of answers and a cure and as she unravels the convoluted riddle of the momerath disease, Alice finds herself plunging deeper into the heart of the matter than she ever intended. The path to salvation is wrought with puzzles and horrors, including an enlightening meeting with Dr. Matthew Hatta, creator of the drug, and Alice is forced to make some difficult decisions that will cling to the edges of her nightmares for years to come.

” ‘What about family?’ she asked. ‘And love?’

A wistful look flitted across Hatta’s features before he carefully arranged them back in place. ‘People get too invested in emotions,’ he said briskly. ‘It hinders them from processing information objectively and responding accordingly.’ 

‘But without emotions, what’s the point?’ she asked. Though she rarely got caught up in emotion, it didn’t mean she didn’t recognize their   value.  “

When the truth comes out, Alice is more confused than ever but stays the course — her eyes on the prize. She must get back to Dinah as soon as she can. Her sister’s life and Alice’s future depends on it. But sometimes going down the rabbit hole leads to more twists and turns than one may expect, and finding your way out of the darkness can prove to be nearly impossible.

Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles is the debut novel from American author, J.M. Sullivan. As far as debuts go, Sullivan has gotten off to a great start in a series that is sure to be a curious addition to any mid-grade to YA reader’s library. Twisted tales are all the rage and while Sullivan could stand to push the envelope more with cleverness and parallels, the story was fresh and inspired. With the exception of a few out-of-place curse words, this novel is appropriate for those ages 10+. I give the book 3 out of 5 stars; I was hoping for a bit more expansion on the characters and there were more than a few plot holes. It is my understanding that this is set to be a series of books (if the cliffhanger is any indication) and am hoping for a bit more depth in the next installment. Readers who enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles are encouraged to give this novel a try.

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Recommendation: Along Came A Spider

Along Came a Spider

by James Patterson

” One of the techies handed me a report to sign as I left the Sanders house. 

I signed it my usual way — with a †.

Cross. 

Tough guy from the tough part of town. Right. “

I love getting swept up in a good mystery.

As a patron of James Patterson’s elite brand of twisting and turning mysteries for years, I have developed a familiar affection for Detective Alex Cross. A few movies have been made portraying the strong, male character, but I’ve never felt that they truly capture the essence that is the notoriously persistent and skilled detective and Washington D.C. native. Alex is sexy and empathetic. He feels things, especially the victims he is fighting for and for the residents of the city he has chosen to live in. . . he is attune to their pain and he won’t quit until he’s done them justice. He’s an exemplary father, and takes cares of those in his immediate family with as much tender-loving-care as any man could. He is a loyal best friend who will, quite literally, take a bullet for his partner if need be. He’s just the sort of man I love to read about. He’s the sort of man that we should have more of.

The life and times of Detective Alex Cross have been chronicled by mystery-master James Patterson over the course of 27 (and counting) novels. But the first – the introduction – is Along Came a Spider.

School is a place that’s supposed to be unwaveringly safe. And as a parent in an affluent community, there should be zero question that  you should be able to drop your children off and go on your merry way; with zero question as to if your child will be protected or not. Money can buy anything, right? With money comes power and with such things, security and well-being become  a given. When you spend thousands of dollars a year on your child’s private education. . .a fancy building in a well-to-do neighborhood with teachers who are specially chosen for their innumerable talents in each subject, you have paid for the best and as such, shall receive it — right?

Wrong.

When the unthinkable happens – two children kidnapped right from school – the prominent and wealthy niche of Washington D.C. is shocked. Especially when the news coming across the waves is accusing a teacher of being the criminal culprit.

” Soneji climbed into the front and fired up the blue van. As he drove from the parking area, he sang “Magic Bus” by The Who. He was in an awfully good mood today. He was planning to be America’s first serial kidnapper, among other things. “

Alex Cross, a local homicide investigator and forensic psychologist, is called in to take over the case. He’s currently in the field working a string of the recent brutally violent murders of black prostitutes in the poorer part of D.C. He’s not particularly thrilled when he’s forced to abandon his ongoing case, especially when he sees how much media attention the kidnappings are garnering. Why is the snatch and grab of a couple of white kids more newsworthy than the murders of black women in the wrong part of D.C.? Irritated and angry, Alex struggles to switch gears and quickly partners up  with blonde and ambitious Secret Service agent Jezzie Flannagan. As head of the detail that was assigned to keep the children safe, she is having  hard time accepting her failure. With the other case reluctantly put on the back-burner, Alex enlists Jezzie’s help in putting the pieces together and working fast to catch a kidnapper.

” Jezzie Flannagan stayed behind. ‘I’ve heard about you, Detective Cross, now that I think of it. You’re the psychologist. There was an article in the Washington Post. ‘ She smiled nicely, a demi-smile. 

I didn’t smile back. ‘You know newspaper articles,’ I told her. ‘Usually a pack of half-truths. In that case, definitely some tall tales.’

‘I’m not so sure about that,’ she said. ‘Nice to meet you, anyway.’ Then she walked into the office behind Secretary Goldberg, the mayor, and the star FBI agent. Nobody invited me — the psychologist-detective of magazine fame. Nobody invited Sampson.

Monroe did poke his head out. “Stick around, you two. Don’t make any waves. Don’t get pissy, either. We need you here. I need to talk with you, Alex. Stay put. Don’t get pissy.’

Sampson and I tried to be good cops. We stood around outside the headmaster’s office for another ten minutes. Finally, we left our posts. We were feeling pissy. 

I kept seeing the face of little Mustaf Sanders. Who was going to go and find this killer? No one. Mustaf had already been forgotten. I knew that would never happen with the two private-school children. “

Meanwhile in the undisturbed country outside of the city proper, Gary Soneji believes himself to be in the midst of a perfect crime that will gain him prestige and fame for decades to come. An obsession with high profile kidnappings has led him on a quest to carve his own place out in history as a brilliant criminal. He has the two missing children locked in makeshift coffins in the ground at an old farmhouse, and he’s beginning his plan to extort money from their wealthy and high-profile parents by way of ransom. But after hearing some disparaging remarks about himself over the news by a FBI agent, Soneji’s plan takes a turn. He cannot allow these terrible things to be said about him on such a public platform — he cannot allow his image of a criminal mastermind to be tainted. Clad in a clever disguise, he murders the agent in question, the dumping of his body helping to soothe Soneji’s maniacally hurt pride.

As the investigation into the slippery Soneji continues, Alex and Jezzie begin to grow closer. Despite the attraction he has to wonder – is it a mistake to get so close to her so soon? Something about Jezzie is off, but Alex can’t quite put his finger on it. He’s enjoying the comfort and thrill of the relationship, something he hasn’t had in his life for a while now.  He’s also trying to keep a firm eye on the kidnapping case, but his attempts at victim retrieval are foiled when he attempts to trade ransom for one of the children, but has the money stolen from him instead. And as more murders relating the kidnappings occur, Alex is stunned to discover that he may be on the trail of solving not one – but two – cases at the same time.

In a classic tale of cat and mouse, Alex Cross is determined to have closure with the spider whose web he’s been caught in for over a year. The fast-paced style of James Patterson will at times leave readers breathless as one facet of the investigation is laid to rest but many more questions are raised. Who is Gary Soneji? Where are the missing children? And what is Jezzie Flannagan hiding?

I give Along Came a Spider 4.5 out of 5 stars. I have been a fan of James Patterson for many years now and Alex Cross is by far my favorite of his characters. My only regret for Alex is that he has such a hard time with his love life. Patterson could stand to give him a break every now and then. Patterson writes intelligent and crafty mysteries and never disappoints me, much like another mystery author I love – Patricia Cornwell. The books are quick and easy to get through and perfect to curl up with on a dark and stormy night.

Fans of Alex Cross can continue the journey with their favorite D.C. detective and jazz-playing good guy with:

  1. Along Came a Spider
  2. Kiss the Girls
  3. Jack & Jill
  4. Cat & Mouse
  5. Pop Goes the Weasel
  6. Roses Are Red
  7. Violets Are Blue
  8. Four Blind Mice
  9. The Big Bad Wolf
  10. London Bridges
  11. Mary, Mary
  12. Alex Cross
  13. Double Cross
  14. Cross Country
  15. I, Alex Cross
  16. Cross Fire
  17. Kill Alex Cross
  18. Alex Cross, Run
  19. Cross My Heart
  20. Hope To Die
  21. Cross Justice
  22. Cross Kill
  23. Cross The Line
  24. Detective Cross
  25. The People vs. Alex Cross (due out in November 2017)

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Review: Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies

by Liane Moriarty

“Pirriwee Public School

. . . where we live and learn by the sea!

Pirriwee Public is a BULLY-FREE ZONE!

We do not bully.

We do not accept being bullied.

We never keep bullying a secret. 

We have the courage to speak up if we see our friends bullied. 

We say NO to bullies!”

I love it when I’m turned on to an author I have not previously read. The majority of the books I decide to read either come from a recommendation or from stellar cover art that catches my eye as I browse my local book store. As Big Little Lies premiered on HBO earlier in the year, I was bombarded with social media postings surrounding the new hit mystery-dramedy and asked many times – “Have you read this book?” My answer was sadly a resounding NO. Not only had I not read this book, but I had never read anything by it’s author, Liane Moriarty.

I have been a reader since I was a very young child, using books as an escape from a scarring childhood and bringing them on as lifelong companions into my teenage years and adulthood. I devour books like some devour cheesecake (not that I would know anything about devouring cheesecake. . .) but I also understand that many are not the same way. Reading can, for some, be an intimidating and daunting task. Most believe they don’t have the time to read or that reading is hard. One great thing about a good book is that it will sometimes be turned into a television show or a movie, and people always seem to have time for those. . .so it’s kind of like reading, only watching. I always hope that when someone sees a show that they really love, that they will go back and read the book. The book is always better. Always. Seriously, ALWAYS. The little nuances that you love about the characters are always magnified in books, and if you have seen the program before reading, then you have a wonderful visual image to prop up in your mind and help you move along. It’s like getting to know someone on a deeper level. It’s going on a second date. It’s just better.

I watched the HBO series before reading the book. I spent a weekend binging on the 7-hour miniseries after being hooked and intrigued after the first 15 minutes. I would have watched the show in it’s entirety regardless, but add in some Alexander Skarsgård? Even as a (really) bad guy? I’m all in. No questions asked. And I am happy to report that I enjoyed the series as much as I loved the book.

Big Little Lies chronicles the lives of 3 women over the span of a few months.

” ‘Oh, sure, sure. I’m not saying I didn’t have support. I had my parents to help me too. But my God, there were some nights, when Abigail was sick, or when I got sick, or worse, when we both got sick, and . . . Anyway.’ Madeline stopped and shrugged. ‘My ex is remarried now to someone else. They have a little girl about the same age as Chloe, and Nathan has become father of the year. Men often do when they get a second chance. Abigail things her dad is wonderful. I’m the only one left holding a grudge. They say it’s good to let your grudges go, but I don’t know, I’m quite fond of my grudge. I tend to it like a little pet.’ 

‘I’m not really into forgiveness either,’ said Jane. 

Madeline grinned and pointed her teaspoon at her. ‘Good for you. Never forgive. Never forget. That’s my motto.’ “

Madeline Mackenzie is my spirit animal is a 40-year old mother who doesn’t believe in talking on the phone in the car. She also doesn’t believe that anyone should have to put up with seeing their ex-husband and his (beautifully young) new wife on a regular basis, but unfortunately some things must be endured. With grace. Humility. And in designer footwear. She works part-time to save her sanity, but her life primarily revolves around her two young children with Husband #2 and her teenager with Husband #1. Madeline always tries to maintain an air of positivity and confidence, even when dealing with the minutia that dominates the schoolyard.  She never backs down from a squabble or a perceived injustice — in fact, a good catfight is what gets her blood flowing best.

” ‘Then, years later, I go to this barbecue for a friend’s thirtieth birthday. There’s a cricket game in the backyard, and who’s out there batting in her stilettos, all blinged up, exactly the same, but little Madeline from across the road. My heart just about stopped.’

‘That’s a very romantic story,” said Jane. 

‘I nearly didn’t go to that barbecue,’ said Ed. Jane saw that his eyes were shiny, even though he must have told this story a hundred times before. 

‘And I nearly didn’t go either,’ said Madeline. ‘I had to cancel a pedicure, and I would normally never cancel a pedicure.’

They smiled at each other. 

Jane looked away. She picked up her mug of tea and took a sip even though it was all gone. The doorbell rang. 

‘That will be Celeste,’ said Madeline. 

Great, thought Jane, continuing to pretend-sip her empty mug of tea. Now I’ll be in the presence of both great love and great beauty. 

All around her was color: rich, vibrant color. She as the only colorless thing in this whole house. “

Jane Chapman is a single mother to a beautiful and sweet little boy. She and Ziggy have moved around a lot but have finally settled on a charming seaside town that’s sure to chase all of her worries away. Jane is ready to begin her life with her son anew, but the demons of her past have followed her like a lingering fog. The darkness that shadows her begins to creep towards her son when he is accused of physically assaulting a little girl and fellow classmate on the first day of school. The girl’s mother, alpha-female Renata, makes it her mission to make things as difficult as possible for quiet and docile Jane. Madeline is quickly in her corner, taking up her cause as enthusiastically as she would if she were fighting over a pair of leather pants at a designer sample sale. The secrets that Jane carries are heavy burdens that sit right on her chest at all times . . . she will never be able to forget the abusive and humiliating circumstances surrounding the night Ziggy was conceived, and she is beginning to wonder if wicked behavior is genetic.

” Did she love him as much as she hated him? Did she hate him as much as she loved him? 

‘We should try another counselor,’ she’d said to him early this morning. 

‘You’re right,’ he’d said, as if it were an actual possibility. ‘When I get back. We’ll talk about it then.’

He was going away the next day. Vienna. It was a “summit” his firm was sponsoring. He would be delivering the keynote address on something terribly complex and global. There would be a lot of acronyms and incomprehensible jargon, and he’d stand there with a little pointer, making a red dot of light zip about on the PowerPoint presentation prepared by his executive assistant.

Perry was away often. He sometimes felt like an aberration in her life. A visitor. Her real life took place when he wasn’t there. What happened never mattered all that much because he was always about to leave, the next day or the next week.

How could they admit to a stranger what went on in their marriage? The shame of it. The ugliness of their behavior. They were a fine-looking couple. People had been telling them that for years. They were admired and envied. They had all the privileges in the world. Overseas travel. A beautiful home. It was ungracious and ungrateful of them to behave the way they did.

‘Just stop it,’ that nice eager woman would have surely said, disgusted and disapproving.

Celeste didn’t want to tell her either. She wanted her to guess. She wanted her to ask the right question.

But she never did. ” 

Celeste Wright has it all – stunningly good looks, a devoted husband with a limitless bank account, and two perfect twin boys. But while everything looks immaculate to the outside world, the people closest to her would be shocked if they could see what life is really like just underneath the surface. Celeste and her husband are participants in a very abusive relationship full of physical violence, nerve-wracking panic, and misguided guilt. Perry presents such a flawless picture to those around them that Celeste has to wonder if anyone would even believe her if she tried to genuinely seek help. She’s trapped in her glass house, wrapped in diamonds and furs that hide the bruises but don’t erase them.

All three of the women have children who are attending the picturesque and peppy Pirriwee Public School, and that is the common denominator that brings them together, but certainly not what keeps them them from drifting apart. Each of the women seems to take a piece of the other in an effort to complete themselves in some ramshackle way: Madeline craves the wealth and devotion Celeste is blessed with, Jane envies the confidence and general sparkle of Madeline’s loud life, and Celeste longs for a loving relationship and a quiet atmosphere much like the lives her friends lead. If the three women would truly be honest with each other, perhaps they would see that none of their lives are the faultless and exemplary facade perpetually on display.

The novel changes hands with point of view between the three women and is peppered with testimony from outsiders of their group within the community. Readers will soon discover that something nefariously criminal has occurred within the small confines of the elementary school crowd – a murder. But who has been murdered, by whom, and for what reason, remains a mystery until the end, shocking not only readers but also the town. The undercurrent of small lies turns into a tsunami of bigger ones, and no one is safe from the wreckage.

I give Big Little Lies 5 out of 5 stars, and I can honestly say that I loved this book. The humor was spot on – from the accurate descriptions of elementary school carpool and the ridiculous politics of the schoolyard, to the jealousy surrounding a young wife and an ex-husband, I was left chuckling more than once. I was particularly tickled by the exchanges between Madeline and her ex-husband; I could wholeheartedly relate. In complete balance to the humor, the darkness of the abusive relationship between Perry and Celeste was portrayed in a very interesting light; I truly felt as if the author did her research and due diligence. The voice of Celeste was as similar to a woman caught up in horribly abusive situation as it could be. Moriarty delved into not only the physical aspects of abuse but also the mental and emotional particulars, which are sometimes even more damaging than the bruises left behind. Readers might be interested in an interview given by Alexander Skarsgård, the actor who plays Perry, where he describes his take on the controversial character and his approach to the acting — found here.

The mystery and the way it was presented was unique and while I admit, I figured out who did what and to whom pretty early on,  that didn’t stop me from wanting to know the details. I also found that the show followed the book as closely as possible, with a few extra storylines that didn’t take away from the original manuscript. I am anxious to read more from the author and already have several of her books on my list, including My Husband’s Secret which comes highly recommended to me by several bookish friends.

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Recommendation: Weekend In Paris

Weekend In Paris

by Robyn Sisman

” People can be so frightened of failing that they do nothing, or choose something so dull they have no chance of shining. “

Not every book is meant to be meaty and award-winning, like the classic War & Peace. Not every book is meant to invoke deep and delicious feelings of unrequited attachment or passionate love at first sight. Not every book is meant to be the one that you grab off the shelf a hundred times until it’s literally falling apart from the spine on out.

Weekend in Paris, by the late Robyn Sisman, is not one of those books. But it is a fun, flirty, and whimsical tale of a young woman who rushes off to Paris to begin a lifelong transformation – and what girl doesn’t dream of that? It’s a book you can throw in your handbag before you hop in the car with your family and take a nice, long road trip. It’s a book you can giggle with and appreciate for it’s silly and fanciful nature. It reads easy and light, as most chick-lit books should.

Perky and youthfully optimistic Molly Clearwater has high hopes for herself. There have been a few wobbly moments since she made the move into trendy and exciting London from her small town, but she is keeping a clear head and moving forward. Sure, her boss, the ever grumpy and somewhat misguided Malcolm Figg, thinks (and often, actually says) that she’s nothing but a typical stupid secretary. He’s probably just feeding into the stereotypes about blondes, and Molly is sure that someday soon he will recognize her full potential and begin showing her some respect. She’s always been a very careful and cautious young lady, and her arrival into adulthood is no different. She plays by the rules and makes sure that all I’s are dotted and all T’s crossed, but that doesn’t stop her from dreaming that one day she could be more than just the reliably simple girl next door.

When Malcolm commands her to book a trip to Paris for a medical conference and insists upon her coming along for the ride, Molly is ecstatic. She’s never been to the glamorous city of fashion, food, and French kissing, and so of course she would be delighted to go – what girl wouldn’t? And all on the company’s dime as well! She cannot wait to begin a weekend full of enacting as much joie de vivre as humanly possible. If there is one place that you can let loose and reinvent yourself (if only for the weekend) – it’s Paris. Never mind what the gossip around the office about Malcolm is. . .she’s sure that he couldn’t possibly be expecting “a physical reward” for his allowing her to accompany him on his business trip.

 But unfortunately for Molly, that is exactly what Mr. Figg is expecting of her. When he makes a crass pass at her just before they are due to leave, she knows what she must do. He’s called her his “stupid secretary” one too many times, and she’s got to begin standing up for herself or else she just won’t be able to look at herself in the mirror.  With the false confidence she is so desperately holding on to, she decides that she has to begin behaving like the woman she wants to be, and the woman she wants to be wouldn’t take this sort of nonsense from anyone – let alone her boss.

Dear Mr. Figg,

Conscious as I am of the honor of working for Phipps Lauzer Bergman, the time has come for me to move on to a position where my talents will be more fully appreciated and deployed. I accepted this job under the misapprehension that its demands would be concomitant with my educational qualifications. Thank you for opening my eyes. I apologize for wasting your valuable time with my suggestions for improving the efficiency (not to mention the literacy) of the department. For my part, the time has not been entirely unprofitable, as I have been able to gather much useful raw material for my first novel. 

As of today I am formally resigning as so-called “Marketing Officer” and taking the holiday owed to me in lieu of notice. It will therefore not be possible for me to attend the Paris conference as planned, but no doubt you will manage perfectly well without the help of someone who is just “a stupid secretary.” 

Yours sincerely,

Molly Clearwater (BA Hons)

It was a magnificent letter, if she said so herself. Even Malcolm Figg would feel chastened when he read it. She had been right to stand up for herself. Definitely. To wait until Malcolm was temporarily out of his office, then gather her belongings, press “Send” and sweep out of the office for good was positively heroic. In a film, there would have been a “go, girl” music and the whole staff would have stood to cheer her exit. “

Ahhh, but Paris! A weekend in Paris! Should she throw caution to the wind and just go anyway? Everyone already thinks she’s going there so she won’t be missed (except, maybe, by her well-meaning, if a bit overprotective mother) and. . .well, she’s already got it all planned. Except now. . .she doesn’t have the “where to stay” part sorted. and the fact that she doesn’t know a soul there could be a problem but. . . why not? Standing at the train station with the Eurostar so close, her suitcase packed, and a ball of determination settled firmly in her stomach, Molly decides to be the heroine of her own story and take a chance on herself, and on the famed City of Lights.

Minutes into her ascent on Paris, Molly meets a loud and enchanting young woman who whisks her off to a party, where she is introduced to a motley crew of the most fashionable people she has ever met – literally. She is captivated by the impetuousness of her new friend, and is determined that some of Alicia’s wild spontaneity and overall fabulousness will rub off on her. It doesn’t take long for fresh-faced Molly to meet up with a darkly handsome French man and she instantly begins falling head over heels. Fabrice is dangerous and intriguing, and once she hops onto the back of his motorcycle, she is thrilled to find herself transformed from a run-of-the-mill secretary into a sexy and interesting woman of the world. Fabrice is an artist in a city full of dreamers and creative geniuses, and Molly surprises herself by allowing him to draw her, allowing herself to be swept up in the romance of it all. Paris has a way of casting a spell over those who let it.

” He propped the bike steady and climbed off himself. Molly felt his fingers flutter against her cheek as he undid her helmet and removed it. He smoothed back her hair carefully, a palm on either side of her head. ‘You know, Molly, you are very beautiful.’

‘No, I’m not,’ she whispered. 

‘I like your hair. And your little English nose.’ He ran a finger down it. 

‘That tickles.” 

‘And your smile,’ A knuckle brushed her mouth. 

Her eyelids drooped. She was melting, turning to butter. Then his lips were on hers, warm and searching. He pulled her tight and pressed harder, sliding his tongue into her mouth, tugging and twining until her head sank back in surrender and her body arched into his. “

But all spells must be broken and soon enough, Malcolm Figg reenters Molly’s life with all of the darkness and negativity of a heavy raincloud. She must enroll her newfound friends into a wildly intricate scheme to fully rid herself of him and in the process, finds out much more than she intended about herself and interestingly enough, about her past. Molly finds that in leaving home behind and jetting off to Paris that she has instead come full circle.  Molly’s  transition from the careful and curiously cautious Ingénue into a sparkling and truly confident bonafide woman means realizing (and accepting)  that she is extraordinary all on her own. Paris simply caused the magic that was already inside of her to wake up.

Weekend In Paris is the charming story of a young woman’s awakening and the steps she takes to reach it. Some experiences are full of silly comic relief, and some are filled with the dawning realization that things are not always as they seem to be. It is the quintessential tale of romance in the famed city of Paris and all of the excitement that it comes wrapped up in. I give Weekend in Paris 4 stars and recommend it to readers of Sophie Kinsella and Meg Cabot; and anyone who wants to skip town and reinvent themselves. . .if only for the weekend.

R.I.P 

Robyn Sisman 

08/04/49 – 05/20/16

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Review: Kill All Happies

Kill All Happies

by Rachel Cohn

” If this party was a mess, it was my mess, and I had it under control. 

Mostly under control. 

Partly under control. 

Not really at all under control. “

Victoria Navarro has just graduated high school and is looking for a way to make the moment count. With one of her best friends jetting off to spend a year doing humanitarian work in Africa, and her own impending departure to San Francisco (thus completely dismantling the trio of girlfriends that have dubbed themselves “The Cuddle Huddle”), Vic is anxious to create some long-lasting memories and blow out of town with a bang. And it is imperative that she have her best friends, Fletch and Slick, right by her side.

Rancho Soldado, her sleepy hometown located in the shadow of Las Vegas, is just as ready for a big blow-out as she is. Happies, their resident safe place and iconic, tourist claim-to-fame, is closing up shop under the black cloud of bankruptcy. Bev Happie is ready to leave her childhood behind her and at the tender age of 75, is set on moving to Florida to begin anew with money made from the sale. Happies has been an institution in the town since her toddler years and although she’s sad to see it end, Bev has no idea how to make things work anymore. Rancho is just far enough off the map that tourism has tapered off steadily enough over the years and  hardly anyone comes through anymore – except the diehard Happies fans who are obsessed with the nostalgia that lives within the four walls of the restaurant and attached theme park.

When Bev finally gives in to Vic’s insistent begging, an idea is born. Vic is going to throw the biggest send-off party her town has ever seen; both for Happies and the graduating class. She will be able to say goodbye to life as she’s known it in style and maybe, just maybe, she’ll finally be able to hook up with the guy she’s had her eyes on for years.

” In a week, I was leaving Rancho Soldado, probably for good. In my eighteen years of living in this podunk desert nowhere, I hadn’t done a single thing for my town to remember me by, despite my many appearances at Town Council meetings with suggestions for improvements that Thrope made sure were never acted on. 

That could all change tonight. We’d party like Thrope never existed. We’d pretend a version of Rancho Soldado could exist without her overlord tyranny.

Last Call at Happies, brought to you by Victoria Navarro, who will at least give her friends and classmates one final celebration to remember her by, and bring Annette Thrope’s senior class party at Happies nightmares to fruition one last time. “

Getting everything put together on short notice isn’t going to be easy, especially with Vic’s arch nemesis, Miss. Ann Thrope dogging her every step. Thrope has been looking for any opportunity to ruin her life for years and Vic just knows that if her old teacher gets wind of the party-of-the-century due to debut this weekend, all bets will be off. Fortunately for the Senior Class, Vic Navarro has never backed down from a chance to undermine her sworn enemy. Life is looking up.

But as the party begins, it’s just one problem after another:

  • Jake, Vic’s love interest and Slick’s older brother, is in charge of the beer (courtesy of his broke-down car turned beer truck, christened The Chug Bug) but she can’t seem to get him alone. And everything has to be on the down-low because Slick has expressly forbid her best friend from touching her brother.
  • Evergrace Everdell, the weird and annoying homeschooled kid who wasn’t invited, shows up anyway and starts causing trouble. She’s spouting off nonsense about Vic not knowing the truth about her best friends, and it’s making her uneasy.
  • Zeke, the tall and emo brother to her crush, keeps following her around trying to be the voice of reason. Once he throws her cell phone into the night in an attempt to force her into having fun, she’s technologically crippled and becomes unable to find her friends in the growing crowd.
  • And despite orders that the party be kept as secret as possible and no social media posts made, everyone has blasted the news that last call at Happies is happening now. The result is tons of Happies fans have descended upon the town  and broken into the long since condemned and off-limits theme park in back of the old restaurant – breaking the one rule Bev gave to Vic in exchange for giving her a location for the party.

All hell has officially broken loose.

Don’t throw a party just to impress a guy.

I should have heeded my sister’s advice. How could this night suck more? ” 

Will Vic be able to find her friends and put some troubling rumors to rest? Will she finally be able to share more than a stolen kiss with the guy she’s been crushing on for years, without her best friend finding out? Will she be able to keep the party under control long enough that someone doesn’t inadvertently set the place on fire? Will she be able to host this evening of debauchery under Thrope’s nose and pull of the con of all cons?

And will she actually be able to say goodbye to Happies and Rancho Saldado for good?

Kill All Happies is the new book from Rachel Cohn, an author best known for her work on Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Gingerbread. She is a writer who celebrates a strong, female protagonist and Vic Navarro, star of Kill All Happies, is no exception. Cohn has a way of offering interesting and quirky characters that readers will enjoy getting to know. While Kill All Happies does indeed have several of these wonderful additions (Zeke, the punk-rocker with a heart of gold; Chester, the stoner older brother with a few surprises up his sleeve; Mayor Jerry, the resident hippie) I found that the antagonist, Miss. Ann Thrope, was sorely lacking. I would have loved for her to be a meatier villain with more depth – and I also would have enjoyed a stronger resolution between  Vic and her mortal enemy. In fact, I would have preferred a stronger resolution for many things at the closing of the story. I was left wanting so much more.

Rating this book a 3.5 stars out of 5 is hard, because I did enjoy the story a lot. What I didn’t enjoy was what I felt to be an excessive use of profanity that in my opinion, dumbed the characters down. Not all teenagers feel the need to drop the F-bomb every other word just to get their points across, and I always find myself a bit annoyed when authors assume this. It’s as if they have in their head that this is how a teenager speaks, and so they elaborate upon that dialect. Another issue I had was while I appreciate a bit of reckless debauchery as a rite of passage for any kid in the middle of that awkward transition from older teenager to adult, I was a bit put off by the careless mentions of casual sex and hookups. I’m not an idiot, I know teenagers have sex, but I had a hard time believing that the majority of girls feel so unemotional about it. I think the author was using casual sex as a way to empower Vic and instead, it just made her appear a bit disconnected. Maybe I’m old and out of touch, but as the mother to a teenage daughter, it just seemed odd.

I loved – loved – loved the nostalgic feel of Happies and wish there was more background on the place that brought so many people – from all over the United States – together. It sounds like a place I would personally love to visit. Bev Happie was charming and a true staple in her community, which made it surprising that Rancho Saldado was okay with the place being closed down. But because Happies was so beloved, I had a hard time understanding how the devoted Happies fans would come into the old theme park and begin virtually destroying it via vandalism. It didn’t quite make sense and was out of place.

I recommend Kill All Happies to YA readers 16 and up, due to the language and sexual conversations. Please be advised that no actual sex is involved ( just talk of it, and is not graphic in nature).

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Recommendation: The Undomestic Goddess

The Undomestic Goddess

by Sophie Kinsella

As I sat down to make my recommendation today, I was having a hard time.

One goal with this year’s blog is to not repeat authors. That is already proving to be difficult; as I have weekly combed through my extensive library of over 700 books, looking for just the right title to recommend to my loyal readers, I have learned one very obvious thing – I get attached. By that I mean, once I have read a book and I enjoy it, I will then go out and buy every single book that author has written. And I particularly love series. I could spend nearly four months recommending Sookie Stackhouse novels for you. But I can’t do that because. . . I just really don’t want to repeat authors, with as many talented writers as there are out there.

So anyway, I sat down with a stack of Sophie Kinsella books and spent a good hour trying to figure out which one to recommend. I was originally going to fill the author’s space on my blog this year by reviewing one of her books that I have not yet read and desperately want to – Finding Audrey, the YA tale of a girl suffering from anxiety; something that is very near and dear to my heart. But I have so many wonderful authors already lined up for reviews, I decided I would fill my terribly lacking recommendation slot instead.

But which one to choose? Kinsella has written a whopping 25 novels (both as herself and under her nom de plume, Madeline Wickham) and I have loved so many! I mean hello – Shopaholic?! Remember Me?! Twenties Girl?! You see my dilemma.

I finally decided on a book that I picked up last summer off the clearance section at my local Half Price Books and devoured in less than a week (I had lots of reading time last summer, as my newborn nursed literally every two hours, for 40 minutes each time). This book kept me giggling, nodding my head in agreement, and generally smiling as I made my way through it.

So, today’s recommendation is The Undomestic Goddess, by Sophie Kinsella.

Samantha Sweeting is in denial that she’s a workaholic. Sure, she measures every single minute she spends in the office and catalogs her progress obsessively – she is paid by the six-minute increment, after all. No, she hasn’t taken a vacation in years – she can barely find time to get her nails done (and that’s only if her best friend bodily drags her away from her desk). Of course she spends 8. . .10. . .12. . .okay, 15 hours a day at work. She’s an attorney trying to make partner, and so it just makes sense that she spend most of her time trying to stay on top of things. And it’s not as if she has much to go home to anyway; in fact, she has nothing waiting on her at home (unless you count the nosy neighbor who lives down the hall).

” ‘Your job is obviously very pressured.’

‘I thrive under pressure,’ I explain. Which is true. I’ve known that about myself every since. . .

Well. Ever since my mother told me, when I was about eight. You thrive under pressure, Samantha. Our whole family thrives under pressure. It’s like our family motto or something. 

Apart from my brother Peter, of course. He had a nervous breakdown. But the rest of us. “

But sometimes all work and no play can make for a few careless mistakes. As Samantha realizes with growing dread that an oversight has cost her client upwards of £50,000, she goes into panic-mode. Instead of fighting, she chooses flight, and off she walks straight out of her office at Carter Spink, down to the station and eventually hopping on a train bound for nowhere.

Samantha distractedly unloads herself at the last stop makes her way through town in a daze, desperately running things over in her mind and trying to figure out what to do to amend the situation. Before she knows it, she’s pushing open a wrought iron gate and knocking on the heavy front door of an impressive country home. The woman who answers the door hurriedly ushers her inside, ignoring Samantha’s request for a simple glass of water, and instead tells her some surprising news – Samantha has got the job!

” ‘I’m very grateful, really.’ I manage a half smile. ‘You’ve been very kind, letting me trespass on your evening.’

‘Her English is good, isn’t it?’ Eddie raises his eyebrows at Trish. 

‘She’s English!’ says Trish triumphantly, as though she’s just pulled a rabbit out of a hat. ‘Understands everything I say!’

I am really not getting something here. Do I look foreign?

‘Shall we do a tour of the house?’ Eddie turns to Trish. 

‘Really, it’s not necessary,’ I begin. ‘I’m sure it’s absolutely beautiful –‘

‘Of course it’s necessary!’ Trish stubs out her cigarette. ‘Come on. . .bring your glass!’ 

What Trish and Eddie Geiger are looking for is really quite simple – they need a housekeeper. Someone to do the laundry, dust the mirrors, prepare the lunch, and especially. . . impress their friends and neighbors. Samantha seems so perfect for the job that they can’t help but hire her on the spot. Dazzled by her articulate conversation and very impressive references, they guide her down to her tidy living quarters and insist that she stay the night so that she may begin work immediately the next day. There is no way they can let this highly recommended and beautifully charming young woman leave – especially as she is so accomplished in the culinary arts.

Except, none of that is true. Samantha, overwhelmed by her desire to stay in the quiet, comforting home and hide from her problems has embellished her talents. . . more than a little. She has no idea how to properly make a baked potato, let alone a meal complex enough to be worthy of a five-star restaurant (unlike the Cordon Bleu-trained housekeeper before her).  Her reference is indeed a Lady, but Freya Edgerly is her best friend – not her former boss. And of course she speaks well – she’s British! But Trish and Eddie are just so nice, albeit a little eccentric, and she really has nothing left for her in London anyway. Hiding out in their home seems like the perfect solution to all of her problems.

Except the plan isn’t quite working as she’d thought it would. Sure, she’s got a place to hide, but she has no idea what she’s doing! Samantha is trying so hard that you really feel sorry for her when she fails again and again, but luckily for her – the resident gardener, Nathaniel, is more than willing to help Samantha with anything and everything she needs to learn. Not to mention, the one thing Samantha didn’t lie about was her tenacity and her smarts – two things that are imperative in job so complicated as the one that she signed up for. Eventually, life catches up to Samantha and she must decide which path she wants to spend the rest of her days walking down.

” I don’t know what’s happened. Brown bubbles are expanding out of my gravy saucepan, all over the cooker, and down the sides on the floor. It looks like the porringer in the story of the magic pot that wouldn’t stop making porridge. 

‘Get it off the heat, for God’s sake!’ exclaims Nathaniel, throwing his rucksack aside. He snatches up the pan and moves it to the counter. ‘What on earth is in that?’

‘Nothing!’ I say. ‘Just the usual ingredients. . .’

Nathaniel has noticed the little pot on the counter. He grabs it and takes a pinch between his fingers. ‘Baking soda? You put baking soda in gravy? Is that what they taught you at –‘ He breaks off and sniffs the air. ‘Hang on. Is something burning?’

I watch helplessly as he opens the bottom oven, grabs an oven glove with a practiced air, and hauls out a baking tray covered in what look like tiny black bullets. 

Oh, no. My chickpeas. 

‘What are these supposed to be?’ he says incredulously. ‘Rabbit droppings?’

‘They’re chickpeas,’ I retort. My cheeks are flaming but I lift my chin, trying to regain some kind of dignity. ‘I drizzled them in olive oil and put them in the oven so they could. . .melt.’

Nathaniel stares at me. ‘Melt?’

‘Soften,’ I amend hurriedly.

Nathaniel puts down the tray and folds his arms. ‘Do you know anything about cooking?’

Before I can answer, there’s the most almighty BANG from the microwave. “

What culminates is a hilarious and often cringing account of how Samantha begins to navigate her new life as a not-so-domestic goddess. Kinsella has a way of turning a phrase and painting a picture with rich description that leaves you chuckling and culminates in the endearment of the character(s) to you.

I give The Undomestic Goddess 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to lovers of Meg Cabot, Jennifer Weiner (although Kinsella’s subject matters are less serious than Weiner’s) and general chick-lit. It’s a book you can read quickly and enjoy as much as a slice of freshly baked chocolate cake.

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Review: Scoundrel In Disguise

Scoundrel In Disguise

by Shaela Kay

Sarah waved her hand impatiently in the air. ‘There is no such thing. None of the men I have discouraged are truly in love with me, and I am not in love with any of them.’

Amused, Rex sat back in his chair, contemplating her. ‘They have all been going about it wrong, have they?’

‘Going about what wrong?’

‘Making you fall in love with them.’ “

There are few things that I love more in a good book than a bad boy, especially when he is hiding a heart of gold.

Scoundrel in Disguise certainly lives up to its name, providing a charmingly witty rogue to fall in love with.

The young and bright Miss. Sarah Mendenhall is anxiously awaiting her first social season in London. The prospect of spending her afternoons strolling through the busy city admiring ribbons and hats through spotlessly clean shop windows  and spending her evenings being twirled around a dance floor and admired by a room full of handsome beaux has Sarah positively giddy. She’s dreamed of this since she was a child, growing up along the banks of India, the smell of sweet jasmine a hazy companion to her sharply detailed reveries. And so finally, with the time finally here, she becomes wrapped up in all that society has to offer. But she has made a solitary solemn vow not only to her companion and keeper, Lady Rockwell,  but most importantly to herself – she will not marry any time soon. She will instead focus on enjoyment and pleasure, soaking up everything London has to offer — no matter what man catches her eye.

Sarah throws herself onto the scene like an excitable puppy, barely able to contain her excitement even under the strict eye of her caretaker. Her endless amounts of energy and her broad smiles instantly capture the heart of London society — from the male persuasion, anyway. The females are of course wary, sensing sizable competition in the cheerful brunette, but Sarah is lucky to make the acquaintance of a shy and kind young lady, Rosemary Reed.  The two quickly become friends and confidantes, and even Rosemary is left in awe of Sarah’s ingenuity and outgoing nature. Of course there are a few rotten apples in every bunch, and Sarah has the poor luck of also becoming familiar with Peter Mills, a spoiled and snobbish young man full of derisive conversation and idle gossip. Peter taints Sarah’s splash into society only a tad, because as is befitting her bubbly and flighty personality, Sarah moves on to the next man on her dance card — doing her best to leave the negativity behind her.

” Across the room, Peter Mills leaned casually against the wall and watched the scene before him with amusement. Another young gentleman came and stood beside him, following his gaze. Turning to Peter, the gentleman smiled.

‘Is not Miss. Mendenhall the most enchanting creature you ever beheld?’ His voice betrayed his admiration, and Peter turned his lazy eyes upon him. 

‘She is certainly causing quite a stir in society,’ he agreed. He looked back towards Sarah, whose musical laughter could be heard across the large room. Her cobalt eyes were bright with excitement; she obviously enjoyed the attentions of her many admirers, despite her flippant regard for any of them. She turned her head and caught Peter’s eye just then, and he winked at her. 

Sarah deliberately turned her head. “

But the impression Sarah has made on Peter is one that will follow her throughout the season, unbeknownst to her. For Peter, the activities of the season are nothing but boring traditions and tedious encounters with the same uninspiring women. Sarah has left him intrigued but not so much in the romantic sense, and when he finds out a secret that his old friend Jameson Rex has been fruitlessly attempting to hide, Peter sees an opportunity to exploit the young woman and provide himself with a bit of cruel entertainment. He seizes the moment and latches onto his Rex’s vulnerability, anxious to exploit and tarnish Sarah’s reputation.

Jameson Rex is a gentleman fallen from grace, and almost completely of his own doing. The whispers behind gloved hands and the assumptions made in mixed company have left him a man marked for exclusion. But if being included and free from scandal meant having had made a different choice, Rex would take the ostracism a hundred times over. High society has never meant anything more to him than shallow relationships and stiflingly polite airs. But with the threat of financial ruin on the horizon, and a household to provide for, Rex finds himself in a most inconvenient and wearisome position. He needs a wife. And a rich one at that. Leaving behind the only thing he loves, Rex has made his way into the city and used the last bit of money he has to procure a respectable place to live, where he prepares to engage himself with every eligible lady in town.

Rex is irritated and dismayed to find that his secret has already made its way into London and is circulating like wildfire. Yes, it’s true that he is the caretaker of a child.  Yes it is true that the child was born out of wedlock. A beautiful child. A perfectly sweet little girl named Caroline, who is the very epitome of everything good and pure that her mother possessed.  And while it was unfortunate for him that his uncle (the holder and distributer of the bulk of Rex’s financial means) found out about the child and cut him off monetarily, Rex has a plan. Find a suitable and financially flush wife. End of story.

” But Rex also knew that Peter Mills had connections that might help him. Among Peter’s varied acquaintance were many wealthy women friends — with as little desire to marry as he himself possessed. Women whose wealth and status in society meant that most people turned a blind eye to their actions. 

The thought that had formed in Rex’s mind as he first observed Peter Mills had filled him with abhorrence, but he knew that Peter could help him in ways that others could not. His stomach turned as he considered what he was about to undertake. Desperate times, he rationalized again. 

All this had passed in a moment, and Peter was still leaning forward, waiting for Rex’s reply. 

‘I plan to marry an heiress, of course,’ Rex said with forced calm. “

Regrettably for Rex, this is proving to be a problem. The women of London want hardly anything to do with him, given the scandal swirling around him like the coming breeze. Mothers are clutching their daughters close as if he is no better than a thief, no better than a. . . scoundrel. Following through with his plan is proving to be a difficult task, so when the rich Peter Mills comes to him with a proposition, Rex has no choice but to listen and accept.

The bet is simple : Rex must make Sarah fall in love with him.

The reward: five thousand pounds; a veritable fortune.

While Rex does find the bet to be rather uncouth and certainly not befitting of a gentleman, he is desperate. His little girl is counting on him and he cannot fail her. And so while he begins to woo the spritely and beautiful Miss. Mendenhall, he is working another plan behind the curtain. An old acquaintance is newly in town and she brings new prospects. But while Isabella is attached to an attractive fortune, she is also attached to spite, revenge, and jealousy — and Rex may have bitten off more than he can chew, especially as he is now balancing the two ladies.

Sarah finds Rex to be a perfectly reasonable friend and good man, regardless of what society is whispering about him. She’s heard the rumors and the insults masked behind good manners. Lucky for Rex, Sarah is a simple girl who always looks and tends to believe the good in people, even if it is to her detriment. She has no idea that there is an uncivilized undertone running through the veins of their budding friendship, especially since she enjoys her time with Rex so much. She finds herself looking forward to their driving lessons and her eyes search for his figure every time she enters a ballroom. But if she had fallen in love, wouldn’t she know it?

” ‘You do not believe I am dangerous?’

‘Not in the sense you mean.’

In two steps he was at her side, wrapping his arm around her waist and crushing her to his chest. She gasped, and he reached his other hand up, twisting his fingers into her hair. tipping her head back, he looked into her eyes. A wicked smile slid across his face, and he bent his head down. She turned her face away. 

‘Do you still think that now?’ he murmured, his breath tickling her ear. She trembled, but did not push him away. 

‘Mr. Rex, please — you are a gentleman!’

Rex laughed humorlessly. ‘That is not what I hear.’ “

When Peter Mills decides to up the ante on the bet and forces Rex into an even less desirable position than than the one he’s already in, Rex finds himself hesitating — the money is seeming less important when it comes up against Sarah’s feelings and reputation. Or rather, Rex is beginning to realize that his own feelings are leading him down a path that he did not intend, as he has regrettably found himself caught up in the spell that is Sarah Mendenhall.

But how could he ever expect her to love a scoundrel?

Scoundrel In Disguise is a proper historical romance written by author Shaela Kay. It comes after her first book, A Heart Made of Indigo, which follows the story and romance of Sarah’s brother and is set in India. While young Sarah is a supporting character in A Heart Made of Indigo, Scoundrel In Disguise is a standalone book, and I liked it better. I recommend reading the other if you enjoy the author’s style and are interested in learning more about Sarah.

 The historical references are well-researched and the romance is light and refreshingly full of morality, while the humor is witty and the characters are richly drawn. I really enjoyed this book and feel quite comfortable comparing it to the likes of Jane Austen; the time period is much the same and the romance is very similar. The story flowed brilliantly with almost no lull, and the character development was strong — especially for Sarah — who transformed from a silly and childish girl into an understanding and mature woman. Rex was dashing and full of wit, but I loved seeing his softer side. I am anxiously awaiting the story of Lady Rockwell; the author has teased a telling of the matriarch’s tale and I believe it would be a fine accompaniment to the world Kay has dreamed up.

I give Scoundrel In Disguise 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for anyone who loves a sweet romance with a twist of scandal.