She Regrets Nothing – Review

“Liberty had always been plagued by the sense that her immense privilege meant that she owed some substantial debt. But what exactly she owed, and to whom, was never clear.”

She Regrets Nothing is a coming of age tale set in the world of mass privilege and wealth. The story centers on the Lawrence family, divided nearly twenty years ago with a scandal no one will talk about.

When Liberty Lawrence, finds out they have a cousin living in Michigan, she tries to find out more about their history. And why they have never reached out to the family. But when Laila’s mother dies, leaving her an orphan, Liberty decides enough is enough and works to close the chasm in the family once and for all.

“She was reminded by meeting her cousin that you only had so much time with people, only so many chances to make things right. Holding grudges — as her father had obviously done with his brother — was never worthwhile.”

Laila Lawrence was raised not knowing the wealth her grandfather built in New York. She knew nothing of the lavish lifestyle of her cousins or the comfortable trust fund given to each of them. When she finds out she can’t help but feel that she is being denied her right to her share. She becomes determined to fight her way into the family, whether they welcome it or not.

Her refusal to give up on what she sees as her fair share, threatens to open the scandal that cut her father out of the family in the first place, along with potentially setting off a string of new scandals in her wake.

“Laila’s foremost skill seemed to be burning bridges so thoroughly that there would be no hope of return — perhaps this was her way of daring herself to keep going.”

This book is dripping full of privilege and entitlement. It would be difficult to write the story in a way that didn’t have it. The idea that Laila feels she is owed, with little knowledge of the reason behind why she has been cut out, screams nothing if not entitlement. The decisions she makes paint her in a not very flattering light, one screaming of social climber and a ruthless one at that.

That’s not to say that Laila is the villain of this book. Nearly everyone in the book could be a villain. Certainly none of them are innocent, or unblemished with their own biases that wealth has afforded them. Which makes this book a delightful and intriguing look at that darker unspoken side to wealth.

Dunlop does a fantastic job painting a vivid picture of not just the Lawrence family, but their friends and acquaintances. It’s difficult to really sympathize with any of them, short of Liberty, but even she carries with her a biased view of the world. She loathes the very money that paved the road to her independence, but anyone looking in can see that she wouldn’t be who or where she is without the money. A fact that she seems blinded to.

“It was a rich woman’s paradox: she didn’t need the money, so she didn’t chase it and was therefore followed by it everywhere.”

The fact that Laila is exactly like the rich people who look down on her is irony at it’s finest. She is just as calculating, and willing to act on her impulses and whims as they are. It’s just that she doesn’t have the pillow of wealth to protect her from the consequences and judgment like they do. Which is simply a fascinating look at how we forgive the wealthy for some horrific behaviors and then condemn the poor for behaving in the same manner.

While the book primary focuses on Liberty and Laila, there is a rather interesting examination of men and women. The roles they play, and how wealth drives the power between the genders is raised throughout the plot. There are multiple examples of how differently men and women view marriage and their role within it. While these women have much more power than the average housewife becomes questionable as each back story is revealed and explored.

Woven into this dissection of gender, is the topic of sex and beauty. Laila is clearly the young, vixen-like woman who uses her beauty as a type of currency. Again, she does this with scorn, when Nora, tries to do the same and is forgiven her efforts since she is not as beautiful but infinitely more wealthy. The conversation on beauty and how it is perceived, used and scorned is fascinating in each female characters. Liberty, conversely, is also beautiful, but sees her beauty as a liability and not an asset. But again, her wealth protects her from connotations of spinster or stuck up, and makes her enigmatic and mysterious.

“Betsy often spoke this way of Laila’s looks, as though they were a thing separate from her entirely, something that Betsy had handed down to her and that she now had a responsibility to use properly.”

There are two scenes, separated in the book, that really strike home for me the very dichotomy of Laila and Liberty and how unfairly one is viewed. They both involve sex, and without giving too many details, I found both of these encounters to be somewhat similar, but Laila’s I’m sure is met with more scorn and blame than Liberty’s. These were both powerless women being used by powerful men, yet one is more sympathetic than the other.

“How easily we’ll look past a person’s fatal flaws if their beauty is striking enough.”

This book is full of these dissections and conversations, which are very #richpeopleproblems. There is an elite tone throughout the book that is impossible to ignore, and if you get caught in that scandalous yet superficial plot, it would seem that this book is frivolous and meaningless. However, this book highlights the problems inherent in our society by focusing in on one family. We are more forgiving of wealth, and scorn those seeking it. We are more likely to hold a woman more accountable for her beauty if she uses it in any way that we view as inappropriate. We excuse ruthlessness in a man and condone it in women. We forget the privilege some people are born with and become complicit in their entitlement.

“She found it wearisome how these Manhattan kids congratulated each other so much for winning a hundred-yard dash they’d begun at the ninety-yard line.”

She Regrets Nothing is dark and devious. It is full of delicious scandal. Everything about each character is appalling yet fascinating. This book is for anyone who wants to peel back the shiny veneer on wealth and expose it for all it’s hypocrisy. The ending will shock you and yet is highly satisfying. I thoroughly enjoyed this ride.

Thank you BookSparks and Atria Books for sending me a copy to read, review and promote for #WRC2018.

January Wrap-Up

“You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book!”  ~Dr. Suess

January started off with a BANG!!! I ended December on a roll of fantastic books! And while I wish it could have been all five star reads all through the month, they can’t all be winners…

13/125 – Goodreads Challenge

0 – BookRiot #readharder Challenge

I managed to keep a steady pace of reading, finished 3 books in the #24in48 reading challenge weekend, 2 buddy reads and a book club read! I knocked two more books off of my Netgalley TBR, working my way to that elusive 90% rating. I will get there soon! And, best news of all, managed to get in some personal reading choices. This was important to me, as my reading was all reviews at the end of 2017, and I was starting to feel bogged down.

January summary:

The Hazelwood by Melissa Albert: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Netgalley review

The Power ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Buddy Read

Red Rising by Pierce Brown: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reading Group/reread

Golden Son by Pierce Brown: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reading Group/reread

Morning Star by Pierce Brown: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reading Group/reread

Iron Gold by Pierce Brown: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Just for ME!!!

Match Made in Manhattan by Amanda Stauffer: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

BookSparks #WRC2018 Book

Strangers by Ursula Archer & Arno Strobel: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Black Heart Read Group Read

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Just for ME!!!

Evaporation of Sofi Snow by Mary Weber: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Street Team Read/ #24in48 reading challenge

City of Brass by SA Chakraborty: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Buddy Read/ #24in48 reading challenge

Otherworld by Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

#24in48 reading challenge

Woman Last Seen In Her Thirties by Camille Pagan: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

NetGalley review

I reviewed every book, which met my blog goals, and while I didn’t quite manage to blog at least every other day, I was close. I’ll call that a win! Every review is linked, in case you missed any.

Being on Instagram and participating in buddy reads and reading groups has been a nice new addition to my reading this year. I really only started doing them towards the end of the year last year, and having people to chat with while reading or after, really makes the reading come alive! Especially when its a book like The City Of Brass or Iron Gold, which everyone NEEDS TO READ RIGHT NOW!!!!

I also went to Howler Fest in LA for the launch of Iron Gold, which was amazing and fantastic and I want to go to all the events now!

I’m also looking forward to doing more readathons, keeping my Goodreads goal and working on the Book Riot challenge. I managed to get back on track with writing and having blog goals is helping me stay on track here as well.

How was your January? Did you hit your goals? Tell me all about it! And Happy Reading friends!

The Great Alone – Review

** This review (and the book) will contain possible triggers regarding domestic abuse and violence **

“It’s like his back is broken, Mama had said, and you don’t stop loving a person when they’re hurt. You get stronger so they can lean on you. He needs me. Us.”

So we meet the Allbright family. Ernt and Cora, along with their daughter Lenora, or Leni for short. They find themselves struggling to forge a life in a country torn apart by war and in the midst of social change. Ernt is broken, not adjusting back into everyday life after returning to the States from a POW camp in Vietnam. And while women are burning their bras and marching for change, Cora still can’t get even a credit card without her husband or fathers signature. Cora and Leni need Ernt.

When he receives a letter from the father of a man he served with, offering them land and a home on a piece of property in remote Alaska, Ernt is convinced this is the second chance he needs. That in the great expanse of Alaskan wilderness he will find the peace he is searching for and be able to finally take care of his family. Cora, desperate for the man she feel in love with to return, readily agrees. What they can’t sell, they pack the rest into their VW bus and head North.

“The last frontier was like her dad, it seemed. Larger than life. Expansive. A little dangerous.”

Summer in Alaska is a bit magical. Light that never quite fades, the beauty and majesty of Alaska captivating, enthralling, bewitching. Hannah captures the essence of this lush landscape in her words, and you feel the hope the Allbright’s feel in their first months in Alaska. They are welcomed into the tight community, and the constant work is good for Ernt to help keep his demons at bay.

But, we know, all magic comes with a price. And that price is Winter. As the days grow shorter, and the weather tightens it’s grip, making the world smaller, Ernt has to face the demons he’s been running from.

“Terrible and beautiful. It’s how you know if you’re cut out to be an Alaskan. Most go running back to the Outside before it’s over.”

We get this novel mostly from the perspective of Leni. Spanning her youth from 13 on, the majority of the book is spent in her teenage years. We see her parents toxic relationship entirely from her point of view, which makes it feel maddening and heart breaking. She understands and doesn’t understand. She is confused, not just what her father is going through, and why he behaves the way he does, but why her mother dances this dance as well.

This narrative is heartbreaking because we go through each tumultuous up and down with Leni. We feel her confusion. We feel her heartbreak. We feel her anger and her rage and her deep sadness. Our heart breaks with her over and over and over again.

The Great Alone is a slower novel, building into each explosive moment with quiet ease. In this way, I think Hannah does an excellent job showing how slowly these violent situations can grow. How they can start small, each explosion a little worse, and a little worse. How that makes it hard to see the violence for the truth of it. And by the time you do, it can be too late.

Showing us this slow escalation through the eyes of Leni gives us the tragic view of a child. How things can go from stable and sure, to unstable and unsure at a moments notice. Leni can only try to understand what she sees and hears from her mother, and those answers aren’t always satisfying, to her or the reader. But, she loves her mother, and as a child, she is trapped in the decisions of her parents and has to sort them out as best she can.

“But was she supposed to be trapped forever by her mother’s choice and her father’s rage?”

We also have the added element of PTSD, though the name wasn’t around at the time. This is also a slow descent into madness for Ernt as well. We don’t begin with a violent man, but time and choices wear him down. I don’t think this was done to evoke sympathy for Ernt, but perhaps to show how tangled these situations can be for the people woven into them.

Writing domestic abuse isn’t easy. Since we are getting this narration through Leni’s eyes, we don’t get full explanations. We get glimpses into understanding. Excuses and half explanation in conversation with her mother. We see how love and hate can become mixed, and how difficult it can be to really untangle when love becomes too toxic to save.

“Someone said to me once that Alaska didn’t create character; it revealed it.”

Hannah uses the actual setting of Alaska almost as another character in the book. She shows that living in this harsh, rugged environment can be incredibly beautiful, with descriptions so gorgeous they make you ache. Her prose is lyrical and wondrous, showing the beauty that can be both breathtaking and deadly. She brings Alaska alive and shows us that it is a changing, demanding, living thing.

Using the landscape of Alaska gives the entire book a visceral feel. You can feel how dangerous and beautiful Cora’s love for Ernt is in the very nature of where they live. How it can feel full of hope and light during the summer months. Yet it can be isolating and terrifying in the winter. How it can be simultaneously breathtaking and wondrous, but also cold and cruel.

The Great Alone takes us down a difficult journey. It is beautiful but painful, and there are many scenes that are incredibly hard to read. There is hope and redemption, but like living in Alaska, it takes work. You have to get through the cold, harsh winter to experience the magic of summer. This is a novel about love and loss, heartbreak and despair, resiliency and hope. It is a book that will stay with you and change you.

Thank you BookSparks and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a copy to read and review for #WRC2018!

Match Made in Manhattan – Review

“The more often you go on dates, the more you start to feel like you’re dating yourself.”

Match Made in Manhattan follows Alison on her fast paced introduction to the technology of modern dating. Through her profile on Match.com, we are introduced to various men via dating profiles, text threads, email chains and of course, the actual dates.

After Alison finds herself single, after two long-term relationships, she comes to the conclusion that she doesn’t really know how to date. After much encouragement from friends and roommates, she sets up a profile on dating site, Match.com. And while she finds herself with quite the roster of interested men, and interesting men, she isn’t sure she’s doing more than meeting friends rather than dating.

All that changes though when she meets Luke, a folk singer turned investment banker, who Alison finds absolutely irresistible. But the more Alison finds herself drawn in, the more he seems to keep her back. Will Luke end up being her Match?

While this book is more than a typical romcom, and has the very realistic glimpse into the online dating world, the book itself was sort of a miss for me. I laughed at some parts, and enjoyed the humor in going on some very wrong first dates.

“If I learned one lesson from Tom, it was that no matter what signal you think you’re sending out, it can, and probably will, get misinterpreted by the male species.”

However, I had a very difficult time relating to Alison, which made it difficult to really sink in and enjoy. I found myself rolling my eyes more than not, and not over the outlandish men, those felt real enough, but at Alison herself.

Match Made in Manhattan was a fast read, and for someone just wanting to laugh at the trials and tribulations of the modern dating age, this book will offer a humorous look into exactly that.

The next pieces could contain spoilers, so if you don’t want to read plot points, please be warned!!!

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To start with, she signs up for Match a mere three weeks after her boyfriend of three years breaks up with her. I can relate to a lot of women in the world, but one who moves from two back to back long term relationships into online dating with barely time to grieve the relationship in between just isn’t someone I identify with. Throughout the book she moves that quickly, bouncing back from breakups to responding to emails within days, sometimes the same day.

And I didn’t quite get her entire dating philosophy. She wants to meet someone with long term potential before sleeping with them, fine, but holding hands? Kissing? I don’t know many people in their late thirties with quite that many issues regarding physical touch. So for me, she felt unreal. Alison and I would not be a Match.

The format of the book felt a little choppy to me when reading. Some pieces feel like the normal novel plot I’m used to, and then other times it felt like snapshots of profiles or dates that didn’t have a piece in the plot other than to showcase the bad or weird dates. Which was fine, but it felt a bit jarring at times, which pulled me out of the book.

Romcoms don’t have to end in wedding bells and happily ever afters. I appreciate the attempt at her finding her own way without the help of a website. But, and this is a big but, rather than seeming to come across as independent, Alison felt more superficial and emotionally stunted.

She misses every single clue Luke lays out for her, all the while whining that she isn’t sure he’s as committed as she wants him to be. She essentially wants him to do all the work, while she won’t even deactivate her Match account, AFTER HE ASKS HER TO. I mean, COME ON!

Fine, she didn’t read the signs, but even after, when it comes to finally reaching out to her year long texting buddy Greg, who clearly is interested, she decides that THIS is her most functional relationship and she doesn’t want to ruin it.

I don’t know. She felt terrified of actual emotional investment, which makes her really hard to like in a romcom environment. I would have been much more satisfied if she had been at some point forced to face her own issues in some way, and THEN went off by herself into the sunset to live a more emotionally healthy life.

Thank you BookSparks for sending me a copy to read and review as part of #WRC2018!

Everless – Review

“‘Time is for burning, girl.’

It’s a familiar expression in the village – why hoard time when every day is dully brutal, the same as the one before and the one that will come after? To hear it from a man who’s never known hunger or cold makes my fingers twitch toward a fist.”

Welcome to Sempera. A land where time is bound to a person’s blood. It can be taken out, turned into iron and is used as currency. The wealthy take it from the poor, tax it, use it to live lives hundreds of years long. While the poor are bled, literally bled dry, until their time runs out.

Jules Ember lives a quiet life with her father. They used to live in Everless, the estate of the Gerlings, a family so wealthy they are nearly royalty. Jules’ father was the blacksmith for them and her childhood was a happy one. Until an accident forces them to flee for their lives.

Now, her father is dying, his debts too large for the time he has remaining in his veins, and Jules knows that returning to Everless is the only chance she has to save him.

“I smile at him, wishing I could tell the truth – that the idea of returning to Everless sickens me and fills me with dread, but I’m going to do it anyway.”

But if Everless was dangerous before, it’s even more so now. And Jules quickly finds herself wrapped in temptation, deadly secrets, and violent consequences. Beneath all that terror, though, Jules finds she isn’t as powerless as she believed, and maybe she has the power to change the fate of time.

I seriously don’t know where to begin with this review. This book is amazing. One of the best I’ve read this year. The writing is simply gorgeous. If you are a fan of the beauty and lyrical prose of Laini Taylor, you will fall in love with Sara Holland’s writing.

“A strange feeling flowers in me, like I’m standing at the edge of a cliff, looking out to the green and blue sea, which I’ve only ever seen drawn in books, it’s waves sloshing and endless – and from this height, deadly.”

You will highlight passages simply for the beauty of the words written.

“That she prefers to travel at night is a message, tied up in brown paper, desperate to speak.”

Beyond the beautiful writing, the world building is stunning in it’s execution and epic in it’s scope. Holland has created this entire land, where blood is valuable. Time can be taken from or added to a life. And the detail in which she applies this currency is fantastic. You get a sense of the desperation of the poor, and the reckless luxury of the wealthy. How much more personal would wealth be if it was literally your life?

“My hand trembles as I take the coin – the pulse in my own fingers feels as if it’s coming from with the coin, all the life this little thing could give me. Give Papa.”

And Jules Ember. This girl will quickly become one of your favorite female protagonists! She is smart and bold, daring and brave. But she is also stubborn and makes plenty of mistakes along the way. But at her heart, she is good. She tries. And she is willing to make mistakes in order to keep her morals intact. She is willing to do what is right, not what is easy, and you will adore her for her moxie and her bravery.

There is some romance in this book, but like everything in these pages, it is not what you expect. And it isn’t the focal point. Which I loved. I loved that while Jules craved the connection and intimacy romance brings, she isn’t willing to give up her focus to chase it. She also doesn’t let it shape her or change her, she remains true to herself, which I LOVE!!! Especially in a YA! Girls can be strong and fierce and independent without a man helping her or taking the lead, and we definitely need more female leads NOT focused on romance. The romance may take a larger focus in future books, but I absolutely loved that it wasn’t the priority in this one. ESPECIALLY since she has her hands full as things are.

“All of these things are tied together in shifting and complicated ways, yet still nothing is clear.”

Oh the twists! Holland weaves a complicated spell in this world, where nothing is at it seems, even Jules own memories. The more Jules begins to understand what happened when she was a child, the more she learns about who she is, the more danger she finds herself in. Characters you thought you knew and understood change. The ending floored me! There are plenty of surprises packed within these pages.

In all, Everless is a stunning journey. I think it will easily be one of the best books of 2018. Sara Holland has made my auto buy author list, and I will be waiting anxiously for the sequel to be released.

Thank you to BookSparks for sending me an early copy to read and review!

Cut – Review

“Because of an organ shortage, most of the patients were at death’s door before they received a liver, and many died waiting.”

Cut is a medical mystery novel diving into the murky world of organ donation. Sarah Golden is a transplant nurse who loves her job. She is confident that people cannot manipulate the organ donation system and travels around the country assisting the top transplant teams. But a run-in with a wealthy patient and her boyfriend during her stay at a Miami hospital leaves her with a bad feeling, and a lingering question: can you buy a liver?

The novel started off with an interesting premise. The author weaves in the reality of the transplant world within the pages of the first few chapters while introducing Sarah. You get a feel for not just the medical aspect, but the administrative as well.

Unfortunately, the rest of the novel was a miss for me.

Perhaps I was expecting this to be a mystery like so many that I read, where the reader is also unsure of what exactly is going on, so there’s a reason to continue to turn the pages. You want to solve the mystery. But, this is a case of too much tell and not enough show.

We are told the mystery from the very beginning, and there’s aren’t any plot twists or grand reveals to keep the reader involved. The writing relies entirely on your connection to the characters to drive the plot forward, and for me, they just weren’t that strong. I liked Sarah and Jackie, but their antics were a bit far fetched to be plausible. While Amanda and Sergio were very cliche villains. Rather than showing us a complex look at power and wealth, they are simply beautiful rich people who throw tantrums whenever their wealth doesn’t get them what they want.

This struck me as a good skeleton of a draft. The idea is good and the premise is interesting. It just felt like more of a draft than a finished product. The dialogue needed polished, and again, the mystery could have unfolded a bit more dramatically. Or at least with a touch more suspense.

I also found it difficult to keep up with the end. It felt rushed, things simply fell into place that wouldn’t. And I still am unclear what the legal issues were (outside of the obvious one, which I won’t reveal because of spoilers). It felt like a case of the author writing an ending, and the details of plausibility weren’t really taken into account.

All that said, the novel was a fast read and I can see why people enjoy it. This would be a good easy beach read. The characters are comedic, and if you find more enjoyment in character antics than a suspenseful mystery, I think this book would be perfect.

Thank you BookSparks for sending me a copy to read and review.

Learning To Fall – Review

“As if conjuring my dream, the earth shook.”

The opening line of Learning To Fall reads as an omen. The earth shook and then Brynn’s world shook, leaving her to desperately try to hold on to everything she has ever known and loved.

Learning To Fall is a stunning debut novel that sweeps you into the world of horse show jumping. But to say that this is just a book about show horses is selling this exceptional book short. This book is about finding yourself when life seems determined to rip you apart.

Brynn Seymour is months away from graduating from a national prestigious veterinary program. She is focused on being able to provide a stable life for herself, and more importantly, her family. Horses have been in her blood, but her father’s dreams of winning the illustrious Million Dollar Gold Cup have always felt more like dreams than reality.

The day the earth shook, Brynn lost her father in an accident. With that loss, came the reality that his dreams were built on a far shakier foundation than she ever imagined possible. Now, she struggles to go to school, run the family business and desperately try to keep the ranch from being auctioned off piece by piece.

But the world of show horses is cutthroat, and as her competition begins poaching clients from her, Brynn realizes the only answer is to go after her father’s dreams herself. With the help of champion, Jason Lander, Brynn has to learn to let everything fall away before she can build back up.

“It’s not about losing control, it’s about giving up control. There is a difference.”

Clermont brings this competitive world into such vivid life, you feel as if you are there. Brynn is a very believable and real character. Even if you aren’t fighting to keep your family’s ranch out of debt, I think many women will relate to her. She isn’t just facing the outside pressure of her family’s financial situation. She’s also facing the internal fight over who she is and what direction she wants her life to go in. Show jumping may have been her father’s dream, but Brynn has to examine if it really is her dream as well.

Anyone who loves animals, and particularly horses, will enjoy reading this book. Clermont brings the horses to life as much as she does the people in her writing. Jett is one of my favorite characters, and though he can’t speak, (he is a horse after all), you can feel the warmth of his eyes, the softness of his ears, and the strength of his muscles in every scene he is in. You feel his pain, his calm, his joy. It isn’t just Jett that Clermont does this with, but every horse she mentions. They are as unique and identifiable as any other side character in the book and give the plot a much richer texture.

“Jett stared at me, his liquid eyes spoke of knowing, of understanding, a bond we’d shared for years. He didn’t care about his mane. What mattered was this. This unspoken love. If horses could smile, he’d be smiling now.”

The messages written into the plot are fantastic. Examinations of how fear holds us back in life, forces us to make decisions that continue to drive negativity into our lives. How we can let fear take over our lives completely if we let it. There’s a look at how to be yourself in a world that demands conformity. Of how difficult it is to do the right thing when bending rules and sliding by could yield greater short term results. It’s a much more difficult thing to stay true to yourself and what you believe.

Within these pages is a look at life and loss, love and heartbreak, forgiveness and guilt. This is a book that fully captures the essence of life, and the struggle that we all face in some form or another throughout our lives. We all have to face the idea of who we are versus who we want to be. Who we think we love versus who we really love. What love means, both in familial terms and romantic ones. And what we’re willing to accept, from others, from ourselves.

Learning To Fall is a title that wraps up so many ideas within three little words. Brynn must learn to fall in so many ways. She must learn to fall into the unknown, fall in love, fall off a horse, and simply fall into the current that is life.

“Accidents happen. We try, we stumble, sometimes literally. It’s part of life, to have problems and challenges, to deal with them and move on. We’ll never have no problems. Only new ones.”

This book will transport you. I read it in less than a day, the pages simply flying by. Each character is written to be complex, contributing to the plot but also giving it the same richness that people in our lives gives us. We never live life alone, and decisions or their consequences are rarely made in a vacuum. Clermont captures those layers in these pages. I ended the book feeling as if I were there, cheering, holding my breath, laughing and crying with them.

If you love stories about finding who you are, stories that mimic life in all the difficult and real ways, this book is for you. If you love horses or animals and enjoy a story where the animals are as much a heart of the book as the people, this book is for you. Whether you are familiar with the world of show jumping or not, by the end, you won’t be able to help falling in love with Brynn, Jason and of course, with Jett.

Thank you BookSparks for sending me this book to read and review!

Gridley Girls – Review

“Once upon a time there was a diary.”

Gridley Girls is a debut novel that reads part memoir, part fiction. The story is based on true events. Even though we get a look at a few aspects of the truth, we don’t know all of the truth versus the fiction. And because it’s based on true events, this novel read as a hybrid novel, with some pieces reading more as fiction and others more as a memoir. It’s easy to imagine that this was indeed very close to how the author grew up. Even if it isn’t, the writing is so distinct and full of personality, it feels as if you’re hearing her talk rather than reading a story.

Meg Monahan grew up in Gridley California. Like her parents before her, and their parents before them. She knows nearly everyone in the town. Secrets are hard to keep secret, yet somehow Meg is always the one people confide in, expecting that she keep their confessions safe.

“Mainly I just stay private. That’s hard for you to imagine since you live your life out loud, but it’s easier for us to be private.”

After she is chosen to be a peer counselor her freshman year, this confidence gets pushed to the limits as she receives information that is simply too much for her to handle on her own. It’s easier to keep a secret when it’s your choice. Meg finds that the expectation of confidence, combined with the heavier secrets, makes the burden that much harder to bear.

The novel is told through the eyes of an adult Meg, deciding if she can stomach uprooting her family to the unthinkable reaches of Minnesota, and a teenage Meg going through her freshman year of High School. The events that unfold during her teenage years all carry through and show their relevance to her adult life as the book progresses.

We are all shaped by the things that happen to us growing up. Tragedy and triumph alike can leave indelible marks and shape the adults we become. For Meg, these secrets that her peers trusted her with became nearly too much. When she confides in a trusted friend, and is overheard, that guilt follows her into adulthood.

“In my mind, I was out of control. Who was I going to tell next? My parents? The mailman? Nothing was stopping my giant mouth. My fears were ruling my life.”

This book is a hybrid in another sense. The pieces of Meg’s high school years are very fitting for a YA novel. Not just because she is an adolescent. But because there are some very good lessons and messages written within those pages. Topics like teenage sex, struggling to reconcile your religious beliefs with the reality of life around you, abortion, homosexuality, death and mental illness are all brought up and examined in a thoughtful way.

The messages aren’t preached to you, and they aren’t drilled down or overly dramatized. Some are more dominant than others, and not all of them have lessons learned or even closure written to them. But they are excellent conversation starters and serve to open the door for closer examination.

They hit home because they are told in first person, from the eyes of a teenage girl. Her reaction is what you would expect them to be: scared and confused. This allows for her to ask for advice, and to analyze her own thoughts to try and process how to feel. It was an excellent representation of how confusing adolescence can be.

It’s balanced with the adult years, and the lesson that life doesn’t always make sense once you reach adulthood. There are still struggles and tragedies mixed in with the good times and triumphs.

“I guess that’s the whole point: the attempt to understand, the attempt to love. It’s when we stop trying to understand and stop trying to love that everything falls apart.”

This book is a very fun read, and at the end, First throws in a guide to seventies pop culture. This will be especially helpful to younger readers who may have no idea what actors, shows, music, or even general culture references are made during her teenage years. For those who do remember, this book will be a fun blast into the past.

Sometimes pop culture can be tricky to write into a plot without sounding out of place or forced, but First writes it in fluidly, making them part of the scenery and not overly obnoxious. It feels very natural, because it stems from Meg. Of course that’s how she would make sense of her world, because it is her world.

It did take me a few chapters to adjust to the writing style. It can feel a bit choppy, and you feel that while reading. Once I got to know Meg a bit, and realized that an adolescent girl who talks a mile a minute when she’s nervous probably would talk like that, it became more natural to read. Again, because it reads part fiction and part memoir, the fluidity of the writing does change a bit between chapters. It requires the reader to adjust to the tone of the chapter, and in part to the change between Meg as a girl and Meg as a woman.

Overall I enjoyed this book. There is a lot of humor in First’s writing, both as a teenager and as an adult. She tackles very real topics, not just about growing up, but the world at large. These make the book full of depth. I didn’t grow up in the 70’s, but even still, I felt a lot of nostalgia reading through her experiences. Any teenage girl, regardless of the time and specifics, all feel awkward, and scared, and overwhelmed, and confused during those years. She’s relatable and easy to identify with. Which I think makes this a good book to start conversations with teenage readers. Not to mention, just being able to ask your mom about some of these trends and references to pop culture will definitely start some good conversation, along with some memorable laughs, I’m sure!

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review!

Rethinking Possible – Review

“For a family who knew so much – whose faith was so deep, love so abiding, and minds filled with mottos designed to keep us focused on the possibilities that were surely ahead – we knew nothing that could have prepared us for that kind of loss.”

Rethinking possible is listed as a memoir. A reflection of one woman’s journey into readjusting her expectations after life decided it wasn’t going to go along with her plans. But more than a story of her journey, there is a message of resilience and optimism that is stunning to read.

Becky Galli was raised as a preacher’s kid in the South. With two strong parents determined to raise their children with a sharp focus only on the possibility of life and a knack for finding the silver lining in any situation, her childhood was full of predictability and hope. Their family motto was ‘what’s planned is possible’ and they firmly believed it.

Even after an accident put her brother in the hospital, she believed he would make it, that he would achieve everything he planned. The shock of his death forever changed their family, tearing it from the solid unit they were to something different.

“I was in a life that wasn’t my own. Didn’t even have the wardrobe for it.”

It’s easy to get up after getting knocked down once, though, and life progressed for Becky according to her now revised plan. After graduating, she married and began to work on her career. With two type A personalities focusing on their life goals, they were determined that nothing would stand in their way. She even gave birth, on schedule, after Joe received his MBA and before she was 30. Everything was right on track. Until it wasn’t.

Galli faces several devastating hits when she learns two of her four children are disabled, and one developmentally delayed. The struggle of facing the extraordinary challenges in raising a family like that is remarkable, but had it’s costs. In her case, it was her marriage. As if divorce isn’t devastating enough, she was hit with a rare inflammation that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Nine days after her divorce finalized.

“After all we’d been through, adventure had become our family’s euphemism for plans with uncertain outcomes. Forget plans; we mostly clung to possibility. Our lives had become one steady stream of rethinking possible.”

The most remarkable thing about this memoir isn’t the amount of tragedy in Rebecca Galli’s life, although she gets more than her fair share. The thing that moved me the most is that she isn’t a saint and she isn’t a victim. She does the best she can every day. Some days are good, and some days aren’t. But every day she does the best with what she has.

“You allow yourself the luxury of wallowing in your own self-pity. You are entitled. Go ahead, experience your pain. But don’t stay down there too long because you can drown, I’ve learned.”

Often when I read memoirs, I can feel a bit chastised. Not because of anything that the author did, or wrote, but because of the way they present their attitudes on life. Some days I throw myself giant pity parties of one. I try not to, but I do. And then you read about someone’s life and how optimistic, or cheerful, or stoic they can be about tragedy and trauma. Sometimes it’s inspiring, and sometimes it’s a bit of a punch to the gut.

But Galli lets you see the good and the bad. She vents. She questions. She wallows. And then she gets up. She finds a new perspective. She moves forward. I get that. I relate to it. I identify with it. She doesn’t always show herself in the best possible light, and so she feels real to me. She’s the woman I would want to call when life gets a little shaky. She may not have the answers, but you know she’s going to at least listen and try. She isn’t going to judge your pain or minimize how you feel.

“Life in all it’s unfairness can never take your attitude. That alone is yours to keep and change. No one does that for you. That is power.”

Life can often feel overwhelming. It can feel hard and big and just too much. There is laughter and happiness and the thousands of tiny moments worth living. But there is also pain, and with pain can come suffering. Galli was hit with a lot of pain, both physical and emotional. But she weathered each storm, and managed to accomplish some impressive feats regardless of the difficulty. She learned acceptance, and she learned that sometimes we have to accept things more than once.

“I found a new motto: ‘Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional’.”

This book came to me at a time when I really needed it the most. Life can sometimes feel like you’ve been thrown into a cage match with no training or warning and are expected to somehow survive. You get up only to get knocked right back down. It is a constant barrage of learning, and adjusting, and accepting. It isn’t easy. But rather than make your struggles feel trivial in comparison to hers, Galli makes them relatable. She makes you feel understood.

And because she writes about her journey in such an honest way, you find that she makes you feel like you’ve just received the pep talk you needed. Her revelations about her own struggles are pointed and clear. Reading through this book, I felt like I was being cheered on, even though this wasn’t about my life. Galli gives you permission to accept life day by day, to be kind to yourself, and to realize that no matter what, you may never have all the answers.

This is a quick read. I was shocked at how fast I read through it. Though the subject matter is heavy, Galli writes with a skilled levity that brings light and warmth to even the toughest of passages. Sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh, even when you want to cry.

Regardless of what you’re going through in your life, or have gone through, this is a book that will reach everyone. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll stop and ponder the wisdom she offers. I know I will be thinking about her words for a long time.

Thank you Booksparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review!

I Like You Like This – Review I also

“Hannah always tried her best to hold it together. Tears only made it worse. Eventually she’d gotten used to the tormenting and pretended to be in on the joke.”

Hannah Zandana lives a bleak life. She faces unrelenting bullying at home and at school, and only wants to find a place where she belongs. This desire to fit in has her come up with a plan to buy drugs in order to impress the popular girls at her school. The only positive thing that comes out of this bad plan is gaining the attention of the drug dealer, Deacon.

There may be some minor spoilers in my review, for those who have not read yet. There are also several trigger warnings including drug abuse, verbal abuse, and bullying.

I wanted to like this book. I did. A book with dark themes relevant to teenagers is a book we actually need more of. Unfortunately, this book missed the mark for me.

To start with, the abuse from her parents was odd. They are verbally abusive; perhaps more, but that was really unclear. There is only one drug induced scene, where physical, maybe even sexual violence, is introduced. It was presented to feel like a repressed memory, but it was never brought up or explored again, so I’m not really sure.

They constantly belittle Hannah, berate her, ignore her and are generally extremely vicious towards her. Even though we get an attempt at an explanation of their behavior towards her, it felt very shallow and unrealistic. The level of abuse in relation to the feeble explantation was simply lacking.

“Hannah was a human pincushion for her parents’ criticism, and there was always ample room for just one more jab.”

As far as her attempts to impress the popular girls at school, choosing to buy drugs for a party seems like an odd choice. It’s never really explored that these popular girls would even be in the drug scene, just that everyone knew where to get ‘the good stuff’. The entire initial deal is awkward and weird, and the ensuing relationship between Hannah and Deacon continues down that path.

The characters and plot felt more like an array of scenes rather than a cohesive plot. Hannah is unsure of herself, has no self-confidence or self-esteem but she somehow manages to threaten and fight off the bullies of her school with no problems when it suits her. Other times she’s a quivering mess that can’t stand up for herself. That didn’t feel real to me.

It was set in 1984, which is very specific and I was hoping it was for a specific reason. The only reason I could gather was to introduce how crack changed drug addiction in some areas, but that was such a brief mention, I may be grasping at straws for that connection. Product specific nods, or other pop culture references were added in, but for the most part they were clunky and unnecessary.

I also really didn’t like Deacon. He’s supposed to be rich and charming, but damaged. A very cliche ‘more than just a bad boy’ character. He never really showed the kinder side underneath, and after one near rape scene, I was pretty done with his misunderstood excuses.

“She searched his face. His constrained grin didn’t match his words or the shot of sadness in his eyes.”

There are some problems with the romance portion of the book. Hannah doesn’t necessarily find herself other own, but rather changes her identity as a result of her relationship. The fact that the relationship is unhealthy, and at times, even toxic doesn’t send the message I would want in a YA book. I always struggle with books where the theme is we need someone else to become whole. Love is important, but it isn’t the key ingredient in self-worth or the journey to finding out who we are.

This book felt like a really good draft, and I felt like it had a lot of potential. There are some very serious topics introduced, but the opportunity to explore them is largely untapped. While bullying, abuse and drug use are all brought up, the majority of the story focuses on the weird romance between Hannah and Deacon instead. The deeper examination is lacking and it leaves the book feeling superficial rather than hard hitting.

As I said, I think that YA books that tackle the issues presented in this book are really important. They can help kids going through similar struggles and traumas feel understood, seen and maybe even help them work through them. But when these issues aren’t explored as fully as they should be, it can do more of a disservice to those teens who need it most.

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review.