Reviewed: “The Girl at the Door” by Veronica Raimo

tw: rape, sexual assault, abuse, drug use, professor-student relationship

Trigger warnings are required for this novel, because it is based on all of those things. That’s where the story comes from, so you can’t read them… don’t read this.

That being said, if you can read those things and want to try a very unique novel, give this one a try.

Raimo doesn’t give any of the characters names; and it is told from the perspective of Him and Her, i.e. the Professor and his Partner. They lived in what is meant to be a utopian sort of community after the rest of the world has crashed, but the community is as bland in it’s desire to have social equality as it is repressive in it’s desire to ensure that it remains a ‘utopia.’

Both Her and Him came from somewhere else with the desire to find a place among all the rules (there are rules about where furniture can be placed and there are rules about what you must contribute to the community) and away from the chaos of home.

The novel begins with a former student of the Professor turning up to tell his Partner that he raped her two years ago and that she is starting the process to have him expelled from the community.

From there, the story of why they wanted to fit in and how they don’t, why they don’t want to fit in and how the do is told as the Professor’s case goes through the self-proclaimed fair system of justice in the community. It’s stark and it’s not easy to read, because of what caused it all but…

…in the end it is a fascinating look at, simply put, how the grass is very rarely greener on the other side.

(Thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for the chance to read this book. I apologize for how long it took for me to get to it.)

Reviewed: “Fairy Godmothers, Inc.” by Saranna DeWylde

“Fairy Godmothers, Inc.” isn’t the sort of book I usually reach for but sometimes, especially in 2020, you just need some fluffy romance and all the funny shenanigans associated with sweet, meddling magical godmothers. And this hit the spot very well.

All of your favorite fairy tale characters live in Ever After, Missouri… even the mice who sewed for Cinderella. The classics are supporting characters to the fairy godmothers – Bluebonnet, Jonquil, and Petunia – who want to revitalize Ever After and concoct a scheme for their godchildren Lucky Fujiki (who is not lucky) and Ransom Payne (never did quite figure out the meaning behind his name) to get fake-married in a prince and princess-themed wedding.

Lucky (who begins the story knowing nothing about her magical world) and Ransom’s would-be love story is fine, though it does slow down to a crawl in places, but the shining stars of the story are the supporting cast. From Bronx, the cardinal (bird, not Catholic prelate) who talks like he might’ve learned to speak on Don Corleone’s shoulder, to Philip the frog (i.e. grumpy Prince Charming still waiting for his kiss… maybe from one of the godmothers), to Brittany and Steven (totally human children of Lucky’s best friend and maybe technically her godchildren)… Lucky and Ransom would be fine without them but they are far, far better with them.

And I think that sets up the next book in the series very well, Ever After can focus on a new pet project and the old gang can get back together to see it through.

I don’t laugh often at books, I don’t know why, but I absolutely laughed out loud at this book. The page and a half of the godmothers mortifying Ransom with euphemisms for sex was worth re-reading an extra time or two! I really liked it a lot and a lot of people, who are more into fairy tale re-tellings and magical things than me, will absolutely adore it!

(Thanks to BookishFirst, Saranna DeWylde, and the publisher for a chance to read this book early in exchange for an honest review.)

Reviewed: “Every Reason We Shouldn’t” by Sara Fujimura

I received an early copy of this book from Tor Teen and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.

Gonna start with this…

Dear Sara Fujimura & Tor Teen,

I am not a teen but if & when there is a sequel to Every Reason We Shouldn’t, I would be more than happy to read it, host a part of a blog tour, write a review… all the things. This book was so freakin’ cute and I love it!

Now back to the regularly scheduled review…

I used to be the biggest figure skating fan. I slept, breathed, and ate figure skating, figuratively speaking. I annoyed family and friends by talking about incessantly. But it’s been awhile since I was deep in the throes of my passion (I took six weeks of lessons too! And flunked my CLOWN level test, i.e. I was 12 and the other kids were 5! So a couch-based fan, I was.)

So I requested an ARC of this book because it sounded cute and there were skates on the cover and I hadn’t tried a book like this yet (with the drawn cover and clear young adult romantic intentions).

It was an excellent decision.

Olivia is the daughter of an Olympic champion pairs team. Jonah is a rising star in the short track speedskating world. They will, not a spoiler since it’s on the cover, be involved in romantic shenanigans.

But there is so much more to this story!

Olivia’s parents own a rink that is failing and Olivia is fighting to save it, and she rediscovers her passion for skating along the way. Her best friend is a college age, teen mom who works at the rink and is both an excellent surrogate mom, big sister, and best friend. And Olivia and Jonah end up with a firm circle of friends as they try to be ‘normal’ in high school.

I always worry these sorts of books won’t have more than the romance, but this one has so much more.

It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s heartbreaking, it’s deep, it’s fluffy, it’s sad, it’s hopeful…

I’m probably not going to be a figure skating mega fan again, but I am 10/10 a fan of this book!

Reviewed: “Stolen Things” by R.H. Herron

Sometimes a book can try just a little bit too hard to be current and relevant and politically correct. Sometimes a book tries so hard to be those things that the book itself suffers a bit.

That happened, I think, with R.H. Herron’s STOLEN THINGS.

(I’d like to state here that I just realized I finished the book today and, other than a necklace stolen years before the actual story, I have no idea what things were stolen…)

R.H. Herron says in the Author’s Note at the end that Kevin, a pro football player who scandalizes the country by wearing a flag pin upside down to protest police brutality, is not inspired by or a stand-in for Colin Kaepernick but… it’s hard not to see it that way. R.H. Herron says that CapB in STOLEN THINGS is not meant to be a fictionalized version of BLM but… it’s a group that organizes against police brutality that targets minorities.

And it is what it is… which is fine… it was just a little too on-the-nose for my tastes.

STOLEN THINGS is one of those thriller/mysteries where everything happens and you end up wondering just how in the world everything happens to this particular character. Which is fine, just also not my favorite thing. But in this story, the things that happen to a mother, a father, and a teenage daughter are (and I guess this counts as trigger warnings too for reasons soon to be clear) – rape, underage drinking, drug use, police brutality, a heart attack, sex trafficking, corrupt cops, prostitution, sex with minors, racism (the daughter is bi-racial), theft…

There is a twist ending, and I give one star for that alone. I absolutely did not see it coming, as wild as it is, and it made me glad I saw the story through. The characters are fine. The plot was fine. The suspense factor was pretty good. The setting was fine.

It’s an entirely fine book. Nothing extra special, nothing extra terrible.

If mysteries and thrillers and suspense are your thing, give it a try. Really. I’m not at all sorry I read it and it was time well spent, even if some of that time was finding faults…

(I received a copy of STOLEN THINGS through NetGalley and Dutton in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)

Reviewed: “The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets” by Molly Fader

There will always be something special to me about Molly Fader’s The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets because it is the first book I’ve read that is set where I live – something that’s stumped me on almost every yearlong readathon I’ve attempted. This book takes place in northwest Pennsylvania on the shores of Lake Erie. In the house where I spent my childhood, we walked to the shores of Lake Erie. The McAvoy sisters do their grocery shopping at Giant Eagle, where I do mine. It was like reading about home.

Even the part that describe the summer humidity rolling off the lake as something like “a wet washcloth on your face all day” (I forgot to write down the exact words but the sentiment is absolutely perfect.)!

But I digress about where I live, on to the book itself –

The McAvoys have secrets, secrets that have driven one sister (Lindy) away and driven one sister (Delia) to do the things she never wanted to do. The book is a build-up to those secrets, always hinting at what’s to come. The things that come might not entirely be worth the wait, at least in that the book spends so much time focusing on the McAvoy FAMILY and how they interact with each other but the reveal of secrets sees them all in separate places, not wholly with family.

But it is a testament to what family will do for each other, even apart. And that makes the whole book worth reading.

It is the story of a messed up/entirely normal family in a small town where everybody knows everybody’s business and one bad choice can follow a person for a lifetime. It is the story of how there are people you can rely on to forgive that bad choice, to stand beside you when you feel like you’re most alone. It is the story of forgiving and healing, across generations and physical space.

It is the story of sisters who are truly the best of friends, no matter what the passage of time does to them.

As a sister with a sister, I identify with Lindy and Delia on levels I didn’t expect to. And that’s the second thing that will make this book stick with me for a long time. I’m going to reread it one day too!

I received a copy of The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets through NetGalley and Graydon House in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.

Reviewed: “Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop” by Rebecca Raisin

I was reading a non-fiction book about the Middle East and, fascinating though it was, it read like the news. And the news, as I’m sure you know, is always treading a thin, terrifying line between depressing and nightmarish. So the morning I woke up grouchy for other reasons and didn’t want to get out of bed to face the day, I reached for my Kindle Fire and decided to read the next ARC I had due to be published.

And so I found myself thoroughly addicted to Rosie and her ‘travelling tea shop.’

I laughed a lot, I teared up a bit, I smiled so much, I furrowed my brow… it was a fantastic book and succeeded fully in lifting my mood.

Rosie, you see, is a Michelin starred chef at a fancy London restaurant. Her husband, Callum, is not quite as successful a chef at a different restaurant. He is also a cheating bastard who leaves her, for the pretty young thing at his restaurant, on her birthday. Rosie had not known that Callum and Khloe were having an affair, though she was the only one. So, after Callum tells her she’s boring and predictable, she decides to be decidedly not that. With the help of alcohol, anyway, and she wakes up the owner of a pink van meant for a life on the road.

Taking this as a sign, Rosie throws herself into exploring the possibilities of ‘van life’ online and begins to realize she might just be brave enough to break away from the kitchens and take to the road. At least for a little while.

So she decides, with the encouragement of a kind man named Oliver on a Van Lifers forum, to create a travelling tea shop and follow festivals, fairs, and events around the United Kingdom.

This is where I got jealous of Rosie, seeing her take this bold step so far out of her comfort zone and seeing the friends she makes along the way. I also found myself happy for her, and that’s not so common in some books… actually being happy for a character.

Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop is as much a story of friendship as it is one of stepping outside your comfort zone. This is because, if you ask me, opening yourself up to be true friends with someone new can be incredibly daunting to people like Rosie, who is like me. There is romance in story, budding romance and some sexy moments, but romance doesn’t drive the story. Max becomes Rosie’s friend, the most adorable, sweet, and funny ways, before he becomes more to her. And I like that, because hopping from cheating Callum to marvelous Max would have taken something away from Rosie.

There are a few parts of the story that make it a bit predictable but that in no way means it isn’t a sweet, adorable, laugh out loud story that I absolutely needed in my life!

I received a copy of Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop through NetGalley and HQ Digital in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.

“Hope and Other Superpowers” by John Pavlovitz

The full title of the book I’m here to review today is… Hope and Other Superpowers: A Life-Affirming, Love-Defending, Butt-Kicking, World-Saving Manifesto. John Pavlovitz wrote this book and, presumably, picked the title. It is possibly the longest title I’ve ever seen but the book is absolutely worth ever hyphen in the title.

A few things, first.

When I requested the ARC of this nonfiction book from NetGalley (thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the chance to read it and offer my thoughts!), I picked it because the title seemed ambitious and I was trying to pick outside my genre-comfort zone, so I picked self-help. I did not realize that John Pavlovitz is a pastor, I did not realize that John Pavlovitz is considered one of the more liberal prominent pastors in the country, and I did not realize that the ‘superpower’ part of the title meant I’d need a working knowledge of comic book heroes to get the analogies made in this book.

When I realized these three things, as I started the book, I was quickly wary because I am agnostic, I’m generally skeptical of the motives of megachurch pastors, and I’ve never seen a comic book movie (Marvel or DC or whatever else there is, it’s all very confusing).

However, and this is an important part, Hope and Other Superpowers is not about why I should go to church and give myself up to Jesus, let him take the wheel as Carrie Underwood sings. Pavlovitz mentions being a pastor but I had the sense that he was not writing as pastor to his flock, but as a human being to other human beings. And, possibly less important but very surprising, I really want to watch all the comic book movies!

I was going to say I didn’t expect this book to be what it was but I don’t know what I expected it to be so I will say this…

I didn’t know I needed to read this book, but I did.

It’s in part a call to larger action, in that it’s fairly obvious how Pavlovitz feels about the current president, but it’s also a call to any action at all. A reminder that every single action we undertake has a ripple effect on both our own lives and the wider world. The underlying theme is that we all have the power to be the superheroes we see in movies and comic books, even when the simplest task seems so impossible. It’s about the fact that when we take care of ourselves, we can also make our world better for it. It’s a guide that asks me to take stock of myself, to take better care of myself, and take better care of the world.

I’m going to read this book again, and again. I needed this book, at this moment in my life, and I know I’ll need it again.

“The Sisters of Blue Mountain” by Karen Katchur

I expected this book to be more… intense. It kind of fizzled thanks to the bulk of the motivating factors (i.e. random dead animals) being unrelated to the actual plot of the story. The plot itself was relatable, in that I have a sister and we don’t always communicate well but we love each other more deeply than can be defined with words, but these sisters had questionable morals and ethics and a shared secret that threatens to pull them apart.

I received a copy of The Sisters of Blue Mountain through NetGalley and Thomas Dunne Books in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.

“Future Leaders of Nowhere” by Emily O’Beirne

Want to know the surefire sign of a good book? Finding yourself confronted with the promise of a sequel, given a vague date (Autumn 2017, in this case), and saying to yourself (possibly aloud, since you stayed up until nearly one in the morning devouring said book) “ooh, I gotta get that book!”

This is what happened when I finished Emily O’Beirne’s FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE last night, this morning… however you want to look at it.

I requested the book from NetGalley (in exchange for an honest and original review) because it seemed different (being listed as LGBTQIA and Teen/YA), got it (thanks Ylva Publishing!), briefly forgot about it, then read it. And I love it!

I really cannot emphasize how much I love this book!

Set in Australia (thereby ticking the box of being set somewhere I don’t usually read about), FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE is set in a month-long retreat-style camp where a variety of high schools send teams of seven high-achieving students (who are “future leaders”) to compete in a nation-building game. Having been through American high school (public and poor, truth be told), I really, really, really wish this sort “game” existed for us. It sounds incredibly fun, challenging, and important. And maybe ritzier, better funded, private schools here do have things like this. Who knows. Maybe I’d rather not know.


The first half of the book is told from Finn’s perspective. She is “captain” of her co-ed high school (this idea of school captains is also mildly foreign to me) and her team quickly elects her their leader in the game. She does not particularly want the job and, honestly, she’s not that great at it when the game starts. She tries to please all of the people all of the time. Even in the democracy that her team is assigned, that is a doomed leadership style.

But Finn meets Willa, the leader of the team from a fancy all-girls school.

And Willa, who tells the second half of the story, meets Finn.

Both girls are coming off having been burned in relationships that they were more invested in than their partners but they move forward together, wary of history and the looming specter of the game. Finn becomes a better leader because Willa gives her confidence and Willa opens up to her classmates, thereby becoming a better leader as well, because Finn helps her see that she won’t always be hurt if she shares who she is with someone else.

Beyond Finn and Willa there is an amazing, relatable, fun cast of supporting characters that I want to know more about.

FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE is sweet, heartfelt, touching, funny, sad, honest, and generally lovely.

I am so glad I requested an ARC of this book, more glad that I got an ARC, and the most glad that there is more of this story to look forward to!

“After the Parade” by Lori Ostlund

23492669It’s some kind of masterful when you spend the first quarter of a book thinking that the main character is a self-absorbed, ambivalent, almost blissfully ignorant fool but then you read the middle half of the book, getting ever more caught up in his story, and the final quarter of the book realizing that none of those things that made him unlikable and unrelatable at first were his fault and he did grow from them, whether by choice or by force. Sometimes life isn’t anyone’s fault. To alter the title a bit, sometimes life is just a parade it’s hard to see the end of.

AFTER THE PARADE is Lori Ostlund’s tale of a forty-one year old man name Aaron Englund. An ESL teacher, the story begins with him packing up a U-Haul in Albuquerque and leaving for San Francisco. He’s leaving behind eighty-two year old Walter, the man he’s been with for twenty-three years – and known a few years longer. The math works out to mean that Aaron was eighteen and Walter thirty-six when they first became a couple. That fact lands somewhere between unnerving and sad. As a reader, it’s easy to feel bad for Walter at the start. The man he loves leaves on Christmas Eve after nearly a quarter century. He’s elderly.

But then it becomes so much more complicated than that.

As Aaron travels – literally to San Francisco and figuratively to figuring out who he is – his story is told. His memories of an abusive father and a distant mother, who was more distant because of her abusive husband. His memories of never quite fitting in to normal groups at school. His tendency to gravitate toward the outcasts of society, almost as though he is searching for himself in them more than he is searching for a true friend. And so it comes that by the time he meets Walter as a teenager, his father is dead and his mother is gone.

Aaron is inherently a boy in need of something he never had. That he would find comfort in a stable older man when most boys his age would be doing anything but settling down, makes perfect sense. As in all things, defining love and the existence of love is tricky and almost impossible.

In time, woven into a rich story with so many threads, it becomes clear that Aaron teaches English to immigrants because he sees himself as one of them, in a way. He is an observer too, trying to figure out just how to make it through an uncomfortable, unfamiliar world without getting hurt. And maybe get through it with someone to love. The questions his students ask, the stories they tell him… they help Aaron to find himself.

Ostlund’s novel is harsh and sometimes breathtaking in it’s sadness but it is beautiful. Everything makes sense in the end, especially the most perfect of endings.

(I received a copy of AFTER THE PARADE through NetGalley and Scribner in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)