Friday, April 29, 2016

My take on: The Summer of Me

With her kids away for the summer, Destiny, a single mother, finally has some time for herself. Destiny is used to doing so much for other people. Making herself a priority is never at the top of the list. But if she's ever going to make a better life for herself and her kids, there's no time like the present.

The Summer of Me by Angela Benson is a story many people can relate to. It's a story of love, motherhood, family, and friendship.

A summer without her kids will be difficult for Destiny. Since they were born, Destiny has never gone more than a couple of days without seeing her kids. Now she will have to navigate several months without them. Her twins, KJ and Kenae, are spending the summer with their father, Kenneth, and stepmother, Mary Margaret in California. It's hard to admit, but Destiny is jealous of the budding relationship Mary Margaret has with her kids. But Destiny tries her best to put those feelings aside for the sake of her kids.

While the kids are away, everyone in Destiny's life has an idea on how she should fill her time. Her friends think it's time for romance. Her mother thinks Destiny should find a better job. Destiny dropped out of college years ago, much to the disappointment of her mother. But what does Destiny want? She wants to move her little family closer to KJ and Kenae's school. If she moves closer to their school, Kenneth may stop asking for the kids to live with him. But Destiny can't afford to move unless she can earn some extra income, her salary from Marshall's isn't going to cut it. What should she do? Maybe Destiny can do it all?

Destiny does manage to do it all. Her friend Natalie sets Destiny up with Daniel, a new pastor in town. Her friend Bertice helps Natalie find part time work. She enrolls in college, and gets the opportunity to be mentored by very special woman. Everything is working out for Destiny. Or....maybe not? Daniel is keeping a big secret from Destiny, but it's for her own good. Her new part-time job might not be entirely legal. Her new mentor has a deeper connection to Destiny than she could ever imagine. But life is full of challenges, and Destiny faces them head on.

Overall, the book has a very uplifting and inspirational message. There are a lot of spiritual overtones, which I'm not against....but I thought the approach was very heavy-handed. There were also too many plots going on for my tastes. Near the end of the book, Destiny and some of her friends are facing some serious legal trouble but everything works out in the end. Their legal troubles work out too easily. All the plots get wrapped up in a neat little bow, some of which were borderline implausible. I wanted to like this book. It had all of the elements I usually go for, family, love, and friendship. But this book was just missing something for me. The book was not all bad, but it just wasn't for me.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

My take on: Fast Food Maniac

Fair warning, DO NOT read Fast Food Maniac by Jon Hein on an empty stomach. If you read this while you're hungry, you will be seriously craving every type of junk food under the sun. There is no shortage of variety, from tacos, burgers, pizza, milkshakes, fried fish, cinnamon rolls, and my personal favorite......Nathan's french fries.

Yes. Nathan's french fries with cheese are a personal favorite of mine. Fortunately, I haven't had those fries in more than a year. Instead, I was able to live vicariously through Jon Hein's book.

Fast Food Maniac is not deep literature. It's more like a how-to guide on the best fast food across the nation. Hein lays out how some of the most famous chains, including McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts, Hardees, Papa Johns, and more, got their start, their catchphrases, mascots, and secret menus. I didn't know McDonald's had a Pie McFlurry on it's secret menu. Starbucks has at least 10 "secret items." A LOT of real estate in this book is dedicated to the best burger joints in the nation. Beef heaven might appeal to most people, but it doesn't to me. I haven't eaten beef in nearly 13 years, so I had so many deep eye rolls every time ANOTHER burger joint was highlighted.

Overall, this wasn't a bad book. But it was lacking in depth. The book reads more like junk food for dummies. The author loves junk food, but, in my opinion, I don't think there were enough anecdotes detailing his personal connection. But if I ever take a junk food tour of the U.S., I think this is the book I would take with me.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book as part of Penguin RandomHouse's Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

My take on: If I Run

Casey Cox is on the run. Her best friend, Brent, has been murdered. Should she call the police? Or should she run? It's not so simple. To the casual observer, it looks like Casey did it. But as a reader, you know right away she's not a murderer. She's being framed. Who could be behind it? Casey's not sure of that. But she's sure no one will listen. There's nothing else she can do but run.

The action starts right away in If I Run by Terri Blackstock.

I was intrigued. As a character, Casey is extremely likeable. You want to get in her corner. You don't want her to get caught. Brent's parents have hired a family friend, Dylan, to track down Casey. But it's difficult. She's been one step ahead of him the entire time. She's very smart.

Casey is doing all the things a fugitive would do. She's paying cash for everything. She changes her appearance. She moves from city to city, so much so that it's difficult for Dylan to track her movements. For people who don't even know each other, Dylan and Casey are very much alike -- in more ways than one. Both are out to prove something. Casey is out to prove her innocence. Dylan is out to prove that he's not damaged. Dylan is a war veteran, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. As he gets to know the type of person Casey is, he believes she also has PTSD. Casey has never gotten over the death of her father. At 12 years old, she discovered his lifeless body. The local police immediately said it was a suicide, but Casey is not convinced. She has never stopped searching for the truth. Did that search for the truth lead to Brent's death?

This is a Christian fiction book. I don't normally read faith-based books. Mainly because I worry the author is pushing an agenda. That's definitely not the case here. Religion is actually a very small piece of this book. The characters are at the heart of the story. I was fully invested in Casey and Dylan's story.

I started out really really liking this book. I found Casey to be extremely intelligent in the first half of the book, but my opinion changed in the second half. She wants to prove her innocence. When she gets evidence that could point to her innocence and someone else's guilt, Casey doesn't do enough with that evidence. In my opinion she could have done more. We're in a social media age. Blast that stuff on social media and let the conversation start. Let people start to truly believe in your innocence. While I was reading this book, in my mind I was screaming for her to do more.

Casey needed to do more to help her own situation. Instead, she tries to solve someone else's problem. She befriends a family and gets embroiled in their life. Making friends is a borderline bad decision. Trying to solve their problems when she has her own was just wrong. By trying to be a hero, she's risking her own safety and freedom. It's great to have a sense of altruism, but not when your own life is in turmoil.

The ending felt a little abrupt to me. There wasn't a definite conclusion to her story. According to Goodreads, this is just book #1. Whaaaattttttt! While this first entry in Casey's story is not my favorite, I'm curious to see how the rest of her journey unfolds.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from FSB Associates in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

My take on: The Edge of Lost

The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris, starts with such a big tease! The book opens in 1937, on Alcatraz island. A little girl has gone missing. And........then the book flashes back 1919!!

Again, what a tease! No big hint of how this will relate to the rest of the story. But because I've heard nothing but good things about Kristina McMorris' writing, I trusted that I was in for a great read. And...I was!

In 1919 Ireland, we meet a young boy named Shan. His mother has died. He doesn't know much about his father, leaving Shan to be "raised" by the unscrupulous Uncle Will. I say "raised" because Uncle Will makes Shan earn his keep by performing in seedy pubs. It's not that Shan doesn't like singing/performing, he dreams of making a career out of it. He also dreams of meeting his father. After learning that his father is a soldier in America, leaving Ireland is all Shan can think about. Uncle Will actually gets on board with making the trip. I don't think I'm spoiling much by saying that Uncle Will dies on the ship as they head to New York. It happens very early in the book, forcing Shan to think quickly. How will he get off the ship without Uncle Will? How can he get through customs without Uncle Will? More importantly, how will he ever find his father?

Lucky for Shan he made friends on the boat with Nick Capello. Nick's parents pretend that Shan is their son Tommy, the only hitch is that the real Tommy is dead. While they get through customs, what will happen after? Is it fair to the Capellos for Shan to continue pretending to be a member of the family, especially a dead one. That question gets answered quickly. Mr. and Mrs. Capello, their daughter, Lina, and Nick grow to love Shan. The search for Shan's biological father fades away. The Capello family is at the heart of this story. They are a family that anyone can relate to. Nick fights his father's authority, choosing instead to embrace the lifestyle of a small-time gangster during the height of Prohibition. Shan and Lina choose not to fight their father's authority. They choose to follow the rules, they choose to go to school, they choose to work hard and in the right way. Rather than disappoint his father, it's easier for Nick to be away from the family. A family blowup, leads to long-buried feelings. Shan chooses to do exactly what Nick did, separating himself from the family. But he's pulled back, an action that has a devastating impact on the rest of his life.

Shan is the character I connected to the most. Despite the Capellos welcoming him to the family, deep down Shan always wonders if he's a true member of the family. He believes he has to work extra hard to remain a part of the family. He really doesn't but Shan doesn't realize that. Overall, I love, love, loved this book. I'm a big lover of historical fiction. Now, I have to read the rest of Kristina McMorris' backlist.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Kensington). The Edge of Lost is one of the winter selections for She Reads.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

My take on: Ginny Gall

"He shuddered.  The wind was cold. It tasted of unvisited streams and rock. He wondered again how it had been for his mother making her way in the dark over the mountains. Had she forgotten him? He couldn't sense her out there in the wilderness, but he believed she was there. But where was he? And what was he, standing at the end of a leafy alley in Chattanooga, Tennessee? His hands were still attached, his face uncut, his side unburnt. But for how long? How easy it was to step off into ruin." Pg. 68

Ginny Gall by Charlie Smith is a layered portrait of an African-American young man growing up in the Jim Crow south. Delvin Walker's mother is on the run from the law. Accused of murder, Delvin's mother is not coming back. He and his siblings are left to fend for themselves.

Delvin comes of age as an apprentice for a local funeral home director, Cornelius Oliver. At the funeral home, Mr. Oliver indulges Delvin's love of reading. He even awakens Delvin's deep sense of compassion. The violent death of a young man brings Delvin's unresolved emotions about his mother to the surface. This young man was beaten and burned to death for allegedly stealing from a white woman. His death had eerie parallels to the real-life murder of Emmett Till, a young black boy killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. In Ginny Gall, Delvin realizes he is not that far removed from a beaten and burned black boy in a casket at Mr. Oliver's funeral home. Who is Delvin really? If not for Mr. Oliver's influence, how easy would it be for Delvin to go in the wrong direction? What does the future hold for Delvin? Is his future at the funeral home or is it somewhere else?

It is somewhere else. An incident (if you want to know what read the book) forces Delvin to hit the road. Riding the trains, Delvin sees the world from a different perspective. He's no longer a teenage boy with responsibility. He's a free spirit, learning to survive in a world that is not kind to young black men. He experiences a lot of physical and emotional pain.

I had a hard time with this book. Sometimes I wasn't sure if liked this book or not. I think the author does a good job of highlighting the brutality of racism...but it takes sooooooo long to get there. Smith's prose is very poetic but it's also very detailed. He uses 50 words when 30 will do. Sometimes it was just too much. Sometimes less is more. Overall, I think this was good book that got bogged down with too much detail.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

My take on: Noah's Wife

A minister and her wife arrive in a dreary, wet, gray town. It rains all day and all night. It has rained for as long as anyone can remember. The people in this community are very tight-knit. The community is resistant to change -- and to newcomers. But as the rains increase, and the rivers rise this town will have to change. Their lives depend on it.

Noah's Wife by Lindsay Starck is a modern-day take on Noah's Ark.

From beginning to end, I wasn't sure what to make of this book. I liked the writing. I liked the characters. When I was finished, I was left with "what does this all mean?" I'm not overtly religious. I was worried about that going into this book.

Was this going to be a book preaching about the virtues of religion?

It's not a preachy book. This is a story about people. About the people they love. About the choices they make. About the consequences. About the future. These are themes that everyone can relate to.

Noah has been assigned to this town after the previous minister died under mysterious circumstances. Noah believes he can help this town. He believes he can help restore the town's faith in God and in each other. Noah's Wife want to help her husband. All she has to do is be supportive and make friends. But both of them were drowning before they arrived in this town. Noah's faith in himself and in God is waning. Noah's Wife has lost herself in her marriage.

The townspeople are equally in turmoil. Mrs. McGinn is the town matriarch. People come to her for help, but she has trouble solving problems within her own family. Mrs. McGinn's daughter, Angela Rose, wants out of this town. Her fiance, the zookeeper, wants to stay. But both of them have trouble expressing their feelings. The zookeeper loves Mrs. McGinn's daughter, but he also loves taking care of the animals at the local zoo. Who would take care of the animals if he wasn't there? Mrs. McGinn's daughter doesn't understand that desire to help others. She only understands her desire to leave this town. Mauro, the local shopkeeper, has literally lost his life savings to this town. That money was going to be his way out. Where will his motivation to go on come from?

With the ever increasing water in the town, the animals are forced out of the zoo and into the homes of everyone in town. Snakes, peacocks, penguins, alligators, zebras, and more flood the community. The weatherman, who is an outsider, tries to warn the town of the increasing danger. The weatherman tries to get them to leave before they all die. But if they try to leave, it will force the town to face their problems. No one wants to face their problems in this town.

The ending is a bit open-ended, but I can't see the book ending any other way. There's hope for the town, but things could easily go the other way. But if there is something that bugged me about this book, it's the names. Why couldn't Noah's Wife get a name? I wasn't referring to her that way by accident. Unless I missed it, Noah's Wife never got an actual name. Otherwise, this is a book that I would recommend and an author I would read again.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Penguin) in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

One more book to add to the TBR

I loved Taylor Jenkins Reid's last book, Maybe in Another Life. And now....I'm looking forward to her next book, One True Loves.

In her twenties, Emma Blair marries her high school sweetheart, Jesse. They build a life for themselves, far away from the expectations of their parents and the people of their hometown in Massachusetts. They travel the world together, living life to the fullest and seizing every opportunity for adventure.

On their first wedding anniversary, Jesse is on a helicopter over the Pacific when it goes missing. Just like that, Jesse is gone forever.

Emma quits her job and moves home in an effort to put her life back together. Years later, now in her thirties, Emma runs into an old friend, Sam, and finds herself falling in love again. When Emma and Sam get engaged, it feels like Emma’s second chance at happiness.

That is, until Jesse is found. He’s alive, and he’s been trying all these years to come home to her. With a husband and a fiancĂ©, Emma has to now figure out who she is and what she wants, while trying to protect the ones she loves.

Who is her one true love? What does it mean to love truly?

Emma knows she has to listen to her heart. She’s just not sure what it’s saying.

Taylor Jenkins Reid is an essayist and novelist living in Los Angeles and the acclaimed author of Maybe in Another Life, After I Do, and Forever, Interrupted. Before becoming a writer, she worked in entertainment and education.

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