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Week 4 Reading Round-Up

Updated: Feb 4

Because of the snow last week, most of my week night events were rescheduled for this week. And this was also the last week of the semester at my muggle job. Overall, I was busy, so I had a limited time to read. I still managed to fit in 4 books and a DNF.


In this post:

My Stats


Weekly Stats:

  • 4 books;

  • 1 DNF @ 50% (Good For You by Camille Pagan - not reviewed)

  • 3 audiobooks, 1 ebook

  • 1 debut author, 1 backlist, 3 new releases

  • 3 ARCS, 1 library book

  • Average Rating: 3⭐

Yearly Stats:


Here are my spoiler free reviews based on the order in which I read them. You can also find these on Goodreads and StoryGraph! I've also included potential prompts these books could fit into for the two reading challenges I'm participating in.


 

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Goodreads Rating: 4.3


Genre: Adult General Fiction

Format: NetGalley ARC - audiobook

Releases: January 23, 2024


In interviews, and through her main character, Frankel sets out to give an alternate, and ultimately more positive, story about adoption than the tragic ones we usually see in literature and movies. Throughout history, adoption stories start in tragedy - orphans, drug-addicts, CPS, war-torn countries. All of that is true and does happen. But through Frankel's characters (and based in part on her own adoption journey), she makes it clear that adoption can be uplifting and a positive choice and come from a place of love - both from the parents placing their children and the adoptive parents receiving the gift of parenthood.


While this wasn't a perfect book - some of the childrens' perspectives were a bit over the top and honestly annoying and I could have done without the play by play of COVID (although I guess as this book ages it will become necessary) - it was a compelling, solid 4-star read for me. I cared about the characters. I appreciated all the different perspectives of the people involved in adoption stories. I loved the hopeful, happy ending (at which I cried a few times). I wish all adoption stories and the children and parents involved in adoption stories could experience such well-adjusted and happy endings.


This book is told in dual timelines - the current one where super-star actress and adoptive mom India Allwood's life is imploding because of some comments she made regarding her new movie (about adoption) and her own adoption experience. But she's keeping a secret. Not only is she an adoptive mom to twins Fig and Jack, but she also experienced giving up a baby for adoption when she got pregnant her senior year of college. When the media discovers this (because her bio-daughter posts on social media outing her and India), it devolves into the exact storm you would expect from social media trolls and those who like to judge others without the entire story.


The other timeline starts when India was in high school and explains how her family was created from the first time she met her baby-daddy and first love Robby, through college and how she came to be the mega star she is now, to her decision to adopt, and up to the present where everyone from her past is thrust upon her in the best and most messy way.


There were a few eye-roll moments, and I thought the message was VERY heavy-handed at times. Frankel wants to make her message about adoption and the definition of family VERY clear to the point of repeating it often and explicitly and often. Did I mention often? But, since she is an adoptive mother herself, I can give a little leeway in her passion for the topic.


Overall, if you like character-driven novels that delve into the complicated family relationships and you don't mind many of the chapters being told from 10 and 12 year olds - very precocious and very astute 10 year olds to the point of disbelief at times - then this would be a good book for you. Don't let the length scare you - it was a fast read. Or for me - a fast listen. I enjoyed the narrator (her voice actually reminds me of Erin from The Office TV show). She switched her voice just enough to distinguish the characters but not enough to make me annoyed or to seem like she was trying too hard. And I really enjoyed hearing the author's note at the end in Frankel's own voice.


Thank you so much to NetGalley, Laurie Frankel, and the publisher for allowing me to listen to and review an ARC of this very engaging, heart-warming, and lovely read.


📕52 Book Club 2024 Reading Challenge Prompts: #7 4 or More POVs; #8 Features the Ocean; #9 A Character-Driven Novel; #10 Told in Non-Chronological Order; #14 A Grieving Character; #24 Cover Without People; #37 Palindrome on the Cover; #43 About Finding Identity; #45 Chapters Have Dates; #52 Pubbed in 2024

📕Booklist Queen 2024 Reading Challenge Prompts: #5 An Audiobook; #10 About Starting Over; #17 Multiple POVs; #25 About Secrets; #28 Character Who is an Author; #29 Recommended by a Podcast; #46 2024 New Release

 

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Goodreads Rating: 4.25


Genre: Adult Dark Psychological Thriller/Contemporary Fiction

Format: Audiobook - Libby

Releases: July 18, 2023


When I say Dark Psychological Thriller, I mean Da-a-a-ark. The main character is, in her own words, socially deficient and suffering from some major PTSD. The first paragraph indicates that after her father tells her to "just put him out with the bins" when he dies. When she takes him seriously, a national inquiry begins and brings to light a lot of secrets from Sally's past, including the truth behind her adoption and the reason why she is so socially deficient.


The story has themes of child abuse, abduction, nature versus nurture, pedophilia, family drama, psychology practices, PTSD, rape, and murder. It explores the relationship between a pedophilic child abductor and the children he fathered while their mother was in captivity. Fun times!


But it also has hope and three-dimensional albeit flawed characters. There is some redemption and I was rooting for Sally the entire time.


I don't want to give too much away, but if you enjoy an untidy ending with darker themes, this book is for you.


📕52 Book Club 2024 Reading Challenge Prompts: #4 Lowercase on the Spine, #8 Features the Ocean; #9 A Character-Driven Novel, #10 Told in Non-Chronological Order, #14 A Grieving Character, #31 Includes a Personal Phobia (agoraphobia, abduction, captivity), #33 An Abrupt Ending, #43 About Finding Identity, #46 Featuring an Indigenous Culture (Maori); #51 Related to the World Wild,

📕Booklist Queen 2024 Reading Challenge Prompts: #3 About Mental Health, #5 An Audiobook, #9 With an Epilogue, #10 About Starting Over, #12 Flowers on the Cover, #25 About Secrets, #17 Multiple POVs, #18 A Book You Couldn't Put Down; #21 2023 Bestseller; #22 Intriguing Premise; #29 Recommended by a Podcast; #32 Set in a Small Town

 

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Goodreads Rating: 4.25


Genre: Hybrid - Romance, Magical Realism/Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Format: NetGalley ARC - Audiobook

Releases: February 6, 2024


I LOVED Tia Williams' last novel Seven Days in June. 5 star read for me; so I had high hopes for her sophomore effort. And I'm having a hard time pinpointing a rating for this book. Let me explain.


I love crunchy dill pickles. I also love nacho chips and could eat spaghetti every single day. I do NOT love all of these things together. This is the best way I can describe my feelings about this book. I feel like it was trying to be too many things all at once and, although I loved each part separately, to me, they didn't really fit together as a whole.


The dual timeline worked for me a little. I loved learning about the 1920s during the Harlem Renaissance. Williams clearly did some research into this time period and her descriptions were amazing. I could feel the jazz and hope and excitement in the community. I would have loved to have even more about this time period and the history of it.


I also enjoyed the background on the voodoo religion. We don't hear much about the practice beyond the negative portrayal of it in (often) white-washed books and movies. And although I don't usually go in for paranormal/magic, in this historical context it worked for me.


The romance angle was a bit too fated-mates/insta-love for my taste. I enjoyed the moments between the two characters and her love scenes were tastefully done. But it didn't have the build-up I was hoping for. The forced separation at the beginning that was supposed to part of the mystery dragged for me and was very repetitive. I was definitely rooting for the couple by the end and hoped they'd get together although nothing about the mystery or the way the book wrapped up was at all a surprise.


One thing that bothers me about book synopsis' is when the paranormal/magical aspects of the book are not mentioned. I like knowing going in that there is going to be some fantastical elements. Maybe I missed that in the promotion for this book or maybe I made assumptions based on the lack of magic/fantasy elements in Seven Days in June, but I wanted to roll my eyes when, at about 60% in, this took a DEEP DIVE into fantasy/magic. There was an imagined "species" for goodness sake... I don't like that. I think it took away from the entire story for me. If I had known going in or there were hints at the beginning this was where it was going (like Addie Larue), then maybe it wouldn't have bothered me so much. I mean, even the epilogue was from a ghost's POV.


So, is this a romance? A historical fiction? A fantasy/magical realism? A fated mates? I don't know and I don't think the book knows either. If you are looking for a similar book to Seven Days in June, this is not it. This is a completely different feel and even sort of genre from that book.


Beyond the vast array of genres, the book also has a washed up child TV actress (whom I love, but is given her own POV chapters when convenient), a grieving 96-year-old widow (also given POV chapters sporadically), and a typical one-dimensional family that doesn't support the "crazy" dreams of the youngest daughter (Ricki of titular fame) even though her crazy dream is to be a botanist and own a flower shop... Wild! (or should I say Wilde).


I listened to the audiobook and found the narrators (one female for Ricki and one male for Ezra) to be lovely. Their voices were soothing and consistent. They were both able to adjust the cadence of their voices to differentiate between characters without it becoming annoying or over the top. I really enjoyed their voices for these characters.


Overall, I really enjoy Williams' character development, her sense of time and place, the nods to black history and culture and ideas of representation. I just wish this book could have picked a lane and stayed there. I will give her next one a try as long as she doesn't stick with magical elements.


Thank you to NetGalley, Tia Williams, and the publisher for allowing me to review an advance reader copy of this audiobook.


📕52 Book Club 2024 Reading Challenge Prompts: #4 Lowercase on the Spine; #5 Magical Realism; #7 Four or more POVs; #9 Character-Driven Novel; #10 Told in Non-Chronological Order; #14 A Grieving Character; #26 Hybrid Genre; #29 Pubbed in Year of the Dragon; #38 Pubbed by Hachette; #43 About Finding Identity; #44 Includes a Wedding; #51 Related to the World Wild; #52 Pubbed in 2024

📕Booklist Queen 2024 Reading Challenge Prompts: #5 An Audiobook; #9 With an Epilogue; #10 About Starting Over; #11 Author You Love; #12 Flowers on the Cover; #15 Purple Cover, #17 Multiple POVs; #25 About Secrets; #27 Favorite Genre; #40 About a Historical Event (Harlem Renaissance); #46 2024 New Release;

 

My Rating: ⭐⭐

Goodreads Rating: 3.36


Genre: Cozy Mystery

Format: NetGalley ARC - ebook

Releases: March 26, 2024


You know how they say "write what you know"? Well, in the case of this book - about a TV news reporter written by a TV news reporter - I think the phrase should also add "that will make interesting reading." This book could have benefited from some heavy-handed editing in three specific places:


Even without knowing the author was a TV news reporter, I would have absolutely been able to tell that she was. I feel like she put in every anecdotal story of being a reporter in this book. It reminded me of the early aughts comedy movie American Pie where they repeatedly tell stories that begin "This one time at band camp..." Only in this case it was "This one time in the news room..." For me, after the fourth or fifth one in the first 20 percent alone took me out of the mystery and broke up the main story. I had no idea what was important to remember and what was just for side stories.


Every single side character (even the wife of one of the cameramen who never even appears on the page) has a back story and a name and an anecdotal story to go with them. There were so many named characters (some of whom only appeared on page once or were mentioned in passing) that I couldn't keep them straight, and stopped wanting to. Hardly any of these characters were likable. Unless this is going to become a series (which I haven't read anywhere that it will), there is really no need for alllllll these backstories.


Estes over-explains pretty much every reference to anything real. Jonestown, black widow spiders, places in and around Phoenix, the Tylenol poisoning case, illegal immigration, Trump's election campaign, how social media works... like everything. Does she think her readers have been living under a rock for the last 20 years and haven't heard of these things? I'm not sure. And it makes her main character, who is supposed to be a great reporter, seem like an uninformed idiot.


Speaking of the main character, Jolene - she comes across as a brand new reporter. I think she may be the first character with a backward character arc too. She becomes more slimy and ridiculous as the story continues. I wasn't rooting for her. I found her petty and jealous and self-absorbed and whiny and just... not a really good person. She was mean to her well-meaning neighbor for no reason. She accosted and threatened potential interviewees at inappropriate times. She took advantage of her one source and relied on him too heavily and then blamed him for not getting scoops. She is obsessed with a rival reporter. I just - how old is she supposed to be? Because this sounds like teenager behavior.


There is also some HEAVY-HANDED polarized political views in this book as well. The murder victim is a conservative radio host that loves guns, God, and smearing the liberal Government. His views are expressed along with many of his supporters and detractors. There are some heavy themes of immigration, building a wall, etc. While I understand that these are very big and important issues - especially in a border state like Arizona - they often got in the way of the actual story. The murder and the who-done-it.


For a book that was only 320 pages long, this felt much longer. The pace was agonizingly slow with a redundant "I have information but can't use it" - then "boohoo I got scooped so I'm going to be a sleaze-ball to get a better story." Over and over. While this may be realistic in TV news reporting, it did not make for compelling reading. Then the climax/"big reveal" was almost buried under a drivel of other information in the middle of a chapter. It was sooooo slow, and then BAM over. In short (unlike this review) the pacing was off.


I did enjoy the dialogue (some other reviews think there is too much), but I like a lot of white space and dialogue. Some of the behind the scenes of a newsroom was interesting to learn about (the first time it was mentioned). And I did enjoy learning about life in Arizona. Honestly, though, if this weren't an ARC, I probably would have DNFd it around 30-40%. I just didn't care about any of the characters.


Thank you to NetGalley, the author, and publisher for allowing me to honestly review this ARC copy. I sincerely wish the author luck and I know this book will appeal to some - maybe especially those who live in Arizona and/or are in the TV news field.


📕52 Book Club 2024 Reading Challenge Prompts: #14 A Grieving Character, #24 Cover Without People, #26 Hybrid Genre

📕Booklist Queen 2024 Reading Challenge Prompts: #10 About Starting Over, #25 About Secrets, #18 A Book You Couldn't Put Down, #22 Intriguing Premise, #25 About Secrets, #29 Recommended by a Podcast, #36 A Quick Read, #37 Set During Autumn





That's a wrap on my fourth week of reading. I'd love to know what you are reading! I have a delicious habit of distracting myself from books I own with new books. :)








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