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Mini Reviews for January

The Good Daughter #1 by Karin Slaughter

Genre: Mystery

Published 2017, 656 pages

This reads much faster than the 600 page count would have you think. It's fast paced - not action-packed, but always lots of material to think about. The small mystery revolves around a school shooting. But, the real story is about two sisters who suffer an unspeakable tragedy in their teens. It's revealed right at the beginning, so it's no spoiler to say their mom is murdered in front of them and they are terrorized before one manages to escape and one is left for dead. The story picks up years later and the largest chunk of the book explores their relationship (or lack of one), the lasting impact that early tragedy had on them individually, their relationship with their dad, etc.

Ultimately it's a story of survival. How do you get through the days, through your life, when THE person you most loved and admired is killed? There's a surprise revelation toward the end that felt a bit contrived, but it certainly didn't spoil the story.

The characters are excellent and so completely developed: the reader knows their fears and failings and strengths; I particularly liked the dialog. Anger and pain, tears and smiles all were present and accounted for. I listened to this on audio on my commute and just couldn't wait to get back in the car! The voicing is excellent.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Genre: Memoir

Published March 2020, 352 pages

I have mixed feelings about this book. There were more than a few situations, quotes, and metaphors that resonated with me for one reason or another. I appreciate any author that can articulate their personal growth in such a clear and readable way. Talking about, explaining, feelings is tough - having the words to describe change and growth is hard. Framing the information so it doesn't feel like a lecture or a know-it-all position is hard. I think she succeeded sometimes and sometimes I found myself skimming along past the blah, blah, blah of ramblings.

The chapters are short, making for quick bites of information, usually about a specific situation or issue. She tackles the biggest issue of self actualization/realization as she discusses female self image indoctrination and 'programming'. She shares the failure of her first marriage to her husband and her passionate love and marriage to her wife. She also gives her perspective on everything ranging from how to let your kids be their own person, to the BLM, to God and religion. I feel like there's enough substance to the book that most readers will find something of value.

Reading Challenge: #Popsugar21: by online personality; #BooklistQueen20: self improvement

Memory Lane by Sara Shepard

Genre: Sci Fi, Thriller

Published January 2021, 150 pages?

I don't know about this book. For one thing, it's VERY short though no page # count is listed; it feels more like a novella - definitely under 200 pages. A lot happens in that short time, but it almost feels like the author sat down and dashed off the lines. Maybe that's because the pace feels frenetic and busy. Is that a good thing?

The bones of the story of a mom's memories being implanted/shared with her daughter is definitely intriguing, but when those memories turn out to be ones the mom actually DOESN'T remember, the confusion explodes. I got tired of everything in the daughter's life revolving around her unknown father - I guess if you never knew anything about your father, your mind might be a bit obsessed, but in a book it begins to feel awfully repetitive. And the end. Hmmmm. Definitely a cliffhanger - as in, I feel like I was in the middle of the book and it just stops. Very abrupt. Feels like it's set up for book #2 which I won't be reading.

I received this book as a #NetGalley "read now" ARC book and the opinions are my own.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

Genre: Mystery

Published 2018, 406 pages

I found this to be an average thriller with chapters jumping from person to person and timeframe to timeframe. It's a bit jumbled of a way to tell the story, but there aren't so many characters to keep track of and a few of the minor ones don't really factor into the mystery, so it's not impossible.

It's sort of a classic 'closed room' murder when a group of friends get together at a remote Scottish location to celebrate New Years, they get snowed in, a death occurs, which friend did it? In fact we aren't even sure who the victim is until quite late in the story. We get everyone's back story a chapter at a time then hop forward to the current day, then back to college, current day, recent past, etc. That got a bit distracting.

It's readable enough, the writing is fine, it moves along at a good pace, but.....I didn't love it.

Reading Challenge: #Popsugar21: locked room mystery

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Genre: General Fiction

Published 2014, 292 pages

I didn't enjoy this book as much as Little Fires Everywhere. This one was a pretty heavy family drama that starts with the death of the favored teenage daughter. The book then looks backward and explores in depth all the family dynamics and how the relationships developed. On one hand, it's the story of how parental expectations shape their kids' lives. On the other hand it's almost an overly stereotypical story of parental expectations.

The parents were like cardboard cutouts - Chinese dad who dealt with discrimination and not fitting in anywhere and a mom who gave up her dreams of being a doctor to marry. Those 2 issues defined their lives to the exclusion of all else and every interaction with their kids was about that. They were the embodiment of what NOT to do to force your issues on your kids. Very one dimensional. The older brother, Nathan, is only a character to be a foil to contrast Lydia against - he's smart and focused but parents ignore him in favor of sister Lydia. Lydia has all the pressures of the parental expectations and crumbles under the weight. Hannah, the youngest is the invisible one notices her. Very stereotypical - and again, their behaviors don't round them out as people, just reinforce the one dominant element of their relationships.

It's got some insightful moments and some beautiful phrasing, but that wasn't enough to make me look past the one dimensional characters. Disappointing.

Reading Challenge: #BooklistQueen21: audio book

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Genre: General Fiction

Awards: Pulitzer Prize

Published 2019, 224 pages

After all the hype and reviews talking about "harrowing" and "heartbreaking" events, the story ultimately felt more lightweight than I expected. While the events hinted at were certainly terrible and heartbreaking (since it's based on true), the emotional impact of his writing style was lacking. For the faint of heart, only one event is actually described in any detail, everything else is only intimated, shown from the edges.

While the story told is of a undeniably dark time and place, I somehow expected more. It might be because I didn't love the writing style.... it felt too removed, too reporterly. There wasn't enough depth to feel connected to the characters. I loved Underground Railroad but this one didn't have the same engaging writing style. I certainly think it's a story that needs to be told; I just didn't care for the way in which it was done.

Black Water Rising #1 Porter by Attica Locke

Genre: Legal Thriller

Published 2009, 430 pages

I read and really enjoyed Locke's Hwy 59 series (Bluebird, Bluebird and Heaven, My Home) so thought I'd go back to the beginning - this is her debut novel. I found it engrossing, satisfying, and complex. The main character of Jay, a down on his luck black lawyer in Houston, is a tortured soul of a guy that is trying to overcome his daily fears of being a black man in a white society. His wife is pregnant and he's being pushed/pulled as he longs to be a good family man, but also dealing with major issues from his past.

I found myself confused sometimes about the various characters and trying to remember who they were and the oil connection was pretty complex and lost me more than a couple times. That aside, I loved the character of Jay - his uncertainties and the challenges he faced as a black man. The history of his involvement with the civil rights movement was well done and I liked how his passion was portrayed. A strong, good read.

Reading Challenge: #BooklistQueen21: over 400 pages; #52book: by an author of color

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