Wednesday, January 27, 2021

There is so much more inside me now: DETRANSITION BABY.

Detransition, BabyDetransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A meandering but insightful look into the lives of an interconnected trio

Reese and Amy nearly had it all--a loving relationship, an apartment, and safety in each other: something extremely difficult for trans women to find. But that all changes when Amy decides to detransition and become Ames. Now Reese feels lost and alone, turning to her old patterns of sleeping with men who treat her poorly. And Ames isn't particularly happy either, though he's found a sort of comfort in his relationship with his boss, Katrina. But when Katrina discovers she's pregnant--with Ames' child--Ames is forced to confront a lot of his fears about masculinity and fatherhood. He also wonders if it's a chance for family. Reese has always longed for a baby; could he, Reese, and Katrina raise this child together?

"Somewhere, somehow, Amy did the impossible. She got herself a baby."

I love that this diverse book was my 300th read for Netgalley. I love love love that there is a story about trans women being celebrated and heralded on "must read" lists. I enjoyed so much about this book. Reese and Amy are detailed and realistic characters who--to me at least--did not seem stereotypical or one-dimensional. I felt like I learned so much reading their raw, emotional, and lovely story.

The tale of Ames becoming a parent--and wanting to involve Reese--was an interesting and dynamic one for me. I could completely understand Reese's longing for motherhood and how she felt on the outside looking in. This part of the book was original and fascinating. Pieces of the story were utterly hilarious, despite some of the serious subject matter. There is a chapter where Reese attends an essential oils party with Katrina and other straight/cis women that made me laugh out loud. Peters captures her voice so perfectly. There's a vulnerability and realness to Reese that makes her a captivating character from the start.

"Reese had already diagnosed her own problem. She didn't know how to be alone. She fled from her own company, from her own solitude."

The hardest part for me about this book had nothing to do with its subject matter (if that's a problem for you, you're the problem), but the fact that it veers between the past and the present, going on tangents about Reese and Amy's past. Sometimes it seemed like it just needed a strong edit, with someone willing to strike about half of those passages. Or perhaps I just wanted to get on with the present, the impending baby, and Reese, Katrina, and Ames' story. I'm not sure. But I was nearly compelled to skim some of these long passages. It was just a lot. And then, after all that, the book just sort of ended, to me, without much resolution, and I felt a bit betrayed.

Still, do not get me wrong. This is an excellent and important story, and more such stories like this need to be told. I definitely recommend it, and I bet any forthcoming books from Peters will only get better and better. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Random House in return for an unbiased review.

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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Cause all of my kindness, is taken for weakness: CONCRETE ROSE.

Concrete RoseConcrete Rose by Angie Thomas
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

A striking prequel to The Hate You Give

Maverick Carter feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. With his father in prison, he has to help his mother financially while still attending high school. To do so, he's secretly dealing drugs with some of his friends, and he's a member of the King Lords gang, same as his father, for protection. But when Mav finds out he's becoming a father too, everything changes. His son, Seven, alters his view on the world. He wants to stop dealing, to get a real job, maybe even leave the gang. And when a murder rocks his community, Maverick is forced to grow up quickly and figure out exactly what his future holds.

"When it comes to the streets, there’s rules. They ain’t written down, and you won’t find them in a book."

CONCRETE ROSE takes place around seventeen years before Thomas' hit THE HATE YOU GIVE, and it's absolutely riveting. Talk about the book you didn't know you needed, but once you read it, you'll never forget it. Thomas perfectly captures teen Maverick's voice and his early life, including all the pressures that come with being a young black man in his community.

Thomas deftly shows how institutionalized racism has affected Maverick's entire world--his father in prison, the gang life that surrounds him, the standards and judgements forced upon him. Maverick wants to go straight, but the pressures he faces--having to support his family as a kid, other family members who want him in a gang--are nearly overwhelming.

This book touches on friendship, family, belonging, and so much more. It's spellbinding and so well-done. The fact that it has ties to THUG is even better, giving insight into more of that world. Overall, it's incredibly engrossing and insightful. Honestly, I was sad it didn't cover more time up to THUG. 4.5 stars.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

When you look behind you there's nothing there to see: YOU HAVE A MATCH.

You Have a MatchYou Have a Match by Emma Lord

Abby only signs up for a DNA test to help her friend (and secret crush) Leo. But when the results come back, it's not Leo who gets a surprise, it's Abby. Apparently, she has an older sister. And not a half sister, but a full-fledged sister. A sister who just happens to be beautiful, polished, Instagram star, Savannah "Savvy" Tully, who is only a year and half older than Abby. Neither Abby or Savvy can figure out how this happened, so they hatch a plan. They'll both attend summer camp at Camp Reynolds, where they can learn more about their parents and each other. But they quickly learn that they are very different: Savvy is a rule follower who is addicted to her Instagram and follower count. Abby is more go-with-the-flow. And, of course, there's Leo, who turns up at the same camp. How on earth will Abby negotiate her newfound sister, her secret crush--oh, and the fact that her parents will soon realize she lied about going to camp?

"Normal isn't having a big, stupid, ridiculous crush on one of my best friends, especially when he most certainly doesn't have one on me."

So, this is a good book, but I have to admit that I was disappointed because it wasn't the same as TWEET CUTE. I absolutely loved that YA romance, and while this is an interesting read, it just didn't have the romantic twang of TWEET CUTE. It's probably not fair to compare the two, but I couldn't help it. MATCH focuses less on romantic chemistry and more on Abby finding her way/coming of age and meeting Savvy, her "new" sister.

I actually liked the sister piece overall. The DNA twist is different (rarely do we get full siblings!) and there's also a nice LGBTQIA relationship thrown in. But, I never felt like Abby and Leo's relationship fully gelled. It just didn't feel as fun and flirty as I wanted. And, much of the book's plot is propelled by misunderstandings. At some point, it got to be too much: if some characters had just spoken up, so much could have been avoided! There's so much going on--the sister aspect, romance, secrets, etc. At times, it feels like the plot is struggling to contain them all.

Still, there's a lot to enjoy about this story. Don't get me wrong at all. The camp setting is a lot of fun, and Abby and Savvy are both great characters. Watching Abby develop is rewarding, and there are plenty of humorous and tender scenes as the sisters get to know each other. Even though MATCH didn't meet my TWEET CUTE expectations, it's an enjoyable read. (I judge romances on whether I'll get a copy for my SIL and this one passes the test.) 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin's Press and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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Sunday, January 17, 2021

You're the place I miss when my heart gets heavy: THE KINDEST LIE.

The Kindest LieThe Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Well-written literary fiction that examines racism and class issues

In 2008, the election of Barack Obama brings a new sense of optimism, especially to the Black community. In the south side of Chicago, Ruth Tuttle and her husband, Xavier, have a nice home and good jobs. Xavier is ready to start a family. But Ruth remains unsure. She cannot get past the baby she gave birth to at seventeen and then gave away. It's a secret she's kept all these years, even from Xavier. When Ruth finally admits what happened, she feels compelled to return home and find out what happened to her child. Her working-class Indiana hometown has seen better days. And her grandmother and brother are unwilling to tell the truth about what happened to her child, holding fast to the idea that they sacrificed so Ruth could have a better life. As Ruth begins investigating on her own, she meets Midnight, a young white teen who is struggling too. The two form an unlikely bond, but it soon may be tested in a town teeming with its own racism issues.

"A lie could be kind to you if you wanted it to be, if you let it. With every year that passed, it became easier to put more distance between her old life and her new one."

This is a beautifully written book that deftly examines the issues of racism and class in America. It sneaks up on you with its wonderfully done story, filled with tenderness and longing. The characters are so excellent, with Midnight and Ruth (and the supporting cast) simply popping off the pages and becoming real as you read. The story is told from both Ruth and Midnight's points of view, giving a depth and insight to the plot, as we hear from both an educated and complex Black women and a scared white kid trying to survive.

Johnson does a wonderful job of portraying the struggles of being Black in America: whether you're a college-educated woman such a Ruth, or whether you're her brother Eli, unemployed after the closure of the plant in their hometown, which has basically killed the hope and livelihood of many of the town's residents (both Black and white). The book covers race and class in a thoughtful way--often sad, often touching, and always well-done.

This is an excellent book that puts you in the place of its characters. It is thoughtful and timely. 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from LibraryThing and William Morrow in return for an unbiased review. It is available on 2/2/2021.

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Friday, January 08, 2021

You burn your mansion to the ground: THE PERFECT GUESTS.

The Perfect GuestsThe Perfect Guests by Emma Rous
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fascinating and atmospheric thriller

In 1988, fourteen-year-old Beth arrives at Raven Hall. An orphan, Beth has been chosen to keep Nina Averell, the teenage daughter who lives with her parents there, company. She becomes part of the family, almost feeling as if she belongs there. But then Nina's parents ask Beth to do something strange, forcing her to question everything, and soon nothing will ever be the same. In 2019, struggling actress Sadie Langton takes a job as part of a murder mystery dinner party. She's amazed when she arrives at the location, a beautiful manor called Raven Hall. But once the pretend party starts, Sadie realizes that something seems off--and that their "host" is toying with everyone, including her.

This was an excellent thriller that draws you in immediately and never lets go. Rous gives us an atmospheric tale, with Raven Hall and the Fens practically appearing before your eyes while reading. It doesn't get much better than a creepy book set in a weird, rambling castle, right?

THE PERFECT GUESTS alternates between Beth's story, set in the past; Sadie's, set in the present; and an unnamed voice. Trying to figure out how everyone is interconnected is part of the book's intrigue. I definitely worked some parts out early on--others were a surprise. Still, the result is a very twisty and compelling read.

Overall, this is a page-turner with a fascinating plot. I'm a fan of Emma Rous and her way of sucking the reader into her books. GUESTS sets an atmospheric scene and offers plenty for mystery fans to puzzle out. 3.75 stars, rounded up to 4 here.

I received a copy of this book from Berkley Publishing Group and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. It is available on 1/12/2021.

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Monday, January 04, 2021

And there's nowhere to hide: PRETTY LITTLE WIFE.

Pretty Little WifePretty Little Wife by Darby Kane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Slow to start, but ultimately an intriguing and unique thriller

Lila Ridgefield's husband is missing. A beloved high school teacher, his boss, colleagues, and brother cannot believe that Aaron Payne would just disappear. He's certainly not the type to simply not show up for work one day. As for his wife, Lila is known more for her cold and quiet demeanor (and, let's be honest, her beauty). She's also pretty confused, because the last time she saw Aaron, she was rather convinced she was looking at his dead body. So where's his car she left behind--and the body? Investigator Ginny Davis is called to look into Aaron's disappearance. At first it seems unrelated to that of a missing local student. But the more Ginny digs, the more she starts to wonder. And the more Lila digs, the more she fears her husband is still alive.

"Despite all her careful planning, he was gone. She had to find Aaron before he found her."

Well, this was quite a book. The beginning was a bit slow for me--it took too long to get to the exciting part, and it was repetitive. It felt like bits and pieces were rehashed over and over. I wanted to shake Lila and tell her to get on with it!

But, once everything gets moving, this is quite an exciting thriller. The last fourth of the story especially is incredibly electrifying and, for the most part, keeps you guessing. (I had a decent idea about whodunnit, but it didn't diminish my enjoyment at all.) I loved the concept of a mystery where the woman kills her husband, yet the main story is, surprise: he disappears anyway. The dynamic between cunning Lila, whom you're never sure you can trust, and Ginny, who is a straightforward and honest investigator, is excellent. I enjoy a book with strong female protagonists and these two are excellent.

Overall, even though this dragged for a bit, it's certainly worth a read. For one thing, it's different, which is so refreshing in the thriller genre. It's also dark, intriguing, and surprising. 3.5 stars, rounded to 4 here.

I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins Publishers and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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Sunday, January 03, 2021

N, A to Challenge: NO EXIT.

No ExitNo Exit by Taylor Adams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the fourteenth book in my #atozchallenge! I'm challenging myself to read a book from my shelves that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Let's clear those shelves and delve into that backlist!

Driving home to Utah to see her dying mother, college student Darby Thorne gets stuck in a terrible snowstorm. It forces her to stop at a rest area in Colorado. There she finds four other strangers stranded as well. When going back out to her car to try to get a cell signal, Darby makes a horrible discovery: in the van next to her vehicle, there's a little girl locked in a crate. Darby has no cell signal, there's no phone at the rest stop, and no way of knowing which of the four strangers has abducted this child. She's trapped and must find a way to rescue the kid. But how?

When I first picked up this book, I found it a little slow. Honestly, I think it's just because it stressed me out completely. One young college student trapped in the snow, trying to save a kid. It's a lot. I will say that Darby Thorne is a total badass (much like my hero, Darby Shaw, of The Pelican Brief).

This book is basically just a horror show, filled with violence, terror, and suspense. You don't know who Darby can trust, or what on earth will happen next. Adams packs a lot of tension into a book set in a rest area, and into a story that spans over less than half a day. It's pretty impressive.

Overall, while I can't say I completely enjoyed this book, because I was constantly worried, it's very well-done and suspenseful. 3.5 stars, rounded to 4 here.

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