Four Reviews: Goliath Gets Up, In the Strictest Confidence, Sister Christian – Genesis & Lie to Me (Between the Sheets #2)

Goliath Gets Up by Starbuck O’Dwyer

Publication Date: July 15th, 2011

Rating: 1 ¼ Stars

Goliath Gets Up reads like a male dominated sitcom on TV, and not the family channels. While usually these types of TV shows peak my interest (even if I only last a few episodes), it did not translate into the type of reading I enjoyed. However, regardless of whether I enjoyed the reading or not, the author has serious writing talent that could probably translate into that of a screenwriter for said TV show. But, as the reader of a book written in this format, it seemed jumpy and sporadic. It took a few paragraphs of each chapter to get my bearings on the setting and narrative for said chapter.

This book was funny, if not random, and comprised of a story of “Dragon” (yes this is what a grown, 40-year-old man goes by) wanting to make a mark somewhere in his life, ultimately deciding that going over a waterfall is his way to make that mark. The target audience for this read is certainly male. There was a lot of dry, dull humor throughout as I pictured the book with the cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, aged a few years.

That being said, I have not given up on this author. I hope to eventually have the opportunity to read some of his other books, including How to Raise a Good Kid and its sequel High School Dance, as the humor and talent is definitely there.

*Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by LibraryThing.


In the Strictest Confidence by K. Britt-Badman

Publication Date: April 4th, 2016

Rating: 3 ¼ Stars

Frankie, is a divorced mother of two who begins a new job as the councilor of ASF Technologies. This book weaves us through the timeline of each of her ASF Technology patients, over the course of their six weeks of sessions, as she begins to experience frightening things in her home life. As if this isn’t an interesting enough plot the author adds diversity as Frankie’s sisters, and one of her patients, are profoundly deaf.

I loved how author, K. Britt-Badman, laid out this book. The timeline is incredibly easy to follow as we follow Frankie through each of her counseling sessions, week one through six. While the book was seemingly predictable it was extremely engaging and captivated my attention throughout. I found myself wanting to keep reading in all my free moments to see what would happen to Frankie next, as well as, what her patients would confide in her in at their next session.

Ultimately, while this book is enthralling as a standalone novel, I am reminded it is the first book in the series, and as such, I look forward to reading the next book, hopefully coming out soon.

*Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by LibraryThing.


Sister Christian – Genesis by Lisa Beth Darling

Publication Date: November 23rd, 2014

Rating: 4 Stars

I did not expect myself to enjoy this book as much as I did. I am not typically a fan of books within a series, as I feel like it commits me to read the series to the end, but this was a series I could fall for.

While Genesis is book one in the series it opens by introducing us to Dr. Richard Mason’s familial history, including his treacherous relationship with his military father and his focus on being the best at everything. Soon after starting the book, the author throws Hannah Rice into our lives. Hannah is the sister Dr. Mason was unaware of having and, to complicate matters more, Dr. Mason is her new trustee as their “father” recently passed. This “father” was not the father Dr. Mason grew up knowing as his whole life is ripped apart grasping his new caretaking responsibilities while realizing his biological father wasn’t who he thought.

This book reads like an episode of House, complete with Richard Mason, a doctor with a sharp tongue, cane and addiction to pain killers (seriously straight out of the TV Show House). Given my own background, raised with a family very involved in the medical profession, I loved that the author gave us glimpses of Hannah’s internal frustration as the doctors dug to unravel her diagnoses’ past. While this book certainly holds its own as a standalone novel, I hope the author spends more time in future books providing us previews of Hannah’s life, memories and path into Richard Mason’s life, as the remaining books in the series have since been released.

*Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by LibraryThing.


Lie to Me (Between the Sheets #2) by Melinda Di Lorenzo

Publication Date: September 18th, 2017

Rating: 2 ¼ Stars

Why I Chose This Book: After thoroughly enjoying The Follow by Eliza David I was looking for another bad boy romance, newly released felon Derek Stone certainly fit this bill. I found this book also offered a unique “bad girl” scenario as well though, as journalist, Audrey, lies about her identity to get an exclusive story on said bad boy. However, this is where the uniqueness ended.

Why I Disliked This Book: I found the plot was REACHING in some instances to create something that wasn’t there. For instance, some of the “signs” Derek and Audrey weren’t supposed to be together was a squirrel jumping through the window perfectly destroying their kiss and employment contract. Another “sign” was Audrey accidently turning on the dishwasher and destroying the contract she’d hidden in there. These “signs” seemed to be a bit farfetched and distracted from the chemistry between the two. Accompanying these farfetched “signs” was the phrase “Audreying it up,” meaning Audrey somehow ruins a good thing she has going. At one point Audrey, “Audrey’d it up,” when she slipped on the tub and SOMEHOW her phone took naked pictures of her falling and sent them to Derek. I have NEVER heard of such a thing accidentally happening so perfectly and somehow being the cherry on top of keeping Audrey and Derek’s relationship red hot.

Ultimately, while the storyline had all the intrigue, the scenes building on Audrey and Derek’s chemistry were rather implausible.

*Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by LibraryThing.

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Two Reviews: Cashed Out by Michel H. Rubin & The French Girl by Lexie Elliott

Cashed Out by Michael H. Rubin

Publication Date: August 15th, 2017

Stars: 3 Stars

Cashed Out is about a washed up lawyer, Schex, who thinks his luck has changed when a well-known business guru, G.G., knocks on his door requesting his legal assistance. As his lawyer, G.G. asks Schex to secretly hold on to over $4 million on his behalf…days later the business man, G.G., is found dead.

Why I Chose This Book: I was looking for a refreshing, murder read. I don’t often read books revolving around the legal field and I wanted something simple, easy to follow from an author I’d not yet read. Cashed Out certainly fit that bill. It also offered me an escape to Louisiana, a state I’d only heard of, rather than visited personally.

Why I liked this book: Cashed Out provided just enough crime and drama to keep a reader hooked, while not swamping them down in too many twists they lose track of the mystery and thrill. I enjoyed that it touched on color and racial disparity while addressing corporate greed and the effects on low-income neighborhoods and inequalities present.

Why I disliked this book: Toward the end of the book, as the plot begins to nicely wrap up, the Micelli family and all the friends, ties, and links begun to get confusing. The back story on this family was not quite fully developed, making the addition of all these characters and name mentions a bit hard to keep track of, especially when they begin to appear in the final chapters of the book, rather than developed throughout.

*Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by Fiery Seas Publishing in return for an honest review.


The French Girl by Lexie Elliott

Publication Date: February 20th, 2018

Stars: 4 ¼ Stars

While this book does not arrive on shelves until February 2018, I was drawn to it as I’d recently read The Lying Game by Ruth Ware. After reading The French Girl by Lexie Elliott, dare I say I enjoyed it more so than Ruth Ware’s latest? While the plots remained relatively related: old friends re-unite as a murder investigation from a years old murder ignites, a murder in which they were closely tied, if not guilty of. Author, Lexie Elliott, did a more outstanding job capturing the reader in suspense. Rather than trying to guess “whodunit” I was enjoying the characters unravel.

As I compare this book to Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game, The French Girl provided more underlying love interests and romantic connections between the characters which only served to further capture the reader’s interests. Author, Lexie Elliott, sucks you in and holds on as she navigates the reader eloquently through the twisting connections of each of the book’s characters. In fact, this book allowed me to connect with SEVERAL characters at once, never feeling confused or scrambling to remember who was who.

My one dislike was the unsatisfying ending. While the finale was certainly plausible, and more than realistic, it left me mad. I was hoping for a conclusion MORE neatly wrapped in a bow, but nonetheless it is a great, worthy read.

*Disclaimer: This book was provide to me by Berkley Books via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

The beauty of The Heart’s Invisible Furies was found in the characters John Boyne created, and while this book could have easily been non-fiction, given the story line and historical accuracy, the coincidence in which the characters continued to overlap pulled this book into the genre of fiction.

Publication Date: August 22nd, 2017

Rating: 4.80 Stars

Why I Chose This Book: I kept seeing this book pop up on the many book sites I subscribe to, as well as front and center on many bookseller’s physical shelves. The author, John Boyne, had great success with another of his works, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a book I have not read myself but a movie I enjoyed nonetheless. I will admit I was not quite ready for the sheer honesty and pain that this book portrayed as it followed a homosexual man, Cyril, born in Ireland, over the course of 70 years. I also worried about how the author would keep us engaged over nearly 600 pages of text. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about.

Why I Loved This Book: As an Irish Catholic myself (my great-great grandparents immigrated to America) the brutally honest portrayal of the country/religion over the course of 70 years was painful to stomach, but important all the same. This book spanned from 1945 to 2015, and throughout, Ireland refused to admit any homosexuals lived within the country. People, including several of the characters followed, were killed over their sexuality or beaten within an inch of their lives. Unwed women were looked upon in shame and called whores by the Catholic Church. The stigma towards AIDS was addressed, and even, in 2015, the author pointed out that family members STILL felt the need to look in another direction when two men kissed.

The beauty of The Heart’s Invisible Furies was found in the characters John Boyne created, and while this book could have easily been non-fiction, given the story line and historical accuracy, the coincidence in which the characters continued to overlap pulled this book into the genre of fiction. The overlapping of characters, however, is what caused the reader to experience continuous engagement over the course of nearly 600 pages of text as each character was inserted with such purpose that continued to unravel itself over the course of Cyril’s life.

In 2017 America, I found this book to be so important and incredibly relevant. It was hard not to draw similar lines in time between what I know of American history and how Ireland was portrayed, and many, if not all, of the lines drawn were not of a favorable light. We, as a human race, have a long way to go in FULLY accepting ALL sexualities, minorities, genders and others “not like ourselves.” It often seems like such an easy concept to “love thy neighbor,” but we still have much work to do in ACTUALLY embracing this.

*Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

From Book to Small Screen: The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr

Publication Date: July 25th, 2017 (first edition published in 1999)

Stars: 1 ¾

USA Network used to have all the best shows on TV. Shows like Psych, Monk and White Collar dominated my week’s viewing schedule, so when I saw that they were releasing a network original show, The Sinner, based on an international best-selling novel I HAD TO READ IT!

The Sinner is a psychological thriller about an otherwise boring married woman, Cora Bender. One day Cora and her family go to the beach. Cora is determined to kill herself in that water that day, but ends up killing a “stranger” instead. While she never denies responsibility for killing the man on the beach, her motive for killing him remains fuzzy throughout. The reader is taken through Cora’s troubling childhood in flashes of memory, and like the investigating detectives, are led to believe the many lies Cora spins.

Even after finishing this novel, I still do not have a complete grasp on what really went through Cora’s mind, ultimately leading her to do what she did that day on the beach. I kept thinking throughout that maybe my struggle to grasp what was happening was simply “lost in translation” confusion, as it would seem, I am not unique in my difficulties to fully comprehend what was happening. Dare I say, this may be a case where a TV show or movie is more enjoyable than the actual book? The TV show allows a visual for the watcher to track the story, understand when “flashbacks” are occurring and walk alongside the detective in uncovering lies.

You can stream the show directly from USA Network. In fact I have enjoyed watching along since finishing this book. I have missed Jessica Biel on the big screen and she does a rather incredible job of portraying such a disturbed character. While I haven’t finished all the episodes, there are certainly glaring differences in the book and the TV show, least of which is the name change from Cora Bender to Cora Tannetti, but after my own difficulties in reading this book these differences are to be expected and add drams/excitement to the story.

*Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by Penguin Books in exchange for an honest review.

Iowa City Book Festival 2017: Among the Living and the Dead by Inara Verzemnieks

Admittedly, the coolest thing about reading is the ability to connect. Connect to other readers online, in your book club or in your local community. Even cooler, the ability to meet the author of books.  I’d say this ranks up there with meeting famous movie stars, yeah? Either way, as residents of Iowa City we are incredibly fortunate. While Iowa City, IA may not have the population size of Chicago or New York we maintain some incredibly prestigious literary honors. One of which is our world renowned University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  The other is our designation as a UNESCO City of Literature.  Both of which allow us the ability to attract some pretty amazing authors, writers and other members of the literary community.

This year, on October 8-15th, Iowa City will host their annual Book Festival. You can check out the official schedule here.  This event brings out renowned authors for book readings, panels, galas, speakers and awards.

As we build up to the beginning of this festival, I wanted to highlight three local authors that will be attending the Iowa City Book Festival this year.  The last author I am highlighting is Inara Verzemnieks, whom recently published a memoir: Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Road of Europe.

Check back as I will be reviewing additional author spotlights in the weeks approaching the book festival:

  1. Crossing A Doctor Soldier’s Story by Jon Kerstetter
  2. The Follow by Eliza David
  3. Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Roads of Europe by Inara Verzemnieks

Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Roads of Europe by Inara Verzemnieks

Rating: 4 ½ Stars Publication Date: July 11th, 2017

Author, Inara Verzemnieks, raised by her grandparents, travels back to Latvia to unravel their past. Through the turmoil of WWII, to refugees in America, this memoir reads more like a vivid story than a non-fiction.

Inara, a graduate of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program, currently teaches at the University of Iowa and resides in Iowa City. Inara has won several awards for her writing, including a creative nonfiction award. I highlight this creative nonfiction award because I think it is the perfect description of how pure, vivid and immense Among the Living and the Dead is.

This book reads like you are walking alongside Livija, Inara’s grandmother, as she fled WWII. Ultimately, the book unravels as Inara visits her great aunt (Livija’s sister), Ausma in Latvia. The author frames the memoir so that she is both in the present while visiting the past, not unlike that of a traditional fiction storyline, which makes this book so enjoyable. This style of writing, coupled with the author’s incredible talent for words, had me re-reading paragraphs just to soak in each intensely well-written passage. The author clearly spent so much time ensuring each detail was perfectly laid out for the reader, making it incredibly easy to visualize each scene, despite never having stepped foot in Latvia or studied it’s culture.

I admit while I am a typical “sucker” for WWII-based novels, this book took me on an unexpected journey through the author’s family’s connection to this time period as she simultaneous walked with us through the present and her journey home.

Stop by the Iowa City Book Festival Saturday, October 14th at 11:30AM: Author, Inara Verzemnieks, will be reading from her memoir at the Iowa City Public Library (123 S. Linn St, Iowa City, IA).

*Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by publisher, W.W. Norton Company, in exchange for an honest review.

Iowa City Book Festival 2017: The Follow by Eliza David

Admittedly, the coolest thing about reading is the ability to connect. Connect to other readers online, in your book club or in your local community. Even cooler, the ability to meet the author of books.  I’d say this ranks up there with meeting famous movie stars, yeah? Either way, as residents of Iowa City we are incredibly fortunate. While Iowa City, IA may not have the population size of Chicago or New York we maintain some incredibly prestigious literary honors. One of which is our world renowned University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  The other is our designation as a UNESCO City of Literature.  Both of which allow us the ability to attract some pretty amazing authors, writers and other members of the literary community.

This year, on October 8-15th, Iowa City will host their annual Book Festival. You can check out the official schedule here.  This event brings out renowned authors for book readings, panels, galas, speakers and awards.

As we build up to the beginning of this festival, I wanted to highlight three local authors that will be attending the Iowa City Book Festival this year.  The first author is Jon Kerstetter, whom recently published his memoir: Crossings A Doctor Soldier’s Story.

Check back as I will be reviewing additional author spotlights in the weeks approaching the book festival:

  1. Crossing A Doctor Soldier’s Story by Jon Kerstetter
  2. The Follow by Eliza David
  3. Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Roads of Europe by Inara Verzemnieks

The Follow by Eliza David

Eliza, while born and raised in Chicago, currently resides in Iowa City. She has authored 10 books, according to Goodreads, with several more currently in the works. You can visit her website here to see what she is currently working on. On July 7th, Eliza released The Follow, which I chose to review. However, currently the first novel in her popular Cougarette Series is available free on Amazon Kindle, head over a pick up a copy.

Rating: 4 ¼ Stars

Publication Date: July 7th, 2017

In The Follow, Eliza shows us her seemingly effortless ability to switch between two relatively differing characters, King Smith a popular R&B singer with a more relaxed way of speaking and Shauna McIntyre a New York social media manager, newly hired and working to be successful in her role. Of course, King falls for Shauna despite her best efforts to remain professional and author, Eliza, shows off her comfort zone of navigating us through King and Shauna’s romantic frustrations.

Eliza does a great job capturing the essence of both personalities. Shauna, a hard working, come-from-nothing business woman, and King, a rich and famous celebrity as a result of his outstanding singing career (and good looks). As always, I enjoyed the seemingly “insider” look at celebrity lives. The necessity of maintaining fans, and being active in social media, while avoiding crazed fans and navigating a personal life. This book was an enjoyable read as it felt like one easy to follow dialogue.

The only frustration I had was the timeline. This book kicks off with Shauna leaving King’s apartment without saying good-bye as a result of this big, public kiss. Then we are taken back to “Three Months Earlier.” As the reader works their way through the chapters, there is no big, suspenseful moment that causes one to really realize “oh that was the big kiss from the beginning.” In fact, if the book hadn’t again replayed Shauna leaving without saying good-bye I wouldn’t have even realized we had come to the three month mark the book kicked off with. While this did not take away from the overall story, it did cause me hesitation of “was that the big exit from the beginning?”

Ultimately though, this book is more than worth your time. It may definitely be the spark that causes me to hop on the romance, easy-read bandwagon and I hope to circle back to reading Eliza David’s Cougarette Series in the near future. Seriously, go download Eliza’s free book on Amazon and see her talents for yourself.

Stop by the Iowa City Book Festival Saturday, October 14th from 10AM-4PM: Author, Eliza David, has a booth at the Book Fair in the Pedestrian Mall (201 Dubuque St., Iowa City, IA 52240). 

*Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by author, Eliza David, in exchange for an honest review.

Iowa City Book Festival 2017: Crossings A Doctor Soldier’s Story by Jon Kerstetter

Admittedly, the coolest thing about reading is the ability to connect. Connect to other readers online, in your book club or in your local community. Even cooler, the ability to meet the author of books.  I’d say this ranks up there with meeting famous movie stars, yeah? Either way, as residents of Iowa City we are incredibly fortunate. While Iowa City, IA may not have the population size of Chicago or New York we maintain some incredibly prestigious literary honors. One of which is our world renowned University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  The other is our designation as a UNESCO City of Literature.  Both of which allow us the ability to attract some pretty amazing authors, writers and other members of the literary community.

This year, on October 8-15th, Iowa City will host their annual Book Festival. You can check out the official schedule here.  This event brings out renowned authors for book readings, panels, galas, speakers and awards.

As we build up to the beginning of this festival, I wanted to highlight three local authors that will be attending the Iowa City Book Festival this year.  The first author is Jon Kerstetter, whom recently published his memoir: Crossings A Doctor Soldier’s Story.

Check back as I will be reviewing additional author spotlights in the weeks approaching the book festival:

  1. Crossing A Doctor Soldier’s Story by Jon Kerstetter
  2. The Follow by Eliza David
  3. Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Roads of Europe by Inara Verzemnieks

Crossings A Doctor Soldier’s Story by Jon Kerstetter

Rating: 4 Stars

Publication Date: September 5th, 2017

Jon or more appropriately, Dr. Kerstetter, is a man of many labels and successes, first of which is being an Iowa City resident, but also Doctor, Soldier, Husband, Father, Grandfather, Stroke Survivor and Author to name a few.

I was excited to read Dr. Kerstetter’s memoir as I am a child of both a Navy Veteran and Medical Professional. I was hoping I would achieve the ability to relate to his struggles of crossing between life saver (doctor) and life taker (soldier), but what I found was so much more.

This memoir could have been titled Resiliency as the author proved time and time again his ability to overcome, push onward and achieve.

Resiliency was achieved at every level throughout this book, from Jon’s childhood on a Wisconsin Indian Reservation to his later-in-life start in medical school to his enlistment in the National Guard as a husband and father of four, to ultimately, his stroke and strength to yet again achieve success and become an author. This story was empowering if nothing else. However, where I thought I would relate as a result of my parents, I actually related personally to Dr. Kerstetter’s inner drive. As a reader of Crossings, you will quickly note the author’s drive to achieve more and fear of complacency. Graduating with a degree in business, Jon decided that wasn’t enough so he obtained a masters in business (wow so far this is literally my life). Then after marriage and children, decided business wasn’t REALLY his dream and went back for a medical degree (don’t worry mom and dad I WON’T be doing this). But…even after, achieving a medical degree and practicing emergency medicine he found his career was mundane and sought opportunities to continue towards further success, this came in the form of joining the National Guard.

While Dr. Kerstetter’s career in the National Guard, his many successes and several deployments are incredible feats in themselves, what really moved me was the realness in which he portrayed his recovery from his untimely stroke. The latter portion of this book is dedicated to Jon’s recovery and realization that, as a result of the stroke, he would no longer be able to practice medicine or serve in the military. To be ripped of such a huge part of one’s identity is unfathomable, but Dr. Kerstetter allows the reader to see the truth in his struggle.

Stop by the Iowa City Book Festival Saturday, October 14th at 1PM: Author, Jon Kerstetter, will be reading from his memoir Crossings at Prairie Lights (15 S Dubuque St, Iowa City, IA 52240).

*Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by publisher, Crown, in exchange for an honest review.

September Book Club: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Rating: 3.45 Stars

Publication Date: June 4th, 2013

I will be honest, NEVER would I have picked this book up on my own accord (but isn’t that the beauty of book clubs?). The Boys in the Boat is the classic rise from nothing sports novel; I will even go so far as to say, this sports story may trump many sports novels/movies that have come before it.

This is a book about the rise of eight men whom come together on the University of Washington’s eight man rowing team to win gold in Berlin, but this is not what makes this sport story trump all other sports stories. These men, especially Joe Rantz (whom is most closely followed in this book), came from NOTHING. Joe, who was ditched by his father and step-mother and forced to live on his own, rose from these ashes to arrive at University. His motivations for rowing were even simpler, he NEEDED the reputation that would come from being a member of the team to gain a job to pay for college, and he figured rowing was a good fit given his work ethic and experiences/muscles gained from living on his own.

The author, Daniel James Brown, does a great job of following Joe while subsequently giving the reader insight into the University of Washington rowing staff and Joe’s boat team members. I found that despite knowing NOTHING about the sport of rowing I was excited following along with the descriptions of the team’s close finishes. Additionally, regardless of the non-fiction genre and the fact that I knew the ending (spoiler: they win the Olympics), this book maintained an air of excitement which was impressive given the usual bore that rowing generally produces on TV.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say rowing will be my new sport to watch (it is football season after all), this book certainly drums up excitement in an otherwise unexciting, forgotten pastime. Boys in a Boat shows the grit of the sport and the rise to an Olympic Gold of such deserving young men.

Candlewick Press: Three Reviews of Upcoming Books

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

Publication Date: October 10th, 2017

Rating: 3 ¾ Stars

A historical novel, set in Cuba during Fidel Castro’s campaign to improve the national literacy rate. Volunteer flyers are posted in Havana schools, where 13-year-old Lora sees that she fits the criteria (she can read and write) and wants to volunteer. Her parents are understandably concerned as she would leave home for a year and travel to impoverished, remote locations to teach citizens how to read and write. This is Lora’s story.

In reading this book I was hoping to gain more diverse insight into Cuba, as well as the historical time frame the story surrounds. This book takes place during a year of upheaval as Fidel Castro and his militia begin their rise. As is usually typical, the children do not necessarily fully understand the dangers of political turmoil like that of their parents, and while Lora acts bravely by wanting to sign up to teach, she did not seem to understand the full weight of her decision. It isn’t until Lora is thrown into the impoverished countryside that she begins to understand the fear, but by that time she feels more dedicated to the cause, and what a monumental cause it is.

What was most shocking about this novel is that STILL, in the current decade, Cuba boasts literacy rates well above 90% as a result of this campaign. Fidel’s goal was to skyrocket Cuba’s literacy rates by “enlisting” hundreds of thousands of literate individuals to teach those without access to schools. The “final test” for not only Lora’s students, but all students participating in Fidel’s campaign, was to write Fidel a letter and mail it to him. Even in the mid-1900’s Fidel sought citizen feedback and organized a “low-cost,” volunteer operated, educational campaign, something America of TODAY could certainly use more of.

I especially loved that the author, Katherine Paterson, was able to capture both the adult’s and child’s reactions to events. She exposed the reader to diversity, little known historical events (at least in my small corner of the U.S.) and, my favorite, the importance of education! I could not get enough of the palpable excitement Katherine emanated in her writing of the villagers. So many of the illiterate were excited for the opportunity to learn, children and adults alike. They so desperately wanted to be able to write their name, something I’ve personally taken for granted throughout my life, but meant so much to the people Lora encountered. Lora’s lessons even infected other villagers to spread the wealth and teach one another creating even more excitement and educational opportunities.

Ultimately, this book was a quick read, but a great book for intermediate age children to be exposed to.

*Disclaimer: This book was generously provided to be my Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.


The Wonderling by Mira Bartok

Publication Date: September 26th, 2017

Rating: 3 ¼ Stars

This Wonderling by Mira Bartok is Matilda meets Zootopia/Narnia in a fable type book about overcoming labels, hardships and circumstances.

An orphaned fox, living in a home for unclaimed “groundlings (part human, part animal, i.e. Zootopia/Narnia reference),” ruled by a Mrs. Trunchbull type principal (i.e. Matilda reference), discovers a world he’s never known with the help of a bird that can’t fly, but tinkers and invents whimsical gadgets. Together, the fox and the bird, meet extraordinary characters and fight to save music across the land!

Throughout this book I kept rooting for “Number 13” (the fox). Ordinarily, this would not be a book I was drawn to given the fantasy-type world in which it surrounds, however, even with my uncreative mind I was able to easily follow along and picture all the characters and their adventures in my mind. An added benefit was that the author included such AMAZING illustrations throughout the book, I found myself excited to come across the next illustration as they tied into the plot of the book and helped the reader to picture the characters as the author intended.

Ultimately, I found myself cheering for “Number 13,” as I couldn’t put the book down hoping he conquered his quest successfully.

*Disclaimer: This book was generously provided to be my Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.


Being Fishkill by Ruth Lehrer

Publication Date: November 14th, 2017

Rating: 4 ¾ Stars

Why I chose this book: I was fascinated by the name Carmel Fishkill. Carmel, or Fishkill as she later starts going by to be more “badass,” was named for the road sign her mother was passing as she gave birth to her in the backseat of her father’s pickup truck. While I personally cannot imagine the horrors of growing up with a name like Fishkill, I know that many kids grow up with worse. In Iowa City we are fortunate to house one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals. As a result, families from across the nation, rural, urban or otherwise travel to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital for a wide range of treatment. As such, we are exposed to a WIDE range of unique names within our community, although Fishkill is not one I’ve yet come across.

As you can imagine Fishkill did not have a great home life, but she was fortunate to meet Duck-Duck (Duck-Duck is Christina’s “gang” name) at school and form a friendship, a friendship that included food at Duck-Duck’s house and love from Duck-Duck’s mom.

Why I liked this book: This book was so REAL. Despite the fictional genre, the author exposed the reader to situations that unfortunately are not uncommon for many children. The light shed on Fishkill’s circumstances and even Duck-Duck’s more “normal” (can we really define a normal family?) home life exposed the reader to some extremely deep situations without turning the book “dark.” Fishkill’s inner dialogue allowed one to understand what it may be like for someone with her familial background to suddenly enter Duck-Duck’s “normal” household. This book read more like an unfortunate adventure between friends than a “dark” look at childhood traumas, making it an appropriate read for a wide range of ages.

*Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by LibraryThing Early Readers Program in conjunction with the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book to Big Screen: The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin

This is 120 Hours (trapped climber) and any Nicholas Sparks book (classic love story) on steroids. You instantly fall in love with Ben’s love for his wife, while simultaneously rooting for Ashley’s survival, my feelings were constantly conflicted as I just prayed for them to live.

Publication Date: June 1st, 2010

Rating: 4.7 Stars

Two strangers meet coincidentally in an airport in Utah. One on her way home for her wedding, the other, a doctor hoping to return to his patients. The weather grounds their conventional flight, leaving them to seek private charter. In the air, through barren landscape and dreadful weather, the pilot suffers a heart attack and crash lands the plane. Ashley and Ben must fight to survive.

Why I chose this Book: I will be the first to admit I am a SUCKER for chick flicks, books, movies, doesn’t matter. Even better, I saw this book was soon to be playing in the theaters starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet and of course I HAD to read the book, especially before seeing the movie…because I will be watching this movie!

My husband is not a reader, he would rather watch Squawk Talk or SportsCenter to gain his news, than read it in a paper, online or otherwise. However, movies he never turns down…even if they are chick flicks. So, while I know he won’t read the book with me, he will accompany me to the movie, all the more motivation to read The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin for a later “date night” at the local theater.

Why I Loved this Book: Such a captivating novel. The author makes us fall in love with Ben’s love for his wife and root for Ashley as her sense of caring and humor makes you so attracted to her friendship with Ben. This is 120 Hours (trapped climber who cuts his arm off to survive) and any Nicholas Sparks book (classic love story) on steroids. The reader learns so much about survival, and more importantly love, from Ben, while simultaneously rooting for Ashley’s survival.  My feelings were constantly conflicted while I just prayed for them to live.

I cannot wait to see this movie when it is released October 6th.  Throughout the book I couldn’t help but picture Idris and Kate out there in the winter tundra, such great casting! There’s still time to read this book before purchasing tickets to see it on the big screen in October.  You can watch the movie trailer here for a sneak peek.

*Disclaimer: This book was so generously provided to me by Broadway Books in exchange for an honest, thoughtful review.

Two Reviews: Club Deception by Sarah Skilton & The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Club Deception by Sarah Skilton

Publication Date: July 25th, 2017

Rating: 4.25

Author Sarah Skilton gives readers a unique story about the lives of magicians and their secret clubs, as told by the WAGS (wives and girlfriends, or widows and girlfriends, given how you want to look at it). Rotating between a few women’s perspective (and even one up-and-coming male), readers uncover a deadly mystery in this new “whodunit” novel.

Why I Chose This Book: While the cover art nearly steered me away (it seemed a bit childish with the animation), the description sounded like nothing I had yet come across or read. Not many authors chose to write a plot line around the art of magic. I imagine even fewer chose to make such a story revolve around strong female characters.

I am constantly drawn to novels centering on female characters, particularly female characters that aren’t ultimately portrayed as “victims,” and while this book may have started out indicating a female “victim,” said female was incredibly confident and certainly not the victim in the end.

Why I Liked This Book:

  1. Strong female characters, including one that ran a successful (albeit secret club) in the shadow of her husband.
  2. A unique plot surrounding magicians – not only does this book revolve around magic, but it also shows the magicians as “sexy” rather than “nerdy” AND combines this with a murder mystery plot.
  3. Every child has experienced at least ONCE in their life the “wow” factor of magic. Whether from a magic trick they saw in person or on one of the many circulating TV shows (Criss Angel Mindfreak & David Copperfield come to mind). This book does a great job playing into this feeling and includes strong character development with some very mild sultry scenes to seal the deal on a great book surrounding the art of magic.

Why I Dislike This Book: Simply the cover art. The cover did not draw me into this book. It does not seem to fit the style or message the book should be sending. It seemed to be the “cartoony,” animated artwork that nearly caused me NOT to pick this book up.

*Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Publication Date: January 9th, 2018

Rating: 4.0

Whoa…I can’t even begin to explain the sheer number of emotions I experienced during the course of this book. I was invited to read this book by the publisher, and since reading I have been searching for a book, any book, within this genre that does a better job of throwing me on my head while causing me to feel so much emotion toward the characters, author, writing style, etc. Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen make one heck of a writing team!

Part one (of three) was so woven, you seemingly navigate between two women. Then, just before you enter part two you are SHATTERED. Throughout Part two you gain more history, flipping between the past and present day. While part three wraps it all up, albeit NOT NICELY as my emotions are still recovering.

I honestly started getting mad at this book because I thought “I’ve got this figured out I don’t want to even read on, this plot is so predictable,” only to literally get RIPPED apart. I definitely did NOT guess correctly. Even the epilogue left me gasping (and I must reiterate, DO NOT SKIP THE EPILOGUE OMG, did not see that coming!!!). Despite “thinking” I knew what was coming, I was SO WRONG.

This book was such an engrossing read, I know it is cliché but I could not put it down and finished it in record time. One will not be disappointed they picked this book up if they like suspenseful, husband & wife/cat & mouse type books.

*Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ripping the Band-Aid on Two Book Reviews: Parent Teacher Association & Conversations with Friends

Parent Teacher Association by Jennifer Soosar

This story had so much potential!! But, the reader is so bogged down by Lizanne’s day-to-day happenings, not enough time is spent developing the IMPORTANT story pieces.  Although, mother of pearl, with about 100 pages left, the book started to get juicy. 

However, overall I felt this book was rushed to execution making it rather hard to read. 

Publication Date: June 24th, 2017

Rating: 1.75 Stars – Rounded to 2 stars

Why I Chose This Book:  I first was turned on to this book when I saw it in a Goodreads Giveaway.  The description held the recipe for a perfect novel.  While I didn’t win the giveaway, I was so attracted to this book I reach out directly to the publisher.  The book didn’t have many reviews (to date it only has 5), so it was relatively unknown/widespread.

This book is about Lizanne, whom is fresh out of a mental hospital looking for a teaching job and struggling, given her gap in work history.  She receives a teaching job in a small town with an interesting history.  The school has seen two students die in the last two years, and interestingly enough the town houses an infamous cult leader.  The bulk of the plot centers on Lizanne’s struggles with a parent of one of her students and PTA president, Naomi.

Given this description, I was excited to read a classic suspense novel set within a classroom.  This book sounded like it held all the pieces to be an extremely engrossing novel.  What I actually was a half-cooked story with so many underdeveloped plot arcs.

I would have liked to see Lizanne’s “boyfriend” removed, the storyline surrounding her “boyfriend” seemed an unnecessary distraction.  In fact, at one point I forgot he was even part of the book.  I would have also loved to see more chapters dedicated to evolving Naomi and even her son, Sebastian.  There were a few instances the author devoted a few paragraphs to their thoughts that were intriguing and provided significant character development.  Additionally, little background was given on Lizanne’s family or reason for her stay in the mental hospital, I would have enjoyed seeing this expanded upon.  Further development of Lizanne’s character would have provided me, as the reader, more hook and significantly more engagement in the story.

Why I (Sort Of) Liked This Book:  The last 100 pages the story really started moving.  The reader started to understand why the author included what felt like otherwise unnecessary story arcs (like Lizanne’s boyfriend).  Although, I’m still not convinced enough time was dedicated to these plot developments and I believe the story could have still come to the same conclusion without them leaving the book feeling like it was only half-baked.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

This book became more of a “hurry up and rip the Band-Aid off” novel.  After I started, I just wanted it to be over with and while it was well written the storyline failed to engage.  

Publication Date: July 11th, 2017

Rating: 1.25 Stars

Why I Chose This Book: I will admit I judge books by their cover.  I wholeheartedly believe cover designs are important, just like first impressions and appearances are important.  That said, I chose this book because of its gripping and bright cover.  It led me to believe it was a happy, beach-y, easy read.

Why I Disliked This Book:  This story is set in Dublin, although I didn’t really know that without reading the book’s description.  The characters, Frances and Bobbi, are college students, so I was hoping I’d be able to relate to them.  Throughout the book I kept HOPING I would find something I could attach to and relate to that would hook me into this book, but the only thing I was able to come up with was that Frances kind of reminded me slightly of an old friend of mine…kind of.  Overall, the book was well written, but the story was dull and certainly was NOT happy, beach-y or anything of the sort.  I was willing to overlook this, but the characters were easily forgettable, un-relatable and the storyline failed to engage.

Jacob Appel: The Ordinarily Engaging Author You Wish You’d Found Sooner

I recently had the pleasure of reading two of Jacob Appel’s novels, The Mask of Sanity, his most recent work, published March 31st 2017 and The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, published September 1st 2014, and as indicated in the “about author” section of the book, his debut novel.  While I realize calling an author “ordinarily engaging” may not be the average compliment, but compliment it certainly is.  Both of these stories revolve around seemingly ordinary characters, characters that could be your neighbor down the street, with the awesome yard, or the doctor you regularly see for your annual check-ups, but the stories he weaves them into turned out to be anything BUT ordinary.

The Mask of Sanity

The story of a successful doctor, with an average life, whom stubbles upon his wife’s affair unbeknownst to her and releases his inner sociopath.  The author asks the question whether everyone is born with good and bad inside of them, waiting for a triggering event to set off their “bad” side, this is certainly the case in this novel.

Rating:  3.8 Stars

This book was the thriller novel I didn’t even know I needed.  Lately, I’d been reading a lot of deeply woven suspense books that keep you on your heels, twisting in and out of character perspectives as you untangle the mystery within…you’ve read many similar thrillers, right?  Well, The Mask of Sanity was a refreshing read from your intricately woven thrillers.  The character development is scary relatable, especially when it turns out the character is an immense sociopath.  Dr. Jeremy Balint seems like your average doctor, but the internal narrative Jacob gives his characters uncovers disturbing, high functioning, immoral humans hiding in plain sight.

Jacob Appel keeps his writing “light,” engaging and detailed, but not distracting, while keeping the reader HOOKED.  I especially loved how he ended his book, which you will have to read to find out!

The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up

The story of your everyday neighbor, the one with the awesome garden, you know them right?  Well, imagine this neighbor goes to a Yankee’s game and doesn’t stand up for a patriotic song.  Now inject this seemingly ordinary act with media frenzy and give it a Jacob Appel twist and you are in for an entertaining read.

Rating: 3.4 Stars

Despite this book having been published in 2014, it still remains incredibly relevant today, given the recent kneeling during the National Anthem and other media outrages.  You can’t help but feel like this story could have happened to anyone.  I enjoyed uncovering the MANY themes the author, Jacob Appel, intertwined within the book, including the pressure being in the spotlight can place on a person, a look at whether spouses should fully support your EVERY decision, how far the media will go and how inevitably we succumb to the labels placed on us.  Whether these themes were intentional or not, it certainly caused me, as the reader, pause.

In keeping with the writing style witnessed in The Mask of Sanity, Jacob Appel provides an entertaining read with story lines you want to laugh at but subsequently cry at how plausible it could all be.