Book Club: Necessary Lies (Necessary Lies, #1) by Diane Chamberlain

Publication Date: September 3rd, 2013

Rating: 4.9 Stars

From 1929-1975 North Carolina sterilized 7,000 citizens via the Eugenics Sterilization Program. The Eugenics Program was originally created to sterilize institutionalized individuals, the “feebleminded,” those with epilepsy and those in which sterilization was deemed to be “for the public good.” However, the program began to put Welfare recipients in its cross hairs as early as the 1950’s in North Carolina. Necessary Lies is set in North Carolina as social workers in this state were given the power to determine those selected for sterilization. In fact, James Hanes and Clarence Gamble of the Proctor & Gamble family, distributed propaganda for the sterilization of “morons” and the betterment of the population during this period. Hitler would have been fond of these propaganda fliers given his own race purification agenda happening simultaneously in Europe…

This book made me nauseous, the horrid history of the U.S. is exposed as the reader has a chance to feel, experience and observe the “norm” of North Carolina in the ‘60’s for families on Welfare. Many women didn’t know they were getting this “operation” to become sterile, and girls as young as twelve were sterilized because of their interest in boys. Birth control was not readily available in the 1960’s and many families consented to having their children sterilized for fear of having another mouth to feed, or worse yet, losing social programming (Welfare) support.

While the history this book portrays is nauseating, Necessary Lies is incredibly well done. The characters feel so real, so raw and so vulnerable. Not only is the housewife of the ‘60’s on full display, as Jane battles her husband to allow her to work outside the home as a social worker, but the grotesque nature of the U.S. is laid bare for all that dare to read.

Advertisements

Something of Substance by Tia Souders

Publication Date: March 28th, 2018

Rating: 3 Stars

This book was painful to read, but necessary. The truth it held within is a story that desperately needs to be told again and again until we can begin to address, manage and fight the body image perception women and men face daily.

Something of Substance follows Grace Michaels as she struggles to navigate high school in her pretty, athletic sister’s shadow. Once a “chubby” kid, Grace has attended “fat camp” and worked to manage her weight becoming one of the popular girls at school and member of the cheerleading squad. Throughout this book, we are invited in to witness the inner dialogue of Grace’s mind as she succumbs to 88 pounds and still defines herself as too fat.

As a society, we are forever at the mercy of the airbrushed pictures of models and celebrities we see in every magazine, advertisement or check-out line, staring back at us. Even in movies we are constantly receiving reinforcement that the skinny, pretty characters are popular, well-liked and successful while the “ugly” characters are usually cast as the funny one. These images are constantly berating us, so it may come as no surprise that MANY fight eating disorders and anxiety as a result.

This book is so necessary in further highlighting the need for parents, friends and acquaintances in the fight to recognize and address eating disorders of those closest to us before it is too late. Do not compliment people on their looks, but rather their brains. Do not allow yourself or others to dwell on appearances. Until we can overcome the mentality we’ve created as a society, we MUST overcome the individual mentalities of those we surround ourselves with.

As a member of a fraternal organization (Delta Delta Delta) I was fortunate to have positive body image discussions. Tri Delta has made it their mission to fight the anxiety and desire to have the “perfect body.” They have placed body image coordinators on every campus, monthly and often weekly reminders and positive messages are sent to members and resources are ALWAYS available. Tri Delta has made a significant commitment to overcoming the issues Grace faces within Something of Substance and I look forward to the day when eating disorders and negative body image conversations become extinct.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour: Sneaking Out (Chased #1) by Chuck Vance

Published by: Dunemere Books

Publication Date: March 6th, 2018

Giveaway – Ends March 29, 2018

Genres: Mystery, Young Adult

Goodreads         B&N       Amazon

Could you sleep next to a murderer?

Luke Chase – yes, that Luke Chase, a modern hero ripped from the headlines – didn’t mean to get caught up in Mrs. Heckler’s murder. He just wanted to hook up with the hot new British girl at St. Benedict’s, and if that meant sneaking out to the woods after hours, then so be it. But little did he know someone would end up dead right next to their rendezvous spot, and his best friend and roommate Oscar Weymouth would go down for it. With suspects aplenty and a past that’s anything but innocent, Luke Chase reluctantly calls on his famous survival skills to find the true killer.

For fans of A Study in Charlotte and boarding school lit, Sneaking Out (book one in the “Chased” series) immerses readers in the privileged prep school world, with a mystery that exposes the dark side of life on a residential high school campus.


About the Author

Chuck Vance is a pseudonym for a bestselling writer of both adult mysteries and novels for young adults. Vance attended boarding school in Connecticut and graduated from Columbia University. Vance has lived in New York, Moscow, London, Paris and Los Angeles and is frequently on the move.

Website


Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Transported to a small town, where the local boarding school is the town’s lifeblood, the reader is immediately immersed in Luke and Oscar’s friendship dynamics. Bad boy, Oscar, convinces Luke to betray his good-boy ways to sneak out to the woods to meet up with girls after hours. The punishment for being caught is expulsion, so when they suddenly begin to hear voices in the woods their objective suddenly becomes focused on returning to their room unscathed. However, when a body of the dean’s wife turns up the next day, bad boy Oscar is quickly made a suspect. With no previous sleuthing experience, Luke quickly works to clear Oscar’s name. Although painful memories from the past will be dragged out in the process, for all those involved.

When I read that this book was “for fans of A Study in Charlotte” I knew I had to get my hands on it. I LOVE the Charlotte Holmes series and any YA fiction that even slightly resembles it, and Sneaking Out did not disappoint. While I had a few hesitations, I found the overall storyline was not compromised by them. My hesitations included: (1) The number of adult characters that were introduced, for instance one ex-ex-wife was tracked down and provided us with insignificant dialogue that did little to sway the path of Luke’s investigation and (2) The lack of detail provided about Luke’s past. It is clear Luke has undergone a kidnapping and subsequent survivalist escape, but otherwise Luke’s family, history and upbringing are hardly touched upon. It is possible Luke’s past was kept minimal for future books in the series, but as the lead off book it would have been helpful to have been given a few more glimpses of our main character’s background.

Regardless, the author left it clear that book two would further dive into characters’ pasts while continuing the action, excitement and adventure that made book one, Sneaking Out, so enjoyable.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me as part of this blog tour in exchange for an honest review.

Three Reviews: 806 by Cynthia Weil, Knockout by K.A. Holt & Missing Issac by Valerie Fraser Luesse

806 by Cynthia Weil

Publication Date: March 13th, 2018

Rating: 3 Stars

Katie, or KT as she wants to be called, has always wanted to meet her real father, so when she is told she is the product of sperm donor 806 she sets out to find him. After connecting online with Gabe and Jesse, the two other children of St. Louis Sperm donor 806, both seeking their real father for different reasons, they are led across country seeking answers.

This book held some excruciating cheesy parts, like page 131 when KT’s “eyes locked, and when I looked at him it was as if I was seeing him, really seeing him, for the first time. I knew exactly who he was, and I knew he knew exactly who I was. That scared me a little, but it felt kind of good at the same time,” as she discusses her connection with her half-sibling. But, this book also gripped the emotion surrounding the need to understand yourself, understand both individuals that created you. Author, Cynthia Weil, covered some heavy topics, heavy on humor with no shortage of extravagant storytelling an all in all decent young adult story surrounding the need to find yourself and the lengths one will go to do so.

*Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Knockout by K.A. Holt

Publication Date: March 6th, 2018

Rating: 4 Stars

I was incredibly apprehensive going into this book for one reason, it is written in prose, with 2-3 words per line as it tells the story of Levi, a seventh grader trying to be normal after a childhood spent fighting for his life with lung and breathing issues. Cared for by his single mother and older brother, both of which have sacrificed their own lives caring for him. Navigating middle school, friendship and jealousy as his absent father has hopes of Levi one day playing sports. So, when Levi decides to take up boxing and quickly becomes a star no one is more surprised than his absentee father.

This beautiful story, told from Levi’s perspective, captivates with its eloquently written style of prose. Holt captured the essence of middle schoolers’ thoughts and voice through Levi. A quick, easy young adult read unlike anything you’ve read before. Levi is such an innocently perfect character as he forces everyone to see the world through his lens.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, in conjunction with LibraryThing, in exchange for an honest review.


Missing Issac by Valerie Fraser Luesse

Publication Date: January 2nd, 2018

Rating: 4.5 Stars

A heartwarming story full of love and sadness. Set in Glory, Alabama in the 1960’s as young Pete McLean loses his father to an accident in the cotton fields. After the loss of his father, Pete quickly attaches himself to field hand Issac Reynolds. But, when Issac goes missing, Pete’s world is turned upside down.

In Pete’s search for answers he quite literally stumbles across Dovey Pickett. Both Dovey and Pete have experienced loss and loneliness no teenager should ever have to endure, but it is out of this loneliness they become best friends. Inseparable, Dovey and Pete begin to fall in love, but loneliness is always with them.

A heartwarming story of love and loss in the deep south. As love grows, loss never leaves, but rather what you chose to do with that loss is the true meaning of character. You will fall in love with Luesse’s Pete and Dovey as they grow from young teenagers to respectful young adults. I was not prepared to connect and fall so deeply as I did to Pete and Dovey.

*Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by BookishFirst in exchange for an honest review.

Two Reviews: Keturah (The Sugar Baron’s Daughters #1) by Lisa Tawn Bergren & Beneath the Surface (Dive Team Investigations #1) by Lynn H. Blackburn

Keturah (The Sugar Baron’s Daughters #1) by Lisa Tawn Bergren

Publication Date: February 6th, 2018

Rating: 3 ¼ Stars

The sentence found on page 207 states the entire motivation of the book’s title character, Keturah, “It has to be the idea of men saying no to her – and finding a way to succeed in spite of them – that drove her.” When their father suddenly dies, Keturah discovers the financial straits their West Indies sugar plantation is under. After the death of her abusive husband, Lord Tomlinson, Keturah is determined to never rely on a man again. She, joined by her younger sisters Verity and Selah, set sail to the West Indies to turn their Tabletop Estate Plantation around. Set in the 1700’s, their undertaking is made all the harder as the men refuse to allow a woman to succeed without the care of a man.

I typically avoid books from time periods I have little knowledge of, but I was intrigued by the plot of a woman taking on a business of her own, in a man’s world, and the 1700’s were most certainly a male dominated world. Author, Lisa Tawn Bergren, frustratingly played to female stereotypes in this book, the big ones being sensitivity and physical appearance. But, all in all I imagine these stereotypes were increasingly accurate given the times.

The final stretch of the book played out as a whirlwind of romance concluded with a neat bow on top, feeling innately inadequate after such a long attraction phase. The abrupt wrap up of the book was understandable, but disheartening as it felt like Keturah had overcome so much for the ending we were given as readers. I hope to see more of the “Gray/Keturah” togetherness in future books within The Sugar Baron’s Daughters series, even if from a distance.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Beneath the Surface (Dive Team Investigations #1) by Lynn H. Blackburn

Publication Date: March 6th, 2018

Rating: 3 Stars

Growing up Leigh Weston was off limits; her brother, Kirk, was Ryan’s best friend. But when circumstances with a stalker bring her back to their home town as an ER Nurse Practitioner, Ryan is forced to get close to her as she becomes the intended victim of a local serial killer. Ryan is determined to see her make it through this alive, both for his best friend’s sake, and for his own.

The serial killer and their unfortunate victims nearly take a back seat in this thrilling romance between Ryan and Leigh. While the suspense was certainly realistic and the drama hit in all the right places there were simply too many dynamics at play. Between Leigh’s nursing friends, the continued homicide attempts and the clashing of personalities on Ryan’s team, the suspenseful plot the book is built for is seemingly overshadowed by the romance flaring within.

Ultimately, while Ryan and Leigh’s romantic story is neatly wrapped by the final page, author Lynn H. Blackburn anchors Ryan’s Dive Team with interesting personalities to keep the reader coming back for more as the series continues.

*Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour: Sparrow Squadron (Aelita’s War #1) by D.L. Jung

Publication Date: February 2018


Summary

“There was a time when flying didn’t mean looking over my shoulder for death coming at me.”

World War II. June 1941. Hitler’s war machine turns to the Soviet Union.

Escaping her hometown ahead of the Nazis, 16-year-old Aelya Makarova seizes a chance to live her dream. Obsessed with flying, she joins a women’s fighter squadron to defend her homeland against the invaders. She’ll go faster and higher than she’s ever gone before.

But the harsh reality of Air Force life shatters her expectations and forces her to grow up fast. The squadron is split by petty rivalries, male pilots treat them like a joke, and the ideal country she thought she was fighting for doesn’t really exist.

Finally given a chance to prove herself in battle, Aelya is pushed to breaking point. With all her talent, the help of her comrades, and a lot of luck, she might just make it through. But will there be anything left of her humanity?

With fast-paced action and a heart-rending mix of humour and tragedy, Sparrow Squadron is an adventure novel for young adults that brings an overlooked episode of history to life.

Add to Goodreads


About the Author

DL Jung has been an enthusiastic student of history since grade school, when he spent lazy afternoons flipping through an old Encyclopedia Britannica set. He enjoys blogging about history and writing historical fiction. He also writes fantasy and horror fiction as Darius Jung.
Jung is married, with two children, and lives in Toronto, Canada. They are lucky enough to spend part of the time in New Zealand. Outside of writing, he has tried stints as an industrial engineer, a film and TV script supervisor, an IT consultant, a professional game show contestant, and a grossly under-qualified business wear model. Sparrow Squadron is his debut novel.

Author Links:

WebsiteGoodreadsTwitterFacebookInstagramAmazon Page


Review

I LOVED the female fierceness, ingenuity and insecurities portrayed throughout Sparrow Squadron. However, as an American, I found it hard to fully grasp the events of this book. Sparrow Squadron is set in Russia, during WWII, as young Aelya Makarova joins a women’s fighter squadron in the Russian Air Force. Much of the Russian culture and political references were lost on me as I felt I didn’t possess the ability to comprehend the significant amount political party affiliations and behaviors within. Additionally, the sheer number of Air Force squadron members introduced throughout, each with their own name and callsign proved especially hard to keep up.

Regardless, author D.L. Jung, was successful in capturing the female drive to outperform in a male dominated world, just to be considered enough to train and fight alongside the men. While this may have taken place in the 1940’s the themes between male and female remain true today.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided as part of this blog tour promotion.

Big Potential: How Transforming the Pursuit of Success Raises Our Achievement, Happiness, and Well-Being by Shawn Achor

Publication Date: January 30th, 2018

Rating: 4 ¼ Stars

I chose this book because it reminded me of my senior seminar class, Positive Psychology in the Workplace. As an accounting and business undergraduate major I had no business enrolling in a positive psychology class, and found myself surrounded by senior Psych majors. However, this class turned out to be a FAVORITE. I wholeheartedly believe a positive psych class should be required of ALL majors, because no matter your background you will inevitably find yourself in the workforce, alongside coworkers you won’t always enjoy, and in situations you won’t be able to control, surrounded by environments that breed stress. But the methods, strategies and research developed by top positive psychologist, which were taught to me in this class, and again in Big Potential, will be a tool that I wield again and again.

“The average age of being diagnosed with depression in 1978 was twenty-nine. In 2009, the average age was fourteen and a half. Over the past decade, depression rates for adults have doubled, as have hospitalization for attempted suicide for children as young as eight years old.”

This statistic, found on page 22, is staggering, but even more frightening it is unsurprising. With the creation of social media, bullying has only increased. Lately, the news seems fraught with stories of violence, bullying and underage deaths which support the findings above. As a graduate of Harvard, Shawn Achor witnessed (and experienced) the depression that comes from no longer being the superstar students once were in high school. Not to mention the me, me, me, individualistic ideals breed in the traditional workplace. These feelings combined with the constant barrage of negative certainly play a strong role in the statistics cited above.

“The decades-long study in Framingham, Massachusetts, has revealed powerful findings about the relationship between social connections and our cardiovascular health. While the results of their research are far too wide-reaching and complex to fully address here, the main takeaway I had from that meeting was that they found having healthy individuals in our community or network actually increase the chances that we ourselves will be healthier.” (p.40)

Literally put, having friends and meaningful social connections helps your physical health. Get off Facebook or Instagram, surround yourself with positively health conscious friends and in turn stimulate happiness, healthiness and prosperity (okay the prosperity is just assumed).

“Given how contagious negativity is, surrounding yourself with optimists is like giving yourself a flu shot against stress and apathy.”

2017-2018 brought with it the most flu caused deaths in as long as I’ve been alive. For this reason, the quote above from page 73 stuck out to me. Aligned with the cardiovascular research, this point hammers home the importance in who you surround yourself with as it has a direct effect on your health. Shed the negative people like you hope to shed your winter weight, they aren’t good for you, so protect yourself and your health.

“The brilliant Amy Wrzesniewski, professor of organizational behavior at Yale University’s School of Management, has dedicated much of her research to expanding meaning in our work. According to her research, people view their occupations in one of three ways: as a job, a career, or a calling. A job is merely something to endure in order to get a salary. A career is work that gives you prestige or position within society. A calling is work that you view as integral to your identity and meaning in life, an expression of who you are that gives you a feeling of fulfillment and meaning.” (p. 109)

This was not my first time reading these specific descriptions surrounding our work as it relates to job, career and calling. Unsurprisingly in my positive psychology in the workplace we discussed these findings. When I first came across these three work descriptors (job, career and calling), I was working for a large company, in a dull workplace, with people that had been in their roles for many, many years. I asked them each how they would define their current position, given the definitions presented above, and EVERY SINGLE ONE said they viewed their work as just a job…that’s when I knew it may be time to start looking for a new job, and more positive surroundings.

Defining your work in one of these three categories requires some serious self-reflection. I was fortunate to realize quickly in my career that I needed to find something more than just a job. Spending much of your day in a role you defined as “merely something to endure in order to get a salary” was not only going to depress me, but cause strains on my marriage and personal relationships outside of work. Reflecting on the positions I’d had that didn’t feel like a job, no matter how menial or what my age was at the time of employment, allowed me to focus my career search more adequately.

“One of the most common mistakes I see people make, [is] with praise: giving such compliments as ‘Your report was better than Jack’s’ or ‘You’re the smartest person in the room’ or ‘You were the best player out there on the field.’ Why? Because what you are actually doing is comparing not praising. You are attempting to prop people up by kicking others down!” (p. 120)

This may be my biggest take away from this book. Having been a competitive athlete through the collegiate level I am extremely guilty of providing others with comparison praise. In banking, this type of praise is ingrained in us, our success is literally measured on how well EACH of us individually grew the overall loan or deposit balances and how well we compared via benchmarks to our competitors. It starts from the time we are born, but we are past due, the “at least you were better than that guy” mentality needs to be wiped away. Comparison praise plants the seed of self-doubt that feeds into our individualistic society.

“Dr. Seligman stated these wise words: ‘Action is not driven by the past, but pulled by the future.’” (p. 199)

Ultimately, the act of determining your future, whether it be by setting goals for yourself or the dreams of others, propels you, your energy and your motivation forward. In summation, readers must continue to strive for the goals they’ve set, using the positive techniques, strategies and insight given to them by Shawn Achor in Big Potential to pull them towards their bright, bright futures.

*Disclaimer: a copy of this book was provided by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Conjuring Deception by Camilo Iribarren

Publication Date: January 21st, 2016

Rating: 2 ¾ Stars

I was excited to read this book as I’d loved Club Deception, which also centered around the world of magic. The premise within Conjuring Deception was certainly unique, vaguely hinting at the movie Now You See Me. This book housed a thrilling twist of FBI crime solving and the role magic plays in explaining and uncovering the perpetrator by a team of magicians, each with a unique skill set and diverse background. The team within consisted of a cardist, escape artist, illusionist, mentalist and their FBI handler, a former street magician. So, when a jewel heist occurs in which the “perp” disappears in a cloud of smoke, and a large sum robbery takes place with victims unable to remember what happened, this team is called in to solve.

There were two distinct cases solved within the folds of this book, as mentioned above. The cases are quickly briefed and wrapped, separated only by a bridge in which the family dynamic of each member is unveiled. The cases are wrapped quickly, with neat confessions being all but glazed over, leading the reader to feel this book would have been more satisfying had the sequences been drug out and extended to include more detail. Conjuring Deception holds all the cards (pun intended) to evolving into a GREAT magician crime solving series. The crime and love interests are there; as is the team with the great personalities. The story just needs to undergo additional editing to “smooth” the grammar and language flow while the drawing out of scenes would provide for a “fuller” reading experience.

*Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum

Publication Date: March 6th, 2018

Rating: 3 ¾ Stars

I first read the description of this book in Fall 2017. I was immediately captured by the uniqueness of the plot and compelling idea it presented. What if things that happen to us, that seem like coincidences, are in fact intentionally done by Coincidence Makers to steer us toward an outcome? This is the premise of this book and seems like an extremely entertaining (future?) movie as well.

This book was incredibly well done. For what would seem an otherwise straight forward plot, was intricately detailed and challenging to put on paper, but Blum has more than succeeded. The Coincidence Makers follows three “secret agents” Eric, Emily and Guy (most prominently Guy) as we are introduced to their way of seeing things. As a Coincidence Maker, Guy is given an envelope with his “mission,” most recently he has received Matchmaking Coincidences, the bringing together of two people in hopes of creating a romantic future together. As Guy interacts with his fellow agents we are given a look into his previous job as an Imaginary Friend and introduced to his love whom he met during his time as an Imaginary Friend. Sprinkled into this love story and agent centered plot are chapters retelling the history and teachings of Coincidence Makers, history such as the “coincidence” of discovering Penicillin.

Blum inventively plants seeds in the reader’s own mind as he causes pause in reflecting on “coincidences” in our own life, coincidences such as losing a job only to find your true passion, or the spilling of coffee that causes you a few minutes delay giving you the opportunity to drive by the fatal car crash whether than experience firsthand.

It comes as no surprise this fantastical book has been retold in MANY languages. The concepts, experiences and love within are beautiful and thought provoking in every language.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Book Club: The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Publication Date: January 2nd, 2018

Rating: 2 ¼ Stars

When this book was chosen for book club I was hesitantly excited. I, myself, am not a big music fan. My own musical ambitions were cut short when I barely survived a year of middle school band, it was a constant fight with my mother to practice piano, guitar, trombone or whatever the instrument of the year was. As for listening to music for enjoyment, I tend to stick to the current hits, straying only as far as popular songs released sometime within the current decade. My younger brother on the other hand is a music prodigy. From teaching himself new piano songs just by hearing them once, to first chair trumpet, then trombone, then baritone. He even went as far as Purdue University becoming a member of the All-American Marching band. Unlike me, he also prefers the “oldies” and any song NOT currently on the billboard top charts.   As such, I was hoping this book would provide me, at the very least, a bridge to my brother’s love of music culture.

Having now read this book I can positively say that “bridge” did not happen. If you don’t know any of the songs from the time period (1988-2009) you will not relate to or enjoy the music within, music which is such a HUGE part of this book. Despite this, as I began reading, I was hoping to at least be able to fall back on the love story and Frank’s relationships with the other businesses owners, but this book seemed to fall short even in that regard.

That being said, the amount of detail and history the author put into describing the songs, composers and music in The Music Shop was phenomenal. Author, Rachel Joyce, eloquently describes the feelings of the songs on vinyl and the background noises heard as they are played flawlessly within. She even goes so far as to provide us background on each song, the true meaning behind them and the subsequent composer. But even this detail was lost on me.

Admittedly, I have never heard a vinyl record played firsthand nor had I previously listened to any of the songs discussed within. Nevertheless, I have not completely given up on my lacking musical ties to this book as I intend to download and listen to The Music Shop’s corresponding Spotify playlist.