Reviews - Fiction

The Belonging – Leanne Wood

I suppose I have to start by saying I received this book as an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. Its official release date is tomorrow (August 1) and it’s only $0.99 to preorder in the Kindle store right now! With the disclaimer out of the way, let’s get down to the actual review part. By and large, this one was a solid, enjoyable read.

The Belonging starts with Robert, a home health worker who has just lost his wife. Grief counseling encourages him to start writing letters to his dead wife, so some of his story is told this way. We also get to follow the stories of other characters, including a shady neighbor and a reclusive client. Each of these people is working through their own grief and struggles, searching for a sense of belonging. See what I did there? Wood centers each chapter on a different character’s narrative, allowing us to simultaneously work through each person’s struggles.

Wood works beautifully to stitch each story together, intertwining unlikely personalities with each new page. Some may not enjoy the flip between characters at each chapter, but it grew on me a lot faster than I anticipated. I actually found myself even more intrigued because of this feature, wondering how each person’s story and struggles would relate to the next. Will secrets come to light? Will behaviors change? Will happy endings come about?

This read was genuinely enjoyable, especially for being outside my normal wheelhouse of mysteries and thrillers. I thoroughly enjoyed following these four through their stories. A little love, a little hate, a little friendship, and a whole lot of struggling for redemption and a place in this world. Four very different stories wound together in one lovely work.

One side note: If you’re like me (American) you might have a little trouble with some of the wording. Wood is Australian, so the dialect reflects that. But if this country-raised gal can use context clues (or Google) to figure it out, I trust others can as well.

Genre: Fiction, Literature

Page Count: 279

Publication Year: 2019

Rating: 9/10

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Reviews - Fiction

Blind Date: Never Go Home with a Stranger – Nick Clausen

I didn’t receive this book as an ARC or as a freebie in exchange for a review, but it’s a new release that I came across for a whopping $0.00 on the Amazon Kindle store (for a limited time, but grab it while you can because WOW.)

I’m a sucker for a good thriller, and though this one is short in pages, I probably would have read it in one sitting even if it had 500 pages. Lily is set up on a blind date with moderately handsome entrepreneur Jake. After a few drinks and a good bit of shushing to that little voice in her head, Lilly decides to go home with him at the end of the evening.

Jake starts the arrival at home by showing off some of his inventions, including a music controlled gate entry into the home and a panel control with heat and motion sensors in each room. Then he disappears and leaves Lily to make more drinks and await his return. But he doesn’t come back, so Lily decides to go in search of him. It’s a massive house, so this could take awhile.

Insert nail-biting chaos. I couldn’t have stopped reading if I wanted to. Where is Jake? What is Lily thinking? What on earth is going on?! And the big question – will Lily survive what she thought was going to be a romantic nightcap? Clausen paints inescapable images and fear in readers, the kind of writing that makes it impossible to stop reading even for a moment.

He closes with even more crazy and captivating events than when we started. I won’t give away anything, as I want anyone who chooses to grab this freebie to experience ALL the jaw drops I felt. So I’ll just leave it at that. Read this if you love thrillers. 100%.

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Page Count: 35

Publication Year: 2019

Rating: 10/10

Reviews - Fiction

Never/Ever – Susan Meachen

I guess I have to start with a disclaimer in this situation, so here goes:

**Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review of the book** I must also note that this book comes with a trigger warning, as suicide is a heavy topic within its pages. There is also a link in the back of the e-version of the book where readers can support the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, an organization where counselors all over the world donate their time to answer calls from those considering ending their own lives in search of help. I will include this link at the bottom of my review for any interested readers.

Now, on to the actual review part. The book needed some more editing work, but I’ve started working with the author to get that bit rolling for her. Meachen drives us through the life of Lilly Ross post-trauma. She has recently buried her long-time boyfriend who took his own life shortly before they were set to go off to college together. We watch her struggle through a serious bout of survivor’s guilt (it’s very real.) Lilly ultimately decides that she needs to escape her home for college, which leads her from Tennessee down to Florida.

The start of college has Lilly continuing to struggle with this guilt as well as some hidden depression, but she finds herself in a friend group that wants to pull her out of this shell. It works to a degree, but Lilly still works to hide her complication of emotions from those around her. She starts to do a bit of partying to escape her feelings, which is only moderately successful. This friend group, however, includes one Brandon Ryan, cocky and rude and somehow always in the same place as Lilly! But can he change and help her work through her dark past?

Since she can’t seem to get rid of this annoying Brandon, Lilly eventually starts to talk to him a bit and get to know him. Maybe he isn’t so bad. As they slowly become friends, Lilly is able to find some comfort in his presence, but her heart is still closed off. How am I supposed to trust someone with my heart when things ended so horribly last time? She’s promised herself she’ll never/ever go through something so awful again…but Lilly finally trusts Brandon enough to tell him the root of her pain, her struggle, and the overwhelming guilt she wakes up with every day.

And with a little convincing from him, Lilly agrees to some much-needed counseling. As their friendship continues to bloom into a relationship (with some encouragement from supporting characters and friends like Amber and Avery) Lilly is able to learn that Brandon comes with his own ghosts and struggles. They start counseling both separately and together, and Lilly ultimately decides that she wants to pursue a degree that’s going to help her help those like James – those fighting demons they can’t handle alone.

I really loved Meachen’s complicated account of a young adult feeling at fault and working through these unimaginably difficult emotions. I felt that she perfectly wrapped a case of guilt, frustration, and ultimately forgiveness for Lilly and the love she lost. Lilly goes through her own coming-of-age story, where she learns to use her experience to potentially prevent others from living the things she’s been through. I found this so beautiful and admirable, and from her words it seems that Meachen felt the same way about the book she considers her pride and joy. It’s a complicated and difficult journey, and not everyone is able to find the same forgiveness as Lilly, but it was such a lovely read.

Link to Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/donate/

Genre: Romantic Fiction

Page Count: 127

Publication Year: 2019

Rating: 9/10

Reviews - Classics

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

A classic from the 1930s, Their Eyes Were Watching God depicts the life of Janie Crawford, a woman determined to find love, happiness, and purpose in a life that only seems to want to offer her difficulty and pain. Another book I picked up from McKay’s with the intent of reading for fun and enrichment, here I am reviewing my first classic. Filled with struggles, foreshadowing, and a very southern dialogue, this novel is absolutely timeless. It’s also highly acclaimed as one of the most prolific African American literary works of all time, and I found myself completely intrigued by Janie’s story.

Y’all, my heart broke for Janie. Over and over. Situation after situation. All she wanted was to find a fairytale love and legitimate happiness and purpose in life. Is that too much to ask for my girl Janie? Apparently the answer is an astounding yes. This wasn’t the first classic I’ve read that seemed to somewhat forego the concept of a “happy ending” for our main character after a painful story arc (that honor went to the horrible, and I truly mean that, Of Mice and Men.) But Janie did seem to cross the finish line of the novel with her strength and smarts intact.

The story starts off with Janie returning home, where rumors ensue about just what she’s been up to. Everyone has an opinion, but a close friend is the only person to actually ask instead of just gossiping about it. From that point Janie walks us through her story. Raised by her grandmother whose dying wish is to see her married off to a man who can offer her financial security and safety, Janie marries Logan. After an argument and a threat from him, Janie leaves and finds herself in the arms of Joe (or Jody,) husband number two!

Still on the hunt for true love and fulfillment, Janie believes she may have found that in Joe. He has all the right words, but one night he hits her and Janie comes to the realization that Joe isn’t her knight in shining armor, either. But Janie stays. She runs the town store alongside Joe, who serves as mayor for their independent black community of Eatonville. All the love and show gone from their marriage, there are a tons of instances where Joe insults Janie in front of their townspeople (hateful) and even a few where Janie snaps back at him. Eventually their marriage also ends, and our girl Janie is on to new and better horizons!

Janie enjoys being alone for a time, but eventually she meets Tea Cake. At first she’s unsure if she actually wants to give love another try, but she finally gives in to his pursuits and his constant works to make her happy. They have their own issues of course, but it seems like Janie may have found true love and happiness AT LAST. A move to the Everglades provides a job where the two can work side by side, and Janie learns what it means to be jealous (and not just the object of jealousy like with Jody.) Yet and still, Janie is happy. She’s finally found the things she wanted from life…just in time for more pain and trouble to strike.

Janie continues to build herself through tragedy and difficulty, more than she has ever had to handle before. All this leads up to her return to Eatonville where the story began, with her finishing up this story she’s told to her friend Phoeby. Finally in possession of her own life and at peace with her past, Janie is alone and alive. Hurston did a gorgeous job of laying an impossible plot for Janie, but Janie rose above it all.

I absolutely loved walking with Janie through the narration of her quest for joy. She faced trial after trial and refused to let it sink her. Janie found her peace, her happiness, and her fulfillment all in herself and in her memories of the love and life that she experienced. And I daresay, she deserved to find all those things and more.

Genre: Classic fiction

Page Count: 193

Publication Year: 1937

Rating: 9/10

Reviews - Fiction

The Woman In Cabin 10

The Woman In Cabin 10 – Ruth Ware

I’ll start by saying that I did not receive this book for the specific purpose of reviewing. I actually purchased it at my favorite book store, a secondhand place called McKay’s. My preferred location is in Nashville, TN and I love nothing more than spending a day perusing its shelves for new and exciting reads. I’ll also say that I will try my best to avoid spoilers. However, this is my very first attempt at review writing, so go easy on me! I’ll gauge reviews and use those to work towards writing what my readers want to hear. Anyways, if you’re into catching a glimpse of the book before you read it, without the frustration of spoilers, read ahead my friends!

With a small preface, I’ll say that psychological thrillers are my favorite genre. I love to have my heartbroken as I sit back and try to understand the characters’ struggles and solve the mystery myself.

The Woman in Cabin 10 follows our somewhat unreliable narrator, one Miss Laura “Lo” Blacklock, a travel writer struggling to prove herself and move up the proverbial ladder in her workplace while navigating an unclear history and a relationship she’s afraid of allowing to move forward. The early story follows Lo through her internal (and external) struggles in regards to her job at Velocity magazine and her relationship with Judah. Lo finds herself in possession of the opportunity of a lifetime – a chance to represent Velocity on the publicity-filled maiden voyage of the Aurora, a luxury cruise liner setting sails for the gorgeous northern lights. Lo is filled with excitement over the arisen opportunity to potentially seal the deal on a better position within the company. But as we all know, a quiet few days before her trip and an ultimately safe and beautiful paid vacation wouldn’t make for a very compelling thriller, now would it?

The drama all starts when Lo suffers through a traumatic event in the first bit of the book, and this particular occurrence sets the tone for the entirety of the novel. Lo tumbles through sleepless nights, panic attacks, and paranoia over the near-death experience she survived. And just a few days later our poor heroine is expected to pick up her life like nothing happened and go schmooze a bunch of other travel writers alongside the insanely wealthy. Insert more stress and anxiety, but Lo ultimately makes it aboard. The luxury liner is small with only ten passenger rooms, but what it lacks in size it most certainly makes up in silk, velvet, and crystals. Everyone on board is blinded by their surroundings. That is, until disaster strikes…or doesn’t strike? No one is really sure

The sea is calm, the view is beautiful, and danger awaits! By part three, Lo feels kind of certain she has maybe witnessed a possible crime. But she’s only sort of confident that it happened. Confusing, right? Who would want to hurt any of the passengers? Did anyone actually die, or are Lo’s hinted issues and recent traumatic experience creeping in on her psyche? Will anyone believe what she thinks she saw happen? Why is there no evidence? If you’re anything like me, you’ll sit and wonder if Lo actually saw something, or if she’s overreacting. Actually, did she make it all up? Is she seeing things? This read is a real rollercoaster from the moment Lo sets foot aboard the Aurora!

It’s a small boat, so the list of suspects is pretty short…until you start to consider the number of waitstaff, housekeepers, and others who suddenly make the cruise ship seem as though it’s filled to the brim with potential criminals! Page after page is full of questions, doubt, and confusion that’s all tied up towards the end with a messy and heartbreaking bow. A bow made up of deceit, infidelity, and of course – money. I had so much trouble putting this one down as I progressed further and further into its pages. I found myself rooting for Lo despite all her character flaws and shortcomings, and I found myself asking “WHAT ON EARTH ACTUALLY HAPPENED?” so many times throughout this novel. I got such satisfaction from finally understanding what happened, including the “why” and “how” of it. Ware did a beautiful job of tying up such a cantankerous web of lies and misunderstanding!

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Page Count: 340

Publication Year: 2016

Rating: 8/10

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Introducing Me

Hey guys! I’m Amber and I’ll be your hostess for the evening. I’ll keep this post mostly short and sweet, but there is a little I’d like to say to introduce myself and let you know what you’re getting yourself into if you’re interested.

I’m a self-proclaimed book nerd, and I hope and pray that never changes for me. I’ve always loved reading and writing, and I’ve often wondered how I could utilize this passion in my daily life. Teaching was out of the picture, and I haven’t quite made it to writing my own book yet. So I started thinking differently. I have wanted to create a book review blog for awhile now, but life just kept getting in the way. Today a blog name finally hit me, I finished a book, and I thought, “What the heck? Now or never, eh?”

My plan is to write at least one review a week based on whatever I’m reading at the time. Sometimes posts may be more frequent, but posting weekly is my minimal goal. I have a vast personal library, a local library, and a literary taste full of endless possibilities. I want to use this blog as an outlet to reach other readers, discuss with you all, and share honest opinions on the works that come across my bookshelf. If you’re interested in following along in the madness that is sure to ensue, click that follow button and join the fun!

I am always open to book suggestions or other opportunities to review. If you love my blog, send your friends! I’d really appreciate it.