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Monday, August 31, 2020

Review: The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

The Nothing Man 
by Catherine Ryan Howard


Publisher: Blackstone
Publish Date: August 18, 2020
Hardcover
324 Pages
Standalone
Genre: Psychological Thriller


At the age of twelve, Eve Black was the only member of her family to survive an encounter with serial attacker the Nothing Man. Now an adult, she is obsessed with identifying the man who destroyed her life.


Supermarket security guard Jim Doyle has just started reading The Nothing Man--the true-crime memoir Eve has written about her efforts to track down her family's killer. As he turns each page, his rage grows. Because Jim's not just interested in reading about the Nothing Man. He is the Nothing Man.

Jim soon beings to realize how dangerously close Eve is getting to the truth. He knows she won't give up until she finds him. He has no choice but to stop her first ...


My Review:




ALL THE THRILLING STARS! Holy moly - this is the book I've been waiting for this month in the thriller category.  Not only do I LOVE getting the POV of the killer, but then you throw in the killer finding a book written by his youngest survivor and now you've got two for the price of one!  So thriller and true crime fans - this is THE book for you!  I'm actually kicking myself for waiting so long to read this.  Howard is an autobuy author for me and this is my fourth (and third 5 star) book by her. I can't recommend her books enough!

So let's get into the nitty gritty of it all.  Jim Doyle, as we know from the blurb, is The Nothing Man.  We get to watch him unravel as he reads the true crime book written by his victim, Eve.  Could you imagine walking into a bookstore and being confronted with a book about YOU?!  The way the author integrates these is nothing short of brilliant.  I was equally fascinated with Eve's story as I was with watching Jim escalate.

Howard brings us a thriller where we already know who the killer is so there's no guessing on how the crime was committed or who will be revealed.  Instead we are just instantly drawn into what is going to happen now that it's 20 years later.  Book within a book stories are a bit of a hit or miss for me and quite honestly, this is probably one of, if not THE, best ones I've read. Obviously I recommend this book so go out and get yourself a copy... and if you already have one on your shelf, stop everything and pick it up NOW!

★★★★★

Jessica's Review:



This book. If you’re a thriller fan that’s feeling burnt out on the genre then this is the book you NEED in your life. I’ve been a huge fan of Howard since I picked up DISTRESS SIGNALS and I haven’t been disappointed yet! This one is everything I needed and wanted.
The only survivor from a serial killer writes a true crime novel detailing her investigation and the killer begins to read it and quickly realizes how close she really is to finding him. You know from the very beginning who the killer is and it was so intriguing seeing him follow along in the book. We got snippets of her book and then from the killer’s POV throughout. This made for a suspenseful and thrilling read and I loved both perspectives. Get me into the mind of the killer any time!
Clearly this is one I highly recommend and its made my top books for 2020 list. Howard firmly remains an auto-buy author for me and if you’re desperate for a thriller that will stand out from the rest, then you need this book in your life.
5 stars

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Review: The Roxy Letters by Mary Pauline Lowry #ATBR2020 #BuddyReadsToDieFor

The Roxy Letters 
by Mary Pauline Lowry

This is August's Buddy Reads To Die For choice!  Thanks to everyone for reading along!


Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: April 7, 2020
Kindle Edition
320 Pages
Standalone
Genre: Contemporary


Meet Roxy. She’s a sometimes vegan, always broke artist with a heart the size of Texas and an ex living in her spare bedroom. Her life is messy, but with the help of a few good friends and by the grace of the goddess Venus she’ll discover that good sex, true love, and her life’s purpose are all closer than she realizes.


Bridget Jones penned a diary; Roxy writes letters. Specifically: she writes letters to her hapless, rent-avoidant ex-boyfriend—and current roommate—Everett. This charming and funny twenty-something is under-employed (and under-romanced), and she’s decidedly fed up with the indignities she endures as a deli maid at Whole Foods (the original), and the dismaying speed at which her beloved Austin is becoming corporatized. When a new Lululemon pops up at the intersection of Sixth and Lamar where the old Waterloo Video used to be, Roxy can stay silent no longer.

As her letters to Everett become less about overdue rent and more about the state of her life, Roxy realizes she’s ready to be the heroine of her own story. She decides to team up with her two best friends to save Austin—and rescue Roxy’s love life—in whatever way they can. But can this spunky, unforgettable millennial keep Austin weird, avoid arrest, and find romance—and even creative inspiration—in the process?


My Review:




If you're looking for something lighter to lift your spirits and give you some belly laughs, this book will deliver!  I actually quite liked the format of everything being letters. Weirdly to her ex-boyfriend, but hey, who am I to judge?  And... I almost kinda want to do something like this... but probably won't. 😉

Roxy is quite an interesting character.  Though I grew to love her, she grated on my nerves quite a bit.  Her constant mentioning of Everett paying rent and saying "Oh my Goddess" and "Oh my Venus" had me rolling my eyes so much I thought I was going to dislocate one.  When it came down to it though, I could also relate to her quite a bit... and certainly wish I have the gumption to actually try some of the odd ball things that she did!  This may actually be quite inspiring for me to try some things I may not have otherwise!

I was especially fascinated with Artemis and would LOVE a story from her POV.  How she brought Roxy out of her shell and how she also became very human herself outside of her eccentricity was probably my favorite part of this entire read.  More Artemis please!!

This highly comedic and sexually explicit book was a delight to read.  Even in her most annoying capacity, Roxy was a delight and a fun character to be a part of.  My favorite fight of hers?  With the meth head neighbors of course!  If you need some side splitting hilarity in your life, come visit Roxy - you're sure to leave entertained.

★★★☆

Jessica's Review:


I went into THE ROXY LETTERS not really knowing what to expect, only that I had seen good reviews for it. This was such a fun and light read! I loved the format as it was all in letters from Roxy to her ex-boyfriend, and she takes us on quite the little journey from start to finish. Not only do we get a lot of laughs along the way, but we get to see Roxy grow as her letters continue.

Roxy is a character that you won't soon forget - she's definitely one that will annoy but will grow on you almost instantly. I won't lie when I say that she reminds me of some of my friends. I mean, being the same age as the main character will do that. We get a wide variety of topics from Roxy: her ex-boyfriend, her job at Whole Foods, her time with a sex cult, her boss, the cute guy at work, her pets, her meth-head neighbors (I won't say some of my old neighbors were meth-heads, but there were some sketchy ones back in college), and so much more. Some of the chapters (letters) felt a little like rambling and dragged on, but other than that I really enjoyed this book!

If you're looking for something fun to read to get your mind off everything going on in the world, then come meet Roxy. You'll be treated to some hilarious moments and sexually explicit ones as well when you pick up THE ROXY LETTERS. This was my introduction to Lowry and it won't be the last time I pick up something by her!

4 stars

Friday, August 28, 2020

Review: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Kindred 
by Octavia E. Butler 


Publisher: Beacon Press
Publish Date: February 1, 2004 (originally published June 1979)
Kindle Edition
306 Pages
Standalone
Genres: Historical Fiction, Sci-Fi

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana's life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

My Review:



What an extremely powerful story.  I started this yesterday evening and had a hard time putting it down.  As soon as I woke up, I immediately picked it back up and I am just blown away.  

I thoroughly enjoyed the dual time line aspect of this.  Dana and her husband, Kevin, live presently in 1979, but Dana gets taken back in time unexpectedly - sometimes with her husband.  She figures out that she is in presence of her ancestors but quickly learns that her family lineage may have come at a higher price than she could've ever imagined.

"The possibility of meeting a White adult here frightened me, more than the possibility of street violence ever had at home."  Mind you, this was written in 1979, and it's a sad state of affairs that the "possibility" of street violence is still happening at an alarming rate in 2020.  What Dana was going through within her present day and then having to go back in time to see slavery first hand... and surviving the only way she could.... I couldn't even imagine.  The author does an amazing job of bringing this to life - which was definitely not easy to read. A quote that stuck with me greatly: "I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery." My heart... And the author definitely shows in the back and forth how quickly they both had to get acclimated - at first for survival and later because it was what they were used to.

I found the dynamic between Dana and Rufus quite fascinating.  Extremely complex and yet somehow you really begin to understand there are so many things that keep them from not tearing each other apart.  I found myself getting so unbelievably angry at certain scenes.  I am incredibly impressed with the strength and fortitude that Dana had in all the hard decisions she had to make.  I'm mad I haven't read this author before but I certainly will be checking out her other work. 

Highly recommend.  

★★★★★

Thursday, August 27, 2020

#ATBR2020 Review: The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim @parkrowbooks @njooyounkim @jessmapreviews

The Last Story of Mina Lee 
by Nancy Jooyoun Kim


Publisher: Park Row Books
Publish Date: September 1, 2020
Paperback
384 Pages
Standalone
Genre: Contemporary

A profoundly moving and unconventional mother-daughter saga, The Last Story of Mina Lee illustrates the devastating realities of being an immigrant in America.

Margot Lee's mother, Mina, isn't returning her calls. It's a mystery to twenty-six-year-old Margot, until she visits her childhood apartment in Koreatown, LA, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. The discovery sends Margot digging through the past, unraveling the tenuous invisible strings that held together her single mother's life as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother.

Interwoven with Margot's present-day search is Mina's story of her first year in Los Angeles as she navigates the promises and perils of the American myth of reinvention. While she's barely earning a living by stocking shelves at a Korean grocery store, the last thing Mina ever expects is to fall in love. But that love story sets in motion a series of events that have consequences for years to come, leading up to the truth of what happened the night of her death.

Told through the intimate lens of a mother and daughter who have struggled all their lives to understand each other, The Last Story of Mina Lee is a powerful and exquisitely woven debut novel that explores identity, family, secrets, and what it truly means to belong.

My Review:


So many thoughts on this one.  So many.  I'll try not to ramble too much and keep this short and succinct.  Mina (mother) and Margot (daughter) - two time lines, two different stories.  Usually with two different storylines, I prefer one over the other.   I think I was more interested in Mina's because of the hardships she endured, the sacrifices she made and the secrets that she kept.  Margot did resonate for me though -  being the daughter of an immigrant and trying to handle two different cultures.  

While there is a sense of mystery in trying to figure out if Mina's death was actually accidental, this book is mainly a look at the mother/daughter relationship.  Margot finally gets a look at the person her mother was while trying to reconcile her guilt at not visiting or staying in contact more.  I absolutely LOVE all the Korean references - omg, the food!  I smiled at a lot of things that reminded me of my Korean family and certain parts really had my heart. 

I think the book starts strong but then I went through pockets of lulls as I was reading.  The pacing seems a bit weird and I wish I had more of Mina's story before she came to the U.S.  But these are fairly small things compared to how much this book touched my heart.


"But her mother's harshness was designed to protect Margot from what her mother considered to be a universe without shelter, without much kindness for kindness' sake."


What it boils down to is realizing that our parents are human and they had a different kind of life before they had us.  We tend to take them for granted and as a child of an immigrant, the embarrassment of trying to fit into a different culture while coming home to another can be daunting and frustrating.  But we need to realize just how much harder it was (and probably still is) for them.  I certainly have a stronger and better relationship with my mother now that I'm older, she's not as harsh (she likes to say she's mellowed out over the years) and I have a better understanding and have embraced my Korean side.

Everyone, consider your parents and realize that they're so much more than the person who raised you.  If your parents are still around, go give them a hug or give them a call.  In this hustle & bustle world, don't get so busy that you're going to regret your inactions when it is too late.

And.... I did a double take a couple times from this cover as it reminds me so much of my cousin, if I was walking behind her. 😉 Weird note I know, but it's true!

★★★★

Jessica's Review:


This book was so perfectly timed for me. After a few duds and DNFs I picked up THE LAST STORY OF MINA LEE and it was everything I needed in a book. Not only was this beautifully written, but the dual timelines and perspectives really drew out the characters for the readers and you find yourself connecting with both Mina and Margot.

Margot hasn't heard from her mother for a while, so she decides to return to her childhood home to check in. She discovers that her mother has suspiciously died and she is determined to figure out what could have happened to her. In her searching, Margot starts to go through her mother's things and begins to learn more about her past. Our two storylines are present day with Margot and in the past during Mina's first years in the United States.

If anything, this is a story about family. The dynamics between a mother and a daughter, and Kim did an incredible job reminding us that our parents did have lives before they had us and that they had their own struggles and journeys to get us to where we are now.  I loved Mina's story and learning about what she experienced in her first years in America. Even though there is a bit of a mystery to the book I wouldn't necessarily classify this as a mystery book, if that makes sense. We get a more character driven novel and I'm blown away that this is a debut novel.

4 stars


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Review: One By One by Ruth Ware

One By One 
by Ruth Ware

Thank you to Scout Press for these copies.


Publisher: Scout Press
Publish Date: September 8, 2020
Hardcopy
384 Pages
Standalone
Genres: Locked-In Mystery, Thriller, Suspense


Getting snowed in at a beautiful, rustic mountain chalet doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world, especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a cozy fire, and company to keep you warm. But what happens when that company is eight of your coworkers…and you can’t trust any of them?


When an off-site company retreat meant to promote mindfulness and collaboration goes utterly wrong when an avalanche hits, the corporate food chain becomes irrelevant and survival trumps togetherness. Come Monday morning, how many members short will the team be?


My Review:




Well.......... I didn't hate it! And I say that because I'm sitting here contemplating how I really feel about this book.  I didn't love it... but I didn't hate it either.  I actually, weirdly, just feel ok with it.  But here's the thing.  I love Ruth Ware.  This is my fifth book by her and regardless of my meh feelings on this one, she will continue to be an auto-buy for me.


Here's what I love about her books - short chapters that keep you turning the pages for a one sit read.  For this particular one, I loved the wintry setting and what can I say, I love me a locked-in mystery.  Also, I had a dog named Snoop once so.... 😉  One By One has a fairly big cast of characters and I almost imagined this a bit like Clue - but then I suppose I feel like that for most locked-in mysteries.  

What I didn't particularly care for - this was nothing new to the genre.  Fairly predictable.  While the cast was large, they were all fairly simplistic.  This isn't always a bad thing, in my opinion... however, in this case, I just wasn't utterly wowed by any of them.  Though I do appreciate it didn't get too convoluted and messy.

There's no taking away from Ware's talent.  She writes super fun thrillers and I always fly right through each and every one of them.  I'll certainly be looking forward to the next one that comes along.  I think if you like locked-in mysteries in a snowy setting that's a bit of a lighter thriller, this is a good read for you.  

★★☆


Review: The Night Silver River Run Red by Christine Morgan @deathsheadpress #nightwormsbookparty @night_worms

The Night Silver River Run Red 
by Christine Morgan


Publisher: Death's Head Press
Publish Date: August 7, 2020
Paperback
220 Pages
Series: Splatter Wester #4
Genre: Horror

Some things, according to Cody McCall, are worth risking a whipping. Such as, sneaking out with your friends after dark for a peek at the traveling show setting up just outside of town. Oddities, the signs promise. Marvels. Grotesqueries. Exotic attractions and mysterious magics.

Not as if they'd be allowed to attend otherwise, not with parents and preacher and schoolmarm all disapproving. But how often does a chance like this come along? There isn't much else by way of excitement in quiet, peaceful Silver River, a once-prosperous boom town slowly gone bust.

Worth risking a whipping, sure. Worth risking life and limb, and maybe more? Worth risking being ripped to pieces by ravenous, inhuman brutes? Worth crossing paths with those strange, silent cult-folk from the high valley? Worth all the fire and bloodshed and horror and death?

Because something far worse than any ordinary traveling show has come to town, and one thing is for certain: those who survive, if any, will never forget The Night Silver River Run Red.


My Review:



Oddities - the sign and, seemingly, the book promises... and yet doesn't particularly deliver until the very end... and of which I had hoped to see more of.  Exotic marvels, attractions and things not of the norm have always been very fascinating to me so when I started this read I was stupidly excited for it only to be somewhat let down that I didn't get more of it.  HOWEVER, it is the journey to get there that the book also promises and for that, it certainly does deliver.


This is probably my favorite of the four in the Western Splatter series so far.  Christine Morgan is an author I will absolutely be keeping an eye on.  There's something about the way she writes that made this such an easy to fly through novella.  I did find the beginning a tad bit slow but it really ramps up page by page.  While I think the gore in this is minimal compared to the first three in the series, make no mistake - there's still plenty of splatter to keep you happily bathed in blood.

★★★★

Blog Tour & Review: When I Was You by Amber Garza @ambermg1 @harpercollins


When I Was You 
by Amber Garza 

Thank you Mira for this copy and stop on the blog tour.


You meets Fatal Attraction in this up-all-night story of suspicion, obsession and motherhood.

It all begins on an ordinary fall morning, when Kelly Medina gets a call from her son’s pediatrician to confirm her upcoming “well-baby” appointment. It’s a cruel mistake; her son left for college a year ago, and Kelly’s never felt so alone. The receptionist quickly apologizes: there’s another mother in town named Kelly Medina, and she must have gotten their numbers switched.

For days, Kelly can’t stop thinking about the woman who shares her name. Lives in her same town. Has a son she can still hold, and her whole life ahead of her. She can’t help looking for her: at the grocery store, at the gym, on social media. When Kelly just happens to bump into the single mother outside that pediatrician’s office, it’s simple curiosity getting the better of her.

Their unlikely friendship brings Kelly a renewed sense of purpose—taking care of this young woman and her adorable baby boy. But that friendship quickly turns to obsession, and when one Kelly disappears, well, the other one may know why.



Amber Garza has had a passion for the written word since she was a child making books out of notebook paper and staples. Her hobbies include reading and singing. Coffee and wine are her drinks of choice (not necessarily in that order). She writes while blaring music, and talks about her characters like they're real people. She lives with her husband and two kids in Folsom, California, which is—no joke—home to another Amber Garza.


My Review:


Well now, it has been quite a while since a thriller has surprised me and OMG, this book absolutely did that!!! How many times have you met someone with your first and last name?  And if you have, wouldn't it make you curious to know what kind of person they were?  I barely meet anyone with my first name ever - I couldn't imagine both... and yes, my curiosity would be highly peaked.

For a while, my WTF face and the line between my eyes got bigger and bigger with every page.  I couldn't figure out if she was crazy or not and was legitimately getting concerned with her behavior.  A few times I even grabbed my face like um.... leave the poor girl alone!!!  And as everything was escalating, we get to the 65%-ish mark and BAM - TWIST!  I absolutely was not expecting that and it gave me the biggest smile!

What's great is the way the author writes is that for a moment you're not sure which Kelly she's talking about - which gives that added layer of OHHHHHHHHHHHHH.  Know what I mean? 😉  I could NOT put this book down.  I'm gonna stop here for fear of giving anything away.  This is an absolute must read and let me just end this by saying bitches be craaaaazy!  And I'm here for ALL OF IT.

★★★★★

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Review: Until I Find You by Rea Frey @ReaFrey_Author @StMartinsPress

Until I Find You 
by Rea Frey

Thank you St. Martin's Griffin for this free copy.


Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: August 11, 2020
Paperback
320 Pages
Standalone
Genres: Thriller, Suspense

2 floors. 55 steps to go up. 40 more to the crib.


Since Rebecca Gray was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease, everything in her life consists of numbers. Each day her world grows a little darker and each step becomes a little more dangerous.

Following days of feeling like someone’s watching her, Bec awakes at home to the cries of her son in his nursery. When it’s clear he’s not going to settle, Bec goes to check on him.
She reaches in. Picks him up.
But he’s not her son.
And no one believes her.

One woman’s desperate search for her son . . .

In a world where seeing is believing, Bec must rely on her own conviction and a mother’s instinct to uncover the truth about what happened to her baby and bring him home for good.


My Review:



Once again I am floored by how Frey just draws me into her stories from page one and keeps me absolutely riveted until the very last.  In this particular book, she introduces us to Bec, who has lost her sight in her adulthood, lost her husband before her baby was born, moved into her mother's house, lost her and is now just trying to keep her shit together.  Then she's positive that the baby she's picks up one day is not hers... so what has happened and why won't anyone believe her?


PHEW - this is quite the roller coaster.  And I'm sitting here trying to figure out how to write this without giving anything away. So I'll just say that the way Frey gives us this view of a blind woman is impressive and I absolutely appreciate all the research she put into giving us a strong main character with a disability.  There was just one little thing with the reveal that didn't *quite* make sense to me in terms of the happenings of it all... but that's such a small thing and it didn't take away from the absolute feelings I got while reading this story.  The final letter had my eyes a little wet.  I could not put this book down.

This is my third book by Frey and I would highly recommend each and every one.  Frey is easily one of my favorite authors and I will pick up anything she puts out into the world.  If you love page turning suspense novels that really tug at your heart strings, absolutely put this on your TBR - then come and talk to me!

★★★★

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Spotlight: The Poet's War by Francis O'Neill @smithpublicity

The Poet's War 
by Francis O'Neill


Publisher: Ingram Spark
Publish Date: August 2020
Hardcopy
420 Pages
Standalone
Genre: Historical Fiction


It is Europe’s darkest time in near memory. American warrior poet Alistair Stears, thrown into Italian WWI through his mother’s love for an Italian colonel, experienced a convoy of the dying through burning provinces of Italy in the terrible retreat of 1917. It brought from him the great English poem of the Italian war.

One war later, all gracious things await destruction, knowledge is burned, thought coarsened, manners trashed, perverted faith and truth follow the dictators’ flags—vultures to grace. Stears is a famous poet now, married into German-Italian nobility and determined with his wife to fight the Axis powers. He risks everything to protect Italy and all else he loves. He finds that the bravest and fiercest resistance may be the rightness of a poem, the closing of a letter, the welcome of guests, the embrace of a bride, faith toward a fallen friend--and that it may also come from the barrel of a gun. Spanning both world wars, The Poet’s War finds loyalty, patriotism, war, deception, intrigue, romance, love, and death swept up in a maelstrom that spans generations and changes Europe forever.


Francis O’Neill is the author of the Historical Thrillers Agents of Sympathy, The Secret Country, and Roman Circus. His previous work has been published by Simon and Schuster, Crown, and Putnam. Born in South Carolina and educated in Europe, he received his BA in Modern History at Oxford’s Exeter College. He currently resides in Salzburg, Austria.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Review: Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Betty 
by Tiffany McDaniel 

Thank you to the author for this copy.


Publisher: Knopf
Publish Date: August 18, 2020
Kindle Edition
480 Pages
Standalone
Genres: Contemporary, Historical Fiction


A stunning, lyrical novel set in the rolling foothills of the Appalachians in which a young girl discovers stark truths that will haunt her for the rest of her life.

"A girl comes of age against the knife."

So begins the story of Betty Carpenter. Born in a bathtub in 1954 to a Cherokee father and white mother, Betty is the sixth of eight siblings. The world they inhabit is one of poverty and violence--both from outside the family, and also, devastatingly, from within. The lush landscape, rich with birdsong, wild fruit, and blazing stars, becomes a kind of refuge for Betty, but when her family's darkest secrets are brought to light, she has no choice but to reckon with the brutal history hiding in the hills, as well as the heart-wrenching cruelties and incredible characters she encounters in her rural town of Breathed, Ohio.

But despite the hardship she faces, Betty is resilient. Her curiosity about the natural world, her fierce love for her sisters, and her father's brilliant stories are kindling for the fire of her own imagination, and in the face of all she bears witness to, Betty discovers an escape: she begins to write. She recounts the horrors of her family's past and present with pen and paper and buries them deep in the dirt--moments that has stung her so deeply, she could not tell them, until now.

Inspired by the life of her own mother, Tiffany McDaniel sets out to free the past by telling this heartbreaking yet magical story--a remarkable novel that establishes her as one of the freshest and most important voices in American fiction.


My Review:


HOW MUCH DOES A FAMILY NEED TO ENDURE?! Phew! Y'all know I'm a binge reader but I took my sweet time with this one.  Granted, I had things going on in my life that needed attending to that also slowed down my reading process but this is a book you want to eat one word at a time.

Betty is a biracial, White/Cherokee, girl growing up in times were people were *less* accepting and we see her POV throughout this read.  It's heart breaking, vivid, beautiful, creative and you are instantly drawn into her world.  Equally horrified, happy, worried, feeling all the feelings that she does.  This was certainly a roller coaster for my heart to go through.  The bullying and prejudice her and her family faced was hard to read for sure, but that's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what also happened internally within her own family. PHEW.  Readers, I am not one that is easily triggered.... but if you are, prepare yourself for this read because it basically hits on about every trigger out there.

What I loved best about this read is how beautifully it was written, learning so much about the Cherokee culture and feeling more at one with nature than I ever have! The way the author captures just about every tragedy that can happen within a family is honestly nothing like anything I've read before.  But there is the undercurrent of hope.  Of family strife, grief, hardship.... but also filled with loyalty and love.  

Now, I read a ton of fucked up books and enjoy them tremendously.  But knowing the premise behind why the author wrote this story and the beautiful way she captured everything in its lyrical beauty is truly impressive.  Don't let the unassuming cover fool you.  This book is chock full of beauty ... even in its most horrific form.

★★★★★

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Blog Tour & Review: The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim @parkrowbooks @njooyounkim


The Last Story of Mina Lee 
by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

Thank you to Park Row Books for this copy and stop on the blog tour.


Publisher: Park Row Books
Publish Date: September 1, 2020
Paperback
384 Pages
Standalone
Genre: Contemporary


A profoundly moving and unconventional mother-daughter saga, The Last Story of Mina Lee illustrates the devastating realities of being an immigrant in America.


Margot Lee's mother, Mina, isn't returning her calls. It's a mystery to twenty-six-year-old Margot, until she visits her childhood apartment in Koreatown, LA, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. The discovery sends Margot digging through the past, unraveling the tenuous invisible strings that held together her single mother's life as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother.

Interwoven with Margot's present-day search is Mina's story of her first year in Los Angeles as she navigates the promises and perils of the American myth of reinvention. While she's barely earning a living by stocking shelves at a Korean grocery store, the last thing Mina ever expects is to fall in love. But that love story sets in motion a series of events that have consequences for years to come, leading up to the truth of what happened the night of her death.

Told through the intimate lens of a mother and daughter who have struggled all their lives to understand each other, The Last Story of Mina Lee is a powerful and exquisitely woven debut novel that explores identity, family, secrets, and what it truly means to belong.


Born and raised in Los Angeles, Nancy Jooyoun Kim is a graduate of UCLA and the MFA Creative Writing Program at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Guernica, The Rumpus, Electric Literature, Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s The Margins, The Offing, the blogs of Prairie Schooner and Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. Her essay, “Love (or Live Cargo),” was performed for NPR/PRI’s Selected Shorts in 2017 with stories by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Phil Klay, and Etgar Keret. THE LAST STORY OF MINA LEE is her first novel.



My Review:


So many thoughts on this one.  So many.  I'll try not to ramble too much and keep this short and succinct.  Mina (mother) and Margot (daughter) - two time lines, two different stories.  Usually with two different storylines, I prefer one over the other.   I think I was more interested in Mina's because of the hardships she endured, the sacrifices she made and the secrets that she kept.  Margot did resonate for me though -  being the daughter of an immigrant and trying to handle two different cultures.  


While there is a sense of mystery in trying to figure out if Mina's death was actually accidental, this book is mainly a look at the mother/daughter relationship.  Margot finally gets a look at the person her mother was while trying to reconcile her guilt at not visiting or staying in contact more.  I absolutely LOVE all the Korean references - omg, the food!  I smiled at a lot of things that reminded me of my Korean family and certain parts really had my heart. 

I think the book starts strong but then I went through pockets of lulls as I was reading.  The pacing seems a bit weird and I wish I had more of Mina's story before she came to the U.S.  But these are fairly small things compared to how much this book touched my heart.


"But her mother's harshness was designed to protect Margot from what her mother considered to be a universe without shelter, without much kindness for kindness' sake."


What it boils down to is realizing that our parents are human and they had a different kind of life before they had us.  We tend to take them for granted and as a child of an immigrant, the embarrassment of trying to fit into a different culture while coming home to another can be daunting and frustrating.  But we need to realize just how much harder it was (and probably still is) for them.  I certainly have a stronger and better relationship with my mother now that I'm older, she's not as harsh (she likes to say she's mellowed out over the years) and I have a better understanding and have embraced my Korean side.

Everyone, consider your parents and realize that they're so much more than the person who raised you.  If your parents are still around, go give them a hug or give them a call.  In this hustle & bustle world, don't get so busy that you're going to regret your inactions when it is too late.

And.... I did a double take a couple times from this cover as it reminds me so much of my cousin, if I was walking behind her. 😉 Weird note I know, but it's true!


★★★★



Excerpt:

Margot
2014



Margot's final conversation with her mother had seemed so uneventful, so ordinary—another choppy bilingual plod. Half-understandable. 
Business was slow again today. Even all the Korean businesses downtown are closing. 
What did you eat for dinner?
Everyone is going to Target now, the big stores. It costs the same and it's cleaner.
Margot imagined her brain like a fishing net with the loosest of weaves as she watched the Korean words swim through. She had tried to tighten the net before, but learning another language, especially her mother's tongue, frustrated her. Why didn't her mother learn to speak English?
But that last conversation was two weeks ago. And for the past few days, Margot had only one question on her mind: Why didn't her mother pick up the phone?



****
Since Margot and Miguel had left Portland, the rain had been relentless and wild. Through the windshield wipers and fogged glass, they only caught glimpses of fast food and gas stations, motels and billboards, premium outlets and "family fun centers." Margot’s hands were stiff from clenching the steering wheel. The rain had started an hour ago, right after they had made a pit stop in north Portland to see the famous 31-foot-tall Paul Bunyan sculpture with his cartoonish smile, red-and-white checkered shirt on his barrel chest, his hands resting on top of an upright axe.
Earlier that morning, Margot had stuffed a backpack and a duffel with a week's worth of clothes, picked up Miguel from his apartment with two large suitcases and three houseplants, and merged onto the freeway away from Seattle, driving Miguel down for his big move to Los Angeles. They'd stop in Daly City to spend the night at Miguel's family's house, which would take about ten hours to get to. At the start of the drive, Miguel had been lively, singing along to "Don't Stop Believing" and joking about all the men he would meet in LA. But now, almost four hours into the road trip, Miguel was silent with his forehead in his palm, taking deep breaths as if trying hard not to think about anything at all.
"Everything okay?" Margot asked.
"I'm just thinking about my parents."
"What about your parents?" Margot lowered her foot on the gas.
"Lying to them," he said.
"About why you're really moving down to LA?" The rain splashed down like a waterfall. Miguel had taken a job offer at an accounting firm in a location more conducive to his dreams of working in theatre. For the last two years, they had worked together at a nonprofit for people with disabilities. She was as an administrative assistant; he crunched numbers in finance. She would miss him, but she was happy for him, too. He would finally finish writing his play while honing his acting skills with classes at night. "The theatre classes? The plays that you write? The Grindr account?"
"About it all."
"Do you ever think about telling them?"
"All the time." He sighed. "But it's easier this way."
"Do you think they know?"
"Of course, they do. But..." He brushed his hand through his hair. "Sometimes, agreeing to the same lie is what makes a family family, Margot."
"Ha. Then what do you call people who agree to the same truth?"
"Uh, scientists?"
She laughed, having expected him to say friends. Gripping the wheel, she caught the sign for Salem.
"Do you need to use the bathroom?" she asked.
"I'm okay. We're gonna stop in Eugene, right?"
"Yeah, should be another hour or so."
"I'm kinda hungry." Rustling in his pack on the floor of the backseat, he found an apple, which he rubbed clean with the edge of his shirt. "Want a bite?"
"Not now, thanks."
His teeth crunched into the flesh, the scent cracking through the odor of wet floor mats and warm vents. Margot was struck by a memory of her mother's serene face—the downcast eyes above the high cheekbones, the relaxed mouth—as she peeled an apple with a paring knife, conjuring a continuous ribbon of skin. The resulting spiral held the shape of its former life. As a child, Margot would delicately hold this peel like a small animal in the palm of her hand, this proof that her mother could be a kind of magician, an artist who told an origin story through scraps—this is the skin of a fruit, this is its smell, this is its color.
"I hope the weather clears up soon," Miguel said, interrupting the memory. "It gets pretty narrow and windy for a while. There's a scary point right at the top of California where the road is just zigzagging while you're looking down cliffs. It's like a test to see if you can stay on the road."
"Oh, God,” Margot said. “Let's not talk about it anymore."
As she refocused on the rain-slicked road, the blurred lights, the yellow and white lines like yarn unspooling, Margot thought about her mother who hated driving on the freeway, her mother who no longer answered the phone. Where was her mother?
The windshield wipers squeaked, clearing sheets of rain.
"What about you?" Miguel asked. "Looking forward to seeing your mom? When did you see her last?"
Margot's stomach dropped. "Last Christmas," she said. "Actually, I've been trying to call her for the past few days to let her know, to let her know that we would be coming down." Gripping the wheel, she sighed. "I didn't really want to tell her because I wanted this to be a fun trip, but then I felt bad, so..."
"Is everything okay?"
"She hasn't been answering the phone."
"Hmm." He shifted in his seat. "Maybe her phone battery died?"
"It's a landline. Both landlines—at work and at home."
"Maybe she's on vacation?"
"She never goes on vacation." The windshield fogged, revealing smudges and streaks, past attempts to wipe it clean. She cranked up the air inside.
"Hasn't she ever wanted to go somewhere?"
"Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. I don't know why, but she's always wanted to go there."
"It's a big ol' crack in the ground, Margot. Why wouldn't she want to see it? It's God's crack."
"It's some kind of Korean immigrant rite of passage. National Parks, reasons to wear hats and khaki, stuff like that. It's like America America."
"I bet she's okay,” Miguel said. “Maybe she's just been busier than usual, right? We'll be there soon enough."
"You're probably right. I'll call her again when we stop."
A heaviness expanded inside her chest. She fidgeted with the radio dial but caught only static with an occasional glimpse of a commercial or radio announcer's voice.
Her mother was fine. They would all be fine.
With Miguel in LA, she'd have more reasons to visit now.
The road lay before them like a peel of fruit. The windshield wipers hacked away the rivers that fell from the sky.

Excerpted from The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim, Copyright © 2020 by Nancy Jooyoun Kim Published by Park Row Books