Tomorrow’s Bread

Tomorrow’s Bread

By: Anna Jean Mayhew
Published: 2019
# of pages: 352
Challenges: Alphabet Soup

Goodreads review:

In 1961 Charlotte, North Carolina, the predominantly black neighborhood of Brooklyn is a bustling city within a city. Self-contained and vibrant, it has its own restaurants, schools, theaters, churches, and night clubs. There are shotgun shacks and poverty, along with well-maintained houses like the one Loraylee Hawkins shares with her young son, Hawk, her Uncle Ray, and her grandmother, Bibi. Loraylee’s love for Archibald Griffin, Hawk’s white father and manager of the cafeteria where she works, must be kept secret in the segregated South.

Loraylee has heard rumors that the city plans to bulldoze her neighborhood, claiming it’s dilapidated and dangerous. The government promises to provide new housing and relocate businesses. But locals like Pastor Ebenezer Polk, who’s facing the demolition of his church, know the value of Brooklyn does not lie in bricks and mortar. Generations have lived, loved, and died here, supporting and strengthening each other. Yet street by street, longtime residents are being forced out. And Loraylee, searching for a way to keep her family together, will form new alliances—and find an unexpected path that may yet lead her home.

As a geography major at a university in this city, I learned about the gentrification of Second Ward in the city of Charlotte, so when I saw that this book was the local library’s book club choice I was eager to read this version of history!

The story follows Loraylee, a young woman who lives in the neighborhood of Brooklyn, a black community that happens to be close to uptown Charlotte. The neighborhood is segregated for decades until local developers, government, and wealthy citizens decide that it’s a “blight” (aka: prime real estate from which they can’t monetarily gain.) In their eyes the best way to handle the run down sections is to bull doze the entire ward and rebuild it as more upscale and worthy of the new image wanted to change “downtown” Charlotte into “uptown” Charlotte. Yes, around that time Charlotte was rebranded and one major way of doing that was referring to the main area as “uptown,” which it is still referred to as now.

Loraylee is an interesting character, mainly because of how progressive she is while still appreciating her family and neighbors and their traditions. Other characters whose POVs were included were a preacher in Brooklyn dealing with the destruction of his church and its graveyard and a white woman who doesn’t live in Brooklyn, but whose husband is a member of the board in charge of the Brooklyn redevelopment. Was it super realistic to have so many characters who were open minded during that time? Maybe, or maybe not. But obviously there were people living at that time who were progressive and taking risks by interacting with other people of different races. I’m grateful they did so and set the stage for where we are now and where we will hopefully continue as a country.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and was excited to read about the city and countryside (now suburbs!) of the area I call home. At the end of the book the author clarifies what was true and what was fiction in her story. I was disappointed to read that much of the preacher character’s story about the church and graveyard mystery was fiction. I wonder if there was another cemetery that really existed in Charlotte that was affected by the gentrification. I don’t know, but it would be cool if another author would tackle the same subject from different angles!

I know this is a controversial subject, but I always appreciate authors of any gender/race writing about minorities as long as they make a visible effort to do the characters/subject justice and respect. It’s totally fine for others to disagree because I understand feeling otherwise, but that’s my personal feeling about the matter. This was an original, important, and interesting subject to write about as a historical fiction book and I’d love to see others do the same… Either about the same subject, Second Ward in Charlotte, or about gentrification in other cities. And I’d love to see authors of color write about the subject, especially if they had ancestors affected by displacement.

So overall, I recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, if only to add to knowledge and fuel the quest for other books about similar subjects.

The City of Brass

The City of Brass

By: S.A. Chakraborty
Published: 2017
# of pages: 533
Series: The Daevabad Triology (#1)
Challenge: Alphabet Soup
Quote:
“’You’re some kind of thief, then?’
‘That’s a very narrow-minded way of looking at it. I prefer to think of myself as a merchant of delicate tasks.'”

Goodreads description:

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.

After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for…

Review:

I’m not going to lie, I chose to read this book based on the cover! I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it and how well written and intricate it is!

Nahri considers herself a fairly normal human. Key word, human. Sure, she is all alone in the city of Cairo and steals and cons to survive, but she has to do what she has to do. Until one day when a djinn magically appears in front of her and changes her life forever. She can’t return to her normal life, she has to travel to a magic city called Daevabad. She isn’t who she thought she was, she has an entire history to consider that includes plenty of intrigue, conflict, and prejudice. On the flip side, it includes a lot of prestige and power.

This story is long and complicated. There were times I was a little confused, but I also appreciated that the author didn’t suddenly shovel an entire empire’s history on the reader all at once. So it took a while to start to figure things out and for it to come together. Sometimes I wondered if I missed something, but it would be explained a little later.

The synopsis sounds like a stereotypical fantasy series, but there were several original aspects and I really enjoyed the characters. This is an adult fantasy, but probably older teens would also enjoy the book. I’ve already read the second book in the trilogy, The Kingdom of Copper, and enjoyed it just as much. I recommend it to adults and young adults who enjoy fantasy.

The Sword of Summer

The Sword of Summer

By: Rick Riordan
Published: 2015
# of pages: 499
Series: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard (#1)
Challenges: What’s in a Name? (Season), Alphabet Soup, Alphabet Soup Authors Edition

Goodreads description:

Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down—his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents. . . .

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.

Review:

I started reading Rick Riordan’s series the same time my son did, but he far outpaced me! He’s caught up with all the series of gods and for Christmas received his newest release, Daughter of the Deep. I’m way behind, but I’ve been trying to devote more time since New Year’s to reading books my kids want me to read. So that included finishing up The Kane Chronicles and on to Magnus Chase!

It’s a little hard to review this book since I also read the next in the series immediately after and didn’t like it as much. I was split on liking the characters, I really enjoyed Hearth and Blitz, but didn’t like Sam and Magnus’s hallmates on floor 19 as much.

Overall, this was fun reading in the same style as the Percy Jackson series and I recommend it to fans of young adult fantasy.

Dragon’s Reach

Dragon’s Reach

By: J.A. Andrews
Published: 2020
# of pages: 614
Series: The Keeper Origins (#1)
Challenge: What’s in a Name? (Possessive Noun)
Quote: “’That is the curse of life. Judging your past actions in the light of what you know now.’ She tilted her head. ‘Give your past self grace, my child. She did the best she could.’”

Goodreads description:

Sable, a reluctant thief from the slums, can feel truth when people speak. For years she’s been using that skill to try to break free from the vicious gang boss she’s indebted to.

Escape comes in the form of an odd set of companions:
-a dwarf running from the past,
-an actor with a magical, glowing tree
-a too-helpful kobold,
-a playwright with a knack for getting stories out of people, and
-a man and woman with suspicious, magical powers.

But Sable’s freedom is short lived.

On the edges of civilization, they discover hidden, terrifying lies in the offers of peace from the brutal Kalesh Empire.

Now, she must return to the city she fled, and along with her companions, attempt an impossible task—convince everyone, including the powerful Dragon Prioress, of the truth.

Except the Kalesh web of lies has ensnared everyone.
With her land, her people, and everything she loves hanging in the balance, Sable is the only one standing between freedom, and certain death.

Review:

Don’t ask me how I found this book, but it’s been on my TBR list for a while. I was picking out a book to match the What’s in a Name possessive noun category and here we are: a possessive noun in the word “Dragon’s.”

I was very pleasantly surprised by this first book in a series! Yes, it’s a typical fantasy, but I still found it refreshing and interesting. I enjoyed the author’s take on “common” fantasy species like elves, dwarves, magicians, but I also liked the inclusion of a kobold (basically a house elf from the Harry Potter series!)

Sable is living a life of crime to protect her sister, but she’s been waiting for a way to remove herself from the crime boss she works for in her part of the city and move to another neighborhood to live an honest life. Soon her big chance arrives, but of course nothing can go the way she planned. Before she knows it, she’s on the road with a traveling troupe and soon discovers that nothing about her country and its religious and political structure is what she belives to be true.

The characters are likeable and relateable, the backstories and world building aren’t overwhelming or boring, and the plot is interesting. I recommend this to both young adults and adults who enjoy fantasy.

Behind Her Eyes


Behind Her Eyes

By: Sarah Pinborough
Published: 2017
Pages:
318
Quote:
“Sharing a secret always feels great in the moment, but then becomes a burden in itself. That gnawing in the pit of your stomach that something has been set free and you can’t call it back and now someone else has that power over your future.”

Goodreads description:

Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.

When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake, but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.

And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend. But she also just happens to be married to David. And if you think you know where this story is going, think again, because Behind Her Eyes is like no other book you’ve read before.

David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife. But then why is David so controlling? And why is Adele so scared of him?

As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise can’t guess how wrong—and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

Review:

I watched the Netflix mini series a couple of months ago and enjoyed it, so I decided to check out the book. I was pleasantly surprised by how true to the book the series ended up being.

Louise is a single mom who works part time and is slightly dissatisfied with her mundane life. Little does she know, her life won’t be mundane for long. On a rare night out, her friend doesn’t show up. Instead of heading back to her apartment, Louise decides to take advantage of having a babysitter and enjoy some time alone. But then she meets a man. It’s not like her to flirt and even kiss without even knowing his name, but that’s what she does.

A few days later she finds out her new boss is none other than the mystery man. She’s embarrassed, but this is something she will laugh about later, right? But then she meets his wife and before she knows it, she’s enmeshed in more secrets than she can handle.

This book is a little hard to classify. At first glance it seems like a phychological thriller, but it’s more than just that, so keep an open mind while reading. It’s very original and creative. Louise is an easy character to understand and sympathize with, although at times I wanted to slap some sense into her.

After you read the book check out the show! If you’ve read or watched Behind Her Eyes, what did you think?

Dune

Dune

By: Frank Herbert
Published: 1965
Pages: 890
Series: Dune (#1)
Quote: “And the price we paid was the price men have always paid for achieving a paradise in this life—we went soft, we lost our edge.”

Goodreads description:

Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for….

When House Atreides is betrayed, the destruction of Paul’s family will set the boy on a journey toward a destiny greater than he could ever have imagined. And as he evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, he will bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.

Review:

Dune has been on my TBR list for many, many years. I heard there is a new movie based on the book coming out so I decided now is finally the time to read it. I haven’t seen the old movie yet either.

I have some tips if you read the book. So without any spoilers…..if you want to read Dune, and I recommend you do if you enjoy sci-fi, here’s some pointers:

  • You won’t understand half of the things being discussed right away. It’s okay, keep reading, you didn’t miss anything. Herbert doesn’t go into the backstory of every little thing. This is actually refreshing even if I did initially keep skipping back thinking I must have missed the backstory somehow.
  • The POV is constantly changing, even from paragraph to paragraph. Once again, you aren’t missing anything. Just go slow and accept it.
  • There’s an appendix in the back that I didn’t read (my library ebook had expired and disappeared before I got to it!) but from what I’ve read online, you shouldn’t read it first. Read the story, then you can be filled in with the appendix afterward that apparently goes into more of the backstory.

I’m not going to lie, it took me about a month to read this book. I was interested in the story, but not necessarily the characters. How can a book be so long and detailed but the characters not be detailed? I don’t know, but that’s how it seemed to me, and if I’m not super invested in the characters I tend to take longer to read the book. But it was worth taking so long and I did enjoy the story. I plan to continue with the series and watch the movies.

The Rook

The Rook

By: Daniel O’Malley
Published: 2012
Pages: 504
Series: The Checquy Files
Challenges: Alphabet Soup

Goodreads description:

Myfanwy Thomas awakens in a London park surrounded by dead bodies. With her memory gone, she must trust the instructions left by her former in order to survive. She quickly learns that she is a Rook, a high-level operative in a secret agency that protects the world from supernatural threats. But there is a mole inside the organization, and this person wants her dead.

Battling to save herself, Myfanwy will encounter a person with four bodies, a woman who can enter her dreams, children transformed into deadly fighters, and a terrifyingly vast conspiracy.

Suspenseful and hilarious, The Rook is an outrageously imaginative thriller for readers who like their espionage with a dollop of purple slime.

Review:

A friend loaned me this book a few months ago and recently gave me the next book in the series so I figured I’d better get a move on and read the first one! I’m glad I did because this fantasy mystery was funny, fascinating, and fast paced. I’m not into spy novels or criminal thrillers, but the fantasy aspects made all the difference and made me really interested in the main character and her job in a government-like agency.

Myfanwy (pronounced Miffany, rhymes with Tiffany) only knows her name because it’s in a note she finds in her coat pocket one evening when she wakes up in a park surrounded by dead bodies. The note also gives her a choice – face the dangers that will inevitably follow her or flee the country to live in luxury somewhere else. That doesn’t seem like much of a choice, but Myfanwy takes the road less traveled. She merges right into the real Myfanwy’s life, but spices things up a little.

In the supernatural agency she finds herself working for, nothing really needs spicing up, but Myfanwy manages to do just that in the midst of superhero-like characters and situations like sentient fungus houses and evil flesh cubes.

Basically, this is the kind of book I normally wouldn’t enjoy except for the fact that it’s filled with fantasy elements. Government agencies, spies, espionage, politics aren’t normally something I want in a book, but The Rook has lots of fun extras plus it’s well-written and super funny in parts. I laughed out loud once, which is very rare for me!

Overall, it was a fun read and I’m looking forward to reading the second in the series, Stiletto. It looks like a third in the series will be published this year, according to Goodreads. I recommend this to adults who enjoy fantasy, especially when it’s mixed with the modern world.

The Turn of the Key

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The Turn of the Key

By:  Ruth Ware
Published:  2019
# of pages:  384
Challenges:  R.I.P.

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Goodreads description:

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Review:  This is my favorite Ruth Ware book I’ve read so far.  I enjoyed her others just fine: The Woman in Cabin 10, In a Dark, Dark WoodThe Death of Mrs. Westaway, and The Lying Game.  However, I enjoyed The Turn of the Key the most.  I haven’t read the classic The Turn of the Screw yet, but I gather this is either a retelling or has a similar storyline.

In her letter to an attorney, Rowan states she is guilty…but not of the worst crime she’s been accused of committing.  She goes on to tell the story of how she was hired as a nanny at a large modern estate in the remote countryside of England.  She’s told right off the bat that the house may be haunted, at least that’s what overly superstitious people believe.  Rowan isn’t superstitious so she doesn’t give that claim a second thought.  Not, that is, until strange things begin to occur in the house.

I definitely enjoyed this Gothic suspense and was surprised at the plot twists.  I recommend this to those who enjoy the Gothic and/or physicological thriller genres.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting and suspenseful story, was able to relate to the character more than some of Ware’s other characters.

A Well-Behaved Woman

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A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts

By:  Therese Anne Fowler
Published:  
2018
# of pages:  400
Challenges:  A to Z, What’s in a Name? (“woman”)

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Goodreads description:

In 1883, the New York Times prints a lengthy rave of Alva Vanderbilt’s Fifth Ave. costume ball–a coup for the former Alva Smith, who not long before was destitute, her family’s good name useless on its own. Marrying into the newly rich but socially scorned Vanderbilt clan, a union contrived by Alva’s bestfriend and now-Duchess of Manchester, saved the Smiths–and elevated the Vanderbilts.

From outside, Alva seems to have it all and want more. She does have a knack for getting all she tries for: the costume ball–no mere amusement–wrests acceptance from doyenne Caroline Astor. Denied abox at the Academy of Music, Alva founds The Met. No obstacle puts her off for long.

But how much of ambition arises from insecurity? From despair? From refusal to play insipid games by absurd rules? –There are, however, consequences to breaking those rules. One must tread carefully.

And what of her maddening sister-in-law, Alice? Her husband William, who’s hiding a terrible betrayal? The not-entirely-unwelcome attentions of his friend Oliver Belmont, who is everything William is not? What of her own best friend, whose troubles cast a wide net?

Alva will build mansions, push boundaries, test friendships, and marry her daughter to England’s most eligible duke or die trying. She means to do right by all, but good behavior will only get a woman so far. What is the price of going further? What might be the rewards? There’s only one way to know for certain…

Review:  I checked this book out thinking it was a non-fiction biography.  However, I quickly discovered that it is actually a novel based on a real person and true events.  In the back of the book the author says why she decided to write a book about Alva Vanderbilt, where she found her references, and why she included certain elements in the book.

The story follows Alva Vanderbilt’s life from before she was a Vanderbilt to her extravagant life after marrying William K. Vanderbilt.  At the time, the Vanderbilts were new to New York City high society (basically the nation’s high society).  Alva was influential in the Vanderbilts’ acceptance.  The same energy, positivity, and tenacity that helped her accomplish that feat served her well in the years to come as she changed both NYC’s appearance and society.  As the years wore on, she also made a huge difference in women’s rights in the U.S. and Britain both intentionally and unintentionally.

Alva questioned norms and stood up for herself.  This novel allows the reader to see her point of view and question the information that has previously been published about this strong willed woman.  Of course it’s fiction and there’s no way to know exactly what Alva thought about or how she acted in private, but the author claims to have researched Alva’s life thoroughly and explains why she chose to portray Alva the way she did.

I recommend this book to fans of historical fiction and biographies.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars: Interesting, well written, informative.

The Clan of the Cave Bear

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The Clan of the Cave Bear

By:  Jean M. Auel
Published:  1980
# of pages:  516
Series:  Earth’s Children (#1)
Challenges:  A to Z

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Goodreads description:

Through Jean M. Auel’s magnificent storytelling we are taken back to the dawn of modern humans, and with a girl named Ayla we are swept up in the harsh and beautiful Ice Age world they shared with the ones who called themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear.

A natural disaster leaves the young girl wandering alone in an unfamiliar and dangerous land until she is found by a woman of the Clan, people very different from her own kind. To them, blond, blue-eyed Ayla looks peculiar and ugly–she is one of the Others, those who have moved into their ancient homeland; but Iza cannot leave the girl to die and takes her with them. Iza and Creb, the old Mog-ur, grow to love her, and as Ayla learns the ways of the Clan and Iza’s way of healing, most come to accept her. But the brutal and proud youth who is destined to become their next leader sees her differences as a threat to his authority. He develops a deep and abiding hatred for the strange girl of the Others who lives in their midst, and is determined to get his revenge.

Review:  I searched a bit to see if there were any articles that mentioned how the animated movie “The Croods” was inspired by this book from the 80s, but I didn’t see anything about that being the case.  Basically, The Clan of the Cave Bear is an amazingly elaborate and detailed version of “The Croods.”  I mean, really, they’re incredibly similar.

After a cave in destroys their cave, a clan wanders to try to find a new cave.  On the way they meet Ayla (instead of Guy) who looks different and thinks differently than they look and think.  The clan takes her in, but over the years they are constantly challenged by her ideas and feelings.  Her mind works differently than theirs.  She is able to come up with new ideas (sound familiar?), something that hasn’t happened in the clan for thousands of years.  Their brains aren’t capable of thinking of new ways of doing things and the fact that Ayla’s brain is able to make new connections and that she challenges the clan’s traditions is both fascinating and frightening for the clan members.

The book is remarkably detailed.  I found myself amazed that it sounded so real and had to keep reminding myself that we don’t know that much about early people.  This is mostly fiction, but the author must have researched hunter/gatherer ways of life and what there is to know about early humans.

I became intensely wrapped up in Ayla’s story.  She kept showing her differences in dangerous way and I’d like be like, NOOOO. Not again, please get out of this danger.  Please, clan, don’t send her away.  I was a little emotionally caught up in the story!

Two people I know who have similar tastes in reading to my own said that they really enjoyed this first book of the series, but didn’t like the following books.  If you’ve read all the books what do you have to say to this opinion? Should I keep reading the series or leave it at the first book that I enjoyed?

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Amazing world building, interesting plot, and good characters.