This is My America by Kim Johnson

My latest read is a dive into racial injustices in the American justice system, albeit a fictionalized account. Kim Johnson has written a young adult novel examining mass incarceration and the affect it has on families. This is My America is a necessary read from the perspective of the families of those incarcerated.

Tracy Beaumont is seventeen. Her father is on death row. He only has 267 days left. He has been on death row for seven years and Tracy is angry. Every week, and sometimes every day, Tracy writes letters to Innocence X. She is hopeful that the organization will be able to help get her father off death row and discover who really committed the crime for which he was sent to prison. Tracy is growing increasingly desperate, willing to do whatever it takes to get Innocence X’s attention, so when her older brother Jamal and their whole family is invited for a television interview showcasing his athletic talents, Tracy has to decide if she will potentially ruin his opportunity by talking about her father’s plight.

Tracy doesn’t know what to do. Just when she thinks things can’t get worse, the unthinkable happens. Police swarm their house in the middle of the night and fighting off flashbacks to the night when her dad was arrested, Tracy and her mom discover that they are there to arrest her brother. In an instant, Jamal switches from a promising young track star with college plans to a thug accused of killing a white girl. Jamal is on the run. Tracy and her family find themselves living in a nightmare. Working hard to free her father and figuring out what actually happened the night of Jamal’s alleged crime, Tracy soon discovers who she can actually trust. As she starts investigating what happened between Jamal and the murdered woman, Angela, down at the Pike, Tracy uncovers a dark racist history in the town that may relate to what happened that night. By proving her brother’s innocence, Tracy may inadvertently destroy her relationships with the people in her life.

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In the Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish

If you’re a big romance reader, you’re probably familiar with this storyline: two people meet and dislike each other on sight. They’re thrown together regularly over a period of time, and that dislike turns to mutual appreciation and attraction. Just as they think they’ve found love, life gets in the way and the two are parted. After a period of heartbreak and soul-searching, they’re reunited for their happily-ever-after (or at least happy-for-now) ending. You may love this storyline. I do not. The romance books I love are decidedly different from this pattern, and my latest discovery is no exception: In The Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish.

First, here’s the gist: Daniel is a lifelong city boy, native to Philadelphia where he grew up as a black sheep in his family of mechanics. Now, he’s finally getting his graduate degree and can look for a job as an English professor. But the only college that will interview him for a position is in a small town in Michigan where he feels like even MORE of a black sheep. He’s wondering if he’ll ever fit in anywhere, when a nighttime mishap lands him on the doorstep of Rex, a local furniture-builder made reclusive by his crippling shyness. Their physical and emotional attraction is immediate, but they’ve both been damaged by trauma and are reluctant to trust each other. Over time, following their instincts and talking honestly about their feelings leads them into a relationship that is healing to them both, though tested by unwelcome surprises on all sides.

Now, it’s not perfect. For one thing, it’s written entirely from Daniel’s perspective, which can leave Rex’s feelings and needs neglected (though you can see the author tries to make up for this). But despite its weaker places, this is a book which distances itself from all the tropes I dislike, in heartwarming and refreshing ways. The attraction that draws Rex and Daniel together is both physical and emotional; they make each other feel safe and valued, and there’s no friction of dislike to get past. The steamy scenes (and there are many) are full of healthy communication, safe practices, consent, tenderness and mutual care. There is also frank, honest discussion of past traumas and the baggage they each bring to the relationship, which means the narrative focuses on their emotional healing and making peace with their past – in communication and partnership with each other. They support and stand up for each other, and (spoilers) there’s no gratuitous separation or a breakup used as a plot device. The narrative climax that does happen ties into all the issues that were explored earlier in the story, bringing them to a head AND leaving room for sequels.

What’s also effective is the immersion into the various subcultures in the story: small town life, Michigan culture, the Philadelphia scene, and the world of higher education. Each feels authentic and researched, giving the novel a strong sense of place and being grounded in the world.

If you’re looking for a steamy, escapist read grounded on wholesome, caring principles, I recommend you find yourself In the Middle of Somewhere.

Sadie by Courtney Summers

I spend a lot of time in the car either driving to work or driving to explore. This means that I have so many hours to fill that the music on the radio starts to repeat itself. I have learned to spend this time listening to podcasts and audiobooks instead. Looking at award-winning book lists, I found Sadie by Courtney Summers: a book that is presented like a true crime podcast. This sounded perfect to me.

Sadie by Courtney Summers highlights the story of Sadie and her sister Mattie. When thirteen-year-old Mattie goes missing from her small Colorado town and is eventually found murdered, her nineteen-year-old sister Sadie is devastated. Sadie has been raising Mattie by herself for years ever since their mother left. While she had some help from her surrogate grandma, Sadie took on the bulk of the responsibilities associated with her and Mattie’s welfare. When Sadie all of a sudden disappears about a year after Mattie is found, her surrogate grandma reaches out for help.

West McCray is a radio personality who has been slowly making his way across the country to work on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America. While stopped in one such town, he overhears a local talking about Sadie’s disappearance. Shortly after, West is contacted by Sadie’s surrogate grandma and finds himself drawn into the case. West decides to turn his examination into the disappearance of Sadie and the murder of Mattie into a true crime podcast called ‘The Girls’.

When Sadie runs away, rumors abound about why she left and where she’s going. Told in the alternating perspectives of both Sadie as she runs away and West’s podcast about her disappearance, readers are able to follow this story from both points of view. While Sadie has run away in order to track down her younger sister Mattie’s killer, West and the rest of her family don’t have access to that information and struggle to find out why she’s gone, where she is, and what has happened to her.

I enjoyed this book as it combines three of my favorite things: true crime, podcasts, and audiobooks. After looking at different reviews, flipping through the print book, and listening to the audiobook, I agree with others when they say that, if given the option, you should listen to the audiobook. By doing so, you are privy to the little audio clues present in the podcast sections that you would miss out on if you only read the book. Give it a try and let me know what you think!


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Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg

Elizabeth Berg’s Night of Miracles  is the sequel to The Story of Arthur Trulov.  What a happy surprise to discover that some of the characters from Trulov continue in Berg’s newest novel.  Lucille and Maddy are back, as well as a lot of new folks from Mason, MO.

Berg does a great job of altering the prism through which we see the small Missouri town; it serves as the nexus for the various characters in this book.  For example, Iris’ story starts in Boston but, after her divorce, she makes a detour to Mason and her story comes to fruition there.

The town diner, Polly’s Henhouse, serves as a new setting with new characters. Polly and Monica work there, and interact with regular customers like Tiny and Iris. Iris, then, connects us back to Lucille. Iris eventually gets a job working for Lucille, facilitating her cooking classes. This web reflects how life in a small town works.

Berg changes point of view for each character, too, so we are privileged to peek into their interior life, and yet we also view how they are seen in the community. It’s a good reminder that we exist in other people’s minds in an entirely different way than how we exist in our own. We give ourselves much more latitude, and are much more forgiving of our own faults and idiosyncrasies. It’s interesting to see Lucille through Lucille’s eyes, rather than through Arthur’s, who thought, at least initially, that Lucille was pretty annoying. We see instead Lucille’s frailty and admire the lifetime’s worth of knowledge and skill that she puts into her baking.

Once again, Berg creates a world in which we gradually get to know and love the very human people who inhabit it. I wouldn’t mind spending time in Mason, myself but I’m pretty sure that it exists only on paper.

The Arsonist by Sue Miller

the arsonistThe Arsonist by Sue Miller is my latest foray into audiobooks. Miller has weaved a suspenseful story full of family drama and community intrigue within a small New England town.

Frankie Rowley has returned to Pomeroy, New Hampshire, the small village and farmhouse where her family has always spent the summers. Frankie has worked in East Africa for the last 15 years, but came home after she realized that she has never really quite fit in over there. The adjustment back to the states is hard on Frankie, leaving her walking along a country road on her first night back. Waking up the next morning, Frankie discovers that a house up the road has been burnt to the ground. Fires keep popping up around the community, putting people on edge and dividing the town even further.

In addition to the community drama around the fires, Frankie’s mother Sylvia is becoming more concerned over her husband’s erratic behavior. He is forgetting more and more some days, while on others, he seems just fine. Frankie and her sister, Liz, are trying to help, but Liz has a family of her own to deal with now and is hoping Frankie will help relieve her stress. Frankie, herself, has fallen for Bud Jacobs, a Washington DC transplant to Pomeroy, who has taken over the town’s small newspaper. All of these relationships become even more entangled in a very small town under great stress due to all of the arson activity and the divide between the summer people and year-rounders.

The Arsonist is the second book that I’ve listened to where the author has been the narrator and the stories really benefit from the author’s telling. The author is able to truly tell how she wants the characters to talk and how she sees them interacting with each other. You also notice a distinct connection between the narrator and each character because the author cares more about and has a more vested interest in how the characters are being portrayed. Check this book out and let me know what you think!


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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

sharp objectsSharp Objects was Gillian Flynn’s literary debut in 2006, followed after with Dark Places in 2009, Gone Girl in 2012, and The Grownup in 2014. Flynn’s first three works are all suspenseful, dark books full of thrilling chases, tragedies, secrets, and lies. I was introduced to Gillian Flynn through Gone Girl and immediately dived into her other books.

In Sharp Objects, Camille Preaker is working as a journalist for a second-rate newspaper, the Daily Post, in Chicago when her boss, Frank Curry, gives her a new assignment. Camille is to head to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri to cover the murder of one young girl and the kidnapping of another. Camille soon finds herself back in Wind Gap for the first time in eight years, working on her career-boosting serial-killer-in-the-making article.

In this psychological thriller, Camille struggles to break through small-town barriers to find the truth about what happened to those two girls. Once the body of the second girl is found, Camille finds herself swept into the story amidst all the rumors flying through town about who committed these vile acts. These murders are especially hard for Camille and her mother, as her younger sister died when she was 10 of a mysterious illness. Local police call on the help of a profiler from Kansas City, MO and Camille works closely with him to discover Wind Gap’s secrets.

Camille has secrets of her own. She comes from a dysfunctional family and one of the things she turned to to cope was self-mutilation. She was once institutionalized for this; her body covered in scars, words littering every surface of skin. Her trip back to Wind Gap forces her to relive her disturbed childhood, digging into old family secrets and things simmering under the surface. This book is truly suspenseful, leaving readers guessing about the murderer and the truth those simmering secrets until the very end.


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