Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White AmericaTears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
Published by St. Martin’s Press

This is a difficult one to “review” because there really can be no argument that what is being said here is in dispute, nor can we argue that it’s not being said in an eloquent, thoughtful, intellectual way by Dyson. He is a minister, so yes this is called a sermon, and it’s written as a sermon, but there is SO MUCH here that the format really shouldn’t matter. Anyone who says racism isn’t a problem in this country is either unable or unwilling to see the truth that is all around all of us, evidenced in every single institution we have, implicitly and explicitly woven throughout the fiber of the United States. As a white person, it may be uncomfortable at times to hear and see the truth of what we have done to create and cultivate racism in this country, but the truth is that we have. To ignore it is only furthering the problems and issues that centuries of hatred and ignorance have created.

There is so much in this book, so much meat to mull over and think about and discuss among friends/colleagues/family, that I think Tears We Cannot Stop falls into the category of must-read. But it’s one of those books that you can’t just read through, think about for a few minutes, and move on from. It’s one that needs to sink in, to fill your brain and consciousness, to reread passages over and over until the implications of what Dyson is saying are perfectly clear. This is not an easy read, but a critically important one. Don’t miss it.

The Guests on South Battery by Karen White

The Guests on South Battery (Tradd Street, #5)The Guests on South Battery by Karen White
Published by Berkley
Review copy provided by the publisher

From the publisher:

With her extended maternity leave at its end, Melanie Trenholm is less than thrilled to leave her new husband and beautiful twins to return to work, especially when she’s awoken by a phone call with no voice on the other end—and the uneasy feeling that the ghostly apparitions that have stayed silent for more than a year are about to invade her life once more.
 
But her return to the realty office goes better than she could have hoped, with a new client eager to sell the home she recently inherited on South Battery. Most would treasure living in one of the grandest old homes in the famous historic district of Charleston, but Jayne Smith would rather sell hers as soon as possible, guaranteeing Melanie a quick commission.
 
Despite her stroke of luck, Melanie can’t deny that spirits—both malevolent and benign—have started to show themselves to her again. One is shrouded from sight, but appears whenever Jayne is near. Another arrives when an old cistern is discovered in Melanie’s backyard on Tradd Street.
 
Melanie knows nothing good can come from unearthing the past. But some secrets refuse to stay buried….

So. You guys know I’m a Karen White fangirl, right? Especially the Tradd Street series – I have loved watching Melanie solve mysteries as she uses her powers of talking to ghosts to understand long-buried family secrets and drama, as well as watching as she slowly fell in love with Jack Trenholm, denied that love to herself, then watched with glee as he loved her back and they lived happily ever after. So fun, right?! So you’d think that another volume of the same stuff would be music to my ears, yes? I thought the same thing. Unfortunately, The Guests on South Battery was just okay to me and I’m left wondering if maybe I’m done with the series and I should leave Melanie and Jack in the happily ever after stage of my brain.

I honestly got super annoyed with Melanie. She’s just so oblivious to so many things – like the fact that she gained weight while pregnant and never really lost any of it (who cares, honestly, but everyone around her seemed to want to point it out and she either ignored them or really didn’t see it herself, either way is fine, but it was an annoying aspect of the book). She is suspicious of Jack’s every move and always concerned that he’s going to leave her – almost like she can still not let herself believe that this man loves her. He MARRIED you and the two of you have two children together – I wanted her, at some point, to just trust this guy and let go, to love him with her whole heart instead of continuing to hold back. It aggravated me to no end.

The mystery part of the book I actually quite enjoyed. It had to do with a house haunted by a mother and daughter, people who Melanie’s mother Ginnette knew when she was much younger. The mother, Anna, was a terrifying ghost and this continues to be one of the reasons I read these books – I love how Karen White makes these ghost stories scary-ish but still a lot of fun. That element of creepiness was definitely there, but it is done with a light touch. I have to admit that when the secrets these ghosts were keeping were revealed, there were really no surprises to me, but still I enjoyed this part of the story.

I enjoyed this book to a degree, but on the other hand, Melanie in general is just beginning to grate on my nerves. I’m not sure I’ll continue with these books if White keeps writing them, unless I hear somehow that Melanie’s personality drastically changes in the next novel (not likely). I’m okay with enjoying the first few books in the series and just leaving it alone after that. I’d still recommend the series, for sure – but perhaps I’d suggest reading the first four and stopping there.

The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

The Things We Wish Were TrueThe Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
Published by Lake Union Publishing
Review copy provided by SheReads

From the publisher:

From the outside, Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, might look like the perfect all-American neighborhood. But behind the white picket fences lies a web of secrets that reach from house to house.

Up and down the streets, neighbors quietly bear the weight of their own pasts—until an accident at the community pool upsets the delicate equilibrium. And when tragic circumstances compel a woman to return to Sycamore Glen after years of self-imposed banishment, the tangle of the neighbors’ intertwined lives begins to unravel.

During the course of a sweltering summer, long-buried secrets are revealed, and the neighbors learn that it’s impossible to really know those closest to us. But is it impossible to love and forgive them?

I read this book over two months ago so please forgive my short but sweet thoughts on it. This is Whalen’s grittiest novel to date and I absolutely loved every second I spent with it – these characters were realistically flawed in the best possible way, their interactions rang true to life for me, and WOW was there drama. This community is extremely fractured, it is a total mess, and the people who live in it have some serious issues. Everything is intertwined, everyone knows everyone and has a history, many have secrets, and all of it just comes together so well. Many of the twists and turns surprised me but, for the most part, all felt natural and entirely feasible.

Whalen weaves such a complicated and intricate web of characters and situations that are all related, but the cast of characters never feels overwhelming or too much here. It all just works together seamlessly, her storytelling is perfection, and I truly could not put this book down. As I said, it’s been a while since I finished the novel but the characters have found a place in my head and in my heart and I would absolutely read another novel set in this same fictional neighborhood.

I have to add as a sidenote that I have met Marybeth in person a few times and she is an absolutely kind, funny, warm, incredibly sweet person. I received this book for review as part of the SheReads blog network that she co-founded. The fact that I’ve met Marybeth did not affect my feelings of the book – this is for sure her best novel that I’ve read and had I not enjoyed it I just would have skipped talking about it. 🙂

Highly recommended!

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

First Comes LoveFirst Comes Love by Emily Giffin
Published by Ballantine Books
Review copy provided by Netgalley

From the publisher:

Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing; Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes their family, their different responses to the event splinter their delicate bond.

Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter ends up in her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands.

On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately, Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired.

As the anniversary of their tragedy looms and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them, but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover they need each other more than they knew . . . and that in the recipe for true happiness, love always comes first.

I love books featuring sisters. I have a sister with whom I have a very complicated relationship. I love my sister a lot but we are very different people and that has caused issues between us over the years. As we’ve grown up, we’ve grown much closer and I am extremely grateful that I have her and I know she feels the same. But still – relationships between sisters are extremely complex, and what I’m saying is that I know firsthand just how difficult they can be. So I expected to love this book.

Love it I did not. I didn’t hate it but overall the novel just never fell into the groove for me the way all of Giffin’s previous books have. I have always really loved the way that Giffin creates complicated main characters who make bad choices and hurt people, but you as the reader understand their motivations and love them anyway. That was not the case in First Comes Love. These two women, Josie and Meredith, are SO unlikable that it’s almost funny. I honestly couldn’t care about either of them enough to want to sympathize with their situations. Nothing either of them did or said showed me that they were actually people I could relate to, people I could see myself in, people who were essentially okay humans just trying to get through life somewhat unscathed. Since I didn’t get any of that, the book overall fell really flat for me.

It’s disappointing because this is truly the only Emily Giffin novel I haven’t enjoyed. Which I guess is an okay thing – the woman has written like ten books and I’ve mostly loved all of them. So I guess she’s allowed to have one I don’t love every now and then. But still, quite a disappointment for me.

If you want to read Emily Giffin, please do! She’s actually quite an incredible writer. May I suggest you start with her first novel, Something Borrowed? Now THAT is a book about a good person making bad, hurtful choices but you love her anyway.

The Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen

The Perfect NeighborsThe Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen
Published by Washington Square Press
Review copy provided by Netgalley

From the publisher:

Bucolic Newport Cove, where spontaneous block parties occur on balmy nights and all of the streets are named for flowers, is proud of its distinction of being named one the top twenty safest neighborhoods in the US.

It’s also one of the most secret-filled.

Kellie Scott has just returned to work after a decade of being a stay-at-home mom. She’s adjusting to high heels, scrambling to cook dinner for her family after a day at the office—and soaking in the dangerous attention of a very handsome, very married male colleague. Kellie’s neighbor Susan Barrett begins every day with fresh resolutions: she won’t eat any carbs. She’ll go to bed at a reasonable hour. And she’ll stop stalking her ex-husband and his new girlfriend. Gigi Kennedy seems to have it all together—except her teenage daughter has turned into a hostile stranger and her husband is running for Congress, which means her old skeletons are in danger of being brought into the light.

Then a new family moves to this quiet, tree-lined cul-de-sac. Tessa Campbell seems friendly enough to the other mothers, if a bit reserved. Then the neighbors notice that no one is ever invited to Tessa’s house. And soon, it becomes clear Tessa is hiding the biggest secret of all.

The Perfect Neighbors was a fairly run-of-the-mill women’s fiction story about a bunch of women with secrets. To be honest, it felt very formulaic, like I’ve read this same story before, but with different character names and slightly different secrets. However, I did enjoy it and it certainly held my interest. I liked all of the women and was interested in figuring out how their lives would turn out, how these issues presented would end up resolving themselves.

I enjoyed the time I spent with this novel but in the end, I’m finding it somewhat forgettable which isn’t the greatest thing. I will keep this short and just say, pick it up if you like this kind of thing, otherwise it’s probably okay to give it a pass. It was a fun, quick read for me that won’t stick in my brain much longer.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Before the FallBefore the Fall by Noah Hawley
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Review copy provided by SheReads

From the publisher:

On a foggy summer night, eleven people—ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter—depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs—the painter—and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members—including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot—the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

This is one of those books that absolutely everyone is talking about, and for good reason. The novel starts out with a bang – literally – as there is a plane crash within the first few pages, and it continues to move at an extremely rapid pace as the two survivors fight for their lives, swimming miles and miles to get to shore and finally surviving both the crash and their arduous journey to safety. The rest of the book goes back and forth in time, shedding light for the reader on the lives of everyone before the crash while at the same time, letting the reader see the way the crash affected the two survivors and their relationship with each other. I loved that the story was told that way – it gave me such a complex and complete view of these characters, but slowly, over the course of the book.

There is definitely a thriller aspect to Before the Fall, but I wouldn’t put it firmly in that category. A lot of time is spent getting to know the characters and seeing how the various players were involved with one another and, in some cases, basically strangers. Much can be said of the fact that they were all keeping secrets, all hiding major things which could have possibly contributed to the reason for the crash – that’s the suspenseful part of the book. The suspenseful part is the fact that you KNOW one of these people was somehow, directly or indirectly, responsible for this horrific thing that happened, but it could be so many of them for so many reasons. I guessed a lot of things but didn’t figure it out until the very end – Hawley did a great job leading me astray, that is for sure.

Several people I’ve spoken to about this book didn’t like the ending at all. I’m not sure that I quite fall into that camp but I definitely didn’t love the ending, either. It felt like a cop-out just a bit, although it was definitely plausible. I don’t know. I liked the book so much that I kind of don’t care how I feel about the ending, does that make sense?

Anyway. Before the Fall. I liked it a lot. Definitely recommended!

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

Flight of DreamsFlight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon
Published by Doubleday
Review copy provided by the publisher

From the publisher:

On the evening of May 3rd, 1937, ninety-seven people board the Hindenburg for its final, doomed flight to Lakehurst, New Jersey. Among them are a frightened stewardess who is not what she seems; the steadfast navigator determined to win her heart; a naive cabin boy eager to earn a permanent spot on the world’s largest airship; an impetuous journalist who has been blacklisted in her native Germany; and an enigmatic American businessman with a score to settle. Over the course of three hazy, champagne-soaked days their lies, fears, agendas, and hopes for the future are revealed.
 
Flight of Dreams is a fiercely intimate portrait of the real people on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. Behind them is the gathering storm in Europe and before them is looming disaster. But for the moment they float over the Atlantic, unaware of the inexorable, tragic fate that awaits them.

Brilliantly exploring one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century, Flight of Dreams is that rare novel with spellbinding plotting that keeps you guessing till the last page and breathtaking emotional intensity that stays with you long after.

This is the second time that Ariel Lawhon has impressed me by writing about a historical event that I previously thought I cared nothing about. (The first time was The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress and it is a super great book!)  She took this event in history, about which there is very little in the way of actual historical facts, and took what research was able to give her about the historical context and the major players, and created this incredibly compelling story filled to the brim with characters I deeply cared about. And the book was so much fun.

There’s an author’s note at the end of the book which details what Lawhon speculated versus what in the book is actual fact, but honestly I couldn’t have cared less what was true and what was speculation on Lawhon’s part – I loved every minute I spent with this story and these characters. From the stewardess, to the journalist, to the navigator, to the cabin boy, to the American – I loved them all and loved how Lawhon told this story from each of their different points of view. There’s also a love story here, major secrets being kept, and possibly some kind of conspiracy – Lawhon gives the reader just enough details on what’s going on to make the wheels in your head turn constantly, yet feel the desperate need to keep turning pages in the hopes of learning more.

I also enjoyed getting to learn more about this now-extinct form of travel that I didn’t know much about and about the last flight of the Hindenburg in particular. I really find it fascinating that it was possible to travel this way and that it was done for such a short period of time in history. I particularly loved how Lawhon described the way the ship looked and felt, how everything was laid out – I can completely picture the whole thing in my mind, and it made the book so much better because I was playing out scenes in my head almost like a movie. Can this be a movie? It would be a great movie.

Anyway. I loved Flight of Dreams! Highly recommended.