Archive for November 2020

What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera


"I just think you're meant to meet some people. I think the universe nudges them into your path. 

There is something magical about this time of year. I spent the last couple of days eating way too much food, shopping for gifts, and decorating the house for the holidays. And though this year required us to do things differently than we have in years past, those holiday traditions still bring the same amount of magic that they always have. One of my favorite things to do this time of year is to curl up next to the fire with a good book. The Texas weather finally brought us winter this weekend, so I decided to take full advantage and finish reading What If It's Us. This cute love story was the perfect way to kick off the holiday season. 

Arthur is soaking up every moment of his summer internship in New York. The soon-to-be high school senior is wholly committed to taking in all of the sights and sounds of the city life, even if that means neglecting the duties of his job. Today though, his internship has sent him on a mission that allows him to fulfill both of his desires. Today, he's been tasked with dropping off work documents at the post office. Yes, this is just a simple errand, but the city is ripe with adventure and opportunity. 

Ben is at the post office for an entirely different reason. He's got a box full of stuff that belongs to his ex-boyfriend. The breakup is still so fresh and difficult that Ben can't bear to even see his ex. Having all of this stuff that reminds him of the relationship isn't helping either. It makes sense to just mail it all back to him and rid himself of that part of his life for good. As you can imagine, fate has other plans. Ben and Arthur meet in line at the post office and have a really cute conversation. The spark between the two is undeniable, but then they are separated. Was this just a chance encounter meant to fill that small moment of time, or is this something more? You'll have to read to find out. 

I was so drawn into the story and characters that it is almost impossible for me to objectively comment on this book. In What If It's Us co-authors Becky Albertalli (of Simon vs the  Homo Sapiens Agenda fame) and Adam Silvera deliver the kind of meet-cute YA romance that you'll have a hard time putting down. I don't normally read this genre, so I was a bit apprehensive at first. As I started reading, I couldn't help but find little pieces of myself in each of the characters. There's something about navigating the final years as a teenager that is universally relatable. Take away the fact that the main characters are gay (this story could have been equally effective with a heterosexual couple), and you are still left with a story that is just too compelling to not read. Is this a great work of literature that will be touted for its prose and structure? Of course not. But there's so much about What If It's Us to like about that you won't mind the little things that would normally detract from a novel. A sequel has recently been announced, and I really can't wait to read more about these characters. 

For more information visit Albertalli's website, Silvera's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2020, 48)

Criss Cross by James Patterson


"Long-buried images of my past rose up, blurry at first, and then gradually coming into focus, all of them deeply disturbing."

Reading the latest Alex Cross novel by James Patterson has become one of my yearly traditions. Dating all the way back to my years as a reluctant high school reader, my mom has given me the latest novel as a Christmas gift. The books usually release in November, so this gives me an entire year to procrastinate on reading it until I inevitably receive the next installment. Each of the 26 books in the series has varying levels of success as pieces of writing, but I look forward to breezing through the new one regardless. Criss Cross, the 27th book in the prolific series, has been waiting for my attention for nearly a year now. With the holidays rapidly approaching, I decided now was as good a time as any to finally dive in and give it a read. 

With so many Alex Cross books under my belt, I pretty much know what to expect when I pick up the latest. There's a comfort in the familiarity of Patterson's characters and plot structures that allows me to settle into the words and read them quickly. With that many books, I've also grown to know what kinds of stories work best for these characters. In the case of Alex Cross, the best novels always feature a balance between the hunt for a secretive serial killer and the continued development of the extended Cross family. Fortunately for me, Criss Cross perfectly finds that balance. 

Alex is being taunted by a mysterious murderer who goes simply by the name M. We learn that this particular killer has been a part of Alex's career from the very beginning, an elusive criminal who takes as much pleasure in the act of murder as he does is toying with the famed detective. Alex is truly stuck. His usual intellect fails him at every step of the way, keeping him always one step behind M. 

If the case wasn't causing enough stress, Alex has plenty to worry about on the homefront. After recovering from a season-ending injury, his daughter is finally poised to make a triumphant return to track and field. And not a moment too soon. She's caught the eye of several university coaches, each wanting to see how she performs after her recovery. Just as things seem to be moving in the right direction, she comes down with an illness that threatens to end her season and any hopes and receiving one of the coveted track scholarships. 

A James Patterson novel is usually either pretty good or absolutely rubbish. Criss Cross falls into the pretty good category. Patterson keeps the suspense moving through several flashbacks and detours of family drama, constantly driving the novel forward to a pretty satisfying conclusion. I always enjoy getting to check in on the Cross family, and this book was no exception. Patterson has smartly allowed his characters to age with the series. This means there are new life experiences for the characters with each new book and new angles for us to see them in. The mystery is one of the more intriguing puzzles Patterson has written in recent installments. I genuinely didn't know who the murderer would be until the very end, a rarity for a seasoned crime reader like myself. The Alex Cross series will never win awards for literary merit, but it has become a hallmark of my holiday tradition. I will always enjoy reading these books, and I can't wait to unwrap the next one soon. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2020, 47)

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman


"Life is not what you think it is. Remember that. Remember me."

With the arrival of November comes cooler air, shorter days, and the need to curl up with a good book. I was given a copy of Alice Hoffman's Magic Lessons from her publisher and was eager to read this prequel to her hit Practical Magic. While I had never read a novel by the author before, this combination of historical fiction and fantasy seemed like the perfect read to tie into the change of seasons. As an added bonus, I hoped that it would also help my mind escape from the tumultuous election season. While it turns out it wasn't exactly the kind of novel I was expecting, there is still a lot to like about the book. 

The novel traces the history of the Owens women, famed masters of the "unnamed art". Maria Owens, just a small infant, is left abandoned in a rural field in England. Fortunately for her, Hannah Owens, a single woman who lives on the outskirts of town, takes the child in as her own. From a young age, Maria is extremely adept at learning Hannah's magic. The child sees how women from the town flock to Hannah's cottage for her remedies of everything from common medical ailments to matters of love. She also learns that there are some things you shouldn't mess with. Hannah warns her about matters of the heart. For every blessing bestowed, a curse must also follow. 

As Maria grows into a young woman, tragedy strikes and forces her to flee to the new world. Even on her journey across the sea to America, Maria puts her skills into practice. She heals a young sailor from his illness and seems to fall under his spell in the process. Still, she is extremely wary of the trappings of love and refuses to fall into such traps herself. Her journey in the new land sees her break free from indentured servitude and follow her heart to a new town. Little does she know the trouble that awaits her in Salem, Massachusets. 

I have quite a mixed reaction to Alice Hoffman's Magic Lessons. I absolutely slogged through the first half of the novel, not feeling much connection to the characters are the events that unfolded. I think this is partly because Hoffman merely told us about what was happening instead of actually showing it. The beginning has a lot of history and rules to establish. I never felt like the discovery of this history was organic. It wasn't until the protagonist Maria arrived in America and made her way to Salem, that the pace quickened and my investment in the story finally took hold. 

Placing a woman who practices witchcraft directly into the setting of the horrendous trials against women brought some much-needed drama and suspense to the work.  Commentary about feminism and family peppered into the story in a way that only heightened by connection in the latter half of the book. And so I'm on the fence about recommending this novel. I nearly stopped reading it in the beginning, but I couldn't put it down toward the end. I won't be rushing to read a Hoffman novel any time soon, but I also wouldn't' be against reading one down the road. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2020, 46)

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