Lucky by Marissa Stapley tracks Luciana “Lucky’s” life from the time she is picked up as a baby from a church doorstep to her adulthood. I waited a while after reading this one to type up my post, so names/details are a bit fuzzy!
The man who claimed Lucky is a professional swindler, and she is brought up to join him in this lifestyle from an early age. As much as she wants normalcy, she can’t seem to get away from a life of lies and trickery. Especially when she falls for the son of a powerful, mob-connected female. This woman’s dealings end up landing Lucky’s dad in prison for years.
In the meantime, Lucky and her boyfriend follow a similar path, resulting in them both being wanted criminals. Lucky’s boyfriend ditches her, prompting her to find out more about her past. Lucky takes on several identities in her quest to stay hidden, as she heads back east to finally confront the mother she never met. Through her travels, she protects a winning lottery ticket that she is unable to cash in while questioning if there is anyone that she can trust.
This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno is a creepy story. It begins with Thiago at his wife Vera’s funeral before flashing back to the events leading up to her death.
Strange events started happening shortly after they moved into their apartment. Itza is the equivalent of an Alexa, and it is one source of some odd occurrences. It makes random comments, song choices and delivery of odd items that nobody ordered. In addition to this are the strange scratching noises and Thiago’s odd nighttime wake ups in which he sees a glowing door. Vera’s death is blamed on an illegal immigrant who ran by and knocked her down a flight of stairs (of course, there’s more revealed about this moment as the story progresses).
Thiago decides to leave all of the attention behind, and moves far away from neighbors and concerned “friends.” Unfortunately, strange events keep happening, and they seem to be increasing their intensity. With moments reminiscent of “Pet Sematary” and other classic horror films, Thiago must face an otherworldly entity which seems intent on driving him to his own death. There are several uncertainties in the story, such as the origin of this entity (my daughter and I had different understandings), but it all contributes to a chilling read.
The Turnout by Megan Abbott is a dream-like story incorporating ballet, childhood trauma, and peculiar family relationships.
Sisters Dara and Marie along with Charlie (their unofficially adopted brother who is now Dara’s husband) have been running their mother’s ballet school ever since both parents died in a fatal car crash. Dara is the more stern, serious sister in charge of the older students, while Marie is the quieter, flighty sister in charge of the younger students. Charlie takes care of the business side since his body suffers from the extreme demands of competitive dance.
The story hints at something unseemly from the girls’ past. Their lives have been consumed with ballet and sexual innuendo since early childhood. Their secrets begin to surface once Marie’s space heater starts a fire in the studio’s attic. This event introduces contractor and swindler Derek on scene. Derek is the ultimate con artist, using Marie to get closer to their family secrets and possessions. Dara discovers that Derek’s presence is more than a coincidence.
It is Nutcracker season, and the novel’s momentum builds alongside the show’s production. Plenty of drama, jealousy, secrets and a murder are scattered throughout the story.
Wink by Rob Harrell is an Intermediate Nutmeg nominee, and the most recent of three books finished during my December break.
Ross is a seventh grader who strives for normalcy and not standing out, but this becomes impossible once he finds out that he has a rare, cancerous tumor near his eye. The book follows his journey from his diagnosis through his treatment. All the while he meets some interesting people who make a major impact on his life, while finding out who his true friends really are.
His radiation technician introduces him to rock music, and begins teaching him how to play guitar. Meanwhile, his best friend Abby is supportive while their friend Isaac completely ghosts them. Ross faces undesired attention once he has to start wearing a hat, rubbing “goop” on his damaged skin, and losing his hair. The attention turns negative when someone begins circulating cruel memes about his situation.
Events build toward the big school talent show before their December break, in which Ross will perform alongside Abby and unexpected new friend (former bully) Jimmy. This event is momentous as it marks the end of Ross’s treatment and Abby moving away.
This story is full of raw emotion and fun additions in the form of Ross’s sketches and “BatPig” comics throughout.
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi is such an interesting read! Lakshmi ran from an abusive arranged marriage. Doing so permitted her the freedom to build her own living as a successful henna artist with a secretive side business. Her actions left her family in shame which passed down to an unknown younger sister who was born after her escape. Lakshmi had no contact with her parents other than sending updates and money that were never acknowledged.
After time, younger sister Radha is orphaned and decides it’s time to look for Lakshmi. She has watched their mother throw away Lakshmi’s letters for years. Radha and Lakshmi’s husband (they are technically still married) find her, which completely derails Lakshmi’s lifestyle. Her work pivoted on maintaining a good reputation with the upper class of Jaipur as she worked toward her main goal of building her own home. However, once Radha becomes pregnant with an important client’s son, everything begins to change.
Lakshmi’s keen business sense is put to the test as she tries to maintain her work and personal relationships. She finds herself wondering if everything she has worked for is really for the greater good or was it all selfishly motivated?
This story was gripping in so many elements: plot, setting and character development. It’s also full of cultural education, including a glossary of terms at the end of the book (I wished they were footnotes to make reading a bit smoother), recipes and more information about the art of henna.
The Last Flight by Julie Clark was a pleasant surprise that I read pretty quickly during Thanksgiving break.
Claire has an elaborate plan to escape her politically powerful, abusive husband while taking a work trip. Her plan is completely derailed when her husband changes her flight destination. Miraculously, a stranger named Eva comes along at just the right moment to help Claire escape. The two women exchange plane tickets, which sends them off on very different paths.
One plane crashes, but it’s unclear whether Eva boarded or not. Meanwhile, Claire finds herself in Eva’s life, which is nothing like what she had explained in the airport. Eva was part of a drug ring which was being heavily investigated. There are numerous flashbacks to explain why/how Eva decided to leave everything behind. In the present, Claire’s secret (she wasn’t in the plane crash) doesn’t stay hidden from her husband for too long due to a viral social media post. Claire must decide whether to risk publicly outing her husband’s shady dealings in order to potentially save her life.
Supportive female relationships that overcome intimidation and abuse are at the core of this novel with great twists that I don’t want to spoil!
Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido is another 2022 Intermediate Nutmeg nominee. This was a nice read, written in narrative verse, with great word choice to mix music and coding.
Emmy is new in her California school. She spends her first several days trying to figure out how and where she fits. For starters, she has very musical parents and she has always tried to follow their footsteps. Music isn’t natural for her though. She decides to join a coding class, which gives her a new language to learn and grow. This class is her key to finding a friend, Abigail. They bond over their shared love of coding, and their respectful relationship with the teacher. Events build amidst other plot developments until reaching their coding project.
Overall, this is a story of change, friendship and following one’s interests. Readers can learn a lot about music and coding from the story too.
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson was exactly the quirky and unique read that I didn’t know I needed.
Lillian has remained pen pals with wealthy, beautiful Madison even after only boarding together for a few months at the exclusive prep school they attended. Years later, Madison reaches out to Lillian with a special job; she asks Lillian to be a nanny to her husband’s two children from a previous marriage. The kids’ mother passed away and now their dad and Madison are compelled to take over their care. The catch is that the children spontaneously catch on fire whenever they are distressed or angry. The Senator can’t take the chance of ruining his political aspirations, so Lillian’s job is to keep the children away from the public eye and to protect them from themselves.
The story delves further into the beginning of Lillian and Madison’s friendship and how it shaped Lillian’s life. We witness the growing bond that Lillian is able to forge with these two unusual children.
Lillian herself is so wonderfully weird. I loved her character and her interactions with the children and other characters throughout the book. This book is funny while making a statement about parental impact.
Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land is a memoir telling the experiences faced by Land as she navigates life as a single, working mom. I decided to read the book before watching the Netflix series.
Pregnancy changes everything as the narrator postpones her dream to attend college in order to raise her daughter Mia. She takes as much maid work as she can at the risk of her own health in order to provide the basic necessities for her daughter. Chapters outline the different houses she cleaned including the personalities she encountered and the lessons learned from each. Through this are the many hardships of getting assistance, a suitable/affordable home, food and child care.
The author’s conversational tone adeptly explains the frustration, degradation and anxiety of a person living in poverty. She shares the difficulties of raising a child between two households. It also shows her extreme diligence and dedication to achieve more for herself. It is a reminder to maintain hope through struggle, to appreciate life, and to treat people with kindness.
The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller is the story of a love triangle with main character Elle at its center. Elle loves her husband Peter and their three children; however, a sexual encounter with her childhood love Jonas makes her question which man she wants more.
Elle’s past is interspersed with present day throughout the book. Elle’s childhood is a mixture of traumatic and joyful moments. Elle and her older sister Anna are bounced around to various caregivers as kids due to their parent’s divorce. The story reviews their rocky relationship with their dad and his wives, and their relationship with their beautiful mother and her husband.
Summers at the paper palace, the name given to the small beachside cottages built by her grandfather, are the setting of some of Elle’s happiest memories. It is also the place where she endured her stepbrother’s abuse. Elle and Jonas became friends here, and forged a much deeper relationship based on shared experiences. A random meeting years after not seeing each other rekindles a friendly relationship after Elle is already with Peter.
Shared trauma, secrets and the ups and downs of family relationships along with sharp writing make this a compelling read. I rooted for the strong women characters and found myself with very mixed feelings regarding Elle’s decision.