What Could Have Been

All That’s Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien is a story about the little choices we make and their potential consequences. It takes place in a Vietnamese community in Australia.

Ki lives away from her family and works as a journalist. She receives the devastating news that her brother Denny was attacked and killed while out for dinner with his friends. This news prompts her return home, and an attempt to uncover why this happened to her very smart, well-behaved brother.

Ki manages to get a list of possible witnesses, all who originally told the police that they saw nothing. She works her way through the list, moving from those who had no connection to her family to close friends.

Before Ki speaks with each witness, the author shifts perspectives so that we see events from their points of view. This creates an intricate and rich plot as stories may overlap.

While answers can’t bring her brother back, they do bring her to a state of acceptance and understanding. There is so much to unpack in this novel- the role of family, culture and feelings of guilt/regret. I highly recommend this one!

Royal Divorce

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O”Farrell is a historical fiction novel based in part on the sudden death of sixteen-year-old Lucrezia just one year after marrying the Duke of Ferrara.

The story travels between “present” time in 1961 as Lucrezia fears her husband’s murderous intentions after moving her to a remote location, their year of marriage leading up to this moment, and key events of Lucrezia’s childhood.

Lucrezia was always an independent, unique child. Her strong mind and artistic ability make her a bit unpredictable. When her sister dies unexpectedly, she is forced into an early arranged union to her deceased sister’s betrothed. Soon after their marriage, Lucrezia realizes that there are two sides to the Duke. He can be quite charming or extremely harsh. The Duke is desperate to have a male heir, and their problems compound when Lucrezia isn’t able to get pregnant. Lucrezia’s personality ultimately saves her from this terrible fate.

I really enjoy these time pieces, and found this to be an interesting approach with a great twist to an actual event.

Victory and Defeat

The Winners by Fredrik Backman is the final book in the Beartown trilogy.

The story takes place four years after book two. We see the progression of Beartown and Hed hockey along with plenty of new drama. After a storm destroys the Hed rink, Beartown may become the only club, uniting both programs. Meanwhile, a father daughter reporter duo are looking to reveal shady financial practices in Beartown.

There are familiar characters along with some new. Some have met success while others have hit roadblocks. Births, two major deaths and coming home are all important parts of the story.

Strength of Story

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera is a beautiful novel conveying the power of story and humanity.

Petra and her family are selected to begin life on a new planet because Earth is about to be destroyed by Haley’s comet. They will “sleep” for several hundred years during the voyage. During this time, they are at the mercy of their caretakers.

When Petra awakes, she realized that plans changed. She is one of only a few other originals. They are named Zita and are expected to work only for the good of the Collective. The Collective seeks complete uniformity and will go to any measure to prevent original thought or discord. This will be difficult for Petra considering that she remembers her previous life, which is unlike the others.

Petra makes it her mission to save the remaining Zita. She will need intelligence, bravery and confidence similar to the characters in stories she’s carried with her all these years. The stories from her grandmother are the strength that get her and the others through.

Finding Family

Somewhere Sisters by Erika Hayasaki is the true story of identical twin sisters separated shortly after birth. One is raised by her aunt in Vietnam while the other is adopted by an American family along with another girl from the same orphanage.

The author provides historical and scientific background about adoption and twin studies throughout the book. The twins, Isabella and Ha, don’t learn about each other until they are quite a bit older. The book switches back and forth between each sister’s different upbringing and reaction to finding out about the other. While their experiences are very different, both are raised with lots of love and an appreciation of learning.

Eventually the girls meet. It takes time for them to build a relationship, but their bond becomes very strong. This is an interesting read about family, history and values.

Standing Tall

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman is the second book in the Beartown trilogy.

The ripple effect following Maya’s rape is far reaching. The book explores the effects on Maya, her family and the town. Beartown hockey has a second chance with new investors, but it’s fueled by politics. The team is trying to rebuild with a new female coach and new players. But they will never quite be the same.

There are constant spoilers due to the omniscient narration. This book explores rivalries, persistence and overcoming tragedy.

Gossip Trap

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu shows the impact rumors and gossip can have on all involved.

Chapters alternate among various teen characters’ points of view. There is the popular one, the popular friend who used to be an outcast at her former school, the nerd and the jock. And then there’s Alice. Alice had friends and was doing fine until a terrible rumor began that she slept with two guys. It gets even worse when she is blamed for one of their deaths.

The aftermath brings us into the mind of each character. We come to understand their thoughts and actions. Alice endures terrible treatment, but has the support of one new friend.

There is a strong lesson about the toxicity of gossip and the value of kindness.

Small Town Feeling

Beartown by Fredrik Backman is the first of a trilogy that I hope to continue reading. I finished this first book a couple weeks ago, so names are fuzzy.

Beartown is very good at one thing: hockey. Events build toward a huge championship game. We meet several important characters, including various townspeople, team coaches, the club manager and his family along with many of the players. Each has their own important part to play.

When the club manager’s daughter accuses the star player of rape, the entire town seems to turn against her and her family. Events unfold leading to the court’s decision. The town may not ever be completely the same.

I couldn’t help but connect certain parts of Beartown to my own small town, and I am compelled to find out what awaits each character.

Hive Mind

The Honeys by Ryan La Sala is a sci fi murder mystery.

I was pulled in by the dramatic start. Mars’s twin sister violently accosts him in the middle of the night before they take a deadly plunge over a stair railing. The fall kills Caroline, and leaves Mars wanting to figure out what could’ve driven her to such drastic behavior.

He knows it has something to do with the exclusive camp that she attended every summer and the untouchable girl group there- the Honeys. Mars decides to attend again even though he had a terrible experience there years earlier as a gender fluid camper.

The camp, known as The Aspens, is full of secrets. Mars is able to discover more about his sister, and in doing so, finds out way more than he could ever have imagined about his family and himself.

Crime Creeps Closer

This will be a two book, one post entry since I finished the final two books of Holly Jackson’s trilogy: Good Girl, Bad Blood and As Good As Dead.

Good Girl, Bad Blood follows Pip on the case of another mystery. This time her friend Connor’s brother Jamie has gone missing. Pip works the case with the same tireless devotion and eye for detail as she did with the Andie Bell case. She finds out that Jamie was being catfished by someone with a huge agenda. It all comes crashing down with a murder that profoundly changes Pip.

As Good As Dead is my favorite of the three books. Pip is horribly traumatized after witnessing Stanley Forbes’s murder in book two. Added to this are the mysterious threats against her. It is these very threats that pull her into her final case. The case starts as an attempt to exonerate a man wrongfully accused as a serial killer. Meanwhile, the real killer has set his sights on Pip. This case almost kills her while also making her part of the case. Pip is forced to use all her true crime knowledge to outsmart the system. Making a mistake can cost her everything. Everything comes full circle in this final book which makes it a satisfying finish to the series.