A Different Realm

Layla by Colleen Hoover is a love story with a spiritual twist.

Leeds and Layla meet and fall in love at her sister’s wedding. Their relationship progresses quickly until coming to a turning point after Layla almost dies in a terrible accident. Leeds decides they should revisit the bed and breakfast where they first met in order to get their spark back. It’s here that Leeds meets another woman, Willow. The problem is that Willow is a spirit that seems attached to the house. She has no memory of who she was before or why she ended up there.

Leeds makes contact with someone on a supernatural chat board to help him figure out who Willow really is. The answer is surprising and seemingly impossible to overcome.

Family Curse

The Cherry Robbers by Sarai Walker is a story of a deadly family curse.

Sylvia is a famous artist with a hidden past. She was formerly Iris Chapel, one of six daughters to the famous firearms dynasty.

The story traces how Iris’s sisters each faced an untimely death as soon as they either married or found a first love. Nobody cared to heed their mother’s warnings, and eventually she was committed to an asylum for her forebodings. Iris was the only one to believe her mother, and almost followed her mother’s path to be treated as mentally ill.

Readers are left to ponder whether the family is truly cursed in love or cursed because of the family business (or maybe something else entirely). Most importantly, how does Iris escape this fate?

Bonding with the Babysitter

Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan is a relaxing read, like sitting with girlfriends for a long chat.

The story pivots back and forth between college senior Sam and new mother Elisabeth’s points of view. Sam is hired to help care for Elisabeth’s son Gil while she tries to get back into writing after her family’s move from Brooklyn to suburbia.

They develop a close friendship which blurs lines with each other’s personal lives. There are many topics, such as adapting to a new residence, financial struggle, pregnancy, friend/significant other relationships and familial conflict. This all builds toward a surprising fallout.

Characters are well written and mostly likable. The story reminds us about the fragility of relationships during our lives.

Clutch Opportunity

Counterfeit by Kristin Chen is a story of a good girl gone bad.

Ava Wong is a corporate lawyer turned stay at home mom to her emotionally turbulent toddler Henri. Her husband is a very busy surgeon, leaving Ava and nanny Maria to care for the home front.

Ava’s former college roommate Winnie (who dropped out due to a scandal) suddenly gets in touch. Winnie slowly reels Ava into her counterfeit purse business which did very well, until they get caught.

The story is primarily told from Ava’s point of view as she explains the whole process to the female detective who infiltrated their scam. Is it possible for Ava and Winnie to pull off the ultimate story in order to outsmart the law and their high-powered bosses?

This is an engaging read that kept me turning pages until its end.

Theory of Good and Evil

Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka counts down convicted killer Ansel Packer’s final hours before his execution, while also alternating among various female characters.

In the countdown, Ansel’s describes his theory on human nature, the reason for his kills, and how he was able to finally find peace within himself. Unfortunately, these latter events occur too late for him and for his victims. Now he must come to terms with his actions.

There are three women who complete Ansel’s story. All contribute different views and background about his character. Lavender is his mother, who spent four years enduring a controlling, abusive relationship before leaving her husband and two sons behind. Saffy first saw some of his disturbing behavior while sharing a foster placement together. Now she is a detective and Ansel is on her radar again. And finally there is Hazel, twin sister of Ansel’s wife Jenny.

This was a highly entertaining read that had me thinking deeply about human nature and all of the little events and choices that shape us.

Special Friends

The Accomplice by Lisa Lutz is first and foremost a story about friendship with a couple of murder mysteries thrown in.

Owen and Luna have been best friends since college. This friendship remained through various family dynamics, and through Owen’s ex-girlfriend’s murder investigation.

As adults, they encounter police scrutiny once again when Luna finds her friend and Owen’s wife murdered. This new investigation brings up additional details and secrets from their pasts.

Is their friendship strong enough to endure?

Treading Water

Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley is the raw story of Kiara’s life on the streets in Oakland.

Seventeen-year-old Kiara and her older brother Marcus have been on their own ever since their dad’s death followed by their mom’s incarceration. Marcus becomes determined to become a music star, and Kiara finds herself on her own to pay rent. She makes a dangerous decision to make her money in the streets, and in doing so gets caught up in a terrifying sex trafficking ring within the police department. Through all of this, she also takes on the responsibility of caring for her young neighbor whose mom is a neglectful drug addict.

Each scene and character is conveyed with a combination of straightforward reality, desperation, and strength in the midst of life’s brutal challenges. I couldn’t stop reading this book in hope for justice and a positive ending for Kiara and those she cared about.

Crazy Times

The Mad Girls of New York by Maya Rodale provides a peek into the male-dominated world during the late 1800s, with specific attention to Nellie Bly’s break into New York’s bustling newspaper industry.

Nellie Bly is escaping her hometown secret by doing everything in her power to secure a job as a reporter. She luckily meets a group of lady reporters (women’s pages), which lands her a chance to meet an editor who previously refused her. Her pitch is to go undercover in the infamous Blackwell’s insane asylum. This place is known for not letting any reporters in, and is spoken about for its deplorable conditions. Getting this story could be Nellie’s big break, but is it worth the risk?

Nellie manages to get herself committed. She sees firsthand the wretched treatment, food and conditions, while also building relationships with several of the women inside. Each “inmate” adds her own persona to the story. Meanwhile, Nellie has competition with a new male reporter who is trying to scoop her story while she is locked up. Nellie must remain hopeful that she will be released in time to share her viewpoint, and to make a difference for women.

There is an authentic, old-fashioned feel to the story, which combined with human interest and Bly’s bravery make this an interesting read.

Save the Planet

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir is a sci-fi lover’s dream come true.

Brilliant minds are needed when a new cellular life form is discovered that is basically eating our sun. This would lead to the end of humanity in a relatively short period of time. Ryland Grace is one of the scientists chosen to investigate a solution from a star that is not “infected.” It is a suicide mission because of the space time and limited resources they have available to make the journey.

Upon awakening from his medically induced coma, he quickly realizes that his crew-mates didn’t survive the trip. It is now up to him to figure out answers and send them back to Earth. Fortunately, Grace teams up with a large, spider-like alien who he names Rocky. Rocky is on the same mission from his home. They combine forces to save their own planets, in doing so, becoming true friends. Along the way, readers discover the events leading to this vital mission.

This book was very entertaining and educationally fascinating.

Survival Mode

The Violence by Delilah S. Dawson is my third read from this past week. It combines elements of the previous two reads: female empowerment and murder, but in a completely different way.

The Violence is the name given to a post-Covid virus from mosquito bites. Those infected go completely blank while violently attacking whoever is unlucky enough to be nearby. Chelsea is an abused wife and mother who decides to use her husband’s next attack to her advantage. She reports him to the infected help line which gets him taken away long enough for her to plan an escape.

Escape seems impossible once she realizes that she actually does have the Violence. Chelsea reaches out to her rich, dismissive mother for help with her daughters, sixteen-year-old Ella and five-year-old Brooklyn. At this point their paths all diverge as they go through individual hardships.

Ella and Chelsea are on their own when Chelsea’s mom shuts them out, and her mom is left to take over parenting Brooklyn. Everyone is in survival mode and trying to figure out how to safely reunite.

This book did have some disturbing moments (it is called the violence after all!), but I found it to be very well written. Beyond the topic of violence is the strength of family, the will to overcome challenges and the ability to change. Great read!