The Right Note

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.

Hot New Job

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.

Cleaning House

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.

True Loves

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.

Surf’s Up

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid tells the ups and downs of the Riva family.

It all started with young June and Mick. June wanted more for herself than running her family seafood restaurant, and Mick seemed like the ticket out. He was an aspiring singer with good looks and charisma. His success gave them all that June hoped for until he began having affairs, and eventually abandoned his family.

The Riva offspring, Nina, Jay, Hud and Kit, grew up mostly without Mick while June slipped into alcoholism. Ultimately, Nina took on the mother role for her younger siblings. Nina is discovered while out surfing, and begins making a name for herself as a model. Jay becomes a popular surfer and Hud becomes an accomplished photographer.

The events build to a climax as the siblings get ready to host their infamous annual party, which has grown in size and status each year. This year’s party is full of drama with the return of Nina’s recently returned philandering husband, Hud’s girlfriend who is also one of his brother’s exes, an unknown sibling, and an appearance from the main man himself, Mick Riva.

Relationships, finding oneself and rebirth are all important aspects of this entertaining read.

Road Trip South

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone is a 2022 Intermediate Nutmeg nominee. William “Scoob” is on a road trip with his grandma “G’ma” in order to escape his dad’s disappointment with him for a school incident.

Scoob’s grandma is white and his grandfather was black. The two of them took the same road trip years back during times of segregation. His grandmother is able to fill him in on what it was like then and how difficult it was for them as a mixed race couple.

During the trip, Scoob begins to notice that his grandmother may not be completely in her right mind. She refuses to contact his dad, and seems to have more secrets than Scoob could have imagined. Eventually, he comes to realize the truth about his past and his grandfather’s tarnished reputation. The time away also makes him realize how much he misses his dad.

There are mentions of horrible historic moments from our nation’s past throughout the story events, making this book a conversation starter about segregation, racism and making a change.

House of Horror

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone takes readers into the childhood fantasy world of twin sisters Cat and El. After being estranged for twelve years, Cat is suddenly plunged back into her past when her sister goes missing during a solo sailing outing. She returns to their childhood home in Edinburgh and all its suppressed memories.

Mirrorland is the name for a hidden space in the girls’ childhood home where the twins, Ross (El’s husband and Cat’s former boyfriend), and Mouse escaped from evil pirates, among other adventures. The investigation into El’s disappearance reveals that the twin’s childhood was abusive and full of sinister secrets.

Cat does not feel that her sister truly died; rather she believes it’s an elaborate hoax for attention. This is even more true as she starts receiving mysterious emails and notes that lead her on a scavenger hunt through her past. During this time she stays with Ross. Cat is hearing that Ross was a violent husband and that El was scared for her life. When El’s body is eventually recovered, it seems that Ross might be to blame after all.

Each character has plenty of emotional trauma in his/her past and we must forage into their attempts at escape to figure out the truth. This was a gripping read that kept me guessing until the very end.

Marital Secrets

That Summer by Jennifer Weiner speaks to any woman who has feelings about the #metoo movement.

Diana was only fifteen when a recent prep school graduate raped her while his friends stood by. At the time, she was working as a nanny to a family friend in Truro. The story explains her mental decline afterward. She is changed forever until she gets a second chance to go back and rebuild herself while staying in the same family friend’s smaller cottage.

Eventually, Diana finds love. This is when she hatches the plan to revisit her former attackers. For the main transgressor, she decides to befriend his wife first (also a Diana). This creates an interesting situation for wife Diana (known as Daisy). Daisy is starving for friendship and respect. Their new relationship will force her to analyze her marriage and her choices.

Vacation to Forget

We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz is my second psychotic female friend read of the summer. Kristen and Emily are best friends who love to travel together. Unfortunately, they are bonded by a terrible secret; they have committed two murders and cover ups together.

The first was during a trip to Cambodia. Emily took Sebastian back to their room, but things turned very rough. Luckily, Kristen came to the rescue which resulted in Sebastian’s death. The friends disposed of his body and attempted a return to their normal lives. Emily suffered from severe anxiety and depression afterward, and Kristen was her rock the whole time. About a year later, the girls decide to travel to Chile. The trip is therapeutic, and Emily feels she may finally be able to leave the whole Cambodia experience behind her. Except their last night becomes a repeat of their previous trip. Kristen kills Paolo in self defense. This time the body is found, and Paolo’s family is wealthy enough to attract major publicity. A serious investigation begins.

The girls’ friendship will be put to the test like never before. During the process, Emily begins realizing that Kristen may be more unbalanced, manipulative and coldblooded than she could have imagined. Can she be stopped?

Pet Trouble

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks is yet another 2022 Intermediate Nutmeg nominee. It is a sci-fi graphic novel taking place in a space station that is home to friends, Sanity and Tallulah.

Sanity has developed her own three-headed cat along with a special protein to feed it. Things go awry when her creation gets loose and seems to be wreaking havoc in the space station. The girls set out to find Princess Sparkle Destroyer of Worlds (the cat’s name), and end up finding that there are other rogue animals on the loose too. Meanwhile, Tallulah’s dad and brother encounter their own troubles while making a delivery.

Can they save the space station and its inhabitants without getting into further trouble?