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April Wrap Up

and in a snap, another month wraps...

Here's what I read in April.

Have you read any of these?

What was your favorite read last month?

The Farm ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Homeland Maternity ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Girl He Used to Know ⭐️

The Dreamers ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Women's Work ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Violent Abuse of Women in 17th and 18th Century Britain ⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Pie Lady ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Witches of New York ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Little Darlings ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Decoded ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Acclaimed Atlanta Author Makes Fiction Debut: Jessica Handler’s The Magnetic Girl transports readers to an electrifying era of American history

**This review was featured in the May issue of Alpharetta Lifestyle magazine**

Read it HERE (Alpharetta Magazine) or HERE (my portfolio)

Thirteen-year-old Lulu Hurst shares a special connection with her disabled younger brother Leo, but she has big dreams of a future far away from her rural north Georgia home—a future where she will not become her brother’s sole caregiver. Yearning to see the world and thankful for her ability to change her family’s dire financial situation, Lulu agrees to follow her father’s plan to capitalize on America’s newfound fascination with Spiritualism, Mesmerism, Magnetism, and electricity. Claiming Lulu can pass electricity through canes and throw men out of chairs with an “electrical charge” which she came to possess from a lightning storm over their house, Lulu and her parents take “The Magnetic Girl” on the road. While traveling by train to perform to enthusiastic crowds from the vaudeville stages along the Eastern seaboard, Lulu absorbs every new experience while reading an obscure book from her father’s study, The Truth of Mesmeric Influence. Convinced she can move beyond her current “marks” and parlor tricks to apply the secrets from the book to heal people, Lulu wants to change the act, but will her father agree?

Imagine the split second before the dice finish rolling, before a tipped back chair rights itself, or before the sleight of hand is slyly applied. You may ask yourself “what is the most likely possibility?" but you must also acknowledge the disconnect between your mind’s logic and your heart’s will to believe. The Magnetic Girl magically exists in that single breath when fates are decided. Full of family secrets, sacrifices, fame, and greed The Magnetic Girl will transport you to a late 1880s America where curiosity, dreams, and delusions challenged people’s beliefs at every turn. Author Jessica Handler’s spectacular talent for portraying the unique complexities of girls and women shines through in her telling of the journey of Lulu Hurst “The Georgia Wonder.” From awkward and outcast farm girl to captivating vaudeville star, Lulu discovers her power over her patrons, parents, and most importantly within herself. 

Jessica Handler is the author of Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Invisible Sisters: A Memoir. The Magnetic Girl, Handler’s debut fiction novel, has already received accolades from multiple fellow authors and publications, a starred Kirkus review, and is the first selection of Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain Fund Book Series.

Melanie Golding Blends Brothers Grimm and Postpartum Panic in her debut novel, "Little Darlings"

Little Darlings by Melanie Golding (April 30, 2019 / Crooked Lane Books)
** I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review **

Goodreads Summary:“Mother knows best” takes on a sinister new meaning in this unsettling thriller perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman and Grimms’ Fairy Tales.

Everyone says Lauren Tranter is exhausted, that she needs rest. And they’re right; with newborn twins, Morgan and Riley, she’s never been more tired in her life. But she knows what she saw: that night, in her hospital room, a woman tried to take her babies and replace them with her own…creatures. Yet when the police arrived, they saw no one. Everyone, from her doctor to her husband, thinks she’s imagining things.

A month passes. And one bright summer morning, the babies disappear from Lauren’s side in a park. But when they’re found, something is different about them. The infants look like Morgan and Riley―to everyone else. But to Lauren, something is off. As everyone around her celebrates their return, Lauren begins to scream, These are not my babies.

Determined to bring her true infant sons home, Lauren will risk the unthinkable. But if she’s wrong about what she saw…she’ll be making the biggest mistake of her life.

Compulsive, creepy, and inspired by some our darkest fairy tales, Little Darlings will have you checking―and rechecking―your own little ones. Just to be sure. Just to be safe.

My Review:Holy cuckoo crazy cakes! I needed to take a minute to reattach my head before I wrote this review. What I thought was going to be just another take on the oh so overused unreliable female narrator trope turned out to be a wonderfully creepy novel that jumped right onto my list for favorite books of the year. 

In this spooky tale a sleep deprived new mother of twins believes a woman is trying to steal her babies and replace them with creatures.   While her less than supportive husband wants her to stop making such a fuss and get down to the business of mothering, a curious detective starts digging into the mother's claims. 

Disney fairy tales are one thing but Grimm's fairy tales are...well...grim. While there has been an explosion of fairy tale retellings in recent years no one has done quite what debut novelist Melanie Golding has by inventing a totally new psychological horror story. Just like the Brothers Grimm, Golding has managed to play on our fears, twist our thoughts, and cause the hairs to stand up on the back of our necks. Disturbing in the best possible way, I am recommending this to everyone...except new mothers!

After a little research I learned that Golding was inspired by the ghostly folktale ‘The Brewery of Eggshells’ (read it HERE, the accompanying illustration alone is enough to give you a nightmare) which she includes in the novel. She has also received a movie deal for this story so I'll be keeping my eye out for that.

Dinner and a Book: The Farm by Joanne Ramos and Enchilada Stuffed Shells

The Farm by Joanne Ramose (May 7, 2019 from Random House
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review* 

Goodreads Summary:
Nestled in the Hudson Valley is a sumptuous retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, private fitness trainers, daily massages--and all of it for free. In fact, you get paid big money--more than you've ever dreamed of--to spend a few seasons in this luxurious locale. The catch? For nine months, you belong to the Farm. You cannot leave the grounds; your every move is monitored. Your former life will seem a world away as you dedicate yourself to the all-consuming task of producing the perfect baby for your ├╝berwealthy clients.
Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines and a struggling single mother, is thrilled to make it through the highly competitive Host selection process at the Farm. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her own young daughter's well-being, Jane grows desperate to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she'll receive on delivery--or worse.
Heartbreaking, suspenseful, provocative, The Farm pushes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit to the extremes, and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.

My Review: 

"Maybe because the baby she is now carrying is a stranger's, the child of someone who invents cures for cancer, or someone who gives more money away then Jane will ever see in her lifetime."

What would it take for you to be a surrogate? Would you feel fulfilled knowing you made someone's dreams come true? What if it was possibly the only financially feasible option for you to provide a better future for your own child?  Now, imagine a sanctuary where the surrogates to the super rich are able to receive the absolute best care during their pregnancies...but best care for whom? Do you think this center would be concerned with the mother's mental and physical health beyond how these factors affected the fetus? Add in the layers of class systems, immigration, race, and technology and the already complicated arrangements of surrogacy are taken to the next level in Joanne Ramos' The Farm.

Is this a science-fiction or futuristic novel? I don't think so. Ask yourself: Is it so much of a stretch to think there aren't "Farms" in our world full of human trafficking, sweat shops, and cheap labor?  While we obsess (rightly so) about the loss of reproductive rights in the myriad feminist dystopian novels that flooded the market in the last few years, take a moment to consider the other end of the spectrum where women capitalized on their reproductive power. 

This book had a few flaws within storylines, but I am beyond willing to overlook them for the total story. Loved this one and lots of food for thought!

Speaking of food...here's the recipe for the Vegetarian Enchilada Stuffed Shells in the picture above:

Ingredients12 ounces jumbo pasta shells(3) 10-ounce cans red enchilada sauce (I used 2 mild/1medium)1/4 cup light sour cream(1) 15-ounce can black beans drained(1) 15-ounce can corn(1) 4-ounce can green chiles drained1  red bell pepper (chopped)1/4 red onion (chopped)8 ounces shredded Mexican or Cheddar cheese 1/4 cup green onions (chopped)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Spray 9" x 13" pan with non-stick spray and set aside.
  2. Boil shells for 6-7 minutes in large pot of salted water. Drain and let cool.
  3. Combine enchilada sauce, sour cream, beans, corn, chiles, peppers, and red onions and heat to warm (not hot) in a medium saucepan. 
  4. Holding a (slightly cooled) shell in one hand, use a slotted spoon to scoop the filling into the shell and place shells side-by-side in the pan until completely filled. 
  5. Pour extra filling and sauce over shells and in cracks. 
  6. Top all shells with the shredded cheese, and bake for 15-20 minutes. 
  7. Remove pan from oven and sprinkle top with green onions.

Review: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (January 15, 2019 /Random House)
*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher*

Goodreads Summary: 
In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned.

My Review:Do you ever pick up and put down a book multiple times before you pick up momentum or do you move along if it doesn't catch you right away?

I changed my mind about 10 times as I read The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker. I was so excited to read this book that I took it on vacation to Cabo with me in November. I read a few pages but couldn't get into the story. I thought it was just because my brain was hazy on booze and sunshine. I tried to get into again at the end of December when I wanted to wrap up any unfinished books before the New Year, but it still didn't grab me. I put it aside and then picked it up this last weekend and read it all in a single day. Part determination and part the fact that the story finally grabbed me. As I read I had so many conspiracies about what was going on, but one smaller storyline (Rebecca's) has stuck with me more than the entire rest of the book.

Review: Fireside Chat with a Grammar Nazi Serial Killer by Ryan Suvaal

Fireside Chat with a Grammar Nazi Serial Killer by Ryan Suvaal
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Seventeen gruesome killings across the United States, within a span of six months and there is one clear connection among victims. They were all writers.
While media is decorating the murders with sensationalist stories, and law enforcement is playing catch-up, the homicidal maniac remains elusive and secretive. Things get very interesting, when one day she decides to appear on an internet talk show for an honest fireside chat.

My Review:
Do typos make you grit your teeth? Do dangling modifiers make you murderous? One woman has decided she just can't take one minute more of messy grammar and goes on a killing spree to retaliate against the onslaught of incorrect apostrophes, sentence structures, and grammatical mistakes. This is a quick little read (23 pages long) that will have any word nerd cracking up.

Review: Women's Work by Megan K. Stack

Women's Work by Megan K. Stack (April 2, 2019 from Doubleday)
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Goodreads Summary:
When Megan Stack was living in Beijing, she left her prestigious job as a foreign correspondent to have her first child and work from home writing a book. She quickly realized that caring for a baby and keeping up with the housework while her husband went to the office each day was consuming the time she needed to write. This dilemma was resolved in the manner of many upper-class families and large corporations: she availed herself of cheap Chinese labor. The housekeeper Stack hired was a migrant from the countryside, a mother who had left her daughter in a precarious situation to earn desperately needed cash in the capital. As Stack's family grew and her husband's job took them to Dehli, a series of Chinese and Indian women cooked, cleaned, and babysat in her home. Stack grew increasingly aware of the brutal realities of their lives: domestic abuse, alcoholism, unplanned pregnancies. Hiring poor women had given her the ability to work while raising her children, but what ethical compromise had she made?
Determined to confront the truth, Stack traveled to her employees' homes, met their parents and children, and turned a journalistic eye on the tradeoffs they'd been forced to make as working mothers seeking upward mobility--and on the cost to the children who were left behind.
Women's Work is an unforgettable story of four women as well as an electrifying meditation on the evasions of marriage, motherhood, feminism, and privilege.

My Review: 
Megan K. Stack and her husband traveled the globe as foreign correspondents. They worked the same hours, slept in the same hostels, interacted with the same contacts--on the whole, they were equals. When they start their family, her husband disappears back out into that "valued" working world while she stays home with their son (and plans to write a book). It is here that the avalanche of inequity begins. Realizing she can't just write while the baby sleeps (do women still believe this?), she employs local Chinese and Indian women to handle the child care, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and the endless list of tasks involved in running a household and raising a family. On the surface this arrangement looks mutually beneficial for all women involved, however, there are often numerous unseen/unspoken tradeoffs. Stack wonders "Who is caring for these workers' children while they care for my children?" and "Where are the lines drawn when you live with someone and they care for your family but they are not your family?" Obviously this book points out the privilege of situations where white foreigners can hire local help from underdeveloped communities in/near where they live, but Stack's openness about her guilt, confusion, and her daily accounts of the complicated relationships makes this less a story of the exploitation of cheap labor and more about why all "women's work" is so undervalued in the first place. 

I'd recommend this as a follow-up to "Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward" by Gemma Hartley and "Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive" by Stephanie Land. 

Review: Homeland Maternity by Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz

Homeland Maternity by Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz (March 2, 2019 from University of Illinois Press)
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Goodreads Summary:
In US security culture, motherhood is a site of intense contestation--both a powerful form of cultural currency and a target of unprecedented assault. Linked by an atmosphere of crisis and perceived vulnerability, motherhood and nation have become intimately entwined, dangerously positioning national security as reliant on the control of women's bodies. Drawing on feminist scholarship and critical studies of security culture, Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz explores homeland maternity by calling our attention to the ways that authorities see both non-reproductive and "overly" reproductive women's bodies as threats to social norms--and thus to security. Homeland maternity culture intensifies motherhood's requirements and works to discipline those who refuse to adhere. Analyzing the opt-out revolution, public debates over emergency contraception, and other controversies, Fixmer-Oraiz compellingly demonstrates how policing maternal bodies serves the political function of securing the nation in a time of supposed danger--with profound and troubling implications for women's lives and agency.

My Review:
I took a Women's Studies class in college which focused on the various patriarchal pillars of military regimes. Going into the class I assumed we would focus on "other" countries, but as the class progressed my eyes were opened to the layers of control the United States military holds over our nation's citizens and those we "protect". 

As the saying goes "hindsight is 20/20" and it is easy to pinpoint previous times in American history where reproduction was forced or heavily encouraged as a form of patriotism, such as enslaved colonial African-American women or white, suburban "Baby Boomer" women. It is also easy to see times when reproduction was disapproved of and thwarted, most notably during forced sterilizations of Black, Native American, and institutionalized women in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Now we see a daily news cycle highlighting the various new ways the government wants to control every aspect of reproduction. 

While this definitely is an example- and proof-heavy text, Fixmer-Oraiz has organized the various aspects of how national security is entwined with reproduction into an understandable (yet jarring) piece of work. 

Review: The Girl He Used to Know by Tracy Garvis Graves

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracy Garvis Graves (April 2, 2019 from St Martin's) #partner

Goodreads Summary:
Annika Rose likes being alone.
She feels lost in social situations, saying the wrong thing or acting the wrong way - she just can't read people. She prefers the quiet solitude of books or playing chess to being around others.
Apart from Jonathan. She liked being around him, but she hasn't seen him for ten years. Until now that is. And she's not sure he'll want to see her again after what happened all those years ago.

Annika Rose likes being alone.
Except that, actually, she doesn't like being alone at all.

My Review:

**WARNING: Spoilers ahead**

Nowhere in the summaries, accompanying press releases, or dust jackets/covers was there any indication of the major historical event that would drive the end of this book. I suppose if I really would have analyzed the dates at the beginning of the chapters I would have seen where the 2nd storyline was heading--the September 11th terror attacks. I felt so duped. I mean....I was pissed! I never would have read this if I knew what the last 25% of the book was going to be about. I was 50/50 enjoying the storylines for the first 3/4 of the book. I definitely loved the character of Annika, who is on the autism spectrum. I loved reading about her ways of thinking and her routines and was so glad to read a book containing a character with these traits. I even loved the unique boy meets girl love story that evolved. Then the sex scenes. Ugh. 1 part thumbs up (consent is sexy, yay!) and 1 part thumbs down (really detailed and while I am so far from a prude, just no). So at this point I would have written a review that said just that and maybe a "not for me but maybe for you" bland statement. That's before the September 11 "twist". Who isn't personally affected by this event? Who wasn't extremely affected by it? Everyone has their "where were you" story and everyone was shaken and devastated. I feel like the author focused on an event that everyone agrees was emotional and capitalized on it. While some readers may flock to a September 11th love story, I definitely would not. I believed the book was going to be about the unique struggles of a relationship when a person is on the autism spectrum. The fact that nowhere is September 11 mentioned in the book's description makes me feel conned and triggered.