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Monday, November 29, 2010

#BookReview: Un-nappily in Love - Trisha R. Thomas

You know how some comedians hold on to a bit too long? Like it was funny at first, but now that it's served its purpose, they should really let it go and find something else to latch on to?  That's exactly how I feel about the Un-nappily series.  To be more exact, that's how I feel about the title.  My problem is not so much with the story lines, but that the author has to keep finding a way to plug the 'unnappiness' into it so that it fits with the title. Unfortunately, it wasn't a natural fit.

In the first book of the series, Nappily Ever After, the main character, Venus Johnston makes the decision to cut her long, flowing and chemically relaxed mane.  In doing so she learns about herself, her fiance, her mother, etc.  I got it.  She evolved.  She became a new creature.  So why are we still dealing with this five books later?

This time around Venus' husband, Jake, has embarked on a career as an actor and he's starring opposite the attractive Serena Lassister, with whom he has history.  Serena is aware of Venus' insecurities and sets a plan in motion to reclaim the man that is rightfully hers.  And then Venus puts on a long, flowing wig and her husband magically sees her with new eyes and comes back to her.

Yes, I'm side-eyeing the hell out of that story line.  I'm confused and I think the author is too.  The character was happy to be natural, her husband was happy with it (or so he thought), and just as he was about to cheat, a Naomi Campbell wig brought him back from the brink?  Yeah, ok.  Trisha R. Thomas is better than this and it's about time she picks up another story line because this one is played out.

What did you like about this book?
It was a quick and easy read.

What didn't you like about this book?
It's boring and predictable.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Find a new lead character and a new story line.

Published May 2010

Theme: Be That Easy by Sade

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

#BookReview: I'd Know You Anywhere - Laura Lippman

Imagine being kidnapped as a teen and escaping from your captor only to have him reach out to you years later. In the summer of 1985, Elizabeth was a typical teenager.  She loved Madonna and lived for trips to the mall.  With strict orders to stay close to home, Elizabeth usually obliged her parents.  Then came the day when she wandered a little further than she should have.

There's always been something different about Walter Bowman.  At first glance he's handsome, but upon closer inspection there's something that no one can pinpoint.  It makes women step back and causes men to take him for a weakling.  In his early twenties, Walter has never been with a woman, let alone had a girlfriend. It's not for trying though. When he comes upon the innocent Elizabeth walking along the road, he must have her. Walter has killed before, but with Elizabeth, it'll be different.

Fast forward to present day and Eliza, as she now goes by, is a married woman with two children: thirteen year old Iso and eight year old Albie.  Her husband, Peter,  knows about her history and is fiercely protective of her.  Recently back in the states after living overseas, the Benedicts have settled into their lives on the east coast.

When Eliza is contacted by an advocate for Walter Bowman, their world is sent into a spin.  Eliza is the one that got away, the only one that got away, and Walter is scheduled to die by lethal injection.  Walter believes that he knows Eliza better than anyone else and if she would just talk to him, he could convince her to ask the governor pardon him.

What did you like about this book?
This was an absolute page turner.  Laura Lippman does an excellent job of drawing the reader in and forcing them to pick sides.

What didn't you like about this book?
There were some scenes that I found a little unbelievable, but it didn't take away from my overall enjoyment.

What could the author do to improve this book?
There was a story line with Iso that wasn't fully explored and I would have liked to find out what was at the heart of her acting out.  While it could have been typical teenage angst, I suspect that it was more than what readers were exposed to.

Published August 2010

Theme: Every Breath You Take by The Police

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Monday, November 22, 2010

#BookReview: The Fixer Upper - Mary Kay Andrews

This book made me want to pack my stuff up and move to small town, USA.  The Fixer Upper is the story of Dempsey Killebrew, attorney-at-law.  A lobbyist in a prestigious Washington, DC firm, Dempsey's life is pretty sweet.  As proof that she's the agency's star, she's allowed to accompany her boss and a congressman he's wooing on several trips.  That would be just fine if her boss and said congressman weren't now being investigated by the FBI!

Dempsey's world comes crashing down in just one afternoon and she does what anyone in her situation would do.  She heads to Guthrie, Georgia.  When Dempsey's father hears of her dilemma, he realizes that she's the perfect person to work on restoring the old family homestead in the small town he was born in.  Yes, Dempsey is a Georgetown attorney with no clue as to how to restore a house, but she has plenty of time on her hands.

Mary Kay Andrews introduces a lively cast of characters in this hilarious story.  There's Ella Kate, the crotchety old woman that lives in Dempsey's home.  She was Dempsey's great uncle Norbert's caretaker, and possibly her grandmother's lover, and she and her cocker spaniel, Shorty, aren't about to give up their house without a fight.  There's also Dempsey's elderly lawyer, Carter Berryhill, and his son T, who provides a romantic interest for Dempsey.  In addition to the good townspeople, Dempsey also has the FBI breathing down her neck.  She can either play nice with them or risk facing jail time.

What did you like about this book?
I don't know how well the comedic timing of the lines translate for anyone reading it, but it was absolutely hilarious to listen to.  The narrator, Isabel Keating, is masterful with her voices.  Voices aside, The Fixer Upper is a charming piece of chick lit and I'm adding more from the author to my 'to be read' list.

What didn't you like about this book?
The only thing that really made no sense to me was how naive Dempsey was supposed to be.  As a Georgetown trained attorney, she wasn't always the brightest bulb in the box and that struck me as a little unbelievable.

What could the author do to improve this book?
I don't know that a sequel is intended, but since it was left a little open-ended, I certainly wouldn't mind a visit back to Guthrie, Georgia.

Listening time: 15 hours
Published: June 2009

Theme: Country Girl by Rissi Palmer
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Friday, November 19, 2010

Black on Black Friday

portrait of a young adult business woman in a grey suit as she sits in a chair and smiles
The publishing world, particularly the feminine side, has been abuzz lately regarding what books are reviewed most, promoted most, etc.  It's not surprising that an overwhelming majority of those books are written by white men.  Recently female authors like Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, two female authors that enjoy healthy book sales, took newspapers to task for their treatment of commercial lit (read: chick lit written for and by white women).

As I watched the blogs blow up talking about this, I kept waiting on the women to point out all of the other literary work that's overlooked.  Sure, they threw them in as an afterthought, but I got the distinct impression that they were most concerned about their brand of chick lit getting as fair a shake as the latest Tom Clancy.  Well I'm a Picoult fan, but I'm also a fan of well written books by African American female authors and, quite frankly, I'm tired of them being overlooked.

In anticipation of holiday shopping, I'm sharing with you my list of no less than 240 books that you and yours need on your shelves.  There's everything from children's lit and chick lit to non-fiction.  Word has it that Borders is participating in Black Friday this year.  So I encourage you to go through the list and pick out some of my favorites that are sure to bring some happiness not only to the recipients, but to the authors that have written them.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

#BookReview: Twelve Rooms with a View - Theresa Rebeck

Thirty something Tina Finn doesn't have a lot going for her.  Living in a trailer park with her loser boyfriend while cleaning other people's homes for a living, her life is not going so well.  Her mother's sudden death reunites her with her overambitious sister, Alison, and her mousy sister, Lucy.

It turns out that their estranged mother married late in life and married well.  None of the daughters thought highly of their alcoholic mother while she was alive, but the fact that she's left them an apartment worth $ 11 million may redeem her in their eyes.  Turns out mother dear married a recluse whose home she had been cleaning.  When the recluse dies and the Finn girl's mother passes less than a month later, the apartment is willed to them.

The problem is the apartment isn't just any old apartment.  It's a twelve room, two kitchen, hidden stairwells dwelling with various species of moss growing on some of the walls.  It's immediately obvious that this apartment, large enough to take up half a floor in a New York building, was once grand and worth money.  Fearing that the will may be contested by the sons of their late mother's husband, the women decide that someone should take up residence immediately while the will is being contested.

Since Tina has nothing else going on, she moves in and promptly meets an entertaining cast of characters.  There's Len, the botanist, who lives above her in the penthouse.  He also has a greenhouse, but has run out of room.  Hence, the moss growing on her walls.  For $ 700 a month, Tina's mother allowed him to use the second kitchen and, in need of money, Tina sees no reason to stop him.   There's also a family with six kids, a weepy doorman, the nosy neighbor across the hall and a ghost that only makes nighttime appearances.

Because this is New York and real estate is everything, the co-op board works diligently to evict Tina.  Tina's sisters are less than honest with her about the legal proceedings and she finds herself befriending the kooky residents of the building in an attempt to stay.  And that's where the laughs begin.

What did you like about this book?
The characters are entertaining.  The author also does a great job with imagery.

What didn't you like about this book?
There were several secondary characters introduced that needed to be fleshed out just a little more.  It seemed like they played pivotal roles through several chapters and then simply disappeared.  I felt like there were stories to be told as it related to them, yet they weren't.

What could the author do to improve this book?
 Wrap up the loose ends she left hanging.

Published May 2010

Theme: Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood from Sesame Street

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Monday, November 15, 2010

#BookReview: Getting to Happy - Terry McMillan

There's a line in Nonchalant's song 5 O'clock where she says, "If you had a good day, damn, I must have missed it."  That line bounced around my head the whole time I listened to Getting to Happy.  At one point I made a comment on Twitter that I was three-fourths through and was still waiting on one of the ladies to get some happy. Ultimately, some of them find happiness.  I'm not so sure they all did though.

Fans of Waiting to Exhale were excited to hear that Terry McMillan was bringing the ladies back in real time.  Most books offer a sequel that picks up right where the story ended.  McMillan fast forwarded the characters fifteen years where she left off, almost the same amount of time between the publication of both books.  I don't know that I need to remind most what was going on with the characters previously since WTE was THE black woman's Bible back in 1992.

Back in 1992 if I had to describe the characters in a few words, I would have said Savannah was a bit thirsty for a man, but pleasant enough. Gloria was a single mother finding comfort for her loneliness in food.  Robin was clueless and just as thirsty as Savannah.  Bernie was a woman shattered by a broken marriage.  In 2010, "thangs done changed"

SPOILERS BELOW!!! Skip on down to the bottom if you plan to read the book.

Remember the guy Bernie met shortly after her divorce? He was married, but his wife was dying?  Well she married him and it didn't turn out so well.  Suffering from the after effects of that relationship, Bernie has turned to prescription drugs.

Gloria and Marvin were certainly one of the happiest stories in WTE and I was ready to continue with that, but life doesn't happen that way and neither do McMillan books.  Marvin's death sends Gloria right back to where she was in WTE.

Robin, she who slept with everything that moved back in the day, is surprisingly single and celibate.  That doesn't mean she's not looking for love though.  Her friends give her a hard time about internet dating, but she's pretty sure the right man is out there for her.

Savannah...I just don't remember her being so damn bitter.  I mean there was nothing anyone could say, or do, to her in this book that didn't produce some snappy comeback.  So she got married and her marriage didn't work, but I really got the feeling that her attitude had a lot to do with it.


What did you like about this book?
Umm...well...yeah.  LaChanze, Gloria Reuben and S. Epatha Merkerson were absolutely fantastic as the voices of Robin, Bernadine and Gloria, respectively.

What didn't you like about this book?
Terry McMillan needs not ever voice another book again...EVER.  I've never heard anyone so unimpressed with breathing before in my life.  Every word she uttered sounded like it took more effort than she was willing to put into it.  That same flat voice, with a hint of crazy, you heard when she was on Oprah's couch talking about her ex-husband? That's the same voice you're getting here.  It was so bad that I seriously considered skipping over all of Savannah's parts just so I wouldn't have to hear her.  Quite honestly, I can't really say if the character of Savannah was a bitter as I thought she was or if I was just confused by the "whogivesadamnsicleness" of Ms. McMillan.

In addition, these women didn't find happiness.  Well maybe Robin did because she ultimately reached the goal she set for herself, but Bernie and Gloria both found themselves saddled with the responsibility of helping their grown children raise their own children.  And Savannah, well who knows. 

What can the author do to improve this book?
Leave the voice over work to the professionals.

Listening time: 11 hours, 30 minutes
Published September 2010

Theme for Savannah: Bitter by Chante' Moore

Theme for Robin: Wanna Be Loved by Jill Scott

Theme for Bernadine: Be OK by Chrisette Michele

Theme for Gloria: Ain't No Need To Worry by Anita Baker and The Winans

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Friday, November 12, 2010

On Broadway

I was all set to blog about Getting to Happy, but a conversation with @BrooklynLinda on Twitter inspired me to write about Broadway instead.  I listen to Slacker Radio during the work day and I've Got Love from the musical Purlie came on.  That led me to wonder if I could find it on DVD.

For those not in the know, the musical Purlie is actually based on a play written by Ossie Davis in 1961. It's the story of a traveling preacher, Purlie Victorious, who comes back to his small hometown in Georgia to save a church and break the hold Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee has over the sharecroppers.  Along the way he falls in love with Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins.  By the way, that is absolutely my favorite name in the world.  Nothing defines country like Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins!

In the original play, Ossie Davis played Purlie and Ruby Dee played Lutiebelle.  Quite appropriate, huh?  When it hit Broadway in 1970 Cleavon Little took on the role of Purlie to Melba Moore's Lutiebelle.  Eventually Purlie made it to TV with Robert Guillaume (Benson) as Purlie, Melba Moore as Lutiebelle and Sherman Hemsley as Gitlow.  I LOVED Gitlow.  There was something about seeing Hemsley in a role as someone other than George Jefferson that just did my 11 year old heart good.

I've added the Ossie Davis/Ruby Dee version of Purlie to my wish list, but I just can't bring myself to buy it.  I'm holding out for a reasonably priced Robert Guillaume/Melba Moore/Sherman Hemsley version.  Apparently someone else values it as much as I do because the cheapest I've found it online is $ 197.

Talking about all of the musicals I enjoyed as a kid reminded me of The Wiz, Ain't Misbehavin' (Nell Carter) and Sophisticated Ladies (Phyllis Hyman), along with a host of others.  PBS used to capture these performances and broadcast them, otherwise there's no way I would have been able to see these spectacular Broadway performances.  I've added clips from each to give you a hint of what you've been missing.

I've Got Love from Purlie

Ain't Misbehavin'

 Sophisticated Ladies


Those are just a few of my faves.  What's on your list?

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

#BookReview: In My Father's House - E. Lynn Harris

Written before his untimely passing last year, In My Father's House was to be the first in a series from E. Lynn Harris about Bentley L. Dean III.  Warren, the man he left his fiancee' for, broke his heart when he refused to come out of the closet with him.   Cut off from his wealthy family when he revealed that he was gay, Bentley left the cold streets of Detroit for the warmth of Miami. 

Firmly established as the owner of the premiere modeling agency in South Beach, Bentley and his partner are struggling to pay the bills.  Due to the recession, no one is using models the way they used to.  When a mysterious stranger visits the office to secure male models for a private party, Bentley is immediately skeptical.  A background check confirms that the man is legitimate and Bentley attends the party along with several of his models, only to find that the attendees are all men in search of discreet hookups with other men.

While that normally wouldn't bother Bentley, he wasn't running an escort service and he'd taken his young and impressionable mentee to the party.  Said mentee gets swept up in a relationship with the well-known host of the party, who also happens to be Hollywood's biggest star as well as a father and husband.

So the remainder of the book is spent trying to convince Bentley's mentee to come back home to Miami and getting Bentley to reconnect with his estranged father.  There's nothing new to see in this one.  It's the usual E. Lynn Harris formula.  Though it was a quick read, overall I was unimpressed.

What did you like about this book?
It was a quick and easy read.

What didn't you like about this book?
It was very predictable.

What could the author do to improve this book?
I'm not sure if there are plans to continue this story line with someone else writing them, but unless they can bring something new to it, they shouldn't bother.  

Published June 2010

Theme: My Petition by Jill Scott (yes, I know it's written about the government, but parts of it seem so applicable to character situations within the book).

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Monday, November 8, 2010

#BookReview: The Hairdresser of Harare - Tendai Huchu

I think I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that I'd read about this book on an author's blog and was frustrated that it didn't have a US publisher and wasn't scheduled to be released in the states.  The author of the book saw my comment and reached out to me with an offer to send me a copy.  It arrived a few weeks ago and let me tell you, I read it from start to finish in a little under two hours and loved it!

The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu is the story of what can happen when you refuse to see what's right in front of you.  Vimbai is a single mother raising a child that's the result of an affair with a married man.  Working in Mrs. Khumalo's salon, she's the best hairdresser in Harare.  All of that changes the day Dumisani appears.

Though male hairdressers are unheard of in Harare, Dumi's charming ways with both Mrs. Khumalo and the customers immediately makes him the star of the salon.  Feeling put off by this, Vimbai avoids him.  However, the need for extra income prompts her to offer him a room in her house when she learns that he has no place to stay.

Both are cut off from their families, though for different reasons, and, as a result, become quite close.  Dumi sends confusing messages to Vimbai when he invites her to attend a family wedding with him.  His family is immediately drawn to her and embraces both her and her daughter.  I really feel that Vimbai and Dumi use each other to legitimize themselves to others.

Earlier when I talked about not seeing what's in front of you, I was referring to Vimbai's refusal to acknowledge that perhaps there was something Dumi was hiding.  As a reader going in knowing the back story, it was obvious by what the family was saying that there was something about Dumisani that he hadn't shared with Vimbai.  However, I think even without knowing what the family was referring to or why, had she been paying attention, there were plenty of hints and signs for Vimbai to see.

When Vimbai is finally confronted with the truth, her reaction is such that she outs Dumi to those that intend to do him harm.  Ultimately he must leave Harare and Zimbabwe altogether. It's not until she realizes that she will lose every aspect of him that she truly grasps the consequences of her actions.

What did you like about this book?
I loved the author's use of words and their flow.  He does a wonderful job of describing not only the characters, but their surroundings.

What didn't you like about this book?
Honestly the only thing that I can find wrong is that it's not available to a wider audience of readers.

What can the author do to improve this book?
Find a publisher in the states!  This is definitely a story that needs to be told.

Published September 2010

Theme: The Jackal by Ronnie Jordan
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Friday, November 5, 2010

Last Night A DJ Saved My Life

Okay, not really, but I thought we'd take a break from books today to talk about my other guilty pleasure.  It never fails that at least once a year I'll see an article about books that change lives.  Is music life changing? I can't say that it is, but there are songs that automatically transport me back to another place and time when I hear them.

1. Easy by The Commodores: I learned how to skate on Saturday mornings at Skate King in East St. Louis from an instructor only known as Red.  I tried to skate backwards forever and finally mastered it one Saturday while The Commodores played in the background.

2. Master Blaster (Jammin') by Stevie Wonder: 5th grade Girl Scout Jamboree in the basement of Lily Freeman Elementary.  All I really remember is that it was hot and when Stevie sang, "It's hotter than July," I agreed with him.

3. Silent Night by The Temptations & This Christmas by Donny Hathaway: I can't remember a holiday season without these songs and the season doesn't officially start for me until I hear them.  I know I'm not alone when I say that if either song pops up on my iTunes mid-summer, I sing right along like it's Christmas Eve.

4. Our House by Madness: When cable arrived in our house in the early 80s, my brother and I would watch videos non-stop.  This was one of our favorites and every time I hear it, I think of him.

5. Jack and Diane by John Cougar Mellencamp, anything by Journey & Pour Some Sugar on Me by Def Leppard: Every one of these songs reminds me of 7th and 8th grade at Zion Lutheran Grade School

6. Out On A Limb by Teena Marie: Seems like it played on repeat while a group of neighborhood girls helped an older neighbor get ready for prom.  I had to get back to my street before the street lights came on, but those that stayed behind told us the next day that her date never showed up and she played that song all night.

7. Cher Chez La Femme by Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band: College parties and my first intro to house and deep house music. Yes, I know this song came out in the 70s, but no college party was complete until it was played.

8. Real Love by Mary J. Blige: For some reason I had access to a university vehicle the year this came out and was often sent on errands.  My partner in crime and I would ride through the back roads between Champaign-Urbana and whatever podunk town we were headed to blasting the whole What's the 411 tape.  Yeah, I said TAPE!

9. 261.5 by Tony! Toni! Tone!: Actually the whole Who tape had it going on.  We played in for hours straight on a last minute road trip to another university for a party.  We also played it in the parking lot in the early morning hours once the party was over and we discovered our friend's rust bucket of a car had a flat.

10. You Ought to Know by Alanis Morrissette: Is an explanation really needed?

So what songs bring you fond, or not so fond, memories?

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

#BookReview: Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan

I really wasn't sure of what to expect when I picked up Commencement.  I wasn't familiar with the author, but I was looking for something to get me through last month's read-a-thon with ease.  This did the trick.

Commencement is the story of four graduates of Smith College, of which the author just happens to be a graduate.  It follows them from the day they meet as freshmen until shortly after graduation.  I would go into detail about each of the women, but honestly, with the exception of April, the other three are so much alike that I had to keep reminding myself about whom I was reading.

Raised by a single mother in Chicago, April is the feminist rabble rouser who's always ready to support the movement.  Bree, Celia and Sally are pretty much the same person except one discovers she's a lesbian, another lost her mother right before school started and the third...um, yeah.  The book is very, VERY vanilla in characters. 

So why did I keep reading the book if I was unimpressed with the characters and their lives?  Because their friendships and their lives in and out of college reminded me of my college crew.  Certainly none of us were sitting around with millions in the bank that we refused to touch, like one of the characters.  None of us were infiltrating government agencies to create documentaries on them.  What was realistic was the way that you can lose touch with friends that you shared so much with if you don't work at maintaining those bonds or if you leave too much unsaid for too long.

What did you like about the book?
I appreciated the relationships between the women.  It made me want to reconnect with people I lost touch with.  As a matter of fact, I spent two hours on the phone with my BFF from college shortly after reading this playing, "What ever happened to..."  We've also planned a vacation together next year, something we haven't done in at least five years.

What didn't you like about the book?
Like I said, there was nothing really distinctive about the women. I can tell that the author thought she'd given them enough characteristics to make them stand out, but she fell short.

What could the author do to improve this book?
With the ending she wrote, it seems that the author plans to write at least one more book with these characters.  My suggestion would be that she do something to make each of them stand out and perhaps bring some spice to the story line.

Published June 2009

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Monday, November 1, 2010

#BookReview: The One That I Want - Allison Winn Scotch

Tilly Farmer leads a charmed life in her small town. Sure some people, like her husband Tyler, can't wait to break out of it. But for Tilly, she's never wanted to live anywhere else.

When her mother died years ago, Tilly vowed to stay to raise her younger sisters. She was there to pick up the pieces when her father turned to alcohol. Even now, she's still picking up everyone else's pieces as a guidance counselor at the local high school. A chance encounter with a former friend changes Tilly's world.

Whatever Ashley Simmons did to her that day in the fortunetelling tent was life changing. Suddenly Tilly's eyes are opened and she sees things that have always been in front of her in a different way. She's always suspected that her husband wasn't happy in their small town, but she never knew just how unhappy until the clarity Ashley has given her allows her glimpses into their future.

What did you like about this book?
Much like The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, as a reader I was forced to stretch my imagination and suspend belief while reading this. Then I started wondering what if everyone had the ability to look forward into their future. Would I have done half of the things I've done had I been able to see the end result ahead of time? Would you?

What didn't you like about this book?
I felt like there were some story lines that were tied up too neatly, while others weren't tied up at all.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Since clarity and peering into the future was at the heart of the book, it would have been nice for the author to give readers a peek into the future of the characters.

Published June 2010

Theme: You're the One That I Want by Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta

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