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Friday, October 29, 2010

#BookReview: Page from A Tennessee Journal - Francine Thomas Howard


After reading about how great this book was over at BrownGirlSpeaks, I knew I had to add it to my "to be read"
list.  I'll admit that I added it February, but just now got around to reading it.  What can I say? My list is long.

Page from A Tennessee Journal tells the story of a mother struggling to raise her four children in 1913 Tennessee after her husband leaves them.  Annalaura Welles knew better than to marry John.  Her Aunt Becky told her he was a sporting man, but she was too enamored with his good looks and flattered that he chose her from all of the women in town.  Twelve years after they said, "I do," John took off in the middle of the night leaving Annalaura to figure out how to harvest the 40 acres their family sharecropped for the McNaughtons.

When John Welles left his family he didn't plan to be gone for long.  There's no way Annalaura could understand how he felt.  No man in his right mind wanted to sharecrop for the rest of his life.  He knew that Alex McNaughton had cheated his family out of what they rightfully earned the previous season and he thought that if he could just get up to Nashville, he would be able to earn enough money to buy his own farm.  He would have told Annalaura, but he knew she'd find the words to stop him.

Much like Annalaura, Eula McNaughton was in awe of her husband, Alex.  Eula was homely and knew it, so when Alex McNaughton showed up at her family's door asking for her hand in marriage, she readily accepted.  Though tending a farm was a step down for her, it was better than being an old maid, which was where she was headed just shy of her 21st birthday.  Eula runs the farm like clockwork and caters to Alex's every whim.

Alex McNaughton has no use for the coloreds.  As long as they work his land and stay out of his way, they're alright with him.  Noticing that the middle 40 acres of his land aren't being harvested properly, he sets out to confront John Welles.  He doesn't get a chance to talk to the long gone man, but he does have a chance to speak with his wife and that meeting sparks more than a passing interest for him.

What did you like about this book?
I loved that each of the four main characters was fully developed.  As a reader, I was able to see everyone's side to the story and even some background on why they behaved as they did.

What didn't you like about this book?
I can't say that it was the book, but I disliked the way women were treated as property.  I know that it was due to the time period, but I still didn't care for it.  Both John and Alex were in love with Annalaura and both, especially John, treated her as less than human.  For John to leave without word and stay gone for over a year, then magically reappear like a few gifts and kind words would make everything okay? No sir!  I was mad for Annalaura.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Not a thing.





304pp
Published March 2010




Theme: Billie's Blues by Billie Holiday

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

#BookReview: An Ideal Wife - Gemma Townley


Gemma Townley is no Sophie Kinsella.  I picked this up a few weeks ago for the read-a-thon because I needed something light and fluffy to start my morning off.  This was so light that it could have floated away on a cloud and I wouldn't have missed it.  To be fair, it wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't very memorable.

In typical chick lit fashion, there's the lovable female lead character.  This time she happens to be married to the man of her dreams and they're living the good life.  Working with her husband at a firm that he bought out has proven to be a challenge, but Jessica is up for it.  She's the perfect office wife, but now she's on a mission to become the ideal wife.

Ahhh, don't we all long for the days of domesticity? Oh, you don't? Me either, but Jessica does so she takes cooking classes, learns how to clean house, basically all of the things that make a house a home.  Her quest to spice up the romance department takes a turn for the worst when their bedroom tryst lands Max in the hospital.   With Max in the hospital, it's up to Jessica to run the firm.

Throw in a spacey mother, a semiretired Russian stripper for a friend and a nurse that's surely out to trap her husband, and you have an overstretched Jessica on your hands.   Add in Max's rival whom Jessica may or may not have slept with right before her wedding and the two scary guys following her around, and you have someone on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

This book had so many moments to be hilarious and it just kept falling short.  It could be that the bar has been set too high for chick lit.  Has anyone else read this author's work? Am I wrong?

What did you like about this book?
I was looking for light and fluffy and it delivered that.

What didn't you like about this book?
It was more unrealistic than I would have expected and not as funny as I would have expected.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Hmmm, I'm still thinking about that.






256pp
Published June 2010



Theme: I'm Every Woman by Whitney Houston

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Monday, October 25, 2010

#BookReview: Room - Emma Donoghue


I was hesitant to give this book a listen for a few reasons.  First was that I couldn't imagine how the subject of being held hostage could be made entertaining.  Second was that the book was told mostly from the point of view of a five year old and I wasn't sure how that would translate.  I was shocked to find that the book held my attention, was entertaining overall and the five year old's voice didn't wear me out like I thought it would.

Jack and Ma have lived in Room all of Jack's life.  Because it's just the two of them, they have taken to treating inanimate objects as members of the family.  There's Rug, the dirty piece of carpet that covers their floor.  It's the same piece of carpet that Ma gave birth to Jack on and the blood stain from his delivery remains.  There's Wardrobe, where Jack sleeps at night until Old Nick, Ma's abductor, leaves.  There's Duvet, the blanket that keeps them warm at night. And so it goes.

Through Jack's narration readers learn that Ma was abducted as a college student and has been held hostage in a soundproof shed in Old Nick's back yard for the past seven years.  And while Ma longs to escape, Jack is perfectly content to live in the only world that he's ever known with the only friends he's ever known.

What did you like about this book?
Room covers a little over a year in the life of Ma and Jack.  While the thought of listening to, or reading about, someone's day to day, mundane life  in 200 square feet could be boring, Emma Donoghue finds ways to keep both listeners and readers captivated.  I literally did not want to get out of the car after my morning commute because I just wanted to keep listening.

What didn't you like about this book?
At first Jack's voice really, really annoyed me.  Not only did the tone annoy me, the voice did as well, until I reminded myself that he was supposed to be five and that five year olds do not always speak properly.  Once I got past that, it was fine.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Without giving any spoilers, I would have liked the author to do a look ahead into the future.  I am very interested in knowing what Ma and Jack's life are like 5 years, 10 years, 15 years down the road.





Listening time: 10 hrs, 45 minutes
Published September 2010



Theme: Luka by Suzanne Vega

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

#BookReview: Karma II - Sabrina A. Eubanks

I loved Karma and I was really looking forward to reading the sequel to it.  Unfortunately, Karma II doesn't quite live up to the promise of the initial book.  Even so, it's still a fairly decent read.

The loss of his fiance left Lucas Cain devastated.  With the support of his best friend and fellow detective, Noah, Lucas has gotten his head straight, at least on the job.  Noah's womanizing ways amuse Lucas, but he's in no rush to connect with another woman as long as Jasmine remains on his mind.

When the two detectives are paired with lady detectives Leah and Nichole, sparks immediately fly.  The case that the foursome is working on really gets buried under the blossoming romance between Lucas and Nichole and Noah's personal problems.  In fact, the undercover operation could have been left out of the book and I don't know that anyone would have cared or noticed.

The one thing that really stood out in this book was the treatment of women as property and/or less than human.  Several women in the book are abused at the hands of men, both physically and emotionally.  While I realize that that is a reality, especially in the world that the author has created, it made for quite a few cringe worthy moments.

What did you like about this book?
The relationship with Lucas and Nichole was cute, but it evolved entirely too soon to be realistic.

What didn't you like about this book?
As I said above, the mistreatment of women left a bad taste in my mouth.  I got no sense that any of the men perpetrating the abuse regretted it or apologized for it either.  Just as disturbing as the physical abuse was the mental abuse carried out by someone that would otherwise be a likable character.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Returning to what worked for the first book would be helpful.






309pp
Published March 2010



Theme: Black and Blue by Raheem Devaughn

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Monday, October 18, 2010

#BookReview: Sweet Georgia Brown - Cheryl Robinson


Georgia Brown firmly believes in supporting her man.  So even though Marvin hasn't held down a job since he was laid off from the plant, she continues to support him.  Living with his parents is no walk in the park, especially with two kids, but it's all they can afford while Marvin insists on working on a comedy career.

Fast forward and Marvin's spot on a prime time comedy competition has launched his career in radio.  Much like the jokes that he told to win the competition, his radio show focuses on what a bad wife Georgia is.  She's been the butt of his jokes for so many years that she doesn't even bother listening to his show anymore.

Marvin's bank account and ego have grown since he won the show.  He knows that Georgia is a supportive wife, in fact, she's his rock.  That doesn't stop him from seeking the attention of other women who are only too happy to please a nationally syndicated radio host.  His arrogance knows no bounds and the only thing that humbles him is the gambling debt he owes.

When a woman from Marvin's past shows up on Georgia's doorstep with a 13 year old daughter in tow, Georgia has just about reached her limit.  The sweet Georgia Brown that Marvin has walked over for years is no more.  In her place is a woman that knows what she wants and how to get it.

What did you like about this book?
It was a quick and easy read.  The author does a good job of making Georgia very likable and Marvin very unlikable.  I also appreciated the fact that the story line wasn't predictable, though it could have been.

What didn't you like about this book?
Nothing

What could the author do to improve this book?
As despicable as Marvin was, I would have liked to see him suffer more.






384pp
Published January 2008



Theme: Love T.K.O. by Regina Belle

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Friday, October 15, 2010

#BookReview: The Undomestic Goddess - Sophie Kinsella


As you can tell, I've been on a chick lit roll lately.  So you know I loved Twenties Girl and Remember Me?, but I really thought it was just a fluke.  I mean every writer has a not so great book occasionally.  I haven't read all of Sophie Kinsella's work, so I can't say she always hit it out of the park, but I haven't been disappointed with her work yet.  If you've enjoyed reading the reviews as much as I've enjoyed reading/listening to the genre, hang on until the end for a giveaway.

The Undomestic Goddess has all of the elements of a typical Kinsella book: a likable leading lady; a less than perfect situation; a handsome, yet humble leading man; and an "a-ha" moment. This time around we're introduced to Samantha Sweeting, hard working attorney-at-law on her way to becoming the youngest partner in the firm's history.  A costly mistake at the most prestigious law firm in London leads her to flee the city and her job.

A case of mistaken identity lands her a job as the hired help for a nouveau riche couple.  The only problem is, Samantha can't cook or clean.  Though she tries to cover it up, the gardener picks up on it right away and points her in the direction of someone who can help her.  Before she knows it, Samantha has adapted to living in the small village and indeed, becomes a domestic goddess.  Just as she decides that this is the life she wants to leave, news from her old world disrupts her dreams and sends her crashing back to reality.

What did you like about this book?
As always, it was an easy listen with tons of laughs and lighthearted moments.

What didn't you like about this book?
It was predictable in parts.  I don't know if that's because I read so much or because the author is transparent, but it didn't take away from the overall book.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Nothing





Listening time: 6 hours, 52 minutes
Published: November 2007



Theme: More Than What I Wanted by CeCe Winans

Giveaway

Thanks to Low Country Marketing Group, I have two (2) copies of Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of A Shopaholic to give away.  Don't worry, they're actually hard copies so you can read it instead of listening to it.  Interested? Simply leave a comment below telling me what your favorite chick lit book is and why, by next Friday (October 22).  I'll use a random number generator to pick two (2) winners.  So get to commenting!


 
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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

#BookReview: Feminista - Erica Kennedy


I can't tell you how many times I glanced at this book on the shelves of the library and kept right on walking.  Everything about the cover screamed typical chick lit.  I had no use for it.  I only wanted to read books that would improve my world and impress me.  Meh, so I'm slow sometimes.  Feminista was great!

Sydney Zamora bounced around from job to job until a temping gig landed her a permanent position as a writer at Cachet.  Along with that position came a nice, fat paycheck and all she had to do was write a few articles a month about celebrities.   Easy, peasy, right?

Sydney has a reputation for discarding people from her life like yesterday's newspaper.  Friends that got married? Gone.  Having a baby? It's been nice knowing you.  Fiercely competitive and an eternal feminist, she doesn't suffer fools and that includes the men she dates.  When her sister tries to hook her up with Mitzi Berman, THE matchmaker, Syd fights her every step of the way.

Maximillion Harvey is an heir to one of the biggest department stores in the country.  He's also a slacker.  While his sister is content to run their empire, he'd much rather slide through life having fun.  He's left a trail of brokenhearted women in his wake and sees no reason to change that.  Mitzi would love to see him shackled to one of the women in her stable, but he has no intention of falling in line with her program.

Ok, I know what you're thinking.  Typical romance, right? Nope.  This is a hilariously funny take on what you think you know about fiercely independent women and the wealthy men that woo them.

What did you like about the book?
Sydney was an absolute mess.  Instead of being Pollyanna Perfect, Erica King makes her very relatable.   There was just the right touch of drama and comedy sprinkled throughout to make this a page turner.

What didn't you like about the book?
The cover doesn't do it justice.  From my initial glances I made assumptions that kept me, and perhaps others like me, from picking it up.  Nothing about the cover tells you that the lead character isn't scrawny white chick, but is actual a person of color.

What could the author do to improve this book?
I know that it's not necessarily within her power to determine the outcome of the cover art, but it would really go a long way to make it more eye catching.





368pp
Published September 2009




Theme: Independent Women by Destiny's Child

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Monday, October 11, 2010

#BookReview: Remember Me? - Sophie Kinsella


How many times have you wished you could wake up from the horrible nightmare that is your life sometimes and find that everything in your universe is perfect?  Meet Lexi Smart, this is her tale.

A night out with the girls is just what Lexi needs the night before her father's funeral.  Her boyfriend, Loser Dave, has stood her up again, but she's determined to have a good time with Fee, Debs and Carolyn.  With a  drunken round of karaoke behind them, they head for their next spot with Lexi leading the way.  A fall from the curb renders her unconscious and when she wakes up, it's 3 years later.  Gone are the teeth that earned her the nickname "Snaggletooth", her blah hair and her uncertainty.

There's a new Lexi in town.  In this new world of hers Lexi is beautiful with a stunningly gorgeous husband.  She has a fancy condo, all of the clothes she could ever imagine and she can drive!  What she doesn't have is any memory of how all of this came to be.  Never fear.  Her overly anal husband, Eric, has prepared a marriage manual to help her remember how things go around the house.  But no one has a manual for her day time job.

The Lexi of 3 years ago had just started a new job and was still learning the ropes.  Present day Lexi is the head of the department and has no idea how she got there.  All she knows is that her department is at risk of going under unless she can pull off a miracle.

Her friends from yesteryear no longer speak to her and her new best friend, Rosalie, is the kind of woman she would have made fun of just a few years ago.  To complicate matters even further, her husband's architect, John, swears that they were having an affair and that she was planning to leave Eric right before the accident.

What did you like about this book?
Sophie Kinsella books are well on the way to becoming my favorite, light-hearted reading.  There is always an element of comic relief.  In this instance it's provided by both Lexi's bumbling mother and street hustling sister, Amy.

What didn't you like about this book?
Can't think of a thing.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Nothing






Listening time: 12 hours, 51 minutes
Published March 2008



Theme: Last Name by Carrie Underwood

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

#BookReview: The Fall of Rome - Martha Southgate

You know how you read something really great and you want to discuss it with someone?  Like not later, but right then?  This is one of those books!  When I finished it at 1 a.m. last weekend, I needed to talk about it.  So I turned to the Literary Twitterati and they responded. By the way, if you're not on Twitter yet, the conversation below is why you need to be.

Reads4Pleasure : Just finished a really good book. Sad that it came out in 2002 & I'm only the 5th person to check it out from the library.
_sugaHoney : @Reads4Pleasure what book?
RezanWho : @Reads4Pleasure what is it called?
LDotMarie : @Reads4Pleasure Title?
Reads4Pleasure : @_sugaHoney The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate
Reads4Pleasure : @RezanWho The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate abt a blk boy at a predominantly white boarding school. Has problems w/ the only blk teacher
TheLionQn : @Reads4Pleasure I LOVE that book! That's sad :(
Reads4Pleasure : @LDotMarie The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate abt a blk boy at a predominantly white boarding school. Has problems w/ the only blk teacher
_sugaHoney : @Reads4Pleasure y did i KNOW u were talking about that book? Do I have ESP? lmao Its on my reading list & I noticed it in the bookstore 2day
Reads4Pleasure : @readingincolor Ari! Found a book with a teen poc at a predominantly white boarding school!
Reads4Pleasure : @TheLionQn I was all like, why haven't more people read this???
Reads4Pleasure : @TheLionQn and I hated Mr Washington from page 1. Self hatin negroach
Reads4Pleasure : @_sugaHoney lol it's SO good. Hurry up and read it so we can discuss it
LDotMarie : @Reads4Pleasure Are you going to review it?
RezanWho : @Reads4Pleasure ill try it out
Reads4Pleasure : @LDotMarie yep. Should be Friday's post if nothing earth shattering causes me to push it back
Reads4Pleasure : @RezanWho great. Let me know what you think of it
TheLionQn : @Reads4Pleasure I found it randomly in my cousin's TBR pile & stole it.
Reads4Pleasure : @TheLionQn thief! Thieving for books is ok though. Disclaimer: I will NOT bail u out if jail lol
Reads4Pleasure : I love Twitter. Where else can I find people willing to discuss books at 1 a.m.?
Reads4Pleasure : @BlueMonarch The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate
BlueMonarch : I loved that book! RT @Reads4Pleasure: @BlueMonarch The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate
TheLionQn : YES! RT @Reads4Pleasure: Self hatin negroach
Reads4Pleasure : @BlueMonarch why did I want to fight Mr Washington from the get go?!?!
_sugaHoney : @Reads4Pleasure ok. im gonna review it for a new blog that im working on. probably get to it next month.
prissysnob : @Reads4Pleasure please let me know what you think....when you finish
BlueMonarch : He displayed jerk qualities from jump. RT @Reads4Pleasure: @BlueMonarch why did I want to fight Mr Washington from the get go?!?!
Reads4Pleasure : @_sugaHoney good deal. I'll be interested to see what you think
readingincolor : @Reads4Pleasure Ooo what! Do tell
Reads4Pleasure : @readingincolor The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate abt a blk boy @ a predominantly white boarding school.Has problems w/ the only blk tchr

The conversation evolved into a discussion of other books, but that's the great thing about Twitter.  I've found a community of people that love books as much as I do.  Anywho, you don't care about all of that. You want to know what the book is about.  But if you're interested in being a part of conversations like this, I recommend following the ladies above.

The Fall of Rome really is a play on words.  The opening character is Jerome Washington, the only African American faculty member at a prestigious, predominantly white, all boys boarding school, The Chelsea School, in Connecticut.  Jerome firmly believes in pulling one up by one's own bootstraps without reaching back to help anyone else that might be struggling along the way.  Thanks to his hard work and his Harvard training, he's been on staff at The Chelsea teaching Latin for numerous years.  One of his greatest passions is studying Rome.

...but I share the view of those scholars who have argued that ancient Rome was a place of racial egalitarianism.  I am not so naive as to believe that this country's long history of racial prejudice has been eradicated.  But I do believe that those of us whom Du Bois called "the darker brothers" could profit from accepting the values that Chelsea at its best espouses.   And while I see this school's standards softening under the relentless onslaught of preferential treatment, I want to continue to uphold the values that the school's founders held dear.

Mr. Washington can barely disguise his contempt for Rashid Bryson, the young freshman from New York.  Rashid has come to Connecticut after the death of his brother, a death that has left his parents shells of their former selves.  Adapting to Chelsea, and its student body, will be difficult for a brown boy Brooklyn.  When he notices that the Latin class is taught by Mr. Washington, he takes the class in hopes that he'll find an ally or mentor in him.



There are so many factors at play within this story.  Rashid is looking for acceptance in a world in which he's unfamiliar.  Mr. Washington is haunted by the ghost of his past and is determined to keep boys that don't belong at a place like Chelsea out of it.  Jana needs a chance to redeem herself from her last failure to save a promising student.

What did you like about this book?
I absolutely loved this book!  Any time you find yourself talking back to the pages and wanting to punch a character in the throat, it's got to be a great book.  Martha Southgate has done an exquisite job of creating such a character in Jerome Washington.  From page one I hated him and, while I kept hoping he would have at least one redeemable quality by the end, he had none.

At one point Rashid gives a speech that sounds like something straight from the mouth of President Obama.  Given that the book was written in 2002, either the author is psychic or it's just a coincidence.  In either case, the speech he gave is just as applicable to the present day real world as it was in the fictional world in which Rashid resided.

What did you dislike about this book?
Nothing. I'm only sorry that more people haven't read it.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Not a thing.





224pp
Published January 2002




Theme: Can't Truss It by Public Enemy

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Monday, October 4, 2010

#BookReview: The Girl from Purple Mountain: Love, Honor, War,and One Family's Journey from China to America - May-lee Chai & Winberg Chai


As a child I hated spending time with my "mean" grandmother. It wasn't so much that she was mean, it was more that I didn't understand her. In The Girl from Purple Mountain, May-lee and Winberg Chai tell the story of their grandmother and mother from their points of view.

With the passing of Ruth, the matriarch of the family, the Chais are thrown into a tizzy. To her family's astonishment, Ruth secretly arranged to be buried alone and away from the plots purchased by her husband. And so begins the story of how Ruth came to be the way she was. To May-lee she was the stern grandmother that rarely showed affection. To Winberg she was his extraordinary mother.

In a time when Christianity was new in China, Ruth was a proud Christian. Her determination led to her studying in America and earning a degree from Wittenberg University. Her cunning ways saved her from marrying a shallow man and instead marrying his younger, more studious brother. While the world around her crumbled, she continued to lift up her husband and sons. It's no wonder that with the weight of the world on her shoulders, she became the stern grandmother that May-lee came to know.

In reading this I found myself drawing parallels between Ruth and my grandmother, who raised twelve children while surviving a divorce and later the death of her second husband while living first in Mississippi and later in East St. Louis. She never told her children she loved them, but they always knew because of her actions. Her no nonsense manner, the result of living in a segregated and unjust world, was a steady in the lives of her children and in mine until she passed in 1988. It has always been strange to hear my aunts and uncles speak of her in such glowing terms. Much like I saw my grandmother differently than my mother did, I know that my daughter sees my mother much differently than I do.

What did you like about this book?
May-lee and Winberg Chai have done a magnificent job of presenting the same person in such a way that she almost seems like two different people.

What did you dislike about this book?
At times the portions written by Winberg can get wordy. I imagine that it's because he remembers China so vividly that he wants to share as much as possible.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Other than the wordiness here and there, I wouldn't change a thing.


336pp
Published June 2001





Theme: Grandma's Hands by Bill Withers

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Friday, October 1, 2010

#BookReview: Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self - Danielle Evans

Frequent visitors to the blog know that I'm a big fan of well written short stories. Danielle Evans has hit the ball out of the park with Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self. From start to finish, there are no bad stories in this book.

The first short, Virgins, immerses you in the world of fifteen year old Erica and her friends Jasmine and Michael. It's written in such a way that you immediately remember what it was like to be their age and in a rush to grow up.

Snakes tells the story of a young woman on the road to success who confronts her painful past and the summer she spent with her grandmother.

While it would have been easier for the author to write strictly from the female point of view, in Someone Ought to Tell Her There's Nowhere to Go, she tackles the story of a young male soldier returning from war. His re-entrance into the world he left isn't easy and leads him to make questionable, yet seemingly harmless, decisions.

My favorite of all the shorts is Robert E. Lee is Dead. If you've ever been the good girl, the smart girl, the nerdy girl and wished you could gain entry into the popular crowd, this story will resonate with you. Crystal and Gina are best friends, but while Crystal is smart as a whip, school is just a place to see and be seen for Gina. When it comes to popularity, no one is more popular than Gina. A chance to make herself popular among the athletes and cheerleaders arises and Crystal rises to the occasion. Her place in their world is shaky and can be snatched any time Gina says so.

What did you like about this book?
I absolutely loved the variety in stories and in characters. There are eight stories in total and each is completely different, yet just as good as the rest.

What didn't you like about this book?
I honestly can't think of a thing.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Not a thing.




240pp
Published September 2010

Theme: It's My Life by Bon Jovi

*Update* Tayari Jones is giving away a copy of Before You Suffocate over on her blog.  Please visit her blog for a chance to win!

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