Friday, February 26, 2016

New Books Coming Your Way, March 1, 2016

Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett
256 p.
Fiction; Nigeria

Furo Wariboko, a young Nigerian, awakes the morning before a job interview to find that he's been transformed into a white man. In this condition he plunges into the bustle of Lagos to make his fortune. With his red hair, green eyes, and pale skin, it seems he's been completely changed. Well, almost. There is the matter of his family, his accent, his name. Oh, and his black ass. Furo must quickly learn to navigate a world made unfamiliar and deal with those who would use him for their own purposes. Taken in by a young woman called Syreeta and pursued by a writer named Igoni, Furo lands his first-ever job, adopts a new name, and soon finds himself evolving in unanticipated ways.

A. Igoni Barrett's Blackass is a fierce comic satire that touches on everything from race to social media while at the same time questioning the values society places on us simply by virtue of the way we look. As he did in Love Is Power, or Something Like That, Barrett brilliantly depicts life in contemporary Nigeria and details the double-dealing and code-switching that are implicit in everyday business. But it's Furo's search for an identity--one deeper than skin--that leads to the final unraveling of his own carefully constructed story.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel
400 p.
Historical fiction; China

After her father's death, Mei finds herself in the impossible position of supporting her poverty-stricken family. But a prophecy once predicted that Mei could have the power to do the unthinkable—to become the first female ruler of China. And when an edict summons Mei to the emperor's palace to serve as one of his concubines, the prophecy no longer seems so far-fetched.

In the heart of the emperor's city, Mei faces a thousand other women, all vying for the emperor's favor. She manages to deftly manuever around the plots of wily courtiers and ambitious princes fighting for power. Then, just as she is in a position to seduce the emperor, she falls in love with his son instead. Now Mei must fight not only to gain favor with the emperor, but also to protect the man she loves.

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The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar
300 p.
Speculative fiction

Four women — a soldier, a scholar, a poet, and a socialite — are caught up on opposing sides of a violent rebellion. As war erupts and their loyalties and agendas and ideologies come into conflict, the four fear their lives may pass unrecorded. Using the sword and the pen, the body and the voice, they struggle not just to survive, but to make history.

Here is the much-anticipated companion novel to Sofia Samatar’s World Fantasy Award-winning debut, A Stranger in Olondria. The Winged Histories is the saga of an empire — and a family: their friendships, their enduring love, their arcane and deadly secrets. Samatar asks who makes history, who endures it, and how the turbulence of historical change sweeps over every aspect of a life and over everyone, no matter whether or not they choose to seek it out.

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Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth by John Szwed
240 p.

When Billie Holiday first stepped into a recording studio in November 1933, it marked the beginning of what is arguably the most remarkable and influential career in twentieth-century popular music. Her voice weathered countless shifts in public taste, and new reincarnations of her continue to arrive, most recently in the form of singers like Amy Winehouse and Adele.

Most of the writing on Holiday has focused on the tragic details of her life—her prostitution at the age of fourteen, her heroin addiction and alcoholism, her series of abusive relationships—or tried to correct the many fabrications of her autobiography. But now, for the first time ever, Billie Holiday stays close to her music, to her performance style, and to the self she created and put on record and on stage.

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Slavery's Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons by Sylviane A. Diouf
403 p.
Non-fiction; history

Over more than two centuries men, women, and children escaped from slavery to make the Southern wilderness their home. They hid in the mountains of Virginia and the low swamps of South Carolina; they stayed in the neighborhood or paddled their way to secluded places; they buried themselves underground or built comfortable settlements. Known as maroons, they lived on their own or set up communities in swamps or other areas where they were not likely to be discovered.

Although well-known, feared, celebrated or demonized at the time, the maroons whose stories are the subject of this book have been forgotten, overlooked by academic research that has focused on the Caribbean and Latin America. Who the American maroons were, what led them to choose this way of life over alternatives, what forms of marronage they created, what their individual and collective lives were like, how they organized themselves to survive, and how their particular story fits into the larger narrative of slave resistance are questions that this book seeks to answer. To survive, the American maroons reinvented themselves, defied slave society, enforced their own definition of freedom and dared create their own alternative to what the country had delineated as being black men and women’s proper place. Audacious, self-confident, autonomous, sometimes self-sufficient, always self-governing; their very existence was a repudiation of the basic tenets of slavery.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

#BookReview: THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE by Joshilyn Jackson

Rarely does Joshilyn Jackson do anything wrong, in my opinion. I forgive her for her last book, Someone Else's Love Story, which I really didn't care for. So it's interesting that the character I remember least from that book is the main character in The Opposite of Everyone, which I absolutely adored.

Paula Vauss is a little of this and a little of that and, if she's being honest with you, she doesn't really know what she is other than a great attorney and the daughter of a wandering hippie. She's pretty sure her mother is still alive because she cashes the monthly checks she sends, but she hasn't been in contact with her in 15 years. Though originally named Kali Jai, Paula changed her name and herself in an attempt to distance herself from the tumultuous childhood she experienced living with Kai and whatever man was warming her bed at the moment. So Paula isn't sure if her father is a Tibetan monk or another one of her mother's rainbow assortment of men. What she does know is her copper skin is much too dark to have come from her Irish mother and a white man. So she's a little mixed up, a little confused, but she's making it. Then surprises just keep showing up on her doorstep.

There's the brother she didn't know about, her mother is quite possibly dying and doesn't want to be found, her law partners are ready to give her the boot and she just might be falling for her on again/off again investigator/boyfriend, Birdwine. Look, when I tell you I loved Birdwine - I LOVED HIM. He's a complete and total screw up, but he comes through for Paula in big ways and he sounds like a rugged, good looking man. As a matter of fact, the whole time I read this, I kept thinking Jeffrey Dean Morgan from The Good Wife and Grey's Anatomy would do an excellent job of playing him. I may be a bit biased because he gives me fever, but whatever. You don't know my life!

As we follow Paula and Birdwine on this wild goose chase to discover the truth about what's going on with Kai, Paula evolves from this selfish and controlled character into a more open and giving person. We get more of her back story and find out why she's such a hardened character, and though it all leads back to Kai, there are a lot of other factors along the way that have turned her into who she is. Through it all, Birdwine is there to help and Paula finds a new ally and more.

I loved this story line, loved the characters, loved that the main character is of color & not in some pandering way. Joshilyn Jackson knocks it out of the ballpark again.

304 p.
Published: February 2016
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Friday, February 19, 2016

New Books Coming Your Way, Feb. 23, 2016

Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan
400 p.
Fiction; Asian American

February 28, 1947: Trapped inside the family home amid an uprising that has rocked Taipei, Dr. Tsai delivers his youngest daughter, the unnamed narrator of Green Island, just after midnight as the city is plunged into martial law. In the following weeks, as the Chinese Nationalists act to crush the opposition, Dr. Tsai becomes one of the many thousands of people dragged away from their families and thrown into prison. His return, after more than a decade, is marked by alienation from his loved ones and paranoia among his community—conflicts that loom over the growing bond he forms with his youngest daughter. Years later, this troubled past follows her to the United States, where, as a mother and a wife, she too is forced to decide between what is right and what might save her family—the same choice she witnessed her father make many years before.

As the novel sweeps across six decades and two continents, the life of the narrator shadows the course of Taiwan’s history from the end of Japanese colonial rule to the decades under martial law and, finally, to Taiwan’s transformation into a democracy. But, above all, Green Island is a lush and lyrical story of a family and a nation grappling with the nuances of complicity and survival, raising the question: how far would you be willing to go for the ones you love?

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Same But Different: Teen Life on the Autism Express by Holly Robinson Peete, Ryan Elizabeth & RJ Peete
224 p.
Juvenile Fiction

Being a teen is hard enough. But when you have autism--or when your brother or sister is struggling with the condition--life can be challenging. It's one thing when you're a kid in grade school and a playdate goes south due to autism in a family. Or when you're a little kid and a vacation or holiday turns less-than-happy because of an autistic family member. But being a teen with autism can get pretty hairy--especially when you're up against dating, parties, sports, body changes, school, and other kids who just don't "get" you. In this powerful book, teenagers Ryan Elizabeth Peete and her twin brother, Rodney, who has autism, share their up-close-and-personal experiences on what it means to be a teen living with autism. Same But Different, explores the funny, painful, and unexpected aspects of teen autism, while daring to address issues nobody talks about. Same But Different underscores tolerance, love, and the understanding that everybody's unique drumbeat is worth dancing to.

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Possessed by Passion by Brenda Jackson
224 p.
Fiction; Romance

Burned-by-love architect Hunter McKay came home to Phoenix to open her own firm, not rekindle her fleeting high school romance with playboy Tyson Steele. But when she runs into the sexy surgeon at a nightclub—and he unleashes that legendary Steele charm—Hunter fears she's headed straight for heartbreak once again.

Tyson hasn't forgotten the one who got away. A weeklong fling should be just enough to get the sultry beauty out of his system for good, even if he has to let Hunter set the ground rules. But the rules are suddenly changing for the no-strings bachelor. Can Tyson convince this sensual woman that he's the real deal—that they deserve a second chance together?

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One More Night With You by Lisa Marie Perry
224 p.
Fiction; Romance

Former DEA agent Josephine de la Peña loved Zaf Ahmadi once—and she's got the bullet scar to prove it. No wonder she holds a grudge against her hacker ex. But now, just as Joey's preparing for a new job with the Las Vegas Slayers, Zaf reappears, insisting she's in danger. The sexual pull between them is still as intense, and liable to hurt more than any gunshot.

Even if Joey could forgive him for the botched drug bust that got her injured, Zaf can't forgive himself. Obsessively hunting for the criminals who killed his cousin warped his judgment. To protect Joey, he suggests he pose as her boyfriend. As long as he can keep emotional distance, he can keep her safe. Until the case presents him with a choice: pursue the vengeance he craves—or try to turn one smoldering night into so much more…

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Holy Mayhem by Pat G'Orge-Walker
368 p.
Fiction; Christian

They’ve been laid off, they’re broke, and their faith is really being tried. But dedicated Mount Kneel Down Baptist Church members Patience Kash and Joy Karry figure now is the perfect time to pursue their other true calling—becoming private detectives. And if that means putting up with their cousin Porky’s delusions while hilariously interfering with their famous detective godson Percy’s investigations, it’s still a heaven-sent opportunity…

When a thief steals the prized family Bible right out from under Porky’s nose and church funds are missing on Patience’s watch, these sisters-in-God find themselves sleuthing out the strangest family and church secrets—and up against someone more than ready to send them to their heavenly reward. Now, they’ll need their most inspired hunches, their not-real-fierce dog Felony, and their license-to-missionary to uncover the truth and crack this holy case…

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

#BookReview: THE LOSS OF ALL LOST THINGS by Amina Gautier

Words really can't express how blown away I was by this collection of short stories. From the very first story until the end, I was drawn in by the characters and Amina Gautier’s haunting words. And I have questions, so many questions.

The first short, Lost and Found, is told from the perspective of a young boy that’s been abducted. While the author doesn’t go into detail, thankfully, about what he endures with his kidnapper, she does allow us to go inside the mind of the victim. He’s accepted his fate, but holds out hope that one day he’ll be reunited with his parents.
“Take him, for example. He prefers the word lost instead of taken. Lost is much much better. Things that are taken are never given back. Things that are lost can be found.”
That sets the tone for the rest of the book as characters lose loved ones, relationships, things, etc., but it leaves me with questions. The short, The Loss of All Things Lost, follows a grieving family whose son has been abducted and we see them falling apart, somewhat abandoning their younger son and losing their sense of family. Is this the family of the boy we first saw in Lost and Found? I’m not sure.

What’s Best for You describes a lonely, single mother who has dedicated years to raising her daughter, always putting her first. When the opportunity arises for her to date a co-worker, she initially shuns it until she realizes that her daughter is almost an adult and doesn’t need her, but is the co-worker still interested? Has she lost an opportunity to live and love? Or the mother in What Matters Most – has she lost her youth in such a way that men she’s attracted to are now attracted to her daughter?

Navigator of Culture highlights the search for identity and self-image, while Disturbance focuses on a sense of loss of values, morals and common sense in a manmade utopia. Every story is different from the rest, but, again, they all tie into the theme of loss.

Gautier’s writing is so compelling. I could re-read these shorts a million times and still find something new in each of them. She’s currently on a book tour and hits St. Louis March 3 and I plan to be in the audience. I’m dying to know how she came up with these stories and what her creative process is. Do you have any questions you’d like me to ask her?

220 p.
Published: February 2016
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from author, opinions are my own.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

New Books Coming Your Way, Feb. 16, 2016

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson
304 p. (Fiction
Publication date: Feb. 16, 2016

Born in Alabama, Paula Vauss spent the first decade of her life on the road with her free-spirited young mother, Kai, an itinerant storyteller who blended Hindu mythology with Southern Oral Tradition to re-invent their history as they roved. But everything, including Paula’s birthname Kali Jai, changed when she told a story of her own—one that landed Kai in prison and Paula in foster care. Separated, each holding her own secrets, the intense bond they once shared was fractured.

These days, Paula has reincarnated herself as a tough-as-nails divorce attorney with a successful practice in Atlanta. While she hasn’t seen Kai in fifteen years, she’s still making payments on that Karmic debt—until the day her last check is returned in the mail, along with a cryptic letter. “I am going on a journey, Kali. I am going back to my beginning; death is not the end. You will be the end. We will meet again, and there will be new stories. You know how Karma works.”

Then Kai’s most treasured secret literally lands on Paula’s doorstep, throwing her life into chaos and transforming her from only child to older sister. Desperate to find her mother before it’s too late, Paula sets off on a journey of discovery that will take her back to the past and into the deepest recesses of her heart. With the help of her ex-lover Birdwine, an intrepid and emotionally volatile private eye who still carries a torch for her, this brilliant woman, an expert at wrecking families, now has to figure out how to put one back together—her own.

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Black Women’s Christian Activism: Seeking Social Justice in a Northern Suburb by Betty Livingston Adams
240 p. (Non-fiction)
Publication date: Feb. 16, 2016

When a domestic servant named Violet Johnson moved to the affluent white suburb of Summit, New Jersey in 1897, she became one of just barely a hundred black residents in the town of six thousand. In this avowedly liberal Protestant community, the very definition of “the suburbs” depended on observance of unmarked and fluctuating race and class barriers. But Johnson did not intend to accept the status quo. Establishing a Baptist church a year later, a seemingly moderate act that would have implications far beyond weekly worship, Johnson challenged assumptions of gender and race, advocating for a politics of civic righteousness that would grant African Americans an equal place in a Christian nation. Johnson’s story is powerful, but she was just one among the many working-class activists integral to the budding days of the civil rights movement.

In Black Women’s Christian Activism, Betty Livingston Adams examines the oft overlooked role of non-elite black women in the growth of northern suburbs and American Protestantism in the first half of the twentieth century. Focusing on the strategies and organizational models church women employed in the fight for social justice, Adams tracks the intersections of politics and religion, race and gender, and place and space in a New York City suburb, a local example that offers new insights on northern racial oppression and civil rights protest. As this book makes clear, religion made a key difference in the lives and activism of ordinary black women who lived, worked, and worshiped on the margin during this tumultuous time.

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And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile
256 p. (Fiction; Nigeria)
Publication date: Feb. 16, 2016

During the rainy season of 1995, in bustling Port Harcourt, Nigeria, a family’s life is disrupted by the sudden disappearance of seventeen-year-old Paul Utu. As they grapple with the loss of their darling boy, they embark on a moving journey of immense power that changes their lives forever and shatters their once ordered family: honorable Bendic and steely Ma, reduced to shadows of their former selves; willful Bibi, who had spent her days listening to mix tapes of Coolio and Salt-N-Pepa with her brothers; and Ajie, the youngest member of the family, burdened with the guilt of having seen Paul last and convinced that his vanished brother was betrayed long ago. But Ajie’s search for the truth uncovers hidden family secrets and reawakens long-forgotten ghosts as rumours of police brutality, oil shortages, and student protests serve as a backdrop.

In a tale that moves seamlessly back and forth through time, Ajie relives a trip to the family’s ancestral village where, together, he and his family listen to the myths of how their people settled there, while the villagers argue over the mysterious Company, who found oil on their land and who will do anything to guarantee support. As the story builds toward its stunning conclusion, it becomes clear that only once past and present come to a crossroads will Ajie and his family finally find the answers they have been searching for.

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What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera
320 p. (Fiction; Sri Lanka)
Publication date: Feb. 16, 2016

"The walls of my cell are painted an industrial white, like albumen. They must think the color is soothing. Where I come from it connotes absence, death, unrelenting loneliness."

In the idyllic hill country of Sri Lanka, a young girl grows up with her loving family; but even in the midst of this paradise, terror lurks in the shadows. When tragedy strikes, she and her mother must seek safety by immigrating to America. There the girl must reinvent herself as an American teenager to survive, with the help of her cousin. Both love and loss fill her life, but even as she assimilates and thrives, the secrets and scars of her past follow her into adulthood. In this new country of freedom, everything she has built begins to crumble around her, and her hold on reality becomes more and more tenuous. When the past and the present collide, she sees no other choice than to commit her unforgivable final act. This is her confession.

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Listen to the Lambs by Daniel Black
352 p. (Fiction)
Publication date: Feb. 16, 2016

Nothing can convince Lazarus Love III to go back to the lifestyle of affluence and social status. Longing for a freedom of the soul that the world of capitalism cannot provide, Lazarus leaves all that he knows--including his wife and children--to achieve the ultimate level of peace and silence living as a possession-less man. When his quest causes him to cross paths with five wanderers who call themselves "the family," a shocking, brutal act leaves Lazarus in a dire position and his new-found family must struggle to save him. By doing so, they learn the beauty of sacrificial love.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

#BookReview: THE SHADOW OF THE CRESCENT MOON by Fatima Bhutto

Ambitious Aman Erum shuns the family carpet business in Pakistan and makes his way to America where he shuns his fellow countrymen who have also arrived in America to study. While he makes every attempt to assimilate to his new country, he stays connected to his family in Mir Ali through phone calls and letters. He is most connected to Samarra, the daughter of a family friend. As children, they spent hours together on camping trips. Where Aman Erum is hesitant and fearful, Samarra is brave and daring. And now, as young adults, they’ve pledged their love to each other and Samarra awaits Aman Erum’s return. Every bit the radical that her father was, Samarra pays the price for her anti-government stance, losing both her dignity and Aman Erum.

While Aman Erum hopes to find his fortune in business, Sikandar becomes a doctor. The hospital where he works used to be fully stocked, but with the recent Taliban takeover and American invasion, supplies are short and so are tempers. In addition to his frustration at work, he also has to deal with his wife Mina, who keeps showing up at the homes of grieving families. Sikandar and Mina recently lost their son when the hospital was bombed and the former psychologist is now a shell of herself. Looking for answers to why her son was taken, she believes that she’s helping others by grieving with them, but she’s more of a nuisance.

Hayat is his father’s son. Aman Erum rejected his father’s stories of the old Pakistan and how its freedom must be wrested from its oppressors. Where Aman Erum ignored them, Hayat listened. As an adult, he’s teamed up with Samarra and, together, they’re plotting to bring down the government.

Aman Erum’s story seemed to be the most developed, which is unfortunate because he's the weakest & most selfish brother. Willing to sell out the woman he once loved and others around him in order to gain favor with others is reprehensible.  He's undeserving of Samarra's admiration for him and trusting in him proves to be her biggest mistake. Sikandar’s story as a child is almost overlooked, as is Hayat’s. Even as an adult, Sikandar’s story is incomplete without Mina, and Hayat’s without Samarra. I would have loved to see more background on both of those brothers, especially Hayat. Their leap from childhood to adults left out details that could have helped fill in some of the blanks I felt while reading.

At times I was confused as to what was going on with his interactions with a certain government figure. I understood the characters, but because of my lack of depth of knowledge about the historical aspects at that time, it was difficult to understand what was happening toward the end of the book. I was never quite sure if what I thought was happening was actually happening or if I’d just misinterpreted everything. Did Aman Erum sell out those around him once again for his own personal gain? Did Hayat? And what of Sikandar and Mina? How did their situation end. Perhaps that was the author's ultimate goal, to leave the reader guessing about the characters and their outcomes.

240 p.
Published: February 2016

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Friday, February 5, 2016

#BookReview: PASSION'S SONG by Farrah Rochon

Synopsis: New Orleans has always been a musical city, and April Knight quickly fell under its spell. Despite the challenges of poverty and disillusionment, April defied everyone to realize her dream of becoming a celebrated cellist. Buoyed by her success, she's returned to the Ninth Ward to share her encouragement and enthusiasm with the local youth, unaware of a new passion that awaits.

Years ago, Damien Alexander encouraged April to follow her ambitions, even as he followed his own. Now he has the opportunity to revitalize his old neighborhood, and he needs April's grace and charm to woo investors. Instead of the platonic arrangement they expected, a swift and intense spark of attraction suddenly changes the dynamic of their relationship. Will they be able to help their community and answer the sweet, sweet melody of love?

Review: I love stories where the location is just as much of a character in the book as the actual people. Once again, Farrah Rochon brings another city to life and this time it's New Orleans, with a focus on the Ninth Ward. With the real life tragedy of Hurricane Katrina playing a role in the devastation of an area that had already been hard hit prior to the storm, she sets her characters up as two of the wards success stories.

Rochon always creates interesting protagonists so it's easy to imagine the nerdy high school version of April pining away for the school jock version of Damien. But it's also nice to see the adults they turned out to be. As they dance around each other and try to fight their feelings for one another, their interactions are genuine and believable. Their story lines are interesting and they're definitely characters worth cheering for. April's family, students and co-workers, along with Damien's brother and employees, all provide a bit of comic relief throughout, keeping this an easy, breezy and lighthearted read.

At just 224 pages, I tore through Passion's Song in two readings. And, as always, it left me wishing I could be plucked out of my life and planted in the middle of a Farrah Rochon created universe.

224 p.
Published: February 2016
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from author, opinions are my own.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

#BookReview: SECOND HOUSE FROM THE CORNER by Sadeqa Johnson

"You know how you know some serious shit is about to go down & you're afraid for the character because their life is about to be in shambles? I'm there. RIGHT. NOW." - Me, 01/18/16

I was not ready for the twists and turns of Second House on the Corner. When I started it, I was like, oh, a story about a stressed about stay at home mom trying to deal with her husband and the kids while putting her dreams on hold. That's what I thought. But y'all...Y'ALL, Sadeqa Johnson played me!

From the outside looking in, Felicia Lyons is living the good life. Her husband Preston brings home the bacon and Faye, as Felicia is called by family and friends, or Foxy as she's called by Preston, fries it up in the pan. Taking care of a husband and three kids is a challenge, but she's managing. Things are looking up for her when she gets invited to audition for admission to a creative women's group. This is just what she needs to reignite her passion for acting. And then the bottom falls out, which is where my quote up top comes in.

Faye... hey, girl, hey....



Secrets from Faye's past creep in like thieves in the night and steal all of her joy. When she opens the door to past relationships, all hell breaks loose and she finds herself on the verge of losing her husband, her children and her home.  Her only saving grace is her Gran back in Philly. And even though Gran can't solve her problems for her, she's a voice of reason and shelter in a storm.

I loved the characters that Sadeqa Johnson created. The relationship between Faye and Preston was so loving and sexy and Johnson perfectly played out the typical male reaction when he finds that the woman he placed on a pedestal isn't the angel he always believed her to be. I also enjoyed Faye's relationships with her kids - the mature Rory, the needy middle child Twyla (and I loved her nickname, Two) and baby Liv. The author outdid herself with this book and I can't wait to see what she puts out next.

304 p.
Published: February 2016

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