July Reads and Reviews

Hi everyone and welcome back to the next installment in my monthly reads. This was a really good month of books for me- I read five highly enjoyable books with a variety of subject matters- from a memoir to a court drama, and everything in between. There's even a Pulitzer Prize winner (my second of the year..look at me being classy).  Let's look at what I read and my thoughts!


The Holdout

It's the most sensational case of the decade. Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, heiress to a billion-dollar real estate fortune, vanishes on her way home from school. Her teacher Bobby Nock is the prime suspect after illicit text messages are discovered between them--and Jessica's blood is found in his car. The subsequent trial taps straight into America's most pressing preoccupations: race, class, sex, law enforcement, and the lurid sins of the rich and famous. It's an open and shut case for the prosecution, and a quick conviction seems all but guaranteed. Until Maya Seale, a young woman on the jury, convinced of Nock's innocence, persuades the rest of the jurors to return the verdict of not guilty, a controversial decision that will change all of their lives forever. Flash forward ten years. A true-crime docuseries reassembles the jurors, with particular focus on Maya, now a defense attorney herself. When one of the jurors is found dead in Maya's hotel room, all evidence points to her as the killer. Now, she must prove her own innocence--by getting to the bottom of a case that is far from closed.


Fast paced, engrossing legal drama / "whodunit" murder mystery. The story follows a group of jurors who are meeting up to recount an intense trial they served together. One juror ends up dead, and the rest of the book is trying to figure out who's guilty and who's not- and did they get the verdict right in the trial? I liked the timeline switching back and forth from the trial to the latest murder, going through the point of view of all the different jurors. It was a fun and quick read and I would love a follow up with other characters as the "main" voice! I also appreciate that the book ends with a satisfying finish that tied up loose ends...I hate it when there's still an open ending.

My Rating - 4/5


The Nickel Boys

As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is a high school senior about to start classes at a local college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.” In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors. His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision with repercussions that will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy.

It's kind of hard to give this book a rating for me - it was beautifully written, great story telling and very vivid descriptions. Most parts of the book weren't enjoyable to read..there were a lot of descriptions of abuse and unfair treatment that were really upsetting to read, but that's the exact reason why everyone should read this book. This was life for Black people in the not so distant past (and in some areas is still happening). It's enraging and terrifying to see how unfairly the characters were treated, and had the most heartbreaking ending. I was sobbing by the end and wanted to throw the book across the room.

I had to rate this as 5 stars just because it gave me such a different and clear perspective on what happened during that time and how a simple action can drastically change the life of a kind, smart, good person (just because of the color of his skin). This should be required reading- it's that good.

My Rating - 5/5


Notes from a Young Black Chef

By the time he was twenty-seven, Kwame Onwuachi had competed on Top Chef, cooked at the White House, and opened and closed one of the most talked about restaurants in America. In this memoir, he shares the remarkable story of his culinary coming-of-age. Growing up in the Bronx and Nigeria (where he was sent by his mother to "learn respect"), food was Onwuachi's great love. He launched his own catering company with twenty thousand dollars he made selling candy on the subway, and trained in the kitchens of some of the most acclaimed restaurants in the country.

But the road to success is riddled with potholes. As a young chef, Onwuachi was forced to grapple with just how unwelcoming the world of fine dining can be for people of color, and his first restaurant, the culmination of years of planning, shuttered just months after opening. -Notes from a Young Black Chef is one man's pursuit of his passions, despite the odds.


As a huge fan of Top Chef, reality TV, and a budding chef (at least in my mind), I was so excited to read this book by Kwame Onwuachi, a contestant on Top Chef California. I knew a bit of his past through what he shared on the series, but this book goes deep into that history, holding nothing back, and giving you an amazing story of a person who became a success against all odds.

This is an easy, enjoyable read, filled with vivid story telling and mouthwatering recipes. It was interesting to hear what goes on behind the scenes of restaurants and the Culinary Institute of American, as well as the drama (and sometimes heartbreak) of opening a restaurant. I also loved hearing about Kwame hustling throughout his entire life and turning around from being a drug dealer to a highly respected fine-dining chef.

If I had one criticism- I wish that there were more details about Top Chef! He mentioned it in one chapter, and I wanted MORE! Give us the juicy gossip, the behind-the-scenes looks at competitions, the drama- I want it all. Guessing there are some NDAs, but secretly hoping there will be a second book by Kwame..would read it in a heartbeat!

My Rating - 5/5


Such a Fun Age

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains' toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store's security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix's desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix's past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.


My Rating - 3.5/5


The Vanishing Half

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it's not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it's everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters' storylines intersect?


My Rating - 3.5/5

I'm going to add my reviews about these two books together- I read both of these back to back and had similar experiences with both of them. Both had a lot of hype surrounding them and had fascinating plots and twists. Even the writing styles are similar to me- very conversational, jumping between character's point of views, and easy to read. The only thing that bothered me about both is that the major event in the story happens right away, and the rest of the book deals with the aftermath of that. When I was reading, it was very exciting at first and kind of tailed off for the rest of the book. Both were very enjoyable, but just left me kind of wanting more! As another reviewer of the Vanishing Half said (which kind of sums up my point)- it was just missing that X Factor...which would have taken these from good to great (in my eyes at least).


What did you read this month??
linking up with Show Us Your Books with Steph & Jana

Comments

  1. Ive heard a lot of good things about the vanishing half and its our book club book for September so im stoked to read it.

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    1. I think this is a great book club pick! So many different themes and topics to discuss..hope you enjoy it!

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  2. Always interesting to see the POV of others on the same books - I would never group Such a Fun Age and The Vanishing Half together as similar. I think Bennett is a far better writer (the x factor in The Vanishing Half was the writing for me) and The Vanishing Half a deeper book.

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    Replies
    1. Completely agree with you on that- such a fun age was definitely a lighter book. I think it’s just because I read them back to back that I ended with similar feelings...didn’t want to sound like a broke record with my reviews so I just put them together.

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  3. The Nickel Boys is a phenomenal book, and the fact that it's based on a true story makes it all the more heart-wrenching. And that ending. OMG.

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    1. I know...so incredibly sad to know that this could actually be someone's real story. Heartbreaking.

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  4. I requested The Holdout and Such a Fun Age long ago...still waiting!
    The Vanishing Half sounds good but I felt that way about The Mothers...something about it was missing, so I might just feel that about the author in general. I didn't like the main character in The Mothers.

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    1. I actually am reading The Mothers soonish! I heard it's not as good, but I really liked her writing so I'll give it a try!

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  5. I do want to read Such a Fun Age and The Nickel Boys. I have The Holdout, which I will hopefully be able to read soon. Love a good mystery.

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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  6. The Holdout and Notes from a Young Black Chef both sound interesting to me. I've heard several mentions of Such a Fun Age and The Vanishing Half, but haven't gotten to either of them yet either. Thanks for sharing and enjoy your month!

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