ARC Review: Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

Available August 28, 2018

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Ellis Reed wants to be a true journalist. He doesn’t count the work he does working for the Society pages as real reporting. He’s biding his time, but in 1931 he’s also not going to complain about having a job–any job–either. Besides, one of the perks of the job is using the newspaper’s camera to take photographs of the things that really speak to him, like the little boys holding a sign declaring that they’re for sale.

Lilly Palmer has enough going on in her life. She has a secret son, a job working for the most demanding newspaper chief in Philadelphia, and a long-term plan that requires her to keep her head down and her nose to the grindstone. But when she stumbles across Mr. Reed’s photo in the darkroom, she can’t shake the feeling that the world needs to see it. She turns it into the chief on a whim.

Ellis is thrilled for the chance to write his first feature story. However, the photo is the catalyst for a journey that neither he or Lilly could have predicted. In the world of prohibition and mafiosos, even an innocent photograph can be dangerous–for the kids in the picture most of all.

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When I first opened this book, I had reservations. It started with a prologue that largely told me where the book was going. The prologue was in first person, but the rest of the book was in third person. I knew I had to finish because, quite frankly, I had committed to finishing it for the purposes of a review. So I bargained with myself. If I could read just a quarter of the book at a time, I could knock it out quickly without needing to force myself through long stretches. I read pretty fast, after all.

I ended up finishing the whole thing in a single sitting. Before I ever got to the twenty-five percent mark, I was enthralled.

The book moves. The pacing and tension pulled me along so that I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened next with each scene, but I didn’t feel emotionally worn out from it.

The characters were gorgeously flawed. While I rolled my eyes as the description of each of the main characters as essentially being mainstream beautiful, their characterizations were more interesting to me. Ellis isn’t just a reporter desperate for a story, he’s desperate to succeed because he has a chip on his shoulder and deep-rooted family issues. He has to prove his father wrong about him. He makes bad decisions based on past hurts and good decisions based on a sense of basic decency.

Lilly’s character is a great commentary on the way we treat single mothers in this country. She has a child from a failed relationship who lives with her parents and she has to visit on the weekends because she can’t work and care for her child at the same time. She hides her son from her coworkers because there is a stigma against being an unwed mother. She hides him from her boss because he doesn’t want to have employees who will be unreliable because of “family issues”. She desperately wants to make enough money to change her situation so her son can live with her full-time, but it is a struggle. Her decisions are based on intuition and instinct related to her experience as a single mother.

There are some parts of the plot that can seem a bit outlandish, but set in the days of Prohibition and the Great Depression when organized crime was in its heyday, there is also just enough plausibility to keep you hooked.

On the other side of the coin, there are some areas where the book didn’t score as highly with me. There is one POC character. She’s in two scenes. If I’m going to correct Regency writers, I’m going to do it to Prohibition writers too. There were a lot of missed opportunities to incorporate POC characters.

It also doesn’t portray mental illness in the best way. And that’s putting it mildly. If you are neurodivergent, just be aware that this may not be the best book for you.

Also, there is a scene where one of the main characters kisses someone while in a very serious relationship with someone else. That’s because the “someone else” is more of a plot device than a real character. The same can be said for Lilly’s son. You only meet him a few times and he’s more of a plot device than a character. So while the main characters are well developed, some of the lesser characters get a bit glossed over.

There are sprinkled in facts and descriptions to remind me of the 1930s setting, but the downside of this is that I needed to be reminded. To be truthful, I can’t put my finger on exactly why I wasn’t grounded in the time period setting, but I wasn’t. Your mileage may vary.

In the end, I liked the book both in spite of its flaws and because of its characters. I rooted for them even when I didn’t like what they were doing. So if Prohibition era fiction that features mobsters, corruption, mystery, and just a hint of romance sounds like your type of book, you’ll love this. It’s flawed but interesting.

ARC Review: Unanchored by Stephanie Eding

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in advance of its publication date in exchange for an honest review. It debuts next week.

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Cecily Hastings is a Welsh slave to the man her own parents sold her off to in exchange for food. She doesn’t remember what it’s like to be free, but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t crave it. She fears only two things in her pursuit of freedom, the beatings her master hands out at will and the Blood Pirate, the man who burned her village and killed her mistress years ago.

When her master gets drunk and swindled at the gambling tables, Cecily ends up being the payment. She is finally away from her master, but she’s not free. She’s been sold to none other than the Blood Pirate himself. Her worst fear has been realized.

But something doesn’t add up. The pirate who holds her captive treats her better than her master ever did. And she sees him freeing other slaves from around the British Isles as well. How could the man who burned her village and killed her mistress in cold blood be the man who buys her hair ribbons and protects her from harm?

When the British Royal Navy hot on their tails, Cecily has to make a choice. She can go with the soldiers and let them escort her back to her old master and let the fearsome pirate hang for his crimes, or she can grasp the only kind of freedom life has ever offered her and become the thing she hates most–a pirate.

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This book reads as a young YA, in my opinion, but I thought it was fun and adorable. The underlying message of things not always being what they seem is felt over and over again. Sometimes bad guys look like good guys. Sometimes freedom doesn’t look like what you think it will.

It does romanticize piracy a bit, but it does so to make a point and has some fun with it in the process. The biggest drawback to the story is a general lack of diversity. All the characters more or less look the same and most of them blend into the background a little too easily. If you’re going to argue with me about Finnish and Welsh pirates being pretty monochromatic during the general era in question, I’m going to redirect you to the blog Writing with Color that had already addressed the subject (spoiler alert: Europe wasn’t ever actually lily white). 

On the plus side, the book has a clean romance arc and so is great for those teens (or any other age) who want an escapist tale without graphic sex scenes. The main character is a teenager, but her general naivete can sometimes make her seem younger, especially for a girl who has spent most of her life as a slave. In some cases she talks like she has seen things, in others, she seems oblivious. But I think this might suit some younger readers, especially those just crossing over to the YA market from MG, who want to read an older teen protagonist, but aren’t ready for some of the heavier scenes that often entails.

There are references to God and prayer in the book. It is sporadic, and I don’t think it is done in such a way as to be offensive to non-Christians. However, as a Christian myself, I admit that I may have a skewed view of that, since I like the way it was handled.

In the end, I would absolutely recommend this to a tween or younger teen reader (or anyone else who likes fiction for that age market) who likes pirate books and innocent romantic arcs. To be honest, I’d probably read it again myself as a beach read over vacation if my TBR pile didn’t mock me daily. Your mileage may vary.

ARC Review: Girlish by Lara Lillibridge

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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in advance of its publication date in exchange for an honest review. It debuts April 3rd and is available for pre-order.

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction. Reading is my escape and I like to stay on the fiction side of the aisle the majority of the time. However, every now and then something will catch my eye that has me putting down the make-believe in exchange for the real. Truth, after all, is sometimes stranger–and often funnier–than fiction.

I wasn’t sure about this particular book at first. On the surface, it didn’t look like I could relate to it. I didn’t grow up with lesbian parents. I’m younger than the author and our childhood references differ. I’m not from New York. We have seemingly nothing in common. However, a friend of mine suggested I read it because she couldn’t put it down.

So I decided to request it through NetGalley. I have an account there and have gotten a few ARCs (advanced reader copies) of books that are coming out soon so I can provide honest reviews to be available for potential readers by the date of publication. Seriously, after getting the copy of the book, I have no contact with the person sending it. There is zero pressure for me to love a book or to lie about loving it.

By the middle of the next day, I received my ebook copy of Girlish. The author is a name I have seen on Twitter and we were both interviewed for the Winterviews series on K.J. Harrowick’s site, though I have not ever actually met her. Still, I felt the slightest trepidation as I opened her life story. What if I hated it? How would I ever tell this poor woman that I couldn’t even finish her book?

For the record, that’s not a problem. She is so raw and real that I laughed, I cried, I cringed. The author tells the story in third person to give herself a bit of distance from it. I don’t blame her for a minute. I said before that from the outside looking in, I have nothing in common with this author, but as I read through her life story, I found myself nodding along with her feelings. Her struggles. Her heartbreak.

There were chapters that I could not stop reading, much to the detriment of my sleep schedule. There were chapters that I had to put down because I could not handle them and needed some distance myself (Be prepared for this, there are a few scenes that could be triggering). The book is an emotional rollercoaster. She doesn’t leave anything out. Even the ugly, hard stuff. She is so open about her experiences that you feel connected to her from the beginning.

It is a beautiful and also heart-wrenching account of a real person’s life. To me, it is proof that we are all more than the labels life hands us. Lara Lillibridge is labeled the daughter of lesbian parents, but that’s not all of who and what she is. Yes, it had some bearing on her experience, but it was not the sum and whole. Her parents are lesbians, yes, but there is more to each of them than that identifier.

And she is honest about the times in her life when she went through phases of being anti-lesbian because of what she went through. She admits the problematic thoughts she had at the time and that it took a few months, or sometimes years, to see things in a different light. She was, after all, a child trying to sort out who she was in life.

It is both painful and hilarious, but most of all it’s honest. She’s not perfect. Her parents weren’t perfect. Her childhood was messed up, but that seems to have less to do with her parents being lesbians than it does with the other factors in her life.

I would recommend this book to others with the caveat that there are some moments that can be triggering. I don’t want to set anyone off here, so if you need more information, head over the Contact Me page and send me a message. Otherwise, you can pre-order Girlish today or you can wait until April 3rd when it officially hits the market.