American Spy

American Spy

By Lauren Wilkinson

3 / 5 ⭐


Photo taken with Focos
Photo by Subakka.bookstuff

Marie Mitchell is an FBI intelligence officer. She is a smart, young, black woman, and she keeps getting passed over on the job. Finally, she is called up for a task force set on overthrowing the Communist president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara. Marie is to go in and get as close to Sankara as possible. And get close she does! 

🕵 Personally, Marie is struggling. She struggles with the fact that she applauds some of the work Sankara is doing for his country, even though he’s seen as a revolutionary. Now that she’s out in the field, she feels like she’s working in her dead sister’s shadow. Marie wonders why exactly she was given this job: her talent, who she knew, or just her appearance. As the events unfold, she even begins to question her boss’s true intentions of staging this coup. 

🕵 I just didn’t connect with this one. It has good elements: a female spy, family drama, politics, and even a little romance. Yet, I found the writing to be a little dry, and the pace a little slow. Being an espionage novel, I needed a little more spice and intrigue.


**Full disclosure: I skimmed over a lot of this book, especially in the middle. So in all fairness, I may not be giving this book the due credit it deserves.

Under the Dust Cover

Under the Dust Cover

Photo taken with Focos
Photo by Subakka.bookstuff

There is just something about a hardcover book. It has class and prestige. And it sure looks great sitting on a bookshelf or stacked on a coffee table.

I recently participated in a #barebookstack challenge on Instagram where we were encouraged to strip off the dust covers of our hardcover books and take a peek underneath.

The dust cover, or dust jacket, has been around since the 1800s. Although, some book historians say there are records that date farther back.  In the printing industry, it became the practice to use a dust cover because books were not printed with a formal hard binding. Then, as the hard binding became the custom, the dust cover was used as almost a gift wrapping in the store. Once the book was purchased, the dust cover was discarded. ¹

Today, the dust cover is used as a billboard, shall we say. It has artwork and images to capture a potential reader’s eye, as well as, a brief synopsis of the book. Maybe even blurbs from other authors or book reviews giving it high marks.

Let’s return to the challenge mentioned above, what if we remove the dust cover. All the eye-popping art and accolades from others are stripped away. We find the bare binding. Some of the colors, although usually muted and dark, are beautiful. The title and author’s name are many times printed in a gorgeous script or bold lettering, even with gold or silver inlay.

I like to thrift shop for books, and I admit, many times when I see a hardcover book without its dust cover I tend to pass it over. Why? I’m not sure,  maybe because I’ve been trained to think of it as damaged goods. This challenge has helped me to see the beauty of a book in its bare and natural state.

Question: When you read a hardcover book, do you remove the dust cover? Do you keep your dust covers?

¹ Taken from the Wikipedia page on Dust jackets

Miracle Creek



Miracle Creek

 Angie Kim

4 / 5 ⭐


“ᴛʜᴀᴛ ᴡᴀs ᴛʜᴇ ᴛʜɪɴɢ ᴀʙᴏᴜᴛ ʟɪᴇs, ᴛʜᴇʏ ᴅᴇᴍᴀɴᴅᴇᴅ ᴄᴏᴍᴍɪᴛᴍᴇɴᴛ.”

Photo taken with Focos
Photo by Subakka.bookstuff

 ✦ A terrible explosion and fire occur at Miracle Submarine, an experimental hyperbaric oxygen therapy center owned by a Korean immigrant family. A child and woman are killed, and others are maimed and injured. Investigators concluded that the fire was intentionally set near the oxygen tanks. Who would do such an act of violence to those seeking medical treatment for their children with special needs such as autism or cerebral palsy?

✦ Elizabeth Ward, the mother of Henry, the boy fatally burned in the explosion, is arrested and put on trial. What ensues is a courtroom drama. The battle centers on whether a mother went too far. Was she trying to make her child “normal” by willingly submitting her child to questionable treatments, even verging on abusive? And then, when Henry didn’t meet her standard, did she want him dead? 

✦ But as the story progresses, we discover others may have had the motive and the means for lighting the match that day. In fact, everyone is lying.

✦ Angie Kim does a wonderful job playing out this mystery. Between the courtroom scenes, we hear from several characters on where they were the days leading up to the explosion, and the tangled web of lies they spin around the fire at Miracle Submarine.

✦ I loved the writing in this book and I enjoyed how there were real-life issues at hand. The discussion of experimental and possible extreme treatments for children with special medical needs is a tough topic to debate, especially if you don’t have to live that life. The courtroom battle was very well done. I was constantly second-guessing who had committed the crime. What kept it from being a five star read for me was the pace. At times it began to slow, as the characters revisited the same topics and events. 

✦ Overall, Miracle Creek is a wonderful mystery with developed characters and the heartbreaking consequences of lies and deceit.


The Thing About Jellyfish

The Thing About Jellyfish

By Ali Benjamin

4 / 5 ⭐️

“𝐀 𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐬𝐨𝐧 𝐜𝐚𝐧 𝐛𝐞𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐞 𝐢𝐧𝐯𝐢𝐬𝐢𝐛𝐥𝐞 𝐬𝐢𝐦𝐩𝐥𝐲 𝐛𝐲 𝐬𝐭𝐚𝐲𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐪𝐮𝐢𝐞𝐭.”

Photo by Subakka.bookstuff

I don’t know about you, but lately the middle-school and YA books are the ones messing with my emotions. The Thing About Jellyfish is no exception as it delves deep into the mind of a young girl dealing with the death of her friend. Ali Benjamin’s writing is beautiful; she takes a friendship, and then portrays the heartbreak within it, both in life and death.

Twelve year old Suzy Swanson, or Zu as her mom calls her, is not talking at all. She stopped talking the day she found out that her friend Franny Jackson had drowned in the ocean. Suzy doesn’t know how to process the fact that Franny is gone. That “sometimes things just happen,” as her mom told her. So Suzy stopped talking, stopped filling up the world with dumb words, “dumb words that sometimes end friendships forever.” Because the truth is Suzy had already lost Franny as a friend.

This book does such a wonderful job navigating through the mirthful, but sometimes messy, muddle of childhood friendship. Suzy takes us back through her friendship with Franny and we see just how unkind those middle-school years can be, especially to a girl who sees the world a little differently.


Photo by Subakka.bookstuff


After Franny’s death, Suzy is haunted by the last thing she did to her friend. Determined to find out what really happened to Franny, Suzy becomes fixated on jellyfish and their stings. Her scientific research may not bring Franny back, but it may help Suzy find the words to say goodbye.


Happy International Literacy Day

International Literacy Day

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” — Frederick Douglass

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” – Margaret Fuller

“If you are going to get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books.” – Roald Dahl

Photo taken with Focos
Photo by Subakka.bookstuff

In celebration of International Literacy Day, I thought I’d share a few books that had a huge impact on me as a young reader. I loved books that told stories of animals and their escapades, especially ones that made them out to be heroes and true companions.

In elementary school, my favorite period was library hour. Many times the Librarian would read us a new book, or as we got older it was a free hour of reading time. Each week I checked out the maximum number of books allowed, stuffing my backpack full of new adventures and friends.

I’ve never lost my love for reading and that need for the next book, in fact, I think it has grown. My home has always been filled with books. And when I had kids of my own, teaching them to read and reading with them was truly the icing on the cake.

The ability to read opens up the world to a child, allowing them to experience different places, cultures, and people. With strong themes such as friendship, grief, belonging, and family, books can help a child realize they aren’t alone. Every child should have the opportunity to learn to read with easy access to books. Let’s make literacy a priority in our communities today.

What was your favorite childhood book? 

The Woman in the Window

The Woman in the Window

By A.J. Finn

3.5 ⭐


I’m wrestling with this review. The movie for this book is set to be released in May of 2020 and the book itself was an instant bestseller. So I should be on the bandwagon for it, right? It seems that this is one of those stories people either love or they just don’t care for it. I’m falling somewhere in the middle. 

📷 It’s the case of the unreliable narrator that’s giving me the mehs. Anna Fox is an agoraphobic child psychologist. She hasn’t left her home in over ten months. Overmedicated and consuming wine like its water, she spends her days watching her neighbors through the lens of a camera. (Yeah, she’s a creeper). Anna also chats with fellow agoraphobes on a website called Agora; her username is 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐝𝐨𝐜𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐢𝐬𝐢𝐧.

📷 New neighbors move in across the street from Anna and as Anna is scoping them out, a woman waves at her through her viewfinder. Before she knows it, this woman, “Jane,” is in her home befriending her.  Days later, Anna believes she has witnessed Jane’s murder. Anna tries to reach out to Jane’s son, who appears to be frightened himself. Anna seeks help in her shady tenant who is living in her basement. She even reaches out to the police, but of course no one believes her. Surprise, they all think she’s crazy and a drunk. To make matters worse for Anna, there is a new woman in the neighbor’s house claiming to be Jane.


Photo by Subakka.bookstuff


📷 The overall plot of the murder is good. There are a few twists to it and you are never sure who to trust, certainly Anna is always questionable. I did like Anna’s character as a whole, some of her inner dialogue is actually humorous. It’s just the trope of “I saw something, but no one believes me because I’m on pills and I drink too much,” is kind of old hat for me. It causes the story to drag a bit. Due to the fact that Anna has so much running inner dialogue, I’ll be very interested to see how they portray this in the movie.

Twenty-one Truths About Love

Twenty-one Truths About Love

By Matthew Dicks

3.5 / 5 ⭐

Photo taken with Focos
Photo by Subakk.bookstuff

This book caught my attention when I discovered it was written entirely in the form of lists. At first I thought – so how does that make a story? I just didn’t see how a book full of lists would allow for an engaging and fulfilling read. But when I entered into Daniel Mayrock’s world and his compulsion for making lists about anything and everything, I was pleasantly surprised.

Through lists such as:

  • Shopping List
  • Texts from Jill
  • 5 Problems with lying
  • Facts about marriage
  • Proof I’m stupid
  • Ways to keep Jill from getting pregnant
  • Reasons I opened a bookstore
  • 15 Truths about Peter
  • Dinner with Mom

I learned all about Dan, his marriage and all his insecurities.

Dan is a teacher but quits the security of his job to open a bookstore called A New Chapter. Things aren’t going so well for Dan. Now he stresses over finances, and he still competes with Jill’s first husband, Peter, who is dead. Jill wants to get pregnant, but Dan is worried. See, his dad wasn’t around for him so what kind of father will he be? And he hasn’t told Jill about their financial woes. 

Even though Dan is insecure and doesn’t always make the best decisions, he will do just about anything for the family he loves. But first he must make a list of pros and cons.

Honestly, this isn’t the type of format I would choose to read, but it did work. Some of his lists were just silly, like “places I urinated today,” but others truly made me LOL. As the story unfolded, I was utterly amazed at how invested I was. I needed to know how this turned out. Would Jill and the baby be okay? Is Dan going to pull off his crazy idea to bring in some money?

And for me the best part was the lists of books. Dan owns a bookstore and he loves books. Therefore, he makes lists about books to read, what not to read, and things said by bookish people. One of my favorite comments was: “It’s hard to hate a person with a book in their hand.”

Thank you to @netgalley and @stmartinspress for this ARC for review.

Publish Date: 11/19/19