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Books #33

After reading a few duds and quitting on a few books that were just plain terrible, I finally got a groove and read some really, really excellent books. Here are some new ones to add to your list:

1 ) The Wedding Sisters by Jamie Brenner

This might be one of my favorite chick-lit books ever! It had it’s definite moments of ridiculousness, but it was well-written and I was totally engrossed and loved the characters.

Meryl and Hugh have three daughters–Meg, Amy and Jo. Meg is engaged to marry Stowe, who’s father is an up and coming politician. Meg is a political journalist that loves her job. In the middle of planning their wedding, Amy gets engaged to her boyfriend, Andy. Andy is the son of a fashion designer. Then there’s Jo. The youngest daughter, lesbian, who is dumped by the love of her life only to decide to impulsively marry her best friend Toby as an “arrangement” for them both.

How will Meryl and Hugh even afford three weddings? The solution: one wedding for all three daughters. And of course, the press get wind of this and an exclusive with People Magazine just might help pay for the wedding. Except…everyone involved has their own secrets that will eventually come out, as secrets do.

I enjoyed this book so much. I really liked each sister’s story–which is hard to do with several “main” characters. There’s always one character I don’t care much about but this book wasn’t like that.  I felt invested in each sister’s story, I was surprised by the ending (and loved it) and there were definitely some legitimate emotional things in the book.

 

2 )  The Girl Before by JP Delaney

This is an odd book but it was so good! I couldn’t put it down.

The story is told between past and present, Emma’s story and Jane’s story.

Emma and Simon are looking for a new apartment after a horrible break-in. Emma was traumatized and needs to feel safe. They can’t find anything that makes her comfortable in their budget and then their agent tells them about a unique house. It is a one-in-a-kind house built by a famous (or infamous) architect.

The only drawback? There is a list of rules for the house that you cannot deviate from and you have to sign up to participate in survey questions periodically. Emma and Simon each wear an electronic brace that “talks” to the house. It turns on the shower–and the shower remembers what temperature you like in your shower. There are also special settings for the lights according to moods and times of the year (think SAD lights in the winter).

The advanced technology of the house seems intriguing but after moving in, Emma and Simon’s relationship deteriorates and Simon moves out. Edward, the architect, has taken an interest in Emma and they begin an affair similar to 50 Shades of Gray.

Fast forward to present day. Jane is recovering from a horrible tragedy (that might be very triggering for a lot of people) and needs to reset her life. She, too, needs a new place to live and can’t afford anything else…her agent suggests this house. She moves in and discovers that the previous tenant, Emma, died in the house. She becomes obsessed with finding out who killed her and why. At the same time, Jane starts an affair with Edward, too.

Emma and Jane’s lives parallel in a very creepy way. The book is fascinating, frightening and intriguing. I loved the book.

3 ) I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi

Maddy seems like your typical SAHM of a teenage daughter, married to a man who is married to his career. She’s the keeper of the house, the cornerstone of the family. She has friends, a well-off lifestyle. She’s smart and funny and volunteers are the college library and she has pearls of wisdom for every situation.

“Whenever we were around parents who had black-and-white goals for their children, your mother felt sorry for the whole family–the parents because they’d be perpetually disappointed, and the kids because they’d always feel nothing was good enough. She believed there was nothing worse a parent could pass on to a child than guilt. [pg 75]”

So when she commits suicide, the people left behind are confused, heartbroken and struggling to grasp what they missed. It turned out, they missed a lot.

Eve and Brady read parts of Maddy’s journal and realize that they both took her for granted and didn’t cherish her the way they should have–the way they do now that she’s gone.

“Reading the day from her point of view I see she was a punching bag and my dad and I gave her a daily workout. I’m starting to wonder why she didn’t jump sooner. I’m never getting married or having kids. We suck. [pg 103]”

“Well…Mostly I’m mad at her. I think, She did this to me. She left us. She had no right to do something that radical without informing me something was wrong in the first place. [pg 109]”

Even though Maddy is dead, her spirit can’t quite move on. She watches over her husband and daughter and decides that they need someone to help them with their grief and help them move on. She starts “haunting” them (planting thoughts in their minds)–and the woman Maddy thinks is her perfect replacement–she wants Brady and Eve to heal, to rely on each other and not break completely. Except Brady and Eve have no idea how to even have a relationship–or a conversation with each other–without Maddy there as the buffer and leader.

It sounds silly that Maddy is a ghost character in this book, but it doesn’t come across as cheesy. So give it a chance! The story is told from each character’s point of view and you really feel their grief and anger and sadness. It’s well done and real.

” ‘If an hour passes where you don’t think of Her, that’s ok.’ Eve steps back, physically distancing herself from the thought. ‘Really, honey. It can’t be all mourning, all day, every day day. Living doesn’t mean you’re over it or selfish or cold; it just means you’re still here, and she’s not.’ [pg 216]”

The book is emotionally compelling and makes you reevaluate how you treat the people in your own life. What have you missed because you were too busy/preoccupied/selfish to notice? Have you taken for granted what your spouse or parent does for you? Have you thanked them?

Brady remembers an argument with his late wife on her last birthday:

” ‘When I blew out the candles tonight, I wished for my next birthday to not feel like such a goddamn chore to my immediate family. I would’ve rather been alone. Again.’ [pg 184]”

“…you don’t realize it until it’s too late. Maddy, Eve, my mother–the carousel of women I’ve disappointed. It’s as if I’m running because they’re chasing me. [pg 155]”

If I could give this book a million stars, I would. I absolutely loved the characters and the way the story unfolded. I was glad the ending happened the way it did.

 

4 ) This Was Not the Plan by Cristina Alger

I really liked this book. It was emotional and gut-wrenching at times, but also funny and heart-warming. Charlie’s life has not gone quite as planned. His wife, the love of his life, died and now he is trying to balance raising their 5 years old son alone (with the help of his sister) and working insane hours as a lawyer. It’s a tough spot to be in. He is trying to make partner, but at the same time, he’s missing everything about his son’s life.

Then at an office party when Charlie has a bit too much to drink after staying up for 72 hours working on a big case, he makes a speech that goes viral and he loses his job. Except, that might turn out to be the best thing for him. Maybe he can reconnect with his child, learn how to be a father, reconnect with his own estranged father and figure out how to balance his life and work.

I liked the characters and the story. The one flaw of the book was probably that Charlie wasn’t very likable. He was a burned out, stressed out, grieving man who was incredibly selfish (at all times) and apparently had a temper issue and took it out on the people around him. But….that being said, it was still a good story.

5 ) A Gathering of Secrets (Kate Burkholder #10) by Linda Castillo

This is the latest book in the series. It starts with a barn that burns down. Chief Kate Burkholder goes to investigate and they discover that an Amish teenager was burned alive inside the barn. But the more she digs into the homicide, she realizes that the teen was not who he seemed.

What I like about these books is that the author describes the Amish culture and how they interact with the “English” culture. The dynamics are a very interesting addition to a typical mystery book. This story was a page-turner but there was some description of sexual assault, so it might not be for everyone.

 

6 ) This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

I REALLY enjoyed this book. I thought the writing was funny and witty and dark. I laughed many times, even though the subject matter was pretty heavy. Here is an example of some of the humor:

“…but Wendy doesn’t seem at all inclined to go upstairs and quiet the baby. ‘We’re Letting Her Cry,’ she announces, like it’s a movement they’ve joined. If they’re letting her cry anyway, I don’t really see the point of the baby monitor, but that’s one of those questions I’ve learned not to ask, because I’ll just get that condescending look all parents reserve for non-parents, to remind you that you’re not yet a complete person. [pg 46]”

The book is full of little quips like that. This is a story about family dramas, family dynamics, death and love.

“At some point you lose sight of your actual parents; you just see a basketful of history and unresolved issues. [pg 42]”

Judd Foxman’s father, Mort, has died after a long illness.

“Childhood feels so permanent, like it’s the entire world, and then one day it’s over and you’re shoveling wet dirt onto your father’s coffin, stunned at the impermanence of everything. [pg 42]”

Judd returns home to sit Shiva with the whole family: the oldest sister Wendy (and her two toddlers and baby and worthless husband), his older brother Paul and her wife (who are struggling to get pregnant), and his flaky younger brother Phillip (with his fiancee who is a good 20 years older than him) all arrive to sit shiva with their mother for a week.

Except, at the same time as the family tragedy, Judd has his own tragedy: he walks in on his wife sleeping with HIS boss! So in one fell-swoop, he loses his wife and his job. His life is in disarray and now he’s spending a week with his family.

“Sometimes, contentment is a matter of will. You have to look at what you have right in front of you, at what it could be, and stop measuring it against what you’ve lost. I know this to be wise and true, just as I know that pretty much no one can do it. [pg 293]”

But despite the sadness and drama, this is also a story about grief, appreciating family, and finding a way to heal.

” ‘Why didn’t I miss him more when he was alive? He was dying for two years, and I only visited him a handful of times. What could have been more important than spending time with your father?’ [pg 304]”

It’s an often emotional book, but it’s written really well and I think most people could find something they relate to in it.

7 ) Lost Girls (D.I. Kim Stone #3) by Angela Marsons

Excellent excellent detective novel! This was such a good book, I could not stop reading it. This is the third book in the British series and Detective Inspector Kim Stone is still rough around the edges, and this particular case is close to sending her over the edge.

Two 10 year old girls, best friends, have been kidnapped and ransomed. Except that the kidnappers have texted the parents and said only one girl will return–the other will die. So who is the highest bidder for their daughter to be the one to live?

Kim’s team immediately takes action to find the girls. Especially considering 13 months ago, this happened before and only one girl was returned. They cannot let that happen again. There are twists and turns and lies and betrayals…and the team pursues the kidnappers with a vengeance.

The book just does not stop. There is never a good point to put it down, you want to finish this one in one sitting!

8 ) The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor

Very well done, creepy mystery book!

This book takes place in 1986 and 2016 in a small English town. It has a very cool vibe to it, kind of made me think of Stand By Me. There is definitely a nostalgic feel to the book and you really feel like you are back in time.

It’s the summertime and five friends: Eddie, Mickey, “Fat Gav”, Nicky and “Hoppo” are 12 years old and best friends just riding their bikes and dealing with bullies. They create a secret code to talk to each other, each kid designated a chalk color, and they write each other messages and clues as to where to meet up. Then one afternoon the chalk messages lead them into the woods where they find a dismembered body.

The story alternates to 2016, where Eddie is now an adult and a teacher in the same town and he’s trying to figure out if something was missed back in 1986. Then a letter arrives with a chalk drawing and Mickey is back in town and desperately needs to meet up with Eddie to talk about what happened. What does it all mean?

There are so many layers to this story, it’s fascinating how it all unravels. I did not see any of it coming. What I thought I had figured out was wrong. The ending was quite a surprise. Excellent book!

 

Happy Reading!

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Books #23

My goal for 2018 is to read 110 books! Here is the first post of 2018:

1 ) Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

I was a little conflicted about whether or not to include this book in my reviews because for the first 40% of the book I was SO INCREDIBLY annoyed. “SOMETHING” happened at a BBQ. Something tragic, something horrific…and the first 40% of the book was alluding to that and it was so annoying, too drawn out, and I kept thinking “GET TO IT ALREADY!”

And then…? The incident was revealed and the way the rest of the story was told, from each person’s different point of view, was really really well-written. It was gripping and good and there were a few shockers at the very end of the book. So if you can get over the first part, it’s an excellent read!

2 ) Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

This was a very interesting book. Ava and Zelda are identical twin sisters. Two years before, there was some betrayal and a lot of family stress with their mother’s diagnosis of a degenerative disease, and Ava fled to Paris to avoid it all. Then Ava gets word that her sister has died in a fire at the family’s vineyard. She travels home to get the family affairs in order and plan the funeral.

But is Zelda really dead? Or is it a trick? Ava begins getting clues from Zelda that make her think she’s still alive and planned her own “death”, possibly for the insurance?

The book is very well-written and focuses on character development. The characters are all so real and written very well. The topic of alcoholism is also very real and well-written.

3 ) Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a memoir but it was more a reflection on aging, motherhood, marriage and feminism.

“Time passed, almost imperceptibly. First we were so young and then we were so busy and then one day we awoke to discover that we were an age we once thought of as old. [loc 65]”

The common theme throughout the book was aging and how to do it gracefully. The author reflects on her own life, the death of her mother when she was only 19 and how that changed her outlook on life and motherhood when she had her own kids.

“I would tell my twenty-two-year-old self that what lasts are things so ordinary she may not even see them: family dinners, fair fights, phone calls, friends. But of course the young woman I once was cannot hear me, not just because of time and space but because of the language, and the lessons, she has yet to learn. It’s a miracle: somehow over time she learned them all just the same, by trial and error. [pg 4]”

She did write about marriage but nothing too specific about her own marriage. That wasn’t really what the focus was. I did like this quote a lot and I think it’s a good way to sum up a good marriage:

“I was never one of those women who tell you that their spouse is their best friend, that they’re always on the same page. I feel like you’re ahead of the game if you’re even in the same book. [pg 18]”

She also talked about friendships and how crucial they are at different stages of your life. It made me think about my own relationships and friendships that have withstood the challenge of time and changing lives. Having kids was the biggest “tell” for me. It’s weird how your friendships often change when you have a baby.

“As we grow older we weed out our friendship circles the way we do our closets. Most women have a story about the friend who truly wasn’t, whose calls and visits left her feeling dreadful, the friend who dined out on other women’s shortcomings and mistakes. [pg 32]”

“We trust our friends to tell us what we need to know, and to shield us from what we don’t need to discover, and to have the wisdom to know the difference. Real friends offer both hard truths and soft landings and realize that it’s sometimes more important to be nice than to be honest…They are savvy enough to understand that there are friendships worth fighting for. And sometimes, of course, there are those that are not. Over the course of our lives friends fall away, sometimes because they were never really more than friendly acquaintances…There were friends we lost when we had children and they did not…[pg 32]”

I really liked her take on motherhood, too:

“There comes that moment when we give our children custody of their own selves or blight their lives forever, when we understand that being a parent is not transactional, the we do not get what we give. It is the ultimate pay-it-forward endeavor: we are good parents not so they will be loving enough to stay with us but so they will be strong enough to leave us. [pg 117]”

Those are just a few of my favorite quotes from the book. I read it in about three days and enjoyed most of it. Sometimes there were some run-on sentences that rambled a little bit and could use some editing…but overall I liked it a lot!

4 ) This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel

“Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan.”

What a beautiful story! Rosie, an ER doctor and Penn, a writer, have 4 boys. She gets pregnant a fifth time and they are secretly hoping they have a girl but…nope. Another boy! Except as Claude grows up, they realize he is very different. At only three years old, he says he’s a girl.

They are all very open-minded, despite living in rural Wisconsin. They allow Claude to dress as a girl. But once he becomes a little bit older and goes to kindergarten, they start to feel the societal pressures. School doesn’t understand and is not tolerant, and basically forces them to make Claude dress as a boy.

“I’ve lived life. I know what’s important. I’ve seen it all by now. You think he’s the first boy I ever saw in a bikini? He’s not. You think your generation invented kids who are different?”

“Claude wore his bikini because Penn found he could not say to his son, ‘The suit you love is okay at home but not in public,’ because Rosie would not say, ‘We’re proud of you in private but ashamed of you at the pool. [pg 46]”

Claude is miserable and depressed. And only a few years old. It’s heartbreaking for all involved. Then Rosie treats a trans-gendered patient in the ER who was beaten almost to death at a frat party.

” ‘Everyone loves you for who you are.’ “

“‘No one but you,’ said Claude. ‘No one but us. We are the only ones.’ [pg 58]”

Rosie decides it’s time to leave. They move to Seattle, a liberal, open-minded area where Claude can become Poppy.

“Maybe parents just wanted their kids to invite Poppy over so they could gossip to their own friends or make a big show of being open-minded and tolerant. Maybe the kids wanted to play with Poppy because they were curious about him rather than because they liked him. [pg 98]”

Except Rosie is still terrified that something horrible will happen to her child. So they don’t tell anyone that Poppy used to be Claude. The story goes from there. Poppy lives as a girl, has girl friends, no one knows the difference except for family.

“Just being yourself never worked, but if you made yourself up, you got to be exactly who you knew yourself to be. [pg 285]”

The book is an emotional, beautiful, heart-breaking and heart-warming read. While the book does address bigotry and trans-phobia, it’s not your typical book where something horrific and homophobic happens. It’s really more about navigating the trans-gendered world as parents, what’s right, what’s wrong, how they decide what to do during puberty, etc.

I highly recommend this book!

 

5 ) The Wake Up by Catherine Ryan Hyde

This is the newest Catherine Ryan Hyde book. Aiden is a cattle rancher who gets a “wake up” on a hunting trip. All of a sudden he can feel the emotions (the fear, the terror, the pain) of all animals. It definitely throws a wrench in his career as a rancher and breeder, and alienates him from his ranch hands and the community. His girlfriend breaks up with him. He’s feeling very sensitive about his new ability to sense animal’s emotions.

Gwen is new to town with her two pre-teen kids. She left an abusive marriage and is trying to rebuild her life. She meets Aiden and they fall in love. The problem is that her son, Milo, has some very serious mental/emotional issues due to the abuse he suffered from his father.

“You hope wildly. And, as a result, having a child tends to mean getting your heart broken on a regular basis. It takes courage to hope for something you know you might not get. But the alternative is not to believe in your child or hope for great things for him. [pg 236]”

Milo is showing some not-so-kind behaviors towards animals and with Aiden’s new ability to sense pain in animals, this is particularly difficult!

“But people come into our lives and point things out to us for a reason. [pg 34]”

The story is about relationships and about healing, for both Aiden and Milo. It’s also about family, (sort of) about alcoholism recovery and step-parenting.

“It’s easier to see the big picture when you’re standing a few steps outside it. [pg 198]”

“Human nature. After something works out, we forget the frustration of the steps we took in getting there. [pg 316]”

It’s a really, really lovely read. It was a fast read, I read it in about two days. There were a lot of layers in the book and kept you thinking about things long after you were done reading. I will end the review with the best quote from the book:

“He would say, ‘Are you doing what your heart says to do?’ [pg 317]”

Excellent advice.

HAPPY READING!

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