Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Nikki dropped out of law school and fell into bartending but she knows something is missing from her life. She needs to do something to make a difference. So she decides to give back to the Sikh community she has distanced herself from since her youth and teach a creative writing course to women. Her first day in the classroom she is surprised that most of the widows in attendance can’t speak much if any English and can’t write in any language and are expecting Nikki to teach them. Completely thrown by the change in the course she leaves the classroom to talk to the administrator and when she returns she hears the women giggling. The one widow who can read English is reading and translating an erotic story from a book Nikki purchased as a joke for her sister and left with the pile of books on her desk. Nikki is horrified yet the widows are thrilled. They would love to tell stories like this -- they can be creative and share their stories and work on their writing all at the same time! But they all know that the traditional Sikh community may frown upon a class of this nature, but how do you keep something that fun quiet?

This book flew under my radar until I was listening to a webinar with the publisher who couldn’t say enough wonderful things about it and members of the audience chimed in about it as well. I loved the glimpse into the culture of these women living in Great Britain yet holding onto their traditions. Women’s rights becomes a focus of the book as does the marginalization of widows; and these widows will not be marginalized any longer! There are very serious themes here and a mystery that ties the story together but overall the tone is light and there is quite a bit of humor. Be forewarned there really are erotic short stories interspersed throughout the text. (And they are quite steamy!)

I found myself with a free rainy evening and read half the book in a single sitting. If you want to learn about a culture, watch women take control of their lives, and just enjoy a good read you’ll want to add this one to your list.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I have a rule to avoid any book Oprah endorses. It’s not that they aren’t good books, it’s that they are usually horribly depressing and make me want to cry. But when your book club picks one it’s hard to say no and overall I’m glad I read this one.

Cora is persuaded to leave the plantation she was born on in Georgia by Caesar. He feels she is good luck because her mother escaped years before and was never caught and returned by the slave catchers. Cora doesn’t want to chance it, she doesn’t feel lucky, but an incident gives her the strength to try to escape. The two find passage on the Underground Railroad to South Carolina and it is there that Cora’s journey to freedom begins.

I loved that the author altered history and made the underground railroad an actual railroad with underground stations, spurs, lines, schedules and locomotives. I remember as I kid thinking that is what it actually was and I’m sure other schoolchildren made the same initial mistake. Whisking Cora from one state to another swiftly on the railroad made the narrative really move and by her moving to so many states the attitudes of each state were able to be brought into the narrative. It was the differences between each state that really made the book riveting for me, the atrocities were awful and very hard to read, but the imagination the author brought to the tolerance of each state was interesting and showed the compassion of the station masters as well as the resourcefulness (and luck) within Cora.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Lost Woman by Sara Blaedel

The Lost Woman by Sara Blaedel

Detective Louise Rick is happy with her life. Her adopted son is doing well at boarding school and her boyfriend, Eik, and his dog, Charlie, have basically moved into her place. The only issue is her boyfriend is also her partner so they know one of them will need to switch divisions and since she’s only been in missing persons a couple of years she knows she’ll be the one to move. But that is a thought for another day, Eik has tickets to a concert for her and friends that night and she’s looking forward to the outing. But then she looks out the window of her shared office. Eik went for cigarettes a long while ago, why is Charlie still tied up outside the convenience store in the frigid Danish winter? Where did Eik go? Is the missing persons detective actually missing?

This is the setup for the book. Eik’s disappearance ties into a missing person case from years ago with direct ties to Eik and it once again consumes his life and in turn Louise’s as well. Usually this series tends to focus on the police procedural part of the narrative, but this time it is more a character driven novel delving into the ethics of assisted suicide which gets tied into the plot early on. The reader gets Louise’s point of view and we can understand the hurt she feels and the frustration as she discovers secrets about Eik’s past and the reasons for his actions in the present. Those that don’t want their mystery to take a backseat may not enjoy this entry in the series as much as past books, but I found a lot to like here.

A good choice on audio, it’s also available on Playaway, especially for the pronunciation of the Danish names and locations!

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

Three women all receive an identical text -- “I need you” -- and they drop everything to reunite at the home of childhood friend who sent the urgent text. 

Seventeen years ago these four women, girls at the time, were all residents of a subpar boarding school on England’s southern coast. Kate was, and still is, the local. She could walk home to the mill, with or without permission, to see her half-brother and her father who also taught at the school; often taking her three best friends along. Thea had been thrown out of other boarding schools and Salten House was practically a last resort. Fatima’s parents were going to Pakistan to give back through Doctors Without Borders and felt their daughter should continue her education in England. And the narrator, Isa, is sent away by her father who is overwhelmed with his job and caring for her dying mother. Seventeen years ago these four girls were expelled and sent home (for reasons unknown to the reader) but they created a strong bond of friendship. But something else seems to tie them together as well. In the present a human bone has been discovered and the girls return under the guise of attending a reunion, but really to see what happens next and if it can be tied to them. 

The most important rule of the lying game was that they never lied to one another. But it’s beginning to seem like someone has been lying and hiding the truth for a very long time.

Fans of the author’s previous books will find a lot to like here. Having the story told from Isa’s viewpoint the reader gets a lot of the story, but not all of the story, and discovers the truth alongside her. I was a big fan of In a Dark, Dark Wood and I didn’t really like The Woman in Cabin 10. I would place this book on the enjoyment scale firmly between the two.

The Lying Game is released July 25th -- place your holds now!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

Jubilee Jenkins almost died just weeks before her graduation from high school. Since that time she has spent her days locked in her house taking courses online, reading tons of books and never ever leaving the house. One day, ten years later, her mom’s husband calls to let Jubilee know that her mother has passed away and while he’ll be paying off the house and deeding it to Jubilee he will be stopping the monthly checks that were sent while her mother was living. Suddenly Jubilee is faced with the horror of entering the outside world and finding a source of income. But she had a good reason to lock herself away from the world. The reason she almost died ten years ago? Her first kiss. She is highly allergic to human touch. The mere brush of a hand will cause painful welts and hives and oral contact, as was proven in high school, will cause anaphylaxis. 

Jubilee gets a job at the local library through an acquaintance, a girl (now a woman, divorcee and a mother) she thought hated her in high school. Jubilee gets to know her co-workers and some of the regular patrons. At the library she meets Eric and his ten-old adoptive son Aja and through interesting circumstances begins spending time with the duo. Jubilee is exactly who Aja needs right now and Eric is beginning to think he needs Jubilee as well. But how does one go about being in love with a woman you can never touch? 

This is the story of one scared woman re-entering the world and learning to live among other people, forming friendships and falling in love, but knowing that she must always hold herself apart. The story is told in the alternating perspectives of Eric and Jubilee and while Jubilee is working through a lot of problems they all center around her allergy while Eric’s problems seem to be messier since he came to New Jersey for a temporary job transfer not just for the opportunity but to leave some of his mess behind.

This is a fun book with a serious side which never overwhelms the humor and lightheartedness of the writing style and of the personality of the characters. The best part? The ending. I’m not going to ruin it for you.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Full Wolf Moon by Lincoln Child

Full Wolf Moon by Lincoln Child

Jeremy Logan, enigmalogist, is trying to leave his secondary profession behind and work on his monograph on medieval history. He checks into Cloudwater, a retreat for writers and artists in the Adirondacks, to focus and finish writing. But his life as an investigator of mysteries can’t leave him alone.

A Park Ranger, a friend Jeremy went to college with, tracks him down to get the enigmalogist’s opinion on the slain hikers found within the park boundaries in recent months. It looks like the hikers were viciously attacked by a large animal, possibly a bear, all on the nights of the full moon. Jeremy has never found evidence of lycanthropy in his travels or research, but these events are making him rethink the possibility of werewolves.

I really enjoy the Jeremy Logan books, there is always some familiar myth at the center and it’s fun to see if the myth is found to be based on fact or fiction (not going to spoil which way this book goes) and how Jeremy follows the clues to his conclusions. Even though the Adirondacks were portrayed as thick, lush, creepy forests in this book I’m still looking forward to heading up that way this summer. This is more thriller than horror and a really fun discovery of things that bite in the night. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

Liv suggests that they skip the traditional Christmas this year. Her cousin, and best friend, Nora recently lost her mother and is not looking forward to the holiday so Liv comes up with the novel solution of a cruise up and down the western coast of North and South America. So both families, each with two kids, book passage for a unique late year getaway.

Liv, Nora and an Argentinean couple are the only parents with children on board the ship so they naturally gravitate towards each other. At a port in Latin America the husbands go to meet one of their friends for a round of golf while the women and kids decide to take a tour ziplining through the jungle. On the way to the zipline course the van breaks down. Knowing that they will never make their trip the guide calls in for another van and takes the three adults and six kids down to a local beach to enjoy the waters. It’s a sheltered area at the mouth of a river so there is no worry of sharks and the guide has inner tubes and other beach toys to make the impromptu trip enjoyable. All seems idyllic. The kids are all having a great time, two mothers doze on the beach and the guide goes to look at birds with Nora. When Nora returns to the beach she sees the two adults asleep and the beach and waters are empty. It seems that the kids were pushed up the river by the incoming tide. When the adults, and the authorities, finally find the abandoned inner tubes on the river bank they also find a freshly dug grave on the nearby roadside inhabited by a dead man with a bullet in his head. The kids were obviously taken by the gravediggers, but where? Are the kids okay? Will their guilt stricken parents ever see them again?

This book could have been written like a thriller, but it is more of a character study. You know what is going on with the children as well as the parents throughout the entire ordeal but that doesn’t mean there isn’t suspense. Awful things happen, very awful things, but as a reader you aren’t left in the dark like the parents of the missing children. What hit home most for me was the utter lack of street smarts the American children possessed. The reactions of these children seemed real; as did those of the parents. My only issue with the book was how well all the American characters came out of this ordeal; you’ll have to read the book to understand what I mean...

Put your holds on this book now, it comes out next week on June 6th!

And Then You’re Dead by Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty

And Then You’re Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot From a Cannon, or Go Barreling Over Niagara… is the actual title of this question and answer gem that goes into the physics, chemistry and biology of what would happen to your body if really strange things happen to it. You’re dead at the end of every scenario described, it’s just how you become dead that is interesting.

You learn LOTS of fascinating (and sometimes gross or shocking) facts in this book. For instance no one in the history of the world has died being sucked into a pit of quicksand. (You’d float and once you got to about your belly button you’d become neutrally buoyant so you wouldn’t sink any farther in.) If you have an issue with germs skip the chapter on Botulism H; it was the most disturbing part of the book. I was astounded by the things that people have survived like the pilot who was sucked out of a windshield that popped out of his plane because of a quick thinking co-pilot, and also those things not survived (in recent times) like a papercut.

If you have an affinity for weird factoids like I do this book will give you a few more to clutter up your brain.

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan

The Signalman is waiting in Winslow, Arizona for Immacolata Sexton to arrive. They each work for unnamed agencies and are coming together to exchange information. Members of a cult were found dead in a house near the Salton Sea and it is the manner of their deaths, and what it might foretell, that has these two agents on edge.

The X-Files meets chthonic lore in this darkly atmospheric novella. Chapters bop back in forth in time and things are never what they seem to be on the surface. If you need a quick shot of something off-kilter go for this one, I couldn’t put it down.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant has been working the same job, living in the same apartment, and basically following the same routine since she graduated from college ten years before. The Social Welfare people stop by twice a year and the occasional meter reader, but otherwise she lives a solitary existence and she’s completely fine with that. Until the day when she and her co-worker Raymond are walking home from work and come across Sammy, an elderly gentleman having a heart attack. The duo get help for Sammy and so begins the unlikely friendship between the three. It becomes apparent that Eleanor is not completely fine, but with Sammy and Raymond’s help she may just get there.

I thought this was going to be the story of a socially awkward woman breaking out of her shell. While that was part of it, this is actually the story of an emotionally damaged woman learning to like herself, other people, and begin actively participating in the world around her. You know something is really wrong in Eleanor’s world during her Wednesday evening phone calls with her mother, a woman who seems to be in a criminal asylum and hurtles abuse at her daughter with every word. But Eleanor is a survivor, and this is the story of a woman who lived through a horrific childhood coming to terms with her adult life free from abuse.

This is a trend I’m seeing lately, the story of what happens after. We eventually find out what happened to Eleanor as a child, and how she was coping (or not coping) in her adult life and how the power of friendship helps her actually become completely fine. Another refreshing thing about the book is the purely platonic friendship between Eleanor and Raymond; it was nice to see strong friendship between a man and a woman that doesn’t develop into a love story for a change.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Into the Water by Paul Hawkins

Into the Water by Paul Hawkins

Jules Abbott never wanted to return to the small English town of Beckford; it holds too many bad memories for her. When her estranged sister’s body is found broken in the drowning pool she is forced to return and care for her teenaged niece Lena. Nel, Jules’s sister, was always obsessed with the drowning pool. It is a place that witches were tried and many women have committed suicide. Katie, Lena’s best friend whose body was found in the pool months before, and Nel, are considered just two more women who decided to end their lives in the spot. But Jules is sure that isn’t true. Nel always said if she wanted to kill herself she would never jump from the cliff because there would be a chance she could live. She would fill her pockets with rocks, just as Katie did months before. Nel also always said another thing about the spot, that is was a place to get rid of troublesome women.

I’ll admit it, I wasn’t a fan of The Girl on the Train. I didn’t understand why everyone loved that book so much. Now this book, this book I liked. The only thing good about getting laid low with a cold was being able to read this book in two days between my naps. 

The characters, even the deceased, slowly start to share their secrets and you get to know these troublesome women. It’s a twisty turny tale and you’re not completely sure whodunnit, or why they did it, until the very, very end. If you need a good summer thriller be sure to pick this one up for your beach bag.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo

Lisa Bellow is the queen bee of the 8th grade. She’s popular, has a boyfriend in high school, and a clique of beautiful friends. Her locker is right next to Meredith Oliver’s. Meredith is not popular, but she has close friends. She does well in school and has a happy home life. Until the day she decides to stop at the Deli Barn on her walk home from school to treat herself to a root beer. The Sandwich Farmer is creating sandwiches for Lisa when Meredith walks in; then the robber comes in wearing a ski mask. He waves a gun at the two girls and makes them lie on the floor while he takes the worker in the back demanding he open the (non-existent) safe. Moments later he comes out alone. He asks Lisa to get up and the two leave; Meredith is still on the floor and the worker is unconscious in the back room when the middle school custodian comes in the store to buy dinner. This isn’t the story of Lisa Bellow. This is Meredith’s story: how does a thirteen-year old cope with being the girl left behind?

A really good choice on audio; the narrator voices the characters well and you can hear the teen angst and emotion clearly. Meredith is suddenly the center of attention, she’s popular for an awful reason, and she’s trying to figure out how to cope with it all. Also, she’s trying to imagine what Lisa is going through. Is she alive? Is she dead? To help assuage her guilt for not running outside and getting the car’s license plate, or at the very least a description of the car, for just lying there on the linoleum for who knows how long, she makes up a fantasy life for her and Lisa where they are in this together instead of both being alone.

While I think it’s impossible to know what would go through someone’s head in similar circumstances I think the author makes a very believable guess at how Meredith could begin to live with the aftermath of that day. 

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

Elle Burns has an eidetic memory, a trait that not only proves that a former slave can have superior intelligence but that serves the Loyal League well in her work as a spy for the abolitionist cause. Malcolm McCall is an attractive Scotsman who can charm anyone, a helpful asset in his work as a Pinkerton Detective gathering intelligence for the Union cause. When the two meet at the home of an important Southern senator’s mansion hoping to overhear information that will benefit the Union their roles couldn’t be more different. She is posing as a mute house slave to the Senator’s daughter, he is posing as a Rebel officer there to woo the Senator’s daughter. While sparks fly at their first meeting, Elle is not about to enter into a hopeless relationship, but their work for the Union keeps throwing them together. Will they both, and their love, survive this war?

It was really interesting to read a romance about the love story between a freedwoman and a white man. She is, understandably, wary of his advances and nervous about being seen with him, a situation he is unprepared for but over time begins to understand. These two care for each other, as evidenced by the very steamy scenes between the two, and you can only hope that love will truly conquer all once they settle in north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

Grace is content in her life. She has two small children and a third on the way. She doesn’t have warm feelings towards her husband, but she is hoping things will get better; Gene is a very good provider and he cares for their children deeply. The best part of her life is her daily talks with her neighbor Rosie. But one day everything changes. Gene is off fighting the inland fires when Grace is awoken by her daughter’s screams and the smell of smoke. The fire has turned to the coast and is coming their way. Without a car, or even the ability to drive, Grace manages to get her children as well as Rosie and her children to the ocean where they huddle in the surf with wet blankets over their bodies hoping to survive the flames. They survive, but they awaken to a new world. Grace must try to find work, learn to drive, and take care of her family because Gene is missing in the fire, possibly dead, and she needs to provide for all of them now however she can.

Based on the true events of the fire that ravaged coastal Maine in 1947, this is a dark, bleak look at marriage during the time right after World War II when women were housewives and mothers unprepared to become the provider for the family. This book is Grace’s story, we get to know her and her motivations on every page. I have to admit I didn’t think the book would take as dark a turn as it did, but you’re still cheering for Grace and hoping that her new found confidence will see her through whatever life throws her way.

The Girl with All the Gifts (Thought-Provoking Horror Film)

The Girl with All the Gifts (Thought-Provoking Horror Film) 

Melanie seems to be a normal child. She attends classes every morning and tries her best, wanting to impress her teacher. But Melanie is not a normal child. She lives in an underground military bunker and is transported to class each morning restrained in a wheelchair. Melanie is infected with the fungus that changed most of the adult population into hungries (read: zombies) but she and her classmates have retained the ability to learn, and unfortunately also the desire for living meat. The doctors feel that Melanie’s brain is key to the development of an anti-fungal and plan on removing her brain tissue that morning. Of course that is the day the fences fail and the base is overrun with the infected. Melanie and a few humans survive and manage to escape, will they be able to reach another base? Is Melanie the key to the survival of humanity? Or is she the reasons for humanity’s demise?

I enjoy twists on the typical zombie movie and this was a heck of a twist. Based on the book with the same name that I’ve been meaning to read it is a great edge of your seat horror film. But you’re not waiting for the next scare or scream, you’re waiting for answers. How things are going to unfold. If humanity is going to survive this. Melanie, the character and the actress, is amazing. She can be scary, funny, a monster and a typical little girl all in a matter of seconds. Even with blood all over her face you can forget that she isn’t one of us. And like most of the movies I like it’s got a great gut punch of an ending.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Billie Breslin drops out of school and moves across the country to New York City to find her way in the world of culinary journalism. She manages to snag a great position at Delicious! an iconic foodie magazine housed in a Federalist mansion mere months before it is cancelled by the corporate owners. She is kept on as the sole employee to fulfill the Delicious! Guarantee -- the magazine will refund money spent on ingredients for any recipes that don’t work out quite right. While exploring the mansion and its library she comes upon a secret room and cryptic card catalog. Following clues she uncovers the letters of Lulu, aged 12, to the legendary James Beard, a correspondence initially started in the quest for tips to make good tasting meals during the rationing of World War II and later developing into a friendship. Throw in family drama, artisanal cheeses and hole in the wall restaurants and you have the recipe for a fun read.

Do not read this book if you are hungry. You will end up at a market spending your paycheck on interesting cheeses. I just talked about this book with my book discussion group and we all had one complaint -- everything fits together too neatly, too conveniently, wrapped with a big white bow. You see the resolution to subplots a mile away and know as soon as he walks onto the page who Billie’s love interest will be in a few chapters. That said, if you go into this one knowing it’s a romance, following the rules of a romance novel, you’ll find a lot to like here. I’ve been reading some dark and serious books and this one was a nice yummy fluffy confection that hit the spot. 

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

Leah Stevens is starting over. She reluctantly quits her job with a prominent Boston newspaper, leaving her love of journalism behind, to become a teacher in rural Western Pennsylvania. She didn’t plan on ending up in bear country but when she bumps into Emmy again, her roommate for a brief period after college, she follows along; both young women looking for a new start. Leah isn’t exactly enjoying her new life, but she enjoys being with Emmy again. A few months after the move a young woman, who looks disturbingly like Leah, is found near death at the side of a lake close to their rental home and Emmy goes missing. As Leah’s digs into her friend’s past she doesn’t find many answers, just more and more questions. Who is Emmy Gray? 

I really enjoyed the author’s first adult thriller, All the Missing Girls, so I was really looking forward to reading this one. Since the author’s last book was written backwards I knew this was going to be a tough act to follow. It’s a good thriller, but I can’t help but compare it to her first book and find it slightly lacking. 

A good summertime read that makes you question how well you know your friends. (Hint: make sure all your friends have at least one utility or mortgage/lease in their name. It’s a good place to start towards thinking they are who they claim!) Enjoyable on audiobook. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

Life in Chilbury changes dramatically with the start of World War II. Suddenly all the men in the village are away at war and the dread that fell during the previous war revisits Chilbury. Without men the choir is disbanded but through the efforts of a spunky newcomer to town, and the ladies of Chilbury themselves, a new choir of female voices is formed. Some complain that it’s wrong, that it’s never been done, but what during these turbulent times is that way it has always been?

This is a book about women coming together and redefining themselves during turbulent times. Told entirely in letters at first glance it may remind readers of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society but only at a glance. This book is a lot deeper; the war hits Chilbury and the town feels loss deeply. There are also spies, slighted love, conspiracies, and romance. It’s war, so naturally the book takes some dark turns; it’s a small town, so of course there are nefarious things going on in the shadows; but all’s well that ends well, in case you wanted to know.

This is one that you should listen to rather than read. Each letter writer is voiced by a different reader, an experience that really helped immerse me in the story and form pictures in my head of each character. And it’s available on Playaway so pop in a pair of headphones and get out in the sunshine (when it returns) and listen to the ladies of Chilbury tell you their stories.

Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

The sequel to Sleeping Giants finally arrived! I’ve been waiting a year and I wasn’t disappointed. I actually screamed aloud “Wait! What? NOOO!” at one point as well as laughed and gasped on numerous occasions. This was a great book, but it is a sequel -- you’ll need to read the first to enjoy the second. What I loved most about this book was my utter inability to see what’s going to happen next. 

If you enjoy a book that makes you think; a book that makes you angry and flummoxed; a book that makes you smile; a book told non-traditionally in interviews, diary entries and transcripts; a book that makes the impossible seem real; a book that takes the phrase what-if and runs a million miles with it, please give this series a chance.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Samuel Hawley has twelve scars on his body and he has never told his daughter Loo (short for Louise) anything about them. Now that she’s older she knows they are from bullet wounds, and that her dad must be in some kind of trouble because they tend live in motels and move around a lot. The year Loo turns twelve things change. They rent a house in New England near the home of a grandmother she doesn’t remember, she grows up, gets a job, falls in love, but it seems like the past just can’t let them go.

This turned out to be a great pairing with The Hearts of Men -- what makes a good father? Can you do bad things and still be a good person? Hawley is an interesting character and we learn the story of his past through the stories of the scar. Each bullet wound is a chapter. Alternating chapters focus on the present, and Loo’s life, and the father-daughter duo comes to terms with living a “normal” life.

Loo doesn’t remember her mother since she died when Loo was an infant, but the shrine her father creates to Lily in each place they live is a testament to his undying love for her as well as his inability to let go of the past. The is a damaged and haunted man trying to do right by his daughter by sheltering her from his life, but Loo is more like her father than he realizes.

Fans of Lee Child and Vince Flynn will enjoy getting to know Samuel Hawley. Yes, he’s on the wrong side of the law, but he’s trying so hard to right wrongs and be good but the past sometimes refuses to let go.

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler

Boy Scout camp at Camp Chippewa, Wisconsin, in 1962 was a turning point in the life of a young bugler named Nelson. Nelson is a good boy, on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout, but it is the qualities that make him a good scout that set him apart from his fellow scouts. It is there that he makes a friend in Jonathan, his only friend, and one that he will have contact with throughout his life. It is also there that he finds his mentor, Scoutmaster Whitesides, who runs the camp and becomes a father figure for Nelson. 

This is the story of two good boys, Nelson and Jonathan’s son Trevor, who strive to always do the right thing, even when the right thing is the hard thing or the unpopular thing. But is the thing that is right always the right thing to do?

This book should be referenced whenever bildungsromans (coming of age stories) are discussed. This is the story of Nelson growing up and learning what it is to be a man and striving to be a good man despite all he faces during wartime. This is also a book about Trevor growing up and falling in love, reluctantly continuing the Camp Chippewa tradition.

Is it okay to sometimes do the wrong thing if your heart is in the right place? And what does it mean to be man? Why do some men seem to think that a “real” man can’t be both good and a man? But most importantly this book is about heroes and what it means to be a hero in another person’s eyes.

This is a good choice on audio but I will warn you, there is one part about a lost bet at Camp Chippewa that will have you cringing and rolling down the window in your car for fresh air if you’re listening while you drive.


Friday, April 14, 2017

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

The Walsh-Adams family has their hands full. Rosie is a doctor at the local ER, Penn is writing a novel and together they are raising four boys and another child is on the way. Rosie is (not so secretly) hoping this next one will finally be a girl. The whole family is overjoyed when a perfect little boy named Claude joins their clan. Claude is precocious and precious, unlike the rough and tumble brood already under their roof. When Claude announces at age three that he wants to be a girl the family doesn’t think much of it, it could be a phase, so they go shopping and buy him dresses. After a little time goes by they realize that Claude is much happier as a girl. After an incident in Wisconsin regarding Claude, now Poppy, the family ups and moves to Washington state. Upon arrival they all make the mostly unconscious decision to let Poppy be Poppy and keep what’s in her pants a secret. But can a family of seven keep a secret like this? And another question, should they?

This is a story that looks at the life of a child who doesn’t feel comfortable in their skin and how difficult it is as a child to describe what you’re feeling a lot of the time. Is Poppy transgender? Does she want to fully become female? Or, as her brothers think of her, is she simply a girl with boy parts? And at ten years old can you know yourself enough to answer all these questions? The struggle of the parents, wanting to have a happy child however that can happen, is the part that really spoke to me. I felt for Rosie and Penn and their choices on Poppy’s behalf and how there didn’t seem to be a right or wrong answer for all the questions they kept asking themselves. These parents love all their children, and each other, and have the best intentions to bring happiness to the lives of each member of their family. The author’s daughter was born male and is now eight and I’m sure she’s asking a lot of the questions of herself that her fictional parents talk about late into the night. Written in a light hearted comic style, but with a lot of heart and seriousness, this was a great family story I think anyone would enjoy.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Celine by Peter Heller

Celine by Peter Heller

Celine is a privileged woman of a certain age with an extremely successful record of finding missing persons, specifically reuniting children with their birth parents. Her deepest secret and regret is the one person she cannot find. Reeling from the triple tragedies of the death of her two sisters and witnessing the fall of the Twin Towers from her Brooklyn brownstone all in the same year Celine desperately needs a purpose, and she finds one in Gabriela.

Gabriela’s mother died in a tragic accident when she was very young and her grieving father never really recovered. He was an imperfect parent (I’m being very generous here) and spent long months away for his work as a renowned National Geographic photographer. On one assignment to shoot the wildlife at Yellowstone when Gabriela was barely out of her teens he disappears; assumed dead, mauled by a bear. Years later Gabriela learns of Celine and asks that she take the case to look for her missing father. Without a body, and with evidence that didn’t exactly add up, Gabriela has never been convinced that her father died. As Celine digs into the case it becomes clear that her investigation is unwelcome.

Celine is an interesting character, who had an interesting life in her youth. Most private investigators have quirks and I saw her and her husband as a down to earth pairing like Nick and Nora. Celine wears her privilege well and knows that she relies on her husband for his research skills and calm demeanor (he is truly a native of Maine) as well as his help physically. Celine is suffering from emphysema and the high altitude of the park isn’t helping her any. Some that are looking for just a mystery may not appreciate the forays into Celine’s past, but I found them helpful in understanding the character and her relationships with the people around her. A solid mystery that features library research prominently (woo hoo!) that was very enjoyable on audiobook. 

Birders: The Central Park Effect (Documentary - About Birds!)

Birders: The Central Park Effect (Documentary - About Birds!)

Have aspirations of becoming a birder? Look no further for inspiration! This documentary takes you full circle through a year of birdwatching in Central Park. Fun fact: a quarter of the birds found in the continental United States pass through (or sometimes nest) in Central Park. I was surprised to see a wild turkey show up on the screen!

It’s great to see all this urbanites get excited about birds. Now that I’m actually looking for them I have to admit it is great to see them and be able to tell them apart. I love walking through the woods and hearing the birdsong this time of year. Of course there is some sad news, like the decline in the general bird population, but overall the message is clear -- nature is exciting, beautiful and no matter where you are, it’s there!

Check out the special features, the filmmakers put together a short film with footage of different birds all clearly labeled. A great resource for beginner birders!

Warning note: this is another film that requires cat supervision. They may try to grab, pet, chase and/or rub against the birds on screen. Trust me. 

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

It all begins in California with a kiss at a christening party. The mother of the christened child kisses a man who wasn’t exactly invited. Sparks fly. Afterwards two families are recreated. Six children are now stepsiblings summering in Virginia. Disasters, hard feelings, and warm feelings, they may never had experienced otherwise, unfold throughout their lives together.

I’m not typically a fan of books centered on family issues, especially the relationships between siblings, because as an only child I simply don’t get the angst and tumult that seems to exist between siblings. The circumstances that threw the stepsiblings in this novel together made me think that there would be animosity, but the relationships were stronger and much different than I thought they would be under the circumstances. 

I liked the way the book bounced between the past and present showing the lives of the six stepsiblings at different stages in their lives and how their unconventional family affected them for the good and ill. A refreshing look at family drama.

Friday, March 31, 2017

As Good as Gone by Larry Watson

As Good as Gone by Larry Watson


Calvin Sidey all but abandoned his family after his wife died, not being able to handle his grief and raising small children. Retreating to a solitary life on the range putting in fence posts and herding cattle, Calvin is content with his life as a loner. Decades later his son David needs him. He asks Calvin to come to the house and watch his grandchildren while David takes his wife to Missoula for an operation. Calvin, surprising both himself and David, agrees. Calvin thinks babysitting a teen and tween is going to be easy, but Calvin is not one to sit idly by when he sees trouble brewing. The problem is that Calvin is a relic of the west and his way of fixing problems isn’t really acceptable in the modern age of the 1960s.


This book reminded me of a cross between Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name and Clint Eastwood in El Camino. Strangely enough the picture of the grandfather in my head was not of Mr. Eastwood but a character actor I can’t place no matter how hard I try. Calvin isn’t exactly likeable, but he is relatable. You get under his skin and understand his actions, as much as you may not agree with the ways he attempts to solve his problems.


After reading and listening to a few lyrically written, and lengthy, books it was a shock to the system to read the spare no-nonsense writing style of this author. Don’t get me wrong, this is great writing with some wonderful descriptions, but the author conveys Calvin, a man of very few words, even in the style and tone of the entire work. Western fans will find a modern tale worth reading in this one.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Girl From Venice by Martin Cruz Smith

The Girl From Venice by Martin Cruz Smith

Cenzo just wants to fish. WWII is drawing to a close (at least it seems that way) but Nazis and Fascists still prowl the streets and waters of Venice. Cenzo tries his best to avoid any involvement in the war for either side, but when he finds a girl floating in the lagoon he brings her body on board his ship and instantly regrets it. How is he going to anonymously turn in a body? And when she wakes up he realizes he has even bigger problems since a German warship is in the lagoon and they seem to be looking for something, or someone.

I think those expecting something along the lines of Smith’s Russian thrillers may be disappointed, but those looking for an historical thriller, set in a time and place I haven’t seen many WWII books set during/in, will enjoy this novel. Some have complained that you learn too much about fishing, but I found it interesting. Cenzo is not a simple man; he enjoys his work and what some may see as a simple life, but when he starts describing fishing, and eludes some sticky situations, you realize that there is more to him than meets the eye.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Seasons (Wildlife Documentary - French)

Seasons (Wildlife Documentary - French)

Noted French wildlife documentarians Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud explore the history of the great forests of Europe showing what life there was probably like until man came and cleared most of the forest. Wild boar, bear, wolves, badgers, deer, birds, bugs, all are there in vivid color and close photography work. It is a lush and beautiful world that in some ways adapts well to the changed landscape, in others not nearly as successfully. There is only a slight sense of doom at the end; the focus lies on the idea that things can still change for the better.

If you have a cat I would suggest bringing this film home only if your television is secure. I had to remove my cat from the television after he started petting the squirrels on screen. Chasing the herds of bison, following flitting birds with this eyes and trying to discover where the bugs went when they seemed to fly off the screen is all fine. I have to draw the line at whapping and petting the screen. However, this is proof that this is a movie that the ENTIRE family can truly enjoy.

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

It’s the 1990s when video stores still did pretty good business, especially in small town Iowa. Jeremy works at the video store in a town where not much ever happens when customers start complaining about something “else” in the movies they are borrowing. Jeremy brings one of the tapes home and the customer was right, there was something strange spliced into the film; strange and disturbing. Jeremy lets his boss know and soon there are a few people interested in discovering if there is a crime behind the scenes or if it is just some weird home movie. He doesn’t want to get involved, but he finds himself drawn into the mystery anyway.

Thankfully this was a short book. I finished it because it was a good listen (the author reads his own book and held my attention); I probably would have given up on the print. All the reviews talk about the creepy horror feel of the piece. Yes, in the beginning it was. Then it got a little weird (which I appreciated) and then it just got sad. Sad and depressing. I know now that the exploration of loss and grief was the point of the novel but the mood of the book shifted so drastically, and in a direction I wasn’t in the mindset to go in, that I found the experience disappointing. I chalk this one up to being woefully misled by the description and reviews, or maybe I just can’t appreciate the author’s literary style.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough


Louise is a single mom working part time for a group of psychiatrists in London. One night she is out at a bar and meets a great guy, sparks fly, but he leaves the bar and she thinks her life as well. The next day at work she realizes her new boss David is the guy from the bar. Awkward. You’d think this was the start of a romantic comedy; it’s not. He has brought his incredibly beautiful wife Adele to the office to make introductions. Louise hides in the bathroom to avoid the couple and after Adele leaves Lou clears the air with David and all should be well. But it’s not. There is still an attraction there that won’t let go of either of them.


A few days later after dropping her son off at school Lou bumps into Adele and is knocked off her feet. Adele seems lonely and wanting a friend so Lou agrees to go get coffee with her. A friendship blooms but Lou doesn’t tell Adele she knows David nor does she tell David she knows Adele. Over time Lou begins to learn things about their marriage that disturbs her. Who should she believe?


On the surface you have to wonder what kind of person would have a romantic relationship with one spouse while befriending the other, but the way the author crafts the initial encounters you can see it happening, as well as why Lou never comes clean to either about her relationship with the other. Thankfully you like Lou, otherwise this would be an impossible book to read, since by turns Adele or David seem to be the villain of the piece, it’s hard to figure out. That is why is a psychological thriller -- you can never get a grasp on who the evil person is until the very, very end.

This is an unsettling book that delves into the power of sleep and dreams as well as the always creepy feeling of not knowing someone as well as you think you do. I picked this book up because the ending started being tweeted on Twitter under this hashtag: #WTFthatending. How could I not read it after that?! And yes, I thought I had the ending figured out but then there was one final twist that made that hashtag VERY deserved.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

Christina Olsen led what many would call a small life in Maine. Suffering from an illness that makes walking difficult and eventually impossible she is a proud woman living on her own terms. Yet she knew happiness once. Once she was in love. Once she had dreams. Once she left Maine, but then she returned never to leave again. Now she and her brother are all but trapped in the family home yet Christina makes a friend who brings her to the world. Andrew Wyeth falls in love with the farmhouse, and the family, painting many views of the house and its inhabitants including painting Christina’s World; this is the story behind the famous painting.

I’ll admit it, I didn’t know the painting (helpfully there is a small print included in the book), nor am I very familiar with Andrew Wyeth’s work. However, that didn’t prevent me from enjoying this book. Christina’s life is hard, and I questioned some of her life choices, but having close experience with a person living with a debilitating disease I know that sometimes their choices don’t make sense to us, and they don’t have to, because we aren’t the ones living in their skin. This fictional biography was a character study of a strong woman and a glimpse into a time and place that was stark yet beautiful in its simplicity.

If you read this book and want to see the actual painting you’ll need to travel to MoMA in New York City. (Did you know that SCLSNJ has museum passes for MoMA? Click here for more information: http://www.somerset.lib.nj.us/museumpass.htm

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

On this surface this is a legal thriller. Did Ruth Jefferson murder, through negligence or malice, a newborn under her care? Naturally, since this is a book by Jodi Picoult, things are not straightforward. Ruth is an African-American nurse and the baby is the son of White Supremacists who asked (read: demanded) that she not touch their son. Ruth’s orders from her supervisor were not to touch that baby. But when that baby stops breathing, and Ruth is the only nurse on the floor, what is she to do? And does she make the right choice -- legally and ethically?

The story is told in alternating chapters by three characters: Ruth, the accused African-American nurse; her white attorney and public defender Kennedy; and Turk, the baby’s father. If your skin is white you, like me, will probably cringe a bit reading this book and not just the sections told by Turk about how he came to join, and run, a White Supremacist website. This book brings you face to face with racism in all its degrees and makes you walk in the shoes of Ruth and her family. An eye opening, thought provoking book that like all of Picoult’s books has a twist at the end, but unlike most of her books it ends on a high note that makes you feel that things truly can get better.

Read by three different readers, one for each narrator, this is one not to be missed on audiobook.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking



The Danes consistently place as one of the happiest, if not THE happiest place, in the world. Why? The author says it’s the idea of hygge. The Canadians call it hominess to give you a broad stroke of what they are getting at here. Comfort is key. Surrounding yourself with the people and things that mean the most to you. Enjoy cooking and eating simple homey foods. All things I think we all need a nudge to remember every once in awhile.

One of the main concepts of hygge is lighting and how diffuse and flickering light is best which means that would be the ideal way to read this book right? Nope. The print is rather tiny. That aside I found out that I’m pretty Danish! Another big takeaway is that relaxation, living in the moment and play (even as an adult) is very important. Yep, I’m Danish at heart and darn proud to be a hyggespreder!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Train to Busan (Foreign Horror Film - South Korean)

Train to Busan (Foreign Horror Film - South Korean)

A little girl who lives with her father wants to visit her mother for her birthday. He reluctantly takes off work to take her on the train ride to Busan to visit with his ex-wife.  Too bad today was the day of the outbreak and the infected are becoming zombies.  Even worse, the infected got on the train. Worst. Birthday. Ever.

Typically I like my zombie movies with a lot of dark humor (think: Shaun of the Dead, Fido, etc.) but this one was truly scary, with just the right touch of humor at times and dig your nails into your kneecaps at others. These zombies were quick, think World War Z not Night of the Living Dead, and being stuck on a train with the infected, riding through cities of infected, wow. Just wow. 

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

Three teenage boys desperately want to get a copy of Playboy from their local stationary store because Vanna White is the centerfold! One boy is chosen to try to get the security code from the owner’s daughter Mary; a weird girl that is always typing away at the Commodore 64 on display in the back of the store. That boy, Billy, has no problem with this plan because he’s starting to enjoy his time with Mary as they work on a computer game that will be entered to win the grand prize at the end of the summer at an awards ceremony at Rutgers University. But when the stakes get higher and the Playboy must be had, Billy needs to chose between his first love and his friends.

This book has a lot of heart, I would say it reminded me a bit of Stand By Me. There is a serious layer under the hijinks and a boy’s struggle to do the right thing even when he doesn’t know what that is. 

If you liked Ready Player One, you’ll love this book. If you grew up in the 80s playing Ultima on a Commodore 64 and riding your bike around town, you’ll love this book. If you’re nostalgic for a simpler time, and I can’t believe I’m typing that about my childhood, give this one a shot, I guarantee it’ll make you smile at least once.

For those who may not be familiar with the amazing graphics capable with a Commodore 64 you can play a copy of the game Mary and Billy designed in this book called, you guessed it, The Impossible Fortress, here: http://jasonrekulak.com/game/

Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen

Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen

Lottie and Rose, overwhelmed mothers of preschoolers who only know each other enough to exchange pleasantries in the schoolyard, are both taken in by a flyer to rent a cottage in Maine for the month of August.  Leaving husband and children behind in the city they flee for a month of relaxation. Knowing the rent is steep they ask around for other renters and find Beverly and Caroline; two interesting and reclusive renters to join in their time away from reality.  Turns out that sometimes what you really need is what you left behind.

If you’ve read the book or seen the film Enchanted April this book is going to seem very familiar (apparently, I have read or seen either). It is just set in a different month because our story is set in Maine instead of Italy and April would be way too cold to vacation there and it’s been updated for the present day.

This was not my favorite book, but I think I was just hung up on my dislike of one character and my annoyance with another.  The man who rents the house to complete strangers, Robert, seems to have a habit of falling in love with women who fall in love with his house and I think I was supposed to pity him, or at least feel something towards him, but I found him creepy.  And another character was just way too darn sunny and optimistic considering that she needed to flee to Maine to get her head in order.  That said I did like some of the storylines, and I truly fell in love with the cottage, but this book was simply not my cup of chowder.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is spared by the Bolsheviks but sentenced to house arrest in the upscale Metropol hotel in Moscow in 1922. Stuck inside this former man of leisure must craft a life for himself, a full life, and with the help of many unlikely friends that is exactly what he accomplishes.

I will freely admit that I mostly read for plot; the faster and twistier the better. Language, the actual skill of the author crafting his words, comes way after setting, character development and all those other literary mechanisms in my mind. But every once in a great while a book is so beautifully written that I can’t help but notice and be swept away. This is that book. The idea of reading about a man under house arrest (hotel arrest) for decades held no interest for me, but the buzz kept growing and growing so I eventually decided to give it a listen. And that was that. I found myself NOT listening to it because I wanted the book to go on and on. I was sad when it ended, not because the ending was sad, but because I was sad it was over. This is a book not to be missed.

The Games by James Patterson and Mark T. Sullivan

The Games by James Patterson and Mark T. Sullivan

The Olympic Games open in less than a week and Private Rio, an elite security firm, has more than its share of challenges. And that’s before the two daughters of a millionaire are kidnapped and the lives of millions are threatened by a deadly plague.

Once or twice a year I try to listen to a Patterson book. Why? Because they are a lot of fun on audio. This one was a really good lost your brakes thrill ride. If you want to listen to an action movie, this is what it would be like.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Eagle Huntress (Documentary - Turkic and English)

The Eagle Huntress (Documentary - Turkic and English)

Aisholpan wants to become an eagle hunter; a prestigious and honorable profession held by few. There is a huge festival when eagle hunters compete each year and Aisholpan is determined to be there. Fathers have trained sons for generations but this year a father will train his daughter. Aisholpan is to be the first female eagle hunter ever at the age of thirteen.

Through interviews with other eagle hunters you know that many feel a female should not be allowed to compete in the festival. That she could never be a real eagle hunter. It’s refreshing to see such a supportive family, especially her father, and the awe he has over each of her successes all the while showing his pride clearly on his face. And the eagle! We are there from Aisholpan capturing the eaglet through to the eagle’s first true hunt and it is breathtaking. The cinematography causes your breath to catch in your throat and the story is just more proof that any driven individual can do anything they set their minds to.