The year is 2008 and to the casual observer Isabelle has it all.  She has a successful career on Wall Street, a hot husband, and three amazing kids.   But really, her husband is unemployed with no ambition to find a job, she is missing all of the important kid milestones, and her job is beyond grueling.  She keeps plugging along because to quit her job is just not an option.   The balance at work is upset when she is asked to join the "Glass Ceiling Club". A group of her female colleagues who are sick of the unequal pay, sexist jokes, meetings held in strip clubs, and everything else that makes their work lives absolutely miserable. Belle is torn between loyalty to her gender and an intense desire to be able to provide for her family.   Then she finds out that her ex is working for her biggest client.  The ex that she was engaged to.  The ex that ripped her heart out.  But Belle has bigger problems when she realizes that the entire financial world is on the verge of collapse.  Will she be able to escape before her entire world collapses on her.

Opening Belle could be considered a scathing tell all by a former Wall Street insider.  Except that I felt that there wasn't anything quite revealing in this book.  We all have seen Wall Street. The debauchery and misogyny is not really all that surprising.  It is infuriating, but I guess I can understand why Belle put up with it.  The three million dollar bonus made it all worth it, right? Opening Belle has the premise to be another "girl power" kind of book, but instead I didn't see a lot of depth to Belle.  I didn't see her as genuine like I did with Imogen Tate in the last book I read.  I almost wanted to put this one in the "Did Not Finish" pile, but I stuck with it just because I wanted to see what was going to happen with the Ex.  It took an unexpectedly weird turn, but then continued down the predictable path.

Bottom line - Opening Belle is getting a lot of praise for being a "tell all", but it was hard for me to really get into the story. All of the financial mumbo-jumbo really made it tough to read. I am not sure why, but it just really fell flat.

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Imogen Tate returns to work as the Editor-In-Chief of Glossy magazine after beating cancer she is shocked to see how much changed in her absence.  Familiar faces have been replaced by fresh faced sorority-type girls who jump to do the bidding of Eve Morton, Imogen's former assistant.  Eve has returned to Glossy after finishing Harvard Business School with the mission of turning Imogen's beloved magazine into an app.  It feels like Imogen has entered another world where she is the alien.  She can barely manage Facebook, still uses an AOL account and has no idea what Instagram is. But now she must adapt or die.  Even though Eve was once her assistant she now rules the office with an iron fist.  She demands perfection from those around her.  Late nights, juice cleanses, and nap rooms are now common things around the office.  As Imogen struggles to keep up with terms like "Conversion Rates" and "Content Producers" she realizes that the fashion industry is evolving faster than she can keep up.   Now Imogen has to decide just how much longer she can keep taking Eve's abuse.

Imogen Tate is one of those characters that just radiates patience and kindness.  No matter what kind of pressure she is under she always exhibits grace to all those around her.  Whether they deserve it or not.  And that is what makes Imogen such a great character and  why it makes Eve such the perfect villain.  Imogen is just so easy to like and collects friends wherever she goes.  Whether it be tech conventions where she is completely out of her element or with her new assistant at the office.  Eve is just so easy to hate.  She is rude and hateful and runs her staff like a dictator runs a third world country.   There was a titch of predictability, but that is okay.  One thing I found a bit annoying was just how illiterate Imogen was when it came to tech.  I am fairly close in age to Imogen and consider myself pretty hip to all things tech. Like during the photoshoot and the cell phone.  I don't want to give anything away, but I was screaming "DROPBOX!!!" at the book. Her level of incompetence would be more comparable to somebody in their seventies.  My parents are in their sixties and navigate technology better than Imogen.  In the end, things worked out the best way possible for Imogen, but you need to read the book to figure out what that means.

Bottom line - The Knockoff is an absolutely delightful read.  There is some serious "girl power" in The Knockoff that will leave you feeling like you could go out and conquer the world.  Or at least a fashion magazine.

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Sarah Quinlan and her husband Jack are awaken by a phone call.  Their immediate concern is their twin daughters off at college, but instead it is Jack's family back in Iowa.  His beloved aunt has taken a tumble down the stairs and they need to come immediately.  Sarah has never really met Jack's family.  Their relationship has always been distant and all Sarah knows is that Jack's Aunt and Uncle took him and his sister in after their parents were killed in an accident.   Sarah and Jack get there in time to say good-bye to Aunt Julia, but her death was no accident.  The family becomes embroiled into a homicide investigation and Sarah is learning that her husband has not been truthful about his family's history.  His parent's didn't die in an accident, his mother was murdered.  And Jack was a prime suspect.  Sarah is crushed and feels betrayed by her husband's secrets, but did he really kill his mother?  And did he have a role in Julia's death?  Sarah is determined to get to the truth, but at what cost?

I have been a huge fan of Heather Gudenkauf's ever since her first book.  Not just because they are usually set in Iowa, but because she knows how to weave an intricate tale of suspense and intrigue.  However, I feel that Missing Pieces was missing the suspense and intrigue.  I almost immediately had figured out the "whodunit" and it was pretty predictable.  I was more than a little annoyed at Sarah's over the top response to finding out that her husband's mother was murdered.  Maybe I am off base with that, never having been in that situation, but I really thought she needed to chill out.  Their relationship never really seemed genuine to me.  Neither did Jack's relationship with his sister.   None of the characters really seemed to mesh well for me and I was disappointed.  The whole book was a disappointment really, I have come to expect more.

Bottom line - everybody has an off day.  Maybe it was me, the reader, or maybe it was the author.  Either way, anytime I don't connect with a book doesn't mean that you shouldn't give it a shot yourself.  When it comes to reading, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

PS - I love the author even more realizing that she is from the same small county in South Dakota where my grandma lives. (#GregoryCounty)  I still don't love the book, but I love her!

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Babe Paley is the pure definition of glamour and sophistication.   Her position as the wife of a studio executive allows her to rule  Manhattan society with grace and elegance.  Her group of friends have leisurely lunches and gossip about who is wearing what and who's husband is cheating on them. The perfect accessory for The Swans of Fifth Avenue is the hottest thing in the literary world , Truman Capote.  Truman is quite at ease with Babe and the Swans, the kind of accessory they just adore.  Their husbands even adore Truman, because he lets them off of the hook for dancing and other cultural events they would rather just skip.  It really is a win - win situation.  Babe and Truman are practically inseparable and she feels closer to him than her own husband.  What Babe doesn't realize is that for all of Truman's charisma and charm, he is at his heart a writer.  A writer who is always observing and filing away information to use at a later date.   When Truman publishes a thinly veiled fictional tale in Esquire it brings down the carefully crafted world of Babe and her friends.  The betrayal is crushing for Babe for she trusted Truman more than anybody else.  Will she be able to forgive the imp for his transgressions?  Will the Swans of Fifth Avenue survive the scandal?

I always want to enjoy literary fiction, such as The Swans of Fifth Avenue, but I have such a hard time getting into them.  It takes time to get lost in the world of Babe Paley and Truman Capote, so if you can't sit down and devote some time with this book, be prepared.  I found myself enjoying the book more when I could read it for more than fifteen minutes at a time.   Having said that, I love books that fictionalize true events, such Truman Capote in Manhattan.  He was such a unique character, er I mean person.  He was able to captivate anybody who came into contact with him, both male and female.   The Swans of Fifth Avenue is primarily set in the time around when In Cold Blood was published and I hate to admit that I have not read it.  But now I am more intrigued than ever.   I was even a bit heartbroken myself, the way things turned out.  

Bottom line - The Swans of Fifth Avenue is a magical literary novel about a socialite and her enchanting literary friend.  The kind of novel that will transport you to another time and another place.  And isn't that what reading is supposed to do?

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One of my literary New Year's resolutions was to read more non-fiction.  I told myself that one out of every ten books I read will be non-fiction.  The first one of the year is probably one of the more terrifying books of the year.

Lights Out is an investigative look at would happen in the United States if there were a cyberattack on our power grid.  Ted Koppel interviews top officials both past and present to see how likely a cyberattack would be and discovers exactly how easy it would be to cripple the United States without the electricity we rely on for everything.  Lights Out also looks at what the government would (or could) do to help citizens who are ill prepared to go more than a day or two without a trip to the grocery store.  Not to mention access to water and sanitation that also rely on electricity to work. After looking at a few recent catastrophic events such as Hurricane Sandy or Hurricane Katrina it is obvious that widespread power outages for more than a few days would indeed be catastrophic for most of our country.  The final part of the book explores people in our country who are prepared for the event of such a catastrophe.  He interviews people in Wyoming, Missouri, and Utah  (All places I have lived I must note) and the common theme is the self-reliance that runs deep.  He even interviewed officials for the Mormon church to discuss  why the Church encourages  it's flock to be prepared for anything and how they go about organizing millions of people to be prepared - including having food storage.  In Lights Out Ted Koppel provides a fascinating, in-depth look at exactly what it would mean for the United States to have the power grid go down.


If you have been around my blog for more than a minute you are not surprised that I read a book called Lights Out.  I admit that I was a bit surprised that such a respected journalist like Ted Koppel wrote a book about a topic that is still considered to be on the fringe of extremism.  It lends a certain credibility to the movement often referred to as "Preppers". I would not consider myself a "prepper" so much as a desire to be prepared.  Although I am not Mormon, it is easy to see the logic behind this facet of Mormon culture.  I was invited to a "Food Storage Party" a few months ago and my husband thought it was a Tupperware party.  Close - it was a party where the hostess was selling freeze-dried food with a shelf life of 25 years.   I chuckled at my husband's incorrect assumption and said "Welcome to Utah".  By the way, I did make a purchase at that party and am glad I did having read this book.  One last thing to note about Lights Out is that several times throughout the book Koppel refers to a fiction book that I really enjoyed - One Second After.  He refers to it, for not just how the subject matter aligns with this book, but also because it was that book that turned a lot of people onto the urgent need of being prepared for anything.

Bottom line - It is easy for some people to get so swept up in the "What if's..." of life that they let it consume them.  Just look at the 24/7 coverage of the East coast blizzard.  But, I believe that knowledge is power and the more you know the more you can be adequately be prepared for anything.  Lights Out is an informative book that will help you be a little more knowledgeable and maybe even a little more prepared.

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Brett Bohlinger is absolutely devastated when her mother passes away after a short battle with cancer.  Brett and her brothers and their spouses meet at the lawyers office the day after the funeral to collect their inheritances.  Brett assumes that her mother's cosmetic empire will be hers as that is what she has been working towards for years.  But she is wrong.  The business goes to her sister-in-law.  Her brothers get their inheritances, but Brett gets nothing.  Instead the lawyer pulls out a "Life List" that Brett had written when she was a teenager.  Her mother wants Brett to complete ten tasks on the list in the next year in order to get her inheritance.  The list includes things like fall in love, have a baby, fulfill her dream of teaching, make peace with her father, and more.  Brett is stunned, but with the help of her friends and her mother's lawyer, Brett gives it everything she has to complete the list.  In the process she evaluates her life's trajectory and the people in her life.  What she uncovers is a sweet happiness and fulfillment she never expected to have in her life.  But will she meet her mother's demands and complete the list in the required time?

The Life List was an absolutely adorable book.  Very reminiscent Cecelia Ahern's  P.S I Love You. Brett Bohlinger is a character that you will just love.  You know that she is good and kind at her core, but she surrounds herself with assholes like Andrew.  I cheered when that relationship actually ended.  She obviously had led a charmed life - never wanting for a thing, but as Brett really starts working through the list she realizes just how charmed her life has been and that just makes her even more adorable.  As the new people enters her life and she has the new experiences it reaffirms my belief that her mother's demands were really in Brett's best interest.   I had predicted the end fairly early on, but I still cheered when it was revealed.  It was really quite perfect.

Bottom line - The Life List is a charming little novel about a woman who is forced to examine her life and the hopes and dreams she once had and in the process she discovers a life worth living.

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Anna Forster is thirty-eight years old and has Alzheimer's disease.  The horrible disease killed their mother so it only stood to reason that either Anna or her twin brother, Jack, would also fall victim to the disease.  Jack is perfect, his lawyer's brain is fully intact.  Anna, on the other hand, is starting to exhibit symptoms and has left her unhappy marriage to fight the disease for as long as she can with everything she's got.  It isn't long though before Jack and Anna decide to move her to the Rosalind House, a  care facility where Anna won't be the only "young" person with a dementia related disease.   Luke and Anna hit it off right off the bat.  They bond over their shared disease, their individual fights to keep their dignity, and their unique positions in a care facility meant for the elderly.  As their conditions deteriorate Anna and Luke's respective families feel it best that their romantic relationship not continue and the staff of Rosalind House must take extreme measures to prevent the late night rendezvous from happening.


Eve Bennett is hired as the new cook at Rosalind House after her husband's high profile death.  She escapes into her new job as cook and housekeeper at the Rosalind House.   Eve watches the romance blossom between Luke and Anna and disagrees with management's approach to keep them apart.  But will her support of true love cause more harm than good?

Ever since reading Still Alice I have lived in fear of Alzheimer's disease and I find myself drawn to stories about people with this horrific disease.    The Things We Keep is a book that will break your heart.  Anna is an imperfect character you know, the kind of character who isn't that great at relationships, but is beloved by her brother's kids.  Her relationship with Luke develops in a rather quick manner and I kind of get it.  She is struggling to simple things, like which door is the bathroom and the names of people she just met.  A primal instinct like sex is something that she doesn't forget and can make her feel more alive.  I get it.  There were some plot holes that drove me nuts and I will keep those to myself to prevent spoilers, but I think you will catch them, too.  Also the timeline is a bit jumpy and a bit tough to keep track of.  I still don't know exactly when Eve came on the scene in relation to when Anna became a resident of Rosalind House. But, it wasn't enough to keep me from getting into the story. I still just had to know what happened to Anna.

Bottom line - The Things We Keep is more than just a story about a woman with Alzheimer's. It is a story about love in the face of the most incredible odds.  And who doesn't love a good love story.

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When we first meet Lucy Barton she is in the hospital.  She is recovering from a surgery that should have been simple, but the complications have made her seriously ill.  Her husband has a fear of hospitals and visits infrequently, besides he is left to take care of their daughters.  Lucy is alone in the hospital for days and weeks.  The loneliness is just as debilitating as her illness.  Then one day, Lucy wakes up  to see her mother sitting next to her bed.  The mother she hasn't seen, let alone spoken with in years.  Lucy is relieved to see her mother and takes comfort in their easy silence and soft chatter about the home and life she left behind years ago.  Lucy grew up in abject poverty with parents that couldn't get ahead financially no matter how hard they worked.  As a child Lucy was ostracized because of their poverty.   While recovering Lucy has nothing but time to reflect on her relationship with her mother, her father, her siblings, the life she has now, the relationship she has with her husband, and her relationship with her daughters.  

My Name is Lucy Barton is beautiful story  about reflection and sentiment.   Lucy is the kind of character that just captivates the reader with her uncomplicated way of storytelling.  Her simplicity is refreshing and hypnotizing.   I can understand Lucy's feelings as she sits there with her mother.  So much is left unsaid between them, and I get the feeling that Lucy feels unworthy of her mother's attention, but it doesn't matter because when Lucy needed her most, she was there. And isn't that the true definition of family?  Of love?  I found myself angry on Lucy's behalf because her husband wasn't there. And that might have been the root of their problems, but it angered me. Lucy's reflections on her childhood, on her marriage,  and on her family are likely to be recognizable by many women.   It is easy to romanticize your past and gloss over the hardships you encountered, but not Lucy.   In the end, Lucy Barton is honest with not only us, the readers, but herself and it is like a challenge to the reader to be honest with themselves.

Bottom line - My Name is Lucy Barton is a splendid novel. I think it goes without saying that anything written by Elizabeth Strout is worthy of book club consideration.

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Sarah feels like she is living an idyllic life.  She is married to the handsome doctor, Johnny McDonald, she has a successful career as a children's book author, and they live in a quaint home in the perfect neighborhood. Until the night the perfect life is shattered.  Johnny is out of town at a convention when Sarah's sleep is disturbed by something and when she awakens she discovers that the house next door is on fire.  She can hear four year old Mia crying in her room.   Sarah doesn't hesitate and she rushes into a burning building to save the little girl.  The fire jumps to their house and soon Johnny and Sarah have lost everything.   That is when doubt sets in.  Why didn't Johnny answer his phone the night of the fire?  Why was she sneaking out of their rental house in the middle of the night?  Why was he sending flowers to their new neighbor?  Sarah has always been a bit paranoid about infidelity, but now the evidence points to the fact that Johnny has been cheating on her.  What is Sarah going to do?  And did his possible cheating have anything to do with the fire that killed their neighbors?

The Good Neighbor was fairly short by audio-book standards. And that is probably a good thing, because I am not sure that I would have stuck with it if it was much longer. As much as I wanted to like Sarah, I found her a bit needy.  And that is even after she saved a little girl. She was a hero, but I found her annoying.  Johnny wasn't really that much better.  He didn't seem connected to Sarah at all.  Little Mia was an adorable character and there was even a twist with her character.   Mia's twist wasn't really all that surprising and frankly, neither was the "whodunit" aspect of the book.  Predictable all the way around.

Bottom line - The Good Neighbor was a bit disappointing in it's predictability.  I love a good suspense novel, but not one I can figure out in the early chapters.

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Natalie and Theo are on their way to celebrate their anniversary when they get the call that their daughter had been in a horrible accident in her college dorm.  They rush to her bedside only to discover that their niece, Rory, was also injured in the fire that killed a young man.  Rory and Arden may be cousins, but they are as close as sisters.  They grew up together in the kitchen of their parent's restaurant and their entire childhood was full of shared memories.   It was because of a horrible investment mistake that Rory's father made the girls ad to give up their respective college dreams of Harvard and art  school for Eastern Maryland University.  The family dynamics have been strained ever since Vince lost the money, but the girls still remained close. What their parents don't know is that college has put a whole new strain on the girls' relationship and now they are both in the hospital fighting for their lives.  What really happened the night of the fire?   Will Rory and Arden survive to tell their side of the  story and what will it do to the family when the truth is revealed?

The Good Goodbye is a riveting story of a family on the brink of implosion.  Natalie feels completely betrayed by Vince's bad decision and it has put a strain on the familial relationships, not to mention their financial stability.  The story is told in alternating voices.  The present is told mostly by Natalie and the recent past, leading up to the fire, is told by Arden and Rory.  Two young women who are dealing with the pains that come along with growing up when they are forced to deal with the mistakes of their parents. Both girls deal with it in different ways. All sorts of hot button issues are hit in this book - eating disorders, prescription drug abuse, learning disabilities, child abuse, and more.  And then there are the old standbys like jealousy and betrayal. When you read what Rory and Arden were going through at college it is enough to rock even the strongest of people.  But as the flashbacks build up to the fire you just know that it is going to be horrible, but when the "big twist" is revealed it is quite earth-shattering.   Both what happened the night of the fire and what was revealed at the hospital.  Like jaw-dropping.

Bottom line - While The Good Goodbye is hard to keep straight at times, the twist and turns are worth sticking with, because in the end it is just a book about a family trying to survive everything life throws at them.   One of those books that will definitely leave you thinking.

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With an ordinary trip to IKEA Lucy Wakefield's life goes from boring to thrilling in just a manner of seconds.  Lucy has always wanted a child of her own, but she never could have one.   She and her husband even divorced after she was unable to have children, that is how much of an impact it has had on her life.  So when Lucy sees the beautiful baby girl left unattended in a busy IKEA she means to just straighten the child in her seat, but instead she lifts her out of the basket and before she knows what she is doing Lucy walks out the door with another woman's child.   Stealing another woman's child turned out to be incredibly easy.  An elaborate story gives Lucy credibility and soon her family, friends, and colleagues all believe that Lucy adopted Mia from a teenage mother in Kansas.  Why would the successful ad executive lie?  Meanwhile Marilyn's whole world crumbles with the loss of baby Natalie.  How does a mother survive the loss of her daughter?  What Was Mine  is told in alternating viewpoints and we get to hear the thoughts of everybody from Lucy, Marilyn, and Mia.  But also others who knew all of them from the beginning.  Mia is now twenty-one and starts questioning everything her mother has ever told her.  What will happen if she finds out the truth?  Will she ever be reunited with her family?

Lucy Wakefield has done a horrible thing.  She broke the law, kidnapped a child, and made her her own.  Yet, as a reader, it is really hard to dislike Lucy.  She gives Mia a good life and all of the things a child could possibly want.  On the other hand, Marilyn is a grieving mother desperate to find her daughter even more than twenty years later.  She has never stopped looking.  The person you really hurt for is Mia, the betrayal she felt when she found out the truth was soul-crushing, for even the reader.   That poor baby was just so devastated, it was tragic. As you are reading the alternating viewpoints you can sense that the truth has been revealed, but you don't know what was a result of that revelation.  I was a bit shocked by what Lucy decided to do, it wasn't what I expected.  And I was really surprised by Mia's actions at the very end, but it felt right.  It felt that Mia was going to get the happiness she deserved and there was going to be a "happy" ending for all of them.

Bottom line - What Was Mine is captivating read that centers around three women and one choice that changed them all.  Lots of discussion questions are included at the back of the book and it would absolutely make for a great book club selection.

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While growing up in Iowa Rebecca Porter and her twin sister, Lacey, had a fascination with the England and the royal family.  But, it is only Becca that takes the plunge and heads off to Oxford for college.  She has just arrived when a handsome fella holds the door for her and helps her with her luggage,  Unbeknownst to Bex, the helpful fella is Prince Nicholas, the future King, and he lives just down the hall.  Bex falls into an easy friendship with Nicholas and his friends.   Nicholas is trying everything possible to have a "normal" experience at college and Bex is part of that, they do typical college kid things like hit the clubs and binge watch bad television.  Without even realizing it, they fall in love.  Nicholas wants to keep Bex from the same spotlight that destroyed his mother, so they keep their relationship from the public and his family.  Well, except for his imp of a brother, Freddie.   After years of quietly dating the Prince is marrying his darling American.   But the stress and pressure of becoming a member of the royal family is getting to Bex and she made some mistakes that are now coming back to haunt her the night before their wedding.  Will those mistakes ruin her relationship with Nick and prevent them from getting married?

The Royal We is a modern day fairy tale.  The parallels between that "other" Royal couple and Nick/Bex is quite thinly veiled.  And the similarities that were there was enough to make me wonder if some of the more scandalous parts of the book were also based loosely on Wills and his bride. It also made me wonder if the authors got any push-back from the Throne.  It made it really fun to read and speculate.  The whole book was really perfection. From Rebecca's father and the Coucherator to that cad, Clive. Oh and Bee and Gemma!  Ohmygosh!  The Prince's handlers, Marge & Barnes were quite entertaining as well.  I do not doubt for a second that there are real counterparts working for the Royal family.  In The Royal We Nick and Freddie's mother was also out of the picture, but in a different way.   And Freddie, the similarities between Freddie and another ginger-haired younger brother are quite startling.  He couldn't have been anymore fun than what I imagine Prince Harry to be  himself.

Bottom line - The Royal We was one of the most fun and entertaining books I have read in quite sometime.   What girl hasn't dreamed of being of falling in love with a Prince?  Our daydreams are brought to life through Bex and Nicholas.  Who can resist a fairy tale?

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Richard Chapman is hosting a bachelor party for his younger brother, Philip, in his upscale Bronxeville home while his wife and young daughter spend the night in city with his mother-in-law.  The bachelor party is as you would expect, full of drunken debauchery and of course strippers.  The strippers arrived with two bodyguards and the reason why is obvious, they are protecting their investment.  The young Eastern European women are flawless in every way and although they are very young in appearance, it is obvious that they  are very old souls. The night takes a horrific twist when the strippers turn on their bodyguards and kill them and then take off into the dark night. Richard's storybook life is completely shattered.  His home is deemed off limits by the cops, his company has suspended him indefinitely, and he has destroyed his wife's trust in him.  In one night Richard is removed from his storybook life and thrust into the middle of a dark underworld full of Russian mobsters, and sex slaves.   Will his wife ever forgive him or has he Richard destroyed his marriage? Will the police  find the women from that night before the Russian mob does and what will happen if they are found?

The Guest Room starts with a perfectly innocuous bachelor party, but quickly devolves into a nightmare.  Even though Philip is a giant asshole, Richard seems like a pretty upstanding kind of guy, likable even, and the way things go down is completely shocking.   When he tells his story you find yourself liking, even envying, the life he has with his amazing wife. It only took one questionable decision to completely destroy his life.   The chapters alternate perspectives and you get to meet Alexandra, one of the women from the party. For as charmed as Richard's life has been, her story is one that nightmares are made of and it will rock you to your core.   So much that you may actually be able to forgive her actions from that night.  She is just trying to survive and fears that she is in mortal danger for her part in what happened that night.  Alexandra finds her way back to the scene of the crime and that is when the bad stuff really happens.  I was so shocked by the last few pages that I am still thinking about what happened. Without giving anything away, you will be shocked.


Bottom line - Chris Bohjalian has written a gripping story about a dark truth that many of us are oblivious to - human trafficking.  The Guest Room is a haunting tale that will haunt your mind and heart for quite some time.

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Sara and Amy are pen-pals whose love of books helped to develop a friendship much deeper than just letters.  Sara, a bookseller in Sweden, and Amy, an avid reader in small-town Iowa, have one thing in common, their shared love of reading.  Amy invites Sara to visit Broken Wheel, Iowa and Sara accepts.  It would be a nice vacation for Sara and a chance for them to further bond over books.  Only once Sara arrived she discovered that Amy has passed away.  Her grief is deep, but Amy's friends and family welcome her to Broken Wheel with open arms. Amy's nephew, the handsome Tom, allows Sara to stay in Amy's home and Sara finds it easy to be with Tom. But, even with the town's kindness and generosity, it doesn't take long for Amy to realize that Broken Wheel is, well, broken.  The small town is a breath away from being another casualty of urbanization.  There are empty schools, foreclosed homes, and abandoned store fronts.  Sara opens a bookstore as a way to honor her friend's memory and while it sparks a flame in the community, is it enough to revive the little community?

I grew up in a small Iowa town surrounded by communities not unlike Broken Wheel, Iowa. I remember about 25 years ago, a Big Box store was poking around the area looking for a place to build a new store.  All of the talking heads said that whatever community  was lucky enough to "get" the store will be the community that survives.  They were right.  My hometown got "the" Big Box store and the communities around it have all become Broken Wheels.  Full of empty store-fronts and abandoned homes.  Having said that, I loved experiencing Iowa from a newcomer's eye.  Sara's observations were astute and charming at the same time.   Broken Wheel was so foreign to Sara that it was interesting to watch how she integrated herself into the community and it primarily came when she opened the bookstore.   The community obviously took to her, for it was them who plotted a way to keep Sara in Broken Wheel as her Visa was running out.  The bookstore was fun, too.  I loved how she categorized the books into labels that people would find easier to search by - like Chick Lit.  OH and speaking of Chick Lit, the author (via Sara) gave a nice commentary on good Chick Lit versus bad Chick Lit - I found myself practically fist-pumping in agreement.  That was just one of the few literary observations I found myself agreeing with throughout the book.  There were so many references to so many books I lost track, but finding a title mentioned that I had read almost felt like finding an Easter egg.  It made for a fun experience. 

Bottom line - The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend incorporated two of my loves - reading and Iowa.  The author did a great job at depicting a small Iowa town and intertwining books as important to me as my home state.    A great read for any small town girl or lover of books.

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Jessica Dunn has one mission in life - to keep her mentally challenged brother, Davey, happy and healthy. Jessica is proud that they survived their childhood with alcoholic, neglectful parents and she is working hard to give them the security they have never known.  She has been dating local pub owner, Connor O'Rourke, but has to keep their relationship a secret because Davey hates him and just the mere mention of Connor triggers a meltdown.

Connor O'Rourke has had a thing for Jessica Dunn ever since they were kids. He doesn't care about her racy past, he doesn't care about her drunk parents, he just cares about her.  Their relationship has had ups and downs, but Connor thinks that their "downs" will even out on their own and he proposes to her anyway.  Connor never took into account that Davey's happiness is everything to Jessica and her "no" devastates him.  He tries to lower his expectations and take whatever relationship Jess is willing to give him, but is it enough?

Anything For You takes us back to Manningsport and we get to catch up with old friends. Jess and Connor's story is a bit unique because they come from opposite sides of the "track".  Jessica had a rough time growing up and has pulled herself up by her bootstraps.  Her devotion to Davey is quite commendable, but I could understand Connor's frustrations with the way she practically martyrs herself for him.  I thought having their father come back to town was an interesting twist.  I liked the way that story-line played out, it tugged at my heart strings.  In the end things worked out the way they were supposed to in true Kristan Higgins fashion.

Bottom line - Anything For You is another foray into the magical world of Manningsport, New York.  Connor and Jess's story is a sweet, quick read about a couple that was meant to be together.

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Plum Kettle is ready to start living her life and is counting down the days until her weight-loss surgery.  She has patiently been preparing for the surgery and life after surgery and that includes buying clothes that "Alicia" (her real name) will wear.  Plum's life up to now has been  pretty stark. She has no friends, she doesn't go anywhere, she doesn't do anything, and she even has a telecommuting job working for a posh teen magazine. Her whole existence is planning for her life after the surgery.  She stumbles across a book that sets her on a new course.  The book, Adventures in Dietland, is written by the daughter of the late weight-loss guru and soon Plum is pulled into a world where strong women have strong ideas on body image, what defines beauty, and are set on changing Plum's mind about surgery.  They promise Plum $20,000 if she agrees to complete a set of tasks that is meant to change her own perspective on beauty.  It doesn't take long for Plum to feel accepted and part of something greater than herself, but then she realizes that there might be more to this little group of misfits.  Could they be part of a vigilante group that is making men pay for their transgressions?

Dietland was one of the most unique books I have read this year.  Body-image has been a theme for me recently and I was thrilled to find such a great read.  I could see a little bit of myself in Plum Kettle, but I also found her a bit irritating in the way she was hiding from the world.  As an overweight woman, I get the desire for anonymity, but she took it to an extreme.  The weight loss groups mentioned in the book were very similar to groups that exist today.  Waist Watchers? The Baptist Diet Plan? Millions of people, mostly women, have given hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to diet plans just like them.  The women Plum meets along the way are also among the most unique characters of the year.  Marlowe, Verena,  and Leeta are all so unique they felt almost cartoonish.  There was a part of the book towards the end that was a bit over the top, a certain room in the basement. That whole scene was a bit weird for me, almost out of place.  That didn't stop me from enjoying Dietland and it's message.

Bottom line - Dietland is a delectable book about one woman's quest for beauty and in the end she found self-acceptance.  Definitely a great selection if you are hoping to make a change in 2016.

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If you think about it, Santa Claus has to be one of the greatest businessmen of all time.  He has successfully run a global enterprise for centuries.  He manages a team of elves that manufactures and distributes toys to every boy and girl in the whole world.  His brand recognition has got to be better than Walt Disney, no?  So it stands to reason that the man in the red suit has to manage and lead the elves just like any other CEO.

The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus is a unique little business book told from Santa himself.  He discusses things like Misfit, the reindeer he had to let go for his poor performance and morale among the elves.  With cheesy little lines like "The solution was as clear as an unshaken snow globe: and "It can suck the jolly right out of you and turn "HoHo's into Woe Woes."" the reader will be entertained.   With a call to action at the end of each chapter you can see how his wise advice can apply to your career.  Advice like "Share the Milk and Cookies" and "Build a Wonderful Workshop" is great advice whether you are selling  books or building toys.

Bottom line - if you need a last minute gift for the business person in your life, may I suggest The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus and give the gift that keeps on giving.

Details:
  • The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus by Eric Harvey
  • Pages: 144
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks
  • Publication Date: 10/06/2015 (Reissue)
  • Buy it Here!






Maya Wolfe is The Third Wife.  Her husband, Adrian, has two ex-wives and five children between them.  Maya is considerably younger than both her husband and his ex-wives and struggles to find her place in the family's unique dynamics.  After a night of drinking Maya steps off the curb into the path of an oncoming bus.  Was it an accident?  Was it suicide?  Or was it something much more sinister.  A year later the family, including Adrian,  is still trying to come to grips with her death when a young woman seeks out Adrian.  Something about Jane leads Adrian to believe she is tied to his late wife and when Adrian finds out that Maya was receiving malicious emails he is more determined than ever to track down Jane and find out what she is hiding.    Will she be able to reveal the truth about what happened that day? Was Maya's death an accident, suicide,  or murder?

The Third Wife was really a great read.  I struggled with even liking Adrian for many reasons but as the story continued he acknowledged some of those flaws.  As the story goes between past and present, it seemed like he and Maya had such a disconnect.  Maya increasingly felt like an outsider in their marriage and in their family. But it is when she started to connect with another man that I knew that her death could possibly have not been an accident.  It surprised me a bit who that other man was, but given the dysfunction in the family, I wasn't that surprised.  In the end, you would hope that Adrian would redeem himself and help the family heal,  He does a little, but I still found him quite unappealing. The setting of London during the 2012 Olympics just added the feeling that, despite everything, the Wolfe's are just a normal family.

Bottom line - even though I found Adrian to bit of a cad, I did enjoy the family drama that was The Third Wife.

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Wayne and Kelly Maines always knew they wanted children so, when they were unable to have their own they adopted identical twin boys, Wyatt and Jonas.  From a very young age it was evident that Wyatt was different than his brother.  Wyatt preferred to play with barbie dolls, wear clothes from the girl section, and walk around the house pretending he had long hair using a bath towel.  He was practically a toddler when he declared that he hated his penis.  At first Kelly and Wayne are at a loss of how to handle Wyatt, but his insistence that he is a girl will not end and all they know is that he is their baby and they will do anything for him.  Kelly starts to  research and starts to believe that Wyatt is transgendered.  While Kelly researches, advocates, and buys clothes from the girls section, Wayne keeps his head down and struggles with how to process the fact that his son wants to be his daughter.  Around the fifth grade Wyatt changes his name to Nicole and wears his first dress to school and that is when the real fight begins  Together the family faces challenge after challenge to get equality for Nicole.  Together the family faces bullies of all ages.  Together the family will stand in courtrooms and at conferences to help one and all to understand that all Nicole wants to be is a normal girl.

Becoming Nicole is the story of one American family told by Amy Ellis Nutt.  From the very beginning I could relate to Kelly and even empathize with Wayne.  They are a middle class, conservative family and their beliefs were being challenged by their child.  I have nothing but mad respect for the way Wayne and Kelly handled raising Nicole. It may have taken Wayne longer to process and accept, but he was the one to dance with his daughter at the school's Father/Daughter dance.  He was the one to stand in court and defend his daughter.  He was the one invited, with Nicole, to go to the White House.  The family, including Jonas, made great sacrifices for Nicole, but they would have it any other way.   To say that the author did a great job telling the Maine's story is an understatement, she doesn't just tell you Nicole's personal story, but he covers history, science, and more in her effort to help people understand exactly what it means to be transgendered.

Bottom line - people fear what they don't know or understand and I believe statements of ignorance come from a place of fear.  I am sure we have all seen the hateful things said about Caitlyn Jenner over the last few months and I believe the majority of them come from people who just don't understand.  But Nicole is not Caitlyn, Nicole is a beautiful young woman who knew who she was from a very tender age.  If just one person comes away from reading Becoming Nicole with a changed perspective, then Amy Ellis Nutt and the Maines family have done their job.


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Simon Connolly is a Stay-At-Home-Dad going about his ordinary day when he receives a text from his kid's school. There has been a shooting and then provides a location for parents to go to get more information.  Soon Simon's wife, Rachel, meets him at the church.  Then their daughter walks in to the church - shaken and scared. As kid after kid arrives at the church into the arms of their waiting parents, Simon anxiously keeps looking for his son, Jake.  As the agonizing afternoon passes the whispers start and then the police are standing before him asking questions. Thirteen kids are dead and Jake's blood was found on a door one of the gunmen was had run through, but Jake is nowhere to be found.  The police believe that Jake was working with the other gunman and soon even Simon is questioning his son's innocence.  The race is on and Simon will stop at nothing to find Jake.

Finding Jake is the story of one parent's nightmare.  Simon wants to believe his son's innocence, but the building evidence is quite damning.  Rachel is furious in Simon's wavering support and just wants her baby to come home.  The police, the reporters, the angry parents and the stress of it all is taking a toll on their relationship in just a few short days.  The book is told in alternating time periods, present and at different intervals in Jake's life.  It gives the reader a chance to really get to know Simon, Jake and the whole family.  The author gives the reader just enough information for you to draw your own conclusion, but when the truth is revealed there is no way it is going to be a happy ending. You just don't know which bad road you are going to go down.   That is what makes Finding Jake so thrilling.  The story is racing to a conclusion like a runaway train towards a cliff, and you will find your pulse racing and heart pounding.

Bottom line - Finding Jake is the kind of book that may give you nightmares, but it is sure going to make for a great discussion at your next book club meeting.

Details:
  • Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon
  • On Facebook
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • Publication Date: 11/17/2015 (Paperback)
  • Pages: 288
  • Buy it Here!


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