Saturday, September 23, 2017

(79)Nomadland by Jessica Bruder

I am 42 years old and retirement is constantly at the forefront of my mind.  I always tend to run these various scenarios through my mind at how we could retire without having the suggested millions in the bank.  I have explored the Tiny House craze and when I read the premise for Nomadland I was interested.

Nomadland is one journalist's look into an ever-growing subculture in our country. There is a whole generation of retirees who are taking to the roads in their campers, RVs, and vans.  These nomadic citizens are of a certain age and some lost everything in the 2008 housing bust, others lost their retirement when the market crashed. And others yet,  just have that sense of wanderlust that just cannot be cured.  And then there are those that chose this way of life as a way to thumb their noses at societal norms.

I learned something new reading this book, this subculture of nomads is very popular with employers looking to hire seasonal help.  Most of them are of a generation that has a reliable, solid work ethic and that makes them highly desirable.  Amazon even actively recruits these people, known as workampers, for seasonal help.  Amazon calls it their Camperforce. When done with seasonal work for Amazon these nomads head off to other seasonal work at campgrounds and theme parks across the country, just to name a few.  I found this particularly interesting for two reasons - first of all, the author highlights the theme park of my youth in Altoona, Iowa.  And secondly, my daughter works at a theme park here in Utah.  I know they hire retirees, but I am not sure if any of them are workampers.  

In Nomadland author Jessica Bruder purchases a van and sets off to immerse herself in this community.   Under the tutelage of Linda, an expert workamper,  the author was welcomed with open arms.  She learned the ins and outs of living out of a van, how to earn a meager living as a houseless person,  and how to be a productive member of a unique community.

Bottom line - Nomadland has to be one of the most fascinating books that I have read in a long time.  Ultimately, what I took away from this book is that there are options for those on the verge of retirement.  They may be a bit unconventional, but at least there are options.   If we do go the route of workamping I would do it in a vehicle with plumbing, but I could do it and probably enjoy it very much.  


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Sunday, September 17, 2017

(78)How to Change A Life by Stacey Ballis

Eloise's life as a Personal Chef is as close to perfect as it can be.  She has two clients, the wealthy family that welcomes her as a member of their family.  And there is the single retiree who loves to throw the kind of parties that people talk about for years. At the funeral of a beloved teacher from high school Eloise reconnects with her two best friends. As they are closing in on forty the three of them set goals for each other, things they want to accomplish before they hit forty.  For Teresa, it is things like expanding her family's culinary horizons and become more involved in the family's finances.  For Lynne, it is to see a matchmaker and get a dog.  For Eloise, it is to start dating again. Eloise goes on a few dates before she meets Shawn at a Halloween party.  Shawn is a doctor who makes her laugh and treats her like a queen. He is everything that Eloise could ever hope to find in a mate.  Then one night Shawn and Eloise are out for dinner when they run into someone that could shake their relationship to their core.  Will the fledgling relationship survive this trial or will Eloise find herself single again?

What I loved about How to Change A Life was that Stacey Ballis took a bit of a risk - and it paid off.  You see, Shawn is African American and Eloise is a white Jewish girl.  I have read a lot of Chick Lit in my days (a lot!!) and I don't remember ever having the main characters be interracial.  Ever.  The author navigates some of the situations (like meeting each other's families) with such casual grace that I wanted to applaud.  I was so happy for Eloise because her happiness was palpable.  Not that she was unhappy when the book started, but you could see the shift in her behaviors.  Her friendship with Lynne and Teresa was complicated.  And that made How to Change A Life even more authentic.  Friendships, especially friendships that span decades are not perfect.  There are ups and downs just like any other relationships.  Except you don't ever read about those struggles in most Chick Lit novels.  In the end, How to Change A Life got your typical Chick Lit kind of ending, but I was okay with the way it ended.  In fact, the end made me happy.

Bottom line - We live in a world where interracial relationships are more common than ever, but it rarely crosses over into the books that I tend to read.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a familiar author write about Shawn and Eloise with such ease and comfort. Other than the diversity, How to Change A Life is just like books we have all read before - and that is okay because sometimes we need that familiarity.


Friday, September 15, 2017

(77)Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena

Karen Krupp's life is a good one.  She lives in a wonderful neighborhood with a husband who is completely devoted to her.  One night Tom comes home from work and to find Karen missing.  Dinner is half prepared in the kitchen, her purse and cell phone have been left behind, but she is gone.  Tom calls the police, but when they arrive they tell him that Karen has been in a car accident in the bad part of town.  The accident caused her to lose her memory.  She doesn't know why she was there or what caused the accident.  When a body is discovered close to the accident site and evidence puts Karen at the scene Tom starts to realize that there might be more to his wife that he could ever imagine.   Their neighbor, Brigid, then tells Tom that she saw a strange man sneaking around their house and was asking about Karen.  Is it possible that Karen has been keeping secrets from him?  Is it possible that Karen killed that man?  When Karen is arrested, Tom starts to think that their lives will forever be ruined.

Karen was such a complicated character.  She seemed like a doting housewife who was completely devoted to her husband and their life.  She was pretty secretive about her past, but in some ways so was Tom and Brigid.  It was clear to me from almost the beginning that their idyllic little world - the one that Tom, Karen, and Brigid all live in was false.   I was so, so sure that I had A Stranger in the House all figured out and I was going to be angry that so many people called this book fabulous.  But it was the detectives that cast the shadow of a doubt. As the detectives were coming up with theories and working angles I started to second-guess myself.   I stuck with the book to the very end and realized that the author is very skilled in her craft of deception.  -CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS -  The end was one that I could live with, but it didn't really leave me wowed.  The biggest surprise for me was the way the author got me to shift my suspicions.

Bottom line - A Stranger in the House turned out to be a much better book than I was prepared for it to be.  The author skillfully takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster that will leave the reader wondering what just happened when they get to the last page.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sunday, September 10, 2017

(76)Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello

Here is a secret for you.  I am a bit of a pop-culture addict.  It started when I was a young girl and my family would watch Entertainment Tonight after dinner, but before the prime time shows started.   My siblings and I would fight to read the TV Guide every week when my Step-Dad would pick it up at the grocery store. Because of my secret obsession,  I have been following Michael Ausiello for a very long time.   Michael Ausiello has had a long career in television journalism.  I first remember him from TV Guide.  Then I followed his career to Entertainment Weekly.  And then again I followed him to his new venture - TV Line.   I was excited to find out that a book was in the works and wanted to be first in line to read it.

The title of the book says it all - Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies.  Michael starts by telling us about his first date with Kit Cowan. The year was 2001.  Their relationship had a lot of ups and downs and thirteen years.  From Kit's pot habit to Michael's Smurf obsession, we get to hear about it all.  When Kit is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer their world is shattered, but Michael steps into the role of caregiver with such a level of devotion and intensity that the reader can't help but fall a little bit in love with him, too.    With unabashed honesty, Michael Ausiello gives us a little peek into the details of their relationship.  From their weekly sessions with a therapist to their pet nicknames for each other and more.

Michael chronicles the last year of Kit's life with the love and devotion that kept them together for so long.  And prepare yourself - it is an emotional read.  I found myself crying like a baby on the day they got married, which was the same day the doctor broke the news that it was terminal. I had to take breaks while reading it and desperately hoped that the title was misleading, even though I knew it wasn't.  I cried like a baby during Kit's final days that reminded me so much of my grandmother's final days.  Cancer is a devastating, brutal, horrific disease, and Michael Ausiello details it all.

Bottom line - Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies is a beautiful tribute to one couple's love in the face of a tragic diagnosis.  You will ugly cry, but you will also laugh, and you will not be able to put the book down until you finish the last page.  Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies is on sale Tuesday, September 12th.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

(75)Perennials by Mandy Berman

Fiona and Rachel became best friends at their sleep-away camp, Camp Marigold.  Fiona came from an upper-class suburban family and Rachel was a city kid with a single mom and a father who had another family.  For some reason, their differences strengthened their friendship over the years. Rachel is the risk-taker and Fiona the rule-follower, they always balanced each other out.   Now it has been a few years since they were campers and they are returning as counselors after their first year at college. The years and independence of college have only magnified their differences. Camp this year is different, not only is Fiona's little sister, Helen, now at Camp Marigold but they have positions of responsibility.  Fiona and Rachel have both changed, but are fighting to maintain their oldest friendship.  Will their summer at Camp Marigold be the thing that tears their friendship apart or will the events of the summer only strengthen their relationship?

Perennials is one of those novels that will leave you with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia.  I only attended summer camp for one week as a teen and this novel invoked a rush of memories.  Camp Marigold is everything you envision a summer camp to be.  From the tent cabins to the counselor's lodge - it all was so vividly described I felt like I was there.   The author's descriptions almost made me think of the summer camp in The Parent Trap.   There are two stories going on in this book, though.  That of Rachel and Fiona and then Fiona's sister, Helen and her bunkmate. Sheera.  All four young women are struggling to figure things out - and that was also nostalgic to me.  Being a teen was hard for me so I could relate.   Rachel seemed the most "lost" and the "cliche" daddy-issue was a little frustrating, but ultimately I enjoyed the book. There was an ending that I was not expecting - a shocking event happens that takes your breath away. - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom line - Perennials is a coming-of-age story that will take you back to your own youthful adventures at summer camp.  You will spot a little bit of yourself in the characters and in the stories of their time at Camp Marigold.   A great read if you are already missing the days of summer.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

(74)The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker

Edgar Hill was an unhappy man the Sunday morning that the world nearly ended.  His wife was still recovering from giving birth to their youngest, Arthur, and their entire marriage focused on keeping their two children alive.  Gone was the love that had brought them together and instead there were two adults that barely tolerated each other.  Edgar was a bit of a dick to his wife with his "he who works gets to sleep" decree.  He had put on a ton of weight since their marriage and was an all around dick to be around.  He did agree to look after the children on weekend mornings so that Beth could sleep.  That is why Edgar was awake (and a bit hungover) when he remembered the news from the night before those asteroids were about to hit the planet.  His teenage fantasy with all things apocalyptic kicked in and he knew he needed to get his family to the cellar.  There they survived for three weeks before being rescued and sent to a refugee center of sorts.  Three months later Edgar is out on a scavenging mission when Beth and the kids were swept up in a rescue that would put them on ships to the other side of the planet, where damage was minimal.  With the country's infrastructure destroyed by the asteroids, Edgar and a band of misfits set off on foot for the 450-mile trek to his family.  Will Edgar and his companions make it to the ships before they set sail? Or will the treachery they encounter along the way do what the asteroids could not - destroy them all?

I find myself a little surprised at how much I enjoyed The End of the World Running Club. Edgar was a bit of a dick and I really struggled to like him at first.  One of those characters that are so distasteful if you had encountered him in real life you would hate him and try to convince his wife that she could do better.  The author did an astounding job of painting just what a dick Edgar was before the asteroids hit.  He was the kind of guy that would frequently get drunk with his work buddies leaving his wife to be the sole care provider for the kids.  He was very hands-off in their upbringing.  He started to redeem himself when he kicked it into gear knowing what was about to happen.  Even then he was a bit dickish when he kicked in the door for his local store.  It isn't until his family is evacuated to safety that Edgar starts to realize how much of a dick he had been. It wasn't until he had to start out on foot that he was -- humbled -- enough to realize how lucky he was to have such a wonderful family.  His journey forces him to encounter some pretty perilous situations and even more perilous survivors - the desperate kind.  The kind of situations you would only expect to encounter in a post-apocalyptic world.  I felt a rush of relief as the book ended, but the story still felt unfinished.  I can see another book coming down the way - I hope so at least.

Bottom line - I haven't read a good post-apocalyptic story in a while and I am glad that I picked up The End of the World Running Club. With flawed, complex characters, the author created a world that seemed far more plausible than most novels in this genre.  If you are looking for a way to escape the world's headlines (or potentially needing to take notes in the event of a global meltdown) than this is the book to pick up!


Sunday, September 3, 2017

(73)No Place I'd Rather Be by Cathy Lamb

Olivia Martindale is returning to her home state of Montana.  She left two years ago a broken woman.  She is returning in the middle of a blizzard and with two little girls who are counting on Olivia to keep them safe.  She is currently the guardian for the two little girls who recently lost their grandmother and have both parents in jail.  After losing her job as a chef, Olivia decided that home would be the best place to raise the girls. Montana is where her mother, her grandmother, and her sister lives.  Montana is also where her husband Jace, lives. She moves her little family into the log cabin that her grandparents had lived in before Olivia's grandfather passed away and her grandmother moved in with her mother.  The cabin holds many fond memories for her and she hopes that it will help her new daughters start to heal from their traumatic childhood.  When Olivia discovers an old cookbook in the attic she discovers things about her grandmother's history that have been long buried. As Olivia gets reacquainted with life among her family she is facing a really tough decision - does he try to start over with Jace or is it too late for their love to succeed?

Cathy Lamb is an author that knows how to write strong female characters. They face adversity in a memorable fashion and come through it stronger than ever.  I think my favorite part of this book was Olivia's Grandmother's story.  Gisela's cookbook held so many important memories and the book flashes back to the times when it was written and entries were added.  It helped Olivia understand her grandmother so much better.  I also loved Olivia's tough-talking doctor of a mother.  She was a true cowgirl in every sense of the word.  The author keeps the troubles between Jace and Olivia secret for a good chunk of the book, but when revealed it isn't anything that would cause you to not root for their happy-ever-after.  In the end, I was pleased with the way the book ended and was a little sad to say goodbye to my new friends.

Bottom line - Cathy Lamb has created another magical story around another family of strong women.  No Place I'd Rather Be is a charming novel about the mighty bond between these strong women and the people that they love.


Friday, September 1, 2017

(72)The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

When Isa Wilde received the text from her old friend, Kate, saying "I need you." she knows that she has to go.  Their friendship is an old one and the many secrets they share is the reason why Isa is on the first possible train to Salten.  Their friendship goes way back to when they were young teenagers attending an exclusive boarding school, Salten House when they first met.  Their friends, Fatima and Thea, also got the same text from Kate.  All those years ago the four girls were the "mean girls" at school.  They had a bond over "The Lying Game" - there were rules involved in their childish game, but ultimately they caused a lot of trouble and hurt a lot of people.  One weekend all those years ago they got a similar text from Kate and they found Kate with the body of her beloved father. They believed he had committed suicide.  Kate was so afraid that if it was found out her father had died before she turned sixteen her life would be destroyed, so the friends helped Kate to hide the body in the reach.  Kate is calling her friends back to Salten because the body has been found.    All of them have something to lose if it is found out that they hid a body.  Will they be able to get away with The Lying Game one more time?

I enjoyed everything about The Lying Game. From the characters to their boarding school, to the old mill.   The narrator is Isa Wilde, a new mother, who works for the civil service.  She is putting her job and her relationship at risk to go when Kate sent the text. There were a few times that she just grated on my nerves, specifically with her communication (or lack of) with her partner, Owen. But ultimately her regrets over her time at Salten run deep.  Kate never left Salten and the old mill that she grew up in with her father, the school's art teacher.  She isolated herself in the mill trying to keep the secrets from that night from being exposed.  Fatima and Thea also were dealing with that night in their own way.  It was clear that they both were still fighting those demons, as well.  Then there is Luc, Kate's french step-brother that was sent back to France after Kate's father went missing. His world was rocked the most because his life in France was the stuff of horror stories.   He was a volatile character and made my spidey senses tingle from the very beginning.  There were a lot of secrets revealed as the book went on and I found myself a little shocked by some of it.  --CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS -- the book ended in really the only way it could - and I was okay with that.

Bottom line - The Lying Game was one of those novels that are full of atmosphere and intrigue.  Everything about the setting just added to the intrigue and kept the reader on the edge of their seat.  Definitely, one not to miss this year!


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sunday, August 20, 2017

(71)Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

"Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again." is one of the most famous first lines in the history of literature. The book starts with the second Mrs. de Winter speaking of her dream, of her longing for the place she once, briefly, called home.  Mrs. de Winter then continues on to explain how she met her future husband and how she came to be the mistress of one of the most coveted manors on the Cornish coasts.  But the second Mrs. de Winter was a woman of simple means before marrying Maxim, she is overwhelmed by the grandeur of Manderley.  All of the servants speak of Rebecca with such reverence that it makes it hard for the second Mrs. de Winter to adjust.  It is Rebecca's favorite meals that they prepare, Rebecca's favorite flowers that they cut.  The head of the house, Mrs. Danvers, has made it very clear that they do not want her there.  When the second Mrs. de Winter makes a serious mistake she fears that her marriage is in jeopardy and her time at Manderley is over.  But before she is sent from Manderley something happens that changes everything.  Will the secrets of Manderley ever be revealed?

I think that I officially have a new favorite book.  I was captivated by Daphne Du Maurier's words from the very first line.  I absolutely adored the second Mrs. de Winter from the first we meet her.  She was kind and quiet and quite naive when she married Maxim.  At first, I thought that Max de Winter was a giant jackass.  But he seemed to be a completely different man once the secrets started spilling.  And then there was Manderley.  I immediately fell in love with Manderley.  The library, the morning room, the rose garden, all of it. Mrs. Danvers and Frank Crawley were as much a part of Manderley as the furniture.   It was so descriptive and so  - perfect.  That I immediately wanted to visit Manderley.   It made the end of the book that much more tragic - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERSUltimately Rebecca was one of the most well written romantic thrillers I have ever read.  The characters are rich, the story is intricate, and the many twists are jaw-dropping and well ahead of their time.

Bottom Line - As much as I love a good thriller I cannot believe that it took me this long to read one of the best thrillers ever written.   I can see myself rereading this one many times and I  have already ordered the Alfred Hitchcock classic and can't wait to see the book translated to screen.  If you have not read it - I encourage you to move it to the top of your pile. You will not regret it.


Friday, August 18, 2017

(70)Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza

It was a day like any other day when Janey Sweet meets her best friend and business partner, Beau, for breakfast at one of New York's trendiest restaurants.  She is shocked when Beau tells Janey that she needs to lose weight if she wants to continue working for their wedding dress business.  He is giving her six months to lose thirty pounds.   The betrayal hurts Janey more than her divorce did.  Beau has been her best friend since they were eight years old.  Janey calls on her best girlfriend from college, CJ, to be her guide in this crazy world that surrounds weight loss.  From topless yoga to crazy drink concoctions and a trip to a crazy-expensive wellness retreat in St. Lucia, Janey explores every option available to her to get the weight off and get back to work.  Along her way, Janey meets some great people, like Stella the Shaman who introduces her to an exclusive workout club.  And the incredibly hot, incredibly young, owner of a juice shop.  While Janey was forced to take the time off to lose the weight she ends up focusing on other areas of her life that have long been neglected.  What Janey realizes is that her relationship with Beau has been broken for a very long time.  Will they be able to get past this and does Janey even really want to?

While Fitness Junkie is meant to be satirical there is a lot of hard-hitting (and hysterical) truths found within the book's pages. I really liked Janey.  She seemed more down to earth than your average high-powered CEO.  She was genuinely blindsided by Beau at that breakfast.  I totally get it - negative comments about a person's weight is never a good feeling no matter how much you weigh.   There were so many things that I laughed at because I could relate - Beau gives Janey a "FitWand" as a gift the day after their breakfast and I just had to laugh.  I admittedly am devoted to my FitBit -but  I think that I would have to ditch my FitBit if it ever started talking out loud.   Everything that Janey did was a bit exaggerated, but I know that there are some people out there who take fitness to extremes. Like the fad diet of eating CLAY?  Or the special ingredient in a super-secret herbal tea? (Click here for spoilers).  I was really pleased with the way the book ended.  Janey got the ending that she deserved and I am glad that the authors did right by her.

Bottom Line - Fitness Junkie was a fun and entertaining read.  Even though I have been working hard to lose weight this year I haven't gone to the extremes that are mentioned throughout the book. There is no secret to losing weight, all you have to do is eat less and move more.  Really.


Why I Read...

I remember the carefree summer days when I used to ride my bike to the public library to pick out new books. I would go almost daily to find books to read. I read to learn. I read to explore the world. I read to escape. I read because not reading is not an option.

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