Sunday, October 15, 2017

(86)The Gatekeepers by Jen Lancaster



North Shore High School is a real pressure cooker.  The students aren't all from affluent families, but most of them are.  The students aren't all overachievers, but most of them are. North Shore High School has a shameful secret, though.  The students are killing themselves.  The most recent victim was one of the most popular guys on campus and everybody is shocked.  But even in their shock, everything goes back to normal.  One thing is for sure, though.  Suicide is going to keep plaguing North Shore High School.  Will the next victim be Mallory the tightly wound perfectionist with a narcissistic mother? Or the first generation Korean who feels the weight of his family's honor on his shoulders?  Or the transfer student from England who had to leave everything behind?  Or the pot-smoking kid who saw Braden step in front of the train?  Or will the students of North Shore High School band together to keep another one of their classmates from thinking that there is no hope?

Teen suicide is a scary subject to talk about, let alone write about.  And reading about it - when you have teens?  Well, it is terrifying, to be honest.  The pressure that teens feel today is not anything that I can comprehend. I think the author did a great job of exposing those pressures.   The Gatekeepers has a real "John Hughes" feel to it, which is not surprising given the author, Jen Lancaster, does not keep her adoration a secret.  The characters in the book are all good kids - a product of their environment, both at home and at school. There was a traumatic point in the book where I had to stop reading and set the book aside.  It wasn't graphic, but it was tough to read. - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS.   I liked how the author took the traumatic events and created something positive with the group The Gatekeepers, a group of students who mean to look out for their friends, act as "Gatekeepers" between them and suicidal thoughts.   

Bottom Line -   Jen Lancaster is known for her wit and humor, but you could not tell the topic was out of her comfort zone.  In The Gatekeepers, she tackled the tough topic with dignity,  respect and a little bit of her trademark wit.  The Gatekeepers is the kind of book you should read with your teen and open that dialogue.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

(85)Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker


It has been three years since Cass and Emma Tanner disappeared. To the outside world, their home life appeared to be perfect, but it was far from perfect. Their parents divorced, their mother is a raging narcissist, their stepbrother, Hunter, is a classic jerk with a drug problem. Cass was just fifteen years old the night they disappeared and their mother milked the attention for all it was worth.  Now only Cass has returned home and everyone wants to know what happened to Emma.  The authorities are determined to get to the bottom of what happened, but Cass's story is unbelievable.  She says that she was hiding in Emma's car the night that Emma disappeared.  She says that Emma was pregnant when they left.  She says that they have been living on an island, held captive.  Cass says that Emma had a little girl.  Cass says that she escaped.  Dr. Abby Winter is the forensic psychiatrist assigned to the case and it has haunted her for three years.  Now that Cass is back she is determined to get to the bottom of the story and hope that it helps to put her own demons to rest.   But first, where is Emma and her daughter?

Is there anything better than a good psychological thriller? I sure don't think so.  Almost immediately I was hooked on this story.  I think having a narcissistic mother made Emma and Cass the most sympathetic characters ever.  Cass wasn't even allowed to call her mother anything but "Mrs. Martin" as a punishment for wanting to live with her father.  Even after three years away, she only called her "Mrs. Martin."  Right away that made me want to gather Cass into a hug and "mother" her the right way.  The dynamic between Hunter and the girls made my spidey senses tingle almost immediately.  Same goes for Mr. Martin. He just seemed "off" to me.   I really liked Dr. Winter and knew immediately that was going to be an ally.  Her own experiences made her the perfect person to identify the real Mrs. Martin.  Cass's return turned out to be a carefully crafted attempt at revenge, but who was doing the crafting?  It was genius really.  I tried to figure it all out and I thought I had all of the secrets uncovered,  but it turns out that I was only half right.  CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS


Bottom line -- Emma in the Night was an absolute masterpiece of a psychological thriller. There were so many twists and turns that just when you thought you had a handle on the situation Wendy Walker reveals something to make you realize just how wrong you were.  An absolutely thrilling read, be sure not to miss this one!

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Sunday, October 8, 2017

(84)The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain


Tess DeMello made the biggest mistake of her life when her fiance was out of town. The year is 1944 and Tess's fiance, Vincent has been in Chicago for so long that she needs a distraction from her loneliness.  She agrees to go away for the weekend with her best friend, Gina.  Two handsome men and several martinis later, Tess sleeps with one of the men. Her guilt is compounded when she realizes she is pregnant.  She breaks it off with Vincent and heads to Hickory, North Carolina to confront the man who got her pregnant, Henry Kraft. Henry marries her and Tess quickly realizes that life in Hickory, North Caroline is worlds apart from her life in Baltimore.  Henry's family is distant and critical, as is Henry himself.  When Tess loses the baby she thinks it will be her way out of her marriage and Hickory, but Henry will not let her go.   Tess is miserable until she gets to put her skills as a nurse to work at the town's newly created hospital for polio patients.  She finally has a purpose and has something to live for in such a dismal situation.   Then Vincent shows up to work at the hospital and Tess knows that she has to find a way to get out of her marriage - but at what cost?

The Stolen Marriage is a rich, historical novel that eloquently illustrates how far this country has come from since 1944.  In 1944 the country was rationing gas and food while soldiers fought in Europe.   The Civil War still held great influence over behaviors and laws in the south and Polio was very much a medical threat. In fact, the book is historically accurate in regards to Hickory, South Carolina and the hospital that was created nearly overnight. - Miracle in Hickory.  I really liked Tess, but one really bad decision changed her life.  Moving to the South was such a culture shock for her that she almost immediately regretted it.  Henry's mother and sister we less than welcoming, his mother even went so far as to call Tess a slut, more than once, it just highlighted the fact that Tess was from a different world.  I couldn't figure out Henry and his stand-offish behavior to Tess. He didn't HAVE to marry her, so why did he?  -- CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - Diane Chamberlain has a real gift for crafting a story that takes the reader to a different time and place.  Her characters in The Stolen Marriage are so rich and the story is so captivating it is easy to get swept away, in my opinion, that is the mark of a true craftsman.

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Monday, October 2, 2017

(83)Odd Child Out by Gilly Macmillan


Noah Sadler an Abdi Mahad are best friends and have been inseparable for years. They play chess, they laugh, they are typical teenage boys.  Until the night that Noah is found floating in the local canal and Abdi is left speechless by the event. He refuses to speak about the events that have left Noah fighting for his life.  An eyewitness has come forward to say that she saw Abdi push his best friend into the canal.  As a Somalian refugee Abdi and his family are thrust into the spotlight with some in the media trying to make it out to be some sort of terrorist event. Social tensions in Bristol are rising.  Detective, Jim Clemmo tries to get to the bottom of what happened, before things explode out of control.  What he uncovers are some dark family secrets that will shatter a family, but did Abdi really push his best friend in the canal?


Odd Child Out is one of those books that has more than one story to tell.  Not only do you have the mystery of what really happened at the canal, but you also have the social commentary that comes along with the family of Somalian refugees.  I am one that does not usually enjoy social commentary in my mysteries, buy I was really okay with Odd Child Out.  In this book you have three stories, the Sadler's story, the Mahad's story, and the detective's story.  I wasn't too fond of the Sadler's to be honest.  Noah's mother appeared to be a very racist woman who was willing to fuel the flames of "terrorism".  But yI am not sure if it was racism or fear over her son's fate that made her that way.  Noah's dad seemed to be a self-serving artist who was willing to exploit the suffering of others for financial gain.  The Mahad family was happy to be living in a country where they did not to live in fear, even if they had to struggle to make ends meet.  I really liked Abdi's sister, she was the bridge between her parents and the world in England.  I wasn't all that surprised by the end, but it really wasn't a "edge of your seat" kind of book - and it didn't have to be  -- CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom line - Odd Child Out is one of the most relevant books for this day and age.  I thoroughly enjoyed the story that Gilly Macmillan had to tell and it wasn't just a mystery.

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

(82)The Last Chance Matinee by Mariah Stewart


Cara is shocked when she receives word that her father has died. She is shocked even further when her father's best friend tells her that he does not want a funeral or anything. Instead, Cara's presence is requested at the reading of the will.  There she finds out that her father led a double life. On the East coast were Cara and her mother.  On the West coast were Fritz's first wife and two daughters, Ally and Des.  They were all shocked to find out that their father led a double life.  They were even more shocked to learn that if they want to receive their inheritance they have to renovate a theater in their father's hometown of Hidden Falls, Pennsylvania.  So, Cara, Des, and Ally meet in Hidden Falls with one mission, fulfill the wishes of their father and get out.  But what they find in Hidden Falls is a family history none of them ever knew existed.  And a future that none of them expected.

 Cara, Des, and Ally are all three very different characters.  Ally was a gigantic bitch.   Cara was the heartbroken one who had a connection with the handsome contractor, Joe.  Des was the former child star who had found security in the wilds of Montana.  She was hoping to open an animal shelter after they rescued some strays that made their home.  None of those storylines were ever wrapped up, so I guess it is a really good thing that this is going to be a series.   There is also their eccentric aunt, Barney.  She was such a fun character that I wanted to know more and I hope that her story comes out in future books.  I also really enjoyed the descriptive scenery of the Poconos.  I wish the book didn't end so abruptly and that there was more closure leading into the next book, but I was engaged enough with the characters to read the next book.

Bottom line - The Last Chance Matinee has a lot going for it.  Interesting, complex characters trying to renovate a historical theater, set against the backdrop of the Poconos.  Just go into it knowing you will have to wait for the other books in the series for closure.

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Saturday, September 30, 2017

(81)Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zavin


Aviva Grossman was young and naive when she had an affair with the married Florida Congressman. She believed herself to be in love with him and she believed that the Congressman would leave his wife for her.  Aviva kept their affair under the radar until the night an elderly lady hit them and crashed their affair into the spotlight.  Aviva instantly became a pariah, fodder for late night hosts,  and a huge disappointment to her family. What does a young woman in her situation do?  She runs away to Maine, to a small town where her family once vacationed.  Aviva reinvents herself as Jane Young. She becomes an event planner and raises her precocious young daughter.  Now, Ruby is thirteen-year-old and she is independent, quirky, and devoted to her mother.  But when she overhears something not meant for her ears she realizes that her whole life has been a lie.  She takes off for Florida with the hope of finding her father, but instead, she finds that things aren't always what they seem.

Not only do I run this blog, but I also have a spoiler blog.  Not to ruin books for other readers, but to remind myself exactly what the big "twist" was in the books that I read.  This week I had a fellow reader contact me about creating a post for Young Jane Young.  The irony is not lost on me that I had a book spoiled for me through my own spoiler blog, but what it did do was prompt me to finally read the book.   

Young Jane Young was a funny and engaging read. The timeline jumps around a long, but we get a comprehensive look at Aviva and her mother, Rachel Grossman.  I almost wished that the mother/daughter relationship between Rachel and Aviva was fleshed out a little more.  You get the impression that Rachel was the stereotypical, overbearing Jewish mother.  According to Rachel, they had a good relationship, but Aviva couldn't stand her mother and her constant criticisms.   And when Jane is parenting Ruby she works really hard at being the complete opposite of her own mother. It was a little difficult to like Aviva, but it was very easy to like Jane.  And Ruby was absolutely adorable. She forced her mother's hand in facing the past.  But, I will say that I was surprised by a big revelation -- CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom line - Young Jane Young was a quick and entertaining read about the mother/daughter relationships  Fun, eclectic characters keep the reader engaged and eager to see how things work out for Jane Young, her mother, and her daughter.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

(80)Don't Let Go by Harlan Coben


Nap Dumas is a detective in New Jersey when he gets the call that the fingerprints he put into the system on his first day on the job get a hit.  His ex-girlfriend's prints are at the scene where a cop is murdered.   Maura disappeared fifteen years ago - on the same night that Nap's twin brother and his girlfriend were killed.  Finding Maura's prints at this crime scene have stirred up all sorts of emotions in Nap.  He never understood why Maura disappeared in the night.  And he knows that Leo and Diana did not commit suicide.   When another one of his former classmates ends up dead Nap knows that it is not a coincidence.  Everything ties back to the high school club that Leo was a part of - The Conspiracy Club.   Nap is determined to find out the truth about what happened that night all those years ago.  When he finds out that the nearby decommissioned military base is involved he fears that it is not over yet.  Will Nap finally be able to find out the truth about that night and put the past to rest?

After all of these years Harlan Coben still knows how to captivate a reader.   Nap is one of those "tough guy" characters that Coben knows how to write with such expertise.  Nap has one weakness though, his ex-girlfriend. He never was able to move past her disappearance.   Don't Let Go has all of the makings of a good thriller.  Military spooks, missing girlfriends, neighborhood crazy guys, and more.  I really liked his relationship with his bestie, Ellie.   Their friendship was forged because of the events of those nights.  They were opposites, but I kind of hoped they would end up together.  In the end, I was a little shocked when it was revealed who killed Rex, but it did make sense - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom line - I love escaping into a Harlan Coben novel.  They are fast-paced, captivating mysteries that sweep you up into the character's lives.  Don't Let Go was a great read and the perfect way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon!

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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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