Monday, May 30, 2016

(47)I Do It With the Lights On by Whitney Way Thore

In the last year or so, a  movement has started to sweep the nation.  A movement where people embrace their bodies whether they be fat, skinny, or disabled.  The apparent queen of body positive behavior appears to be Whitney Way Thore.  You may know her from her Fat Girl Dancing videos or you may know her from her TLC show, My Big Fat Fabulous Life.   I know her from her No B.S. Movement, where she is fighting against body shaming.

In her new book, I Do It with the Lights On (IDIWTLO) Whitney tells us her story.  From early childhood through high school and college Whitney has always had issues with her weight.  From weighing just two pounds more than a classmate and feeling like a failure to comments from a doctor to stop giving her chocolate milk to her own parents making "helpful" comments about her eating habits and weight are what she remembers from her childhood.  She developed an eating disorder at a young age as a way to cope with her "cheat days".   Whitney talks about the hateful comments that have been thrown her way, both in this country and in other lands.  She talks about dating as a woman of over 300 lbs and the cruel comments that she encountered, both to her face and on the internet. She talks about the double standard between men and women. She also talks about the crushing diagnosis of having PCOS and what it meant for her health.   It wasn't until Whitney had sex with the lights on for the first time ever that she began to accept her body for what it is -beautiful.  She has taken that acceptance and started a movement that is sweeping the nation.

I have to say that I admire Whitney Way Thore and the path she has taken to learn to accept her body.  Do I agree with every step on her path to acceptance, no, but it is her journey.  She gets brutally honest with her experiences along the way.   My journey is different and still ongoing, but it is my journey.  I have recently joined an online community that has given me a little more confidence in my body, but it is still a journey.    Her family seemed misguided at times, but they were always supportive as she worked hard, several times, to lose the weight that always seemed to creep back on her 5"2' frame.  One thing I really enjoyed about IDIWTLO is that Whitney just seems like such a fun person to be around.  I also have to say that I loved the way she called out a certain media mogul and recent Weight Watchers spokesperson for her way of saying that you can only be beautiful and worthy if you are skinny. It takes a lot of balls to call someone like her out in such a public arena.

Bottom line -  If there is one thing that I am learning from people like Whitney Way Thore it is this - your self worth is NOT tied to your weight.  Your contributions to , your family, your friends, and the world is not directly tied to how much you weight.  If anybody makes you feel differently then you need to surround yourself with different people.  You ARE beautiful and YOU make the world a better place to be in.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

(46) Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

Luisa "Lu" Brant is following in her father's legal footsteps.  She is the first female State's Attorney for Howard County in Maryland, a role her father held for many years.  Also like her father, Lou is raising two children by herself after her spouse died.  Lu has a lot on her plate as a widowed mother of twins, but she is excited to take on the role and has moved back in with her father in her Wilde Lake childhood home.  She believes it will help with her workload, but she is expecting her new job will be hard.  Her first case involves a woman brutally murdered on New Year's Eve.  As the events surrounding the murder start to unfold, Lu realizes that there might be a connection to an event involving her older brother and his friends that happened decades ago. But Lu's memory of that event and of her entire childhood are challenged with each detail that is revealed. Even though her career is dependent on the truth, Lu realizes that in this case the truth might destroy everything she thought she knew about her family.

Wilde Lake was one of those novels that just draws the reader in with each new page.  There is a real To Kill A Mockingbird vibe to the story, almost like the author was paying homage to one of the best novels ever written. The story is told in alternate timelines, the past, during Lu's childhood and the present.  While Lu had a good childhood, it was far from perfect with the death of her mother just days after she was born. She was a gifted student and was focused on her goal to be a lawyer like her father.  There were many times that I thought that Lu came across as quite arrogant, but I kind of think that she has worked hard to get where she is at, so maybe being arrogant is okay.  It just didn't leave me feeling "connected" to her.   One thing is evident, though.  Lu is damn good at her job.  The more she digs into the events surrounding this woman's death, the more the author draws you into the story. The story is slow to unfold, but the author is quite deliberate in her way of revealing the details of why and who committed this murder.  I wasn't all that surprised by the "big reveal",  but I hadn't really figured it out, either.  I had that "oh, that makes sense" kind of feeling.

Bottom line -  While Wild Lake is one of those mysteries that had my attention, but did not have me on the edge of my seat.  More of an intellectual mystery that you have to see through to the end.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Saturday, May 21, 2016

(45)The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews

Riley Griggs has spent summers on the island of Belle Isle, North Carolina her whole life. Her family has held a prominent place on the island for generations and her husband took over her family's business.  It is not uncommon for families that stay on the island for the summer to send somebody of the island during the work week.  They are known as "weekenders". Riley is expecting her husband, Wendell, to join her and their daughter, Maggy, for the first weekend of the season.  Unfortunately, they will be breaking the news to their twelve year old daughter that they will be divorcing. Except Wendell never shows up as expected and the locks on their summer home have been changed and there is a  "foreclosure" sign on the door. But it gets worse, the next morning the Sheriff is at the front door of the home of Riley's mother to tell her that Wendell was murdered. Riley's world has been completely destroyed.  Not only was her husband murdered, but apparently he has lost all of their money, her mother's money, and her brother's money, and the FBI are investigating his business deals.  Riley must spend the summer trying to put her life back together and keep her daughter from spinning out of control. Will she be able to hold it all together? What role will the billionaire from her past have in her summer? But  most of all,who killed Wendell?

Mary Kay Andrews is a beloved summer author.  To me her books signify the beginning of summer and fluffy beach reads.    The Weekenders is a bit of a deviation than other books because I felt it was a little "heavier" than what is normal for her books.  The fact that the main character's husband is murdered in the first chapter should have been the first clue that this isn't her typical book.  Now, don't get me wrong, all of your favorite themes are present.  Like a best friend,  a new love interest, and a puppy dog.  Riley's relationship with her daughter was a major source of contention, too.  Not only is there the normal tween-angst, but there is the fact that Maggy has Juvenile Diabetes.  Her disease adds another level of stress for Riley and rightfully so. There was some scary things that went down because of Maggy's illness that caused me way more anxiety than normal for a fluffy, summer beach read.  The family dynamics between Riley and her mother and brother were unique, too.  Maggy and her mother did not get along at all.  And then there is her brother, Billy, a functioning alcoholic who has a pretty dark secret that he is keeping.  In the end the murder is revealed and things work out just the way they are supposed to work out.

Bottom line - even though Mary Kay Andrews covered some hard hitting topics in her new book, The Weekenders, it is still a wonderful book to throw into your beach bag this summer.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Monday, May 16, 2016

(44)Don't You Cry by Mary Kubica

Quinn Collins wakes up one morning after a night out to find her roommate, Esther Vaughn, has gone missing.  Her window was left wide open in chilly Chicago and there is nothing to be found except a cryptic letter addressed to "My Dearest".   Quinn isn't worried at first, but as the hours pass the weirdness gets exponentially worse.  Like Esther was in the process of changing her name to Jane.  Or she had lined up interviews for a new roommate.  And then there is the former roommate who died under mysterious circumstances.  As the evidence mounts Quinn is convinced that somebody is out to kill her.   Could it be Esther? Or something much more sinister?

In Michigan, eighteen year old Alex goes to his job at the local diner.  Just as he has everyday for years. Part of his job includes taking meals to the recluse who lives across the street. It was while doing that Alex spies a woman who catches his eye, Pearl.  There is something about her that is enigmatic and alluring.  When he discovers that she is squatting in the abandoned house across the street he decides to seek her out.  As their relationship develops Alex starts to get the feeling that there is more to her than meets the eye.  Will he be able to piece everything together before it is too late?

Don't You Cry is a fast paced novel that is told from the two very different perspectives of Quinn and Alex.  Quinn is a young professional in the city and Alex is a poor boy living in rural Michigan. Their connection doesn't reveal itself until the very last pages of the book, and honestly it is a little bit of a let down.  Given the build-up,  I think I was expecting something a little more explosive.  I was more engaged in Quinn's part of the story, my favorite thing about the Quinn part of the story was her relationship with her colleague, Ben.  They had the kind of chemistry that was worthy of it's own story.  On the other hand, Alex's part of the story had a haunted house and classic ghost story. On their own, the stories are unique and mysterious, but the way the stories intersects is a little lacking.  In the end the secrets are revealed and they are nothing like what you expected.

Bottom line - Mary Kubica made a huge splash with her first novel, The Good Girl, but has been struggling to meet the high expectations set by her first novel.  Don't You Cry was a valiant effort that was *almost* there, but fell just a little short with the conclusion.  Don't give up on Mary Kubica, though, as a talented author Don't You Cry is still worth the read.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

(43)A Lowcountry Wedding by Mary Alice Monroe

It is that time of year again when the beach books start to hit the shelves. You know, those books that take place in locations that make you wish you didn't live in a land-locked flyover state and put you in a "summer" state of mind.

I haven't read a lot of books by Mary Alice Monroe, but A Lowcountry Wedding had one of those covers that just spoke to me.  The Muir sisters have been through a lot over the last few years, but now they are ready to celebrate in the joy of marriage as Harper and Carson are planning their weddings.   Carson and Blake are struggling to find a compromise on Carson's career, you throw in her recovery as an alcoholic, and you can question whether they are ready to get married.  Harper and Taylor seem to have things figured out a littler more, until the suggestion is made that Taylor signs a prenup.  After all, Harper is the owner of not one, but two, family estates.  With them making their home at Sea Breeze, it is understandable that Taylor may feel a little threatened. Then Mamaw introduces the sisters to an "old family friend", Atticus.   The sisters take to Atticus right away, something about him is comforting and familiar.   But when a long hidden secret is revealed it threatens to disrupt the peaceful balance that the Muir family has established.  Will things get resolved in time for Harper and Carson's weddings?

It was pretty obvious from the beginning that A Lowcountry Wedding was part of a series that I had not read yet. The author does a good job of giving you just enough backstory so that you aren't completely lost, but it is also enough to make you want to know more.   Like Carson being an alcoholic.  I bet that story was a doozy.  The story primarily centers on the sisters and their various "issues" leading up to their weddings.    Their relationships with their love interests aren't really explored a lot, but I am going to assume they are sufficiently covered in earlier books. The family dynamic shifted a bit when Atticus came into the picture as an "old family friend", but I really enjoyed his presence.  As a minister you could tell that he was torn between doing the right thing and old insecurities.    In true "beach book" fashion everything turned out the way it was supposed to, giving it that "happy ever after" feeling.

Bottom line - A Lowcountry Wedding was a great book to kick off "Beach Book" season. Set among the beautiful Lowcountry backdrop you get everything you need to put you in a "summer" state of mind - including a dolphin as a supporting character.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sunday, May 8, 2016

(42)Redemption Road by John Hart

After thirteen years former police officer, Adrian Wall, is getting out of prison.  He was in prison for a crime he didn't commit, but he is shocked to discover the teenage son of the woman he is accused of killing is waiting for him with a gun.

Detective Elizabeth Black is currently suspended pending investigation for shooting two kidnappers eighteen times. The young woman she rescued has seemed to have bonded with her in a way that can only happen after surviving a traumatic experience. Liz's partner, Beckett,  is sure there is more to the story than Liz is telling and the haunted look in both of their eyes indicates that he is right.

A young woman is found brutally murdered on the alter of an old, abandoned church.  The same church Liz attended regularly as the daughter of the preacher.  The small North Carolina city is an edge with certainty that Adrian Wall had something to do with her death.  Much like thirteen years ago, Liz is sure that he is innocent.  But somebody in their community is a murderer.  Will they be able to find out who before it is too late?

In pure brilliant fashion, John Hart, has created a masterpiece with Redemption Road. There is so much going on in this little town that it is almost hard to keep up.  There is a serial killer on the loose, maniac rapists, rampant drug abuse, and more.  Elizabeth Black is a wonderful heroine.  She reluctantly collects lost souls like others collect trinkets.  They cling to the strength that she projects.  Gideon, the son of the woman that Adrian was accused of killing.  And now Channing, the young woman she rescued from the basement.  John Hart uses his words to paint a descriptive picture of this small, southern town brimming with a brutality usually reserved for urban areas.  Her residents all vying for redemption as if it were a contest only won by few.   Lines like, "The soft, warm day ate her alive."  make it very clear that the author has a very unique gift.    I thought I had things figured out, but Hart would then leave me questioning my suspicions with his crazy twists.  In the end, I was right, but it takes some emotionally draining chapters for all to be revealed.

Bottom line, I have been waiting for a new John Hart novel for a long time.  The wait for Redemption Road was well worth it.


Monday, May 2, 2016

(41)Wedding Girl by Stacey Ballis

Sophie Bernstein never expected that her fiance would leave her at the altar, but he did.  She was humiliated in front of her family, friends, and colleagues in the culinary industry.  As one of the best pastry chef's in Chicago, Sophie's humiliation is very much public and her fall from grace is of epic proportions.  She finds herself holed up in her grandmother's house licking her wounds and laying low until the smoke clears.  To help pay-down the monstrous credit card debt she incurred while planning the wedding of her dreams she takes a part-time job at a small neighborhood bakery.   The gentle old man who owns the bakery is good for Sophie and it helps keep her mind off her fall from culinary grace.  Even though his son, Mark, is skeptical of Sophie's intentions, she wants nothing more than to help Herman. At the bakery she stumbles across a potential career path that puts her wedding planning skills to work for her and will help payoff those credit cards.  It is through "Wedding Girl" that Sophie meets "Jake" and through their emails Sophie starts to feel a fondness that she never expected to feel after being left at the altar.  But after a few missed encounters she isn't sure that Jake is the guy for her.

Wedding Girl was a fun and relaxing read.  Sophie is the kind of girl that I would love hang out with on a Saturday night watching old movies, drinking booze, and eating yummy food.   From the very first pages you know that Sophie is going to be a great character,  she handled being left at the altar with such grace, that you can't help but just want to be her best friend.  Sophie's grandmother, Bubbles, is such a kick in the pants that you wish you could hang out in her kitchen. Then she has two besties, Jean and Ruth, that are fun, too.  The scene of Jean's birthday was laugh out loud funny. And the boys - I don't want to give anything away, but there is a scene when Sophie goes to a wine tasting that I just knew what "twist" was coming. I was right, but I don't think it was meant to be a huge secret, given the character's penchant for old classic movies.   Obviously in a foodie book like Wedding Girl there are some yummy recipes, but they are all saved for the back of the book to not interfere with the flow of the story.

Bottom line, with elements that are reminiscent of old Nora Ephron movies you are guaranteed to fall in love with Sophie, her family, and her friends.  As expected with most Chick Lit novels, the heroine gets her "happy ever after" and you are giddy with excitement for her.


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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