Monday, February 29, 2016

(21)Somewhere Out There by Amy Hatvany


At this moment I am on a cruise ship somewhere in the western Caribbean. I am lounging in a deck chair with a book and a drink.  Hopefully reading until my eyes fall out or I get drunk, whichever comes first.  :)

Natalie Clark always knew that she was adopted, but she was thirty-five years old before she knew that she had an older sister.  Against her parent's wishes, Natalie goes searching for her sister in hopes that she will lead her to her mother.  Thirty-nine year old Brooke Walker had a very different life than her sister, Natalie.  She was older when they were put in the care of the state and while Natalie was adopted in a matter of months,  Brooke never found a family that wanted to take on a disruptive, sullen child.  After aging out of the foster home she lived in, Brooke made her career as a waitress and now finds herself single and pregnant at thirty-nine.  She is cautiously excited to reconnect with Natalie, but she wants absolutely nothing to do with the mother who gave them up when she went to prison.

Jennifer Walker didn't want to steal from that grocery store, but her daughters were hungry.  When she was caught by store management she thought she could convince them to not call the cops on the homeless young mother.  Instead she ended up going to prison, which started a chain of events that had Jennifer in and out of prison before turning to a life of serving as first a vet tech, then a vet.  Not a day goes by that she doesn't think of the daughters that she gave up all of those years ago, but she has carefully built a new life for herself and is fearful that seeing them again will bring her safe, new world crashing down around her.  Will these three women be able to build a future as a family or will past hurts prevent them from a happy future?

Somewhere Out There is told in alternating perspectives, first Jennifer in the past, then both Natalie and Brooke in the present.  The book starts out with Jennifer's desperation as she heads into the grocery store.  It is hard to be angry with her because she was so young and so desperate, but I also felt like there was more to her story that we weren't getting.  I wished that her story had been a little more fleshed out.   Natalie and Brooke are both great sisters to get to know, Brooke is a little more hardened and more skeptical than Natalie, but that comes from the way she grew up.  I though the book was realistic in the way that the sister's didn't become besties right away, but they took time to develop their relationship.  It really lent to the authenticity of the story. The author didn't end the book with a nice and tidy wrap up, she left the end to the imagination of the reader.  It takes a lot of courage for an author to trust her readers.

Bottom line - Somewhere Out There  is a touching and heartwarming story about a fractured family trying to heal the broken pieces of their heart.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

(20)While We Were Watching Downton Abbey by Wendy Wax


The Alexander is an upscale, historic apartment building in downtown Atlanta.  It is one of those prestigious apartments that gives it's residents instant status among Atlanta society.  The Alexander comes with it's very own Englishman as the Concierge and has a wide variety of residents. There is Samantha David and her husband, Jonathan, in the penthouse.  They have been married a very long time and Samantha does everything in her power to make Jonathan's life as easy as possible since he rescued her from a live of poverty and took in her siblings all those years ago.  There is also Clare Walker, a recent empty-nester who traded life in the suburbs for a bohemian life in one of the Alexander's studio apartments. She is taking the year to write her book and hopes it is the start of her full time writing career.  There is also Brooke MacKenzie, recently divorced, Brooke is a full time mother to her two daughters.  She was devastated by her divorce and is struggling to regain the self-esteem her ex-husband destroyed.  The three women become friends while attending the weekly screenings of Downton Abbey in the Alexander's club room.  The Concierge, Edward, has gone of his way to make the weekly sessions special and is thrilled that the three women have started to form a real friendship.  He just hopes that they all can help each other grow while developing  their friendship and help to make The Alexander a real community.

I am one of the few people who did not get swept up in the epic story told by the PBS show Downton Abbey.  Yet reading While We Were Watching Downton Abbey made me want to run out and immediately start watching the show. The Alexander seemed like an absolutely wonderful place to live, grand and majestic. Edward added to the atmosphere of the grand apartment, too.  Clare, Samantha, and Brooke were three different women at different places in their lives.  At first they seemed like unlikely friends, but with each passing episode their friendship grew.  It was just a real heartwarming friendship book.  Of course all three women faced adversity of some kind, which of course they helped each other through, but it didn't seem too hokey.  It was completely enjoyable.

Bottom line - While We Were Watching Downtown Abbey is a total brain candy kind of book.  No, brain candy is wrong.  It is more like chicken soup for the soul.  An easy, fluffy kind of read.

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

(19)A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold


It has been nearly seventeen years since the tragedy that shook the world and made "goths", violence, and bullying, in school a household discussion. All you have to do is say Columbine and everybody immediately thinks of that high school in the suburbs of Denver.   I remember coming home from work that spring day and watching live on CNN as terrified students fell out of the windows of the library.  I cried as the events of the day were released and I thought, like many people did, where were the parents of those two kids that wreaked havoc on their school.  Why didn't the parents pay attention to what their kids were doing?  It is a common reaction anytime there is as tragedy.  We all thought it after Sandy Hook.  How could parents raise such a monster?

Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the Columbine shooters has written a book to share her regret, her grief, and her deepest heartache over the destruction her son created.   Sue gives us a better understand of her family and their relationship with Dylan.  She admits she failed to recognize signs of his depression, but is adamant that she never in a million years would she have believed Dylan capable of such destruction.  She doesn't make excuses for Dylan, nor does she make excuses for herself as a parent, but more than once she says that she believes that Dylan was a follower, not an instigator.  There are a lot of accounts that back up that theory and I got the impression that knowing that gives her a bit of comfort.  Sue goes on to detail those early days after April 20, 1999 and the fog of grief and disbelief that colored their world.  They had friends and family that supported them, but they also had a lawyer who would not let them eat food prepared by well meaning people for fear that it had been poisoned.  It was a world that she couldn't fathom living in.   Sue Klebold devotes a large part of the book to discussing mental health, specifically the mental health of her son.  After reading his journals Sue discovered that Dylan had been suicidal for quite sometime.  She had no idea.  She chalked a lot of the warning signs up to "just being a teenage boy".  She even discusses, at length, her own mental health issues following that day.   In fact, Sue Klebold has said that she will donate all profits from A Mother's Reckoning to mental health research and charities.

Bottom line - I believe that our world changed on April 20, 1999. Much like 9/11 it had a pivotal impact on how we think about school safety.  One of the best books I ever read was Columbine by Dave Cullen and it was in that book that I shifted my mindset about the parents of kids like Dylan Klebold.  Between these two books what I have learned is this, the parents are not monsters, they did not set out to raise monsters, they were  are deeply destroyed by the actions of their children, and they forever grieve for the lives lost and the lives taken by their children.  Sue Klebold opened herself up to a lot of criticism by writing this book, but I think her story is an important one to tell.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Saturday, February 20, 2016

(18)The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton


Yasmin and her daughter, Ruby traveled all the way from London to Alaska to see her husband, Matt.  Ruby is a precocious ten year old who is deaf and uses social media to give herself a voice.  Matt is wildlife photographer who has been working in the most remote areas of Alaska and in a recent call confessed to Yasmin that he kissed another woman.  Yasmin and Ruby are rocked when they were  told upon their arrival that Matt was killed in a tragic fire that killed all of the residents of the little village where he was staying.  Yasmin just doesn't believe what the police are telling her because she knows that Matt called her when they said he was dead.  No, she didn't actually hear his voice, but she just knows that he is still alive.  Yasmin and Ruby set off on their own, they hitch a ride with a kindhearted truck driver and set out for the wilds of Alaska.  When their driver falls sick,  Yasmin and Ruby take his truck and keep going, but there is somebody out there on the dangerous Alaskan roads that does not want Yasmin to reach her destination.  Soon Yasmin is threatened by both the dangerous man chasing them and the dangerous elements of the dark Alaskan winter.  Will Yasmin and Ruby be able to survive the trip to the village?  Will they be able to find Matt or did he really perish in that deadly fire?

In recent memory, I don't think I have read such a terrifying novel.  The time that Yasmin and Ruby were out on the Alaskan highway really struck me as terrifying.  Not just because there was a bad man after them, but because of the deteriorating conditions of the weather and the highway.  It reminded me of those reality shows my husband loves - Ice Road Truckers. Except Yasmin has no experience driving a big rig and her young daughter was with her. It really made it a terrifying read.  The bitter weather conditions could have killed before the bad man could catch them.  Ten year old Ruby was another wonderful addition to the story.  She is a smart little girl who is wise beyond her years because of her inability to hear or really speak. She was the most likable character in the book.  Now, I will warn you that The Quality of Silence has some serious political undertones.  Specifically about the controversial topic of fracking.   If you can look past the political undertones you will find an engrossing thriller that will keep you up at night.

Bottom line - The Quality of Silence was a terrifying and thrilling read set against the backdrop of the gorgeous, yet dangerous,  Alaskan winter.  Definitely worth the read if you love a good thriller - or even a good reality show.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Monday, February 15, 2016

(17)The Widow by Fiona Barton


Jean Taylor's life is perfectly uneventful. She and her husband, Glen, can't have children, but they are happy with just the two of them. They go to work and they come home.  They almost never socialize and have no friends.   Their uneventful lives are disrupted when Glen is accused of kidnapping two year old Bella Elliot.   The police were never able to convict Glen, but the inspector on the case, Bob Sparkes never gave up.  He was just so sure that Glen Taylor was the culprit.  A few years have passed since Bella went missing when Glen Taylor falls in the path of an oncoming bus.  Jean Taylor is now a widow and reeling from the emotions that come with her husband's death. It has stirred up the press and they just won't leave her alone to grieve or move on.  One reporter in particular, Kate Waters, has struck a chord with Jean and she agrees to give an interview.  Her first ever.  As Jean prepares to share details with the world that have never been heard before, she knows it will tarnish her husband's memory.  She knows that it will stir up the media again.  She knows that it won't bring the closure that she craves, but she is willing to give it a shot. But the question remains, what happened to Bella?

The Widow is told from the drastically different viewpoints of Jean Taylor, Bob Sparkes, and Kate Waters.  The time-frame jumps around from the past and the present, but there is one consistent detail, Jean Taylor is perfectly unexciting and unassuming.  Jean's greatest attribute, and quite possibly her worst, is that she is entirely too trusting.  Whether it be her husband or Kate, the reporter, she trusted all of the wrong people.  The fact that her husband could not have children deeply shaped her personality, for there is nothing she wanted more. I would maybe even go so far as to say that it caused serious mental damage to her, not being able to have a child.   I struggled with liking Jean, but then considered the fact that she might be considered a victim herself.  The Widow has been compared to many recent psychological thrillers such as Gone Girl or Girl On A Train.  I don't necessarily agree with those comparisons, because those books had you on the edge of your seat. They had your heart racing.  The Widow does neither, but the book's slow and steady pace is familiar because that is the way Jean Taylor lives her life, both before and after Glen's death.  Slow and steady.  That is what makes The Widow a brilliant page turner.

Bottom line - in The Widow, Fiona Barton introduces her readers to a woman rarely mentioned in psychological thrillers.  The wife of the accused.  You will find that there is a lot to learn about Jean and that kind of insight is just too good to pass up.

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

(16)Sweet Forgiveness by Lori Nelson Spellman


In the eyes of New Orleans residents Hannah Farr can do no wrong.  She is the darling talk show host who is dating the city's beloved mayor and is very active in a popular local charity.  What her fans don't realize is that her life is far from perfect.  Hannah keeps a pretty tight lid on her private life.  The fans don't know that her ex-fiance cheated on her.  The fans don't know that she was bullied as a teen.  The fans don't know that she hasn't spoken to her mother in decades because of an accusation made so long ago.  The fans don't know that more than anything Hannah wants to become the Mayor's wife.  In an effort to spur moment on that front Hannah agrees to an interview for a new talk show based in Chicago.  She comes up with a show pitch built around the latest craze to sweep the nation, The Forgiveness Stone.  The sensation was started by a woman named Fiona Knowles, the woman who just so happened to be Hannah's bully.  Even though Hannah has no intention of forgiving Fiona, she knows it will make a good story.  Thanks to a competitive colleague,  her boss in New Orleans runs with the story.  And before she knows it Hannah is facing Fiona on her stage. It sends her down a path of forgiveness and redemption.   What will the price be for Hannah to revisit the past?  Will she be able to both forgive and allow herself to be forgiven?

It took me a very long time for me to "like" Hannah.   She was so rigid in her beliefs.  Unwilling to forgive or forget.  She blamed the  bullying of a thirteen year old girl for everything that went wrong with her life.  I had a hard time with that, because I just wanted to say "suck it up buttercup",   While I had a hard time liking Hannah, she had friends who loved her very much and she was a good person, just misguided.   Of course when Hannah starts revealing personal information on air her whole world starts to collapse and forces her to reevaluate the beliefs that she built her life on.  Her journey takes her to Chicago and to Michigan, where she does come face to face with her past and her mother. By the time I got to the last 1/3 of the book I did come around to liking Hannah.  She had made such a transformation that it made it much easier to like her.   And in the end Hannah got what she deserved - peace.

Bottom line - we all have had to come to grips with people or events or people from our past. No one person's journey to forgiveness is the same.  Sweet Forgiveness is one woman's journey down that path, for better or worse.

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

(15)Find Her by Lisa Gardner


It has been five years since Flora Dane was rescued from her captor.  She had been held captive for 472 days, most of which she was locked in a pine box.  Her time with Jacob Ness qualifies as a complete nightmare, but Flora is a survivor. She makes being a survivor practically a full time job.   But not in the way that you may think.  Flora has taken multiple self-defense classes and is now extremely skilled in the art of defense.  She even seeks out dangerous men that she thinks are intent on harming vulnerable women.  That is when we meet Flora.  She was at the bar dancing with a fairly normal man.  It seems harmless, but Flora is on a mission to find a missing women.  But the next thing she knows she is waking up as a captive in different man's garage.  Using the survival skills that she has perfected she finds materials in the garage to kill Devon Goulding.  That is when Detective D.D. Warren enters the picture.  They find evidence in Goulding's house that he has done this before, but is not sure how he connects with the missing woman Flora was trying to find.  Warren and her team are only a day into the investigation when Flora goes missing again.  That is now four missing women and D.D. and her team know that they are racing a clock.  Will they be able to find out who was working with Goulding before it is too late for Flora and the other missing women?

Find Her is one of those gritty novels that some may find hard to stomach.  The things that Flora had to do as a captive of Jacob Ness are repelling. But the author flashes back to that time to help us understand why Flora is the way she is today.  The author frequently goes back and forth between the past and the present.  You get inside of Flora's head and you realize just how damaged she is because of Jacob Ness.  The things he made her do and the things he made her witness would have damaged anybody.  You can't fault her for any of her behaviors since being rescued, in fact you have to admire Flora. DeDe Warren is just as wonderful as ever, even though I felt as if she were the secondary character in Find Her.  I had suspicions all along about who was really behind her most recent kidnapping, but I was way wrong.  I love it when an author can surprise me.

Bottom line - Find Her was a perfectly dark novel.  It was gritty and dark and completely suspenseful.  So the perfect book to follow up all of the "girl power."

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sunday, February 7, 2016

(14)Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry



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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Friday, February 5, 2016

(13)The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza



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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Tuesday, February 2, 2016