Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Monday, March 27, 2017

(28)Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

Karen Neulander is a mother, a sister, and a successful campaign manager.  And Karen Neulander is dying.  She has been struggling with cancer for years and after being in remission for a long while, she is sick again. She has plans for her six-year-old son's future. Jake is going to go live with her sister in Seattle and when he is eighteen he will get to read the manuscript she is writing for him. Her plans are put into jeopardy when Jake, starts asking questions about his father, the father who told Karen to get rid of the baby.  Against her better judgment,  Karen reaches out to her ex, Dave.  She was surprised by his eagerness to see Jake. When they hit it off, she is torn.  Her death is imminent, how can she trust this man who was so quick to toss her and their unborn child aside?

Our Short History is Karen's story for her son.  It is the manuscript that she writes with the intention of Jake reading it when he turns eighteen.  Knowing her audience I struggled with liking her. She overshares her feelings and puts a lot on her son. Like her overreaction at her sister saying she might let Jake see his father.  Or her sharing details about her relationship with Dave that no kid would ever want to read about their parents.  I really wanted to shake her and tell her to grow up.  I wanted her sister to tell her that - but she walked on eggshells around Karen. I found it annoying and tiresome.  One thing was undeniable through it all - Karen's love for her son.  I know that I found fault with how Karen handled things with Jake, but I have to be careful because I don't know how I would behave in that situation.  I think the author did a good job of giving Karen some redemption at the end and it had the best ending possible when the main character had terminal cancer.

Bottom line - Our Short History was a book that I liked enough to finish, but I really wish that Karen was a more likable character.   I would love to hear what others think, to see if maybe I got thoughts on Karen wrong.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

(27)Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagain

Libby Miller goes home after her doctor told her that she has cancer expecting to fall into the comforting arms of her husband.  Only for her husband to think she is upset because she found out his shattering news.  Before Libby can share her news Tom announces that he thinks he is gay.  More than being shattered, she is angry.  She feels as if she has wasted her life with a man who never loved her the way she needed to be loved.  Libby proceeds to stab her husband in the hand, quit her job, sell their condo, and go on an extended vacation in Puerto Rico.  While on vacation Libby has an opportunity to evaluate her life - and her death.  She comes to grip with her mortality and decides whether or not she will pursue treatment.  She also falls in love with a pilot by the name of Shiloh. As a cancer survivor himself he tries to persuade Libby to fight. But will he be able to convince her before it is too late?

Libby is one of those characters that has to grow on you.  I didn't like her at first. I didn't like the fact that she was keeping her cancer secret from the people who love her most - including her husband.  I don't know what it is like to have cancer - so I don't know what I would do.  But I don't think that I would keep it a secret.   I did start to like her about the time that she started to hook up with Shiloh.  He seemed to see through her exterior and was glad of that.  I will say that the scenery of Puerto Rico made me long for the blue skies and sandy beaches.  By the end of the book,  I thought that Libby had evolved into a more rational state of mind about her health and her relationships. There was a nice little surprise at the end and I was pleased with the way things ended.

Bottom line - Life and Other Near-Death Experiences wasn't really one of those sappy stories that you think of when you hear that the main character has cancer.  Libby Miller is kind of an anti-heroine in that aspect and anytime you have an anti-heroine you know you are in for a great read.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Monday, March 20, 2017

(26)The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn

Owen and Lucy gave up their life in New York City to raise their son in the upscale community of Beekman.  Their once hip and exciting life has been reduced to dividing household chores and wrangling their Autistic son.   One night some friends of theirs were out for a dinner party and were chatting about some friends of theirs.  They have a blissfully happy marriage, but they also have an "arrangement".  They have an open marriage.   Lucy and Owen are both intrigued by the idea and after much discussion, they agree to try an "arrangement" for six months.   Like an Amish Rumspringa.  They get six months to do what (or who) they want and at the end of the six months they go back to monogamy as if it had never happened.  There are some ground rules, of course - like it can't be with anybody they both know, and they never involve their son.  It seems ideal to both of them. but before the six months are up they both end up breaking the rules.  Will Owen and Lucy's marriage be able to survive The Arrangement?

I really liked both Owen and Lucy - I thought they were playing with fire for even entertaining the thought of an open marriage, but what they did in their marriage was their business.  I think they were overwhelmed with parenting a special needs child and were excited at a reprieve - even if it came in the form of other people. Owen ended up hooking up with a crazy woman and Lucy ended up breaking a big rule with Ben.  The Arrangement doesn't only investigate Lucy and Owen's marriage, but several marriages in their little community.  Like the billionaire and his much younger wife.  Or the transgender kindergarten teacher and her wife. The common theme with all of these couples is that not every marriage is perfect and every couple handles stressors in their marriage differently.  I was almost finished with the book before I came to that realization, but the more I think about it, the more I understand the author's message.  And it is pretty fantastic when you think about it.  I wasn't exactly thrilled with the way author got Owen out of his "crazy lady" situation - it was very abrupt - but other than that I loved everything about The Arrangement.

Bottom line - While I would never consent to an open marriage it was quite interesting to read about a seemingly normal couple and their experiment with open marriage.   The somewhat taboo topic alone makes it a fun read and would be one to discuss with your girlfriends over a glass (or three) of wine.

  • The Arrangement  by Sarah Dunn
  • Pages: 368
  • Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
  • Publication Date: 3/21/2017
  • Buy it Here!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

(25)The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood

Mila Jackson's father has just died.  Sean Jackson was a wealthy man who was always looking for the newest toys and newest wives.  He was married to his second wife that fateful August when one of their three-year-old twins disappeared from their summer home under mysterious circumstances.  It happened twelve years ago when Mila was just a teenager, but she remembers that weekend and she remembers the aftermath.  Sean was on his fourth wife when he died and Mila shows up for the funeral with her fifteen-year-old sister, Ruby.  Ruby and Mila were going through some of her father's things when Mila sees a familiar piece of jewelry, a child's gold bracelet that once belonged to CoCo - a bracelet that she never took off. What was that bracelet doing in her father's belongings? All of her father's friends that were there that weekend that CoCo died were there for the funeral, will they finally tell her the truth about what happened to her little sister?

I love Alex Marwood and really enjoy her style of writing. She creates some of the most dynamic characters - not all of them are likable. In fact,  I feel confident in saying that you will find most of the characters in The Darkest Secret quite distasteful.  Sean Jackson and his friends are of the mindset that money can buy them whatever they want - including a weekend with minimal interruptions from the children.  The story is told in two different times, August 2004 and now.  In 2004 the story is mostly told from the perspective of Wife No. 2 and while Mila painted her to be a monster, it becomes clear that she is the product of her environment - married to an ass.  There was a pretty big piece of the plot that was never resolved - (WHO was with Sean when he died??) and that disappointed me.  I have never experienced that from this author.  I did like how as the funeral gets closer Mila and Ruby's relationship strengthens and Mila starts to realize that not everything was as she thought it was.  And the people her father called "friends" were keeping some pretty dark secrets about what happened that summer. As the end of the book approached I  figured out the truth- CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom line - Alex Marwood knows how to hook a reader and moving to the top of my "must read list" along with authors like Karin Slaughter and Chelsea Cain.  Definitely worth the read.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

(24)Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens

Lindsey Nash got a new lease on life when her abusive ex-husband was sentenced to prison for killing a woman in an automobile accident.  With Andrew in jail,  Lindsey never had to look over her shoulder and she was able to raise her daughter, Sophie, without looking over her shoulder.  Now it in eleven years later and Andrew is getting out of jail. Lindsey is terrified of what will happen when (not if) he finds them.  What she doesn't realize is that the nearly eighteen-year-old Sophie has been communicating with Andrew for a while now and she leads Andrew right to them.   The fear is real when somebody breaks into their house and then when somebody drugs their new dog and then finally when Andrew leaves a gift on Lindsey's car.  Lindsey takes Sophie and runs - will they ever be able to return to the home they have come to love? Or will Andrew ruin it all and force them to live in hiding.

I have enjoyed every novel that Chevy Stevens has ever written and was really looking forward to Never Let You Go and she did not disappoint.  At first,  I was afraid that she had fallen into the "abusive ex-husband" cliche, but there are a couple of twists and turns that remind me that Chevy Stevens is not your average mystery author.  In the years since Andrew went to prison, Lindsey has created a good support network in her boyfriend, Greg, and her friend Marcus, from their support group.  She is not the meek woman she was when married, now she knows how to fight back.  And I love that kind of resilience in a character. I don't like the way she talks to Sophie at times - I know it is out of extreme fear, but it was cringe-worthy.  I don't really care for the boy that has caught Sophie's eye and it frustrated me that Lindsey was too distracted with her own issues to pay attention to who Sophie was hanging out with.  I know it is common for teens to keep secrets from their mothers, but it terrifies me to realize just how much danger Sophie was in without realizing it.  I thought that I had it all figured out, but I was wrong.  I love being wrong when reading a mystery! CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS! 

Bottom line - Never Let You Go is another gripping mystery from the wildly talented Chevy Stevens.  Between her multi-dimensional characters and the surprising plot twists,  you are promised to find yourself in the grips of a real page-turner.


Monday, March 13, 2017

(23)Bleaker House by Nell Stevens

Twenty-seven-year-old Nell Stevens is on a mission.  She wants to write a novel.  She has taken all of the necessary steps to become a writer, including attending a prestigious writing program at Boston University.  But she still hasn't written her novel.  She wins a fellowship that allows her to go anywhere in the world to research and write her novel - all expenses paid.  She chooses Bleaker Island in the Falklands.  Pretty much at the very end of the world. In her memoir, Nell Stevens, details what it was like to live on the very isolated Bleaker Island.  From her internet woes to the wicked weather and her furry neighbors, Nell tells us all, including her processes to write the novel she just knows is in there somewhere.  Will she be able to write her novel before her time on Bleaker Island is up?

As an aspiring writer I was eager to read Bleaker House.  I have probably ten unfinished novels dwelling in my dropbox and have several more unstarted rolling around my pretty little head.  Like Nell, I believe if I could just have some time where life doesn't get in the way I could easily finish at least one of them.  What I know is that even with the perfect setup - Nell still struggled with putting words on paper.  At least the story she wants to put on paper.  She peppers her memoir with a few fictional stories that take you all over the world and give you a glimpse of her talent.  I really did love Nell's story - it was unique and fun. She met a lot of great people and got to see a part of the world that many people don't even know existed.   It also made me realize that the process of following your dreams can be very difficult.

Bottom line - while Nell didn't get the novel she intended to write while she was on Bleaker Island, she did find the material to write a book - Bleaker House. And I am pretty sure that it won't be her last book, either.    Definitely a source of inspiration for all of the aspiring writers out there.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

(22)Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Psychologist Dustin Tillman has had an interesting life. His parents were brutally murdered along with his aunt and uncle when he was just a young boy.  His adopted brother, Rusty, was eventually convicted of the crime.  Dustin has tried to forget the past, but he is still dealing with his wife's death when he gets word that Rusty was released from prison with the help of the Innocence Project.    At the same time, Dustin is distracted by a patient of his, Aquil.  Aquil has come to Dustin with a theory that local college boys who are drowning are the victims of a serial killer.   One who preys on the drunk college boys after a night out.  As Aquil presents more and more evidence, Dustin starts to realize that there very well could be something sinister at work.  With all of the external distractions,  Dustin doesn't even realize that his own son is spiraling out of control with drugs.  Will Dustin be able to get his life and family back on track before history repeats itself and his family implodes?

Ill Will is a bit of a weird book. The author writes in such an interesting flow -- it is almost manic.  He writes a scene and then leaves the scene open-ended and the next scene is in another time and place.  It makes for an interesting reader experience.   The author does jump around in the timeline, from when Dustin was a child and Rusty first came to live with their family.  To when his wife was ill with cancer and now when he is working with Aquil.  You also get to experience some of Aaron's, Dustin's son, viewpoint.  Also, at the very end, you get to experience a bit from Rusty's view.  Ultimately, as a reader, you don't want to see the Tillman family implode - you want Dustin to pull it together - but it is hard. The author graphically details the events from Dustin's childhood and some readers might find it difficult to read.   All of the chaos leads to a conclusion that will leave you with mixed feelings. --CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS!

Bottom line - Ill Will is one of those books that not everybody will enjoy.  Two days later and I am not entirely sure that I enjoyed it.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Monday, March 6, 2017

(21)Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

It has been nine years since Jubilee Jenkins kissed a boy and almost died.  It has been nine years since Jubilee's mother left her behind to marry her boyfriend.  It has been nine years since Jubilee Jenkins left her house.  Her mother just passed away and her stepfather has told her that the monthly checks will stop, forcing Jubilee to leave her house to find a job.  She is buying gas for the car that hasn't moved in nine years when Jubilee runs into a girl from high school. In fact, it was Madison's boyfriend that Jubilee kissed when she went into anaphylactic shock.  You see Jubilee has a rare allergy where she is allergic to the touch of another human. A kiss could kill her.  With Madison's help, Jubilee gets a job at the local library.  She is on her way home from work when she sees a young boy drowning and risks her own life to save his by performing CPR.  And that is how Jubilee meets Aja and his father, Eric.   For the first time in a very long time, Jubilee feels welcomed and enjoys the company of another human. For the first time, she truly regrets her allergy.   Eric has his own issues to deal with - a teen daughter who won't speak to him, an adopted son who believes he has x-men like superpowers, and now is falling for a woman he can never have.   Will Eric and Jubilee ever find happiness?

Jubilee Jenkins is the kind of heroine that I could call my friend.  She is an avid reader and is comfortable with her self-imposed solitude. I found my heart aching for a few times - like when she explained why she didn't care for Christmas. And then I found myself despising her mother, I mean,  who just leaves their kid like that, especially a child with a life-threatening condition?  Ugh.  I liked Eric, too.  He had his flaws, but the steps he was taking to rectify his mistakes made it hard not to like him.  The two of them have one thing in common - an intense need to connect.  I think we all have been able to relate to that desire at one time or another.   The author leads us down a path thinking that things were going to turn out one way, but then takes a sharp turn in the other direction and I found myself cheering.  It was exciting and the perfect way to end the book.

Bottom line - While the premise of Close Enough to Touch may not seem plausible, Colleen Oakley makes it work in a way that touches your heart.  You find yourself connecting to these characters in a way that is rare to find in a book these days.   You will find it unforgettable.


Friday, March 3, 2017

(20)The Girl Before by JP Delaney

Jane Cavendish is looking for a fresh start. She is recovering from the loss of a child and thinks that a fresh start is just what she needs.  One Fulgate Street in London is a home with a history. It's owner is the world renowned architect, Edward Monkford, and he has a set of rules and requirements for anybody who inhabits his homes.  There is an extensive application process that starts with the demand "Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life."   Jane passes the rigorous application process and now must adhere to rules such as "no books" and "no clutter".  The house is fully automated right down to a survey she has to regularly take so the "house" can gauge her progress towards being a better person.  The house will even withhold services like water in the shower until she completes the survey.
One day she notices a man leaving flowers at her door and Jane discovers that a former tenant died tragically.  Emma moved to One Fulgate Street after the flat she shared with her boyfriend, Simon, was broken into.  Jane becomes invested in Emma and her story while becoming intimately involved with Edward Monkord.  Once she becomes acutely aware of his control issues she realizes that there might be more to Emma's death than she first believed.  Will Jane be able to get to the truth before she becomes the next victim to the One Fulgate Street house?

The Girl Before is one of the most unique books that I have read recently.  At the heart of the story is a bit of a love triangle, that isn't new, but One Fulgate Street is a setting for a new millennium.  Home automation is becoming more and more popular, but Edward Monkford takes it to a scary extreme.  The fact that he can control the water in the shower for an off-site location should be utterly terrifying to anybody with a landlord.  The list of rules he assigns every tenant is so over-the-top that I can't imagine anybody being willing to agree to the rigidity.  In the case of Jane and Emma, I think they agreed because other areas of their lives were out of control and they craved that rigidity to bring order to the world.  The story is told in alternating voices - Then: Emma and Now: Jane.   The further you get into the book you realize that there are some seriously unbalanced characters in this story.  There is a bit of a revelation at the end that through me for a loop, but it didn't shock me that much. --CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS -

Bottom line - The Girl Before is a cleverly written suspense novel.  The fact that women willingly submit to such a controlling environment is quite fascinating and the exciting mystery is secondary, in my opinion.  If you are looking for a unique thriller - The Girl Before is for you.

  • The Girl Before by JP Delaney (a pseudonym for Tony Strong)
  • On Goodreads
  • Pages: 352
  • Publisher:  St. Martin's Press
  • Publication Date: 1/24/2017
  • Buy it Here!

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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