Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Monday, October 30, 2017

(91)The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Since 1620 the descendants of Maria Owens have known that falling in love is a family curse that must be avoided at all costs. And since 1620 all of Maria Owen's descendants have been women, until now.  Franny and Jet Owens have a little brother, Vincent.  Even though the Susanna Owens decided to raise their little family in New York City, they couldn't escape the Owens family traits.  So she laid out some rules for her children and was very strict about  The Rules of Magic - no books about magicno wearing black, no wearing red shoes, no black cats for pets, and no falling in love - ever.  Even though the Owens children have abided by their mother's rules it is very clear that the Owens children are different.  Things jump off of shelves when Vincent is in the room. Jet can read the thoughts of others and Franny is so unnaturally beautiful.  The Owens children typically keep to themselves and have avoided love.  Until now.  As young adults, all three Owens children have found themselves in love and unsure of how to handle the situation.  The family curse affects them all in different ways, but make no mistake, they do not escape the curse.  Will the Owens siblings ever be able to find happiness and true love?

With Halloween being right around the corner I was in the mood for a magical kind of novel.  The Rules of Magic is a prequel to the beloved novel (and movie) Practical Magic. Franny and Jet are the eccentric, beloved aunts in Practical Magic.   In The Rules of Magic, we get to hear their story. We get to hear about the sacrifices that they made because of their family heritage. We get to hear about their loves and their losses.   I found myself swept away by their story. I didn't really have a favorite character, but I found Vincent the most interesting. He was the one who ignored the rules more than his sisters.  He dared to do whatever he wanted - the rules be damned.  I think I felt the most empathy for Franny who gave up everything to care for her siblings after their parent's death. She sacrificed the most, I think.  The Rules of Magic spanned decades, but it never felt like the Owens siblings had aged.  In the end, I felt things ended the best way that they could, but it left me wanting to read Practical Magic. --CLICK HERE TO READ SPOILERS

Bottom Line - The Rules of Magic was the perfect read for  Halloween.  The magical nature of the Owens family coupled with the author's ability to write a lyrical novel makes it the perfect read to put you in the mood for All Hallow's Eve.

  • The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
  • On Facebook
  • Pages: 384
  • Publisher: Simon  & Schuster
  • Publication Date: 10/10/2017
  • Buy it Here!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

(90)Story Genius by Lisa Cron

Like many avid readers there is a part of me that wants to be a writer.  I have probably a dozen half started novels lingering in the bowels of my Google Drive.  I have decided that this year is the year that I participate in NaNoWriMo.  And this is the year that I finish it!  To prepare I have been reading magazines, blog posts, books, and anything else that I can read that will help me reach my goal.

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel is one of those books that put me in the mindest for NaNoWriMo.  The author provides some really good strategies for plotting out a novel.   The one piece of advice that really struck a chord with me was the main character.   Lisa Cron really lays out a plan to really develop your main character before even writing one page of your story.  I always had a character sketch, but I had never gone one step further with the character's history.    The other thing that really is going to be useful when I write is a thing called "Scene Cards.".  Each scene needs a Scene Card with these four things - 1. What happens?. 2. What is the effect or consequence? 3.Why does it matter? 4.What is the realization? And what happens next?   I think having the concept of scene cards is going to help me stay organized and keep the book from getting away from me.   The final thing I want to share that I think will be useful was the advice to have the ending planned out before you even write a word.  You don't start a road trip without having a destination in mind, right?  You know where you are going to end up, right?  That is the way it should be when writing a novel.

Bottom line - Story Genius was a really helpful book to read as I get ready to start another NaNoWriMo.  I could have probably have started without reading this book, but I suspect that Story Genius will help me finish NaNoWriMo this year.

  • Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel by Lisa Cron
  • On Facebook
  • Pages: 288
  • Publisher: Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony
  • Publication Date: 8/9/2016
  • Buy it Here! 

Friday, October 27, 2017

(89)Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Aza and Daisy have been best friends since grade school.  Aza isn't your typical teenager, she struggles with severe anxiety that nearly paralyzes her at times. But Daisy has been by her side for years and Daisy deals with Aza's quirkiness because of their friendship. One day Daisy heard on the news about a local billionaire who has gone missing.  There is a $100,000 reward and Daisy thinks that they can find him, especially since the billionaire's son, Davis, is an old friend of Aza's from "sad camp".  The summer camp that they went to after Aza's dad and Davis's mom died way too young.  Sixteen-year-old Aza's best friend has come up with a crazy way for them to make money. It was easier to reconnect to David that Aza expected, but now she has to choose - his friendship or pursuing the $100,000 reward.   The pressure is sending Aza's anxiety through the roof and it all comes to a climactic explosion that could ruin Aza's friendships, and her life, forever.

I don't think that there is an author out there that can depict the tribulations of teens like John Green.   Being a teen in today's world is tough.  Being a teenager with severe anxiety is even more difficult.  Aza's struggles with anxiety are so well documented by Green that I think people of all ages will be able to relate to her.  Her relationship with Daisy was an interesting one. To me, it was Daisy who was "exhausting" with her constant chattering.  And I was FURIOUS on Aza's behalf when she made the discovery that led to the critical moment of the book.  With friends like that who needs enemies? --  CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS  Ultimately, I really liked the book and I really loved Aza.   The end was satisfactory, but I wish that more was done to illustrate Aza's inner-strength regarding her friendship with Daisy.  I know that Green probably was authentic in the way that it went down but as a forty-two-year-old woman, that would not have been okay.

Bottom-Line - Even though I struggled with parts of this book, Turtles All the Way Down is a great book and is going to be under the tree for the teen girl in my life.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Sunday, October 22, 2017

(88)Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

For the first time in years the Birch family will be under the same roof for Christmas.  They will be convening for a week of festivities at their country estate, Weyfield Hall, and they will be under quarantine.  Olvia, the oldest daughter of Emma and Andrew Birch will be just arriving home from a humanitarian mission treating patients with a highly contagious plague.  She will be required to be quarantined for seven days once she returns to England.  Emma is thrilled to have her family all under the same roof, her younger daughter, Phoebe is newly engaged and she is looking forward to some wedding planning during the quarantine to keep her mind off of her own troubles, but Phoebe receives some news that will ruin their whole holiday.  Andrew, Emma's husband, is also glad to have his daughters home, but he has been distracted and distant because of his past coming back to haunt him.  What will his family say if they were to find out his secret?  While the whole Birch family may be under the same roof their secrets are keeping them apart.

Yes, I did it.  I read the first Christmas book of the season and I am not sorry one little bit.  I love Christmas and am really looking forward to this year's holiday season.  The Birch family holiday reminded me a lot of the last Christmas I spent with my whole family for Christmas.  We weren't quarantined, but we were stuck due to an old-fashioned Iowa blizzard.  And we were not in a large English manor, but a small four bedroom home.   Collectively I liked the Birch family, but individually they all got on my nerves a bit.   Think Family Stone meets Downton Abbey. Phoebe was whiny and self-centered.  Olivia was judgemental and arrogant.  Their parents were so disconnected from each other it was hard to feel empathy.   By the end of the book a lot of the issues in this family had been resolved, but not in a "cheesy Christmas story" kind of way.  - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS   I really found myself loving the Birch family by the end of the book and this is one that I can see being picked up for a big screen movie.

Bottom Line - Seven Days of Us was a great way to kick off the holiday season.  Not only are the characters all unique and engaging, the setting of Weyfield Hall is something right out of Downton Abbey.  Definitely worth the read if you are already humming Christmas carols under your breath!

  • Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak
  • On Twitter
  • Pages: 368
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication Date: 10/17/2017
  • Buy it Here! 

Friday, October 20, 2017

(87)My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Fourteen-year-old Turtle Alveston's whole world revolves around her father, Martin.   They live in the woods of Northern California and Martin only lets her go to school so they won't be bothered by officials, as far as Martin is concerned Turtle's education is provided by him. And him alone.  He has taught her how to hunt, how to shoot, how to dress game, and how to survive in the wilderness. That is not all he has taught her - what else he has taught her are "skills" no fourteen-year-old should know.  When summer comes Martin tries to save them both and takes off and leaves Turtle alone to fend for herself.  Turtle does just fine on her own, she even meets a couple of friends, Jacob and Brett.  Jacob leaves Turtle longing for a "normal" life with a "normal" family.   After months of being gone, Martin returns and he is not alone.  He has a little girl with him.  At first, Turtle isn't sure what to think of Cayenne but then she soon realizes that things are going to come to an explosive end and they may not make it out alive.

My Absolute Darling has to be one of the most brutal novels that I have ever read.  Martin Alveston has to be one of the most tortured, evil characters that I have ever seen in print.  His control over Turtle was total and complete.  His misogynistic beliefs were so ingrained into Turtle that she couldn't even see how their relationship was so screwed up. She couldn't understand that her self-hatred was a direct result of his systematic abuse.  Make no mistake, My Absolute Darling deals with very dark themes like sexual and physical abuse. In explicit and graphic detail, the author takes us into the pit of Turtle's despair.  It is horrifically brutal to read, so much so that there were sections of this book that I could only read a few pages - a few paragraphs at a time before I had to set it aside to find cute cat videos or something.  I questioned myself for sticking with it, but then I realized that while horrific, there are Turtles all over this world who never get their stories told.  I wanted to finish this book for them. I can't imagine what it was like for the author to be in the head of Martin Alveston. His writing was so unique, his way with words was so beautiful.  Even though the subject matter was incredibly ugly, his writing was exceptional.  While the end was the kind of heroic end that all books deserve, yet seldom receive,  it was a very much heartbreaking conclusion.  Nobody gets over that kind of systematic abuse in one short chapter.  But above all else, Turtle is a survivor.  - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - Despite the brutal subject matter of  My Absolute Darling, I gave it a "Best of 2017" label.  I give books the "Best of" label that evoke an intense emotional response in me, and My Absolute Darling did just that on nearly every page.  I cannot warn you enough about the graphic nature of this book, but Turtle's story is one that should not be missed.

  • My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
  • I could not find the author on social media
  • Pages: 432
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication Date: 8/29/2017
  • Buy it Here!

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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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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