Sunday, February 25, 2018

(14)Educated by Tara Westover

When Tara Westover sat down to take her ACT's she had never stepped foot in a classroom or taken a formalized school test.  The bubble form answer sheet confounded her.  And she got a 22.  She went back home to her family's home in rural Idaho to keep studying in between helping at her family's junkyard.  Tara's family didn't care how she did on any test, all they cared about was whether or not she could carry her own weight. Coming from a survivalist family that did not value a traditional education it was Tara's brother, the black sheep of the family, who planted the seed that college was attainable for her.  Tara was seventeen when she took her first class at BYU.  It was there that she heard the word "Holacaust" for the first time.  It was there that she learned about textbooks and homework.  It was there that she went to the doctor for the first time.  It was at college that Tara first realized that the abuse she suffered at the hand of her older brother was not normal.  It was there that Tara realized the way her family lived was not normal. It was there that she realized her father and brother, Shawn, may be mentally ill.  And finally, it was at BYU that Tara realized that she had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.  Tara went on to get her doctorate from Cambridge University, but will her relationship with her family survive her desire to become educated?

Educated is one of those memoirs that reads like a fiction novel.  Tara is a fantastic narrator whose naivete made her so lovable in a family full of nutjobs.  And make no mistake, her family is full of nutjobs.  In graphic detail, Tara recounts the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her brother, Shawn.  I grew up in a large family where we siblings sometimes got rough with each other, but never did we exhibit the kind of violence Tara experienced.  And her parents not only let it happen but denied that it even happened.  Also, Tara graphically describes the brutal injuries her family suffered and they never sought medical care because of her father's distrust of the government.  The fact that any of them survived was a freaking miracle.   I think that Tara is a gifted storyteller who told some ugly truths about her family and herself in such an honest way that you cannot help but have respect for her.

Bottom Line - Educated is such a well-written memoir exploring a way of life that very few of us can never even begin to understand.  In a manner that can only be described as brave, Tara Westover shares the details of what it was like for her to grow up in a survivalist family.  It is a worthy read if you are looking for something different to read.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

(13)The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin

Zadie and Emma's  history goes back to when they were young med students. Their history includes loves and losses, good memories and bad.  Now they are enjoying successful careers, loving marriages, and are raising children in the upper-class areas of Charlotte.  Emma is a successful trauma surgeon and Zadie is a world-class pediatric cardiologist. Both of them are caught off guard when they learn that a doctor from their past is moving to Charlotte.  Just the name of Nick drudges up memories that they both would rather leave in the past.  What they don't know is that one of them has been keeping a pretty big secret about something that happened back in med school.  Will the secret destroy the only real friendship that either of them has had in years?

For more than a decade the antics of med students at Seattle Grace have romanticized med school for millions of viewers.  The Queen of Hearts is the kind of book that will bring back all of those reasons why we spent so much time at Seattle Grace. Romance, angst, heartache, and more.   I think it is that sentimental connection to the beloved show that is the reason why I enjoyed this book so much.   I really liked both Zadie and Emma.  I even liked Nick in his own anti-McDreamy way.  Zadie is a little more flighty, a bit overwhelmed with her four young children. But it is Emma who is most discombobulated by the thought that Nick will be moving to Charlotte. As the storyline goes back and forth between the present and the past you really get a strong "Greys Anatomy" vibe, especially when there is a tragedy that befalls the Zadie, Emma, and their friends.  - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - I believe that The Queen of Hearts is a love story, but a love story between two friends.  Neither Zadie nor Emma are perfect, but their friendship has stood the test of time and I believe the love between them was genuine, even when things get tough.  We should all be so lucky to have a friend like that.


Monday, February 19, 2018

(12)Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter is back on Privet Drive for another summer with the Dursleys.  Harry is just as miserable as he expected, but then Dementors attack Harry and Dudley.  Harry has to resort to magic to save them and risks being expelled from Hogwarts.  What he discovers is that there is an entire organization created to help fight the Dark Lord. The Order of the Phoenix is there to help protect and prepare Harry for a future that includes He Who Shall Not Be Named.   Harry is willing to do whatever it takes, even if it means taking lessons from his archnemesis, Snape.  But there is new trouble lurking at Hogwarts, in the form of Dolores Umbridge. She threatens everything that Harry loves about Hogwarts.  Will she finally be the one to break Harry?

I think that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is my favorite book so far.  I loved everything about the Order of the Phoenix including this book's "bad guy" - Dolores Umbridge. As I listened to the audiobook I could often be heard muttering "I hate Umbridge." She was so much fun to hate.  I also enjoyed the whole premise surrounding Grimmauld Place. The way they all gathered there for Harry, the way Creature hated them all being there.  The history of Sirius Black and his family.    Harry had a lot to overcome this year and with everything going on he still had to pass his O.W.L's.  And of course, he did it all with his friends by his side.   The end was tragic, but I was not surprised.  In the end, things at Hogwarts corrected themselves and everything went back to normal.

Bottom Line - I know that I am so far behind the Harry Potter curve, but I finally find myself "getting" all of the references that I have heard so many times over the years.  I feel like I am a member of an exclusive club that I have been denied entrance for years.  Only two more left!


Monday, February 12, 2018

(11) White Houses by Amy Bloom

The relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena "Hick" Hickock is one that goes beyond friendship.  Eleanor and Hick first met when FDR was on the campaign trail.  Hick is loud and brash, drinks whiskey and tells bawdy jokes.  Her early days were rough, but that is what made her into the woman she is today.   And she is utterly devoted to the love of her life, Eleanor Roosevelt.  White Houses is set in the days following FDR's death when Eleanor is in need of comfort in the arms of a woman she loves.   During those days Hick flashes back to the days when they first met.  The days when her beat was on the campaign trail with the future First Lady.  The flashbacks continue on through their years together, including when Hick moved into the room next to Eleanor's in the White House.  In Hick's tender voice we get to hear all the details of their relationship and a love that was true.

It hasn't been until recent years that I even heard that Eleanor Roosevelt had a girlfriend. Her relationship with FDR was apparently an open one, as his affairs were pretty common knowledge.  Can you imagine what would happen in today's political climate if word got out that the First Lady (or First Husband) was in a same-sex, extramarital affair? People would be screaming for heads to roll.   Who would have thought that FDR would have welcomed Hick into the White House and even treated her like family?  There is one point where Hick recounts a conversation with FDR that SHE should be the one sharing retirement with Eleanor, not him.   I need to be clear that White Houses is a fictional story based on real people and real situations. Did that conversation really happen?  I don't know.  But, the fact that the author takes us into Hick's head, and her heart, is one of the reasons it is fictional.  Also, I am not sure if the events depicted in Hicks childhood are true.  Ultimately, at the heart of this book is a love story.  A true love story and that is the tone that is continued throughout the whole book.  It is heartbreaking to think that as much as they loved each other it was done in secret.

Bottom Line - White  Houses is a fictional telling of the love story between two real women.  While I really enjoyed this book I can see where not everybody would feel the same.   I just encourage you to pick White Houses up with an open mind and open heart.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

(10)Force of Nature by Jane Harper

The employees of Bailey Tennants are sent out to on a corporate retreat that takes them into the Austrailian bushland.  The men set off in one group and the women go off in another group.  The weekend is a challenging one but something has gone terribly awry when the women's group finally returns to the lodge, but missing one of their members.  Federal Agent Aaron Falk and his colleague, Carmen, are called in to help the search because they have been investigating Bailey Tennants and the night before Alice had called him.  Now she is missing.    Each of the remaining women tells their own version of the weekend's events and each of them tells a different version of events. One of them knows more than they are telling.   Jill Bailey runs the firm with her brother.  Lauren is an old friend of Alice's from school and their teen daughters go to the same school. And there are twins, Bree and Beth.  Beth has a record and is on probation.  Any kind of trouble could send her back to jail. One of these women knows what happened to Alice.  Will they speak the truth before it is too late?

Force of Nature was one of those mystery novels with a plot that left me saying "Why didn't I think of  that?"   I love the corporate theme of this book.  I didn't like how the author divided them up into "boys" and "girls" as if they were in junior high, but it lent to the suspense of the novel.  Five women out wandering in the bush?  It was hard to like any of the five women. They all had that aggressive "Type A" personality or were afraid to stand up for themselves because of past transgressions.  I think my favorite character was Aaron Falk, the agent.  This was not the first time I had met Agent Falk.  He was featured in the author's first book, The Dry.  The end was not really a surprise, but I was glad to see that everybody got some degree of closure. - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS   And just like the first book, the natural beauty of Austrailia is also very much a character.  The dangerous beauty is part of every single page.

Bottom Line - Force of Nature was another incredible mystery by Jane Harper.  I look forward to seeing what she has up her sleeve for her next book!


Sunday, February 4, 2018

(9)The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The year is 1974 and thirteen-year-old Leni Allbright and her mother walk on eggshells around her father Ernt.  As a POW Vietnam Vet Ernt lives with nightmares that neither of them can imagine.  So when he decides to move the family to Alaska to claim the land his fallen comrade left him Cora and Leni decide to embrace the decision as an adventure.   They were woefully unprepared for the harshness of life in Alaska.  Thankfully their new neighbors in the in fishing village welcomed them and taught them how to live life in a small cabin with no electricity and no running water.  They learn the importance of stocking up and preparing for the fast-approaching winter, things like hunting, canning, and chopping wood. They learn the importance of neighbors.   But even their new neighbors couldn't prepare them for what the harsh Alaskan winter would be like, the brutal snow, and the endless nights.  The already abusive Ernt cannot keep his demons at bay during the endless nights.  Everybody in the community knows or suspects that Ernt abuses Cora, but she stays because she loves him.  Until the night three years later when he turns his anger towards Leni. That one night changes their lives in irrevocable ways.   Will Leni's life ever be the same?

I think there is a little part of all of us that dreams of chucking it all and moving to Alaska.  I know my husband and I have talked about more than once.    In her new book, The Great Alone,  Kristin Hannah gets honest about the fact that no matter how much we may romanticize Alaska, the truth is that it is brutally dangerous.  As much as I love Leni and Cora I despised Ernt.   I thought it was interesting the "prepper" mentality that he had because you all know how much I love apocalyptic books.  Of course, he took it to extremes.  I am not sure if the paranoia was because of his time as a POW or if it was just an inherent personality defect.  I really enjoyed everything about The Great Alone. I thought that Leni was a strong young woman who learned a lot about life from her mother and not always because her mother always behaved the right way. My heart broke for Leni more than once, but her resiliency is a strong theme throughout this book and I was very pleased with the way the book ended.  I don't think their story was over, though.

Bottom Line - Kristin Hannah has such a gift for telling stories that are just more. Her books are more than just words on paper.  They have a way of making you feel like you are part of a different world.  The Great Alone is just another place that I have visited thanks to the gift of Kristin Hannah. The Great Alone is on sale Tuesday, February 6th.


Friday, February 2, 2018

(8)The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Anna Fox is agoraphobic.  She spends her nights watching classing noir movies and drinking wine.  She spends her days playing online chess and participating in an online forum dedicated to others like her. In between, she spies on her neighbors.  She is extra curious about the new family across the way, the Russells.  Alastair, Jane, and their son, Ethan.  Anna doesn't get many visitors, so she is excited when Jane Russell stops by and they have a lovely time together.  Anna is so excited to have a friend, a real friend.  But when she sees her new friend murdered her nightmare begins anew.  The police don't believe her when Alastair Russell presents his wife, Jane Russell, and she is not the woman that Anna met.  Her world suddenly begins to spiral out of control in ways that are new even to her.  She thinks that people are entering her house at night.  There is a selfie on her phone that she doesn't believe that she took, but who did?  Anna starts to lose track of reality and she is not sure what is fact and what is fiction. Was it all a figment of her imagination?  And if so, why does she feel as if she were in danger?

The Woman in the Window has been getting a lot of buzz in all of the reader's groups and for good reason.  It reads like one of the old Hitchcock movies that Anna was so obsessed with in the book.  There are a lot of references to old black and white films, as well as their stars, like Jimmy Stewart.   There were a lot of twists and turns in the book, much like an old Hitchcock movie, but I had figured out the "big" twist fairly early on in the book.   Anna was an interesting character - she was obviously living with a lot of guilt and was trying to silence the voices in her head with alcohol.  Lots of alcohol.  I didn't think she was imagining things, but I hadn't yet figured out who was behind all of the strange happenings. The desire to spy on her neighbors obviously came from boredom and loneliness, I don't blame her, but her drinking made it tough for the reader to even believe her.  Things come to a shocking conclusion that even I didn't see coming. - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - The Woman in the Window is a hell of a debut novel for A.J. Finn. The writing is impeccable and the story is gripping. If you are looking for a thriller, The Woman in the Window should go to the top of your list.

  • The  Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
  • On Twitter
  • Pages: 448
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • Publication Date:1/2/2018
  • 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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