Tuesday, July 31, 2018

(57)The Party by Robyn Harding

Kim and Jeff Sanders think nothing of allowing their daughter, Hannah, to have friends over for her sixteenth birthday.  Kim takes an Ambien with a glass of wine so she can sleep through any squealing done by teen girls.  Jeff even gives Hannah a bottle of champagne to share with her friends.  There are enough of them that one bottle isn't going to do anything.  But then Hannah wakes her mother up in the middle of the night and she is covered in blood.  And their life, as they know it is over.

After the party, Kim and Jeff realize that their affluent lifestyle is in danger. Their beautiful home, their luxury cars, the private school education could all vanish.   Hannah realizes what it is like to be on the other side of the cool crowd.  As the days after the party pass, the Sanders family start to realize that there are more important things to life than having the best of everything, but is it too late?

I don't think that I have disliked a character as much as I disliked Kim at first. Her entire world revolves around being perfect.  Having perfect kids.  Having a perfect marriage.  She is really quite detestable in her way of judging everyone around her, but especially the way she treats her husband.  Everything that went down after the party made me like her even less.  She lacked one key characteristic - compassion.   Jeff wasn't exactly an upstanding moral kind of guy either, but I thought that he had more compassion than Kim.  And really in their world, is it any wonder their kids were raised to be monsters?  I was a little surprised by the end, I didn't think that Kim had it in her.  She experienced a level of redemption that I did not expect.  All of them did. - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS.

Bottom Line - Raising kids is hard and people suck. Neither fact can be denied and one makes the other incredibly difficult.   But it becomes even harder when the sense of entitlement overrules common sense and compassion.  The Party is a great book that is sure to generate some heated discussion at your next book club.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

(56) The Summer List by Amy Mason Doan

It has been seventeen years since Laura and Casey were best friends. It all fell apart the summer after their senior year.  That summer was carefree and relaxing as they planned to head off to college.  Casey's mom would put together these elaborate scavenger hunts for the girls and their friends. Alex's relaxed rules and an open mind towards social situations made "The Shipwreck" the place for the kids to be on hot summer nights.  One night Casey's father catches them in an act that he doesn't understand and it sets off a chain of events that changes everything.

It has been seventeen years since that summer and seventeen years since Laura has spoken with Casey.  She receives an invitation in the mail from Casey and after weeks of agonizing, Laura returns to the house on the lake that held so many memories.  She arrives to discover that it wasn't Casey who sent that invitation, but her mother.  Alex set them up for a weekend alone and has left the girls one of her elaborate scavenger hunts.  The hunt sends them down memory lane and helps to provide answers to decades-old questions.  Like what is the truth of Laura's parentage? And what really sent Laura on a path that took her away from Jade Cove?

The Summer List was a fun book to read that reminded me a bit of Firefly Lane and an old  Bette Midler film. (To say which one would give it away.) Let me say first, that I loved the setting of Jade Cove and the cabins on each side of the lake.  I like both Casey and Laura.  Laura was obviously subdued and I think it came from having parents of an older generation.  Casey gave her a sense of confidence that she never had before. A few things to note - the fact that she was adopted played a lot into Laura's story.  And I loved (!!) how one particular about Casey was handled by the author, by Laura, and by Alex. It was all so natural.  And I loved it.  Some elements of the story were predictable and cliche, but the writing was mostly engaging and the characters were enjoyable.  I had figured out some of the surprises, but not all of them. -CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - The Summer List is one of those books that you should probably read with your best friend.  Especially if your best friend was around during your high school years.  You will likely find a lot of similarities between you and Laura and Casey.


Monday, July 23, 2018

(55.)I See Life Through Rose-Colored Glasses by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella

One of my new favorite summer traditions is reading the latest collection of essays from one of my favorite authors, Lisa Scottoline, and her daughter Francesca.

This summer's offering, I See Life Through Rose-Colored Glasses does not disappoint.  Topics covered this year includes advice from Francesca on how to break-up with a significant other, a trip to see Lady Gaga, rants about dresses made with sewn in bras, air conditioning (or lack of air conditioning), and more!

This year's installment also came with a product recommendation.  According to Lisa she only endorses her books, but even she couldn't keep quiet about the Negg. I am not going to lie, I went directly to Amazon and made the purchased based purely on her recommendation.

I am off that age where I can relate to both Francesca and Lisa.  I remember all of the issues that come with being in the dating world like Francesca,  but I also can relate to some of the aging issues that Lisa likes to write about.  The whole book is just so darn relatable, I can't help but gush about it.

Bottom Line - Even if you are not into the mysteries and legal thrillers that Lisa Scottoline writes the rest of the year, you really should check out the series of essays that she publishes with her daughter every summer.  They are chalk full of one-liners that are guaranteed to make you laugh out loud ("Gravity is real, people.") and stories that will make you feel as if you have a new pair of best friends.  It is just refreshing and entertaining and not to be missed.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

(54)Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

I am just going to say it. I thoroughly enjoy David Sedaris. 

We listened to another one of his books on the way home and found ourselves laughing with unabashed glee.  David Sedaris seems to come in contact with the most unique characters.  That is probably not that unusual, but the way he embraces those characters and then writes about them with such laser-focused precision, well that is unique.  His descriptions of the people he encounters is what has me enamored with his writing.   From the merchant, he met while trying to find Hugh the perfect gift of a stuffed owl  (spoiler - the merchant also had a severed arm and the skeleton of a pygmy).   To his first girlfriend to the idiosyncrasies of his childhood in such a large family. It is all equal parts fascinating and hysterical.

Bottom Line - David Sedaris has a style that is uniquely entertaining.  His self-deprecating observations on life, love, his family, and the world around him is not to be missed!


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

(53)Calypso by David Sedaris

I have not read a whole lot of David Sedaris.  I know of him as the national treasure that he is, but I didn't really know what I was missing until my husband made me watch him on one of the recent late night shows.   So when we had a road trip on our agenda we decided to give it a listen and were absolutely delighted.  I don't think that we have laughed so hard while in the car.

With decades of summer vacations along the Carolina Coast under his belt summer David Sedaris purchases a summer home to serve as a base for his siblings and their families during the summer and all other holidays.  His observations about his family, his partner, and summer memories from long ago are both hysterical and insightful.  The way he describes something as simple as running into a neighbor with a dog is almost genius.  He is describing his sister when he says something like "She was using the lyrical voice that she reserved for anything with a tail."  The description stuck with me because it perfectly describes our daughter whenever she encounters any animal.   He also goes into detail his obsessive experience with his Fitbit.  And that I can get.  There may be some people out there who think that I am that obsessive about my steps.

But Sedaris also tackles some less than humorous topics like his sister's suicide and his mother's alcoholism.  Even with such hard-hitting topics, he writes about them with his trademark humor.  I was a little shocked that such topics were covered, but he does write about them with brutal honesty.

Bottom Line - I get it.  I finally get why David Sedaris can sell out theaters all over the world.  He has this self-deprecating way of making you feel like the story he is telling could be yours.  His quirky demeanor makes him feel like an eccentric, yet completely lovable,  uncle or neighbor.  I will definitely be reading more by David Sedaris and sooner rather than later.


Monday, July 16, 2018

(52)All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin

Nina Browning leads a charmed life and she knows it.  She didn't grow up rich, in fact, she comes from a very modest background.  When her husband sold his tech company for more money than either of them could imagine they were very quickly moved into the upper echelon of Nashville society. Their son just got into Princeton and leads a very privileged life, going to one of the most elite private school in Nashville.  One night Finch does something stupid.  Something racist and offensive.  Nina has a variety of emotions over the situation ranging from anger to embarrassment, but most of all she is shocked that her husband doesn't share her reactions.

Tom Volpe is a working-class guy who has worked hard to give his daughter an education at one of the most elite schools in Nashville. He is a carpenter by day and drives an Uber at night, whatever it takes.   He is working one night when his daughter's friend calls to tell him that Lyla is passed out drunk and she is scared.  Tom pokes around her phone while waiting for Lyla to come out of it and discovers that somebody took a compromising picture of Lyla while she was passed out.   One bad decision could risk everything he has worked so hard for -  Lyla's future.

All We Ever Wanted takes on the topic of teen "affluenza."  Nina Browning is the kind of mother that all mothers should strive to be like. It would be very easy for her to take the path of least resistance and let her husband buy off Lyla, instead, she recognizes how her husband has become one of "those" men and it makes her sick.  I loved the way she did the one thing that no other adult did in this book - show concern for Lyla.  The story played out in a pretty predictable manner, but it was the way that I had hoped real-life stories with similar circumstances would play out but never do.  There was one part of the conclusion that I was surprised by, but it seemed to be necessary to get the author's point across. -- CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - All We Ever Wanted was probably one of my favorite Emily Giffin books. She has the tough conversation that no other author seems to be talking about.  It is a topic that could generate a lot of great chatter at your next book club!


Monday, July 9, 2018

(51)The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

It has been fifteen years since the summer that changed Emma Davis's life.  She was just thirteen years old when her cabinmates at Camp Nightingale disappeared in the middle of the night.  Emma has kept the secrets of that night for the last fifteen years, but those girls haunt her every moment.  She pours the emotions into her art and it is at her very first showing that she reconnects with Frannie, the owner of the camp. And Emma is even more shocked she Frannie contacts her with a proposition.  She wants to reopen Camp Nightingale and wants Emma to come and work at the camp to teach art to the campers. Emma is reluctant at first and then realizes that this might be the opportunity she needs to exorcise the demons that have haunted her since that day.   Almost immediately strange things start to happen.  Birds mysteriously are in her cabin, the uneasy feeling she has that she is being watched, and then there is the graffiti that shows up on the outside of her cabin.   But she nearly falls apart when the three girls she shares a cabin with go missing.  There are a lot of accusations being thrown around, but more importantly, what happened to the girls then and now?

Riley Sager may be a pseudonym, but I am absolutely smitten with his writing style. The Last Time I Lied is just as dark and twisty as The Final Girls. I love the camp setting, it reminds me of the old horror movies from the 80's.  Emma isn't the most reliable of narrators.  You like her, she is easy to like.  You are empathetic towards her, but she admits that she has lied before and she admits that she has a history of mental illness. She admits that she screwed up way back when, but you don't know to what degree until very late in the book.  In that case, your own imagination is your worst enemy.   The camp's history was completely creepy, but of course, that information is not willingly shared, Emma has to dig to find it.  It also prompted her to make false accusations, yet again.  That part really bugged me, but Emma's lack of reliability really kept the reader on their toes.  I did not have it all figured out, but I was not really surprised by the big reveal. - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS -

Bottom Line - If you are looking for a great thriller to take to the beach (or the cabin) then The Last Time I Lied needs to be at the top of your list. It will keep you on your toes!  I promise!


Thursday, July 5, 2018

(50)By Invitation Only by Dorthea Benton Frank

Diane English Stiftel and Susan Kennedy Cambria have absolutely nothing in common.  Diane lives with her parents and brother on their family peach farm in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.  Susan and her husband, Alejandro, live in a penthouse in Chicago.  But they are about to become family.    Diane's son, Fred, is engaged to Susan's daughter, Shelby, and Diane is throwing them an old-fashioned Lowcountry barbeque to celebrate their engagement.    The first meeting between the parents make it abundantly clear that they are from different worlds, but they both want their children to be happy.   The coming months are filled with phone calls and wedding preparations as Susan spares no expense for her daughter's wedding.  Susan wants to release $40,000 worth of butterflies at their wedding and Diane wants the kids to just be happy. When Shelby and Fred decide that they want to move up their wedding by nearly six months, Susan nearly implodes with anger.  And Diane just wants the kids to be happy.   The wedding may not be everything that Diane had wanted, but it was beautiful and it was perfect.  But just days after the wedding Susan is forced into a reality that they thought she left behind when she married Alejandro.  And she realizes that family, even new family, will be there through thick and thin.

Diane and Susan are about as different as two women can get.   Diane is a down to earth farm girl and Susan is the kind of woman who serves take out for every meal, including holidays.   Diane was very easy to like and Susan was very easy to not like. Susan was very high maintenance and self-absorbed and Diane was the loving, nurturing kind of mother that many long to have.   Until she goes through her crisis.  It was a transformation that was predictable, yet fun to observe because no character has a transformation like Susan Kennedy Cambria.  I really loved everything about the English farm, including Diane's brother, Floyd.  His no-nonsense, salt-of-the-earth demeanor reminds me of my own family.    Even though it was all quite predictable, I still found myself wanting to see the story play out.   Even though the end seemed familiar, like it had been done before, I was happy with the way it all worked out.

Bottom Line -  Dorthea Benton Frank is to the Lowcountry like Elin Hilderbrand is to Nantucket.  She knows the people, the culture, the climate, and the feeling that people get when they read her books.  She is a talented writer who knows how to bring a sense of comfort to her readers.


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

(49)The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand

It is the wedding weekend for Celeste Otis and Benji Winbury.   They come from two different worlds.  Celeste is from a humble background where her parents worked hard to give her every opportunity to move ahead.   Benji was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  His parents are extremely wealthy and have homes all over the world, including a compound on Nantucket.  Their wedding is everything you could dream of and Celeste is eager for everything to be perfect for her family, especially her mother who has terminal cancer.  Never mind that the educated, successful bride has suddenly developed a debilitating stutter. On the morning of the wedding, they all wake up to find the Maid-of-Honor, Merritt, dead on the beach. As the Nantucket police interview all those in attendance and try to piece together the last 48 hours, it becomes apparent that things are not as they seem.  There are a lot of secrets being kept, but how killed Merritt?

Elin Hilderbrand's Nantucket is my dream summer vacation. This year's trip to Nantucket involves a murder mystery.     Celeste Otis, the bride, seems like such a grounded young woman. She comes from a humble background and struggles to make ends meet, but loves her job as the director of the Bronx Zoo.   Benji's world is one of wealth and privilege and as much as he tries to make Celeste feel comfortable, she can't really be herself.  There is only one person who makes her that comfortable and that is Benji's best friend.  I really liked Celeste, I could be friends with her.  And I understand why she feels out of place with Benji and on Nantucket.  When revealed, the truth didn't really shock me, but it made me feel sorry for all those involved.   The Winbury family had all the money in the world, but they could not buy the happiness they so desperately crave.    CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - The Perfect Couple is a book about three couples who appear to be perfect in every way.  Celeste and Benji.  Tag and Greer.  And Celeste's parents.   The reality is that none of them are perfect, but all of them just want to be happy.    Elin Hilderbrand is an author that I don't miss and I think that The Perfect Couple is one of her best books yet.

Monday, July 2, 2018

(48)I'll Be Gone In They Dark by Michelle McNamara

I am not much of a true crime fan, but I am a huge fan of Patton Oswalt. When his wife passed away his honesty regarding his grief was something to respect.  So when I saw that his late wife's book was going to be published and it was getting a ton of positive buzz, well I was interested.

I'll Be Gone In The Dark is just as much about Michelle McNamara and her obsession with the dark world of true crime as it is about the serial rapist and killer that eluded police for more than thirty years.   Michelle tells about a girl in her community being murdered when she was a kid and how her curiosity about the morbid spiraled from there.  She also talks about her extensive research, her website, True Crime Diary, and her life married to a famous actor.   But mostly, she talks about the man she dubbed "Golden State Killer".  She made it her mission in life to find this man.  And in April of 2018, they did find him.  After decades.  And many say that it was because of her exhaustive research that he was found.

Bottom Line - Like I said, I am not generally a fan of True Crime.   But I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed I'll Be Gone In The Dark.  One by one McNamara's carefully tells the stories of the victims in a respectful, yet chilling way.    I'll Be Gone In The Dark is a well-written break from the books usually found on my reading list.   Have you read it yet, what were your thoughts?


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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