Thursday, September 27, 2018

(64)Whiskey in a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon

It has been a gazillion years since I first watched Legally Blonde and had the thought that I could be friends with Reese Witherspoon.  That feeling has only grown over the years. She is intelligent, funny, dedicated to her craft, and an avid reader. In her book Whiskey in A Teacup, Reece gives us insight into what it means to be southern. Reece grew up in the Nashville area and still considers it home.  She shares all sorts of aspects of southern living with her readers.  From southern traditions to southern dishes we learn what life is like in the south.  She shares the unique culture that can only be found in a southern beauty shop, but she also talks about movies and books set in the south.  Early on in the book, she brings up one of my favorite movies, Steel Magnolias

I am from farm country, where women are more likely to wear overalls than dresses.  I haven't even spent more than a week collectively in the south, but I loved viewing life in the south through Reese Witherspoon's eyes.  She makes life in the south seem very idyllic.  The foods, the customs - everything just seems idyllic.  Having said all of that, I will never understand the fascination that apparently southern women have with monograms.  Really?   Being the mega movie star that she is, you would think that Reese would do more name dropping of her famous friends.  She keeps that very low key, but she does throw out a couple of unexpected names.

Bottom Line - Whiskey in A Teacup is fun and lighthearted look at life in the south brought to you by one of the most genuine women you will find in show business. (or so they say).  You get light and airy anecdotes peppered with yummy recipes and shic entertaining tips.   Definitely a book worth reading or gifting to the hostesses in your life this holiday season.


Monday, September 24, 2018

(63)The Darkest Night by Ron Franscell

Forty-five years ago tonight.  September 24, 1973, two girls went to the neighborhood grocery store on an errand for their mother in the sleepy western town of Casper, Wyoming.  Eighteen-year-old Becky Thomson and her eleven-year-old sister, Amy Burridge walked out of the store to find a flat tire on their car.  Two men offer to help and then force the girls to get into their white chevy impala at knifepoint.  That night changed everything for two sisters and one small town.  That night ended with both girls thrown off a bridge and one of them dead.  By the end of the next day, their assailants were in police custody, as much for their protection and the protection of the community.  Forty-five years later and that night is still very much a part of the Casper community.

This summer my husband and I moved back to Casper Wyoming after being away for seven years. When family came to visit for Labor Day we did what we also do when we have out of town guests - we went exploring.  One of our go-to places to take visitors is Fremont Canyon. The drive past Alcova  Lake just illustrates the stark difference between Wyoming and the lush, rolling farmland that is the midwest.  We had heard rumors that the canyon had a dark history, but it was the lone bench with a date on it that prompted me to investigate further.   I cannot look at this bridge ever the same way.  To know that those young women were thrown off this bridge in an effort to hide a crime.  To know that Becky survived in that

canyon for an endless, starless night with nothing but her hair and sagebrush to keep her warm.  The terror that she must have felt leaves me breathless.  She lived through the night, but I am not really sure she survived.  The demons of that night chased Becky for the rest of her life.

As gruesome as the subject matter was, it really gave me an insight into the history of my adopted town.  The author gave the history of the cowtown, the wrath of the North Platte River helped to shape the "haves" and "have-nots" of the city.  The history of the cow-town turned oil city had a lot to do with the development of the North Casper that produced the two hoods who ruined the city's innocence.  The innocence lost that night just wasn't Becky's innocence, it was an entire town that lost its innocence.  I wished that I could say that this story had a happy ending, but these stories rarely do.

Author Ron Franscell tells the story of his neighbors with a heart-aching lyrical manner.  What happened to Amy and Becky was deeply personal to him.   He knew them.  They were his neighbors. He takes a risk by sharing his own vulnerability about that night, but it makes the whole book that much more "real" to me.  They weren't just girls who lived and died 45 years ago.  The pain of that night lives on in all who knew them.

Bottom Line - The Darkest Night is not usually the kind of book that I read.  I am confident in saying that if it wasn't based in Casper truth, I probably would not have read it, but I am glad that I did.  As I sit in my recliner on this windy, dark, Casper night, I sit under a blanket because of the evening chill.  I know that what happened on that bridge forty-five years ago should never be forgotten. Becky and Amy's story should never be forgotten.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

(62)An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

It is winter at an idyllic inn nestled in the Catskills.  A small group of people has retreated to this inn for a variety of reasons.  Some are there to rekindle their marriage, another couple is therefor a romantic getaway. One woman is using the weekend as a writers retreat, and others are just there to get out of the city for a weekend.  They all have to battle mother nature to get there and once there they are a prisoner of her anger.  They wake up in the morning snowed in with no electricity, but they also wake up to find one of them dead at the bottom of the stairs.  When the guests of the Mitchell Inn realize that her death was not an accident, they become on edge and wary of the other guests.  Before the day is over three more people end up dead and a fourth runs out of into the brutal snowstorm,  never to be seen again.  Was it the lawyer once accused of murdering his wife?  Or was it the person who has been sleeping in the locked room at the end of the hall?  Will the remaining guests of Mitchell's Inn survive the weekend?

There was something about An Unwanted Guest that reminded me of an old Agatha Christie novel.  A snowy weekend, guests cut off from the outside world, bodies start to pile up.  I listened to the book from Audible and one thing I noticed was that there wasn't a whole lot of dialogue and it jumped narrators quite a bit but was read by the same person.  It may have been a little less confusing had they used different narrators, or even different voices, to signify the different characters.  But even that was a minor irritation and didn't distract from the good ole fashioned mystery novel.   The author did a good job of creating an eclectic group of guests and put them in a difficult situation with all contact cut off and trapped by mother nature. It prompted me to think about how I would behave if I were in that situation.  I had a hard time figuring this one out, I had figured out part of it, but couldn't put all of the pieces together.  So when everything was revealed it provide me with a true "aha" moment.  CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - An Unwanted Guest is the kind of mystery that you can curl up with on a cool Fall night.  It is perfect to read by the fire with the hot beverage of your choice.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

(61)Year One by Nora Roberts

It seemed like your average New Years, but it wasn't.  On a farm in Scotland a family starts showing symptoms of the flu, rather than staying in, they board a plane to America and because of him, "The Doom" spread all over the globe. Within days the Doom is on every continent.  Within weeks millions of people are dead and society as we know it starts to collapse. Within months billions are dead and the world is a shell of its former self.  Small communities of survivors are forming in the rural communities.  Survivors of the immune and the Uncanny.  The Uncanny are those who had special powers appear after The Doom started.  Some are fairies, some are shapeshifters, some are witches, and more.  Most of the Uncanny are good and want to live in harmony with the rest of the survivors.   But some are dark and would rather see the immune dead.  Max and Lana made it out of New York City and made it to New Hope where they meet up with Chuck, a tech genius, determined to get them back on the grid.  Arlys is a journalist who is determined to keep getting the news out there.  Rachel and Jonah are medical professionals found their way to New Hope with a new mother and three new babies.  Together their fledgling community is working to restore humanity.  But will they be able to withstand the fight against the dark?

It has been too long since I read a good post-apocalyptic book.  Year One was my favorite kind, the kind where you get to see the world collapse. The supernatural twist was a bit more than  I was expecting, but it wasn't so much that it turned me, the non-fantasy reader, off.  I really liked Arlys and her commitment to informing the public of the truth, how bad things really were in the country. Her friendship with Fred was just adorable.  Fred's "light" was one that really seemed natural and really spoke to the readers.   Max and Lana were the "romantic" couple of the novel (did you expect less from Nora Roberts?) but it wasn't too graphic and their relationship was something special. Of  course in any post-apocalyptic setting, you are going to run into common challenges that are found in all apocalyptic novels. like looters and scary guys wanting to take what you have.  You also are going to run into supply issues with no infrastructure to move things like groceries, the residents of New Hope had to deal with that and more. I love to see how characters in any post-apocalyptic novel handle those kinds of challenges.  I love to see how easy or difficult the author makes it for their characters. Year One is set up to be part of a trilogy, so there was a cliffhanger. And one that has me eagerly waiting for the next book in the series.

Bottm Line -  As far as "end of the world" books go, Year One was one of the most entertaining of recent memory.  The characters are interesting and easy to care about. The story isn't that far out of the possibility of happening, okay maybe not the Uncanny, but an epidemic is definitely possible.  Ultimately Year One is a great book and I can't wait to read the next book in the series.


Thursday, September 13, 2018

(60) Every Time You Go Away by Beth Harbison

Willa has been walking around in a haze of grief ever since her husband, Ben, died three years ago.  His death was sudden and devastating to the little family.  Ever since Willa has left their teenage son, Jamie, to fend for himself.  She knows that she should do better, but the weight of her grief prevents her from moving forward.  Ben was getting their beach house ready for the season when he passed away in his sleep.  Willa hasn't been back since, but she knows she has to get the beach house ready to sell.  She heads out on a late spring day and finds their beach house left exactly as it was the day Ben died.  The same soda in the fridge, the same unfinished book on the table, the same clothes in the closet.  Willa also finds a house in desperate need of cleaning and fresh paint.  Her friend Kristin and her daughter come to help.  As does Willa's son, Jaimie, but it is Ben's ghost that has the biggest impact on Willa's experience.  She sees his ghost, can carry on a conversation with him, but he is asking her to do the most difficult thing of all - let him go and move on.  Will she be able to do as he asks?

Every Time You Go is more of an emotional read than I was expecting to find.  Losing my husband like that is just something that I can't even fathom, which is why I think that Willa's grief was so easy to understand.   She knows that she that her relationship with Jamie could have been permanently damaged by her grief, but she is trying to make repairs to their relationship.  The author takes turn telling the story from Willa's viewpoint and Jamie's.  You get to see both sides of this strained relationship, but always keep in mind that Jamie is a teen boy.  And well - not the most emotionally intelligent creature, but of course, he did just lose his father, too.   In the end, they both grow in their relationship and in their grief.  For a book about grief, Every Time You Go Away ended in on an uplifting, hopeful note.

Bottom Line - "Beach Reads" are not normally known for being overly emotional, heartfelt books. And that isn't a bad thing, usually, beach reads her books are a little more light-hearted, fun even.  Every Time You Go Away was a little more of an emotional read for me and I really liked it.


Monday, September 10, 2018

(59)When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

Jessie Sloan is exhausted.   She was by the side of her dying mother's side day and night until the end.  Trying to move her life forward after losing her mother is a task that seems impossible to complete.   She tries registering for college but was told that her social security number was tied to a dead girl.   She tries tracking down her birth certificate but is told that it doesn't exist.  She moves into her own place but keeps hearing voices that lead her to believe that her landlord may be spying on her. But most of all, she just can't sleep. Jessie struggles with trying to figure out the secrets that her mother left behind while trying to figure out a way to keep moving forward.  No matter what she does, no matter how hard she tries, her body will not give her the rest that she desperately needs.    Jessie knows that time is running out. She has done her research and she knows that eleven days is as long as a human body can go without sleep.  Will she be able to find the answers she needs in order to put her mind at ease and let her body sleep?

I was really surprised by the twists and turns that Mary Kubica throws at her readers.    I really felt compassionate towards Jessie.  She seemed so lost after her mother's death and her bone-weary exhaustion was something that I could relate to. The book flashes back between Jessie and her mother in 1996.  There are really two stories about grief here, Jessie in her grief, and Eden with her own kind of grief - her inability to conceive a child, and what damage that does to her marriage.   But the reader knows that she has a daughter, but how? If she is unable to conceive a child.  I was truly surprised by the end of this book.  I thought that I had it all figured out and I thought that I was *so* smart for figuring it out rather early.   I could not have been more wrong and I LOVE it when that happens.  -- CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - I love, love, love an author who can blindside me with the big reveal.  Mary Kubica did just that with When the Lights Go Out.   Be sure to check it out and let me know what your thoughts are about the big reveal.  Were you as shocked as I was?


Saturday, September 8, 2018

(58)Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

Andy Cooper and her mother, Laura, are having lunch at the food court in the mall when gunshots ring out.  Before the day is over three people are dead, including the gunman, and Laura is being questioned.  Her argument of self-defense is being questioned after cell-phone footage of the incident has gone viral. Andy is shell-shocked by the day's events, but even more, so that her mother has told her to move out - by the end of the day.   Before she leaves, Andy does something she never dreamed she would ever do. She kills the man who was hurting her mother.  Her mother pulls a bag of money out of the couch cushion and sends her on her way.  She is then on the road running for her life questioning everything she ever knew to be true about her mother. A woman that she apparently never really knew.   Andy sets out on a road trip across the country and starts to piece together the pieces of her mother's life.  Will Andy ever be able to return home and will she ever be able to come to terms with her mother's history?

Karin Slaughter has always been one of my favorites.  Life kept getting in the way and it took me nearly two weeks to finish Pieces of Her. Because of this, I struggled with following the storyline.  The jump in timeline didn't help.  The author goes back and forth between the present and the past.   The storyline from the past reveals a terroristic cult that was responsible for murdering at least two people.   From the very beginning in the mall food court, Andy seemed like a very timid character.  As the story continues on, she grows into a strong woman seeking the truth.  She does some stupid things trying to track down the truth, but she always finds her way out of her predicaments.  In her search, she starts to fill in some missing pieces from her childhood and realizes that her own past is just as muddy's as her mothers.  In the end, Andy gets to the truth of her mother's past and her own.  --CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line -- Karin Slaughter is known for her ability to take her readers to the brink of sanity.  Pieces of Her is a story about two women, a mother and a daughter, willing to do whatever it takes. While Pieces of Her wasn't my favorite by Karin Slaughter, it is definitely worth the read.


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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