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?


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

(47)Sex and the City and Us by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

I recently found myself home alone on a Saturday night and stumbled across some reruns of Sex and the City on basic cable, they were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first episode.  Twenty years since we first met Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte.   The brief hint of nostalgia reminded me that I had Sex and the City and Us just waiting to be read.

In Sex and the City and Us, Author Jennifer Keishin Armstrong takes us by the hand and leads us down memory lane.  But on our stroll down the streets of New York City, she also gives us all of the "behind the scenes" details that we could ever want.   From the decision to go with HBO to the initial casting and Kim Cattrall's reluctance to joining the cast.  Not to mention Sarah Jessica Parker's reluctance to join the cast.  The author takes us through all six seasons and even includes the two movies.  From the costuming to set designs and location used for filming, nothing is left out. Including everything about the opening with the tutu and the city bus.   And IT IS AWESOME. 

I was one of those women who eagerly waited for Sunday nights so I could hang out with my "friends."  My first trip to New York City was in the summer of 1999, just as Sex and the City was hitting its stride. I remember watching the show, eagerly looking for the landmarks newly familiar to me.  Beyond that though, was the longing for fashion sense of Carrie, the career confidence of Miranda, the sexual brazenness of Samantha, and the wholesome goodness of Charlotte.  Depending on the day I considered myself a Charlotte or a Maranda.  All women of a certain age could identify with one or all of the women.  Sex and the City is one of those groundbreaking shows that changed the world for women all over the globe.  And it changed women all over the globe.

Bottom Line -  As I found out the other night, Sex and the City is one of those shows that stands the test of time.   Sex and the City and Us is a well written, well-researched book that explores the ins and outs of one of my favorite shows ever.    If you have fond memories of the show like I do, then you definitely need to check out this book.   You will thank me later!


Monday, June 25, 2018

(46)Best Beach Ever by Wendy Wax

Once again it is summer and we are able to catch up with our favorite residents of Ten Beach Road.   But once their reality show hit the skids, they were forced to rent out Bella Flora for the summer. They are all having a hard time adjusting to their new "normal."  Maddie is off touring with her rockstar boyfriends.  Kyra is spending the summer on a movie set with her son and his father, but her mind is back at Bella Flora and with the man who rented Bella Flora.  Nikki is struggling with being a first-time mother - to twins.  She wants to be able to do it all, but at forty-seven it is exhausting. Avery is  And Bitsy is finally tracking down her scum of an ex-husband.   The women are all traveling down different paths, but one thing remains constant - their friendship.

Best Beach Ever is one of those beach books where their life is not perfect just because they live on the beach.  The Ten Beach Road series has always been that way - these women have been through a lot together and their friendship just endures.  With this installment I found myself feeling bad for Nikki and her new role as a mother.  I am 42 and there is no way that I could imagine having a baby, let along two.  She was obviously completely exhausted. I was also thrilled for Bitsy, finally getting the closure that she so desperately needed from her lying, cheating, and thieving husband.  The friends may not be spending their summer the way they would like, but at least they are spending it on the Best Beach Ever.

Bottom Line - In Best Beach Ever, Wendy Wax continues her "Ten Beach Road" world with familiar characters and new challenges.   For those of you familiar with the series, you will enjoy catching up with old friends!


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

(45)Marriage Vacation by Pauline Turner Brooks

If you haven't been watching Younger on TVLand then you are missing out. Set in New York City, the half-hour comedy features Sutton Foster as a fortysomething trying to get back to the career she had in publishing before getting married and raising a family. In order to even get a job as an assistant, she has to pass herself off as twenty-six.  And she does so.  Now it is in Season 5 and the estranged wife of her boss, Charles Brooks, is back from her "Marriage Vacation" and she has written a book that Empirical Press is going to publish.  The problem is that Pauline Turner Brooks' fictional book dangerously mirrors the "real life" of Charles and Pauline.

In the book Marriage Vacation, Kate Carmichael is married to the successful publisher, Carl Carmichael.  She has two beautiful young daughters.  A fabulous townhouse on Manhattan's Upper Eastside and has all of the money she could possibly want to do whatever she wants.  Yet she feels so empty, so unfulfilled.  Kate has the chance to travel solo to California for a wedding she doesn't really find herself eager to return home.  When her old college friend offers her a chance to go to Thailand she decides to go.  Soon one week goes by without returning home, then two weeks, and then six months.  She has made friends, has spent time finding herself and the independent woman she left behind when she married her husband. And then she receives a letter in the mail.  It has been almost a year and her husband wants a divorce.  The shock of it jolts Kate and starts her on her return trip home.  But is she prepared for what might be the fate of her marriage?

I can see where a book like Marriage Vacation might resonate with a lot of readers, both on Younger and in real life, but I really struggled with liking Kate.  I can understand the needing a break from the stressors of being a  wife and mother in the pressure cooker that is the Upper Eastside, but to leave her family and obligations for a full year?  And then be shocked when her husband wants a divorce?  Bitch, please.  Now, knowing that the book is a thinly veiled look at the fictional life of Pauline Turner Brooks makes it very hard to even like the character that is Charles' wife.  Ultimately, I did like Marriage Vacation, even if I struggled to like the character. It is a fairly fluffy read that is quick and easy to read.

Bottom Line - Pauline Turner Brooks is not a real person.  She is a character on a popular television show (watch it!!) who wrote a book.  Marriage Vacation is *that* book.   If you watch Younger (watch it!!) then you know what I am talking about and if you don't watch it, you really should.


Saturday, June 9, 2018

(44)Something In The Water by Catherine Steadman

Mark and Erin appear to be the perfect couple, embarking on their new life together as a married couple. Mark is an investment banker who lost his job just prior to their wedding.  Erin is a documentary filmmaker on the verge of making it big with her project focusing on three newly released prisoners. Their honeymoon to Bora Bora is a once in a lifetime trip for both of them.  At first, it is everything that they had hoped for, but one afternoon they are out diving when they come across a duffel bag. They tried to turn it over to resort personnel, but the bag found it's way back to them.  The bag containing a million dollars, a bag of flawless two-carat diamonds, a phone,  a thumb drive, and a gun.  The newlyweds are excited but cautious.  Where did this bag come from and what kind of people could be looking for it?  They return to the spot they found the bag in an effort to find more information and they find the wreckage of a plane. To them, this is justification for keeping the bag. They cover their tracks, head home, and plot ways that will allow them to keep the money in ways that won't raise flags with the authorities.  As the days pass they come to realize that this money puts them in a very dangerous position. Mark does everything he can to discourage Erin from selling the diamonds, but she just won't let it go.  She soon realizes just how far she, and Mark, are willing to go for millions of dollars. And it is farther than either of them thought possible.

I had no idea until I started to write this post that Catherine Steadman is an actress best known for her role on Downton Abbey.   Something in the Water is part thriller part heist novel.  I get it that Mark and Erin were hoping to get away with the perfect crime, but they put their lives in grave danger to do so.  I thought they were rather stupid for everything they did, but there wouldn't have been a story if they had turned the bag into the authorities.  The stress of being found out pushed Erin and Mark apart, rather than bringing them closer together.  Erin (and the readers) assumed that Mark's strong opposition was because he feared for safety, but they would be wrong.  I think that that revelation was the most shocking to me.  For a thriller, I didn't think the book was very fast-paced, but rather the story started slow and took some time building the suspense. The end was a bit shocking to me, but in the end, I was pleased with the way the author wrapped everything up.  - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - In Something In The Water, Catherine Steadman takes two very ordinary people and shows what happens to them when they try to get away with the perfect crime.  She proves that a crazy amount of money can and will destroy even the strongest of people.  It makes for some interesting food for thought.  What would you do if you could potentially get away with taking millions of dollars that do not belong to you?


(43)The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy

The May-Mothers are a group of Brooklyn moms who all recently had their first child.  They meet in Prospect Park under the shade of the willow tree and swap stories, share tips and commiserate the stresses of being a new mother. There is Nell, the career woman with her thick British accent, Collette is the author who is ghost-writing her second book while her partner is the new darling of the literary world.   Francie is the transplant from the deep south and struggles to fit into the New York City social scene. And finally, there is Winnie, the single mom who keeps to herself.  There are other members of the group that come and go, but those are the core member. On the 4th of July, the eve of her returning to work, Nell, convinces them all that they deserve a night out. They all agree, but Winnie does so reluctantly. She has never left little Midas alone, but even she looks forward to some time away from the baby.   But when she returns home to find Midas missing Winnie is devastated.  Her whole world is turned upside down and all of her secrets are revealed.  Her three friends are willing to do anything, risk anything, to help Winnie find Midas. But what will happen when their own secrets are revealed?

The Perfect Mother, set in the sizzling heat of summer, takes a group of exhausted new mothers and sets them in the middle of every mother's worst nightmare.  The core group of women are about as different as women could be - it is not likely that they would have ever connected if not for the birth month their children shared.  I didn't really have a "favorite" of the group.  They all were struggling with motherhood in their own way.  They wanted, desperately, to be "The Perfect Mother" and were trying to live up to these impossible standards.  I would say that they were even ashamed that they were not perfect at all.  Those that had partners were lucky that they had committed and dedicated partners and they all felt sorry for Winnie for not having the baby's father in her life.  The tempo of the book seems to pick up as the days since Midas went missing pass.  The sense of urgency is palpable and as the reader, you can't help but feel the same dread all of these new mothers feel.   I was a little surprised by the ending but realized that I shouldn't have been surprised at all.  CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS. 

Bottom Line - Being a new mother is terrifying. Being "The Perfect Mother" is impossible, yet it is a trap that all mother get caught in.  Aimeee Molloy has written a real nail-biter about every mother's worst nightmare.  One to read if you are looking for a great thriller.


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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