Sunday, January 13, 2019

(4)The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

Weird things are happening at the local university in Santa Lora, California.  It all started with Rebecca, a student who stumbled home from a party and didn't wake up.  Soon other students in her dorm fall asleep and don't wake up.  One by one the students are leaving the dorm on stretchers and the local hospital is filling up.  Doctors are baffled, what is causing the students to sleep?   Soon it isn't just students being affected by this affliction.  Hundreds, thousands of people in this small community are asleep with no end in sight.  The hospital soon is closed to new patients and there are guards at the door.  And then there are guards at the exits of the city.   In one neighborhood the fear is real. Two young girls live with their father who works at the university as a janitor.  Their new neighbors are transplants from New York City with a newborn baby.  They all know that they are in the middle of a history-making epidemic when the nurse across the street commits suicide by leaving her gas oven on.  People are terrified.  Tanks are driving down the streets, helicopters are flying overhead.  The grocery stores are nearly empty and people believe that this could be the end.  Will they be able to find a cure before one small California town is completely overtaken by The Dreamers?

 There is nothing better than finding a well written apocalyptic novel.   The Dreamers doesn't go full-blown apocalyptic, but it is close. And that is good enough for me.  Karen Thompson Walker writes an absolutely perfect novel.   The chapters are short but more than adequate.  We get to meet various people throughout the crisis in Santa Lora.   We meet Mei, the roommate of "patient zero." She and Matt escape the gym where they are being quarantined to go on and help hundreds of people. Each of them carrying their own variety of guilt.   We also meet Ben and Annie, new parents who are desperate to do anything for their baby girl.  We also meet Catherine, the Psychiatrist who is called in to be sure that it isn't psychosomatic. And then there is Sarah and Libby.  Two pre-teen girls who grew up with a father who was always prepared for the collapse of society.  They don't know what to do when their own father falls ill.  All of these characters have incredibly compelling stories, but it is Sarah and Libby that really tug on the heartstrings.  As I always do when reading stories such as The Dreamers, I always wonder what I would do if I were a character in this story.   I think that I would self-quarantine and find a way to keep myself from the outside world.   All of this builds to a conclusion that seems natural and peaceful.  Which may seem like a weird word to use for this kind of book, but it did seem peaceful. 

Bottom Line - The Dreamers was perfect.  Simply perfect.  The characters are well developed, the writing is lyrical, and the story is engrossing.   One not to miss!


Thursday, January 10, 2019

(3)An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Make-up artist Jessica Farris is looking for a way to earn some extra money.  She has been helping her folks with her sister's bills and she is willing to answer a few questions on a Psychology Study to get that extra money.  She shows up and from the very first question, Jessica feels a little uncomfortable.  "Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt?"  The questions get increasingly more personal and Jessica feels increasingly uncomfortable.  Because she does have secrets.  But, the checks keep getting increasingly bigger. With each session, Jessica starts to learn a little bit more about the psychologist behind the questions.  Dr. Lydia Shields is mysterious, intelligent, and very beautiful.  Soon Dr. Shields hires Jessica to be part of a special study where she is asked to do unusual things for the name of "science."  Like, give free make-up sessions to women.  Or approach a man in a bar and try to seduce him.  The money is seductive and Jessica cannot refuse Dr. Shields.  Until she realizes that Dr. Shields has been keeping her own secrets.  Secrets that could harm Jessica.  Will she continue to allow Dr. Shields to manipulate her actions to keep the money coming in?

An Anonymous Girl is another thrilling psychological thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  Jessica is somewhat of a complex character.  She did something many years ago that had consequences that are still being realized.  I understand her desire to help her family, but I feel that the minute things started getting weird, she should have stopped "working" for Lydia.  Having said that, I can see where Jessica was seduced by the alluring Lydia Shields and her money.   She was smart and sophisticated and would hang on to every Jessica's every word.  The "secrets" that  Jessica discovered was a bit shocking, too.  It was the proof needed that Dr. Lydia Shields was just as crazy as her patients.  The way she used her "study" to manipulate Jessica and her husband was proof that she was mentally unstable.   The twisted relationship between Lydia and her husband was more than enough "psychological thriller" for this book, but there was more!  The end was a little shocking.  The one part - anyway.  The book had a satisfying, yet unexpected, conclusion. - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS. 

Bottom Line - An Anonymous Girl is a great psychological thriller to kick of the new year of reading.  You will find yourself hooked from page one and you won't be able to put it down until you get to the last page. 


Monday, January 7, 2019

(2.)The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The end of April 1986 lives in the minds of many for the Chernobyl disaster that happened on April 26th.  The meltdown monopolized the news for days, if not weeks.  And because everybody was in fear that it was the end of the world, many missed the news of the fire that destroyed more than a million books at the Los Angeles Public Library.   The arson inspectors believe they know who started the fire, but to this day, nobody has been punished for their actions.

Author Susan Orlean had thought that she was done with writing.  And then she took a tour of  Central Library, the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.   It was on this tour that she first heard about the fire of 1986. And she knew that she had to write about it.   The Library Book is part true crime novel, part love story.  The love story being between the author and her love affair with books and libraries.  She reminisces about her childhood visits to the library and she takes the reader on a descriptive tour of the Los Angeles Public Library as it stands now.   And there is so much more to the LAPL than just a place to check out books.   It is a place that people gather to research genealogy.  It is a place they call to get questions answered. It is one of the only libraries in the country where they can go to get a diploma.  Not just a GED certificate, but a diploma.  It is a place they go to use a computer.  And it is a place they go to learn how to speak and read English.  In fact, Chapter 17 speaks to the Literacy Center and the author interviewed a teacher and a tutor.  Both were names that I recognized from work. 

Susan Orlean weaves the history of the library, the details surrounding the fire, and present-day life at the library in alternating chapters.  Each chapter starts with a list of books, their authors, and their Dewey Decimal number.  And each title listed gives the reader a clue as to the topic of the chapter.   It was fun.  And I found myself trying to guess the chapter's outcome based on the titles.  And of course, there is the mystery that surrounds the crime itself.  It isn't "edge of your seat" kind of suspense, but it was engaging and tastefully woven into the rest of the book. 

Bottom Line - As a devoted bookworm, I absolutely loved The Library Book.  It brought up the memories of my own early days as a library patron.  It was nostalgia at it's best.  Definitely not one to be missed.


Saturday, January 5, 2019

(1.) The Ever After by Sarah Pekkanen

Josie and Frank Moore are like any other suburban married couple.  They get busy with the day to day life with two small girls. The day that Josie Moore's world shattered started out just like any other.  She and her husband, Frank, have made a quick stop at Starbucks when Josie asks to borrow his phone.  She discovers that he has been having an affair.  Now Josie is a fortysomething mother of two small girls whose husband cheated on her.   He swears that it never progressed past kissing, but how can she possibly ever trust what he says ever again?  Now Josie has a decision to make - does she end her marriage or does she try to fix her relationship with a man who betrayed her.   It is going to take a lot of introspection on Josie's part to make a decision that will impact her family for years to come.  What will she do?

The Ever After is a book about what happens after people say "I do."  Love isn't always "happily ever after."  The book is told from Josie's perspective, but it flashes back in time to give the reader insight into how Josie and Frank got "here."  I know the author was trying to give us a better perspective, but it just added to my dislike for Josie.  It was in those flashbacks that I realized that Josie wasn't exactly nice to her husband.   I know the pressures of raising children can take on a toll on a marriage, that is obvious with this book.  But where was the common courtesy?  I have been married nine years and I still make sure to say "please" and "thank you" when asking my husband to do something.  I don't demand it.   Now, of course, this is no reason to cheat on your spouse.  But it is easy to see where their marriage started to break down.  And it didn't just happen overnight.   I was okay with the way the book ended - it was real.  And honest, if not difficult. -- CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - I guess you could say that The Ever After is a cautionary tale.  It happens to marriages all over the country when two people in love stop making each other a priority and take advantage of them, well, it puts their marriage in danger. 


Monday, December 31, 2018

(90)Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

Pino Lella is a young man who loves to watch movies and dreams of leaving Milan behind for America.  For Pino, the war is mostly an afterthought.  His family owns a successful leather shop in the heart of Milan and they seem to be immune to the war raging in other parts of Europe.  Until one night Pino and his brother are at a movie when the theater is destroyed by mortar shells.  It becomes clear that there is no escaping this war.   His parents send them off to Casa Alpine,  a retreat in the mountains, to help Father Re.  What Pino doesn't realize is that he will be assisting Father Re with helping Jewish refugees escape through the Alps to Switzerland.  Time after time, Pino braves the harrowing, brutal elements to help the innocent escape to freedom.  As his eighteenth birthday approaches, his parents summon him home.  Rather than wait to be drafted, they want Pino to enlist, but with the German army.  They feel that Pino will be safer in the German army rather than fighting with the resistance. A series of events leads Pino to become the personal driver for General Leyers, the second highest ranking German official in Italy. This allows Pino to help the resistance from the inside.  He sees and hears all and communicates that to those who are fighting to keep the evil from completely taking over Italy.  In the process, he falls in love with Anna. The maid for General Leyers mistress. Together they try to foster their beautiful love in a world full of evil.   Will their love be able to survive?  Will Pino be able to continue aiding the resistance without getting caught?

Beneath a Scarlet Sky has to be one of the most engrossing books that I have read in 2018.  The book is based on a true story.   Pino Lella was a real man.  However, he was in his late 70's when he first tells the author his story. Many of the people who could corroborate or fill in holes have passed on, leaving the author to use his imagination to fill in some of the details.  Which is why the book is categorized as fiction.  The stories from Pino's time at Casa Alpine alone are enough to fill an entire book. Those stories alone make him a hero.   But once he became the drive for General Leyers, his heroic efforts are taken to the next level.  I couldn't help but be mesmerized by his story.   It was incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking.  Just as is every story from World War II.  Pino's WWII  story doesn't end well, no WWII  story ever ends well, but his story was particularly heartbreaking. And there was a secret revealed that was even shocking - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS.

Bottom Line - Beneath a Scarlet Sky has over 21,000 reviews with a 4.8 rating.  Nearly 22,000 people are not wrong.   This book has everything, danger, espionage, valor, and most of all love.  I have read 90 books in 2018 and I am so glad that I finished the year with such a magnificent book.

(89)Watching You by Lisa Jewell

Melville Heights is one of the poshest neighborhoods in Bristol, England.  Even though the houses are grand and opulent, the residents are a mess.  That is never more evident than the night that the wife of the local headmaster is found stabbed to death in their kitchen.  Tom Fitzwilliam is a bit of a dreamboat and the women (and girls) have a hard time keeping their eyes (and hands) off of him.  It was his wife that was murdered and their son, teenage son, Freddie, doesn't believe that his father is completely innocent.   Down the street is Jenna and her mother, who has been a bit off ever since her husband left her and took their son.  Also on the block is Joey and her new husband, Alfie. They got married on the spur of the moment and are living with Joey's brother, Jack and his wife Rebecca.  Jack is a successful doctor and Rebecca works from home.  The police find a piece of evidence that leads them to believe that Nicola's murderer lives in Melville Heights.  Was it Joey who had a crush on Tom Fitzwilliam?  Or Jenna's mom who is a little unhinged.  Or someone else on the block?

Watching You was exactly what I needed for a holiday break read.  Her characters are always complex with more to them than meets the eye.  None of them were completely likable, well maybe Jenna.  She was struggling to hold things together for her mother and had to deal with stuff a child should never have to deal with.  Same goes for Freddie.  He was a bit odd, always taking pictures of friends, neighbors, and complete strangers.  The author explains why a little later, but it was not soon enough to keep my spidey senses from being triggered.  And let me just say that Tom Fitzwilliam gave me the creeps.  From the very first page all the way to the very end.   I did figure out the "whodunit" but not until nearly the very end. - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS.

Bottom Line - I love reading good mystery novels set in England.  It serves as a reminder that England isn't all Royal Weddings and  American Princesses.  Watching You is a great mystery that will keep you on your toes and guessing to the very end.

  • Watching You by Lisa Jewell
  • On Facebook
  • Pages: 336
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication Date: 12/25/18
  • Buy it Here!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

(88)How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg

My husband and I found ourselves on an unexpected road trip recently, so of course, we had to find an audiobook to help pass the time.  Usually, I am the audiobook DJ for our road trips, but this time my husband chose the book.  I admit that I had little faith that it would be a book to hold my interest.  I was wrong.

In How Google Works Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg take us behind the scenes one of the greatest tech giants on the planet.   From fostering a creative culture to hiring practices they cover it all.  Some things I found interesting was the fact that they hire by committee and very rarely is the actual manager of the interviewee involved in the process. Culture is so important to them that everything they do goes back to culture.  The founders of the company set up a TGIF event where employees can ask them anything.  Attendance is not required, but nothing is off limits.  Now that the company is in the tens of thousands, the employees put forth the questions and those with the most "likes" get answered. That kind of transparency is rare.

One other thing that I found interesting is that Google gives their employees the opportunity to spend 20% of their time to work on passion projects.  Like a group of astronomy buffs used their 20% time to create Google Sky.  Not every project makes it to full development, but many do.

Surprisingly enough, they even discuss at length, the compensation given to employees.  To attract the best you have to pay the best.  Pay people what they are worth and they will exceed your expectations.   And you want something done - give it to your best person to do. No matter how much work is already on their plate.  Trust them to tell you when it is too much.

Bottom line - How Google Works was a really fascinating book that not only gives you a peek into such a successful company, but it gives you practical advice that can be applied to any industry.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

(87)Rush by Lisa Patton

It is Fall at Ole Miss and the students and staff at the Alpha Delta Beta sorority house have one thing on their mind - Rush.   Miss Pearl is the housekeeper and surrogate mother to these young ladies. She has worked at the house for years and has seen hundreds of young ladies come and go.  She was there when Miss Lilith and Miss Wilda were pledging.  Now Lilith and Wilda are grown with daughters getting ready to Rush.  They are from two different worlds, but their daughters are roommates, preparing for Rush, and as former Alpha Delta Beta pledges, they are on the advisory board for Rush.  As the girls meet the other girls on their floor and start to form lifelong friendships they start to realize the inequities that exist in their very own little world.  Those inequities become glaring during the Rush process and once they get settled in the sorority and one of the house's staff faces a life-threatening illness. They realize all that they take for granted and decide to do something about it.  Something that could possibly change the way the Greek system works all over the country.

I nearly gave up on Rush more than once. Having never been a member of the Greek system, I found myself getting frustrated at some of the behaviors and the people who found them acceptable.   I am glad that I stuck it out though because the author used this book to highlight social inequities that still exist, and especially with the privileged lives of those in a sorority house.  Lisa Patton uses this platform to show what can happen when young women recognize those inequalities and are determined to make a change.  To make things better.   The book is told from three viewpoints, that of Miss Pearl, Wilda, and Callie, a poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks.  One thing that I noticed was that Miss Pearl was forty-four years old, it is mentioned several times, but she acted so much older than that.  I am forty-three. While I have my moments, I don't act like Miss Pearl did, like she was just plum worn out.  I really liked the way the book ended, I like how these girls did make a change.  Never did the author indicate that everything was going to be perfect, but better.  And the generational racism that still exists throughout our country has come up against a generation who will no longer stand for it.

Bottom Line - Rush is one of those books that takes a serious concept like generational racism and puts it into a context that can be understood by all generations, from all walks of life.   It takes a while for that intent to be clear to the reader, so trust me when I say don't give up on it.  You won't be disappointed.


Sunday, December 23, 2018

(86) Of Blood and Bone by Nora Roberts

It has been thirteen years since the Doom swept through the world eliminating more than half of the world's population.  Fallon Swift is nearing her thirteenth birthday and has been living a mostly idyllic childhood on a remote farm with her parents and younger brothers.  Her mother, Lana, has told her about her sire, Max Fallon. She has told Fallon about the world before the Doom, but she has been protected from the violence on the farm. Fallon knows that she is different.  She knows that she is "The One." From a young age, she understands that peaceful future is on her shoulders.  On her thirteenth birthday, she is sent to the woods to train with a wise old man who has centuries worth of knowledge to pass on to her.  For two years she trains, she studies, she learns the secrets of the world.  When she is done, she picks up the sword and starts to plan what is necessary to heal the world fractured by the Doom. Will a fifteen-year-old girl be able to do all that is necessary to fix chasm tearing apart the world?

I enjoyed Year One so much that I was very eager to get my hands on Of Blood and Bone.   The audiobook was just as good as the first one. The author gives sufficient backstory to jog your memory about the details of the first book, but it is still necessary to read it before starting Of Blood and Bone.  The book doesn't immediately start with Fallon being thirteen but moves there pretty quickly.  Fallon seems like a good, smart kid.  She had a great relationship with the man who she called father and he prepared her well for what would happen on her thirteen birthday.   For as much responsibility as she carried she still acted like a typical teenager at times, like when she discovered there was no bathroom at Malick's, but it wasn't so bratty that you didn't like her.   I enjoyed watching her grow and mature during those two years.   All the while we got to catch up with the good people of New Hope. It was good to see what was going on with all of the characters we learned to love in the first book.   Of course, there were some was some epic battles that kept you on the edge of your seat.  And a hint of a romance to come in the third book in the series.  And I look forward to seeing how that relationship blossoms.  And of course what happens to the good citizens of New Hope.

Bottome Line -  Of Blood and Bone was a solid follow-up to the wildly popular, Year One.   The familiar characters all make an appearance and you can't help but be one the edge of your seat for the classic battle of good vs. evil.  But be sure to savor each word, the conclusion is not due to hit the shelves for another year.


Friday, December 21, 2018

(85)One Day in December by Josie Silver

One Day in December Laurie is taking the bus home from work.  She is exhausted and sick and just wants to hole up in her flat with her best friend.  But she looks up from her seat on the crowded bus to see a guy sitting at the bus stop.  He is immersed in his book, but when he glances up and makes eye contact with Laurie she is convinced that he is the love of her life.  Laurie spends the next year searching every bus stop, every restaurant, every crowd, looking for the man who captured her heart with just a glance.  Until one night he walks into her flat - as her best friend's boyfriend.  Laurie is devastated but is not willing to cross a line.  Jack O'Mara will never be hers. As the days go by Laurie gets to know Jack, as Sarah's boyfriend, and longs for what might have been.  She decides leaving will be the best thing and takes off to Thailand.  Where she meets Oscar and while he is not Jack, he is close to perfect for her.  On the day that Laurie finally accepts Oscar's proposal, Sarah and Jack break up.  Will Laurie stay with Oscar or take a chance on Jack?  And what will it do to her friendship with Sarah when she finds out that Jack was "the" guy?

One Day in December was absolutely delightful. I could envision this hitting the big screen in the very near future. I loved Sarah and Laurie's friendship.  It was true and everlasting.  The author puts them in several different situations that are familiar to all best friends. My favorite though was on Laurie's birthday, when Sarah arranged for them to go to an event that was Grease themed.  It was perfect in every way, including the Ferris wheel scene.  I longed for Laurie to find happiness.  Her longing for Jack was so heartbreaking because she was never going to tell Jack or really act on it.  Predictably so Jack and Sarah's relationship imploded. And it was a long time coming, which was a little bit frustrating.  Their relationship was very obviously no longer good, but they continued making each other miserable.  I wanted to shake them both and say "Just end it!!".   One Day In December is a Christmas book, there is only one way Christmas books end, but it is the way they get there that keeps a reader hooked.

Bottom Line - One Day in December was a funny, charming, delightful Christmas story.  I only hope that it gets a full feature film instead of just a Hallmark movie. It would be worth the price of admission.


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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