Sunday, April 22, 2018

(30)After Anna by Lisa Scottoline

Noah and Maggie have only been married for a few years when Maggie's estranged teenage daughter calls out of the blue  and wants to see her.  Not having a relationship with her daughter has caused Maggie a lot of heartache over the years since she has been better, but now her ex is dead and Anna has been left alone.   Her husband Noah has graciously shared his son with Maggie, but even cute little Caleb does not fill the hole in Maggie's heart.  After that out-of-the-blue call, Maggie makes a trip to her daughter's boarding school and ended up bringing her home.  But, that is the trouble really starts.    Anna starts to accuse Noah of inappropriate behavior and Maggie doesn't know who to believe.  Her husband or her daughter.  When Anna turns up dead her whole world is shattered.  Could her husband really be capable of murder? 

After Anna is a hard-hitting mystery that is told from the viewpoints of both Maggie and Noah.  The timeline jumps around which comes in the form of "Before" and "After".  (Hint: that is where the title originates)  Maggie and Noah seem to have a really solid relationship before Anna enters the picture.  It is understandable that Maggie would jump at any chance to have Anna back in her life, but inviting her to live with them without talking to Noah is kind of a big deal in my opinion.  That is when things really start to go bad.   Because we get Noah's view on things before they happen (while on trial) it is very easy to get a clouded opinion of Anna, too.  He thinks so little of Anna that my own opinion of her is quite poor and then I question my motives for disliking her.  What *if* the twist was that Noah really did misbehave with Anna?  What *if* Noah really did kill Anna.  --CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom  Line - Lisa Scottoline has not written a single word that I have not liked.  Her writing is smart and the topics are relevant and even somewhat hard hitting.  After Anna covers both of her genres, legal and mystery in a fast-paced novel that you won't be able to put down.


Monday, April 16, 2018

(29)Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

It has been ten years since Laurel Mack's fifteen-year-old daughter, Ellie, went missing.  It has been seven years since she and her husband divorced.  The years since have been empty, lonely, and uneventful for Laurel. With no leads on where her daughter might be.   Her job is uneventful and she cleans her other daughter's apartment, not just for the extra money, but for a way to stay connected.  One day meets a guy in a cafe.  He is smart and funny and interesting.  And much to her surprise, he is interested in Laurel.  His attention gives Laurel a new lease on life and his nine-year-old daughter, Poppy,  gives her a renewed sense of purpose.  The fact that Poppy is the spitting image of her missing daughter at that age is a fact that Laurel tries to forget.  But Poppy has the same intelligence that Ellie displayed almost since birth. That can't just be a coincidence, right?  A mother will never forget her child and the closer she gets to Floyd and Poppy the more she recognizes Ellie in the little girl.  Did Ellie really run away from home?  Why does this little girl look just like her missing daughter?

Then She Was Gone was such a creepy book! There was just something about Floyd that gave me the creeps from the very first time that Laurel met him.  I just couldn't figure out how it all fell together. Until Laurel met Floyd she just seemed so lost - so lonely. She had been grieving Ellie all these years and it was like the rest of the world stopped for her grief. Meeting Floyd and Poppy bright light to her dark world.   Poppy's mother seemed like a complete nutter according to Floyd and when Laurel realized that she knew Poppy's mother I was just waiting for the lightbulb to come on.   I admit that I was shocked by the brutality of the way things ended.  For everybody, but it wrapped things up rather nicely.  -- CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - Then She Was Gone was such an intense read!   From the very first page, I was hooked and did not want to stop reading.  I was so invested in Laurel's story and what was going to happen to her and her family.  I promise that you will be just as invested as I was in this book!


Sunday, April 15, 2018

(28)This is Me by Chrissy Metz

I was late to the This is Us party, but when I binged season one last summer I went through a box of tissue and I was hooked. Chrissy Metz plays the flawed, but loveable Kate Pearson. A woman who has had weight issues her entire life.  It was easy to relate to Kate and her issues. It was also easy to fall in love with the actress who plays Kate Pearson.

In her new book, This is Me; Loving the Person You Are Today Chrissy Metz shares bits of wisdom that have helped her get through life so far.  From the wisdom she learned while working at a pre-school to advice on how to deal with "trolls" who constantly trash your appearance. Chrissy walks us through her early days with an emotional and verbally abusive stepfather, her cross-country trip from Florida to California.  Her marriage and divorce from a man that she still considers a friend. Oh and then there was the time she went to Oprah's for lunch.  Oprah.   And then she gets to the good stuff, her audition for the hottest show on television and her co-stars on the show.  She doesn't give any juicy details, but what she does share reinforces the world's belief that the cast of This is Us are perfect. Like Milo carries a handkerchief to give to whoever onset may be crying - and there are often tears.  She mentions the text chain that the whole "family" is a part of and the conversation with Sterling K. Brown leading up to Emmy nominations.

Bottom Line - In This is Me Chrissy Metz proves that she is beautiful both inside and out.  She is funny and smart and has an incredible outlook on life.   This is Me is not just a book to read yourself, but it is a book that is meant to be shared with the young women in your life.

  • This is Me by Chrissy Metz
  • On Twitter
  • Pages: 320
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • Publication Date: 3/27/2018
  • Buy it Here!

Friday, April 13, 2018

(27)The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie

October 10th was the day that forever changed the life of Cecily Grayson.  October 10th at 10:00 AM in the morning was the day that the building blew up in Chicago.  October 10th was the day that her husband and her best friend, Kate, died in the explosion. October 10th was the day that her life was spared because she was running late.  October 10th was the day that Cecily became famous when a photographer made Cecily the face of a national tragedy.   A year has gone by since October 10th hand Cecily is slowly putting her life back together.  She is participating in a documentary about that day and those who perished that day.  Included in the documentary is a woman who says that she is the daughter that Kate gave up for adoption so long ago.    One thing Cecily knows for certain is that there are a lot of secrets surrounding that day that could destroy everything if they go out.  Secrets that leave her feeling guilty and could leave her children permanently scarred.     Will the truth about what really happened that day ever be revealed? 

The Good Liar was so good! It is so common for society to get caught up in the personal stories of a tragedy.  Whether it be a mass shooting or some other tragedy we get caught up in the stories of the survivors.  We become personally invested in their stories and their lives.  The Good Liar explores that premise with such great insight.   Cecily was a sympathetic character from the very first page.  She played the part of grieving widow so well that it was easy to see why the photographer (and the nation) latched on to her grief.   She carried a lot of guilt and I liked how the author had her in therapy.   It was real.  As was her relationship with her kids in the aftermath.   Her efforts to keep the kids from finding out the truth were certainly noticed.  I was a little icked out by Franny's relationship with Joshua, it was just a weird little twist. There are so many different layers to this story, so many different threads to this elaborate web of deceit.   As each thread is unraveled the reader becomes more and more invested in the story.  Leading me to finish the last half of the book in one gulp - I just could not put it down.  - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - The Good Liar is not just a book about secrets.  It is a book that looks at survival after a tragedy and what some women will do to keep their secrets intact.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

(26)Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Change is hard.   In the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath explore a theory that compares looks at change as if it were an elephant and it's rider.   The rider is the rational side of a decision.  The rider is planning the path.  The elephant is the emotional side of a decision and often time emotion outweighs logic when it comes to certain decisions.  The elephant in this metaphor clearly represents the side often in control.  The authors then use several different anecdotes to illustrate their point of what happens when the elephant and the rider work together to make change happen,  If you have read many of these kinds of business books, many of the stories will be familiar.  A new story that really caught my attention was that of an elementary school in Tennessee that hired a new principal without giving her all of the details, specifically test scores.  Which turned out to be among the worst in the state.  After observing some processes, or lack of, the principal implemented several processes that brought the focus of not only the students but the faculty back to education.

There several different scenarios like that, as well as examples of the way to "Clear the Path" for change.  They discussed the psychology involved with tackling big things, like mountains of debt and a dirty house.  The examples given were the Dave Ramsey debt snowball and the Fly-Lady's quick cleaning challenges. Both great examples.   It was easy to translate some of these things into my daily activities at work and the tracking system we use to get the "small wins."  The author refers to several other books that I have read, making it seem like Switch was more of an anthology, then a stand-alone book.  The elephant/rider metaphor was used to tie everything together.

Bottom Line - Often times when reading business books you get the feeling that it is a book you have read before.  In the case of Switch, you may have read some of the anecdotes before, but the metaphor that ties it all together is unique and does an excellent job of illustrating just how hard change can be at times.   A fun book to read as part of a group as there is a lot of ways to apply it to your industry and can generate some great conversation among your colleagues.


Monday, April 2, 2018

(25)A Nantucket Wedding by Nancy Thayer

Felicity and Jane are meeting their mother on Nantucket to help plan her wedding.  After losing her second husband, Allison never thought that she would find love again, but then she met David.  David, a wealthy businessman never thought that we would find love again after his wife died and then he met Allison. The two of them are excited for their children to meet and start to merge into one family.  Felicity and Jane are both at crossroads in their marriages and are looking forward to the family time on the island.  David's son, Ethan is a bit of a playboy and has his eye on Jane.  And David's daughter, Polly, is in line to take over her father's business.  She is tough and brash and a little bit afraid that her father's new marriage will jeopardize everything she has worked for her entire career.   The two families don't have much in common, but they all are excited to be spending part of their summer on the island known for the best summers on the East Coast.  Will the wedding be the thing that unites the two families or tear them apart?

It is hard for me to believe that it is already time for "Beach Reads,"  yet here it is.  And of course, nothing signals the start of beach season like a Nancy Thayer novel.   Even though the book was about Allison's wedding, the book primarily focused on Felicity and Jane.  Their relationship with each other and their marriages.   I thought both of the sisters were married to jerks, but for different reasons.  For one of the sisters, their marriage will end by the conclusion of the book. It just wasn't the sister I thought it would be.  I wasn't all that fond of David's children, either.  Ethan gave that "playboy" vibe and Polly was not exactly welcoming.  But despite my dislike of them, I could completely relate to Allison's efforts to unite them all.  Blended families are tough, but Nancy Thayer does a great job of tackling such a sensitive topic.  I really liked the way that the book ended, it was just so normal.

Bottom Line - Even though a huge chunk of the country is still dealing with winter-like weather, it *is* April and beach season is right around the corner.  Nothing kicks off beach season like a "trip" to Nantucket with one of my favorite authors.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

(24)Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser

Yellow Springs is a quiet Midwestern suburb.  The kind of place where you know your neighbors and they know you.  It was a Saturday night when the ladies of one neighborhood gathered around a fire pit.  The baby monitors were on,  the wine was free flowing, and so was the conversation.  And the next morning one of them, and their twin four-year-olds were gone.  None of them know what happened between the time they all went home and the next morning when Kristin and her kids are just - gone.   Clara was the hostess that night, as the police reveal unknown details of Kristin's life she is taken back to another fateful night.  Izzy was there, too.  The only single woman in the group and newest neighbor.  She is still reeling from the fact that her best friend(and unrequited love) married her sister.  She finds herself welcoming the advances of Kristin's left-behind husbands probably more than she should.  Natalie was also there, she welcomed the escape from the single parent life as her husband is deployed to Syria yet again.  Finally, new parents Rhoda and Randi were there, eager for a break from their infant daughter.  As the police investigate Kristin's disappearance they start to piece together a life, a marriage, that was kept from her friends.  Was Kristin a victim of domestic abuse or did she leave of her own free will?

Not That I Could Tell was such a great read!   The author mostly tells the story from the viewpoint of Izzy and Clara.  They were really two different characters in two different places in their life.  Clara is married and settled with her family. Izzy is, well she is lost after her sister got married.  She is lonely and seeking her "tribe", she is seeking her "people" and maybe doing so in all of the wrong places.  Her intense neediness was a bit annoying, yet she was a sympathetic character.   I could understand her loneliness. I could understand her desperate desire to find her "people."  I hope that our future neighborhood is one where I can sit around drinking wine with the ladies in my neighborhood.   Clara was a bit more of a likable character, she was like Moms in suburbs all over the country.  It was the part where her kids were sick and she was dealing with all that goes with three sick kids, that I knew that moms all over the country would love her.   I will say that there was a part of the ending that was so shocking to me, I thought "well done."  The other part wasn't that much of a surprise, but the combination of the two made for a great ending.  CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - I really liked the normal, everyday characters that could be found in Not That I Could Tell.  It may not be the "edge of your seat"  kind of thriller that I typically love, but the suspense was there just the same.  And that is what I love more than anything.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

(23)Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling


Wow.  It is over.  I finished the last book in the Harry Potter series today as I was cleaning the house.  For me, this one started out a little slow.  I kept expecting something "big" to happen and when it did I was not disappointed. However, I think the part that I loved the most was the epilogue.  The "nineteen years later" part of the book.  Where we go into the future to see Harry and his family preparing for a year at Hogwarts. It was exactly what I needed after the long battle against the "Dark Lord" and his followers.

I was reluctant to read the Harry Potter books, I am not going to lie.  I think part of that reason was that I didn't want to read what everybody else was reading.  And part of that was because I didn't want to be disappointed.   Having listened to all seven books through the captivating voice of Jim Dale it was an experience that I will never forget.   The voices he used, the inflections at just the right time.  It really made all seven books a special experience.    But also, after all of these years, I finally can partake in the conversations. I get all of the references and jokes.  After all of these years, I finally feel like I am part of an exclusive (okay, maybe not so exclusive) club.  Over the last seven books, I have found myself going to Pottermore, the Harry Potter Wiki, and even checked out The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.   Harry Potter isn't just a character in a book.  It is a way of life.
Bottom Line - It may have taken me years to get around to reading the Harry Potter series, but it was such a rewarding experience that I would encourage any other reluctant reader to give it a shot.  And if the hard-copy of the books seems too intimidating, give the audiobooks a shot.  You won't regret it.


Friday, March 30, 2018

(22)Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen

For Nora Nolan her home is her sanctuary.   She and her husband Charlie have raised their twins there since they were young and now with the twins about to graduate from college Charlie is ready to move on from their neighborhood. Their home is located on one of the fabled dead end streets in Manhattan.  In the city that never sleeps the Nolan's live in a neighborhood that has block parties and Christmas parties.  Where they all share the same handyman and gather to discuss things like parking and they meet to walk their dogs.  You know, normal neighborly things in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world.  One day an act of violence shocks the neighborhood and divides them into two factions.  Those who think what happened was horrific and those who think it was a minor disagreement.  The event shook Nora to her core, but her husband had a different opinion.  Will this be the thing that finally tears apart their marriage?

Alternate Side is a book about husbands and wives.  Right and wrong. The haves and the have-nots. Nora Nolan is a quite normal woman, she loves her job and will stop to chat with the homeless man outside her museum. She is full of poise and self-awareness.  I quite liked her.  Charlie comes across a bit insufferable.  He is concerned with what others think more than he is concerned about his wife's feelings. I got the impression that he was disappointed with his life, specifically his career.  When "things" went down it was obvious that Nora was absolutely appalled (as she should have been) but Charlie took the side of his friend.  It was just one more thing to prove that the two of them had grown apart and had very little in common.   I was quite pleased with the ending.  When I think back, it was really the only way their story could have ended. CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - Anna Quindlen has written such a nuanced and introspective novel about everyday life.  There is so much in this book that could be book-club fodder for hours if not days, how can you not make it your next selection?


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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