May 2020–Part One

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

Escape from Mr Lemocellos libraryEscape from Mr. Lemocello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein (Length: 306 pages).   Yes this is a children’s book (recommended for ages 8-12) but it was on super-sale for the Kindle and I needed something fun, fast and light to read, in the midst of this pandemic.  This did the trick!  I was smiling the entire time I was reading it, thanks to the author’s fun plot which reminds me of a Willy Wonka/public library mash-up.  Lots of witty literary puzzles and references abound.  The author is a regular co-writer with James Patterson, so he’s got some writing chops.  I enjoyed the mystery central to the plot (how to escape from a magical library during a “library lock-in”) and I think it’s a fun read for kids AND adults!  When I finished I told my teen daughters about it and they had both already read and loved it.  So there you have it!

From the publisher:

When Kyle learns that the world’s most famous game maker, Luigi Lemoncello, has designed the town’s new library and is having an invitation-only lock-in on opening night, he’s determined to be there! But the tricky part isn’t getting into the library—it’s getting out. Because when morning comes, the doors stay locked. Kyle and the other kids must solve every clue and figure out every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route!

Book #2:

The lager queen of minnesotaThe Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal (Length: 362 pages).  I loved this book!!  This is a generational tale about a family growing up in the Midwest (Minnesota specifically), in the brewing industry.  I found the details regarding brewing (and craft beer) riveting and interesting, even as someone who doesn’t like beer.  The chapters alternate between 3 family members (a pair of sisters and one of their granddaughters) which I found a bit confusing to follow in the beginning.  However, they all come together magically in the end which is a testament to this author’s writing talent.  (I tried to read the author’s Great Kitchens of the Midwest earlier but I ended up not finishing for some reason.  I may have to give it another try after reading this one).  The writing here is so good, with beautifully-drawn characters.  This would be a fantastic book club pick (lots to discuss about family dynamics) and of course, with a selection of craft beers to try.  

Two sisters, one farm. A family is split when their father leaves their shared inheritance entirely to Helen, his younger daughter. Despite baking award-winning pies at the local nursing home, her older sister, Edith, struggles to make what most people would call a living. So she can’t help wondering what her life would have been like with even a portion of the farm money her sister kept for herself.

With the proceeds from the farm, Helen builds one of the most successful light breweries in the country, and makes their company motto ubiquitous: “Drink lots. It’s Blotz.” Where Edith has a heart as big as Minnesota, Helen’s is as rigid as a steel keg. Yet one day, Helen will find she needs some help herself, and she could find a potential savior close to home. . . if it’s not too late.

Meanwhile, Edith’s granddaughter, Diana, grows up knowing that the real world requires a tougher constitution than her grandmother possesses. She earns a shot at learning the IPA business from the ground up–will that change their fortunes forever, and perhaps reunite her splintered family?

Here we meet a cast of lovable, funny, quintessentially American characters eager to make their mark in a world that’s often stacked against them. In this deeply affecting family saga, resolution can take generations, but when it finally comes, we’re surprised, moved, and delighted.

Book #3:

Hidden Valley RoadHidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker (Length: 370 pages).  Saw this was May’s book club pick for Oprah’s Book Club so was lucky enough to grab it from the library.  Such an interesting read of a family of 12 children (10 boys, 2 girls) with 6 of the boys living with schizophrenia.  The author weaves the history and treatment of schizophrenia (and related mental illnesses) with the story of this family in Colorado, up until the point researchers and medical professionals were able to study the genetic components of the disease thanks to DNA samples from some of the (now-adult) men in the family.  The author does a fantastic job painting a portrait of this troubled family and what the boys and their siblings and parents went through because of schizophrenia.  There are some troubling scenes of sexual abuse, but they’re not exploitative.  The author is very compassionate and empathetic in his portrayal of the family and their dynamic.  I will say some of the portions of the book that delve into the history of the treatment of the disease were a bit dry for me, but I can see how someone who is interested in the field of psychology/psychiatry would find them riveting.  I skimmed those parts.  😉  A good book club book for sure!

From the publisher:

Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don’s work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins–aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony–and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys, one after another, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family?
What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amid profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. And unbeknownst to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment, prediction, and even eradication of the disease for future generations.
With clarity and compassion, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family’s unforgettable legacy of suffering, love, and hope.

April 2020–Part Three

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

The Boys in the BoatThe Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (Length: 417 pages).   This is one of the best historical accounts of a sport and a sporting event that I’ve ever read.  This cues up all of the emotions with the author’s vivid descriptions of the action, the men who rowed in the boat as well as their coaches, and even the setting (which is a literature trifecta, in my opinion: plot, characters and setting are all perfect here).   I loved the details about the sport of rowing (something I do very poorly in my CrossFit gym), and I learned so much about the mechanics as well as the history of the sport.  The characters are drawn with such care and depth, especially Joe Rantz, the author’s primary focus, as he was able to meet him and interview him shortly before his death.  This is an excellent travel read, and I’m also recommending that my CrossFit book club read it because of the focus on rowing.  This is a must read!   

From the publisher:

For readers of Unbroken, out of the depths of the Depression comes an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate account of how nine working-class boys from the American West showed the world at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin what true grit really meant.

It was an unlikely quest from the start. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Drawing on the boys’ own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man’s personal quest.

Book #2:

The FiveThe Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold (Length: 359 pages).  This was my book club’s pick for April, and I found it to be so interesting!  This is a non-fiction historical account of each of the five known victims of Jack the Ripper in Victorian-era London.  The author’s premise is that the victims were not all prostitutes, contrary to what the newspapers salaciously crowed to their readers.  In fact, all of the women were very poor, down on their luck and semi-homeless women in poverty-stricken London.  I found the author’s research about life in the Victorian era to be fascinating.  She goes into great detail about how families were structured, how they lived, their occupation and about London in general.  This book, although it’s a history book, is not dry or boring in the slightest.  However, if you are looking to read about Jack the Ripper and the murders themselves, this isn’t the book for you as there are zero details about the killings.  The author’s sole focus on the victims (and their families) is purposeful, and I really appreciate it, and her book.  

From the publisher:

Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Catherine, and Mary Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden, and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffeehouses, lived on country estates; they breathed ink dust from printing presses and escaped human traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women.

For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that “the Ripper” preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, but it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness, and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time—but their greatest misfortune was to be born women.

April 2020–Part Two

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

Open BookOpen Book by Jessica Simpson (Length: 416 pages).  What a lovely surprise this celebrity memoir is!  I found this book to be very well-written (obviously with a ghost writer, but is very clearly in Jessica’s “voice”), fun to read and is dishy but yet not mean.  I adored reading about Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, etc.  Her perspective on and her relationships with various celebrities are fascinating.  I will say that I didn’t enjoy the multiple chapters on John Mayer and his years-long obsession with Jessica, and found this part of the book dragged on too long.  I really enjoyed Jessica’s self-deprecation, and she is really very witty and humble.  I would absolutely recommend this to anyone!  

From the publisher:

Jessica reveals for the first time her inner monologue and most intimate struggles. Guided by the journals she’s kept since age fifteen, and brimming with her unique humor and down-to-earth humanity, Open Book is as inspiring as it is entertaining.

This was supposed to be a very different book. Five years ago, Jessica Simpson was approached to write a motivational guide to living your best life. She walked away from the offer, and nobody understood why. The truth is that she didn’t want to lie.

Jessica couldn’t be authentic with her readers if she wasn’t fully honest with herself first.

Now America’s Sweetheart, preacher’s daughter, pop phenomenon, reality tv pioneer, and the billion-dollar fashion mogul invites readers on a remarkable journey, examining a life that blessed her with the compassion to help others, but also burdened her with an almost crippling need to please. Open Book is Jessica Simpson using her voice, heart, soul, and humor to share things she’s never shared before.

First celebrated for her voice, she became one of the most talked-about women in the world, whether for music and fashion, her relationship struggles, or as a walking blonde joke. But now, instead of being talked about, Jessica is doing the talking. Her book shares the wisdom and inspirations she’s learned and shows the real woman behind all the pop-culture cliché’s — “chicken or fish,” “Daisy Duke,” “football jinx,” “mom jeans,” “sexual napalm…” and more. Open Book is an opportunity to laugh and cry with a close friend, one that will inspire you to live your best, most authentic life, now that she is finally living hers.

Book #2:

The ApartmentThe Apartment by K.L. Slater (Length: 266 pages).  Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas&Mercer for the ARC (advanced reader’s copy).  This psychological thriller is a very fast, easy read.  Set near Kensington Gardens in London in a gorgeous mansion named the Adder House, the setting is delightful, and the home in this book is almost its own character.  The narrator in this novel is likeable, and not “too” unreliable, but just enough to keep the reader on his/her toes and not positive about what’s really occurring.   I will say the scene in the end of the book where the plot wraps up seems a bit rushed, especially given the slow build-up, however, I really appreciated the epilogue which tied up all of the loose ends.  Would absolutely recommend this as a great travel/vacation read!

From the publisher:

It’s an opportunity she can’t refuse. The woman before her tried…

Freya Miller needs a miracle. In the fallout of her husband’s betrayal, she’s about to lose her family home, and with it the security she craves for her five-year-old daughter, Skye. Adrift and alone, she’s on the verge of despair until a chance meeting with the charismatic Dr Marsden changes everything. He’s seeking a new tenant for a shockingly affordable flat in a fashionable area of London.

Adder House sounds too good to be true… But Freya really can’t afford to be cynical, and Dr Marsden is adamant she and Skye will be a perfect fit with the other residents.

But Adder House has secrets. Even behind a locked front door, Freya feels as if she’s being watched: objects moving, unfamiliar smells, the blinking light of a concealed camera… and it’s not long before she begins to suspect that her dream home is hiding a nightmarish reality. Was it really chance that led her here—or something unthinkably dark?

As the truth about Adder House starts to unravel, can Freya and Skye get out—or will they be locked in forever?

 

April 2020–Part One

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

Lying Next to MeLying Next to Me by Gregg Olsen (Length: 391 pages).  I’m a sucker for a good psychological thriller, emphasis on GOOD.  I don’t like to figure out the mystery or the twist right away, nor do I enjoy being manipulated emotionally while reading.  This psychological thriller set in a small town outside of Seattle is very much plot driven with a very well-drawn setting, evoking a strong sense of place.  The main characters here aren’t very likeable, but that’s okay.  Detective Lee and one of the main characters had a childhood relationship based on a traumatic event, which results in an interesting dynamic in the investigation.  I did figure out the central mystery pretty early on, but there was still enough here, along with strong writing, that kept me interested and reading to the very end.  

From the publisher:

No matter what you see, no matter what you’ve heard, assume nothing.

Adam and Sophie Warner and their three-year-old daughter are vacationing in Washington State’s Hood Canal for Memorial Day weekend. It’s the perfect getaway to unplug—and to calm an uneasy marriage. But on Adam’s first day out on the water, he sees Sophie abducted by a stranger. A hundred yards from shore, Adam can’t save her. And Sophie disappears.

In a nearby cabin is another couple, Kristen and Connor Moss. Unfortunately, beyond what they’ve heard in the news, they’re in the dark when it comes to Sophie’s disappearance. For Adam, at least there’s comfort in knowing that Mason County detective Lee Husemann is an old friend of his. She’ll do everything she can to help. She must.

But as Adam’s paranoia about his missing wife escalates, Lee puts together the pieces of a puzzle. The lives of the two couples are converging in unpredictable ways, and the picture is unsettling. Lee suspects that not everyone is telling the truth about what they know—or they have yet to reveal all the lies they’ve hidden from the strangers they married.

Book #2:

Reading PeopleReading People by Anne Bogel (Length: 211 pages).  I am a huge Anne Bogel fan (of her website and her podcast), and have had her first book waiting on my Kindle for quite awhile.  This very short book is an interesting read about how various personality frameworks/tests reveal how we think.  Anne analyzes ways to use the results of these tests as tools to better our lives.  I am a fan of some of these tests, especially the Enneagram (Enneagram type 1, and ISFJ here!) There isn’t much new information in this book but as I’m a fan of the author, this was worth a read to me.  A definite library book pick!

 

From the publisher:

If the viral Buzzfeed-style personality quizzes are any indication, we are collectively obsessed with the idea of defining and knowing ourselves and our unique place in the world. But what we’re finding is this: knowing which Harry Potter character you are is easy, but actually knowing yourself isn’t as simple as just checking a few boxes on an online quiz.

For readers who long to dig deeper into what makes them uniquely them (and why that matters), popular blogger Anne Bogel has done the hard part–collecting, exploring, and explaining the most popular personality frameworks, such as Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder, Enneagram, and others. She explains to readers the life-changing insights that can be gained from each and shares specific, practical real-life applications across all facets of life, including love and marriage, productivity, parenting, the workplace, and spiritual life. In her friendly, relatable style, Bogel shares engaging personal stories that show firsthand how understanding personality can revolutionize the way we live, love, work, and pray.

Book #3:

Wrapped in RainWrapped in Rain by Charles Martin (Length: 383 pages).  This is another Charles Martin classic.  During this weird time, I wanted a comfort read that I knew I could get lost in.  I will say the first third of this book is WAY too slow.  There are also scenes with intense childhood abuse, but they’re never exploitative and do further the author’s narrative.  I loved the setting in this novel (Waverly Hall, a plantation in Alabama), as well as the writing, per usual.  This is absolutely worth a read, and it’s a nice long one.  Having said that, however, this is not the book I’d choose to introduce a good friend to this author.  For that, I’d refer them to Life Intercepted, which I reviewed here back in June of 2018.  

 

From the publisher:

“Life is a battle, but you can’t fight it with your fists. You got to fight it with your heart.”

An internationally famous photographer, Tucker Mason has traveled the world, capturing things other people don’t see. But what Tucker himself can’t see is how to let go of the past and forgive his father.

On a sprawling Southern estate, Tucker and his younger brother, Mutt, were raised by their housekeeper, Miss Ella Rain, who loved the motherless boys like her own. Hiring her to take care of Waverly Hall and the boys was the only good thing their father ever did.

When his brother escapes from a mental hospital and an old girlfriend appears with her son and a black eye, Tucker is forced to return home and face the agony of his own tragic past.

Though Miss Ella has been gone for many years, Tuck can still hear her voice—and her prayers. But finding peace and starting anew will take a measure of grace that Tucker scarcely believes in.

March 2020–Part Two

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:


You Will Know MeYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott (Length: 349 pages).  I really enjoyed this psychological thriller that is set in an elite gymnastics gym/social circle.  This novel is surprisingly well-written, with a plot twist at the end, but a not-very satisfying wrap up of the plot.  I think the author was trying to be shocking and it works, in a way.  I would recommend if you enjoy this genre as it’s way better written than most!  (The Girl on the Train, I’m looking at you!)

From the publisher:

How far will you go to achieve a dream? That’s the question a celebrated coach poses to Katie and Eric Knox after he sees their daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful, compete. For the Knoxes there are no limits — until a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community and everything they have worked so hard for is suddenly at risk.

As rumors swirl among the other parents, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself irresistibly drawn to the crime itself. What she uncovers — about her daughter’s fears, her own marriage, and herself — forces Katie to consider whether there’s any price she isn’t willing to pay to achieve Devon’s dream.

From a writer with “exceptional gifts for making nerves jangle and skin crawl” (Janet Maslin), You Will Know Me is a breathless rollercoaster of a novel about the desperate limits of parental sacrifice, furtive desire, and the staggering force of ambition.

Book #2:


WhiteoutWhiteout by Adriana Anders (Length: 512 pages).  I’m not sure why I own this book, but I found it to be surprisingly well-written and an excellent action/thriller plot for a “romance novel”. (The love scenes are a bit too intense, in my opinion, but since I rarely read romance novels, maybe this is normal?)  Set in Antarctica, a killer virus is drilled out of the permafrost and is possibly going to be used as a biological warfare weapon (this part isn’t very clear).  While there is decent character development, I will say this isn’t relaxing COVID-19 reading given the killer virus topic. I do hope there is a sequel because of the cliffhanger ending.  

From the publisher:

With a storm coming and a killer on the loose, every step could be their last…

Angel Smith is finally ready to leave Antarctica for a second chance at life. But on what was meant to be her last day, the remote research station she’s been calling home is attacked. Hunted and scared, she and irritatingly gorgeous glaciologist Ford Cooper barely make it out with their lives…only to realize that in a place this remote, there’s nowhere left to run.

Isolated with no power, no way to contact the outside world, and a madman on their heels, Angel and Ford must fight to survive in the most inhospitable—and beautiful—place on earth. But what starts as a partnership born of necessity quickly turns into an urgent connection that burns bright and hot. They both know there’s little chance of making it out alive, and yet they are determined to weather the coming storm—no matter the cost.

Book #3:


The Book Woman of Troublesome CreekThe Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson (Length: 322 pages).  I first became aware of this novel when I read about the plagiarism controversy involving the author JoJo Moyes whose novel “The Giver of the Stars” is alleged to be lifted from this one, with many similar scenes and characters.  I have no opinion on this controversy but I did choose to read this particular book instead, and I’m glad I did!  This is such an interesting account of the Pack Horse Librarian project started by FDR as part of the WPA (Works Progress Administration), which ran from 1935-1943.  The joy people had/have in treasured books and reading material, the extreme poverty of Appalachian Kentucky, and very well-drawn characters make this book hard to put down.  There are some very dark and sad parts of this novel, but it’s an important and worthwhile read.  

From the publisher:

The hardscrabble folks of Troublesome Creek have to scrap for everything—everything except books, that is. Thanks to Roosevelt’s Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Troublesome’s got its very own traveling librarian, Cussy Mary Carter.

Cussy’s not only a book woman, however, she’s also the last of her kind, her skin a shade of blue unlike most anyone else. Not everyone is keen on Cussy’s family or the Library Project, and a Blue is often blamed for any whiff of trouble. If Cussy wants to bring the joy of books to the hill folks, she’s going to have to confront prejudice as old as the Appalachias and suspicion as deep as the holler.

Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere—even back home.

Book #4:


American DirtAmerican Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (Length: 387 pages).  This very controversial novel is my book club’s pick for the month of April.  I will say that, in a vacuum, I did enjoy this book.  It’s a very, very fast read, as it’s primarily plot driven (ie, will the two main characters, Lydia and Luca, a mother and son escaping cartel violence in their hometown of Acapulco, make it safely across the border of the United States).  The two main characters are the most well-developed, with many of the other secondary characters drawn pretty stereotypically.  There are several pulse-pounding moments of their journey which are written very descriptively and the author does do a good job of invoking empathy from her (very privileged) readers for the migrant experience, which is especially needed in these times.  The main issue of the controversy behind this book is that the author is a white citizen of this country who uses her husband’s immigration experience as one reason she’s empathetic to the migrant struggle.  One problem:  he’s Irish and white.   Excellent choice for a book club! 

From the publisher:

También de este lado hay sueños. On this side, too, there are dreams.

Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?

American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed. It is a literary achievement filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It is one of the most important books for our times.

Already being hailed as “a Grapes of Wrath for our times” and “a new American classic,” Jeanine Cummins’s American Dirt is a rare exploration into the inner hearts of people willing to sacrifice everything for a glimmer of hope.