Flat Broke with Two Goats by Jennifer McGaha

Guest post by Laura

This book title, Flat Broke with Two Goats, is one of the catchiest I’ve seen in a while. In this memoir, MaGaha finds herself in foreclosure due to self-admitted willful ignorance of the family finances, which her accountant husband oversaw. My favorite part of the book was the author’s move to Macomb, Illinois to teach at “the University”. I had visited a college friend at Western Illinois University in Macomb decades ago, and more recently spent the day there attending a business meeting for a different job so I was a bit familiar with the place. This section of the book was a bit like a mild version of Eat Pray Love, only with cornfields, a boxcar, and sweltering Midwest heat.

At times I found the author annoying in her unwillingness to take responsibility for her actions and for not thoroughly researching the care and feeding of her animals. I also would have found the cabin less disappointing and more potentially exciting. All of those acres of natural timber and a beautiful waterfall view? Sign me up! Sure, the house was a dump and there were poisonous snakes and wolf spiders, but the couple made the house hospitable with some improvements. As for the critters, I admit I would be treading carefully and somewhat anxiously because of the snakes, but I already deal with wolf spiders in my neck of the woods.

The couple went on to raise chickens and goats and slowly transformed from people who lived beyond their means into rural farm people living a simpler life. I liked how she found making yogurt and soap fulfilling. She realized she’s gone back to some of the practices of her ancestors on these same lands, minus the constant backbreaking work and potential to go hungry with a crop failure. I give MaGaha props for bravery in being brutally honest about her life, which must have been difficult. She’s an accomplished freelancer but in looking at her website it appears this was her first published book. I think she will continue to find maturity in her novel-writing voice with subsequent books.

audio version available through Overdrive

The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd

I stumbled upon The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd when scrolling through RiverShare OverDrive looking for my next read. I spend a lot of time commuting for both my work and my fiancé’s job. Having books easily accessible whenever I need them is one of the major reasons that I use the RiverShare OverDrive app available through the Library. (It sure beats having to haul a backpack full of books when a weekend work trip for my partner pops up at the last minute!) Anyway, I found The Innocent Wife on our last road trip and decided to give it a try.

The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd tells of the burgeoning love between Samantha and Dennis. Their love isn’t all sunshine, rainbows, and flowers though, as readers are quick to realize. Samantha lives in England and spends her time outside of work obsessing over the case of Dennis Danson. Dennis is a prison inmate who, over twenty years ago, was arrested and thusly imprisoned for the brutal murder of a young girl in Florida. Dennis’ case is full of mysteries as it comes out that multiple other girls disappeared in the same area around the same time. No one was ever arrested for those disappearances though, nor where any of the missing girls’ bodies found. Many residents of the area believe that Dennis abducted and killed the girls, but that police only had enough evidence to convict him of the murder that landed him in prison.

Dennis is now the subject of a true-crime documentary that has succeeded in grasping the attention of the  national media and social media. People online and in person have come to believe that Dennis was wrongly convicted and that they are the only ones who can uncover the truth. Samantha finds herself on these message boards and reaches out to Dennis to talk to him about his case. As the two communicate through letters, Samantha quickly finds herself wooed by his charm and kindness towards her. Uprooting her entire life, Samantha decides to travel to Florida, meet Dennis in person, and begin campaigning for his release.

As soon as Samantha steps out into the balmy Florida heat, she begins to feel uneasy. She continuously pushes her feelings to the back burner in order to put Dennis and the campaign for his release first. After all, everyone would have cold feet meeting someone in person for the first time, right? That would be awkward for anyone. Nevertheless Samantha decides to marry Dennis(NOT A SPOILER, GUYS! It’s called The Innocent Wife after all…). After they are married, major developments happen in Dennis’ case and Samantha is forced to face some uncomfortable realizations about both Dennis and herself. Her confidence in Dennis’ innocence begins to waver, but with the intense media scrutiny and their marriage, she still feels the need to stick by him. Samantha doesn’t know Dennis as well as she thought she did despite her initial unwavering support of his innocence. The more time she spends with Dennis, the more she realizes that she might not want to know the real truth about his past.

Give this book a read and let me know what you think. I had complicated feelings toward Samantha as a main character that almost made me want to read something else. There are also several other characters that both intrigued and slightly appalled me. I’m curious about your opinions.


This book is also available in the following format:

Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush

I find myself frequently wondering about the lives of celebrities and political figures outside of the spotlight. While I never wish to live their lives overrun with media attention and constant scrutiny, my desire and curiosity about their normal day-to-day lives still lingers. Books and documentaries are one way that I am able to satisfy my curiosity to learn more, so I’m always on the hunt for more.

Pouring over OverDrive recent releases, I found Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush. I remembered hearing one elderly relative refer to the Bush family as the Bush Dynasty and as a result, the Bush twins lived in my mind as royalty. After all, both their grandfather and father were presidents, so that must mean they would grow up to be presidents too, right? My young mind always wondered what it would be like to grow up in such a politically minded family where the whole world had a vested interest in all of the decisions your father and grandfather made on a daily basis.

Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life was an intriguing look into the lives of former first daughters Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush. When they were very young, they watched their grandfather become president. The stories the twins tell of their grandfather, though, are less of him being president, and more of him being a doting grandfather who just wants to spend more time with his grandchildren. Twelve years after their grandfather became president, the twins were right back again watching their father take the oath.

Living a life with their father as president meant that Jenna and Barbara had increased security. Secret Service agents followed them around throughout their college years (College was hard enough! I can’t imagine having to check in with Secret Service agents continuously!). The paparazzi and Secret Service agents seemed to control and follow their every movements. Every teenage mistake they made could be found splashed across the national headlines the next day.

Despite the constant attention, Jenna and Barbara worked hard to form their own individual identities separate from their father’s and grandfather’s histories. They were still trying to figure out what their futures would look like, still forging friendships and intimate relationships, even with the extraordinary circumstances that ruled their day-to-day lives. This book provides a glimpse into the little known and seldom discussed personal lives of political families and the impact being born into a political dynasty has on the young children involved.

Jenna and Barbara fill this memoir with equal parts political and personal, funny and poignant stories of their childhood, young adult, and current lives within the Bush family and the greater world. Their lives may not have been the typical American story, but it’s all they knew. As the tagline of this book says, the Bush twins lived a ‘wild and wonderful life’ that was piled full of adventures, bonds, love and loss. I enjoyed the broad-sweeping stories present in this narrative that covered everything from their childhood to their current lives.

If you get the chance, I recommend that you listen to this book as an audiobook. Both Jenna and Barbara narrate their respective sections with their mother narrating at the very beginning. Hearing their voices lent both more credibility and a sense of relatability as each sister told of the events that forged them to become the people they are today. I really enjoyed seeing history through the eyes of the Bush twins as young children, then teenagers, and then young adults.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Black Book by James Patterson and David Ellis

If you’re familiar with James Patterson’s books, then I’m sure you’ve noticed that Patterson likes to co-write his books with other authors. Over the past year, I had decided to do an informal test of sorts: I would read a variety of Patterson books and see if I could discern a style and/or writing difference between the books that he writes with different authors. Well I can say, not even halfway through my test, that I was correct: the books he writes with various authors have definite differing writing styles!

My current favorite pairing? James Patterson and David Ellis. I’ve made my way through all of the books they have written together and blogged about most of them as well. The Black Book by James Patterson and David Ellis was my latest read. This book has all the elements that hook me in fiction: murder, thrills, suspense, crime, fast-paced, entertainment, etc. The blurb hooked me in and I knew I would enjoy it. Now onto the description!

Billy Harney’s family is a family of cops. His father is the Chief of Detectives while Billy and his twin sister, Patty, are also detectives. Being a cop, especially in Chicago, means that Billy is willing to risk anything for his job. It’s just what you have to do to solve a crime.

Billy soon finds himself embroiled in a massive crime conspiracy with far-reaching implications when he is shot in the head and left for dead. Billy is believed to be dead when he is discovered alongside the bodies of his former partner, Kate, and an assistant district attorney, Amy. Billy’s sister and father are on hand right after the bodies are discovered. Both emotionally distraught and furious about the theories being thrown around, Patty and her father demand re-tests and to be included in the investigation.

With Billy suspected of the murders of both Amy and Kate, investigators are anxious to figure out what Billy remembers about the shooting. There’s a slight problem: Billy remembers absolutely nothing about the shootout, as well as the two weeks before. Billy becomes an outcast in the police force and is publicly ridiculed when he is charged with double murder. Rumors swirl through the community as everyone tries to figure out what really happened in the bedroom where such carnage took place.

Told through flashbacks to the past and glimpses into the present, readers are privy to Billy’s valiant attempts to clear his name. With visits to counselors and walks through the neighborhood, Billy retraces his steps to try to figure out what he was working on that resulted in two murders and his own injury. His memory of the two weeks before refuses to come back no matter what he does, but what Billy does remember is the department’s intense desire to find a little black book that is proving crucial to a major investigation. Without it, the perpetrators will be set free, but with it, multiple high-ranking city officials and famous individuals could get in serious trouble.

Desperate to prove his innocence, Billy is willing to do anything to remember the crime that happened in that bedroom as well as what happened in the two weeks before. Digging into the past proves increasingly dangerous as Billy discovers that everything he thought was true is not. Everyone he thought he could trust: double crossers. The only solid person he can truly rely on is himself and the only events and recollections he can trust are the scattered pieces he can pick from his messed up memory.

The Black Book by Patterson and Ellis was an engaging read that had me constantly trying to figure out what had really happened. I really enjoyed the flashes to the past juxtaposed alongside the present. This book also gives the point of view of Billy’s sister, Patty, which adds necessary suspense and drama. Give it a read (or a listen) and let us know what you think!


This book is also available in the following formats:

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Coming-of-age stories usually prove hit or miss with me. I’ve noticed that the ones where the main character has an idyllic childhood that transitions over to a smooth adult life, with some pretty obvious life quirks along the way, do not engage me at all. I need my coming-of-age stories to have some serious life issues, entertaining if not slightly off the wall relationships, and some sort of crisis that forces the main character to really examine their life thus far. (As you can probably tell, I’ve read my fair share of coming-of-age tales.) As a result, I’m usually hesitant when I come across an adult fiction book with a young person as the main character. My latest read, My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent, is a coming-of-age story that I discovered was listed on multiple book lists. Because of the press surrounding this book, I decided to give it a go.

I’ll admit that when I first started this book, I was skeptical: skeptical of the main characters, skeptical of the press it received, and skeptical that I would actually like this book. I’m glad I decided to stick with this book through to the end because I finally understood all the hype. My Absolute Darling was much better that I thought it would be.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent tells the story of fourteen year old Turtle Alveston. Turtle is the living embodiment of the term survivor. Living off the beaten path in the woods along the northern California coast, Turtle has the run of the wilderness for miles. She knows the creeks, woods, rocky islands, and tide pools like the back of her hand. Throw her into the wild and she can do literally anything. This is all due to the intense training done by her father, Martin.

Turtle’s mother died when she was young, leaving Turtle to grow up at the hands of her father, Martin, with some help from her grandfather. Martin is slightly crazy, holds deep and somewhat fanatic beliefs on a variety of subjects, and is tortured by events from his past. Raising Turtle to be a survivalist in a cabin out in the middle of nowhere, Martin tries to do his best, but it quickly becomes clear that the life the two are living is not safe and they cannot go on the way they have been for very much longer.

Turtle may have absolute command of the outside physical world, but her personal world is in utter chaos. Dealing with middle school is torturous: the other kids don’t understand her and while her teachers are trying to help her, Turtle knows she can’t let them get too close otherwise they will realize her truth. Outside of school, Turtle’s life is limited to her father, their cabin, and to the woods, whenever she is able to sneak away from her father to enjoy it.

A chance encounter with a high-school boy named Jacob completely changes Turtle’s life. Jacob and his friends are care free, live in big clean houses, and think Turtle is amazing. The fact that she knows so much about the wild and can clearly handle herself blows them all away. Turtle enjoys their company and finally has her first healthy relationship in years. Hanging out with Jacob and his friends gives Turtle her first real friendships and the fact that Jacob is pretty cute gives Turtle her first teenage crush. This new group of friends is exactly what Turtle needs to finally realize the truth behind Martin’s actions and to see that the way Martin behaves towards her, and towards others, is not healthy. She can’t live like that anymore. With her newfound courage and the survival skills her father has instilled in her since birth, Turtle starts to think that she can escape from her father. Turtle must learn to trust herself and believe she is willing to do whatever it takes to escape.

I really enjoyed this book even though I didn’t understand all the press and awards it was receiving until almost the very end of the book. If you’re thinking of giving up on this book, don’t! Promise me you’ll stick through to the end! Let me know what you think if you decide to give it a go. I hope you’ll be just as pleasantly surprised as I was.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

Guest post by Laura

I am interested in health in general and digestion in particular but was expecting a somewhat dry tour of the digestive system when I checked Gulp by Mary Roach out. After all, the alimentary canal is the route along which food passes through the body from entry to exit. How exciting can details about the esophagus, stomach, and intestines be, right? Wrong!

The author has a sharp wit and sense of humor that isn’t afraid to tackle taboos. She explores the scientific study of various digestive mechanisms from ancient to modern times. One of these ongoing science experiments was between Alexis St. Martin who was accidentally shot in the stomach with a musket and William Beaumont who would conduct experiments using the open hole left after the wound healed. Rather than reading like a school science textbook documenting the methods and findings, she goes into the human aspect of the drama of the sometimes strained relationship between the two men along with the scientific details biology geeks will eat up. Pun absolutely intended.

From the probable origins of the fire-breathing dragon legend to competitive eaters, this book has facts and stories that both entertain and inform. I usually read or listen to audiobooks during my lunch hour and it takes a lot to make me queasy but I have to admit I had to turn it off once because of the content. Overall, this was a gratifying romp through the alimentary canal with some fun, grossness, and enlightenment along the way.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware is quickly becoming one of my go-to, will-never-disappoint authors. I know I will enjoy whatever she writes because her books always pull me in and wrap me up in their suspenseful psychological messes. Bonus: the narrator for both of her books that I listened to was thoroughly engaging.

The Lying Game tells the twisted, complicated story of four young girls who met at Salten, a boarding school near the cliffs of the English Channel. Fatima, Thea, Isabel, and Kate helped each other navigate the murky waters of this boarding school during their teenage years. Their friendship was so strong that no matter what happened, they each knew that the other three girls would have their back. These girls became inseparable and solidified their reputations as untouchable and the ‘bad girls’ with the invention of the lying game. The lying game may have started out harmless, but quickly grew out of control as the girls’ abilities to keep their lies and truths straight deteriorated. The number one rule of the lying game: don’t lie to the other players. That rule became more and more difficult to follow the longer the game went on, something that had the possibility to destroy all of their lives.

After leaving abruptly in the middle of the school year, all four friends find themselves thrust back into the regular world without a clue what to do. Fatima, Thea, Kate, and Isabel have woven a complicated, messy relationship that none of them can escape.  Each will still drop whatever they are doing to come to the rescue of the other, even though many years have passed.

One morning in June, the four friends’ lives begin to unravel. Human remains are discovered near Salten by a woman walking her dog next to a tidal estuary. The discovery of the body shocks this peaceful town out of its idyllic reverie. Fatima, Thea, and Isabel soon find themselves thrust back into Salten life when they receive a distressing text from Kate saying that she needs them. Arriving back into town, the four’s shared past bursts to the surface and their realities come crashing down.  A shared secret has the ability to destroy their current lives as well as drastically change their pasts.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I had read Celests Ng’s first book, Everything I Never Told You, when it first came out and it captivated me. The story of a family torn apart by the disappearance and death of the middle child, Lydia, captures the rifts and examines the ways that family members struggle to try to understand each other. When I saw that Ng was coming out with another book entitled Little Fires Everywhere, I knew I needed to read it because Ng has the ability to craft domestic fiction that is both engaging and realistic that I simply can’t put down.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng tells the story of the residents of Shaker Heights. Shaker Heights is a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, that prides itself in its ability to plan. This progressive suburb has rules for everything: the colors of the houses, the layouts of the roads, the types of houses, the schools, etc. Every little thing is laid out, even the jobs and lives that residents are expected to lead.

This highly structured, yet surprisingly calm and tranquil, community is normal to the residents that live there, especially longtime resident Elena Richardson. Leaving for college, coming back with a husband, raising four children, and working at the local paper are all things that were expected from Elena. The order and sense of community are both major appeals for Elena in Shaker Heights. She believes that the rules are there for a reason and lives her life making sure everyone around her follows the rules.

Elena’s sense of security is shaken when Mia Warren and her teenage daughter Pearl move into town. Mia is a single mother who makes a living as an artist. She and Pearl move around every couple months, but Mia promises Pearl that Shaker Heights is the place they will stay forever. Arriving in town, Mia rents a house from the Richardsons and soon both families become tangled together. All four Richardson children find Mia and Pearl to be mysterious and are quickly drawn to the pair. The closer the two families become, the more questions come to the surface.

Mia’s arrival in Shaker Heights begins to unsettle the delicate balance of rules and order that the community relies on to survive. To start, Mia has an untraditional job, a very mysterious part, and a disregard for the standard of living that Elena holds dear. Mia keeps part of her past hidden for good reason and some of the Richardson family members take it upon themselves to figure out why.

Mia’s disruption of the status quo comes to a head when Mia and Elena find themselves at opposite sides of a custody battle that’s splattered all over the news. An old family friend of Elena’s is trying to adopt a Chinese-American baby. Mia finds herself championing the biological mother, while Elena is firmly on the side of the adoptive parents. Elena is determined to do anything for her friend, even if that means digging into Mia’s past to discover her secrets and motives. Little does she know that her obsession will quickly unravel her life and the lives of everyone around her in abrupt and unforeseen ways.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig

I absolutely cannot wait to get back into my car and drive from Davenport, IA to East Moline, IL across the frozen tundra that is the Quad Cities. You might think I’ve lost my mind, and perhaps I have a little bit; but let me tell you that the Ali audiobook, narrated by Kevin R Free, and based on author Jonathan Eig’s “definitive biography” is absolutely stunning. Although my experience with audiobooks is relatively limited, I have to say this one makes me want to read all 623 pages of the biography. Free, who also considers himself a storyteller,  narrates the larger-than-life biography of Muhammed Ali (Cassius Clay) with conviction and eloquence, the perfect example of a well-executed audiobook and also a testament to author Eig’s finely-crafted prose.

Normally, it’s easy for me to snooze on audiobooks and lose focus in the middle of a chapter (or worse, a sentence). In fact, listening to audiobooks has proven to be an act of meditation: I’m consciously directing my attention to the narrator and, sometimes painfully attempting to stay focused on the developing story. Too often, like a child who loses interest in a new toy just moments after receiving it, I lose interest in the storyline unless the narrator is particularly emotive, funny, or engaging. But every chapter Free narrates makes me feel like I’m watching an award-winning film. The imagery, writing, and narration are that good. I’ve read a few reviews, and one commenter noted that he felt like he was “ringside” during the fight descriptions because the writing truly is that good.

Cassius Clay, who died in 2016 at the age of 74, endured 200,000 punches throughout his career. I cannot possibly conceive of what that would feel like. He was wildly inspired by Sugar Ray Robinson, a famous boxer well known for being particularly outlandish, flashy, and bold. Ali was single-mindedly focused on becoming the greatest boxer who ever lived; yet he was insanely complex as well as he came into his own in the context of segregation, The Blood of Emmett Till, and the Little Rock Nine. One might simply state that Ali was a fighter in every sense of the word: you can be sure he fought fiercely against racism and injustice that plagued the post-war United States.

I’m nowhere near finished with this book, but I can only imagine it gets better. Check out this article with Author Eig who concludes, after 500 hours of interviews with Ali that “no biography is complete. There’s always more to explore.” Here is what NPR , the Washington Post, and The New York Times had to say. Of course not all the reviews are shining. This particular article claims that Eig did not shed light on the last 30 or so years of Ali’s life and that the book provides “a somewhat perfunctory account of how his story fits into the larger arc of race in America.” As someone who is only about ten chapters in, I appreciated the historical backdrop that Eig establishes early on in the book; although it’s not like a few measly chapters could possibly address the terrible blight of racism on our collective history, so I will wait to see if maybe Eig delves more deeply into issues of race in America. One hopes that a “definitely” biography has earned its heavyweight title, just like the greatest boxer of all time.

The Child by Fiona Barton

In The Child by Fiona Barton, Barton weaves a twisting tale of psychological suspense that will rip through your senses as you try to figure out what is happening. Have you ever wondered what happens when old houses are demolished? What if they discover something hidden in the ground? Hidden in the walls? What of the secrets that are uncovered?

The Child begins with the discovery of a tiny skeleton during the demolition of an old house in London. Journalist Kate Waters stumbles upon this story and decides to dig deeper into what happened to the child. Piecing together what information she can gather, Waters is continuously left with more and more questions with the chief one being: who is the building site baby? Forced to work with a young male intern, Kate is able to convince her boss, Terry, that she needs to investigate.

Angela is a grieving mother who is struggling to comes to terms with a devastating event that tore her family apart almost forty years ago. Her family is trying to help Angela move on with her life, but they are just as torn up as she is.

Emma is a young wife who is going through some major anxiety. She is having trouble just living her life, much to the chagrin of her husband who is trying to help her however he can. Emma’s issues seem to stem from her past. She was raised by her single mother, Jude. The two have a strained relationship that will leave readers wondering what exactly happened between the two to cause such dislike.

Angela, Emma, and Jude all have some interest in the building site baby. Kate’s investigation into what happened to the baby elicits a different reaction from each woman. Kate finds herself going back to the building site and visiting each house to try to track down someone who knows something about the baby. The more she investigates, the more secrets and connections Kate digs up. Kate finds herself becoming a keeper of Angela, Emma, and Jude’s secrets. Her journey to find out what happened to the building site baby evolves into a much larger conspiracy that consumes Kate’s life, but leaves her hesitant about what she can and cannot disclose to the authorities.


This book is also available in the following formats: