Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris

B.A. Paris has yet to disappoint me with her novels. Since her first was published in 2016, I’ve been a devoted reader. I know when I pick up her books that I will be transported to a dark, twisty world where I’ll be gripped by thrilling escapades of all characters presented. Her latest, Bring Me Back, drops readers right in the middle of a mystery and doesn’t solve it until the very end.

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris tells the tale of a complicated and mysterious love. Finn and Layla are madly in love and on vacation. On their way back, Finn stops at a rest stop to go to the bathroom. Layla stays in the car, wanting to wait to use the restroom until they stop at a well lit service station instead. When Finn returns to the car, Layla is nowhere in sight. Not thinking much of it, Finn pulls the car closer to the restrooms waiting for Layla to come out. She never does. She’s disappeared without a trace. The above is the story that Finn told the police, but it’s not the whole story.

Flash forward twelve years. Layla is still missing. Finn has moved on. He’s now in a relationship with Layla’s sister, Ellen. In fact, they’re now engaged! This relationship has garnered them negative attention in the media, but thankfully most of it seems to have died down. Bonded over their shared grief over Layla’s disappearance, both Ellen and Finn have settled into a routine in a place where they are no longer seen as relatives of the missing woman. Everything is working out.

No it’s not. That’s not the whole truth either. Not long before Finn and Ellen are to be married, the policeman who worked Layla’s disappearance phones Finn with some startling news: their old neighbor swears he saw Layla standing outside their old house, but she ran away before he could check for sure. Chalking that sighting up to the witness’s old age and diminished eyesight, Finn moves on with his life. Other strange things keep happening though that seemed designed to test Finn and Ellen’s relationship and maybe tear them apart. Emails from strangers who know intimate details of Finn and Layla’s life together. Lost items from Ellen and Layla’s past suddenly appearing out of nowhere. Messages sent through the mail, strange gifts showing up around town, and clues to Layla’s disappearance keep popping up. Finn finds himself wondering if Layla is back. Is she behind these strange happenings? What does she know? What does she want? How far is she willing to go to get back what she believes is hers? I found myself constantly guessing about the strange person behind the gifts and their motive for harassing a seemingly normal couple. Readers will be questioning everything and everyone they thought they knew throughout this novel.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” – Aldo Leopold

First of all, you might want to stop reading for a minute and put a hold on this book right away. This book is that good. Just click on the book title or cover picture in this post and you’ll be taken directly to the catalog. ‘Cause you’re gonna want to read this book.

Set in marshes of North Carolina between dry land and the sea, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is transporting. It is by turns heartbreaking, joyful and inspiring and an ode to nature and its beauty. Part survival story, part murder mystery, part romance. 100% impossible to put down.

This novel shifts between the early 50s through the 60s and 1969-1970, opening in 1952 in the marshes on the North Carolina coast. Long unclaimed and unmapped, the marshes have for centuries been the refuge of drifters, the poor, those escaping their past or the law and runaway slaves. With few roads, the main transport is by small boats navigating a labyrinth of estuaries, creeks, lagoons and rivers known only to those who live there.

A woman, dressed in her best clothes, walks away from a rundown shack. She leaves behind her abusive husband, five children and unrelenting isolation. One by one the children also leave until only 6-year-old Kya is left. Mostly, her father leaves her to fend for herself. When he’s not drinking he teaches her the ways of the marsh and how to survive but eventually, one day, he leaves too. And thus the foundation of Kya’s life is set – she cannot trust that anyone will stay and learns to depend only on herself.

Kya becomes a student of the marsh, it’s birds and insects and plant life. She figures out how to keep herself alive, how to earn a small amount of money to buy gas for the boat and basic supplies, She evades Social Services again and again until they give up. Although most of the people in the nearby village ridicule and despise her, some reach out with small kindnesses and a boy who knew her brother teaches her to read. It is a lonely life, but she survives and even thrives.

And then Chase Andrews, former star high school quarterback, is murdered in the marsh and everything changes.

The 1969-1970 sections of the book follow the discovery of the body, the murder investigation and the trial, written in counterpoint to Kya’s life. There is no grandiose courtroom scenes, or sensationalized confrontations or revelations, but the trial is nerve-racking tense and suspenseful. Who murdered Chase? Was it the wild girl living in the marsh? Why would Chase, a “good” boy from a “good’ family get involved with marsh trash? Would anyone stand up for Kya?

This novel is a lyrical celebration of the quiet and unassuming in nature and in humankind. Of the connections we make – need to make – to nature, to community, to family, to another person. What happens when those connections are broken and how they can be regained. How past experiences shape us, mold our personalities and our outlook and how we react to those experiences that create us again and again.

Highly recommended.

 

 

Great American Read: Villains and Monsters

 

On Tuesday, Oct 2, 2018 PBS will air their 5th episode of the Great American Read series. It will highlight books featuring villains, monsters, and evil forces. If you missed the previous episode on heroes, not to worry. You can still watch episode 4 online.

The titles containing villains, monsters and evil forces include:

A Game of Thrones, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, And Then There Were None, Beloved, Frankenstein, Gone Girl, The Handmaid’s Tale, Harry Potter, Moby-Dick, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Rebecca, The Stand, and Watchers.

Episodes are now airing weekly on Tuesday nights at 7pm through Oct 23.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Have you ever read or listened to a book that leaves you questioning what you would do if you were thrust into a similar situation? A previous Oprah’s Book Club pick, An American Marriage, left me feeling bereft as the situation presented is entirely plausible. This book’s discussion of how while you may control some aspects of your life, outside forces have the power to sweep in and destroy your best laid plans shook me as I watched the characters’ lives play out.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones follows the lives of Celestial and Roy from newlyweds and beyond. Roy is a young executive, while Celestial is a burgeoning artist just starting out on a new career path. Roy works hard so that Celestial can grow her art. Just married, the two are working on starting their new life together, getting to know each other’s families more, and settling into what they hope will be a long, happy life together.

Stuck in a hotel one night, circumstances converge to tear Celestial and Roy’s happy life to shreds. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years in prison. Celestial knows it’s not possible that Roy committed the crime for which he was arrested. All through his trial, Celestial and Roy do not believe that there is any way Roy will be found guilty, but lo and behold, he is sentenced to twelve years. Their lives as they once knew them are over.

Celestial was independent before Roy came along with a fierce independent streak that ran rampant throughout their marriage. After Roy goes to jail, Celestial finds it hard to cope and is left at a loss. As a result, she turns to her best friend Andre. Andre was the best man at her and Roy’s wedding and grew up alongside Celestial. Their fierce and close bond sometimes annoys Roy as he feels they are too close to each other. The longer Roy is in prison, the worse he and Celestial’s relationship grows. Communicating through letters and seldom visits, Celestial realizes that the love that once held her and Roy together has begun to dissolve. Celestial turns to Andre more and more as the love disappears and her relationship with Roy shifts.

Celestial and Roy’s new normal is again changed five years into Roy’s sentence. After five years, Roy’s conviction is overturned! He is overjoyed to be released and see Celestial again. He heads to Atlanta ready to slip back into his previous life with Celestial. Little does he know that everything he had before prison has changed and everything he thinks he has has slipped away. This novel is a fascinating look at how each characters’ actions are intertwined, yet outside forces have a way of changing best laid plans. As I read this book, I kept thinking, ‘well just because you want it, doesn’t mean you’re going to get it’. Life will happen however it wants.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Best We Could Do: an Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

“The Best We Could Do” by Thi Bui is a poignant, heart-rendering graphic novel about a Vietnamese family’s history and struggle emigrating from Vietnam to the United States during the Vietnam War. The story is set in current times with reflections and flashbacks referencing the author and her parents’ journey of war and struggle in leaving their home-country of Vietnam. The book references the wars and trials of the Vietnamese people before and during the Vietnam War but brings a specifically personal account of Thi Bui and her families journey, highlighting her family’s success and trials of making it out alive with their children only to then come to a new country to find new struggles as refugees or émigrés (which is an emigrant, but more fully defined as “a person who emigrates for political reasons”) learning a new language, culture, political system, and a whole new way of life in the United States.

“The Best We Could Do” is a graphic memoir, well written and painstakingly descriptive that will leave the reader haunted by the beautiful drawings and horrible atrocities of war. As it is a comic book, it is a super quick read that will leave the reader with a greater understanding of life and struggles of refugees and survivors of war as well as their immigrant struggles in living in a new country having survived. The memoir comes full circle by beginning and ending with life… “The struggle to bring life into this world is rewarded by [the cry of a baby]. It is a single minded effort uncluttered and clear in it’s objective. What follows afterward- that is, the rest of the child’s life – is another story.” And thus ends with the author having hope for her newly born child and the life they will live.

The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman

I’m fascinated with stories that seem like they could be realistically true. A lot of realistic fiction sometimes pulls me out of the story, but The Home for Unwanted Girls kept me engaged in their realistic explanation of a pregnant young woman in 1950s Quebec and the subsequent expectations of her parents and society.

The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman is a suspenseful novel that spans decades filled with love, lies, and many secrets. In 1950s Quebec, both the English and French find themselves living in uneasy and unsteady civility. Maggie Hughes is stuck in the middle of this issue with an English-speaking father and a French mother who seem to barely tolerate each other despite their large family. Maggie has grown up with high expectations thrust on her by her father. She’s expected to take over her father’s business and marry a good man, NOT the poor French boy named Gabriel who lives on the farm next door. Readers can practically predict on their own what will happen next because fictional young women live to defy their father’s wishes. Maggie soon finds herself enamored with Gabriel. When she becomes pregnant at fifteen, Maggie’s parents tell her that she has to work to get her life back on track and that means she has to put her baby up for adoption.

Baby Elodie is put up for adoption and grows up in Quebec’s orphanage system which is impoverished, dirty, and rife with issues. Elodie is bright and determined to survive the horrible treatments the nuns put her through all while anxiously waiting for her mother to swoop in, find her, and adopt her. With this precarious existence, Elodie survives, but things only manage to get worse when a law is passed that says that psychiatric hospitals will earn more funding than orphanages. Thousands of orphans in Quebec are now declared mentally ill, are shifted to other orphanages-turned-psychiatric-hospitals, and are forced to take care of legitimate psychiatric patients that are bused into the newly minted psychiatric hospitals. Elodie is finally released when she turns seventeen, but her freedom is a difficult adjustment. This new normal is an alien experience, but luckily Elodie has friends that are helping her adjust.

Maggie has never been able to forget the daughter that she was forced to give up when she was fifteen despite her family’s repeated wishes to move on with her life. Maggie married a businessman desperate to start a family. Living with him has been easy, but when he keeps pushing her to have a baby, Maggie is forced to confront him on their different wishes. Around the same time as the rocky part of her marriage comes to a head, Maggie unexpectedly reconnects with Gabriel after years of separation. Maggie is forced to choose between Gabriel and her husband.

As this novel progresses, Maggie and Elodie’s stories intertwine in unexpected ways, leaving readers to hope that each time circumstances will result in their meeting. Maggie hopes to find Elodie and quickly realizes that she needs to make a better, more focused effort to do so. Throughout this novel, Maggie works to figure out how to balance multiple life truths. The truth that was taken from her and Elodie when Maggie was fifteen haunts her. Maggie yearns for her family to be together and for everything to be out in the open.


This book is also available in the following format:

Online Reading Challenge – September Wrap-Up

Hello Online Challenge Readers!

How did your month of September go, reading-wise? Did you find something wonderful, or did this month fall short for you? Make sure to share!

I’m afraid, after a string of 8 straight good-to-excellent reads, September fell short for me. I was all set to read Love and Ruin by Paula McLain, but it never caught my interest enough to stick with it. Maybe it was the subject matter – the main characters were often abrasive and made many poor decisions. Maybe it was my mood or the weather, or the fact that I had other things going on and taking up my time. Who knows why a book and reader fail to connect? Often it’s just timing – the right book at the right moment. And what doesn’t work at one time, might be perfect later. Fortunately, I know where there are hundreds of other books, all free for checking out! There’s always another great read waiting!

What about you – how did your reading go in September? And, have you ever picked up a book and found, no matter how badly you wanted to read it, it just wasn’t for you? What have been your epic book fails? Let us know your experiences in the comments!

Tailspin by Sandra Brown

There are some authors that I know I can pick up a book by and not be disappointed with what they wrote. Sandra Brown is one of them. Her books spin thrilling stories of romance and suspense that keep me wanting more from beginning to end. Brown’s novel Tailspin was my latest read/listen and I finished it in two days!

Tailspin is the riveting story of Rye Mallett and Dr. Brynn O’Neal. Mallett is known as a ‘freight dog’, a pilot who can be called to fly anywhere in the  world at anytime of day in any weather. Mallett is put to the test when he is called last minute to make a flight during stormy weather in order to deliver a black padlocked box to a demanding client. With his background as a fighter pilot in Afghanistan, not much scares Mallett and he isn’t going to let the weather hold him back, even though all the airports are grounded and no other pilot would even think of flying in that weather.

Despite a rough flight, Mallett makes it to the small somewhat dangerous runway where he is to meet the doctor charged with picking up his precious mysterious cargo. Coming in for a landing, something happens to Mallett that results in a near crash. After getting off the plane, Mallett has a run-in with Dr. Brynn O’Neal, who is not the doctor that he was expecting.

Brynn is a very dedicated doctor who is loyal to her patients, sometimes to a fault. She’s concerned with getting the contents of that black padlocked box to her patient within a strict forty-eight hour deadline. If that forty-eight hour deadline passes, the potential to save her patient’s life will expire.

Mallett doesn’t trust Brynn. Even though her intentions are noble, Mallett feels like there is something that Brynn is holding back. This doesn’t bother Brynn because she doesn’t trust Mallett either. Mallett is unpredictable and is an erratic variable that threatens to destroy Brynn’s forty-eight hour deadline. Despite their uneasiness towards each other, circumstances have necessitated that the two reluctantly team up. They are soon racing against the clock, different levels of law enforcement, and people who are willing to kill for the contents of that black box for a high-level client.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Get It Together! An Interior Designer’s Guide to Creating Your Best Life by Orlando Soria

Love, love this book and it’s tongue-in-cheek writing. Orlando Soria is super hilarious in his common sense, life-style decorating, and overall life advice in this interior designer’s guide to creating your best life. I absolutely enjoyed his very frank and non-superficial attitude and talk about decorating your stupid space with your stupid stuff! Love this! I am currently redoing and fixing up an old home, so after reading tons and looking through 50+ interior decorating and do it yourself guides, this breath of fresh air on not taking oneself seriously is a great and funny read with some good tips to boot. So if you’re in for a laugh and want to take yourself less seriously check out Orlando Soria’s Get It Together! An Interior Designer’s Guide to Creating Your Best Life. And if you are interested in further reading, check out his hilarious blog Hommemaker.

Calypso by David Sedaris

Image result for calypso by david sedaris amazon Now, while I don’t normally listen to books on CD or audio, I truly enjoyed listening to Calypso by David Sedaris, read by the author himself. And I must say that it was a lovely, riveting, and a hilarious ride….ride I say….. in that I only listened to the book on CD while I was riding around town or making my entire family listen to it when we took a short road trip over the Labor Day holiday weekend….and believe it or not, they actually listened, although they did let me know at times that the language was not appropriate for teenage ears….but whatever is all I have to say about that! As the video games I have seen them play are way worse than anything that could have ever been written in this novel. Sedaris’ prose is almost autobiographical writing mixed with what seems to be comedy bits that could have been written by his comedic actor sister Amy Sedaris.  Calypso will keep the reader and/or listener engaged, entertained and especially amused in the comical sense and laughing in a very familial relatable scenes with parents, adolescence, and aging. Check out Calypso David Sedaris’ latest book and you won’t be disappointed….instead it will leave you crying with laughter…at times.