One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline

How do you like your fiction? Do you prefer to follow the life of one character from beginning to end or do you hope for multiple viewpoints to hopefully better understand the story? Do you want your characters to be upfront about their motivations or instead hope there’s a twist somewhere that will catch you off-guard? Everyone has their own reading preference, but without trying something you normally wouldn’t read, how will you know if you actually don’t like it? I’ve been experimenting lately and while I have some duds that never captured my interest, I did stumble upon a few I really enjoyed. One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline was one that gripped me from the beginning!

One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline is a suspenseful thriller that takes a look into how the lives presented to others can be very different than the lives we live behind closed doors. This suburban crime tale begins with a surface look at a mix of characters: a single mom and her athletically gifted high school pitcher son who is shy and socially awkward, but hopes to be recruited by a college for a full-ride scholarship or he has no hope of leaving his small town. The son’s friends range from a fellow teammate from an affluent family who has never wanted for anything, has excellent grades, and is always up for a good time to another teammate whose family is struggling with the recent death of their patriarch, a man who kept the family together no matter what. This community faces all normal high school, family, and teenage struggles, but with the addition of one recent exception: a new stranger in town.

This new stranger seemingly has a hand in everyone’s business in town. He has managed to gain access to the high school as a teacher and coach. With that access, comes ability to better know the parents, staff, and other community members since this is such a small town. This likable stranger has a hidden agenda though, one that no one in the community is privy to and that they could never possibly guess. He has the ability to destroy the town and walk away with no consequences. His hidden plan falls through when a horrific tragedy befalls the school and he is forced to act quickly. Once his plan is put into motion, this mix of characters is forced to reevaluate their actions and their lives. A battle begins for their lives, futures, and well-beings. The fate of the entire community rests on all of their shoulders.


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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.


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Scheduling Time To Think

Even though I could have named this blog post “Here’s Another Cool Thing Ariana Huffington Shared On LinkedIn”, this article  by Shane Parrish entitled “Your First Thought Is Rarely Your Best Thought: Thoughts On Thinking” makes compelling points about carving out a time to think. Ain’t nobody got time for that, you might say. But we are mistaken, my friends.  Our hyper-tasking tendencies only create the illusion that we’re accomplishing multiple tasks simultaneously; but in reality, we are not completing any one task fully or even partially. I think the point is that if we slow down and do a little bit more contemplative work on the front end, we will save ourselves time and more importantly learn how to honor our own authentic voice above the noise of the crowd.

If you’re like me, you haven’t scheduled “Time to think” on your calendar lately but you know that twentieth-century living is marked by a type of frenetic energy and pace of “being busy”. We’ve all heard our friends, family members, teachers, doctors, significant others, servers, and others repeat the exasperated expression “I’m so busy”, or “I’m too busy to … ” and we ourselves have likely uttered these words, too. But isn’t it odd we don’t even have much “proof” of our busy-ness except for rapid heart-rates and elevated cortisol and blood pressure levels? I mean, that might be a little bit hyperbolic, but what do we have to show for scurrying about like we’re completely mad? With what, exactly, are we busying ourselves? Most of the time, and I’ll speak for myself here, the sense of urgency I feel and convey to others about my busy-ness is self-imposed. Oftentimes, we would be far better-equipped to make life’s easier and more difficult decisions if we just took the time up front to slow down and think. Parrish, the author of the article I linked to earlier, says succinctly:

“I actually schedule time to think. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but I protect this time as if my livelihood depended on it because it does. Sometimes I’m in the office and sometimes I’m in a coffee shop. I’m not always thinking about a problem that I’m wrestling with. I’m often just thinking about things I already know or, more accurately, things I think I know. Setting aside time for thinking works wonders, not only for me but also for most of the people I’ve convinced to give it a try. The problem with not having time to think is nailed by William Deresiewicz, who said: ‘I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom.'”

Pretty insightful, right? How well do you know your own thoughts? Have you ever taken the time to sort through your own tendencies and thought processes? Although a yoga or meditation practice is different from penciling in time to think, I would guess that the outcome is similar. In making time for yourself, you begin to know yourself more deeply, and what is more profound than that?

Bringing awareness to your thought processes, tendencies, and patterns enables you to be an active agent in your life without living merely at the mercy of your reactions and impulses. Contemplating how you think negates living as though you’re a hamster in a wheel. And maybe the better point is that patience and time are required to arrive at your authentic and original thoughts. Some things simply cannot be done well if they are done rapidly.  Maybe it’s just that there are no shortcuts to arriving at a well-conceived answer and you owe it to yourself to find out what you really think, desire, and need in your own life. What might scheduling time to think actually look like for you? Would you allow yourself that time, and if not, why?

The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One by Amanda Lovelace

The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One … love this title … and come on … that title pretty much says it all. A bit of misandry wherein I prefer feminism (equality of the sexes) but this is a quick powerful read for that witch in all of us both male and female. Seems to be written at the height of the 2016 election and the women’s marches thereafter. Here’s an excerpt from page 127:

forget

being ladylike

(whatever

the hell that means)

& allow

yourself to

show

the world

just how

unapologetically

angry

this

inequity

makes you.

let it all

go.

-throw flames like a girl.

Thought provoking, anger provoking, female power provoking read. Very short and quick. Check it out to give yourself a bit of a punch of always needed fire.

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.


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The Blue Zones of Happiness: A Blueprint for a Better Life by Dan Buettner

New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner’s second book delves deeper into what factors aid in an individual’s happiness, as well as “the macrocosm” of one’s dwelling in a specific place, be it a small town, city and even how a country’s national policies can play an important role in individual lives. Buettner expounds on how the actual environment, green space, traffic, etc. play a huge role in one’s personal happiness. The Blue Zones of Happiness is full of useful information that is both realistic and constructive. You will enjoy reading this book and taking a more realistic look at the current place, be it a farm, city, small town and state where you live.

The book encourages all of us to look objectively at the environments in which we live and find areas to make change. His scenarios and qualitative data are a resource for local communities and towns and city councils looking to make their spaces more pedestrian and green space friendly whilst at the same time improving upon the health and well-being of the lives of its’ local citizens, making the areas more attractive for new business and providing leverage and economy to flourish.

One example Buettner gives is Boulder, Colorado. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s corporate redevelopment companies wanted to build into the mountains and foothills and build the city up, meaning high-rises and tower building. However because of a concentrated effort to keep the mountain views open and a campaign of environmental activism in keeping the city limits drawn and the green spaces pedestrian friendly and high-rise free, today Boulder is a thriving city economically and considered one of the best places to live in the world.

The Blue Zones of Happiness is a great tool if you are interested in solutions for your own neighborhood or as a tool to educate elected officials and make aware the importance of healthy, environmentally and pedestrian friendly spaces that improve upon community members’ healthy lifestyles such as walking and bicycling. This book is a useful manual for individuals and communities to take the initiative toward happier, healthier lives.

Making Chocolate: From Bean to Bar to S’more by Todd Masonis

Making ChocolateIt is well past Valentine’s Day yet I can’t escape the chocolate that entered our home last month. My mother-in-law usually sends a box the size of my six-year old full of all types of chocolates—Hershey’s, Lindt, Ghirardelli, Godiva, Dove, and Reese’s—because what if we were trapped inside for two years and couldn’t leave the house to get more chocolate? Girl Scout cookies also make their annual appearance around this time and there is less than a month to go until chocolate bunnies will be hopping their way into my stomach. It is a hard time for a chocoholic with no will power.

It seemed inevitable that I would be browsing some of the library’s newest books and come across Making Chocolate: From Bean to Bar to S’more by Tom Masonis, a collaboration by several people who create and sell their own chocolate out of a store in San Francisco called Dandelion Chocolate. The detail used to describe the chocolate-making process, from selecting beans to choosing equipment to creating mouth-watering chocolate, is exhaustive and would certainly be an asset to anyone who is interested in making their own chocolate. Honestly, I was more interested in looking at the gorgeous photography and drooling over pictures of desserts than I was in understanding the five factors of viscosity or figuring out what a nib profile is. I also enjoyed reading about how beans are sourced and how different beans provide different flavors.

The biggest take-away for me was the handy guide to hosting a chocolate tasting event. I cannot wait to gather some friends to try a tasting of my own based on the steps laid out in the book. Although I consider chocolate a perfectly acceptable breakfast food and the authors of the book recommend tasting your chocolate first thing in the morning before your palate can become distracted, I will probably choose a more socially acceptable time for my gathering. I can’t wait!

If you are looking to expand your chocolate repertoire for your own tasting party, try Chocolate Manor in Davenport or the newly opened branch of Shameless Chocolate located right across the river in Moline.

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!


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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.


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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: