Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Conspiracy theories run amuck in Dennis Lehane’s Since We Fell. This piece of psychological fiction will pull your mind taunt with the heart-breaking, suspenseful story of a woman struggling to find herself while her life falls to shambles around her.

Since We Fell tells the story of Rachel Childs’ journey to find herself again after she has a mental breakdown on air while working as a journalist. Obviously many stressors piled up to lead to Rachel’s breakdown and watching Lehane plot out Rachel’s demise is fascinating. Readers are privy to Rachel’s close examination of her life and how she ended up where she is today.

Rachel’s childhood was fraught with turmoil. She was raised by Elizabeth Childs, a self-help author with a Ph.D. who spent her days criticizing Rachel and left her life as damaged as she could. Elizabeth relished in the fact that only she knew the true identity of Rachel’s father while Rachel was left wondering continuously who her father could be. The fact that her mother kept her father’s identity such a secret from her left Rachel missing a part of her identity and determined to do whatever necessary to find her biological father.

Rachel’s relationship with men is a testy one, yet she always finds herself looking for the good in them. Enter in Sebastian and Brian. Both men pop up at important moments in Rachel’s life. Sebastian is a producer at the TV station where Rachel works. Brian is a man that Rachel knows casually, a man that Rachel tried to enlist to help find her father. Both Sebastian and Brian propel Rachel forward and drag her back in life. They add both positivity and negativity to her life.

Rachel finally feels like she has everything under control filled with a loving husband and a worthwhile career. After she has her on-air meltdown however, Rachel becomes a shut-in and life becomes significantly more difficult. One rainy day while out of her apartment, Rachel has an encounter that drastically changes her life. She soon finds herself questioning everything. Rachel’s life starts to unravel and she can’t pull herself out of the conspiracy that she finds herself thoroughly enmeshed in. Dealing with her mental breakdown and subsequent psychological issues, Rachel has to work to discover what is actually true despite all of the madness, deception, and violence that continuously rock her life.


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Class Mom by Laurie Gelman

Have you ever been a class mom? These women(or men) serve as the teacher’s right hand person and handle a lot of the grunt work. My mom was a class mom multiple times for both myself and my younger siblings. I remember her organizing parties, meeting with teachers, volunteering in my classrooms, and organizing events for me all throughout school. She was always busy and I thought she pulled everything together effortlessly. When I was looking for a new book to read and saw Class Mom by Laurie Gelman in the catalog, I decided to give it a try because I was feeling nostalgic about all the work that my mom put in to my classrooms when I was younger.

Class Mom by Laurie Gelman is a hilarious romp into the life of Jen Dixon. Jen is married to Ron, who she continuously refers to as her ‘first husband’ much to his annoyance. Jen and Ron have an adorable five-year-old son named Max who is just starting kindergarten. Jen is not new to the school system as she has two older daughters, by two different men, who are now in college. Jen had a lively youth following bands around the country and the world. Her two daughters were born as a result of her carefree younger days. Jen raised her two daughters with some help from her parents and when she met Ron, her life seemed to fall together pretty perfectly.

Now that Max is starting kindergarten, Jen finds herself being prodded into becoming class mom for Max’s class. Nina, the PTA president and Jen’s best friend, keeps telling Jen that the new parents have a lot to learn from Jen’s expertise and experience. Jen thinks that’s all baloney and it’s just because she’s older than the other parents that Nina is asking her to be class mom. Regardless of those factors, Jen soon finds herself as the class mom to Ms. Ward’s new class of kindergarteners!

Jen’s tenure as class mom is full of hilarity, snarkiness, offensive, and uproariously funny emails and interactions. She holds nothing back in her emails to the other class parents and is sure to note specific response times to her requests. Jen is responsible for assigning conference times, finding field-trip volunteers, and doing whatever the teacher Ms. Ward wants her to do.  She soon finds herself as the middle-man between Ms. Ward and the other class parents. The interactions between Jen and everyone at Max’s school are ripe with hilarity from Max’s supersexy kindergarten teacher who has a very odd way of running her classroom, an old flame of Jen’s popping up as one of the parents of another student, a mother whose son is severely allergic to almost everything, and two moms who Jen can never seem to tell apart! Outside of Jen’s interactions at Max’s school, Jen herself is struggling to get in shape to do a mud run to make up for last year’s disastrous attempt, trying to figure out what’s going on with her two older daughters, and working to keep her relationship solid with her husband. This book was very entertaining. Definitely recommended.

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

Being a woman cop in the 1970s meant your day was filled with harassment from multiple sources: the men you worked with, the people you encountered on the streets, and usually the family you left behind to become a cop. No matter what you did, you would feel the heat from everyone around you. You were never good enough. This type of harassment and degradation led to some women not even making it through the police academy and for those that made it, enduring that treatment only fed their fire to become the best cop that they could. Reading fiction and nonfiction about women during this era showed me that those pioneering women were continuing on a quest for equality that started many, many years ago.

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter dives into what policewomen in the 1970s went through on a daily basis by following the Atlanta police force in 1974 as they struggled to deal with the murder of an officer and a suspected murderer on the loose. It’s Kate Murphy’s first day on the job. From the moment she steps foot in the precinct, Kate realizes that the Atlanta Police Department is not the place for her. The other police officers are not welcoming to the women and even within the female ranks, they’re all separated by color. Kate is juggling with the fact that her uniform is way too big, she’s not sure how to handle her gun, and the men she’s supposed to be working with only see her as a collection of attractive body parts. Add in the fact that the Atlanta Police Department is still reeling from the death of a fellow officer and Kate has walked into an extremely volatile situation. Despite all of this, Kate refuses to give up. She sets out to try and prove herself even though she really has no idea what she is doing.

Maggie Lawson is only too familiar with the craziness in the Atlanta Police Department. Both her brother and her uncle are on the force. Add in the fact that Maggie is a cop as well and her family life is more than a tad complicated. Having family so enmeshed in the force means that Maggie has to continuously prove herself and that has left her with multiple axes to grind. When Kate Murphy shows up, Maggie knows she is going to be a handful. Kate and Maggie soon find themselves partnered together, even though it’s against regulations. This action is made to isolate Kate and Maggie from the rest of the police, to essentially keep them out of everyone else’s way. Despite being paired together, the women soon find themselves right in the middle of a major criminal situation.  Kate and Maggie are forced to learn to work together to figure out who they can trust and what the real truth is.


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Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

 

People who don’t read romance tend to assume the books are fluff. And I love fluffy books where couples meet cute and banter through silly misunderstandings until they fall in love. However, some of my favorite books in the genre are emotional heavyweights, where  main characters deal with some pretty dark emotions and difficult situations in order to get to their happily ever after.

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai is one of those books.  It follows a couple that were each other’s first loves, until a tragedy tore apart their families. Now over a decade later, they can’t stop wanting each other, but their family and personal issues still keep them apart.

Over a decade later, Nicholas runs the business every one knows was stolen from Livvy’s family. Livvy has just kept on running, moving from one city to another, working as a tattoo artist. The only constant in her life  is the one night a year they both meet up for steamy sex, and no discussion of their current lives or past relationship. Livvy finally ends the encounters when she turns 30, and at the beginning of the book, she has finally returned to town to help her mother recover from surgery. Nicholas knows a relationship with Livvy would be disastrous, but he still wants answers about what happened.

While Livvy and Nicholas are trying to fix their relationship, they also work on trying to have healthier relationships with the people in their lives.  Livvy has dealt with depression her entire life, and she is realizing that leaving her family behind and losing touch with people she cares about has made things worse.  She’s trying to reconnect with family and friends she hasn’t been there for, but as everything family related, it’s complicated. Her mother is not eager to have her adult daughter show up out of the blue, and she’s still adjusting to her aunt and best friend sharing opinions on her life, or forcing her to rethink family dynamics.

While Livy is trying to reconnect with her family, Nicholas is trying to untangle his. His father is power hungry and volatile, and Nicholas tries to play peacemaker with him at work, while protecting his sister’s place in the family. Since he can’t control his father, he maintains tight control over his life, leaving no room for emotion or indulgence, except for his one night a year with Livvy.

Both Nicholas and Livvy are still mourning people they lost when their families fell apart, and part of the story is figuring what really happened in the fallout, and taking a look at how the past is still impacting them.

Between family secrets, steamy romance, and two main characters with a lot of issues, this book has a lot going on, and Rai’s strong writing  pulls it all together. In the end, the emotional payoff is worth all the drama we went through getting there. We don’t get every  answer to the families tragic past, but there are two sequels planned, and they sound good. (Wrong to Need You, about Livvy’s best friend  is coming out the end of November.)

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult tells the story of lost souls trying to find their place in the world. Alice Metcalf grew up knowing that she wanted to study elephants. They always fascinated her. Traveling to Africa to study them, Alice, upon watching the elephants’ behavior, decided to focus her scientific research on how elephants grieve. Alice’s life changed drastically when Thomas Metcalf walked into her life. She soon found herself becoming a mother and wife. Balancing those two new roles with her scientific research and helping Thomas run his elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire quickly became difficult to do. She struggled balancing all of her desires and found herself in a sticky situation she could not easily see a solution to. Alice was a beloved researcher, wife, and mother, but it’s been over a decade since anyone has seen her. Alice disappeared under mysterious circumstances more than ten years ago and left behind her husband, small daughter, and all the elephants that she had become especially attached to.

Alice’s daughter, Jenna, has grown up into a thirteen year old who lives with her grandmother since her father has gone mad with grief and is locked up in a facility. With her father never seeming to recognize her and her grandmother refusing to even discuss her mother, Jenna refuses to believe that her mother just up and abandoned her. Something horrible must have happened to Alice because the opposite, that she chose to abandon Jenna and start a new life, is unthinkable. Jenna decides that she must do more to find her mother.

Jenna finds herself on the doorstep of Serenity Jones, a psychic with a legitimate gift who fell from grace and has not had contact with any actual spirits or ghosts in years. After contacting Serenity, Jenna searches out Virgil Stanhope, the detective who first worked her mother’s disappearance and the unfortunate accidental death of one of her mother’s coworkers. The night her mother disappeared was a mess and nothing seemed to be handled correctly. Jenna figures that Virgil must know more about Alice’s disappearance. If not, Virgil surely botched her mother’s disappearance and he owes Jenna the opportunity to find her mother. He has to help. Both Serenity and Virgil soon find themselves wrapped up in the web of Jenna’s grief, anger, frustration, and hopefulness that her mother will soon be found. Jenna, Serenity, and Virgil all seem to be wandering around lost until they are in each other’s company when things finally start falling into place.

This book is full of twists and turns. The twist at the end totally caught me off guard and 12 hours after finishing it, I still find myself trying to figure out how I never figured out the ending. This book is a beautiful piece of fiction. Picoult once again has written a deeply moving book that examines how the love between mothers and daughters defines one’s entire life.


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Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Agatha Christie was my favorite mystery author growing up, thanks to my grandmother who consistently bought me her books and watched her ‘Marple’ and ‘Poirot’ series on television. The classic whodunit mystery holds a special place in my heart. As a result, I have turned into a picky mystery reader. A mystery novel has to grab my interest quickly, sustain it through the end, and be complex enough that I am unable to predict whodunit. Enter in Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders and I felt like I was back at my grandma’s watching Poirot solve a crime. This book felt like a delicious dive into my childhood.

Magpie Murders is a book within a book, a mystery within a mystery, a murder within a murder. Susan Ryeland is the editor of Alan Conway’s mystery series featuring detective Atticus Pund. This book opens with Ryeland receiving a copy of Conway’s latest book, Magpie Murders, and her decision to read it over the weekend. Such begins the first foray into the book within the book. Conway’s Magpie Murders is the classic whodunit that takes place in the English countryside in a small village in 1955 where a well-known woman has died. Atticus Pund, a German concentration camp survivor who has become famous for his sleuthing skills, decides to head to the small village of Saxby-on-Avon to try to solve this Agatha-Christie like puzzle. A housekeeper named Mary Blakiston fell down a flight of stairs at Pye Hall. Her death had been ruled accidental, but the fiancée of Mary’s estranged son seeks Pund and asks for his help. There are many questions that Pund must answer and after a second crime occurs, Pund decides to visit on his own accord and figure out what exactly is happening in Saxby-on-Avon.

Flash to the present when Susan Ryeland has reached the end of the Magpie Murders manuscript only to discover that the last chapter is missing. Confronting her boss, Charlie Clover, about the missing chapters, both Clover and Ryeland are surprised to learn that the author, Alan Conway, has committed suicide. Conway mailed a letter to Clover before his death explaining why he decided to commit suicide. After reading the letter, Susan decides to look for Conway’s last chapter and sets off interviewing his family and friends to find it and to learn more about Conway’s motives for killing himself. That last chapter will save Magpie Murders and hopefully Susan’s business as the death of Conway will certainly sink the company if that last chapter is never found. As she searches, Susan comes to believe that maybe Conway didn’t kill himself. She soon finds herself becoming sort of a detective as she tries to figure out what exactly happened to Alan Conway.

I really enjoyed this book. Atticus Pund’s story was entertaining enough, but the addition of Susan’s story adds a delightful twist to the whole book. I was thoroughly entertained from beginning to end in both stories. I also enjoyed how the stories intertwined together and how Susan was able to rely on the Magpie Murders manuscript to help her figure out what happened to Conway. There were so many tiny clues and revelations hidden in both Pund’s and Susan’s story that had me on the edge of the seat wondering whodunit.


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See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

“Lizzie Borden took an axe, And gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one.”

That eerie rhyme is something most kids learn in middle school when they first hear about Lizzie Borden. I picked it up on the playground as part of a jump-rope rhyme and the murderous story of Lizzie Borden has stuck with me ever since. I find myself reading and watching anything to do with Lizzie Borden in an effort to learn more about what happened the fateful day of August 4, 1892 when Andrew and Abby Borden were both axe-murdered in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts. Who did it? No one will ever know, but everyone has their theories.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is the most recent telling that I found. It was so engaging that I finished this book over a long weekend, something that I haven’t done in a couple years. This novel was surprisingly close to the truth with the author taking a few creative licenses. Schmidt takes the infamous true story of Lizzie Borden and adds some fictional material that fills in holes in Lizzie’s story as well as some fictional background information that is missing in the historical overview. All in all, Schmidt creates a remarkably believable account of what happened that steamy August morning when Andrew and Abby were murdered.

This novel shifts between four main characters’ points of view: Lizzie, her sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and a stranger named Benjamin. Seeing each characters’ viewpoint of events leading up to the murders, the day of the murders, and after the murders allows readers to gain a multi-layered view of what really happened. The morning of August 4, 1892 began like any other morning in the Borden household: Mr. Borden, aka Andrew, went off to work, while Lizzie, Mrs. Abby Borden, and Bridget worked on tasks around the house. There had been a sickness around the house the last few days which led Abby to believe that she and the others were being poisoned. Lizzie was fine however. Emma, Lizzie’s sister, was out of town visiting a friend. Both sisters were unmarried and lived with their father and step-mother despite their parents’ repeated attempts to marry them off.

The brutal axe-murder of both Andrew and Abby left the community wondering why anyone would want to murder such well-respected members of Fall River. Life inside the Borden household was not a pleasant experience though. Both Lizzie and Emma struggled to break free of their father and gain independence, but found that they were bound together in the most intimate of ways. Emma, Lizzie, Bridget, and the mysterious Benjamin all add overlapping perspectives to the moments leading up to the discovery of the bodies, perspectives that will jar readers and have them wondering what ghosts each person has living in their pasts and how those ghosts influence their current actions.

What I liked about this book is readers can really see Lizzie progress to become the person that she was when her father and step-mother died. The true motive for why she started disliking her step-mother after loving her for so many years will never be known and Schmidt leaves that gap for the reader to try to solve. Something clearly happened to Lizzie that caused that great shift in temperament and demeanor. It was puzzling. I also enjoyed the multiple points of view present in this book because it allowed me to see the multiple layers that go into making a person and how one’s actions can mean different things to different people.

I really enjoyed this book and think that it made a positive addition to the many Lizzie Borden books that I have already read. If you don’t know the true story of Lizzie Borden and her family, I encourage you to look it up in order to learn everything that is known about the family and how Schmidt’s reimagining lines up with the facts. She is fairly accurate and presents plausible explanations for both the holes in Lizzie’s story and the empty background information in most historic accounts.


This book is also available in large print.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

This is a book about two wars, of the price paid both by those who died and those who survived, of sisterhood and loyalty and immeasurable bravery. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn alternates between the two World Wars. The similarities are chilling with threads that tie the two together in more ways than one.

1915. Eve Gardiner is one of thousands of file clerks in London, unremarkable in appearance, quiet and demure, but because of her upbringing she speaks flawless French and German. She is bored and feels useless so when a Captain from British Intelligence recruits her to be a spy, she leaps at the chance. After a few short weeks of training, she is sent to Lille in occupied France and takes on the role of a shy, simple waitress in a restaurant that caters to German generals. The information she gleans from their overheard conversations is passed on to her contact, the “Queen of the Spies” Louise de Bettignies who becomes a bright and shining light for Eve in a dark and dangerous world. The work is exhilarating and treacherous, even more so when the owner of the restaurant takes an interest in her. One misstep and all will be lost.

1947. Charlotte (Charlie) St. Clair is young, unmarried and pregnant. Her wealthy parents send her to Switzerland to have her “Little Problem” taken care of and to preserve her (and their) reputation. Charlie is heartbroken over the recent suicide of her brother (a soldier who came home from the war but never left it) and the complete lack of information of what happened to her beloved French cousin Rose who she is convinced is still alive. In London, Charlie slips away from her Mother and contacts the one person she thinks might be able to help her – one Evelyn Gardiner. Evelyn’s hands are horribly disfigured and she is bitter and angry (the first thing she does to Charlie is to pull out a Luger and threaten to kill her) but eventually she agrees to go to France with Charlie see if they can find Rose. Accompanied by Evelyn’s driver Finn, they make their way to a France that is still torn and broken by the war. The horrors of World War II are very much still evident, but the shadows cast by World War I are still present too.

The book alternates between these two story lines, chapter by chapter. The connecting threads between the stories is gradually revealed, leading to an explosive final confrontation. It is one of those books that’s difficult to put down when you’re reading it and nearly impossible to forget about when you’re finished. I certainly found this to be true.

There are a lot of books about the World Wars, especially WWII, but The Alice Network manages to take a closer look at two lesser known subjects – the women who spied for the Allies during World War I, and the aftermath of the war in the countryside of postwar France. What really adds weight to the book though, is that many of the people and heart-stopping incidents depicted are true – there really was a network of female spies in German occupied countries during WWI and it really was called the Alice Network and was led by Louise de Bettignies, one of the most accomplished and successful spies the Allies had. Most of the things that happen in the book – the secrets the women uncovered, the danger and brutal punishments they suffered – actually happened. And in Charlie’s timeline, there is one episode that she comes across that is absolutely true (and absolutely chilling) but probably little-known outside of France. Evelyn and Charlie are fictional, but what they see and feel and experience are very real. Don’t miss the author’s notes at the end for more about these nearly forgotten heroines. And don’t miss this book.

 

 

 

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

What would you do if you found out the life that you were living was a lie? If the life your parents or grandparents have lived was based on a lie? What if your entire family history was based on a lie? This is the true story for some children whose parents don’t tell them that they are adopted either until later in life or after the parents die. Such events can sometimes be traumatic, but it all depends on the child’s character and the sense of identity that they have developed. Will the news that they are adopted be easily accepted or will it throw their lives into upheaval as they work to find their birth parents and their biological heritage? Those questions are all prevalent through Lisa Wingate’s newest book, Before We Were Yours.

Before We Were Yours is a work of historical fiction that delves into the shady antics of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society run by the infamous Georgia Tann. Tann ran the Tennessee Children’s Home Society for over 25 years. Between 1924 and 1950, it is estimated that Tann stole over 5,000 children from their families and that over 500 died from abuse, disease, and poor care while they were living under Tann’s care. This true story shattered so many lives. I recommend you read a little bit about Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society before you pick up Before We Were Yours in order to give yourself background information (It isn’t necessary, but like a true Girl Scout and an ever researching librarian, I love to be prepared.)

Before We Were Yours begins in Memphis, Tennessee in 1936. The five Foss children are anxiously awaiting the birth of their youngest new sibling while their mom labors inside their shanty boat home. Fearing for the mom’s life, the midwife demands that she be taken to the hospital to give birth or the babies and the mom will die. Shuttling her off to the hospital in a boat, the dad tells the eldest Foss child to watch over the siblings and stay at the shanty boat until they come back. Men show up in the middle of the night however and the Foss siblings’ lives are forever changed.

Flash to the present and Avery Stafford has come home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment and to also be groomed to possibly take over her father’s political career. At a particularly moving photo-op in a nursing home, Avery meets a woman who immediately captures her interest. The things this woman says to her has Avery shaken to the core. Avery decides that she needs to learn more about this mysterious woman’s life and thus begins a journey that will change her family’s history forever. Secrets never really stay secrets after all.

This novel shifts back and forth between the Foss children in the 1930s and Avery Stafford in the present. I really enjoyed the flip-flop between the two stories as the story of the Foss children created a deep swirling mystery around the woman in the nursing home and Avery’s grandmother. This book had me doing two things: learning more about Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society AND looking into my family’s history to see what I did not know already.


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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I love any story that has to do with mythology. I am more familiar with Greek mythology though, so when I stumbled upon Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, I decided to give it a go. After all, Norse mythology deals with Thor, Odin, Loki, Freya, and many other Norse gods. If you’ve watched any Marvel Avengers movie, then you’re familiar with Thor and Loki. I wanted to read this book to see how close Marvel followed the Norse mythology(laughable, yes, but nevertheless I was curious). Add in giants, dwarves, ogres, and multiple other fantastical beasts and I knew I would enjoy it.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman spins the fantastical realms of the primeval Norse myths into a novel. Gaiman begins by describing the origins of the nine worlds and ends with Ragnarok, the time when the gods will die and a new world will take over. In between the beginning and decimation of all, Gaiman weaves stories of the different giants, dwarves, and deities who inhabit the nine worlds. This book was a fascinating read and Gaiman stays true to the actual Norse myths. Remember that this is a work of fiction, however, and he did recreate the characters a little bit to make it more interesting. Nevertheless, this book was a thoroughly engaging read. If you have the option to listen to it, I recommend you do because Neil Gaiman actually narrates it himself! Worth it.

Gaiman is a masterful storyteller whose lyrical thoroughness is out in full force as he breathes new life into these long-ago myths. Thor, Loki, and Odin seem to jump off the page as they fight to keep order throughout all nine worlds. Everyone manages to get into a little bit of trouble (I mean, Loki is a trickster God after all…), so you know things are going to get crazy. Each story told adds in multiple elements and different layers to the gods’ lives. I really enjoyed this book and hope you do as well!


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