the-way-i-used-to-beThe Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith is a deeply moving, traumatic examination of one young woman’s struggle to overcome the aftermath of a rape. Eden, a 14-year old teenage girl, is raped by Kevin, her older brother’s best friend and college roommate. Her family is asleep down the hall while he crawls into her bed. Eden is the typical band geek, good girl who lives in fear of Kevin as he tells her that he will kill her and that no one will believe her if she talks. She is paralyzed with fear and doesn’t know what to do except try to live her life like normal, an idea that quickly fails as she becomes a new person overnight.

This book follows Eden through all four years of high school, highlighting her relationships with friends and family as she keeps this dark secret under wraps. School becomes increasingly more difficult for Eden as she turns to lies, booze, sex, and parties to smother her emotions. Kevin’s younger sister, Amanda, who Eden used to be friends with, turns against her and begins spreading vicious rumors about her around school. Eden’s best friend, Mara, knows nothing about what happened to her and the two move through high school experiencing some typical high school activities: dying their hair, first crushes, getting piercings, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes for the first time, going to parties, doing drugs, and getting their drivers’ licenses. All the while, distance begins to grow between the two. Eden also finds herself separated from her other friends and her family. She has buried who she used to be, buried her emotions, and buried her secret deep inside.

As Eden grows older, readers are able to dissect the way her rape has affected her personality and her relationships. The way Eden treats herself changes drastically from her freshman year to her senior year of high school, as evidenced through her inner monologue throughout the book. How she believes others to see her changes throughout the book as well. The long-term view of the effect this trauma has on Eden allows readers to gain a better understanding of the guilt, hatred, and complex emotions survivors face in the aftermath of rape and sexual assault. The Way I Used to Be is not an easy book to read as watching Eden disintegrate is painful, but the truth and emotions revealed are so vivid and true-to-life that this book becomes a necessary read to understand the emotions survivors experience on a day-to-day basis.  Eden carries a double burden – the weight of carrying her secret and the violation of rape. She shows strength, power, survival, disappointment, pain, heartbreak, and massive loss throughout this book, leaving readers to grow attached to her well-being and her journey through a troubled adolescent made even more difficult by rape. The Way I Used to Be takes readers on an emotional rollercoaster as Eden struggles to find her way back to herself in the aftermath of her rape.

the house girlThe House Girl by Tara Conklin follows the lives of two women: Lina Sparrow, a first-year associate in a Manhattan law firm, and Josephine Bell, a slave living on a plantation. Lina lives with her father, a famous artist, while she works at the law firm. Her mother died when she was younger and as a result, her father seldom talks about her. When Lina discovers that her father is planning to open up a new art show and that the subject matter is her mother, she finds herself wondering who her mother really is and what happened before her death.

While she digs into her personal history, Lina is picked to work on a reparations case at work for the millions of descendants of American slaves. This historic class-action lawsuit would lead to trillions of dollars in reparations for all of the descendants of the slaves. Lina is in charge of finding the perfect plaintiff, a person that will bring a compelling back story that will catch the public’s eye and help sway the courts. She stumbles upon the life and work of Miss Josephine Bell.

Josephine Bell worked as a house slave on a plantation. Her mistress, Lu Anne Bell, taught her to read, draw, and paint without her master knowing. Josephine’s life was easier than the lives of the slaves working in the fields, but that doesn’t mean that her life was all sunshine and happiness. Balancing between house and fields left her with a sense of discontent. Her master’s continued unwanted advances combined with her mistress’s multiple miscarriages over the years made the house a turbulent area. Her mistress’ health is also declining rapidly with no cure seemingly in sight. With her friends being sold off, Josephine herself has caught the bug to escape and runaway. Will she? What about the people she will leave behind?

Lina stumbled upon artwork that was attributed to Josephine’s mistress Lu Anne, but historical research has come to light refuting this claim and showing that Josephine may actually be the artist. If this is indeed true and if Lina can manage to track down one of Josephine’s heirs, Lina will have found her perfect plaintiff. Digging into historical records, wading through murky legal territory, and convincing people to come forward becomes a major part of her life while she is simultaneously digging into her own past and learning about her parents’ relationship and their separate lives. Tara Conklin has woven together an intriguing tale of love, life, and the familial and friendship bonds that bring us all together across the years. Highly recommended.


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vinegar girlVinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is a modern retelling of the classic Shakespeare play, The Taming of the Shrew. Initially I picked this book to listen to through OverDrive for two reasons: the cover looked interesting and it was available for checkout. I’m glad I checked this out. This was very quick to listen to, the characters are all excellently developed, and the narrator hooked me in.

In this retelling, Kate Battista lives with her father, Dr. Louis Battista, and her younger teenage sister, Bunny. Kate works as a nursery school assistant, takes care of the family house, and has watched her younger sister ever since their mother’s early death. Dr. Battista, a research scientist studying autoimmune disorders, is eccentric to sat the least. His compulsiveness shines through in his work and the way he wants Kate to run the house. Everyone’s laundry is done on a different day of the week, Bunny has to follow her father’s behavior rules 100%, and meal prep is down to a specific science. Kate follows her father’s computer-generated grocery list and makes the family’s “meat mash” at the beginning of the week, a less-than-appetizing-sounding food concoction that contains all necessary nutrients that they then eat for the rest of the week.

Dr. Battista has gone through a number of different lab assistants, the current one, Pyotr Shcherbakov, being his favorite. Pyotr is apparently a star scientist from Russia that Dr. Battista, who is equally famous in Russia, was lucky to get. Unfortunately for everyone, Pyotr’s three-year work visa is about to expire, meaning he will be deported back to Russia unless he marries an American girl. Dr. Battista has the perfect girl in mind for Pyotr: his oldest daughter, Kate, who has never turned down any of his crazy schemes before. This retelling of Shakespeare’s classic veers from the powerful emotions in the original, but is a delightful and positive retelling that leaves readers wondering what will happen between Kate, Pyotr, and her father? Will his research be successful? Will Kate and Pyotr get married? Will the meat mash ever change? Tyler’s quirkiness adds a new level to this classic Shakespeare, something that will have readers clamoring for more.


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There are many other clever adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew, some of them you may not realize. Check out this list of my favorite adaptations (and call the library for more suggestions!).
mclintockkiss me kate10 things i hate about you

 

 

 

 

 

 

furiously happyFuriously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson is the story of one woman’s journey through mental illness and the many places she finds herself. Jenny has been battling mental illness her entire life, so she considers herself to be an expert at how she handles her crippling depression and anxiety. She’s an expert at terrible ideas and writing a funny book about horrible things may be her best terrible idea yet.

Jenny believes in living her life furiously happy. Her depression, anxiety, and other myriad mental illnesses may run her life at certain moments, but she has decided that in the moments when she is not hiding in her bedroom, she’s going to live furiously happy. She’s going to do anything that pops into her head, anything stupid or irresponsible like having a raccoon rodeo with your cats or trying to convince your husband that having kangaroos would be a good idea. This book is packed full of stories of Jenny turning moments when things are just fine into amazing moments for herself, her daughter, and her husband. Because she doesn’t know exactly when her next down swing may happen, Jenny chooses to LIVE her life and not just survive it.

Jenny has written this book as a way to show the rest of the people in the world that the best way to live our lives is to embrace our weirdness 100%. She wants to show that by building up furiously happy moments in our okay moments, we are arming our brain with positive moments when those same brains decide to fight against us and try to kill us. Her moments of hilarity are paired with moments of such brutal honesty that you’ll find yourself on one page in the kitchen with Jenny as she plays with her taxidermied raccoons and then a few pages later sitting in the bathroom with her as she cries and pulls out her hair until she bleeds. The dichotomy between those beautiful, loving moments of happiness and the flawed, immensely overflowing, just trying to survive moments is where Jenny thrives. She encourages you to embrace yourself no matter what label you’re given and to find ways to find joy and happiness no matter what.


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dark placesDark Places by Gillian Flynn completes my mission to read all of Flynn’s work. Living in my own little bublle, I only became aware of Gillian Flynn as an author when Gone Girl became a movie. After it came out on DVD, I quickly checked it out and watched it, which lead me down a quick path to reading everything that Flynn has ever written (I’ve written blog posts about her other works, so search this blog for more info!).

Dark Places is a gripping piece of suspense fiction following the life of Libby Day, a thirty-one year old woman whose mother and two sisters were brutally murdered twenty-five years ago when Libby was just seven years old. Based on her testimony, Libby’s fifteen year old brother Ben was sentenced to prison for life for the murders. After a meeting with her trust fund manager, Libby, who has never worked a day, realizes that the public donations and life insurance money that she has been living off is almost gone. She has no idea what to do next.

A chance phone call from a man named Lyle, who is a member of the Kill Club, proves to be Libby’s somewhat salvation. The Kill Club is a club for people who are obsessed with murders, serial killers, violence, regular killers, and a wide variety of related subjects. She meets with the Kill Club and realizes that she can get them to pay her; the only caveat being that she has to dig into her brother Ben’s case and the murders of her family. Once she starts talking to people and answering the questions the Kill Club has for her, Libby starts questioning if what she thought she saw twenty five years ago was what actually happened. Did Ben really commit those heinous crimes? Or is someone else responsible. This book will have you sitting on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next.

Dark Places was also made into a movie that came out in 2015 starring Charlize Theron as adult Libby Day. The library has this movie available in DVD and Blu-ray.


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don't you cryDon’t You Cry is a psychological mysterious thriller. It falls along the same lines as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, but I found the twists that happened in this book to be less predictable, at least to me. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica is a twisting tale of deception, obsession, strangers, friends, and missing people. Quinn Collins is a young woman living in downtown Chicago with her roommate, Esther Vaughan. Everything seems to be going perfectly fine in Quinn’s life until she wakes up one morning and discovered that Esther has disappeared from their apartment without a trace. reporting Esther as missing only results in Quinn being told that Esther will probably come back in 48-72 hours and she should just wait. Quinn decides to take matters into her own hands and goes through Esther’s room looking for any clues. What she finds there leads Quinn to question who Esther really is and where she has disappeared to.

Alex Gallo is an eighteen-year-old boy working at a coffee shop an hour outside Chicago. Alex lives in this small lake town with his alcoholic father across from an old abandoned house that everyone thinks is haunted. One day, a mysterious woman walks into the coffee shop and Alex finds himself drawn to her. Alex is quickly pulled into Pearl’s spell, feeding and clothing her even though he knows nothing about her. Alex gets closer and closer to Pearl and realizes that he actually knows almost nothing about the town that he lives in.

While Quinn searches for Esther and Alex tries to learn more about Pearl, there are other factors simmering in the background of the book that demand the readers attention. This book is told in alternating voices, a fact that I enjoyed since I listened to this book through OverDrive and was able to dive into the characters more. Mary Kubica does a fabulous job of weaving a missing person story with family drama, mysterious pasts, old ghost stories, and alternate life stories. The tension slowly lives under the surface of this book until the end when the narrative explodes. Highly recommended.


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keep-quietKeep Quiet by Lisa Scottoline is a gut-wrenching book that begins by introducing Jake Whitmore, his son Ryan, and Jake’s wife, Pam. Tensions seem to be running high in the Whitmore family, stemming from Jake’s loss of job a year ago. The family bore the brunt of his frustration and as a result, Ryan distanced himself from his father and became closer with his mother. Jake and Pam went into therapy to rebuild their relationship. Their current focus is on bringing Ryan and Jake closer together.

Jake is sent to pick up Ryan from the movies when they get into a car accident. This accident threatens the stability of their family and the tenuous relationships that hold them all together. Ryan’s future is on the line and in a split-second, Jake makes a decision that saves his son from a disastrous future. While at the time this seems like the best decision, it instead sends them both down a dark spiral of secrets, lies, and immense guilt. Jake thinks he has everything under control, but someone emerges from the woodwork with the power to destroy his carefully laid plans and expose Jake and Ryan’s dark secret. That life changing accident holds the power to destroy all their lives and Jake is struggling to hold the family together. This book is an intensely powerful guilt-laden journey into the lives of a family who are trying to redeem themselves while their whole world is unraveling around them.


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miss you alreadyCertain movies tug at your heart strings and leave you pulling for every character to get their happy ending. Miss You Already, starring Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette, had me rooting for their friendship to stay strong and last through whatever they faced.

Miss You Already is a very powerful story that follows two best friends, Milly and Jess, through life’s many challenges. The two have been friends since childhood and have lived through many secrets, pregnancies, boyfriends, weddings, and sharing of clothes. Inseparable for as long as they can remember, both Milly and Jess are certain their relationship can survive anything. A trip to the doctor hits Milly with life-altering news, something that sincerely tests their friendship, as well as Milly’s relationship with her husband and Jess’s relationship with her husband. Everything is flipped upside down as Milly and Jess forge out a new path through their shared lives and find that even though life throws you curveballs, true friendship will last forever.

the arsonistThe Arsonist by Sue Miller is my latest foray into audiobooks. Miller has weaved a suspenseful story full of family drama and community intrigue within a small New England town.

Frankie Rowley has returned to Pomeroy, New Hampshire, the small village and farmhouse where her family has always spent the summers. Frankie has worked in East Africa for the last 15 years, but came home after she realized that she has never really quite fit in over there. The adjustment back to the states is hard on Frankie, leaving her walking along a country road on her first night back. Waking up the next morning, Frankie discovers that a house up the road has been burnt to the ground. Fires keep popping up around the community, putting people on edge and dividing the town even further.

In addition to the community drama around the fires, Frankie’s mother Sylvia is becoming more concerned over her husband’s erratic behavior. He is forgetting more and more some days, while on others, he seems just fine. Frankie and her sister, Liz, are trying to help, but Liz has a family of her own to deal with now and is hoping Frankie will help relieve her stress. Frankie, herself, has fallen for Bud Jacobs, a Washington DC transplant to Pomeroy, who has taken over the town’s small newspaper. All of these relationships become even more entangled in a very small town under great stress due to all of the arson activity and the divide between the summer people and year-rounders.

The Arsonist is the second book that I’ve listened to where the author has been the narrator and the stories really benefit from the author’s telling. The author is able to truly tell how she wants the characters to talk and how she sees them interacting with each other. You also notice a distinct connection between the narrator and each character because the author cares more about and has a more vested interest in how the characters are being portrayed. Check this book out and let me know what you think!


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landlineLandline is Rainbow Rowell’s second trip into adult relationships, following the release of Attachments. Having read two of her young adult books, I decided to give Landline a try, not knowing what I was getting myself into.

Landline begins by introducing readers to Georgie McCool. Georgie is a writer for a popular television sitcom. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Neal, and their two young daughters. On the outside, it looks like she has it all, but inside, Georgie knows that her marriage is in trouble. It’s not recent trouble, but something that seems to have been brewing under the surface for a long time.

Two days before she is supposed to leave with Neal and the kids to head to Omaha for Christmas, Georgie and her writing partner find themselves under a pile of work that has to be completed as soon as possible. As a result, she is unable to head to Omaha for Christmas, something she knows will anger Neal. He is upset, but instead of the family staying in Los Angeles with her, Neal packs up the kids and heads to Omaha anyway. This makes Georgie worry if she has finally done the one thing that will make her marriage break apart. Is her marriage broken? Has she ruined it?

Desperate to fix things, Georgie begins calling Neal. She never seems to be able to get a hold of him on his cell phone and her phone is always dead. Georgie digs a rotary phone out of her childhood bedroom’s closet and uses it to call Neal at his parents’ house. Their conversation is slightly off-kilter though and bothers Georgie. When she realizes why, she just can’t believe it. Georgie has found a way to talk to a past Neal. What she chooses to do with this will determine what happens in all of their lives.


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