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.

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.


This book is also available in the following formats:

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 one and onlyThe One & Only by Emily Giffin is a book about family, whether it be your biological family or the family that you are raised with. Shea Rigsby has lived in Walker, Texas her entire life. After graduating from college, she even decided to stay in town and work in the athletic department at her alma mater. The thought of leaving her beloved hometown never even occurred to her.

Her best friend Lucy’s father, Clive Carr, is the head coach of the Walker college football team, a legend within both the coaching and local communities. He and his wife served as a second set of parents to Shea after her own parents divorced and her mother had a breakdown. Tragedy hits the Carr family, leaving them all reeling and Shea wondering if she is really happy with the way her life is going.

Breaking up with her slacker boyfriend, Shea finds encouragement from Coach Carr and decides to look beyond Walker to expand her life. New relationships and old relationships weave a messy web all around Shea, forcing her to leave her comfort zone and do things she never thought she would do. This book is truly chick lit with some serious football lingo thrown in. If you are fans of Emily Giffin or enjoy chick lit, check this book out.

all the summer girlsAll The Summer Girls by Meg Donohue focuses on the lives of three friends: Philadelphia lawyer Kate, Manhattan mom Vanessa, and San Francisco writer Dani. Kate’s fiancé has dumped her on the same day she found out she was pregnant. Vanessa is dealing with news that her husband cheated on her with another woman and is searching the internet for a man she dated eight years ago. Dani has just been fired yet again in San Francisco and is turning to her good friends (drugs and alcohol) to cope.

Kate, Vanessa, and Dani have been best friends for years, but have drifted apart. Their separation is as much to do with where they each live, their adult lives, and a major event that happened eight years ago during their last summer at the shore, as it is with normal daily life. The three plan a long weekend getaway at Dani’s father’s house in Avalon, the place where they spent two weeks out of their summer every year until one deadly night eight years ago. Being back in this familiar place brings tension to the surface of their friendship, making them all realize just how much their choices eight years ago have shaped their lives today. Each woman is holding onto a big secret, one that each is afraid to tell, and yet all of their secrets are interconnected. Kate, Vanessa, and Dani are forced to come to terms with the decisions they made eight years ago as their friendship hangs in the balance.


This book is also available as an e-audiobook through OverDrive.

lessthanheroUsually I’m wary of books that have quotes written on them from authors or publishers saying, “best writer” or “visionary of our time,” so when I saw Less than Hero on the new cart, my heart sunk a little seeing, “One of today’s very best writers” written across the front. The premise, volunteers who test experimental drugs for cash who then inadvertently turn into side-effect superheroes, immediately caught my interest though and I decided to give this book a try.

In Less than Hero, S.G. Browne has written an arrestingly witty and sarcastic nod to the pharmaceutical industry and superheroes, which I found to live up to the high praise splashed across the front cover. Llyod Prescott finds himself at the age of thirty living as a guinea pig of pharmaceutical drugs with no real direction in his life. He has a group of other guinea pig friends that he meets up with every now and then to talk about the trials that they are taking part of, a side gig pan-handling for money in a variety of locations across New York City, as well as a pixie of a girlfriend who has already saved his life once before. Lloyd is living a stagnant and regular life that’s going in no real direction until one moment when his lips go completely numb and he is struck by utter exhaustion. Letting out a giant yawn, Lloyd finds himself instantly refreshed, but is astonished to find that the stranger next to him has inexplicably fallen asleep.

Lloyd then does what any other superhero would do: tries to keep it a secret and practices on his girlfriend Sophie’s cat. When this slumbering event happens three times on its own to humans around him, since, Lloyd says, it’s important to create a pattern, he meets up with the rest of his guinea pig buddies to see if they have any weird side effects. They do and they all team up to fight crime! With powers ranging from rashes to vomiting to sleeping to convulsions to sudden weight gain, they head out across New York City to set out their own kind of justice on criminals. Through the book, Browne includes interludes about how they discovered their powers and also newspaper articles about two villains running amok in New York, Mr. Blank and Illusion Man. These two villains exhibit superpowers that Lloyd eventually realizes could actually be prescription drug side effects as well. Lloyd and his rag-tag bunch of superhero friends decide that the only thing they can do is to use their superhero abilities for good and they work on honing their talents, so they may then take on those evil villains.

Browne has crafted a superhero book outside the ordinary that is creatively sarcastic and witty about not just things that maybe might not happen, but about things that could happen in our pharmaceutically drugged society.

duffKids in high school and even young adults in college think the problems they are going through are unique to just them and that the adults in their lives have no idea and can’t understand the problems that younger people are going through. As a result, kids seek solace in music, books, and movies where they find people going through the same problems that they face on a day-to-day basis. Funny story though: those books, movies, and music are written by adults, the very same people they thought were too different and didn’t understand them.

I found this same not-understanding,-but-understanding in The DUFFa movie about Bianca and her two friends, Jess and Casey. One day when she’s talking to Wesley, a boy that she grew up with, who also just happens to be her hot neighbor AND the captain of the football team, Wes drops the knowledge bomb on her that of the three people in her friend group, she is considered the DUFF, aka the Designated Ugly Fat Friend. To say that Bianca freaks out would be a slight understatement. The distance between Bianca and her mother seems to grow strongest at this point, but ultimately Bianca realizes that her mom can actually help her navigate through life. Bianca soon finds herself going through an altered version of the five stages of grief, which lead her to make some drastic decisions in her life, some of which include ending her friendships with Jess and Casey and enlisting Wes’s help to not be the DUFF anymore while also tutoring him in chemistry because he is on the verge of losing his scholarship, has already been kicked off the football team, and a trade needs to exist for them to help each other out. Add in a jealous ex-girlfriend, Madison, and a dreamy, guitar-playing, potential boyfriend named Toby, and Bianca soon winds up trying to find out who she actually is and eventually comes to the realization that we are all somebody’s DUFF and that is completely and totally alright.

Sounds like the plot to almost every young adult novel/movie out there, doesn’t it? I thought so. (Psstt: this novel is also available as a book, if you’re curious how close the movie follows the book like I am.) I noticed a theme running between this book and the slew of other young adult books that I have been reading recently(see my blog about Girl Online); the theme of be careful what you put online and also be careful what you do because someone out there somewhere is watching you and what you do could end up online and could drastically impact your life. (The younger crowd may be rolling their eyes right now, but all of us older people know that this is true.) In case you can’t tell by that theme, some things that Bianca does in this movie end up getting splashed all over social media, but in the end, she ends up using the ability to go viral to her advantage.

The message in this movie isn’t to not have fun, but instead to be confident and comfortable with yourself in order to find your true self and your true potential. I found this movie to be a sort of Mean Girls and John Tucker Must Die mash-up, but with enough original content that it can stand alone. Watch this movie and let me know what you thought in the comments!

I was a teenager myself when Ann Brashares released her first Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book.  If you’ve never read them before, they’re a pretty fun set of novels geared towards teens.  The series centers around four girls who have been friends since bith.  When they’re in high school, they go out shopping one day and discover a pair of seemingly magical pants that fit all four of them, despite their very different body types.  The girls have to spend the summer apart, so they ship the pants to each other as a way to keep in touch.  The first four books find the girls falling in love, getting into college, struggling with their families, and most of all sticking together through thick and thin.  I devoured all four books and found myself pretty attached to Lena, Bridget, Carmen, and Tibby by the end of the fourth book, not really wanting to part with them just yet.

So imagine my delight when, ten years after that first book, I find out that Ann Brashares has written a fifth book about the girls titled Sisterhood Everlasting.  This time, they are in their late 20s and are experiencing life as adults.  Carmen is an actress living in New York City, Lena is teaching art classes at RISD, Tibby is in Australia with her longtime love Brian, and Bridget is constantly changing jobs and apartments in San Francisco.  Though Carmen works hard to keep everyone together, the girls don’t see much of each other anymore.  That is, until Tibby suddenly sends them all plane tickets for a trip to Greece, giving the girls a chance to finally come together once again.

Beyond that, I can’t say too much about the book because something shocking happens, and I don’t want to spoil interested readers.  All I will say is that this book has a really different tone from the other books (especially since it’s now geared more towards adults rather than teens), and if you’re a longtime fan of the series, it might not be a bad idea to read this with a box of tissues nearby.  It’s really a story about how even the closest of friends can drift apart, how much we change over the years, how little we really change, and how we deal with tragedy.  As someone who has read the previous books in the series, it was interesting to see where they all ended up and continue on with their journeys.  Lena and Bridget have always been my favorite characters, and their stories in this book are especially compelling.  If you’ve never read any of the other books, Brashares does a pretty good job at giving you the background information you need, but I’d still recommend giving the earlier books a try.  They were even made into a couple of movies, with the first book being made into the movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and the second, third, and fourth books being combined into the movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.  Overall, I’m glad I got to revisit these old friends one more time.

There’s something very comforting about Erica Bauermeister’s books — they’re sort of  “stop and smell the roses”  reminder.   For me, when she describes the smell of freshly baked bread, I swear I’m going to master making it from scratch, even though my past attempts at bread -baking have often yielded less-than satisfying results.  Indeed, at times I’ve been too embarrassed to throw it out for the birds!  (I mean, really, what if even they didn’t eat it?) But enough about me.

As in her first book, The School of Essential Ingredients, each chapter focuses on a different character.  In her new one, Joy for Beginners,  the characters are all women and all friends, even though they are different ages and at various stages in their lives.  These women don’t live Pollyanna lives — loved ones still die, couples still divorce, some parent-child relationships stay strained — but through it all, their friendships remain strong and continue to provide the support and encouragement each of them needs.

The book opens with a potluck dinner party, celebrating Kate’s recent victory over breast cancer.  Kate agrees to try something she’s always feared– white-water rafting– but in return, each of them must also promise to do something they find difficult, though Kate  gets to pick their challenges.  In some cases, the task seems surprisingly simple, such as baking bread or discarding books left by an ex-husband.  Still, Kate seems to have an innate sense as to what her friends need most.

I really enjoyed this book.  It’s a perfect gift for a good friend — or for someone who wants to make bread from scratch!

We want to take a minute to say a giant “thanks!” to one of our favorite blog post contributors here at Info Cafe – Tana will be leaving the Davenport library at the end of this week in pursuit of new adventures and we will miss her. She’s an excellent writer with a wide range of reading interests that has helped to make our blog diverse and dynamic. With over 120 posts to her credit Tana wrote, among other things, about “literary” fiction, non-fiction covering contemporary issues and many of the themed displays at the library. I particularly liked Tana’s series of RAGBRAI posts, written in 2008 starting with the July 22 post. They showcase Tana’s wit and good humor and are just plain fun to read.

If you’re lucky enough to know Tana personally, you know she’s smart and funny and cheerful and generous, all of which are excellent qualities in a reference librarian. And in a friend.

Good luck and best wishes always Tana!