How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

The description of this book caught my eye at once.  How to Walk Away by Katherine Center is all about finding joy and love even when it seems like your life has hit rock bottom. As I was reading this book, I noticed that each main character goes through a major life-changing moment that, if the individual lets it take over their life, has the ability to derail everything and completely destroy all.

Margaret Jacobsen has her life together. She has very clear goals for herself and has met every one of them. She worked really hard in order to make sure she was set up for success in the future. Margaret has a new dream job, a beautiful new condo, and a boyfriend she’s 99% sure is going to propose to her on Valentine’s Day. The culmination of her every wish is within her reach. Margaret couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of her future.

Heading out with her boyfriend, Chip, for a romantic Valentine’s Day, Margaret realizes that the date he has planned for them is not what she would have thought. At. All. Game to try because Chip is so excited, Margaret goes along and sure enough, Chip proposes! In the midst of their celebrating, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything Margaret has worked so hard for her entire life is ripped violently away from her. Now Margaret is in the hospital and realizes that there is a possibility her life will never be the same. She is broken physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Chip is no help. He hardly ever comes to visit her, expects to be forgiven, and goes rapidly downhill by wallowing in his own self-pity. Her sister, Kitty, mysteriously left town three years ago and has been completely silent the whole time. Now Kitty is suddenly back in town and old family resentments are bubbling back to the surface. Her mother tries to micromanage Margaret’s situation, while her father struggles to keep the peace between everyone.

This family drama happens simultaneously as Margaret is dealing with her intense medical problems. Her physical therapist, Ian, is also one of her problems. The nurses all say that he is too tough for her and she needs someone nicer. When Margaret and Ian meet for the first time, she instantly understands their reluctance to have Ian work with her. Ian is incredibly brusque, never smiles, and is all business. He is the exact opposite of all the other physical therapists and even her own family. Ian refuses to pity her and treats her as a capable person who has the power to change her own circumstances. After spending time working with Ian, Margaret comes to realize that sometimes the thing she needs is not what she wants and the thing she wants may not be what she needs.  This statement rings true for multiple other characters. Love, happiness, joy, contentment, and hope all have the capacity to pop up in our lives when we least expect it.


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Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter is one of my go-to authors. I have yet to run across a book of hers that I haven’t liked. Slaughter writes suspenseful mystery thrillers that leave you wondering about past lives, secrets kept, and relationships both broken and sustained throughout the years. I like my fiction a little bit dark and twisty. If I don’t figure out the whodunnit and why until almost the end, even better. For me, Slaughter writes successful fiction because I’m consistently surprised with the twist her fiction takes.

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter is her newest book. I. Was. Blown. Away. This novel takes a close look at the relationships with parents and their children. While we may think we know our ancestry, this novel proves that these thoughts may be completely and totally wrong. There are so many different pieces to each person. (Play on the title, get it??) We also have different identities. One woman can be a mother, daughter, granddaughter, wife, etc, with each separate part of herself hiding something from the other.

In Pieces of Her, Andrea discovers that she never really knew her mother, Laura at all. Even though she has a very close relationship with her mother, even living in her garage apartment, one day throws everything apart. Andrea knows that her mother has spent her entire life cloistered in their tiny beach town of BelleIsle. Her mother has no secrets, but is seen as a steadfast and trustworthy member of the community. With Laura’s life changed by a cancer diagnosis, Andrea moves back home and becomes enmeshed in her life. This cancer scare is a deviation from the norm, but Andrea knows her mother’s reactions are only a result of her cancer treatment.

Heading to the mall one afternoon with her mother, Andrea soon sees a completely different side of Laura. The violent scene that erupts in front of Andrea shows her that her mother was a totally different person before her, more so than her simply not having a child. The intense media scrutiny and the police’s desire to find answers brings unwanted attention to Laura and she quickly shuts down. Laura changes in front of Andrea’s eyes, telling Andrea to run away from the whole situation with only slight clues of where to go. Laura refuses to speak to anyone, instead lying low and trying to protect her daughter by pushing her away. Andrea leaves town, following the tiny bit of clues her mother has left for her. Digging into her mother’s secrets, Andrea quickly discovers that if she can’t figure out the real truth of her mother’s past, there might not be a future for either of them.

Reviewer’s note: Karin Slaughter is not shy when it comes to using graphic scenes, violence, and blood in her books. This book is no exception. If you’re squeamish, I would steer clear. In my opinion, this novel only benefits from her descriptions.


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Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood

True crime is one of my favorite subjects to read about and watch. Learning more about the inner workings of different perpetrators and their reasonings for behaving in such a way is fascinating. The lasting implications crime has on the victims and various affected families/friends also intrigues me. Society generally only cares about a crime for the first few months. After the publicity dies down, the whole situation will fade into the background. Reading about real life crimes allows me to believe that I am keeping these situations alive and the victims will continue to be remembered.

Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood was my latest true crime fiction read. This novel is based on the experiences of Sally Horner, an 11-year-old kidnapping victim who was abducted in 1948 from a Woolworth’s in Camden, New Jersey by 52 year-old Frank La Salle. Sally’s abduction is also considered to have inspired Nabokov’s Lolita.  From what I read about this case, this novel is fairly close to what actually happened. Granted the dialogue between Sally and Frank can never be 100% known and neither can be what really happened while they traveled the country, nevertheless, this account gives readers a look into a dark time in a young girl’s life.

Camden, NJ. 1948. 11 year-old Sally Horner just wants to fit in. She watches a clique of girls at her school form a club and yearns to be a part of it. Living with her mother and older sister, Sally has always felt like she exists on the outside of everything. After walking up to this group of girls one day, the girls tell Sally that she has to steal something from the local Woolworth’s in order to become part of their group. Walking into Woolworth’s with all the girls around her, Sally wanders the aisles looking for something to steal. Seeing a notebook, Sally grabs it and begins walking out. Almost to the door, Sally is suddenly stopped by an older man who says he saw her stealing. Having watched her walk through the store, Frank has convinced her that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested at any minute. Telling her that he has to take her to see a judge, Frank says that Sally has to do exactly what he says or she will go to jail. This chance encounter has far-reaching ramifications for poor Sally.

52 year-old Frank LaSalle is not an FBI agent. He has just been released from prison. Living out of his truck/camper, Frank is on the lookout for his next victim and his next scheme. Sally Horner stands no chance against him. Convincing her that he is an FBI agent, Sally introduces him to her mother and they somehow convince her to let Sally leave with Frank. Thus begins the scariest two years of Sally’s life as Frank physically and mentally abuses her. Travelling from Camden to San Jose, Sally meets many people and hopes one of them will recognize her. Her family, old friends, and new acquaintances are all forever altered, just like Sally, as a result of her abduction.

Given that this novel is based on the real-life kidnapping of Sally Horner and her captor Frank LaSalle, I found it to be intriguing and a possible explanation of what happened between the two. While there are certainly many fictionalized sections, the over-arching storyline is pretty close to the truth. With the additional information about Vladimir Nabokov and his controversial Lolita, this story is finally able to give more voice to young Sally Horner. With her death happening only four years after her abduction, Sally was unable to tell her full story like other abduction victims. This book is certainly not a light read, but its close relation to true events allows readers to gain a better understanding of these tragic circumstances.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Before and Again by Barbara Delinsky

I’m not going to lie: the cover of this book is what caught my eye and convinced me to read it. I know, I know, we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers. With so many books in print, the options can be overwhelming though! When it comes to picking out my personal reads, if a cover catches my eye, I’ll read it. It’s yet to let me down so far especially with my latest read by Barbara Delinsky.

Before and Again by Barbara Delinsky is a captivating read that kept my attention from beginning to end. There are multiple important current issues discussed throughout this book that can have implications in everyday life. Social media, internet hacking, identity theft, the press, trauma, and secrets are all major themes that the characters in this novel find themselves battling with. This book cautions against becoming too complacent and making sure that we travel outside our comfort zones.

Mackenzie Cooper thought she had it all: a loving husband, a job she loved, a wonderful family, generous friends, and a daughter she adored. In one moment, it was all taken away. Driving her daughter to a play date, Mackenzie took her eyes off the road for just a moment to check the GPS. That glance away changes her life forever. Having lost everything, including her privacy after the intense media coverage surrounding the accident, Mackenzie runs away. She now lives in Vermont under the name Maggie Reid. Living in a small house with her cats and dog, Maggie has a new job and new friends. She just wants her new life to stay separate from her old life. That means that she can’t risk revealing too much. Her work as a makeup artist at a luxurious local spa allows Maggie to spend her day helping clients hiding the things on their skin that they wish would disappear. She’s a master at her job.

All Maggie wants with her new life is to stay under the radar and keep her probation officer happy. With less than a year left, she is so close to being completely free. Things are going slightly too well for Maggie though when she realizes that she isn’t the only one in this quiet Vermont town with secrets. A local teenage boy, the only son of one of Maggie’s friends, is thrust into the national spotlight when he is accused of hacking a powerful man’s Twitter account, numerous other Twitter accounts, and the local school’s system as well. Maggie has no idea what to do: should she protect herself and pull away or step up to help since she has experience dealing with this type of situation? Either decision will have far-reaching implications for Maggie. As the truth behind this teenager’s actions begin to come to light, Maggie increasingly finds her own newly constructed life unraveling at her feet. She knows that her friend probably just needs to be comforted amongst this sea of chaos, but Maggie truly has to decide how far she is willing to go to help.


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How Not To Get Shot: And Other Advice From White People by D.L. Hughley

D.L. Hughley, co-author of How Not To Get Shot: And Other Advice From White People, one of the original Kings of Comedy, is a wildly successful comedian, radio host, actor, and political commentator. In the early 1990s, he was the first host of BET’s Comic View and later went on to produce and star in the sitcom, The Hughleys as well as appear as a television correspondent on the Jay Leno Show, among many other accomplishments.

In today’s scorching social and political climate, when we struggle to openly discuss racism and police brutality, Hughley takes a different approach: satire.  Historically, satire has been used to scrutinize societal views. A basic web definition describes satire as “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” Hughley indeed draws on irony to discuss how largely white audiences explain the topic of police brutality while also offering prescriptions for how People of Color (POC) should  carry themselves when encountering police officers while having little to no relevant first-hand experience.

In How Not To Get Shot: And Other Advice From White People,  the authors devote entire chapters to some of the following “prescriptions” offered by white people for not getting shot: 1. Comply with police orders; 2.) Don’t Talk Back; 3.) Don’t Match The Description; 4.) How To Do Your Hair; 5.) End White-on-White Crime; 6.)  How to Be Nice and Quiet and 7.) How To Not Be A Reverse Racist. (Nevermind, though, that “compliance” does not guarantee protection from police violence, a point Hughley drives home throughout the book). Hughley’s clever use of satire and sardonic wit enables readers to infer the ridiculousness of offering overly-simplistic and misinformed “solutions” to complex problems.

Now, you’ve heard of “mansplaining,” right?  See, “mansplaining” describes the phenomenon of men attempting to dominate debates centering around cultural norms and realities that negatively impact the lives of a majority of women but while having no first-hand experience themselves. We can hopefully understand what is inherently flawed in a system in which those who are least impacted attempt to silence those who are most impacted, yes?

And it behooves me now to offer the disclaimer that the act of identifying and validating a societal ill is by no means a condemnation of, in this case, all men. So there. Glad we got that settled.

But by the same token, the term “whitesplaining” –hardly an accusation against all white people (come on, now)–describes the phenomenon of white people attempting to dominate discussions about racial profiling and police violence having had little to no relevant experience in that department. At it’s core, this book pokes fun at whitesplaining, and I happen to think it does a marvelous job. Imagine if I attempted to explain to Deaf individuals how they should conduct themselves in interactions with hearing people? Or if I presumed to know how LGBTQ individuals should carry themselves around their hetero counterparts in order to fend off discrimination? Really, even apolitical examples work to illustrate that it just doesn’t logically hold up that a non-expert would exude any respectable amount of authenticity in matters he or she is not experienced. And, no, oversimplifying these matters as some partisan ploy in identity politics is hardly a legitimate reason to fight against fair representation – that only occurs when we are willing to listen to and validate experiences that are different from our own.

Really, the message is simple: how about, at the very least, we humor our fellow humans enough not to try and shut them up or worse–call them crazy–when they speak up on topics with which we ourselves have little experience? How about we give our fellow humans the benefit of the doubt without gaslighting them, especially when we are dealing with issues reaching critical mass. I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a society that listens to and validates the experiences of its members.

Enter comedy. Only a skilled comedian is able to shine a light on brutal truths about humanity and elicit, of all things, laughter when tears are the more appropriate response. Why? Because a comedian, like a scientist, scrutinizes and magnifies painful truths about society and humanity s/he shares with a wider audience. During that time spent together, the comic and the audience laugh together at what is wrong with the world and for that brief moment in time creates an environment of hope and possibility. Comedians unify audiences through the use of humor and I am astounded at how successfully they can, at their best, create transformative atmospheres and opportunities to facilitate genuine, life-changing understanding. To me, comedy can help break down barriers that prevent us from listening to our fellow human beings with an open mind and, if we’re lucky, having a genuine understanding with one another.

Check out this interview from NPR with D.L. Hughley as he discusses his book!

 

 

 

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – November

Hello Fellow Readers!

It’s November and that means it’s time for reading – Alternate Histories!

Alternate Histories are kind of like brain teasers for the reader by asking the unanswerable What If? question. They fall mostly into two categories:

General. What If Lincoln had lived? Or JFK? What If the Nazi’s had won World War II? What If Rome had not fallen? How would the world be different now? Better? Worse? Some titles that fall into this category include 11/22/63 by Stephen King (about preventing the assisination of John F Kennedy), Fatherland by Robert Harris (if the Nazi’s had won WWII), and multiple titles by Harry Turtledove. Or perhaps you believe history could use some spicing up – try Naomi Novik’s excellent His Majesty’s Dragon where the Napoleonic Wars are fought with the help of dragons (it’s quite good – really!).

Personal. What If you could go back and make different choices in your own life? How would your life be different? Some examples would include The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Greer about a woman who finds herself transported to other lives she might have  lived: Replay by Ken Grimwood is about a man who dies repeatedly, only to wake as his younger self again and again, each time with a chance to reclaim a lost love, make a fortune on the stock market or correct a wrong; or If I Could Turn Back Time by Beth Harbison about a successful but unhappy 38-year-old who, after a knock on her head, wakes up just before her 18th birthday.

A kind of “sub-category” would be the Time Travel novels (remember, there are no Library Police! Read what interests you! Plus, I just made up this genre and I get to make the rules!) These would include Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and it’s many sequels and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

Be sure to stop by any Davenport Library location and check out the Online Reading Challenge displays for lots more ideas and suggested titles.

I am planning on reading The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn about two researchers that go back in time to recover a suspected unpublished Jane Austen novel. Wouldn’t that be fabulous?

Now, what about you? What you be reading this month?

 

Online Reading Challenge – October Wrap-Up

Hello All!

Well, that’s another month finished in our 2018 Online Reading Challenge! How was your month? What did you read (or watch)?

I read – and enjoyed – Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen which is about Elizabeth Woodville who was married to King Edward IV. It might help you to place who she was when you realize she was the mother of the Princes in the Tower, the two young boys who disappeared from the Tower of London and were never found. Her story takes place toward the bitter end of the War of the Roses – the York family vs the Lancasters. Often called the Cousins War, it raged for more than 30 years pitting families against each other.

Elizabeth is a young widow from a Lancaster family whose lands have been confiscated by the Yorks, currently in power. She goes to the new king, Edward IV to beg for her inheritance and she and the King fall in love. She refuses to become his mistress and so he marries her in secret. Because she has no political influence, the marriage is opposed and even challenged by Edward’s advisors but Edward stands by his vows. Gregory depicts the marriage as a love match at a time when most if not all royal marriages were for political gain or to strengthen diplomatic ties. Edward and Elizabeth had ten children and their reign was prosperous and encouraged the advancement of science and the arts. Edward was a popular with the people, but he constantly had to go to battle to put down uprisings from other claimants to the crown including his best friend and former adviser and even his own brother. When Edward died suddenly after a short illness, the battle for the crown became even more intense despite his having left two male heirs.

Throughout all this bloodshed, the women wait. They keep the households running and the children educated and they grieve. But they also plot and influence and sometimes turn the tide of battle. Gregory characterizes Elizabeth and her mother as witches (both were accused and her mother arrested for being witches) who are able to whistle up a storm or commune with Melusine, a water spirit. The magic is incidental and well within the framework of historical record, but shows Elizabeth as powerful in her own right. A brilliant strategist with a spine of steel, she commands respect. The book ends before Elizabeth’s story is finished; I may read the next in the series, The White Princess, to see what happens when her daughter becomes Queen.

I like history and very much enjoyed seeing this distant time through the eyes of a woman. Of course, we can’t know exactly what was said in conversation, or understand what influenced and swayed decisions, but Gregory creates plausible scenarios and speculates on several mysteries especially what might have happened to the Princes in the Tower. All of the fighting and disloyalty does become tiresome though – people changed allegiances constantly, turncoats (sometimes in the midst of battle) and backstabbers. And the English really need to branch out with the names – so many Richards and Edwards and Henrys – it’s difficult to keep them straight!

Now it’s your turn – what did you read in October?

 

The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker

Following Priya Parker’s philosophy in The Art of Gathering can be life-changing. Although her career involves seminars, conventions and meetings in the business and non-profit world, her principles apply, as well, to personal and family gatherings.  She has, obviously, thought deeply and over a long period of time about how humans interact and what we need from one another.

It’s so easy to shrug off a meeting or a social dinner that was, yet again,  a chunk of time that we sadly realize could have been spent better. We were obligated to show up, so we fulfilled this minimum expectation, but we were disappointed.  She refuses to let opportunities for connection go to waste.

One of her more fascinating precepts is that being a “chill host” is not doing anyone a favor.  By not planning the beginning or ending of your gathering, or actively engaging your guests, you’re actually letting them down. You’ve taken on the role of a guide in this piece of space and time. It may be a risk, but the upside is the adrenalizing, surprising discoveries you may make, and the downside is that you may have to go outside of your comfort zone and you may have a fail or two.

Parker advocates engaging your guests before the event – tell them why you are gathering, and maybe give them an assignment. In the case of a series of meetings designed to solve a problem in an organization, she asks that participants give her information about what they feel are the issues affecting the group.  Her goal is always to dig deep – to peel the layers of an onion. In “Keep Your Best Self Out of My Gathering,” she encourages people to put aside their elevator pitches and the selling of themselves, to think about what’s best for the group.

One of the most interesting chapters is the last one, “Accept That There is an End.” So your gathering has been a success, in that there have been breakthroughs or guests have simply had a great time. It takes some finesse to guide people to leave in such a way that there is closure, or a celebratory gesture, or that you give a summary of what’s been accomplished.

So, here’s hoping you take advantage of your library system, check out this book, read it, and make your next gathering intentional and memorable!

 

 

Tear Me Apart by J.T. Ellison

I recently stumbled upon author J.T. Ellison while looking for a new book to read on OverDrive. I had heard of Ellison in the past, but had never read anything she had written before. The description of her most recent standalone novel Tear Me Apart captured my interest because the description of the book seemed pretty straight-forward, but once I started reading, I realized that this book was going to be anything but straight-forward.

Tear Me Apart by J.T. Ellison tackles the question of how far a parent is willing to go to save the life of a child. Mindy Wright is a competitive skier at the top of her field. Despite being only a teenager, Mindy has a great chance of making the Olympic team. Competing on a course she is very familiar with, Mindy is sure she will win her current race. The weather is getting progressively worse, yet race leaders haven’t decided to halt Mindy’s run. Mindy’s life is derailed after she suffers a catastrophic downhill crash. Her leg is broken and she is rushed to surgery.

In surgery, doctors discover a complication: Mindy is suffering from a severe form of leukemia. On top of recovering from surgery, Mindy must undergo treatment for leukemia. With her condition worsening, the doctors realize that a stem cell transplant is her only hope. Mindy’s parents and her aunt are tested to see if they’re a match. When the results come back, they are all stunned to see that Mindy is not biologically related to any of them.

Mindy’s aunt works for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation in the lab and does some looking into the DNA in the case. How could Mindy not be related to any of them? In the race to save Mindy, multiple lies and secrets are uncovered stemming back to before Mindy was even born. As her aunt tries to figure out a way to save her, readers are left to wonder if Mindy was switched at birth or if a more disquieting plot unraveled at the time of her birth. What is her mother keeping secret? Why is she holding back and seeming to change her story so often? One look at her face and others around her start to doubt the validity of her claims.

As the search for Mindy’s truth progresses, the secrets revealed and the tension created begin to tear the family apart and put everyone on edge. Certain members of the family are willing to do whatever it takes to protect their secrets. With Mindy’s fame as a skier, the press becomes involved when a statement is released pleading for help to find a match and to hopefully keep the rumors at bay.

How far would you go to save a child? To keep your secrets hidden? This novel digs deep into the hidden links, layers, betrayals, and secrets that have served to bind two separate families together over many, many years. Would you fight to keep the darkness and secrets buried even when the truth could potentially save someone? What about if those secrets could break apart your entire world? How long would it take you to thoroughly believe the web of lies you created for yourself and your family? Would you forget your real identity and the lives of the ones around you? Ellison weaves a gloriously tangled suspenseful thriller of a novel that will have you wondering if the people you see on a daily basis are really telling you the truth.


This book is also available in the following format:

Our House by Louise Candlish

Have you ever read a book you loved and found yourself wishing that the ending was different? That’s how I felt during Louise Candlish’s Our House. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this book, but the ending felt to me like there could have been more. Maybe there will be a sequel! One can only hope.

Our House by Louise Candlish tells the story of Fiona and Bram Lawson. This married couple have lived together with their two young boys at 91 Trinity Avenue for years. Fiona has poured her heart and soul into this house, working hard to make it a home that fits their unique family style. This safe haven is tested when Fiona discovers Bram cheating on her. Banishing him from the house, Fiona works hard to figure out how to keep her children’s lives as normal as possible. Deciding to draw up a modern coparenting arrangement with Bram called bird’s nest custody, Fiona thinks she has discovered the perfect solution. Instead of shuffling the kids between two different houses, Fiona and Bram will each spend a few nights a week in the house in order to have as little of an impact on the children as possible.

This perfect system ends up backfiring colossally when Fiona comes home early from a romantic weekend away with a new beau to discover a new family moving into 91 Trinity Avenue. This surprises Fiona because that is her house and she certainly didn’t sell it. The new couple has all the necessary paperwork with payment confirmed out to her estranged husband, Bram. What follows is massive confusion as Fiona is confident that there has been a mistake.  Alas upon talking to multiple agents, the disastrous truth is realized: Bram has sold the house out from underneath the family and has absconded with the proceeds from the house sale. Fiona is utterly devastated.

Working hard to figure out the truth, Fiona digs into Bram’s past and discovers that the bird’s nest custody agreement that she was so proud of allowed Bram access to all the necessary documents he needed in order to sell the house out from underneath her and the boys. Even with access to those documents, Fiona also realizes he would have needed the help of others in order to carry out a crime of this magnitude. Fiona is stumped about how he would come into contact with those type of people. Events continue to spiral out of control as Fiona uncovers all the lies Bram was weaving through their lives and how little she actually knew about her husband. Why would he do this to them? Where has he gone?

This story is told through a word document written by Bram while he’s on the run and through transcripts of a podcast on which Fiona tells the whole sordid story of Bram’s betrayal. I really liked the method that Candlish chose to present this book as it allowed readers to pretty much simultaneously see both Bram and Fiona’s points of view and their reasons for behaving the way they do. I was fascinated with the severity of Bram’s crime and how seemingly easy it was for him to sell the house without his wife’s knowledge.


This book is available in the following formats: