The Tiny Journalist by Naomi Shihab Nye

The daughter of a Palestinian immigrant to the US, Naomi Shihab Nye, latest collection of poetry delves into the heavy topic of the the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the real disparage of land, power, culture, and control. The poems can each stand on their own but as an inter-woven tapestry are reminding the reader of the brutality of borders, walls, occupied lands and conflict.

In one of her poems from the collection:

“Losing as Its Own Flower,”

“Truth unfolds in the gardens,

massive cabbages, succulent tomatoes,

orange petals billowing,

even when the drought is long. . . .

In a way, we did lose. Where is everybody?

Scattered around the world like pollen.”

The reader is reminded of the beauty of life and the simplicity of the earth’s nourishment in contrast to boundaries – mental, physical, emotional, and the tragedies of war, death and fighting created by man.

The Tiny Journalist focuses on the struggles for all humans not just those in Palestine or Israel, but more on the elements of the disparities of war and the nonjudgmental hand of destruction.

California Girls by Susan Mallery

Have you ever heard the saying that bad things happen in threes? Susan Mallery takes that saying and expands upon it in her newest book, California Girls. Three sisters have their lives together until one fateful week when everything for each of them begins to fall apart. Finola, Zennie, and Ali all live in California with their mother close by. The sisters may live in a sunny state, but their lives have definitely taken a darker turn.

California Girls by Susan Mallery tells the story of Finola, Zennie, and Ali at defining moments in each of their lives. Oldest sister Finola is a popular LA morning show host. She has been married to her husband Nigel for the last four years. Finola loves her job as well as the publicity, fame, and clout the position gives her. She lives a happy and successful life. The couple is set to go to Hawaii for a weeklong vacation when she plans on telling him that she is ready for them to have a child. At her last day of work before her vacation begins, Finola is blindsided when her husband announces (right before she’s supposed to go on air) that he’s been having an affair. Finola decides to deal with this by pretending everything is fine and that Nigel will come back to her when he’s grown tired of his mistress. She hides from the tabloids and continues to believe all will go back to normal.

Middle sister Zennie has also gone through a breakup. However she’s not heartbroken because she never really wanted to be in a relationship anyway. Zennie would rather be doing literally anything else: surfing, running, working out, etc. When her best friend asks her to be the surrogate for her and her husband, Zennie instantly agrees. She would do anything for her best friend and it’s not like she has a pressing desire to pair up and have kids anytime soon(if at all). When she announces this news to her family and friends, almost all of them think she is making a huge mistake. With no way out, Zennie discovers that this surrogate pregnancy is going to be much harder than she initially thought it was going to be.

The youngest sister Ali has always lived in her older sisters’ shadows. Finola is their mother’s favorite, while Zennie is the apple of their father’s eye. Of the three, Ali isn’t the thinnest or the prettiest or the tallest. She’s just Ali. As a result when she first met her fiancé, Ali thought she had found her forever. That forever is destroyed when her fiancé decides to call off the wedding SEVEN WEEKS before they are supposed to get married. To make things worse, he is too cowardly to do it himself and sends his brother Daniel to break things off instead. Ali is drowning in everything she has to do to cancel the wedding, but Daniel keeps showing up and offering to help. His constant support leads Ali to believe that Daniel may end up being more than a friend.

All three sisters are forced to start over their lives, but the good thing is that they have each other to rely on. As this story progresses, readers follow each sisters’ life journey as they rebuild their relationships with each other and with the other people around them. Read this book and let me know what you think in the comments!


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

Susan Meissner’s newest book, The Last Year of the War, is the story of a German-American girl whose life forever changes when her family is sent to an internment camp in Texas during World War II. I urge you to give this book a try because Davenport, Iowa is the family’s hometown! Most reviews only mention that the family is from Iowa, so I was pleasantly surprised when Davenport and other Quad City landmarks were frequently discussed through character background and development.

The Last Year of the War flashes back and forth between past and present. Elise Sontag’s family has been in the United States for nearly two decades. This fact proves not to mean much when government forces show up at their front door. Elise’s father is arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. Elise’s mother struggles to provide for the family amidst government and local judgment and pressure. Her entire family is eventually sent to an internment camp in Texas where they are reunited with Elise’s father. In Texas, the family lives behind barbed wire and amidst armed guards and other fellow internees. Despite being with her family, Elise feels lost as almost every physical thing her family had loved and was familiar to them is gone. Elise struggles to find a sense of belonging and quickly feels herself becoming unmoored.

The one bright spot in Texas? Mariko Inoue. Mariko is a Japanese-American teen from Los Angeles living with her parents and her two older siblings. Mariko and Elise become fast friends, much to the chagrin of other people given that Mariko is Japanese-American and Elise’s family is German. In order to survive the harshness of the camp, the two make plans for what they’ll do when they get out of the camp and turn 18.  Knowing, hoping, and praying that they will have a bright future outside of the camp, they work hard to stay together and build a positive future.

Flashing between past and present, readers see what happened to Elise and Mariko. Were they able to keep their big plans? What happened to both of their families? How did the war and its far-reaching aftershocks affect the different people that they came in contact with? The character development throughout this book really drew me in, as well as the references to places that I was familiar with throughout Davenport. Give this book a read and let me know what you think!


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson

I grew up in a small town where beauty pageants happened every summer. Moving away to college, I discovered that spending your summer watching beauty pageants was not the norm. I honestly had not thought much of the pageant life again until recently when I discovered The Accidental Beauty Queen  sitting on the new shelf at work. The premise was intriguing, so I decided to give it a try!

The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson tells the story of two identical twins. Charlotte and Ginny Gorman look alike, but that is where their similarities end. Charlotte is an elementary school librarian who absolutely loves her job. Being a librarian allows her to spend her day around books and help her students. Her twin sister Ginny is a beauty pageant contestant. Building her brand through various social media platforms, mainly Instagram, Ginny works hard to fill their mother’s beauty pageant shoes(not literally). Their mother died when both Ginny and Charlotte were young and Ginny chose to honor her by competing in the same pageant she had competed in before.

Ginny is a repeat beauty pageant contestant, someone who has been after a crown for as long as Charlotte came remember. Her ultimate goal? Being crowned Miss American Treasure. Charlotte may begrudgingly support her sister, but she still doesn’t understand the appeal. Charlotte accompanies Ginny to her latest beauty pageant because she’s promised a week of vacation with Harry Potter World close at hand. Staying in the same room with Ginny, Charlotte is privy to some behind the scenes looks as Ginny prepares. Ginny is pretty sure she has this pageant in the bag.

It all comes crashing down when Ginny has a severe allergic reaction to the dinner she shares with Charlotte the night before the competition begins. After Charlotte rushes Ginny to an urgent care (under cover and in secret, of course), they both realize that Ginny will not be back to her normal beauty queen self for at least three days. Those three days are the bulk of the pageant! At her wit’s end, Ginny begs Charlotte to fill in for her for those three days. Her doing so would allow Ginny the time she needs to heal, but she would be able to swoop in at the end for the finals. Reluctantly agreeing to help, Charlotte soon finds herself thrown headfirst into full-blown pageant life. Ginny gives Charlotte a makeover full of push-up bras, glittery pageant gowns, hair extensions, false eyelashes, and full faces of makeup. As Ginny tries to prepare Charlotte for everything that goes into a pageant, Charlotte quickly finds out that there is way more to this way of life than crowns and gowns.

The Better Sister by Alafair Burke

Publishing executive Chloe Taylor has the perfect life in Alafair Burke’s new stand alone thriller, The Better Sister.  Chloe’s career is on an upward trajectory, her husband, Adam, is a successful attorney and their son, Ethan,  is thriving as a high school student.  Splitting their time between New York City and their second home on Long Island, the family is the envy of all their friends.  But, the truth behind the facade tells a very different tale.

In reality, Chloe has had a strained relationship with her family for decades, especially her sister, Nicky, with whom she has been estranged since Ethan was a toddler.   Nicky has long struggled with jumping from men to men and job to job and has continued to make bad choice after bad choice.  Most who know Chloe and Adam would be shocked to learn that Adam was married to Nicky years ago and she is actually Ethan’s biological mother.

Shockingly, Adam is found dead in the family’s Long Island home, the victim of a burglary gone wrong.  Or was the attack more personal and the burglary just a cover?  When police believe the culprit may be someone within the family, the sisters put their past differences aside and come together.  The sisters must face their current troubles by revealing and acknowledging the deceptions in the past.

The Better Sister  is a highly recommended read and is another thrill ride from Alafair Burke.  It would appeal to readers of Ruth Ware, Clare Mackintosh, Gillian Flynn  or Laura Lippman.

 

 

The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood

The public has always had a fascination with multiple births. Television shows, movies, books, and news articles exist to help satisfy the public’s curiosity. The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood is based on the real-life story of the Dionne Quintuplets who were born in Northern Ontario in 1934. While certainly some parts of this story are fictionalized, I did some digging and found that the majority of the story presented, the historical reporting included, is true. I encourage you readers to look into the story of the Dionne Quintuplets when you have finished this book to learn more.

The Quintland Sisters tells the story of the world’s first recorded quintuplets to survive infancy. Another interesting fact? The Dionne quintuplets were all girls! Born at least two months premature on May 28th, 1934, Annette, Emilie, Yvonne, Cecile, and Marie entered into a world where no one thought they would survive the night. The quintuplets were born on a small farm in the village of Corbeil in northern Ontario, Canada, to Elzira and Oliva Dionne who were already parents to five other children. Present from the moment of birth is Emma Trimpany, a 17 year old assistant to the midwife. Uneasy about being there in the first place, Emma helps to care for the newborns while hoping that they survive the night. Disagreements arise from the moment of their birth between their parents, the doctors, and the government over everything from who is allowed to see the children, who is their legal guardian, and whether or not money should be made from the girls being alive.

After the government removes the children from their parents’ care, Emma decides to sign on as their nurse. The quintuplets are now wards of the British King. Now that the government has custody of the quints, tourism and advertising continues to skyrocket. More than 6,000 visitors a day descend upon Quintland to watch the quints play, buy anything touristy, and take a quint stone for fertility luck. While the rest of the world sees the quintuplets as 100% identical, Emma uses her artistic eye to notice the unique differences that allow those closest to the quints to tell them apart. Deciding to keep a record of her time with the quintuplets, Emma records every event and sketches those around her in her private journal.

As the quintuplets get older, the animosity between their parents and the doctors/government continues to grow. As they fight over custody and revenue gained from the quintuplets, Emma struggles to decide whether to stay in Quintland with the girls or to go out into the bigger world. Emma’s world may revolve around the quints, but her family and friends decide to move out into the world to do other things. Everything surrounding the quintuplets and their enclosed world comes to a head and Emma must figure out what to do. This novel may focus on an uncommon, but true, story, but the major themes of heartbreak, resilience, love, and family are all wrapped up in a coming-of-age story relatable to people from all walks of life.

Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader by Marc Lesser

Great book, short and to the point. One of my favorite bosses used to always say, “Keep It Simply Sweetie….the KISS theory.” So for me learning this early on has made the most for a simpler outlook on many aspects of life, relationships, both big and small, work relationships, and jobs. An interesting factor pointed out by the author is many times those in power fear being let down, or fear letting go of their authority as they fear disappointment. Those in roles of power fear change and in many ways it is hard to let go of power and delegate. In my own life I can see this fear reflected in allowing my teenage children to drive for example. To trust that they will drive safely and defensively I must trust and empower them and let go of my fear in order that they may grow as young adults and individuals.

The same goes for supervisors and leaders in administrative roles. Letting go of fear is a must to grow and thrive an organization and lead it to its fullest potential. Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader : Lessons from Google and a Zen Monastery outlines seven practices to use on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis. Some examples are: starting a morning meditation routine and viewing it as a matter of brushing your teeth and not skipping it, just do it; writing down your fears of letting go or disseminating jobs or power; make it simple – realize all your choices (and that just about everything in your life is a choice) and choose to think about stress or change as an inevitable part of everyday life, and step back and take a deep breath, and move through the stress or change, viewing it as an opportunity to hone in on letting go and simplifying your life.

Check out Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader: Lessons from Google and a Zen Monastery and add some new tools and techniques to your leadership skill-set.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Have you ever gone to a health resort? Or even taken a weekend at a spa? As someone whose pampering extends solely to pedicures and manicures, the idea of a spa or health resort sounds heavenly. When I discovered that Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty was set at a health resort with a twist, I decided to give this book a try.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty follows the lives of nine people through ten days at a health resort. Each person gathered at the health resort is there for a variety of reasons. Some are there to lose weight, some to fix their marriages, some to figure out a new way to live, while others are there for reasons that they don’t want to tell others. Even the staff have secrets to hide: both about themselves and the health resort. When setting foot into Tranquillum House, guests are told that this health resort may require them to do things that they aren’t comfortable with. This isn’t your traditional health resort, so they are going to have to work hard to get the results for which they are looking. In the end though, it will be worth the effort(or so they are told).

While each characters is presented somewhat separately in this novel and readers are privy to sections from each one’s point of view, Moriarty chooses to lay the bulk of her exposition on the character of Frances Welty. Frances is a best-selling romance novelist whose latest book is not doing so well. Struggling to figure out what she should do career-wise and simultaneously reeling from a disastrous broken heart, Frances has booked herself into Tranquillum House and is unsure of what to expect. Upon meeting her fellow guests, Frances is immediately intrigued. Using her writerly instincts, Frances tries to figure out the reasons that each has come to Tranquillum House. The person who fascinates her the most is not one of the quests though: it is the director and owner of Tranquillum House itself. Frances finds herself wondering if she really can solve/cure/make better/provide all the answers for Frances and the rest of the guests. Doubts continue to niggle throughout Frances’s stay and leave her wondering if she should stick out her stay or voice her concerns to the other guests. Could the other guests have the same concerns or are they content to follow the staff through the activities planned for each day? Frances will have to figure out a way to connect and figure out what is really happening at Tranquillum House.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

What would you do if you found out that your unborn child had a heart defect that could possibly lead to his/her death? In The Dream Daughter  by Diane Chamberlain, Caroline Sears learns her unborn baby girl has a heart defect that might be fatal. Caroline is obviously devastated. This novel follows Caroline and her family’s journey as they work to find a way, any way, to save her unborn daughter’s life.

The Dream Daughter  by Diane Chamberlain tackles the tender topic of what and how far parents are willing to go in order to save an unborn child. Caroline, known to her family and friends as Carly, has had nothing but bad news lately. Carly has recently been widowed by the Vietnam War. Struggling to find a new normal, Carly moves in with her sister and brother-in-law. More life-changing news comes her way. Learning that she is pregnant, Carly is happy, but a trip to her doctor breaks her yet again. Her doctor tells her that her unborn baby girl has a heart defect. In 1970, there is nothing that can be done to help her child. Told that her child may die soon after she is born(if she survives that long), Carly hopes against all hope that the doctors are wrong and she’ll give birth to a healthy baby girl.

Concurrent to this story line runs the story of Carly’s sister and her husband. Carly’s brother-in-law is a physicist with a slightly mysterious past. Desperate to help Carly while knowing her heart-breaking past, he decides to share a secret with her that has the possibility of shattering their entire family. He knows of a way to save Carly’s baby, but the way to do so is mind-bending. Knowing that he needs to find a way to convince her to listen to him, he pulls out all the stops to get Carly to believe his mind-bending proposal. Carly is flabbergasted by what he proposes. She must pull upon the strength and courage she has deep within herself in order to save her daughter. She must take a giant leap of faith and believe in him. Willing to do anything to save her daughter, Carly embarks on a quest that pushes the boundaries of both science and faith.


This book is also available in the following formats:

American Duchess by Karen Harper

American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt provides a rich inspiration for this fictionalized novel of her life beginning in the 1890s.  In American Duchess, Consuelo, a member of the privileged Vanderbilt family, is engaged and married, against her will, to the 9th Duke of Marlborough.  Overruled by her dominating and controlling mother Alva, she is merely a pawn in Alva’s desire for an even higher social status as well as the Duke’s need to preserve his family’s estate and financial well-being.

We first meet Consuelo on her wedding day to the Duke of Marlborough in 1895.  She is in tears as she is about to marry not the man she loves, but the man her mother has chosen for her.  With her sense of duty to her family’s legacy, she carries on and enters the church to marry the Duke.  It is only after her marriage that we learn that she was actually in love with a man who her parents did not approve of as a suitable match for their daughter.  Alva has her sights set on matching her daughter with British royalty and does everything in her power to play matchmaker.  Blenheim Palace, the seat of the Duke’s family, is in need of money to maintain the estate and who better to supply the money than the Vanderbilt family with a bride for the Duke?

After the wedding, Consuelo, now the Duchess of Marlborough, attempts to find her place, helping the less fortunate in the surrounding areas and learning more about her new role as head of the household.  Throughout her time at Blenheim Palace, a close ally emerges in her husband’s cousin, Winston Churchill, and the two share a close friendship.  As time passes, the relationship between she and the Duke grows more and more strained to a breaking point.  Consuelo finds the strength to eventually follow her heart and make difficult, but necessary decisions.

This novel is a fictionalized account of a fascinating, yet little known historical figure whose life did not start the way she had envisioned.  Throughout her life she  gathered the strength and courage to live her life on her own terms.  Many believe that Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, is the first American born Duchess but it turns out that over 100 years ago, England welcomed an American Duchess, Consuelo Vanderbilt.  This novel gives the reader a good sense of the challenges she faced in her new country.